Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bleak Night (파수꾼, Pa-soo-ggoon) 2011

It’s amazing to witness what can be done with little resources and in 2011, a year filled with high-falutin, hollow, and very disappointing blockbusters, there were many films that did just that. One in particular managed to do the most with the least. The Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) has been training some of the peninsula’s best talent since the 1980s, including Bong Joon-ho, Im Sang-soo, and Kim Tae-gyun, and these days, as it produces four feature-length projects per year, it looks set to develop an even larger pool of talent. Not long ago I discussed the importance of Korean film schools in a piece on the Korean National University of Arts (K’Arts) short Metamorpheses. The technical competence of Korean films is due in no small part to the high quality film academies in the country and this becomes only more evident now that the student-produced shorts and features from these institutions gain wider exposure.

Bleak Night is one of KAFA’s student features and going into the film it’s hard to say that knowing this didn’t completely change the way I looked at it. I’m generally not a fan of student films and not just because of low production values and a lack of experience.  Oftentimes they are pretentious, lazy, and/or cocky and rather than being diamonds in the rough, they are frequently vanity projects from people who either don’t have what it takes or have no intention of trying to make a career out of filmmaking. Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, this is the purpose that film societies at college universities serve and the world is all the better for it, however I would rather not subject myself to these less than enticing offerings. I also speak from experience, as I too was one of these cocky student filmmakers in my Dublin salad days.

There have been more technically proficient student films out of Korea, the aforementioned Metamorpheses is an excellent example of poly-generic adroitness but Bleak Night has what few films possess, no matter how experienced or talented the makers are. It is an extremely mature work: the characters are few, the plot is simple, and the setting is familiar but they belie a complex and devastating character study with reminded me of the eye-opening and cathartic realism I experienced when I saw The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005).

Lazarescu was the first Romanian film I saw and still stands as my favorite European film made after the turn of the millennium. The films that came out of Romania at that time achieved something that I had never experienced before. A friend and I, after being blindsided by Lazarescu following a random screening selection at the 2006 Dublin International Film Festival, hailed it as ‘the death of postmodernism!’ We were over-excited film students who tended to roll our eyes at the mere mention of ‘postmodernism’ or other woefully over-loaded academia terms like the ‘Lacanian mirror stage’.  Lazarescu, and the films that followed it like 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), came as a breath of fresh air as they seemed honest, straightforward, and devoid of intellectualism yet they were still exceptionally complex.

The biggest liberty that Bleak Night takes in its film style is its fragmented chronology which jumps to and fro without warning. Titles and exposition can seem contrived but unsignalled time jumps can be far more dangerous if the audience can’t figure out what’s going on. Thankfully the young filmmakers give us just enough information to keep our footing and more importantly respect us enough to allow us to figure some things out for ourselves. In fact a great deal of the film’s success derives from this risky trait.  We are never told what has happened and we are required to trust ourselves to understand what is going on during moments we don’t see and to decipher unuttered thoughts in the protagonists’ minds.

I don’t want to say too much about the film as I think it is better to let it reveal itself to you but essentially there are three friends, some bullying, and a suicide which serves as the starting point of the narrative but not of the story.  Lee Je-hoon, as the bully Gi-tae, has won numerous newcomer awards this year for his lead role in Bleak Night and his supporting turn in war pic The Front Line (2011). Sure enough his performance is nothing short of a revelation. In his role he is completely grounded and never falls into the easy trap of overacting. He says so much with his few words and even more with his silences, he reveals the truth about his character little by little, always taking you by surprise but never forsaking credibility. He reminds me of a younger and more subtle Ryoo Seung-beom (The Unjust, 2010; Suicide Forecast, 2011), an actor whom I like very much, and I can only see great things in his future.

Friendship lies at the heart of Bleak Night or at least what defines the bond between friends. At different points in the narrative, the three friends fight and betray each other, they move through different circles, one going so far as to transfer out of school, yet at times they are also extremely loyal and share their free time together, throwing an old baseball around at an abandoned train station, itself a foreboding metaphor for their youthful, transient relationships. There are other boys in the school who are part of the group during school hours in the classroom and the trio also have families, though Gi-tae has no mother and seems to fend for himself, but Bleak Night never dwells on the characters’ lives outside of the group, a rare and welcome change from the melodramatic tendencies of Korean cinema.

