Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (11/05-11/11, 2011)

A massive haul this week with 50 reviews of a wide range of films, with a number for the popular War of the Arrows.  Many came as a result of the London Korean Film Festival but I also found a lot of new sources, including Hanguk Yeonghwa who, covering the LKFF, delivered no less than 6 writeups.



(The Korea Times, November 10, 2011)

(Film Journal, November 4, 2011)

(, November 6, 2011)


A Better Tomorrow

(, November 7, 2011)

(Movie Habit, November 10, 2011)

Bleak Night

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, November 10, 2011)

(, November 5, 2011)

(Film Fracture, November 8, 2011)

(Movie Habit, November 8, 2011)

(Joong Ang Daily, November 4, 2011)

(London Korea Links, November 6, 2011)

(iCov, November 11, 2011)

Night Fishing

(Init_Scenes, November 8, 2011)

Sector 7


The Day He Arrives

The Front Line

(Asian Movie Pulse, November 4, 2011)

The Journals of Musan

(Film 4, November 10, 2011)

(Init_Scenes, November 6, 2011)

War of the Arrows


Chunhyang, 2000
(, November 6, 2011)

D-Wars, 2007
(Bullet Reviews, November 7, 2011)

(Seen in Jeonju, November 9, 2011)

Going By the Book, 2007

(Spinetingler Mag, November 10, 2011)

(Otherwhere, November 8, 2011)

Taegukgi, 2004
(Hanguk Yeonghwa, November 1, 2011)

The Chaser, 2008
(Korean Class Massive, November 8, 2011)

(North Korean Films, November 6, 2011)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sector 7 (7-gwang-goo) 2011

Straight off the bat I can say that the most anticipated Korean blockbuster of 2011, aside from Christmas’ war epic My Way from Jang Je-gyu, is easily the worst film I’ve seen all year, no matter how you look at it.  It’s very easy to see what went wrong, one bad decision was made after another, with barely any right ones in between.  What is not so easy to understand is how things went wrong.  Though I would not label Sector 7’s filmmakers as the cream of the crop, they normally seem to know what they’re doing and consistently deliver solid, if overly sentimental fare.  They are endowed with a keen ability to whet Korea’s insatiable appetite for melodrama.

Oil rig bonding
Curiously, there is little to no melodrama in Sector 7.  It hints at it a few times but seems to abandon it in favor of concocting a copycat medley of rehashed Hollywood plot devices and production techniques.  It is truly a triumph of expectation over delivery as I cannot imagine any producer seeing a cut of this expensive bomb and proclaiming “We have a hit on our hands!”  The film’s pre-release exposure was enormous, everyone (at least in Korea and on the internet) knew about it being the first Korean 3D IMAX film, numerous posters and trailers were available, and the entertainment rags were all talking up Ha Ji-won’s arduous workout regimen.  When the day came, it opened very strong before the poisonous word of mouth pulled it right back out of theaters within weeks.

Clearly it was the intent of Yoon Je-kyoon (producer/writer) and Kim Ji-hoon (director) to copy every similar film that had met with a lot of success in the hope that their synthetic product would also be a big hit.  Ha Ji-won is basically an Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character in the Alien franchsie) stand-in, the oil rig is from Armageddon (1998), a major character’s death and resurrection is lifted from the first Lord of the Rings, the genesis of the monster is not dissimilar to Korea’s own The Host (2006), and the list goes on.

Ha Ji-won, tough as nails... apparently
In fact, the film is a veritable cornucopia of metanarratives.  Curiously, aside from lifting all of its plot elements, characters, set-pieces, and effects from other movies, it also has a link to the popular K-Drama Secret Garden (2010) which ends with Ha Ji-won’s stuntwoman character being given the script of Sector 7.  Clever synergy?  I suppose so.  Even stranger is that her characters in both the show and the film are identical.  Women that are physically strong but emotionally weak and incapable of making decisions.  Stranger still is that her tragically deceased father is incarnated by Jeong In-gi in both.  Everything about Sector 7 is constructed, even the sets aren’t real as most of it was shot on green screen.  As a result it barely feels like a film and the chief cause of this is just how badly it is made. 

Unlike Yoon’s previous blockbuster, the tsunami-themed Haeundae (2009), Sector 7 spares little time for scene-setting and character development. A brief underwater intro features a pair of oil drillers setting in place a pipe.  A couple of little glowing creatures swim around them, suddenly they attack and one of the men falls to his death.  Fast forward to the present where we are directly introduced to the hardy (but strangely Spartan) crew of an oil rig.  They are battling with a malfunctioning pipe and being doused in brute petroleum, no doubt reinforcing the intrinsic bond between them.  Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won) is pretty but tough as nails and shows grit alongside the men.  A couple of scenes explore the relationships between the rig’s crewmen (and woman), which is to say that nothing happens.  One of those glowing creatures is found and then Anh Suh-kee (Hae-joon’s mentor) comes aboard to aid the exploration of the new underwater oil fields.  Of course he knows more than he lets on and blah blah blah blah blah…

The first of many oil rig bike scenes
What is it that can make a film go oh so wrong?  B-movies, as I’ve explored in my I Am a Dad review, benefit from lowered expectations.  Conversely, when you suffocate the nation’s media outlets for a month, touting your bigger-than-anything-you’ve-ever-seen-before-it blockbuster, you suffer from heightened expectations.  When you go down the latter route but produce a film on par (or below, as is the case) with the former course, you’re left with a big problem that is pretty much irreparable.  You’ve promised something spectacular and eventful but have completely failed to deliver.  Worse than a bad filmmaker, this makes you a liar.

