Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part II

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Genre-blending is a very prevalent technique in Korean cinema, the main reasons for this being economies of scale.  The larger a demography you can appeal to, the more likely you are to boost your attendance and therefore revenue streams.  But even in an industry replete with generic hybrids, Save the Green Planet takes the cake.  Korean filmmakers are so good at this technique that they have come close, as I have claimed before, to transcending generic labeling altogether.  Why does a film necessarily need to have labels ascribed to it?  Plenty of reasons, to make them more readily identifiable or targetable for instance, but I appreciate the freedom afforded by splicing so many conventions into long-form that our generic radars become obfuscated and thus we can be surprised again, another rarity in today’s cinema.  Not all appreciate this technique it must be said, even the immensely successful and popular The Host (2006), which is similarly poly-generic, has more than its fair share of detractors, who chiefly cite the film’s failure to settle on any distinct path.  I, for one, disagree with these people:  In my mind such a view is a product of complacency, comfort, and knowing what to expect.  It is also a way to control what we see, as though we can exercise some form of hegemony over what we watch, but that is a discussion for another day.

What I love about Save the Green Planet is its boundless energy and unchecked ambition.  It must be said that not everything works, to be honest, for some viewers maybe very little works, but rookie director Jang Joon-hwan doesn’t seem to have worried too much about what stuck and what didn’t, he was just having too much fun with the material (which he wrote) to worry about being measured or diplomatic.  The end work reflects this style as Jang’s filmmaking exuberance is infectious and the fun transmits directly to the viewer.  There’s no question that we share in his experience of having made this film.  The danger of course is that Jang’s film may have been a flash in the pan, it’s been eight years already and he has yet to tackle a sophomore feature though he did participate in 2010’s omnibus Camelia which I haven’t seen but have not read any great notices for.  More than anything, these days he’s know as successful actress Moon So-ri’s (Oasis, 2002) husband.

Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes in aliens, not only that but he believes that they are planning to destroy the planet and that he is the man to stop them.  Armed with pepper spray, a helmet and garbage bag garb to block alien brain waves, and his unwavering purpose, he and his tightrope walking girlfriend kidnap Man-shik, the CEO of a major corporation.  Byeong-gu believes that Man-shik (Baek Yoon-shik) is an alien and is determined to extract information from him in his isolated hillside lair in Kangwon province.

Essentially the film is a B-movie that splices in many cultish and violent elements to mount a frenzied and anarchic narrative.  For much of the film this is what Jang achieves but he does so with much more care and skill than we expect from other films of the same ilk.  The film immediately opens up with comedy and sci-fi before quickly moving on to what is tantamount to horror and torture porn.  Soon Jang throws in some procedural elements as the hunt is on for Man-shik’s abductor.  However it is at the two-thirds point that the film truly shows us what it is.  Its scope, which was already substantial, takes on voluminous proportions as we are filled in on Byeong-gu’s backstory and his connection to Man-shik, not to mention what may be behind his paranoia.


Like many a Korean film before it and just as many that followed, Save the Green Planet delves into its protagonist’s past and weaves the narrative threads together with melodrama.  Seemingly a tough proposition, this actually works remarkably well in the form of a well-edited montage, aided by a moving and lush string theme led by a melancholy cello.  If this weren’t enough our quick journey through Byeong-gu’s life serves as a searing indictment of society and authority in recent Korean history.  Suddenly what seemed like a curious oddity, albeit an exhilarating one, is infused with purpose.  But Save the Green Planet is an especially special kind of film so woe betide it to stop just there as Jang punches into high gear with a big leap up to the macro level.

When Man-shik finally confesses his origin a new montage unfurls which hurtles us through an alternate history of our entire civilization.  It’s a witty and crafty story but it too hides an ace up its sleeve as Man-shik recounts the atrocities of human civilizations, accompanied with footage of some of our unbecoming history’s most infamous acts of iniquity.  Jang is lamenting the violent gene inherent in our species but it’s a double-edged sword as he fully recognizes and embraces its existence in his own DNA, as evidenced by the violent nature of his film.