29-year old writer and director Yoon Sung-hyun excels with his debut feature, demonstrating a subtle but commanding grasp of his characters. His (justified) confidence as a filmmaker allows him to strip out any flourishes leaving a bare bones mise-en-scene which eschews music and ostentatious cinematography in favor of intimate character framing, well-timed silences, and an austere, dark, but also gorgeous color palette which creeps under your skin. A superb film from emerging talents which is not to be missed.


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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Weekly Review Round-up (12/31, 2011 - 01/06, 2012)

For the first WEEKLY REVIEW ROUND-UP of 2012, a few reviews for new releases in Korea and a lot of pieces on older Korean films which is always nice to see.


(The Korea Times, January 4, 2012)


(The Korea Times, December 29, 2011)


(, January 4, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, January 5, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, January 3, 2012)

(Rainy Day Movies, January 3, 2012)

(Init_Scenes, January 4, 2012)

(Asian Movie Web, January 2, 2012)

(Init_Scenes, January 3, 2012)

(New Korean Cinema, January 4, 2012)


(Asian Movie Pulse, January 3, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, January 4, 2012)


(Init_Scenes, December 31, 2011)

(UnitedKpop, December 31, 2011)

Death Bell, 2008
(Twitch, January 4, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, January 2, 2012)

(North Korean Films, January 3, 2012)

(, January 1, 2012)

Silmido, 2003
(, January 3, 2012)

Taegugki, 2004
(Nerdlocker, January 5, 2012)

(Rainy Day Movies, January 4, 2012)

The Host, 2006
(Film in Asian, January 4, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, January 5, 2012)

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, January 5, 2012

G-Love (글러브, Geu-leo-beu) 2011

The team

Kang Woo-suk is a big name in Korean cinema.  He is the director behind the Two Cops (1993-98) and Public Enemy (2002-08) trilogies and helmed the blockbusters Silmido (2003) and Hanbando (2005), as well last year’s big mystery film Moss.  He’s been around for a long time and has had a big hand in shaping the industry as it stands today.  In the 1990s he formed Cinema Service, which is now one of the country’s top film producers.  Like a more prolific Kang Je-gyu, Kang specializes in blockbusters and doesn’t seem to know how not to make an event picture.  Earlier this year however, his new film GLove was released.  A baseball pic with a big star (Jeong Jae-yeong) and a rather modest concept by Kang’s standards.

GLove does feature a number of typical Kang features:  a male-centric narrative populated by his regulars, such as Jeong and Kang Shin-il; an ambiguous protagonist who has fallen from grace; a lack of subtlety; and a very long running time (144 minutes).  If it sounds like I’m criticizing him I will admit that I find Kang to be a very limited director though what he does, with his big, bombastic style, he does quite well and Public Enemy (one of the first Korean films I ever saw) still stands as one of my favorites.  That said, in this new territory, Kang seems a little out of his depth.  He recognizes the codes of the sports film and uses them to his advantage, the mise-en-scene is typically strong though not par with his other films, especially the sumptuously filmed Moss (2010).  What Kang does struggle with is the saccharine melodrama, he doesn’t do a bad job but he is not subtle in his approach, not that many Korean filmmakers are, but it’s clear that it’s not his area of expertise.

The star and his agent: Sang-nam (Jeong Jae-yeong) and Charles (Jo Jin-woong)

To begin with the concept is terribly cloying.  Baseball superstar Kim Sang-nam (Jeong Jae-yeong) falls from grace and is suspended, in order to rebuild his image his agent Charles (Jo Jin-woong) suggests that he start teaching baseball at a school for the hearing-impaired.  Stubborn, moody, and resistant at first he soon starts to take a shine to the kids and begins to shapes these diamonds in the rough with the help of teachers Gyo-gam (Kang Shin-il) and Joo-won (Yoo Seon).