More than anything else, and there’s a lot, two things bothered me the most about Sector 7.  One is the incomprehensibly bad rear-projection technique used in the bike sequences, of which there are four… on an oil rig.  The quality is what you would expect from the 30s or 40s not 2011, worse still is watching Ha Ji-won madly rev the bike and swoop down to her left and right sides, she actually looks like a little 6-year-old boy pretending to ride in a Grand Prix. Yoon, who also produced this summer’s Quick, seems to have a bike fetish.

Sacrifice: LOTR style
The second, and perhaps more upsetting point, is the film’s latent mysoginy.  Hae-joon embodies both male and female traits, the problem is that the male traits are the hero ones, and the female traits are all ugly stereotypes.  Additionally, for a film that attempts to make Ha Ji-won a consummate action star by pitting her as a conquering heroine against a vicious antagonist, the heroics are mostly reserved for the men.  Throughout the film, they are repeatedly sacrificing themselves, one of the characters does so twice! Another does so to save his friend, in what I’m assuming is supposed to be an emotional scene (no such luck).  After he does so, his friend remains rooted to the spot, whimpering, not trying to escape and is then quickly impaled.  In more able hands this might have been a clever send-up but no such attempt is made here, which begs the question, what was the point?

If you decide to get on board Sector 7, here’s what you can expect: wild lapses in logic, rampant misogyny, numerous laughably atrocious rear-projection motorcycle sequences, complete disregard for the natural laws of physiques, risible dialogue and matching delivery, an ugly monster that is never hidden from view, and perpetual references to superior films that it could never hope to match.  Your choice…

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Korean Cinema News (11/03-11/09, 2011)

A number of Korean sales at worldwide film markets this week, along with some festival, casting, and awards news.  Some fantastic features and interviews to boot, as well as some trailers and posters as per usual.  It seems Jang Jin will now be doing the Korean Saturday Night Live, while this sounds interesting does this mean he won't have time to make films anymore?



Finecut Sells Leafie to Italy, Launches New Films at AFM
Major South Korean sales company Finecut has sold hit animation Leafie to Mediterranea Productions for Italian-speaking territories at the Rome Film Festival’s Business Street market.  Mediterranea Productions plans to release the film in Italy on 50 screens with Italian dubbing.  (KOBIZ, November 3, 2011)

Jo Yeo Jeong to Bare it All Again in New Film
Filming for Royal Concubine, which has garnered immense interest from the screenwriting stage to casting, will begin on November 3 with confirmed leads Jo Yeo Jeong and Kim Dong Wook.  (enewsworld, November 3, 2011)

Korean Documentary The Color of Pain Invited to Int'l Film Fests
Korean documentary The Color of Pain has been invited to two upcoming international film festivals, according to the movie's distributor Cinemadal on Friday.  (, November 4, 2011)

Steven Spielberg Praised Park Chan Wook. “I Want to Work With Him.”
A Hollywood director, Steven Spielberg, praised Park Chan Wook who directed Old Boy (2003).  Section TV met Steven Spielberg in Europe on the 6th.  A reporter asked Steven Spielberg if he has ever watched Korean movies and he answered directly. Old Boy.  (, November 6, 2011)

Putting the 'Han' in Korean Cinema: Meta-narratives and Cultural Identity
Where are Korea's happy endings?  If you have ever watched a Korean film you will know that they don't always conclude as they might have done if produced by Hollywood.  The characters and their stories seem to be influenced by an invisible force that marks a film as typically "Korea".  From its melodramas to revenge thrillers, there is something tragic and constant driving the Korean film culture, but what exactly?  (, November 5, 2011)

First Live Comedy Program in the Country, Directed by Jang Jin
Cable channel tvN attempts a live comedy show.  It has recently imported the rights to the American NBC comedy program Saturday Night Live.  The Korean SNL is aiming for the 3rd of December.  Director Jang Jin is the main writer for the Korean 'SNL'.  tvN stated, "He is the main writer and director who is putting his passion in the scripts and continuity."  (, November 8 2011)

Yoo Ji-tae Debuts as Feature Film Director
Actor Yoo Ji-tae is debuting as a movie director.  He is in charge of the movie Sanseberia, which Lotte Entertainment is producing and distributing.  According to his management, he completed the signing of contracts on November 8th and will start shooting sometime at the end of this year or next January.  (, November 8, 2011)