It should be a priority for anyone serious about Korean cinema or indeed cinema in general to take the time to watch this film.  Easily one of the most innovative works made in the last ten years, Save the Green Planet is a veritable tour-de-force that almost redefines the purpose and possibility of cinema.  Out of the many trips I’ve taken to the theater, which stretch well past a thousand, the midnight screening of Jang’s film is still my fondest silver screen experience.

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.

East Winds Symposium + Film Festival

Thrilled to publish the schedule for the upcoming East Winds Symposium.  Also very excited to announce that I will be presenting my own talk on ‘The 4th Act: Reconfiguring Korean Melodrama’ at the event.

Looks like a great lineup and I am very much looking forward to the presentations and am honoured to be among them.

The symposium will coincide with the East Winds Film Festival, the excellent programme of which is available at the bottom of this post, along with the trailer.

I will be attending both events and I hope to see you there!

Coventry University, Coventry, CV1 2TT
Friday 2nd March 2012

9:00 – 9:30

Registration and refreshments

9:30 – 10:00

Opening Remarks

10:00 – 11:00

Keynote Address
Jinhee Choi (King’s University, London)



11:30 – 13:00

Panel 1: Audiences and Fans
Chair: Spencer Murphy

Jonathan Wroot (University of East Anglia) ‘Cult Connotations: The reception of Japanese films on DVD in the UK through NEO Magazine.’

Pierce Conran (Modern Korean Cinema), ‘The 4th Act: Reconfiguring Korean Melodrama’

Marlies Gabriele Prinzl (University College London), ‘When Fans Translate: ‘Visible Invisibility’ and Other Challenges to Translation in the Fansubbing Community of East Asian Cinema and Drama’

13:15 – 14:15


14:30 – 16:00

Panel 2:  Dissent, Sex and Social Issues
Chair: Jonathan Wrott

David West ‘You Kids Settle Down – The Decline Of Dissent In The Chanbara Film’

Antoniya Petkovaa (Coventry University) ‘Social issues in contemporary South Korean cinema’

Moises Park (Gordon College, MA)  “A Korean-Palestinian Martial Arts Confrontation in Santiago, Chile: 'Second Degree' Orientalism in Kiltro (2006), the First Chilean Martial Arts Film”

Paul Quinn (Hangul Celluloid), ‘‘Sex Sells… The emergence and growth of sexual content in Korean Cinema’



16:15 – 17:00

Keynote Address

Colette Balmain (Kingston University/Brighton University)
‘Cross cultural flows in East Asian Horror Cinema.’


East Winds Film Festival: Drinks Reception and Buffet

18:45 – 23:00

East Winds Film Festival

Coventry University, Coventry, CV1 2TT
Saturday 3rd March 2012

9:15 – 10:45

Panel 3. The legacy of Japan
Chair: Colette Balmain

Cyril Lepot, ‘Suspended Life in Japanese Cinema’

Gerald Stuart, ‘The surrealist nature of the cinema of Takashi Miike.’

Robert Hyland, (Queen's University, Canada), ‘Liminality in Studio Ghibli’s The Borrower Arrietty.’

Kate E Taylor-Jones (University of East Anglia), ‘The Intra-East Cinema: legacy of the Japanese Colonial Empire and the construction of a Pan-Asian Cinema’




Keynote Address and Concluding Remarks

Paul Bowman (Cardiff University)

‘Film Culture Crossover: Cultural translation and post-Bruce Lee film fight choreography;


Symposium ends

13:00 – 22:00

East Winds Film Festival


Friday 2nd March 2012

18:00 – Drinks Reception and Buffet

18:45 – Opening Speeches

19:00 – Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, 2007)

‘An endearing and entertaining story about the simplicity of human life, infused with the trademark touch of Satoshi’s quirky sense of humour. Two apparently random characters are caught in a personal bubble full of nostalgic memories and unexpected happiness, and their journey brings about touching moments of self-discovery.’

