3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA 2012) – Sydney (Media Coverage / Reviews)

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This page will be continuous updated throughout the film festival that runs from 22nd to 28th August 2012 in Sydney. For people in Brisbane and Melbourne, KOFFIA comes to you in September.

Next up: Review of Scandal Makers.

Sunny 써니 (2011) – South Korea

@KOFFIA 2012
Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 11th September 2012

Back on the success of 2008’s surprise hit comedy “Scandal Makers”, director/writer Kang Hyeong-cheol takes one extra step and go the distance with the audience’s sentimental experiences, heart-felt memories and extremely humane emotions in the crowd winning film, “Sunny”.

“Sunny” is the closing film of KOFFIA 2012 and won the Audience Award for Best Rated Film in the Sydney Leg of the festival.

If there is one sentence to describe the up and coming talented Korean director/writer Kang Hyeong-cheol (“Scandal Makers”) it will be that he knows what his audience wants and he can deliver it sensationally. In just his second feature film, Kang’s films have a combined admission of over 18 million tickets in Korea alone. In his latest film “Sunny”, drawing comparison with Taiwanese box office youth dramatic hit “You are the Apple of My Eye”, Kang deals with similar issues of a group of friends from high school and the reunion that happens many years down the track. The only real difference lies in “Sunny” showing the film from a female perspective. If you have to compare, Kang’s previous work “Scandal Makers”, this film beats it hands down, by being more romantic, more important, more relevant and far more touching.

Ensemble style acting is never easy as often there will be certain individuals that just don’t quite cut it in the chemistry department, however, “Sunny” makes no mistake and deserves wonderful and entertaining acting from all round. The underlying chemistry between the group of high school girls as well as the older group of grown-ups should not be underestimated. Min Hyo-rin as the model girl of the group is especially beautiful, while tomboyish Kang Sora stands out of the pack with the most on-screen presence. Still, the film cannot be done without a particular focus on its main lead character in Im Na-mi, who is perfectly casted in both older and youthful form, Yoo Ho-jeong (older version) and Shim Eun-kyung (teenager). The young Shim Eun-kyung has the sort of unintentional comic awkwardness that made her character extremely likable to follow, while the older Yoo Ho-jeong possesses the sort of motherly style that makes her character extremely realistic.

All in all, “Sunny” is easily Kang Hyeong-cheol’s most accomplished film to date as it engages the audience from start to finish. Kang has the rare quality of knowing exactly what the audience wants to see and his ability to engage the audience is second to none. Although one would somewhat expect the emotional finale, all the things that happens in the movie adds up to the layers of depth that exists in the moment leading up to the fitting final scene. “Sunny” may yet be a commercially successful film, but it takes a director of vision to make the film thoroughly and consistently engaging. There is really a lot to like about “Sunny”, along with its somewhat inspirational theme of the need to have a dream, the true value of friendship and the sense of belonging in life. Director Kang Hyeong-cheol has shot up in my personal list of directors to follow and with “Sunny”, the expectations of his next film has just skyrocketed… (Neo 2012)

I rated it 9/10

The Frontline 고지전 (2011) – South Korea

@KOFFIA 2012
Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 3rd September 2012

Jang Hun’s “The Frontline” is the Korean answer to Hollywood’s “Saving Private Ryan”. From start to finish, the film has all the elements and ingredients of an epic war melodrama and the film manages to deliver on all fronts and is easily alongside “Sunny”, the film of the festival (KOFFIA 2012).

There have been a lot of war epic movies made during the past decade, but none have delivered on the level that the latest from the excellent director Jang Hun (“Secret Reunion”) is able to achieve with “The Frontline”. It is a film that captivates the bloody and pointless years of the Korean War, where both the north and south soldiers simply do not know why they are fighting and what exactly they are fighting for. Fighting without a reason or cause is one of the hardest things to accept, let alone die for. Such is the premise of the film and director Jang Hun makes no mistakes and in turn created a film that the audience can feel, touch and emote with the circumstances of the characters and their devastating situations. “The Frontline” is a powerful film and the manner it is able to make an impact on the audience is quite amazing to watch. To call, “The Frontline” a great war epic with human emotions is by no means an understatement, but it is truly the film of the festival (KOFFIA 2012) and more importantly a masterpiece.

The film is extremely well shot and the soundtrack is top-notched. In particular the atrocious happenings at Pohang are especially affecting. The manner in which the director allows the brutal encounters to be shown as well as vividly depicting those more graphical scenes of bodies being blown off is agonizing to endure. The scene when the young private (played by David Lee) is shot by the sniper nicknamed “2 Seconds” (played by the beautiful Kim Ok-bin) is both painful and shocking, as the director focuses on the facial expressions of his comrades.