9ers Pre-Sells Miss Conspirator
South Korean sales company 9ers Entertainment has done a raft of sales at the American Film Market (AFM) on titles including Miss Conspirator, starring Ko Hyun-jung (Woman on the Beach, 2006), according to UK-based trade magazine Screen International.  (KOBIZ, November 7, 2011)

The nominations for the upcoming 32nd Blue Dragon Film Awards have been announced and The Front Line, War of the Arrows and Silenced lead the pack.  (AsianMediaWiki, November 6, 2011)

Saving World Through Cinema, Korean Style
In the film A Barefoot Dream, a failed Korean businessman trains a children's soccer team in strife-torn East Timor and helps the nation heal.  Not only this, but four more interesting tales were told at the just concluded Korean Film Festival here.  The tiny nation of South Korea can afford to only help heal a nondescript Timor.  Yet like A Barefoot Dream – based on a true story – shows, it is much more real and tangible than saving the world from aliens.  (, November 5, 2011)

Riding the Wave
Since the first theatrical release in the UK of Lee Myung-Se’s wickedly innovative crime thriller Nowhere to Hide in 2001, South Korean cinema has emerged as one of the most dynamic, if not notorious, foreign national cinemas.  At the time of its release, in the absence of any immediate points of reference, critics compared it with the best known Hong Kong action films and hailed its director as the next John Woo.  (Glass, November 2, 2011)

Lee Byung-hun Mulling Historical Film Role
Actor Lee Byung-hun is considering appearing in a historical film, according to his agency BH Entertainment on Friday.  "He's looking into the movie after being offered a role in it although nothing has been decided as of yet," an official at BH said of the pic tentatively named I am the King of Joseon.
 (, November 4, 2011)

Korean documentary The Color of Pain has been invited to two upcoming international film festivals, according to the movie's distributor Cinemadal on Friday.  The official Facebook webpage of Cinemadal showed that Pain will be screened at the 13th annual Cinemanila International Film Festival to be held in Taguig in the Philippines from November 11 to 17.  (, November 4, 2011)

Actor Cha Seung-won got the title, "The Best Icon of 2011".  The "2011 Style Icon Awards" was held on November 3rd at CJ E&M Center in Seoul. Cha Seung-won won the "Style Icon of the Year" award, which is like the Grand Prize.  The 4th Annual "Style Icon Awards" is one of its kind in Korea, choosing characters who've introduced a new paradigm to life and style within the year.  (, November 3, 2011)

Films Probe Experimentalism, Human Rights
Korea has its fair share of thematic film festivals but a couple of upcoming events will offer moviegoers a unique opportunity to reflect on human rights in North Korea and the spirit of experimentalism in filmmaking.  The Off and Free International Film Festival (OAF) will hold its third edition from Nov. 17 to 23 in Seoul, offering fans zany alternatives to mainstream franchises.  (The Korea Times, November 3, 2011)

Only Second Time Around, but Korean Cinema is Definitely Down Under
South Korea and Australia are celebrating the last stretch of their Year of Friendship, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, bringing more attention to the second annual Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA).  (Yonhap News Agency, November 7, 2011)

Feel The Film Emotion With These Korean Movie Songs
Korean movie songs rock and it may be quite hard to choose which the best song because there are so many to choose from.  Nevertheless, here are six absolutely amazing songs you'll hear from your favorite Korean movies.  (Screen Junkies, November 8, 2011)
Kwon Soon Keun, 70, went from one of South Korea’s biggest celebrities to a Canadian immigrant, working in obscurity in a factory and running a variety store, far from the spotlight. But through seven decades of drastic change, his love for drums and percussion persisted. His story will be featured in a short documentary called A Drummer’s Passion, part of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. (, November 7, 2011)

CJ Adds in the Pipeline Trio
South Korean major CJ Entertainment Inc. has added three new titles to its already bulging American Film Market sales line-up.  The additions are headed by sports drama As One, a period piece about North and South Korea playing table tennis in a United Korea team.  (Film Business Asia, November 4, 2011)


Judy Ahn, Head of International Business, Showbox / MediaplexJudy AHhn is Head of International Business at Showbox / Mediaplex, the company responsible for the hit Korean War film The Front Line. Directed by Jang Hun, the film has been selected as South Korea’s entry for consideration to be nominated to the Oscars foreign language film category.  Kim Seong-hoon met with Ahn to talk about Showbox’s films and The Front Line in particular.  (KOBIZ, Nobember 7, 2011)

Dark, Brutal King of Pigs no Milquetoast Cartoon
You may love it or hate it. Regardless, animation director Yuen Sang-ho’s debut feature film The King of Pigs is different from anything you’ve been watching. (Joong Ang Daily, November 4, 2011)

The ‘Catcher’: Yoon Sung-hyun
Director Yoon Sung-hyun has been watching a lot of soccer games on TV lately.  It’s always been his favorite sport, and he’s been an avid fan since he was a child.  And though it’s only been two weeks since he won a prestigious film award, what pops in his head, when asked about recent days, is watching the sport, not winning his trophy.  (The Korea Herald, November 8, 2011)