21:00 – Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (Herman Yau, 2011) EUROPEAN PREMIERE

‘A large scale, politically minded film, with breath taking action set pieces, ‘Woman Knight of Mirror Lake’ is just one example of the creative versatility of director Herman Yau. The biographical story of Qiu Jin, an anti-Qing Empire revolutionary, feminist and writer, who is today considered one of China’s heroines.’

Saturday 3rd March 2012

13:00 – In The Pool (Satoshi Miki, 2005) UK PREMIERE + Director & Actress Q&A

‘East Winds’ programme continues with another hilarious comedy by the talented Miki Satoshi, an odd story where conventional neuroses meets unconventional therapy. ‘In the Pool’ is a film about people with problems, who suffer from extraordinary conditions, all prompted by the levels of stress in urban dwellers’ daily lives.’

16:00 – The Yellow Sea (Na Hong-jin, 2011)

‘In the vein of its violent and nihilistic contemporaries, this South Korean cat-and-mouse thriller features the return of the director and acting trio from the all-successful ‘The Chaser’.’

19:45 – Bloodtraffick (Jennifer Thym, 2011) EUROPEAN PREMIERE

‘A sexy Asian female vigilante and a has-been American cop stand at the crux of a holy war between angels and vampires.’

20:00 – True Women For Sale (Herman Yau, 2008) EUROPEAN PREMIERE + Director Q&A

‘A touching film about Hong Kong’s culture and endearing personalities, Herman Yau’s ‘True Women for Sale’ is an intelligent story about the survival of two women in the landscape of Hong Kong society.’

Sunday 4th March 2012

13:00 – Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (Satoshi Miki, 2005)

‘Another endearing example of the charming and quirky films which are un-mistakenly that of director Miki Satoshi. ‘Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers’ is a story about loneliness, friendship, and the mundane existence of normal life.’

15:00 – Mitsuko Delivers (Yuya Ishii, 2011)

‘The second film from Yuya Ishii, who brought the hilarious ‘Sawako Decides’, comes the equally amusing and uplifting ‘Mitsuko Delivers’.’

18:30 – Closing Speeches & Awards

19:00 – Starry Starry Night (Tom Lin, 2011) + Director Q&A
‘Combining the imagination of ‘Amelie’ and the beauty of ‘Midnight in Paris’, the closing film of the festival is one that lingers in the mind of its audience long past its final credits. ‘Starry Starry Night’ is a story about the innocence of youth and the magical moments of yesterday, which strikes the cords deep inside the viewer’s heart. This Taiwanese film, funded by China, marks the emergence of a sophisticated, yet audience friendly teen-centered drama.’

Monday, February 20, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part I

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Once upon a time during a cold, wet winter’s night, my tattered shoes leaking, I trod the murky streets of Dublin for an hour on a rainy Saturday night.  At the time I had only just moved to the Emerald city and though I knew many people in town I rarely fraternized with anyone on the weekends.  It wouldn’t take long for this to change but it didn’t really make me feel lonely, in fact I felt liberated.  After six years of boarding school a few miles up the Liffey River and fifteen of holidays and odds and ends locked away in a remote village in the xenophobic Swiss Alps, my wet feet and permeable clothing didn’t bother me as much as they might have.  The best part of my newfound freedom was that I could go to the cinema however often I pleased, better still was my unlimited membership to the local UGC cinema.  For a few quid a month I could indulge in a wealth of cinema spread across seventeen screens.  My weekends were spent living in the theater and I would often watch four or five movies on the trot.

On this particular Saturday night near the end of 2004 I caught a late show at around ten o’clock but I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw.  But what I’ll never forget is what I watched next.  In those days while the distribution company Tartan was still solvent, they used to stage an ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow which, according to Film Cut, “toured then UGC cinemas (now Cineworld Cinemas) around the UK with the programme of films that Tartan considers to be the most daring examples of ‘extreme cinema’.”  I had seen a funny-looking poster of a grinning man wearing a garbage bag while riding planet Earth and I decided to watch this film based solely on the fact that it was Korean.  Back then I had only dabbled in Korean films but what I had seen had left a strong impression on me.

