Category Archives: Korean Cinema

[15JIFF] Dear Dictator 친애하는 지도자동지께 (2014) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 3rd May 2014

DIRECTOR: LEE Sangwoo
PRODUCER: Pierce CORNAN
CAST: KIM Younggune, SHIN Wonho, SEO Hyunseok, LEE Joomin

Reviewed as part of our coverage of 15th Jeonju International Film Festival
Online screening courtesy of Kobiz (Korean Film Council)

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I had pleasure to meet director Lee Sang-Woo over a few bottles of soju at last year’s Jeonju International Film Festival after the premiere of the excellent short film – “Exit” (2013). There is no question or doubt that Lee’s films are dark and particularly satirical in nature. While “Exit” (2013) showed the more graphic side of things in both violence and sex, “Dear Dictator” have more brutal incidences, but somehow the sequences are shy away from the audience. Still, this is a good piece of cinema where it explores a different side of Korean society, the struggler, the unknown story and those living in poverty within a first world country. Broken families and issues are a regular recurrence theme in Lee’s body of work and this film takes it further by showing how it can lead to death and a point where there is no escape from it. An ironic play back to his last short title “Exit”, where the only way to exit this hell is North Korea.

The use of an outsider North Korean spy to show some of the proceedings is interesting and also clever. Lee is the kind of director that have a lot to say about life, families, sex, religion, politics and everything else you can thing of. In many ways this is a matured direction for Lee to take, despite being more tame in not showing to the audience the graphic and brutality in nature of the events that unfolded one by one. This is a powerful film where it questions the very existence of Korean society, the government as well as the tone of black comedy when depicting the North Korean interactions.

Newcomers, KIM Younggune, SHIN Wonho and SEO Hyunseok stars as the struggler, born in different broken and poor family, the trio all suffer from abuse from one way or another. They perfectly show how important a good upbringing can be. The devastating effect of poverty and lack of education, eventually led them to a pathway of destruction, murder and death.

All in all, “Dear Dictator” is easily a good piece of challenging cinema, and despite losing a few marks by not showing the details and graphic sequences, the film still works to great effect. The film also boast first time producer Pierce Conran (film critic and KoBiz (Korean Film Council)’s Editor) and together with the ever gifted Lee Sang Woo, they produced a dark, bleak, yet satirical film about realities within Korean society that are not often shown in cinemas. It adds a layer of ironic-ism when the trio only escape from the first world of South Korea is to be a traitor in the dictator driven and run society of the North. “Dear Dictator” is a film that has a lot to say and whether the message come across to you or not, depends largely within yourself. (Neo 2014)

I rated it 7.5/10

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[15JIFF] A Fresh Start 새출발 (2014) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 3rd May 2014

Directed by: JANG Woo-jin
Starring: Woo Ji Hyeon, Lee Hye-rin

Reviewed as part of our coverage of 15th Jeonju International Film Festival
Online screening courtesy of Kobiz (Korean Film Council)

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This is a raw and experimental film about two lonely and lost souls meeting without expectations. There are some moments in the film where the actors goes up a gear and in general, the direction from JANG Woo-jin is adequate enough with plenty of hand held camera work to defines the indecisive nature of youth.

Woo Ji Hyeon does well as a wandering youth whose life is given a wake up call with a string of unfortunate events after another. Burden with the responsibility of getting Lee Hye-rin’s pregnant after a chance encounter. The two goes about a process of attempted abortion, redemption, finding a purpose and growing together in the process. Director Jang focuses heavily on this aspect and especially how the two slowly changes in their interactions with each other.

All in all, “A Fresh Start” is a nice little debut film from the graduate of Graduate School of Cinematic Content, Dankook University. There are certain moments where it felt amateurish and even borderline irrelevant, but the film picks up pace in the 2nd half and oozes to the final line with plenty of character development. Woo and Lee does not have automatic chemistry, and like the early and many shaky camera work sequences, their relationships grow as the two matures a little by the end of the film. (Neo 2014)

I rated it 6.5/10

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HKAFF: Intruders 誰誰誰是兇手 조난자들 (2013) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 21st November 2013

Directed by: 盧勇石 Noh Young-seok
Starring: Jun Suk-ho, Oh Tae-kyung

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

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To truly empathize with the situation, one must not take this movie too seriously, but at the same time enjoy for what it is worth. “Intruders” is essentially a Hollywood style gore, slasher, murder thriller that contains the plot of a “Jason X” movie, while being filmed with plenty of cinematic flair and style. What I liked about this film is that indie director Noh Young-seok is never pretentious and provides plenty of laughs and thrills along the way. In fact, Noh Young-seok even manages to add the political undertones by getting North Koreans involved in the process. However, Intruder despite being largely entertaining, it really doesn’t have something to say or intriguing message to behold. Sometimes, it doesn’t really need to be, as in terms of those 80s slasher flicks in the reins of “Freddy” and “Jason”, Intruder is like a perfect homage to those.

Jun Suk-ho plays an aspiring screenwriter who goes to the remote countryside in order to complete his script in uttermost piece. Jun Suk-ho looks vulnerable and insecure type of characters, as a result, when bad things happen, it is relatively easy for the audience to identify with him. When he is scared, you can feel that he is genuinely scared. Oh Tae-Kyung plays the slightly haunting former jail inmate who tries extremely hard to befriend Jun Suk-ho, only to be on the opposite side of the fence. Jun Suk-ho is perfect as the guy you just never want to trust and probably the only character in the film, where the audience just cannot exactly read. This is a good thing, as it adds to the suspense factor to the film. The only screaming girl in the movie, is outright annoying and probably set out to achieve exactly that.

All in all, “Intruders” is not entirely ambitious, it is essentially a payback to all those 70s and 80s Hollywood slasher flicks which populate the Halloween factor. The North and South political conflicts is never truly explored, apart from being sounded out at regular intervals. Director Noh Young-seok does not entirely succeeds, but managed to produced enough thrills, laughs and slash to make Intruders an enjoyable experience. As for “Jason” or “Freddy”, they are tame in comparison. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7/10

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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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