(Modern Korean Cinema, November 7, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Korean Box Office Update (11/04-11/06, 2011)

Weekend of November 4-6, 2011:

Title Release Date Weekend Total
1 Punch 10/20/11 574,631 2,465,751
2 Real Steel (us) 10/12/11 245,537 2,499,600
3 Couples 11/2/11 144,623 189,965
4 In Time (us) 10/27/11 87,109 406,663
5 Always 10/20/11 60,106 894,813
6 Mr. Idol 11/3/11 33,391 48,780
7 The Help (us) 11/3/11 33,181 49,556
8 The Kick 11/3/11 20,865 27,101
9 Guzaarish (India) 11/3/11 18,851 30,894
10 Johnny English Reborn (uk) 11/2/11 17,277 20,362
- Penny Pinchers     11/10/11 9,475 10,175
- Teacher and the Devils       10/27/11 3,579 12,535
- The Crucible        9/22/11 3,561 4,662,753
- The Client       9/29/11 2,880 2,389,540
- A Reason to Live 10/27/11 2,573 55,583

Business remained strong this weekend with 1.28 million admissions, another year-on-year increase, and a 65% market share for Korean films.  Punch is once again the big news this week as it has topped the chart for a third consecutive week.  Even more impressive is that after last week's big increase over its opening weekend, it doesn't seem to have lost any business this time around.  Its 574,631 take lifted its total to 2,465,751 which is already good enough for no. 8 on the yearly chart.  Word of mouth is very strong for this pic and it may well have a lot more milestones in store.

Real Steel same in at no. 2 for the third straight week with 245,537, which is down about a third from last week.  It has performed very strongly over the past month and looks set to cross 3 million in the coming weeks which should land it on the combined top 10 for the year.

Couples went wide this week on nearly 400 screens but only mustered a so-so 144,623.  With Punch dominating the way it is, Couples will likely take a big drop next week and disappear from marquees soon after.

Always dropped by two thirds for 60,106 and has now accumulated 894,813 to date.  The 1 million mark is tantalizingly close but may be a fraction too far out of reach.  While not a bad number for a romance film, this performance will likely be seen as a bit disappointing given the saturated marketing surrounding it, especially as it opened the recent new-look Busan International Film Festival.  Bad reviews and poor word of mouth are what sunk it in the end.

Mr. Idol, which has had one of the more aggressive marketing campaigns of the season, opening with an embarrassing 33,391, that's a little less than 100 tickets per screen for its first weekend.  As enormous as K-Pop is (at home and abroad), it has yet to be successfully mined for a feature film.  Execs may be scratching their heads at the poor performance of what seemed like a surefire hit but in Korea you can't beat bad reviews, no matter how big your fan base is.

The Kick, which has generated a lot of buzz and press coverage as the first Thai-Korean marital arts production, also got off to a poor start with 20,865, unless these are previews which, at 154 screens, may well be the case.

Three other movies opened this weekend from across the world, The Help (USA) with 33,181, Guzaarish (India) with 18,851, and Johnny English Reborn (UK) with 17,277.  These are all mediocre hauls but none of these pictures could have been expected to perform well in Korea.

Penny Pinchers had its previews this weekend and will go wide later this week but its 9,475 start does not bode particularly well.  I imagine it will open somewhere in the middle of the chart.  The big question is if Punch can continue its extraordinary run!

The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Weekly Review Round-up (10/29-11/04, 2011)

A few reviews for Silenced (aka The Crucible/Dogani) this week as it opened in select locations in the US.  A variety of other pieces, including some on Sector 7 and The Yellow Sea.  I imagine that next week we will be seeing a lot of write-ups coming in from the London Korean Film Festival, which opened last night.


(Film Business Asia, October 28, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, November 1, 2011)

(unseen films, October 30, 2011)

(Modern Korean Cinema, November 3, 2011)

(, October 29, 2011)

Stateless Things
(Anikor, November 1, 2011)

(, November 3, 2011)

(hancinema, October 29, 2011)

The Yellow Sea
(The Student, October 29, 2011)
(Varsity, November 2, 2011)

War of the Arrows
(Every Film in 2011, November 2, 2011)


(Init_Scenes, November 1, 2011)

Family Ties, 2006
(Otherwhere, November 2, 2011)

Take Care of My Cat, 2001
(Otherwhere, October 28, 2011)

(Hangul Celluloid, October 30, 2011)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ideological Barriers and Invisible Borders in Poongsan (Poong-san-gae, 2011)

Kim Ki-duk is one of the filmmakers who initially drew me to Korean cinema.  The first film of his I saw was The Isle (2000), which was, in a French edition, packaged together with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999).  While the films may have been very different they were also a fantastic double bill that complemented each other in many ways.  I wasn’t as shocked by the violence as I may have been because I had already seen Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and before dipping into Korean cinema, had more or less exhausted Takashi Miike’s catalogue up until that point (around 2003).