My first introduction to Asian cinema came when I was researching some versions of Macbeth I could watch for my English class in secondary school.  Having already got my hands on Orson Welles’ and Roman Polanski’s versions I dug a little deeper and heard about an old Japanese film called Throne of Blood (1956) by some guy called Akira Kurosawa.  The title seemed a little silly to me but I’d heard it was quite good so I tracked down a BFI copy on Amazon and popped it in the player.  I think it’s fair to say that the axis of my life shifted somewhat that day.  Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare was brilliant, it was magnificent, it was mesmerizing, and I was in awe.  Completely forgetting about my English class I delved headfirst into Japanese cinema and I rarely came up for air for months.

A while later I was browsing through the Asian film section of my local FNAC (a French media retailer) in Switzerland when I came across a really nifty deluxe, embossed, double-DVD package.  It was green, there was some shiny blood on the cover, it looked kind of out there, and it had a really cool name so I picked it up thinking it might be somewhat akin to a Takashi Miike film, whose catalogue I was raging through at the time.  The film was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and it was nothing like all the Japanese films I had seen because of course it was Korean, but I hated it.  It was unremittingly bleak and gratuitously violent, which I was no stranger to, but in a manner that was so downbeat and realistic that I was traumatized by it for a week, until I was compelled to watch it again.  During the second go-round, once again my axis shifted ever so slightly.  I was beguiled and repulsed at the same time, anger and sadness coursed through me but it was not my own.  Though I would not know it for a while, I had stumbled upon ‘han’, the melancholy which permeates so many of the very best Korean films.  For the time being I was electrified and I needed more, so back to the shelves of FNAC I went.  This time I came back with a double bill of Peppermint Candy (1999) and The Isle (2000).  The former taught me infinitely more about Korea than I had ever known and the latter shocked and impressed me.  This introductory triptych of Korean film already had me drawing parallels and marveling at how an emerging national cinema could be so fresh, self-aware, and successful.

It was this feeling that led me into the theater that was exhibiting a midnight séance of Save the Green Planet (2003), despite the tacky poster.  I was the first person there so I had my choice of seating, as I always do I opted for dead centre in the middle row.  As it turned out I was the only person who came in for this screening but that was fine by me.  I had no expectations for the film and I certainly didn’t think it could match any of the three Korean works I had already seen but then the projector started rolling.

It’s a funny thing to be surprised these days, more and more we are trained to expect things.  We witness events and minutiae unfold in an infinite cycle of cause and effect.  When we walk into a theater we are loaded to the gills with expectations.  In the grand scheme of things there is actually very little that we don’t know regarding what we are about to see.  We know it’s a film, we assume there will be images projected on screen and that some combination of dialogue, music, and foley sound will blare out from the sound system.  We’re fairly certain that there will be people, a story, relationships, props, locations, and much, much more.  All that even before the media barrage that we are relentlessly subjected to in the digital era.  We may know the actors, the director, the writer, the genre, the plot summary, or the country of origin.  We may have seen the poster, the trailer, clips, seen reviews, or even read the book that the film is based on.  Every so often I like to walk into a film with zero expectations, besides those very first ones I’ve listed, but increasingly it’s become very difficult to do this.  Given how much I read online about films I can’t really stroll into a multiplex and not know something about every film on the marquee.  The best place to do this is film festivals, even the most well-informed and up-to-date cinephile is not privy to information regarding absolutely every film on a reputable international event’s program.

On this occasion I was at a multiplex but the Tartan ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow served as a kind of mini festival and in any case I was not familiar with a number of the films, including Save the Green Planet.  The only things I knew about it were that it was Korean and that it looked weird, after a few minutes I also ascertained that Shin Ha-kyun was in it, as I knew him from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  But before recognizing him, I was already hooked.