Both leading stars Shin Ha-kyun (“Joint Security Area”) and the incredibly charismatic Go Soo (“Haunters”) gave the performance of their lifetime in their respective role as First Lieutenant. Go Soo in particular impresses in the way he is able to depict someone who witness the harsh realities of war and there is depth in his eyes despite his cheerful outlook. Shin Ha-kyun, on the other hand juxtapose by presenting a stoic and serious character that play by the rules, but is ultimately blended by war itself. His silent interactions with the North’s sniper Kim Ok-bin shows a different side of Shin and remains central to the film. Once again, Ryoo Seung-ryong (“All About My Wife”) who plays the North Korea’s commander steals the spotlight and despite his minimal screen time, Ryoo is able show both the cold aspect of war and human heart that lies beneath. With Kim Ok-bin being the lone representative of her gender, Kim shows how war can dramatically change people and mute people of their feelings. Similarly, Lee Je-hoon tries insanely hard to forget pain and suffering through constant needle insertion of morphine. While Ko Chang-seok, a veteran of Jang Hun’s films provides a much needed comic presence.

All in all, “The Frontline” has all the hallmarks of perfect war epic. It is a powerful film that does not shy away from harsh, brutal realities of war and in particular a war is that not worth fighting. The Korean War like many other civil wars provides a lesson for all of us. Director Jang Hun is spot on in his strong focus on character development, the attention to details in the battle sequences as well as making the most of a brilliant soundtrack. By the end of the film, the audience is totally invested into the proceedings and resonates with the fate of each of the characters. “The Frontline” is exactly the kind of film that people venture into cinemas for. On a personal note, “The Frontline” is simply a masterpiece of a film. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 10/10

All About My Wife 내 아내의 모든 것 (2012) – South Korea

@KOFFIA 2012
Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 30 August 2012

The latest Korean romantic comedy, “All About My Wife” goes beyond Hollywood to remake Argentinean film “A Boyfriend for My Wife”) is surprisingly fresh, funny and filled with fine performances all-round. A feel good heart-warmer…

I am pretty cynical when it comes to romantic comedies and in particular the formulaic ones arising like waves from South Korea. However, there is a lot to like about director Min Kyu-dong’s (“Memento Mori”) latest attempt at the crowded genre. “All About My Wife” is as much a light hearted comedy, as well as a look into how different people deal with relationship issues after being married for 7 years. Hiring someone to flirt and woo your wife, so that you can divorce her is nothing new, but director Min Kyu-dong make use of hilariously written dialogue, funny facial expressions and plenty of laugh out loud moments to make this truly a funny experience.

Im Soo-jung (“I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK”) starred as the fast talking wife who always complain about everything that her husband is doing. Soo-jung is the central to the film and shines in particular in scenes that require her more dramatic range. Her fast talking and likable personality makes her a winner with the audience in the film. Her chemistry and dialogue exchanges with her husband (played by Lee Seon-gyun), is filled with obvious comical domestic moments. Lee Seon-gyun (“Love, So Divine”) is like a rock for the film and the way he overacts and reacts to the camera adds to the fun and humour. His portrayal of a husband is tired of a long term relationship is both believable and relatable. Of the trio, Ryoo Seung-ryong (“The Frontline” and “War of the Arrows”) who plays the role of Casanova Seong-ki, simply outshines everyone. As usual his performance is both versatile and stands out of the pack. In an against the usual type performance, Seung-ryong is able to play a happy go lucky play boy who just can’t stop attracting women. The manner in which he attempts to seduce Soo-jung through the use of Wong Kar Wai’s “Days of Being Wild” is both funny and fitting. In many ways, Seung-ryong is a highlight of the film and his presence is always a welcome to endure.

All in all, “All About My Wife” is not a perfect film, nor is it one of the most original romantic comedies around, but there is something about it that makes you want to keep watching, rooting for the outcomes, laughing with the characters and somewhat touching towards the end. In many ways, it is the kind of film that put a light hearted smile on your face and makes you feel good about what you have just witnessed. In all honesty, South Korean cinema makes so many romantic comedies that it has almost become indistinguishable, but director Min Kyu-dong has created a crowd pleasing, fun, light hearted romantic comedy that also have something to say about modern urban romance. (Neo 2012)

I rate it 7.5/10

The Taste of Money 돈의 맛 (2012) – South Korea

@KOFFIA 2012
Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 27 August 2012

Veteran Yoon Yeo-jeong steals the show in Im Sang-soo’s daring film “The Taste of Money” about an intriguing social commentary and erotically charged drama on the rich, greed and money.