Imagery in Poongsan
Park’s film, while harrowing, was a pure piece of cinema brimming with adrenaline and the pure pleasure of filmmaking.  Lee’s poignant drama was elegant, realistic, literary, and propelled by social issues and recent Korean history.  Kim’s effort was slow and laconic, it was violent while at the same time elegiac.  The Isle had an artist’s touch and was unlike anything I’d seen before, just as the previous two films were.  Indeed I was very lucky to have selected the three Korean films that I did as my introduction to the nation’s cinema, the hooks were in deep from the start.

There were a few traits I noticed in The Isle that come up again and again in Kim’s filmography, which I quickly sought out (though I have yet to see Address Unknown, 2001, and Birdcage Inn, 1998).  The first was his preference for mute (or almost mute) protagonists.  Being that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was my first Korean film and that The Isle was my third, it certainly seemed to me as though I had stumbled on a typically Korean trait.  Besides a large quantity of Kim’s films, there are numerous mutes in Korean cinema, including but my no means limited to: The Way Home (2002), Sad Movie (2005), and No Mercy for the Rude (2006).  The phenomenon is so prevalent that it is deserving of its own piece, which I intend to write in the light of the staggering success of Silenced (aka The Crucible/Dogani).

Messages of separated families
The second trait, which sadly is unavoidable, is his prevalent misogyny.  The horrific violence perpetrated against his female victims is shocking.  Some say that he demonstrates certain actions to make a point and show a patriarchal society for what it is but it is not just the actions inflicted on women in Kim’s films that concern me.  What bothers me more is the way they are portrayed: they are frequently submissive, which is understandable in certain situations, but are also frequently shown as ignorant, petty, and self-serving.  This applies to many of his female characters and it goes beyond artistic choice and deliberate representation.  It appears to be innate and as much as I admire and respect Kim Ki-duk as a filmmaker, I can’t help but see him as a sexist and this can cause problems for me when I view his work.  Then again Hitchcock was a notorious misogynist and I unabashedly love his films.

So after this rather long preamble I would like to discuss the first film to be released in Korea with his name attached to it after his three-year hiatus. Poongsan was written by Kim but it was directed by Juhn Jai-hong.  Although unlike his previous protégé’s films, like Jang Hoon’s Rough Cut (2008) and Jang Chul-soo’s Bedevilled (2010), which were firmly stamped with those emerging cineastes’ talents, this is definitely a Kim Ki-duk film.

Poongsan cigarette
Poongsan is the name of a brand of cigarettes and it is also used to identify a mysterious individual (Yoon Kye-sang) who transports items across the DMZ with extraordinary athleticism in the face of great danger.  He brings messages and items to and fro between separated families (they are pinned on a wall for him to see), but he nevers utters a word and it is hard to understand his motivations.  The National Intelligence Service (NIS, the Korean FBI) gets wind of his operation and enlists his services to bring back the wife (Kim Gyoo-ri) of a prominent defector (Kim Jong-soo) who is cooperating with them.  He indicates that he’ll bring her back in three hours.  He finds her but she is initially reluctant to trust him and causes problems on the way back across the border.  After she is reunited with her husband, Poongsan is apprehended.  What ensues is both a strange story of attraction, and a thrilling cat and mouse game between Poongsan, the NIS, and the North Korean spies who get involved later.

Early on the film succeeds in hooking us by leaving us with many unanswered questions but its elliptical nature and reliance on imagery and metaphor add complications.  It’s difficult to say exactly what kind of a film this is.  It’s an arthouse flick but it also features action scenes and espionage, it’s comes down to the viewer’s taste as to whether this succeeds.  I was able to let it go, just about, but it did make the film uneven. 

Crossing borders
One of the metaphors that I’ve already mentioned is the main character’s silence.  He doesn’t seem to be a mute, he’s just decided not to talk.  The question is why?  People on both sides of the border ask him what side he’s on, and since he travels back and forth a lot, perhaps he feels that instead of pandering to one ideology or the other, it is less complicated to forgo communication altogether.  At least this way he can be trusted, as everyone in the film seems to do without any hesitation.  He is also a wandering male without a home, a man so thoroughly displaced by the separation of Korea that he cannot help but incessantly travel back and forth across its fortified border.  He does so easily and brazenly, he does not recognize it, perhaps for him, it isn’t even there.

As far as its portrayal of ideology goes, the film takes a hard line and paints everything in stark black and white.  The NIS is shown as being paranoid and tyrannical, the same way that other South Korean films portray North Korean agents.  In effect Kim seems to have created the Poongsan character as a surrogate for himself, he does not ascribe to one idea or the other and all he sees is each side’s hypocrisy and dishonesty.  The defector’s ideology is also brought into question, like Poongsan he has crossed lines. He has done so by switching his allegiance from the North to the South, but unlike him he is caricatured as a tyrant, he is shallow, petty, jealous, violent, and authoritative.  Ultimately his ideology comes in second place to his greed and ego, which quickly transcend it. 