From the outset there is little doubt as to what you will be subjected to:  the bullying of deaf children; group crying; the melting of cold hearts; redemption; etc.  On these counts the film does not disappoint.  Korean cinema is rife with mute or deaf characters harboring or enduring traumas without the ability to express them.  I briefly wrote about these protagonists in my review for last year’s Poongsan and it occurs to me now that they are also an ideal cinematic representations of ‘han’, which I discussed vis-à-vis mothers in my piece on Mama (2011) earlier this week.  Of course normally we only have to deal with one of these characters in Korean films but with GLove we get a whole school of them, which of course comes with a whole lot of baggage.  It’s nearly as though the depiction of the hearing-impaired built to a crescendo in 2011, ending of course with the worldwide media frenzy surrounding Silenced, which resulted in new laws being passed in Korea.

The teachers:  Gyo-gam (Kang Shin-il) and Joo-won (Yoo Seon)

Sadly GLove is not as interesting as it could be, which is no surprise.  It’s most like A Barefoot Dream, Korea’s 2010 selection for the Oscars, which was a strong feature but also bogged down by saccharine melodrama.  The strongest aspect of the film is Jeong Jae-yeong’s performance whom I think is one of the best actors in Korea.  Primarily identified as a bad guy or a comedian, Jeong has shown great range in the last few years and turned in some of the best performances in Korean cinema.  His deadpan comedy was the anchor of Someone Special (2004) and Going By the Book (2007), while his vulnerability was aching in Castaway on the Moon (2009), and he rightly won a Grand Bell award for his menacing performance in last year’s Moss.  His turn in GLove is not on the level of the previous films but he plays the arrogant, stubborn, and stoic baseball star to a tee and as always he’s very funny.  Special mention should go to Jo Jin-woon who plays his hard-working agent.  Jo, who has been in Gangster High (2006), A Frozen Flower (2008), and The Front Line (2011), had never impressed me before but now I can see why he appears in so many films.  He balances the good-natured and frustrated elements of the character very well, and his chemistry with Jeong is excellent.

Besides a few strong performances, GLove was a disappointment but it was a strong, confident production.  It’s just too long, not particularly engaging, and very predictable.  I like to see directors trying something new but maybe Kang should stick to what he’s good at, I’m not sure how versatile he is.  I do enjoy baseball films though and still have two Korean ones to watch from 2011, FightingSpirit and Perfect Game, I hope at least one can bring it home.


Enthusiastic coaching

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, January 4, 2012

Korean Cinema News (12/29, 2010 - 01/04, 2011)

As 2012 gets underway there are many top 10 lists floating around, I was planning to include them all here but there are so many that I will only include a few and I will do a separate post on them a little later this month.  Plenty of other news this weeks, with some features, interview, and trailers to boot.


The Year in Film: 2011 Brought Large Successes from Low-Budget Movies
It was another tough year for the film industry.  According to the Korean Film Council, 136 Korean films and 278 foreign films were released as of late November, but just a few of them became box office hits and a handful of them were remembered by the audience.  The most expensive film flopped, and the least-anticipated film became a sleeper hit of the year.  (Joong Ang Daily, December 30, 2011)

Jo In-seong Comes Back With Cold
Having finished his military duty, Jo In-seong is currently in the final stages of negotiating terms and conditions for a new project.  Cold is the first movie in nine years by director Kim Seong-su, who directed There is No Sun (1999), Beat (1997), Musa (2001) and 2003's Please Teach Me English.  Kim Seong-su had been making One-Armed Warrior, a Hong Kong co-production . Cold is going to be produced by Jo In-Seong and Sidus HQ.  It is about a man and a woman who look for the host of the virus that is fatally spreading.  (, December 29, 2011)

Spotlight on Indie Films
The Korean film industry was more diverse than ever before.  Amid an array of high-budget blockbuster films, a couple of Korean independent films achieved the10,000-audience mark, a figure compared to 1 million viewers for commercial films.  The rise of independent films started with Re-encounter in February.  (Joon Ang Daily, December 29, 2011)

Best of 2011: Korean Films
It has been a year of great debuts, be it in terms of format or first-time narrative feature helmers, coming from both the more established generation of filmmakers that emerged in the mid-1990s and those that represent the newest crop of interesting filmmakers to watch.  There were also surprising domestic box-office hits for small films this year.  Not small in terms of output or inferiority, but rather in blockbuster terms: low-key works that unlocked just as many – if not more – emotional keys and engaged the spectator in subtle and surprising ways.  (Asia Pacific Arts, December 28, 2011)