The opening montage, with a frenetic voiceover explaining a ludicrous theory about a businessman posing as an alien, was exuberant, wacky, and completely unexpected.  It was breathlessly paced, hilarious, and featured some strong mise-en-scene which included brilliant editing and an expertly placed swell in the score.  The hooks were in and I was ready for and thrilled to be on this ride.

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.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (02/17-02/19, 2012)

Howling Takes a Bite Out of the Box Office

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Howling 2/16/12 26.60% 530,291 637,885 549
2 Nameless Gangster 2/2/12 26.60% 498,920 3,394,229 552
3 Dancing Queen 1/18/12 8.90% 178,364 3,555,301 337
4 Legends of Valhalla: Thor (is) 2/9/12 7.70% 154,176 410,062 333
5 The Grey (us) 2/16/12 7.80% 152,028 184,488 300
6 Unbowed 1/18/12 4.90% 96,598 3,321,467 295
7 Tarbosaurus 3D 1/26/12 4.50% 71,608 892,711 197
8 Woman in Black (us) 2/16/12 3.50% 65,640 78,762 268
9 Ghost Rider 3D (us) 2/16/12 2.70% 53,741 70,433 236
10 Papa 2/1/12 1.10% 24,341 558,246 115

Business stayed very strong this weekend as yet another big Korean release took the top spot though it was a close finish for first place.  Two million tickets were sold over the frame and the overall market share for Korean films hit 70%, preserving a remarkable streak of recent domestic advantage.

Howling won the weekend as many expected it would but by a slimmer margin than expected.  It's 530,291 opening was good but not remarkable.  Though given the recent performances of films like Nameless Gangster and Unbowed, both of which strike similar demographics, perhaps this should come as no surprise.  However, reviews have been strong so word of mouth may see Howling increase in its sophomore frame.

In its third weekend, Nameless Gangster came a close second with 498,920 admissions.  Direct competition from Howling did lead to a 40% drop in business but it is still pulling in big numbers.  Currently it is well over the three million admissions mark and will be knocking on the door of four million soon.  It remains to be seen whether it can vie for five as well.

Dancing Queen also lost some steam in its fifth weekend as it wound up with 178,364.  The Uhm Jeong-hwa and Hwang Jeong-min comedy is now over the 3.5 million mark and will attempt to cross four but this will not be an easy task.  Regardless, the film has already been an enormous hit.

After its surprisingly good opening last weekend, Icelandic animated film Legends of Valhalla: Thor remained almost steady as it collected an additional 154,176 sales.  The picture will easily cross half a million and could go further still.  A good performance in any case but given the glut of children's films lately, it's interesting that this one came seemingly out of nowhere to outperform most of them.

Liam Neeson actioneer The Grey had a midlevel opening with 152,028.  Hollywood is having a tough go as local competition targeting the same audiences have overwhelmed it.

Unbowed slipped three spots to number 6 and shed over 60% of its business in the process for a 96,598 weekend.  The Ahn Sung-ki surprise hit has had a fantastic run and its total will soon cross the 3.5 million mark.  From here on out it will begin to shed theaters quickly as exhibitors look to clear away space for new films.

Tarbosaurus 3D is inching closer to the one million mark (it would only be the second animation to cross it after last year's hit Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild) as it garnered some 71,608 viewers over the frame.  It is still proving to be a very interesting time for Korean animation.

Two new US openers filled out slots 8 and 9, and both wer unable to entice audiences.  Woman in Black started its run with a tepid 65,640 while Nic Cage superhero sequel Ghost Rider 3D was D.O.A. with 53,741.

Rounding out the chart was Papa, which added another 24,341 in its third weekend.  The picture has crossed half a million but is a long way from being considered successful.

The only major release opening next weekend is Hollywood's Underworld 4 but the battle for first place will likely be waged between Howling and Nameless Gangster.