The defector and his wife
Chaos abounds out of a desire for rigid structure from both sides. The perpetual cat and mouse game played by the North and the South is disturbed and brought to a quicker, and thus uncharted, conclusion when an unknown element doesn’t fit into their equally dogmatic codes.  Poongsan does not seem to have a side but perhaps the unquantifiable aspect is not his political non-affiliation but the love that blossoms between him and the defector’s wife, which all the other characters seem fascinated by and try to use to their own advantage, with disastrous consequences.

The third act goes to great lengths to ridicule the NIS and the North Korean agents by exposing their hypocrisy and pitting them against one another. Unfortunately, this only happens at the expense of the main thrust of the narrative.  A risky move but it delivers a solid finish due to some well thought-out and unexpected narrative machinations.  Kim Ki-duk is a man of few words but he takes many liberties with logic and the dissemination of information which is the film’s greatest drawback.  Poongsan is a flawed film, but it is also clever and fascinating, it invites you to draw your own conclusions.  A very strong comeback, though I still can’t get excited about Arirang or Amen, though I’m sure I'll see them when I get the chance.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Korean Cinema News (10/27-11/2, 2011)

A number of items on the London Korean Film Festival, which is opening tomorrow night with War of the Arrows, including a piece in HuffPo from the festival's director Jeon Hye-jung.  A number of other good features (and also one comparing Korea's two big monster movies that I wholly disagree with) and some great interviews.  I've also decided to add box office back to this update, this returning feature will simply include a link to MKC's weekly box office analysis, out every Monday.



The London Korean Film Festival
Korean film has always been an important player on the World cinema scene with many of the most acclaimed and successful directors and films coming from the country.  Over the last ten years the industry has exploded with films from directors, Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, 2003), Bong Joon-ho (The Host, 2006) and Kim Jee-woon (I Saw The Devil) finding success in America and Europe with their gritty, box office films while Hong Sang-soo and Kim Ki-duk have found acclaim in Europe and the festival circuit for their soulful stories.  (The Huffington Post, October 28, 2011)

SHINee to Perform at the London Korean Film Festival
SHINee will be making an appearance at the London Korean Film Fesival.  According to the Korean Cultural Center in England, SHINee has been recognized as England’s top K-Pop star, and were thus invited to perform.  (allkpop, October 27, 2011)

TIFFCOM Market Wraps in Tokyo With Meetings Still Going On
The KOFIC pavilion, with seven Korean companies under its umbrella, had been doing good business.  9ers Entertainment sold Late Blossom to Japan and Ryang-kang-doc: Merry Christmas North! to Taiwan.  Finecut landed a Japan deal for its North-South Korea film Poongsan and Mirovision signed an agreement for Mr. Perfect for an undisclosed Asian territory.  (The Hollywood Reporter, October 26, 2011)

Korean Film Industry at the 8th TIFFCOM
The Korean film industry is strongly represented at the Tokyo International Film Festival’s content market TIFFCOM, which opened yesterday to run until Oct 26 in the Roppongi Hills complex.  The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has opened an umbrella stand with seven sales companies - CJ Entertainment, Showbox / Mediaplex, Finecut,M-Line Distribution, 9ers Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, and Mirovision.  (KOBIZ, October 25, 2011)

Korean Films Set for Stockholm Festival
The 22nd Stockholm International Film Festival has announced its line-up to include a slew of films from the Republic of Korea including Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives, which previously screened in Cannes.  (KOBIZ, October 28, 2011)

Halloween Scary Movie Recommendation: Oldboy
Oldboy is a 2003 South Korean revenge thriller (yes, you have to read subtitles).  It's actually the second part of a trilogy, but I haven't seen the first, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), or the final, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), installments.  (, October 27, 2011)

Korean Movies Go Global
On October 21st, a meaningful gathering among members of the Korean movie industry took place.  (arirang, October 27, 2011)

The Host Vs. Sector 7 - Monsters, Assume Your Positions!
Ever since I have been into Korean entertainment, The Host has hovered over my head like a majestic high bar that other things are apparently too short to reach.  I had heard the best things about it and I knew it as some legendary movie, a masterpiece of Korean cinema.  (, October 30, 2011)

Critics' Choice Awards 2011 Winners
AsiaMediaWiki presents the winners to the 31st Korean Critics' Choice Awards.   (AsianMediaWiki, October 31, 2011)

"Spotlight on Contemporary Korean Cinema" in Los Angeles
Spotlight on Contemporary Korean Cinema - including Jang Hoon Retrospective.  Event, held from 11/2/11 to 11/5/11.  This event is sponsored by KOFIC and presented to you by KCCLA.  5505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 Map Phone: (323) 936-7141 Fax: (323) 936-5712.  (, October 28, 2011)
In a near unanimous vote, South Korea’s parliament approved a tougher law against sex crimes Friday, inspired in part by a recent movie based on a real-life case of sexually abused deaf children.  (The Washington Post, October 28, 2011)