In a larger feature on 3D movie sand Hollywood, there was a quote from Choo Sang-sok, the director of Persimmon 3D:  “Budget doesn’t matter, it is story that matters in cinema and its the same when you are using 3D.”  After the high profile failure of Sector 7, perhaps Korean filmmakers could make a name for themselves by revolutionizing smaller-scale use of the de rigueur technology?  (The Malaysian Insider, December 27, 2011)

In its annual evaluation of the year's best and worst in film, the Austin Film Critics Association has seen fit to award Kim Jee-woon's I Saw the Devil with the Best Foreign Film Prize.  In addition, the revenge pic also landed at No. 8 on their top 10 list for the year.  (Film School Rejects, December 28, 2011)

My Way to Open in Japan
Kang Je-gyu’s World War II drama My Way is due to open in theaters in Japan on January 14, 2012.  Leading Korean distributor CJ E&M says the film will be released on 300 screens.  Starring Jang Dong-gun and Odagiri Joe with a strong supporting cast which includes Chinese star Fan Bingbing and Korea’s Kim In-kwon, the film is Korea’s most expensive – made for US$25 million.  Although My Way has been doing less business than expected in Korea, the film has so far taken in more than 1.17 million admissions for co-distributors CJ E&M and SK Planet. (KoBiz, December 30, 2011)

Arirang Invited to Kuestendorf Film Festival
Kim Ki-du's comeback film Arirang will be playing at yet another film festival, this time invited to screen at the Kuestendorf Film Festival in Serbia.  (AFP, December 28, 2011)

Major South Korean exhibition chain and affiliate of major Korean distribution company Lotte Entertainment, Lotte Cinema is opening its fourth theater in Vietnam on Dec. 31.  The new five-screen multiplex will be in Hanoi, with 848 seats and 3D projection.  Lotte Cinema has been in the Vietnamese exhibition sector since 2008 when it acquired the Diamond Cinema Joint Venture Company (DMC).  (KoBiz, December 30, 2011)

Who's the Busiest Actor of 2012?
Who is going to be the busiest actress or actor in 2012?  Looking at the movies that are being released or are planning to go into production this year, we can see several names that appear often.  (, January 2, 2012)

Martin Cleary over at New Korean Cinema is fielding questions on Korean film!  (New Korean Cinema, December 30, 2011)

Korea’s My Way Going to Berlin Film Fest
In a move that may come as a bit of a surprise given it's lukewarm reception from audiences and critics in its native Korea, Jang Je-gyu's mega WWII blockbuster My Way, starring Jang Dong-gun, Joe Odagiri, and Fan Binbin, will be featured as one of Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama sidebars this year, the film’s distributor said Wednesday.  (The Korea Herald, January 4, 2012)

Director Kim Jee-woon comes back with The Fall of Humanity
A lot of news items have flown around the internet claiming that Kim Jee-woon is returning to Korea to film The Fall of Humanity, citing an piece by  However the article is very unclear and from what I understand the film, wich is an omnibus comprising on short by Kim and two by Yim Pil-seong began filming in 2006 and was halted for financial reasons.  Not much else is known but since the release is slated for February/March, I can't imagine that Kim is heading back to shoot his segment.  (, January 2, 2012)

Korean Film Fiesta Dazzles Lagosians
The second Korea Film Festival in Nigeria was held recently in Lagos, with a refreshing experience for the Nigerian movie lovers who thronged the venue.  Korean films have benefited tremendously from the emergence of youthful, talented film directors, as well as the liberalization of the market, leading Hallyuwood to occupy a large percentage of the Korean domestic market and ever-increasing export.  (The Daily Sun, December 29, 2011)

South Korea’s leading film and entertainment magazine Cine21 has picked Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives as the Best Film of 2011. In their annual survey, the magazine with its 33 journalists and critics also picked Hong as the Best Director of the Year.  The magazine lauded The Day He Arrives as “a singular experience of time and space and memory”.  (KoBiz, January 3, 2012)

Over at, Darcy Paquet has offered up his top 10 for the year which by his admissions is very weighted towards low-budget fare this year.  This seems to be the consensus as independent films were strong this year but commercial fare was weaker than in other years.  (, January 3, 2012)


