Category Archives: 2013 Korean films

HKAFF: Our Sunhi 我們的善熙 (2013) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 8th November 2013

Directed by: 洪尚秀 Hong Sang-soo
Starring: 鄭有美 Jung Yu-mi, 鄭在詠 Jung Jae-young, 金相中 Kim Sang-joong, 李善均 Lee Sun-kyun

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

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My feelings towards filmmaker Hang Sang-soo has so far been mixed. To be honest, I only discovered director Hang at 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival, where I was in infuriated with his “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon” and equally concerned with the disappointing “In Another Country“. Luckily, his latest exploration of women, “Our Sunhi” is far more like “Haewon” than “Country”. For some reason, Hang’s films are very similar to Woody Allen’s style. In that the offhand and witty dialogue are a central focus. Not to mention the repetition of the same classical theme song throughout provides more than a few laughs whenever it is played over and over again. Hang uses a unique camera work style where he likes let the scenes and characters to play out themselves, with a wide shot in the beginning, before an obvious closing in as the topic of interest between the characters intensify. In essence, “Our Sunhi” may not break any grounds and most likely not Hang’s best work, but it remains a highly enjoyable film in its own particular style.

Jung Yu-mi plays Hang’s muse in this film and despite everyone being totally in love with her, her looks are quite frankly ordinary and borderline attractive to say the least. However Jung Yu-mi is magnetic whenever on-screen as there is something about her flawed and indecisive female character that makes the audience want to know more about her. However, by the end of the film, it is easy for the audience to realize a fact, we still know nothing about her, including her motivations to cultivate and surround herself with interlinked guys. In fact, Jung Yu-mi seems to be the only character to be without morals and constantly seen to be self-fish and self centered. Lee Sun-kyun plays her love sicken former boyfriend, whose inability to let go of Jung Yu-mi is both comedic and frustrating for the audience. While we laugh at him, we all know at some point in our lives, we were exactly like that. Jung Jae-young plays the wise old friend whose purpose in the movie is to provide everyone with the same advice over and over again. If you dig deep and keep digging, until you reach your limits, then you will truly understand yourself. Essentially, knowing what you can’t do, leads to a true understanding of oneself. As for the professor, while a true academic, is a total failure when coming to the idea or notion of love. His underlying love for his student provides the film with one of its best moments, especially when he revises the reference letter into essentially a love letter.

All in all, “Our Sunhi” is probably not an upgrade of “Nobody Daughter’s Haewon”, but director Hang Sang-soo is fast becoming the Korean’s Woody Allen prologue. His understanding of women is both deep, insightful and at times with love and hate. Witty dialogue, classic soundtrack, with a focus on characters and simple camera work is fast becoming Hang’s personally style. As with most of Hang’s films, the focus on random and meeting people by chance and everything that happens after it remains very much his core concern. The funny thing about his films is that most of the characters we will either have come across in our lives in one way or another. I enjoyed “Our Sunhi” for its duration, but in terms of lingering afterthoughts, it could have been more substantial. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10

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HKAFF: Moebius 뫼비우스 切夫之痛 (2013) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 29th October 2013

Director: 金基德 Kim Ki-duk
Starring: 曹在顯 Cho Jae-hyun, 李恩雨 Lee Eun-woo, 徐英洙 Seo Young-ju

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013
Asian premiere at the 2013 Busan International Film Festival (October 2013).

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After narrowly missing the Busan screening of the controversial and censorship loathed new film from master filmmaker Kim Ki Duk, I wasn’t going to miss the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival leg of “Moebius”. What can I say about this film? Let’s start of by a few descriptive words, namely disturbing, twisted, unbelievable, fascinating, frustrating and incestuous. Believe me, Kim Ki Duk have made some strange films, dealing with difficult and often controversial subjects (i.e. “Pieta”), but in “Moebius”, he goes further and beyond even himself. From the opening scene of a moebius wife who is mentally ill from her husband infidelity, fails to cut his penis and instead turn her attention to their son and quite frankly and literally chop off his penis. With a breath of fresh air, let’s continue. In fact, the film proudly produces not just one scene of penis chopping, but a total of 4 penises being disfigured. That’s not precisely the point, as director Kim Ki Duk is not trying to have a penis count, but rather show the effects of dealing with traumatic experiences, broken families, loneliness, troubled people and possibly karmic effects.