VIDEO - Facing (about the "Hope Bus" events in Busan)
I took these images in Busan, Korea, on october 8th. Some filmmakers and people related to movies took buses to see the female worker Kim Jin-suk, who's occupying a crane of her factory, Hanjin, since more than 8 months (from beginning january).  (vimeo, October 17, 2011)

VIDEO - Greeting Message from Jonathan Ross to London Greeting Message from Jonathan Ross to London Korean Film Festival 2011
A messade from Jonathan Ross on the upcoming London Korean Film Festival.  (, October 28, 2011)

The Day He Arrives and Dance Town Screening at Cork Film Festival
Hong Sang Soo's The Day He Arrives and Jeon Kyu-hwan’s Dance Town will be screening at the Corona Cork Film Festival running November 6-13. (Cork Film Festival, October 2011)

D-War Director Banned From Leaving Country
Film producer and director Shim Hyung-rae has been banned from leaving the country on suspicions that he embezzled 4.1 billion won ($3.7 million) of his company’s money and remodeled manufactured firearms.  (Joong Ang Daily, November 1, 2011)

Dogani School to Be Shut Down
Gwangju City will officially shut down the so-called Dogani school for the disabled today, roughly two months after a film based on events there sparked public furor over teachers’ sexual assaults against students at the regional school.  (The Korea Times, October 21, 2011)

Korean Films Set for Stockholm Festival
In the Asian Images section along with The Day He Arrives, the festival has selected up-and-coming director Jeon Kyu-hwan’s Dance Town, about North Korean escapees, Kim Ki-duk’s self-portrait documentary Arirang, and Na Hong-jin’s brutal thriller The Yellow Sea.  (KOBIZ, October 28, 2011)

Busan West Reveals Selection
Busan West (11-13 Nov 2011), a new film festival being organised by South Korea's Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in the US, has unveiled an 11-title inaugural line up.  (Film Business Asia, November 1, 2011)

The Final Schedule For the 2011 London Korean Film Festival
Here are the screening details for the 2011 London Korean Film Festival, including the screenings in Cambridge, Sheffield and Newcastle.  For the events at the KCCUK, book by emailing [email protected].  (London Korea Links, November 2, 2011)

KOFIC Success at Tokyo Market
The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has announced successful results from the 24th Tokyo International Film Festival and 8th TIFFCOM market after a presentation on co-productions and locations incentives, the Ko-production in Tokyo project meetings, and film sales at the KOFIC umbrella stand.  (KOBIZ, October 31, 2011)

Korean American Film Festival New York Urban 2011
Some high-profile directors involved include Korean actress Ku Hye Sun, Cannes Film Festival veteran Soopum Sohn, and father of video art, Nam June Paik.  The mini multi-medium fest will also have live performances by Misnomer(S), a hip-hop duo featuring sisters Knewdles (MC), Sos (Violin), and VongKu Pak, who will be playing the Korean traditional drums with a jazz ensemble.  (Korean Beacon, October 31, 2011)

Bleak Night and The Journals of Musan to screen at Reel Asian Film Fest. in Toronto
A couple of Korean films which have already met with great success on the international festival circuit will be presented at the Reel Asian Film Fest. in Toronto.  They are Yoon Sung-hyun's Bleak Night and Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan.  (, October 2011)

Head to South Korea for Seoul Independent Film Festival
The Seoul Independent Film Festival will return to the South Korean capital in December to showcase a selection of productions from local screenwriters.  Cineastes will have the opportunity to watch a diverse range of films across three categories - shorts, lasting for less than 60 minutes, features of an hour or more and invitational movies.  (The Open Press, November 1, 2011)

Korean Stars’ Surprise at Dedicated Myanmar Fans
South Korean movie stars, Mr. Choi Soo-jong and Ms. So Yi-hyun, arrived in Yangon to the sound of a crowd screaming their names and holding aloft photos on October 20.  (The Myanmar Times, October 31, 2011)

Korean Film Festival: East Meets West
The inaccurately-named London Korean Film Festival has expanded this year to include Sheffield and Cambridge, and with new Korean films that have never been seen before in the UK, Q&A sessions with well and not so well-known directors, and even a KPop group called 'SHINee' giving a live performance on the opening night, it really is bigger than ever.  (The Independent, November 1, 2011)

‘Barrier-Free’ Films Offer Universal Experience
Blind becomes first local barrier-free film for people with hearing or visual impairments.   The new version is accompanied by a descriptive audio feature and subtitles that narrate each and every action of the film.  It was first screened during the first Barrier-Free Film Symposium in Seoul at Korean Film Archive from Oct. 28-31.  (The Korea Times, October 31, 2011)

Lee Chang-dong to Meet Fans at Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival
Lee Chang-dong will attend the screening of his film Secret Sunshine (2007) at the Shin Kong Cineplex in Taipei.  Winner of the Special Director Prize at the 2008 Asian Film Festival, Lee served as South Korea’s Minister of Culture and Tourism in 2003 and 2004.  (Taiwan News, November 2, 2011)