Director Explores Childhood Betrayal
For anyone who has seen Park Chul-soon’s feature debut Lovable, a moving portrait of a young girl with Savant syndrome, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover the director full of playfulness.  The 28-year-old’s debut, which won the best screenplay prize at Persons with Disabilities Film Festival this year, is filled with childhood desires and imaginative adventures.  (The Korea Herald, December 26, 2011)

Michelle Son, Managing Director of M-Line Distribution
Heading up international sales company M-Line Distribution as Managing Director, Michelle Son has in a few short years positioned the company to handle a bulk of deals including foreign remake deals for major local titles.  She spoke with KoBiz over the phone about looking beyond feature films for exciting audiovisual content and the importance of facilitating international co-productions.  (KoBiz, December 29, 2011)


Nameless Gangster



Korean Films Outdone By Hollywood as 2012 Gets Underway
(Modern Korean Cinema, January 2, 2011)
We have seen Korean cinema succeed both locally and internationally this year, but which foreign films made it big in Korea in 2011?  Besides the few international films from Asia and Europe it has been Hollywood that has dominated Korea's consumption of foreign films.  War of the Arrows stood out as Korea's highest grossing domestic film of the year but even that was trumped by over 400,000 admissions to the third Transformers film.  (, December 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, January 3, 2012

Mama (마마) 2011

Um Jung-hwa puts on a smile for her dying son

It’s hard to overstate the importance of mothers in Korean cinema.  They are the ideal embodiment of han, that perennial trait considered universal to the Korean experience.  Han is a difficult concept to grasp but it could be said to denote a feeling of the oppressed that embodies unaddressed resentment, injustice, and isolation.  It can be described as a deep-down, lifelong ache in the soul caused by sorrow and grief. The poet Ko Eun said “We Koreans were born from the womb of han and brought up in the womb of han”. Ko’s use of the word ‘womb’ is quite striking but with a little experience of Korean culture it’s quite easy to see where this view may come from.  Just as han is key to the Korean experience, melodrama is key to Korean entertainment as it is heavily informed by this concept.

Melodrama has roots that go back to the 18th century, when staged performances in France began to be accompanied by live music to heighten the emotional state of the viewer, early examples include Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762).  The theatrical innovation quickly spread and was used by such luminaries of the time as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Richard Strauss, and Gilbert and Sullivan.  The format was even more suitable for film.  When it came along, Gainsborough’s British melodrama’s of the 1940s and the ornate Douglas Sirk works of the 1950s reinvented the genre.  These days melodramas appear all over the world and are very prevalent in Asia, where there is a strong emphasis on family, particularly in Far Eastern countries that practice Confucianism.

Jeon Soo-kyeong as the stuck up opera singer

Perhaps more than in any other Confucian countries, South Koreans may be the biggest consumers of melodramas.  Korean melodramas are full of characters imbued with han which stems from their traumatic backstories.  The country, with its long history of oppression and occupations, is no stranger to sad stories of Koreans unable to avenge the injustices they face or have faced and are thus forced to live with it, therefore being saddled with han.

It should come as no surprise that a film like Mama, a sort of interwoven omnibus featuring three mother-child pairings, would come along in Korean cinema.  The first of the pairs features Dong-sook (Uhm Jung-hwa), a single mother who puts on a brave face everyday as she takes care of her dying son Won-jae (Lee Hyeong-seok) until she is also diagnosed with a terminal illness.  In the second strand, Hee-kyeong (Jeon Soo-kyeong) is an arrogant opera singer who acts like a diva, her married daughter (Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong) works as her assistant and has lived in her shadow all of her life.  In the third story, Seung-chol (Yu Hae-jin) hides the fact that he is a gangster from his mother Ok-joo (Kim Hae-sook) and tries to grant her wish of seeing her first love again before undergoing a mastectomy. 

Yu Hae-jin as the gangster mama's boy

If all this seems a little cynical and opportunistic in its design, that’s because it is but it’s all fair game as you would hardly expect anything else from this kind of a film.  I don’t like to be manipulated by filmmakers, or at least I say that sometimes as a form of attack against directors I don’t like, but the truth is that I love to be manipulated.  Just like a great many film viewers, I’m a catharsis junkie, desperately seeking out those potent highs of my very best film viewing experiences.  So really it’s not manipulation that I’m against, it’s crass manipulation that is poorly integrated or evident in its construction.  If I notice it and it doesn’t affect me, that’s a problem.