Its been a while, I have been able to just sit back and relax so much in a cinema and be at the edge of my seat at the same time. I know I am sounding rather ironic, but controversial film-maker Im Sang-soo does it again with “The Taste of Money”. A film about rich people and how they screw up just about anyone, including people who just want to be happy. It is a dark, yet ironic film that explores the social class that exists so prominently in Asia. In fact, “The Taste of Money” is so stylishly filmed, produced and shot that it is no surprise that it is a winner at the film market for distributors during the Cannes Film Festivals. What impressed me the most is that despite nearly two hours of running time and a relatively thin plot line, the film manages to hold up rather strongly and at times it is so engaging that the audience just want the film to keep going on and on, long after the credits rolled. In many ways, the film also contains numerous laughing spots, namely the shocking, yet “laugh out loud” scene which involves Yoon Yeo-jeong (an over 60 years old wife) and the young driver/house keeper (played by Kim Kang-woo).

As mentioned before, Yoon Yeo-jeong (“The Housemaid”) simply steals the show and the manner she is able to express all these eccentric moods and expressions is nothing short of wonderful to watch. Although she constantly overacts, but it never becomes a nusiance. In fact, Yoon is like a rock for the family and the film itself. Baek Yoon-sik (“Art of Fighting”) who plays the husband and president of the company, is most probably one of the most effortless actors around, his lay back and carefree approach, perfectly defines his character and is most probably the most human of the pack. Kim Kang-woo (“A Better Tomorrow”) as private secretary is given the most important role in the film, but is far too stoic to have any impact on the audience and the film. Kim’s character symbolise those trying hard to make a living within a dark and rich society. Although his comical expressions on his face when he is having sex with the 60 years old Yoon is almost priceless to watch. While he shares some underlying chemistry with co-star Kim Hyo-jin (who plays Yoon’s daughter), he lacks the depth that is required to make his character a convincing one. Kim Hyo-jin (“Everybody Has Secrets”), on the other hand delivers a much better overall performance, but lacks a recognisable face.

All in all, “The Taste of Money” is one of those films that you don’t exactly know whats going to happen next and there is a certain energy to the film that the director wants you to watch it from start to finish. The good thing about this film is that it never bores and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments. “The Taste of Money” is like a smart black comedy and not unlike Hong Kong’s Pang Ho Cheung style of filmmaking. However, the film missed an oportunity to dig deeper into its own darker issues, but despite this, “The Taste of Money” has all the hallmarks of a good film and in the world of carbon copies, Im Sang-soo gets extra marks for trying to go the route not taken, by being more daring and original. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for whatever reasons, I kind of liked it. A good film…(Neo 2012)

I rated it 8/10

“The Taste of Money” will also be showing at KOFFIA in Melbourne and Brisbane during September 2012.

War of the Arrows 최종병기 활 (2011) – South Korea [Opening Film]

@KOFFIA 2012
Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 23 August 2012

“War of the Arrows” starts off slowly and even to the point of boredom, but when it picks up pace, it just never stops going till the finish line, the effect is pretty amazing. I am going to be totally honest here, the opening 30 minutes was painful to endure and at times, pinching my face to stay in attention. However, I have never seen a film redeems itself so much that it almost became the perfect action movie. Ignoring the first part, the film is engaging, tense, exciting and originally shot.

Hae-il Park (“The Host”) scores high marks in the acting category and is utterly convincing as the older brother that gives everything in order to save his younger sister. His chemistry with Moon Chae-won (who play the younger sister) is so radiating on screen that at times, it feels as though they are romantically linked than sibling. Moon always flares well and does particularly well in the scene when she confronts the evil Prince (played by Park Ki-woong). Seung-yong Ryoo is menacing and interesting as villain and Mu-Yeol Kim’s performance is probably one of the weak points in the film.

All in all “War of the Arrows” is a wonderful film to kick of the 2012 KOFFIA in Sydney and is a perfect example of why films should be watched from start to finish, no matter how boring the first act seems to be. Perhaps, I simply didn’t tick in the opening sequence, but by the end of the ride, I was fully loaded, grasped and engaged. It is really the kind of film that “Robin Hood” should have been and with the benchmark setted so high at the start of the festival, “War of the Arrows” remains the film to beat in the coming days. After a slow start, the film simply races to the finish, before you even have time for a breathe. For action fans, this film cannot be missed… (Neo 2012)

I rated it 9/10

“War of the Arrows” will also be showing at KOFFIA in Melbourne and Brisbane during September 2012.

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