Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Isle (섬, Seom) 2000

(by refresh_daemon)

The Isle is the first film I have seen by the prolific Kim Ki-duk. It's a film that's light on plot, but heavy on conflict and angst and that results in a rather slow moving film, but one fraught with enough tension to drive patient moviegoers to its conclusion. What's particularly interesting about the film is how limited the communication is; characters have little dialogue and yet the struggle, especially for the main characters, is to connect, despite their personal problems. That said, the male protagonist is a little weakly drawn and there are also some moments that weaken the film's credulity, but I found the tension and internal conflicts of the characters and how they impact their interactions compelling.

In The Isle, a taciturn woman with a cruelty streak, Huijin (Seo Jeong) runs a set of fishing floats on a lake that are rented out to people looking to get away and fish for a bit or possibly hide from the law. In addition to selling them fishing supplies, she also makes a little extra money by selling her body to some of the fishermen. A new guest, the sullen and withdrawn man with a past, Hyeonsik (Kim Yu-seok), arrives and ends up drawing Huijin's attraction. However, when a local call girl who frequently does business on the lake also develops an attraction to Hyeonsik, Huijin's sadism and ability to relate come to a boil.

Berlinale 2013: Behind the Camera (뒷담화, 감독이 미쳤어요, Dwitdamhwa, Gamdokyi Micheotseoyo) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

E J-yong’s new feature Behind the Camera is a follow-up to his popular mockumentary Actresses (2009), which featured famous stars playing themselves as they took part in a Vogue shoot. That film poked fun at Korea’s entertainment industry and its willing participants were not scared to send themselves up on screen. Many of the same stars return here and are joined by numerous others, but this time E takes his game one step further as he includes himself as the main protagonist.

The conceit is simple: E J-yong is making a short film but there’s a catch, he’s directing it from Los Angeles via Skype. Things get more complicated as the film he is shooting concerns a filmmaker directing a film from overseas via skype.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Berlinale 2013: Fatal (가시꽃) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Fragile and ephemeral, life is a series of moments, of complicated and random connections that constitute the fabric of our character. Each decision we make affects our path irrevocably: our actions may not always be consequential but they are nonetheless inerasable. Like a thin sheet of glass, our lives can shatter in an instant. The briefest moment can reveal our brittle fragility.

Fatal, a New Currents section debut feature from Lee Donku, begins with a life-altering moment for five people. A young woman has been drugged and raped by a gang of high school students, though one of them is an unwilling participant bullied into performing an act that will torment him for the rest of his life. Ten years later, this now 28-year-old man works for a low-rent clothes manufacturer. An encounter with a Christian group of missionaries on the street prompts him to seek some kind of salvation through religion but when he joins the group he discovers that one of his new colleagues is the woman that he and his friends raped a decade prior.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

KCN: Box Office Glory and New Glimpse at Snowpiercer (02/01-02/07, 2012)

2013 couldn't be getting off to a better start for the Korean film industry. It didn't take for local films to swiftly reassert their dominance as The Tower carried through from its December opening while gangster shaman comedy Man on the Edge surprised with a strong performance, However, the fireworks were really set off at the end of the month when prison drama Miracle in Cell No. 7 and spy thriller The Berlin File lit the charts on fire. The month's final weekend was particularly strong as the top two films drew over a million spectators a piece, check out MKC's full report here. February is looking like it will be exceptionally strong as a result of the latter two not to mention a slew of big new releases which are also expected to perform well.

Speaking of blockbusters, the first official poster for Bong Joon-ho's long-awaited Snowpiercer was revealed yesterday. The sci-fi extravaganza is a film I'm particularly excited about.

Berlinale 2013: Ten Korean Films on Show

The Berlin International Film Festival, one of the world's most prestigious film events, is getting underway today for its 63rd edition. As has been the case for the past few years, Korean cinema is featured prominently in this year's lineup, with no less than ten titles screenings across the fest's various sections. While not in attendance, MKC will highlight some of the films screening over the coming days, many of which previously screened at Korean festivals such as Jeonju and Busan.

Hong Sangsoo takes center stage as his latest film Nobody's Daughter Haewon will compete in the prestigious international competition. Following Pieta's win at Venice and Jiseul's triumph at Sundance, might Hong bring home the Golden Bear?

Man on the Edge (박수건달, Baksoogeondal) 2012

The gangster comedy, once one the biggest money-spinners in the Korean film industry, has fallen out of favor recently. Truth is, most high concept comedies struggle in the Korean marketplace these days. Yet for many years they were the king of the charts. In 2001, the gangster comedies Kick the Moon, My Wife Is a Gangster, Hi Dharma and My Boss My Hero, as well as Jang Jin’s hitman comedy Guns & Talk, all featured among the year’s top seven films. A year later, the first entry in the Marrying the Mafia franchise (which would spawn five installments) rode its way to the top of the chart.