The funny thing about Korean melodramas is that it’s hard not to notice the cogs at work behind the scenes, trying to get our tear ducts flowing.  They’re the cinematic equivalent of having a sliced onion shoved in your face.  Seldom are they subtle, yet they often work and I often ask myself why?  I suppose Korean filmmakers know what they’re doing, given the industry’s ample experience in the field, and a quick look at the country’s recent history shows that indeed, they have much to be melodramatic about.

Uncertain futures

So the question is:  does Mama work?  I have to wiggle my fingers and say ‘sort of.’  Of the three narratives, the terminally-ill mother-son tag team is clearly meant to be the most emotionally affecting.  It’s very sad and there’s nothing wrong with it, certainly not in its execution, but it’s just one incurable disease too many in Korean cinema.  Part of the problem is that they are both such saints that it’s hard to believe them or get invested in their fate.  It might have worked better if Uhm Jung-hwa was more like the characters she is known for like Princess Aurora (2005) or the writer in Bestseller (2010) but that would have made for a very different film and with only a third of the feature-length running time available to it, it would have been difficult to pull off.  Perhaps that is the problem, was there not enough time to squeeze in two illnesses and flesh out realistic characters in the space of roughly 40 minutes?  In this case, cardboard characters are an easier fit.

The diva mother-daughter pairing featured many intriguing elements that may have struck a chord with certain audiences members:  living in the shadow of your parents; living at home; not being able build a career; or become autonomous.  Here the mother is strict but again a little too caricatured to be very effective. Jeon Soo-kyeong performs her with gusto but she strains credulity past breaking point.

Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong ignored by her mother

The third strand was my favorite for three reasons:  the formidable Yu Hae-jin is in it; it’s very funny; and it’s genuinely quite sweet.  Once again it’s a vignette built on an implausible conceit:  a gang boss hiding his identity to his mother, whom he dotes on.  Since it’s played for laughs it’s easy to get past that, even better is the warm pairing of Kim Hae-sook and Yu, despite all their initial brittleness.  There’s a great little scene where Seung-chol is at the supermarket with his mother and she asks what the English word for tofu is.  He makes up some nonsense but he’s overheard by a tall Australian English teacher who comes over and corrects him, repeatedly, even after being threatened.  Yu sells it but I especially enjoyed it because I knew that teacher could have been me, because I’m tall and I’ve worked as an English teacher in the past but mainly because I can be really pedantic.

One out of three is not a great batting average but I certainly wouldn’t ward you off Mama, especially if you like melodramas.  It’s a worthwhile film that is an interesting encapsulation of the various melodramatic formats employed in Korean film, with oodles of han to boot.  Each story has something to say but unfortunately the inadequate time consecrated to each sacrifices the depth of the characters.



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.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (12/30, 2011 - 01/01, 2012)

Korean Films Outdone By Hollywood as 2012 Gets Underway

Title Release Date Weekend Total
1 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (us) 12/15/11 1,013,668 5,386,797
2 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (us) 12/21/11 448,287 1,432,109
3 My Way 12/21/11 416,646 1,735,608
4 Perfect Game 12/21/11 238,191 890,261
5 Friends Naki on Monster Island (jp) 12/29/11 166,347 203,118
6 Spellbound 12/1/11 147,183 2,819,392
7 The Lion King 3D (us) 12/29/11 139,178 170,962
8 Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Reshiram (jp) 12/22/11 75,759 285,518
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (us) 12/15/11 61,468 516,727
10 Pocket Monsters Best Wishes! Zekrom (jp) 12/22/11 57,113 234,721
- Ryang-kang-do: Merry Christmas, North! 11/17/11 693 10,172
- My Barefoot Friend 12/15/11 301 2,498
- Punch 10/20/11 181 5,316,625
- Green Days: Dinosaur and I 6/23/11 136 51,622
- ●REC 11/24/11 80 2,843

Business was on par with the last New Year's weekend, with 2.8 million tickets sold but whereas Korean films accounted for a 70% market share last year, this time around they cobbled together a measly 30% as yet another high profile Korean blockbuster has floundered and Hollywood fare has proven more palatable to local audiences.