Source: kobis.or.kr

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 Sunday evening or 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, February 17, 2012

Weekly Review Round-up (02/11-02/17, 2012)

Lots of big reviews for My Way this week as it played at the Berlin Film Festival and also a number of reviews for romance films coinciding with Valentine's Day this past Tuesday, including a series for Hanguk Yeonghwa.


(asianmovieweb.com, February 14, 2012)

(Beyond Hollywood, February 15, 2012)


(Beyond Hollywood, February 13, 2012)

(Beyond Hollywood, February 10, 2012)

My Way

(Modern Korean Cinema, February 16, 2012)

(Init_Scenes, February 15, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, February 11, 2012)

(Korean Grindhouse, February 11, 2012)

(koreanfilm.org, February 2012)

(Twitch, February 12, 2012)

(Drama Beans, February 12, 2012)


(Hanguk Yeonghwa, February 15, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, February 13, 2012)

(Otherwhere, February 13, 2012)

Gagman, 1989
(Mini Mini Movie, February 15, 2012)

(Korean Candy, February 17, 2012)

(Seen in Jeonju, February 12, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, February 14, 2012)

Musa, 2001
(Subtitled Online, February 12, 2012)

(Hanguk Yeonghwa, February 16, 2012)

(Init_Scenes, February 10, 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, February 16, 2012

Pain (통증, Tong-jeung) 2011

Kwak Kyung-taek is primarily known as a maker of manly films, his filmography includes a number of testosterone fuelled works such as Friend (2001), Typhoon (2005), and Eye For an Eye (2008).  So it should come as some surprise that in 2011, his ninth feature was essentially a romance film, or so the marketers behind it would have us believe.  The truth is, Kwak is actually no stranger to romance narratives.  One of his best films is Love (2007) and if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, it is a love story, albeit one played in a world of gangsters.

Nam-soon (Kwon Sang-woo) lost his family in an accident when he was young and as a result he no longer feels any pain. He now works as a debt collector whose partner beats him in front of debtors until they pay up. He lives an emotionally barren life until he meets Dong-hyeon (Jeong Ryeo-won), a street stall vendor who suffers from hemophilia. As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Nam-soon gradually opens up and a lifetime of hurt washes over him.

Having seen six of his films I’m still a little undecided as to how good a filmmaker Kwak is.  Friend was a strong feature that prompted such a wave of popularity in Korea that it carried him to the upper echelons of the industry, not least because the film was reportedly based on his own youth.  His films are always polished and are well put together but he lacks a visual stamp, which is a defining feature for many of his confreres in the industry.  Aside from male characters, the most defining characteristic of Kwak’s films is the omnipresence of his protagonist's backstories, they are never free of tragedy or their social class.  Structurally this will be conveyed in one of two ways, either we are presented with the tragedy or poor social setting beforehand as a prologue to the events of the films, such as in Friend, Mutt Boy (2003), and Love, or we discover their traumatic backstories through flashback, like in Typhoon, Eye for an Eye, and now Pain.

Like so many Korean films that have come before it, the source of the protagonist’s anguish in Pain is rooted in a deadly car crash.  Off the top of my head, in 2011 alone, I can think of Champ, Blind, and the popular K-Drama City Hunter that have all used the same trop.  Granted it is an effective tool but perhaps more to the point, it has believability on its side.  There aren’t many accidents that can wipe out most of a family and still be deemed plausible.  Fires (also very popular in Korean cinema) and vehicular collisions pretty much fill out this list.

Riskier still are the ailments of the lead characters.  Analgesia and hemophilia are conditions that we do not encounter on a daily basis, far from it.  So to have two characters suffering from them meet and fall in love goes quite a ways to stretching credulity.  Misgivings aside though, it works surprisingly well.  It’s original and leads to some novel situations while also accentuating the emotional highs and lows of the narrative.  Of course Nam-soon's insensitivity to pain is also a metaphor for the suppression of his traumatic memories, to the point where he can no longer feel them or any thing else.  He holds himself responsible for his family’s death and as a result constantly subjects himself to punishment.  Since he cannot feel pain, this cycle can only accelerate and escalate, never providing any relief.