Seo Young-ju who impressed in “Juvenile Offender” continues his good form. In fact, one of the reasons why this film works so well is the level of commitment that all the actors take into their roles in this film. Their portrayal and focus is so single minded into the film, that the audience might as well be indulged into some kind of reality show. Seo is able to portray the innocent youth who is still coming to terms of his means of sexuality and the act of it. In such a stage of discovery, his penis is dismantled by his mother and is forced to face a life without his manhood. How he deals with the situation is interesting alone and when you add in his regretful father (played by Cho Jae-hyun) who inturns also surgically remove his penis, so that he can help his son live through this experience together. Add to this is a side story of the older grocery store lady who in effect have sex with all the men in the movie.

Being graphic is one of Kim’s strong points, although the scenes of actual chopping may have been cut, he never shy away from a situation or happening. There many messages and themes in this film that drills well beyond its surface material. Essentially the film is about a number of social outcasts and while the nature of the events is disturbing, the underlying message is even more frightening. What makes “Moebius” so fascinating to endure is not its one note subject about the deeper theory of the human condition and how one single event can lead a total round circle. I am not a Buddhist and have never held such beliefs, but I do believe that what comes around will go around.

All in all, in creating “Moebius”, director Kim Ki-Duk has stirred up even more controversy, but all in good nature. In fact, it seems as those Kim Ki-Duk has actually matured a notch higher, a bit wilder and a bit more over the top. To call “Moebius” daring is actually an understatement, as it is more than that, it is a film that will haunt you, lingers with you and perhaps disturb you till you never think about it again. There are many things in life that we cannot explain and as disturbing the premises of chopping penises (note 3 or 4 in total), this is a gory and bloody film that comes with plenty of substances. While, “Moebius” doesn’t entirely succeed, it will likely blow you away. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8/10

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BIFF: Pascha (2013) – South Korea [World Premiere]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 28th October 2013

Director: Ahn Seon-kyoung
Starring: Kim So-hee, Sung Ho-jun, Shin Yeon-sook

Reviewed at the World Premiere at 2013 Busan International Film Festival (October 2013)

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This film starts with an interesting premise and even manages to show some promise throughout, but it never really settle for a tone or any meaningful resolution. Rather, “Pascha” is one of those movies where the journey is more important than the destination. It is process that makes “Pascha” worth seeing, the struggle of humanity, love, compassion and living within the strict rules of society and tradition. “Pascha” is not controversial at all, despite its premise, as the relationship between the older woman and the young adult (aged 19) feels every bit genuine and in turn creating a good enough film for the audience to feel and endure.

Kim So-hee plays the older woman almost 40, with her life steeling away from tradition. Dating and living with a 19 year old boyfriend, she is unable to face her parents, society and therefore indulge in the love and company of cats. In fact, both are loners, we hardly see their friends, if they have any. It is hard not to sympathizes with their relationship and despite how doomed it seems to be, it somehow works. Sung Ho-jun is less enduring as the 19 year old in love with Kim So-hee, but the two radiates with chemistry, often making up for their age differences and glaring looks of mother and son. Still not enough is shown or known about Sung Ho-jun’s character and is often overshadowed by a more matured display from Kim So-hee.

All in all, “Pascha” is one of those films that neither excites totally or takes you to boredom, but there is a journey where the audience gets to feel as though they are part of this unlikely relationship. I have always believed the foundation of a long lasting relationship lies in couples actually needing each other. In “Pascha”, director Ahn Seon-kyoung never tries to do too much, (perhaps saving for an emotional farewell for their cat in the very beginning of the film) and ultimately it is precisely the reason why the film worked out. By the end of the film, I can say that there is something in “Pascha” that is worth the journey taken, even if the process is rather tame. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10

BIFF: 10 Minutes 10분 (2013) – South Korea [World Premiere]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 18th October 2013

Director: Lee Yong-Seung
Writer: Kim Hye-Min
Starring: Park Jong-Hwan, Kim Jong-Goo, Jung Hee-Tae, Lee Si-Won, Jang Liu, Jung Seung-Kil

Reviewed at the World Premiere at 2013 Busan International Film Festival (October 2013)

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“10 Minutes” is a small film, but also strikingly realistic portrayal of early life in the workforce and quite frankly office politics. Films about office politics is nothing new, but newcomer director and student Lee Yong-Seung impresses in his debut feature length film by staying true to its source, purpose and aims. Being simple is not easy and this film shows exactly how difficult it is when you are at the bottom of the chain, whether it is in life or in the workforce. 10 minutes may seem like a short time in the span of our lives, but how often does a split minute decision you make turns out to be the longest in your life and this film defines exactly that.