Extraordinary Expats: Filmmaker NJ Calder
American filmmaker talks zombies, Korean cops, and sleepless nights in Seoul leading to his first feature film.  (, October 23, 2011)

Barbie - Q&A (Busan International Film Festival)
Q &A for Barbie took place after a screening of the movie at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 7, 2011.  Appearing as speakers are actor Jo Yong-Seok, actress Kate Tebow, actress Kim A-Ron, actress Kim Sae-Ron, actor Lee Chun-Hee, and director Lee Sang-Woo.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session. (Asian Media Wiki, October 7, 2011)

Thai Director Gives a Strong Kick to New Taekwondo Film
Although taekwondo is a popular sport, it has not fared well at the box office and many a taekwondo film has flopped.  But Thai martial arts film director Prachya Pinkaew, famous for his Ong-Bak films, is hoping his latest film The Kick will not follow the footsteps of its predecessors.  (Joong Ang Daily, October 28, 2011)

Poongsan - Q&A (Busan International Film Festival)
Q&A for Poongsan took place after a screening of the movie at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 10, 2011.  Appearing as speakers are actor Kim Jong-Soo & director Juhn Jai-Hong.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session.  (AsianMediaWiki, October 10, 2011)

The Front Line - Q&A (Busan International Film Festival)
Press conference for The Front Line took place at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival on October 8, 2011.  Appearing as speakers are actors Ryu Seung-Soo, Ko Soo (pictured), Lee Je-Hoon (pictured), Ko Chang-Seok (pictured), Lee Da-Wit (pictured) and director Jang Hun.  AsianMediaWiki editor Ki Mun was there and transcribed/translated the session.  (AsianMediaWiki, October 8, 2011)

“It’s Technically Very Difficult Getting a Tiger Into a Film:” a Conversation on Kim Han-min and His Film, War of the Arrows
Kim has said he considers the bow and arrow to be the vital element of his film.  It is a pitch I hear first hand in interview—“I wanted to make a historical drama which introduced and focused on the arrow and the bow”—and again later at the press screening where he fields questions from the audience.  (New Korean Cinema, November 1, 2011)




Korean Box Office Update (10/28-10/30, 2011)
(Modern Korean Cinema, October 31, 2011)

Korean Cinema News is a weekly feature which provides wide-ranging news coverage on Korean cinema, including but not limited to: features; festival news; interviews; industry news; trailers; posters; and box office. It appears every Wednesday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hero (Hi-eo-ro) 2010

It wasn’t even a minute after turning on Hero that I realised I was truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Frankly, the only reason I watched it was to be thorough with regards to my soon to be published 2010 Korean film project.  In order to really examine the year’s output, I feel obliged to watch some films that I know are going to be bad but I always hope that they may surprise me.  Hero went the other way, it landed severely below my already diminished expectations.  I’m nearly inclined to think that the whole thing is some kind of joke, to say that the film eschews realism is putting it mildly.  It seems to me that there are entire scenes missing as the plot jumps from one place to the next.  For a moment I even thought this may have been some kind of student film but after a little research it seems that director Kim Hong-ik has had over a decade of experience, which means I can’t really cut him any slack.  Hero only sold 1500 tickets in Korea and this makes me wonder what kind of market it was intended for.  With such a poor showing I can’t imagine it was marketed aggressively for its theatre run, maybe it was initially conceived as a TV and straight to DVD release.

Bullied in high school
In any case, Hero is a high school vampire film, clearly trying to milk the global Twilight phenomenon.  Sim-dan (Kim Hyeong-gyoo-I) is a high school student, constantly bullied, and in love with Mi-ah (Lee Da-in), who he has had a bad habit of videotaping surreptitiously.  Yoo-ri (Han Ye-won), a vampire, bits him one night and turns him.  Thereafter, he becomes stronger, meaning he can confront his tormentors, and more confident, so he can make his move on Mi-ah.  You can guess how the rest of it unfolds.

As I frequently mention (and celebrate) on this site, Korean cinema is very adept at blending different genres.  Hero, rather than successfully sampling different generic tropes, simply doesn’t know what it wants to be, as it dabbles in comedy, horror, drama, romance, etc.  More worrisome is the amateurish mise-en-scene.  The editing, camerawork, and especially the sound are poor quality, mistakes are frequent and disruptive.  The soundtrack is also far too prominent, it places too much emphasis on certain pieces of music at varying points. 

Sim-dan and Yoo-ri, the vampire who turned him
While the film starts out very badly, it does balance itself out somewhat after the opening act, though it still leaves much to be desired.  I don’t want to waste your time discussing this film so I’ll keep it brief.  Hero should probably be avoided by all but the least discerning spectators.  Its cocktail of bad acting, shoddy production values, and incoherent plotting is the result of laziness on the part of the filmmakers and if they can’t respect their audience enough to make a real effort, than I daresay you shouldn’t give them your time or money.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.