Throughout Kwak’s films you won’t find many strong female characters.  Even in Love, the presence of the female romantic interest is largely symbolic: the impetus of the film’s actions rest on Joo Jin-mo’s character’s shoulders.  I wondered whether Pain would suffer a similar fate but thankfully Dong-hyeon is afforded much more characterization than previous women in his films.  Perhaps even more successful is the casting of the delightful Jeong Ryeo-won, who was wonderful in Castaway on the Moon (2009).  She’s perfect for the part, equal parts tough, vulnerable, and cute, and as always, a joy to watch on screen.

I think that Pain stands as one of Kwak’s best films, even though it was far from his most successful one.  The only part of the film that drags is the end, which smacks a little of inevitability.  However, it does make reference to the conclusion of Park Kwang-su’s seminal Chilsu and Mansu (1988), whose damaged characters find themselves at an impasse by the film's end.  They stare down into a precipice from up on high, not quite understanding what lead them there and helpless as they await their fate, forced upon them by a traumatized society, which is breathlessly trying to move towards the light.


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, February 15, 2012

Korean Cinema News (02/09-02/15, 2012)

Some good features this week and lots of news from the Berlin Film Festival as foreign rights to hot Korean films are getting snatched up.  Lots more news, trailers, interviews, and posters as well.


Finecut Unveils Another Film by Hong
South Korean sales company Finecut Co Ltd has released the first images from In Another Country, the new Hong Sang-soo film that it is representing.  The film is the South Korean debut of leading French actress Isabelle Huppert.  She plays three characters each with the same name who each visit the same seaside town and meet the same local residents.  The rest of the cast, including Yu Jun-san, are South Korean, but much of the dialogue is in English.  (Film Business Asia, February 15, 2012)
The Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB) denied the poster for the movie Gabi for the reason that Kim Min-hee's topless pose is too raunchy.  Therefore, this poster can't be used in theaters or promotional uses.  There have been other cases where posters like these have been denied.  One it has been refused, the production has to go through the process of editing the poster and getting it re-examined by the KMRB.  The posters are usually denied because they are too erotic. 2009 movie Thirst by Park Chan-wook was denied because it was too erotic and was only passed when the KMRB re-examined it after editing.  (hancinema.net, February 8, 2012)

Full Lineup for the 10th New York Korean Film Festival (NYKFF) @ BAM Rose Cinema
This year's New York Korean Film Festival will take place at BAM in Brooklyn and the whole lineup is now available, featuring great films released over the past year including The Servant and Sunny. (BAM, February 8, 2012)

Popular Korean Films Reflecting Social Issues
Korean movies that tackle social issues head on have recently become the center of attention in the country.  They not only portray reality, but also provoke discussions.  Arirang News correspondent Park Ji-won analyzes two films that are now screening here in Korea, which are now raising questions about Korea's political and legal conditions.  (arirang, February 8, 2012)

Korea’s Most Anticipated Films of 2012
With the start of the new year, the Korean film industry looks to its brightest prospects. Kang Byeong-jin of Korean Cinema Today profiles eight highly anticipated films of 2012, including Ghost Sweeper, The Thieves, Korea, Howling, The Tower, The Masquerade King, and Hoogoong: Jaewang-eui chub.  (Korean Cinema Today, February 7, 2012)

Tom Giammarco considers the history of sport in Korean film over on Seen in Jeonju.  (Seen in Jeonju, February 5, 2012)

From Korea With Love
Bangkok-based writer and critic Kong Rithdee looks at the influence of Korean moving images in Thailand and gauges the depth of the Korean Wave.  In late January, So Ji-sub and Han Hyo-ju walked down the red carpet at HuaHin International Film Festival, the inaugural edition of the cinefest held in Thailand’s popular resort town.  (Korean Cinema Today, February 6, 2012)