By casting newcomer Park Jong-Hwan for the lead intern role, Lee strikes gold, as Park is able to show raw emotions, the naivety of one with youthful ambitions and more importantly being real and genuine. The audience may not precisely sympathetic with Park’s character, but it undoubtedly made the film a journey that is fascinating to follow. Park is perfect for the role and his raw and at times native and expressive emotions is fascinating to endure. It is easy for the audience to side and detest from him at the same thing and also realising precisely why he fails to fit in. Ultimately, we have all been Park at some point in our lives, but perhaps without realising. Another newcomer Lee Si-Won shows potential for more things to come. Her sarcastic display, confident screen presence and good looks provides the film with some much needed energy and light. She is neither the villain or the victim, but she portrays the role of someone who in not entirely qualify, but coming in at the expense of more qualify people to pitch perfect condition.

All in all, “10 Minutes” is a nice little gem of a discovery and despite its honest intentions, it is never pretentious and almost always entertaining. Watching people suffer in workforce due to gossips, not fitting in and everything else you can associate is interesting to a degree, but what makes the film stands above the genre convention, is everything seems so realistic and director Lee smartly intervenes his notion of life choices and how one’s decision that is made within 10 minutes can have larger consequences. In essence, “10 Minutes” shows the reality of the workplace and that it is who you know and not what you do that makes the difference. Life choices can be easy or difficult, but most of the time will lead you to an entirely different path. A smart guy once told me, “Just assume you made the best choice and let it go at that. Afterall, you did the best you could with the knowledge you had.” I thinks this ring true with “10 Minutes” as well. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8/10

BIFF: Han Gong-Ju 한공주 (2013) – South Korea [World Premiere]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 10th October 2013

Director: Lee Su-Jin
Writer: Lee Su-Jin
Starring: Chun Woo-Hee, Jung In-Sun, Lee Young-Ran, Kim So-Young

Reviewed at the World Premiere at 2013 Busan International Film Festival (October 2013)

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“Han Gong-Ju” is an exciting and intriguing debutant feature from director Lee Su-Jin. The film starts off slowly, but grows onto you without noticing and by the end of the film, you are totally engrossed with the situation at hand. This is a wonderful piece of character exploration of how a young girl deals with the issue of gang rape, the death of a friend and how society views the issue itself. What sets “Han Gong-Ju” apart from the rest of its genre is its ability to tell a story from a variety of angle and presenting the situation as objective as the director can be. Director Lee never tries to exaggerate the situation to provoke emotions, nor do we see the graphic rape sequences that some of the audience may be craving, but the show not tell principle is put to great purpose and in turn creating an emotionally engrossing tale that is equally deep in its underlying message.

Chun Woo-Hee (who was in the brilliant film “Sunny”) stars as the title character, the victim, the accused, the girl in the centre of attention. What makes Chun’s performance so underrated yet wonderful is her ability to hide her emotions behind her raw eyes. There is a certain level of anger in her eyes that shows how she struggles to deal with her past. Moving on is an issue that director Lee tries to express to the audience and when Chun finally is able to move on in a bed of sea swimming across the pacific, both literally and figuratively, the audience is undoubtedly moved and affected. Chun has shown enough potential for more dramatic roles in the future and most definitely one to watch out for in the future. Veteran Lee Young-Ran (“A Werewolf Boy”) is always steadily brilliant as the sympathetic guardian, although nothing is really known about her character and past.

All in all, “Han Gong-Ju” is a though-provoking film that deals with relevant issues within the Korean society. Rape is an universal theme and how different society looks upon it is still a cause for concern. The manner how the victim has to deal with not just what has happened, but rather the gang of rapist’s parents, society pressure, making new friends and the struggle to move on are all expressed within this wonderful little film. With a good performance to boot in the shape of Chun Woo-Hee and quality story telling by director Lee Su-Jin making “Han Gong-Ju” a little Korea piece of gem. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8/10.