For the third straight weekend, Tom Cruise's fourth Mission Impossible has taken the top spot and once again with over a million admissions.  It's 1,013,668 take has increased its haul to an exceptional 5,386,797 which already good enough for No. 4 on the 2011 chart.  Sherlock Holmes 2 also held very well as it receded only 10% for a 448,287 take.

Meanwhile, all the buzz surrounding MI4 has sapped any interest domestic viewers had in taking in Jang Je-kyu's enormous WWII spectacle My Way as it has dropped 45% to 416,646 after a very disappointing opening weekend.  It has now banked 1,735,608 in 12 days, a shockingly low figure for a film that cost 30 billion won to produce.  It is about to open in Japan where it will need to do serious business if it hopes to stand a chance of recouping its production costs.

The Perfect Game dropped about a third to 238,191, also after an unimpressive start.  Competition has been fierce but perhaps audiences were given too many baseball pictures this year after Kang Woo-suk's GLove and Kim Sang-jin's underperforming Fighting Spirit, not to mention the Brad Pitt starring Moneyball which played very recently.

Spellbound was the lone bright spot for local films as it held well, dropping only 20% for 147,183.  It looks set to cross the 3 million mark, a milestone that My Way may not reach.

The rest of the top 10 was filled with Japanese animes and Hollywood kids fare while outside the top 10, Korean films barely registered.

Next week, Wonderful Radio opens but it has been getting poor reviews and I can't imagine it will be the film to unseat MI4 which seems destined for a fourth victory lap.  Business will pick up for local fare in a few weeks with the Lunar Day holiday weekend but until then, things look pretty grim.

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. 

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Upcoming Releases: January 2012

MKC's Upcoming Releases page has been getting a little big lately and rather than delete what has taken a long time to compile, I'm going to start a monthly breakaway.  A few days before each month, I will preview it's coming Korean attractions in a dedicated article and two months later the month will be deleted from the main Upcoming Releases page.  Each month will still be available in an archive on the page, which will assemble these breakaway posts.

So here is the first post for January 2012.  It's a few months old but I will catch up until I April by the end of the week.

January 5

Love On-Air

January 12

Jesus Hospital

January 18/19

Dancing Queen
The Neverending Story

January 26


Love On-Air aka Wonderful Radio

Director: Kwon Chil-in
Cast:  Lee Min-jeong, Lee Jeong-jin
Synopsis:  Gina (Lee Min-jeong) was once a popular singer, she now hosts her own radio show.  Suffering from low ratings, the show's producer is sacked and replaced by Jae-ik (Lee Jeong-jin).  The irritable Jae-ik and the conceited Gina get on each other’s nerves but soon grow closer.
Release date: January 5

Love On-Air was the first platform Korean release of 2012 and had a decent opening but reviews have not been kind.  The romcom seems to be a motley collection of kpop references and cameos with a good dose of melodrama stirred in for good measure.  The film is Kwon Chil-in's fifth, following such works as Singles (2003) and Hellcats (2008).  

Jesus Hospital

Director:  Shin A-gaLee Sang-cheol
Screenwriter:  Shin A-ga
Cast:  Hwang Jung-min Han Song-hee
Synopsis:  Hyun-Soon (Hwang Jung-min) harbors a secret which only her mother, who is in a coma, and her pregnant daughter know about.  When Hyun-Soon's siblings plan to pull the plug on the respirator that is keeping their mother alive at the hospital, she becomes very angry.
Release date:  January 12

Jesus Hospital, the debut film from Shin A-ga and Lee Sang-cheol, who have previously worked as assistant directors for Lee Suk-hoon and Lee Myung-se respectively, has triumphed at recent Korean film festivals.  It had its world premier at Busan in October, where it scooped up acting prizes for its leading women Hwang Jung-min and Han Song-hee as well as the Citizen Reviewer's Award.  It was also screened in last December's Seoul Independent film festival where it scooped up the Grand Prize.  The pair of first-time helmers look to be a solid addition to the already thriving independent Korean film scene.