What is it about the mix between gangsters and comedy (frequently romantic comedy) that has so enticed Korean viewers? Narratives featuring organized crime have always been popular the world-over and things are certainly no different here. However, in a male-driven country dominated by social hierarchy, it could be that the infantilization of these hoodlums was a welcome source of respite within the safe confines of the country’s multiplexes. In any case this clever piece of genre hybridity burned bright for a number of years before suffering increasingly diminishing returns. A few months ago, the final installment in the Marrying the Mafia franchise failed to attract over a million viewers, demonstrating that the format was running on empty.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Korean Films: One Against All (2013 Week 6)

(by Fabien Schneider)

Small week for Korean film releases, since there is only one new film that will land in theaters. But it's not slouch as this is another movie widely anticipated by the public, and it will bravely attempt to overthrow the established order in the box office. I can easily understand why no other distributor has dared to release a film at the moment, as the market is now completely saturated by three Korean films, that together attracted three million viewers last weekend. Thus the film Fool has been postponed until next week to afford him a better chance.

Southbound  (남쪽 으로 튀어)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Taste for Blood and Money: Traffickers (공모자들, Kongmojadeul) 2012

As a young cinephile and crime fiction fanatic there was a smorgasbord of noir-tinged goodies for a kid growing up in the Nineties to watch, rewatch, and obsessively pore over. Vice, scandal and pulp theatrics were alive and well during an era when Tarantino’s jigsaw narratives, John Dahl’s nihilistic seductresses, Scorsese’s late-era gangster sagas, and the budding humanist crime dramas of Paul Thomas Anderson were playing on the big-screen while paranoid Grand Guignol dramas like the X-Files were simultaneously playing on network television. Of course, no film embodied all the tropes and failures of the crime thriller in that decade quite like Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (1995).

Billed as a post-modern crime caper, the popularity of Singer’s film rode on the back of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction which was released a year earlier and also employed an atypical plot structure. Of course, what has kept the film from being forgotten is its iconic twist ending. A double whammy revealing to the police detective interrogating the film’s narrator and our guide that the entire story we were just fed was a lie, an unoriginal trope in foreign and arthouse cinema but a relatively enervating gimmick to a young cine-educated audience raised on cable television and VHS tapes. A few years later another director, M. Night Shyamalan, would utilize the twist ending as a personal signature to all his films starting with the supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense (1999) and by the mid-aughts the trope became a well-worn and overused cliché.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Berlin File (베를린, Bereullin) 2013

From North By Northwest (1959) all the way to Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy (2011), spy thrillers have long captured the imagination of filmgoers. Over time they have become more elaborate and their appeal has led to a number of blockbuster franchises. James Bond recently celebrated his most successful outing with the chart-topping Skyfall while both the Mission Impossible and Bourne series have also stirred up some serious business.

Korea is no stranger to the genre. Shiri was the country’s first blockbuster hit in 1999 and the country’s contentious relationship with its Northern neighbor has yielded many a spy narrative since then. Ryoo Seung-wan previously dabbled in spies with his deliriously playful and inventive (but financially poisonous) spoof Dachimawa Lee (2008). He found greater success with his next work, the tense thriller The Unjust (2010), through which he channeled New Hollywood works of the 1970s. Now he’s returned to the spy genre for his most ambitious and commercial work yet.

KBO: Miracle in Berlin, Record 1-2 Finish at Korean BO (02/01-02/03, 2013)

Miracle in Berlin, Record 1-2 Finish at Korean BO

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Berlin File 13/01/30 43.40% 1,532,210 2,245,404 897
2 Miracle in Cell No.7 13/01/29 37.50% 1,360,776 4,191,854 869
3 Man on the Edge 13/01/23 6.20% 223,531 659,045 388
4 Pororo: the Racing Adventure 13/01/09 3.80% 137,896 3,826,738 367
5 Hotel Transylvania (us) 13/01/17 2.40% 93,290 868,382 297
6 Les Miserables (uk/us) 12/12/19 1.70% 62,422 5,785,971 208
7 Detective Conan (jp) 13/01/24 1.00% 39,576 165,382 127
8 Life of Pie (us) 13/01/01 1.40% 34,584 1,550,725 89
9 The Impossible (sp/us) 13/01/17 0.70% 25,772 617,916 118
10 The Life of Guskou of Budori (jp) 13/01/30 0.30% 12,778 16,251 113

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Gothic Fantasy: A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년, Neukdae Sonyeon) 2012

(by Rex Baylon)

Of all the film cultures in the world that embrace the ideals of romantic love it is only in South Korea where the connection between the ghosts of the past, the shifting of the seasons, and the tragic melodramatic love story can exist and thrive. While the French may have their amour fou, the Italians and Spanish their unbridled passion, and the Americans their once witty rom-coms South Korea has, for over a decade now, been cornering the market on never-can-be romances. If one were to retrace the genesis of this popular genre you wouldn’t need to go further back than 2002 with the broadcast of Winter Sonata on television screens all over the peninsula. Part of the Endless Love quadrilogy of stories that charted the ups and downs of a couple who meet in adolescence, were separated by some uncontrollable force, reunited later in adulthood, and then depending on the whims of nature and the show’s producer would either come back together again or be painfully ripped apart from one another.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Korean Films: Big Blockbuster In Sight (2013 Week 5)

(by Fabien Schneider)

This week finally offers a little more variety in the cinematic landscape, with no less than four films: a romance, an animated movie for children, an action thriller and a mystery drama.

The Berlin File (베를린)

North Korean secret agent Pyo Jong-seong is on a mission to Berlin to conclude a deal on the sale of weapons when he a price is out on his head and that of his wife by their own government for treason. Jung Jin-soo, a South Korean agent, is also on site to investigate the contract, but faces off with Pyo Jong-seong, an unknown enemy.