Finecut Launches Sales on Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta
Seoul-based sales agent Finecut has picked up international rights to Pieta, the latest film from prolific Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk.  Scheduled to start shooting this month, the film tells the story of a cruel loan shark, who believes he doesn’t have any family or loved ones, so has no need to fear when committing brutal acts.  But one day a mysterious woman appears in his life claiming to be his mother.  (Screen Daily, February 10, 2012)

Finecut Adds Grand Heist, Ghost Sweepers to Berlin Slate
Seoul-based sales company Finecut has picked up two new Korean genre films – $10m period action adventure The Grand Heist, and $5m comic action horror Ghost Sweepers.  (Screen Daily, February 9, 2012)

Berlin 2012: Universal Pictures International Inks Multi-Territory Pact for My Way
Universal Pictures International Entertainment has taken multiple territories for the Korean war epic My Way, which has its world premiere Friday night at the Berlin international film festival.  UPIE snagged rights in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand for the film, a World War II epic directed by Kang Je-Kyu and featuring Asian stars Odagiri Joe, Jang Dong-gun and Fan Bingbing.  (The Hollywood Reporter, February 10, 2012)

Korea’s M-Line Opens Doomsday Book
Korea’s M-Line Distribution is launching sales on the sci-fi drama Doomsday Book, co-directed by Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung, at the EFM.  The $5m film comprises three short stories – the first about a robot achieving enlightenment, the second about a zombie invasion and the third about a meteor wiping out mankind.  (Screen Daily, February 11, 2012)

Korean Movies Reflecting Social Issues Fly High at the Box Office
Dancing Queen, a comedy about a middle-aged married couple who each pursue their lost dreams, and Unbowed, a low-budget courtroom drama based on a true story, have both broken the 3-million mark of viewers in less than a month of their release.  According to data compiled by the Korean Film Council, Dancing Queen and Unbowed attracted 3.09 million and 3 million viewers, respectively, as of Saturday since their release on Jan. 18.  (The Korea Times, February 12, 2012)

Drama Producer Son Committed Suicide Jan. 21
Hit drama maker Son Moon-kwon committed suicide last month, a local daily recently reported.  Family members told the Sports Chosun that Son hung himself Jan. 21 from a staircase at his house in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.  He was 40 years old. Son was married to famed script writer Im Seong-han, 52.  (hancinema.net, February 13, 2012)

Shout! Factory Takes Korean Creature Feature Sector 7
Shout! Factory announced today a multi-year agreement with CJ E&M, the leading film distribution and production company in Korea, to be the exclusive North American home entertainment distributor for two widely popular Korean motion pictures, including the creature feature Sector 7.  (Shock Till You Drop, February 14, 2012)


Director Kim Joong-hyeon
Ahead of its international premiere in the Berlinale Forum, director Kim Joong-hyeon talks about his debut feature film Choked with Kim Seong-hoon.  A low-budget film made at the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), Kim Joong-hyeon’s Choked deals with economic troubles and the dissolution of the family in contemporary Korean society.  The film made its world premiere in the Busan International Film Festival’s New Currents competition and is due for an international premiere in the Berlinale Forum section.  (Korean Cinema Today, February 3, 2012)

Lee Na-young Faces Tough Challenge on New Movie
Actress Lee Na-young's latest film Howling, which will be released next Thursday, sees her take on the role of a rookie cop investigating a series of murders by a mysterious wolf-like creature.  In this action-thriller, Lee flexes her muscles as a hard-nosed police detective and even rides a motorcycle.  "This film had so many enticing factors. First of all, I wanted to play a part with many action scenes.  Veteran actor Song Kang-ho was already cast, so I had an even stronger interest in it when I read the script," said Lee.  (The Chosun Ilbo, February 11, 2012)


Eighteen, Nineteen

Introduction to Architecture

Russian Coffee


Planet of Snail

Russian Coffee

Stateless Things


(Modern Korean Cinema, February 12, 2012)

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. 

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