Dancing Queen

Director:  Lee Suk-hoon
Screenwriter:  Lee Suk-hoon
Cast:  Uhm Jeong-hwa, Hwang Jeong-min
Synopsis:  A poor lawyer turned politician (Hwang Jeong-min) becomes a Seoul mayoral candidate while his wife (Uhn Jeong-hwa) makes an attempt at singing without him knowing at first.
Release date:  January 19

Dancing Queen, led by its star power and song and dance premise prevailed as the no. 1 new movie during the crowded Lunar Day holiday weekend.  Notices have been mixed but generally positive.  Uhm Jeong-hwa goes back to what she knows best as she initially scaled to fame as a singer and Hwang Jeong-min, a great character actor with superb comic timing, plays her husband.


Neverending Story

Director:  Jung Jong-joo
Cast:  Uhm Tae-woong, Jeong Ryeo-won
Synopsis:  Dong-joo (Uhm Tae-woong) is an easygoing romantic while Song-kyun (Jeong Ryeo-won) organizes her life meticulously.  They both develop terminal illnesses and soon they meet.  Though they are polar opposites, they go out on a date.
Release date:  January 18

A double dose of terminal illness leaves little to the imagination as to what kind of a film this will be like.  Neverending Story is Jung Jong-joo's first feature, he was previously a co-writer and assistant director on Princess Aurora (2005).  The presence of the very talented Jeong Ryeo-won (Castaway on the Moon, 2009; Pain, 2011) does show some promise however.  Against tough competition during the Lunar Day holiday weekend, the film was unable to draw in significant crowds, landing at number 7.


Director:  Chung Ji-young
Screenwriter:  Chung Ji-young
Cast:  Ahn Seong-ki, Park Won-sang, Na Young-hee, Kim Ji-ho
Synopsis:  The true story of Kim Myung-ho (Ahn Seong-Gi), a professor who was denied tenure by his university after he questioned the validity of a math question in its entrance exam in 1995.  After years of litigation against the university, Kim lost and shot a crossbow at the judge who handled his case.
Release date:  January 18

Based on controversial true events, Unbowed is Chung Ji-young first film in 14 years.  He was previously for making socially-conscious films such as White Badge (1992).  Unbowed features a big performance from one fo the most respected actors in the industry  Ahn Sung-kee has starred in films for over 50 years, going all the way back to the original The Housemaid (1960).  The film received a lot of positive attention after its screening at last year's Busan Film Festival.  The Wall Street Journal even ranked it in its top 10 Asian films of 2011.  Unbowed opened strong and was a close second to Dancing Queen during the busy Lunar New Years weekend.

MKC review


Director:  Kim Dal-joong
Cast:  Kim Myung-min, Go Ara, Ahn Sung-ki
Synopsis:  Former Olympic pacemaker Man-Ho (Kim Myung-min) is now retired.  He then attempts to run 30km to complete a 42.195km marathon for the first time in his life.
Release date:  January 19

The first film from veteran musical director Kim Dal-joong stars Kim Kyung-min who has come into his own as a leading man of late with starring in recents hits Detective K (2011) and Man of Vendetta (2010).  The film released a lot of pre-release buzz but despite a few positive notices it opened at number 6 during the Lunar New Years weekend.

Tarbosaurus 3D

Director:  Han Sang-ho
Writer:  Lee Yong-gyu
Synopsis:  70 million years ago dinosaurs ruled the Korean Peninsula the same way they ruled the rest of the earth. At that time the part of the land now known as Jeonnam Yeosu was the forest habitat of numerous dinosaur species: Tarbosaurus.  The youngest of a family of Tarbosaurs, Spotty is a curious and playful child.  Along with his mother and siblings, he lives happily in the forest, waiting patiently to learn to hunt.  When that day arrives, it marks the beginning of a long and painful journey into adulthood for Spotty.
Release date:  January 26

This 3D dinosaur animation began to generate some buzz last May as CJ was able to presell it to a number of territories during the Cannes film market, including Russia, India, Germany, Thailand, Portugal, Turkey, the Middle East, Singapore, Benelux, Malaysia/Indonesia.  In September Well Go USA purchased the American rights, adding to the film's prospects.

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.