Category Archives: Korean Cinema

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.

HKIFF Review: Nobody’s Daughter Haewon 누구의 딸도 아닌 해원 白日夢女兒 (2013) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 5th April 2013

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Jung Eun-chae, Lee Sun-gyun

Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013

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This is how you make a good romantic drama that matters. “NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON” is consistently involving, relevant and at times feels as though the director is taking the audience on a personal journey. Director Hong Sang-soo has the unique ability to show the interactions between the characters so vividly and convincing that allows the audience to live and breathe the drama and slip within the spectrum seamlessly.

Jung Eun-chae (정은채) looks insanely similar to Jeon Ji-hyun (“THE BERLIN FILE”) as both have that inner toughness about them, where they can play strong characters while holding their own at the same time. Jung’s on screen chemistry with “Director Lee” played by Lee Sun-gyun is utterly convincing as there is a degree of need of each other that the audience can clearly feel on a deeper level. The long walks along the border walls, the awkward moments at a student gathering are all naturally played out as the two interacts with passion, normality and silence. It is a truly compelling couple.

All in all, “NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON” is a thoroughly engaging affair that is likely to glue the audience to the screen for the entire duration. In many ways, director Hong Sang-soo is alluding to the technique often used in “BEFORE SUNRISE” and “BEFORE SUNSET” to maximum effect. It is an admirable technique used as the focus is essentially on the actors and characters. The filmmakers also touch upon some deeper issues and provide a rather matured look at love and romance. Perhaps the better title would be capturing a few days in the life of Haewon. After all, “NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON” is probably as real as it gets and after years of romantic comedy and melodrama, Korean cinema may well have come of age. This is a real step up from the other Hoo Sang-soo’s film (“IN ANOTHER COUNTRY), also showing at this year’s film festival. (Neo 2013, Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013)

I rated it 9/10

HKIFF Review: In Another Country 다른 나라에서 他鄉的女人 (2012) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 5th April 2013

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Kwon Hae-hyo, Moon So-ri, Yoo Jun-sang

Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013

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This is one of those films that presents a few scenarios or even alternative takes in life. I am not sure whether the film-maker here is intentionally trying to use the cultural differences for laughs or the very fact that most of the dialogue exchange is so bad to the point that it is actually funny. Casting French popular and award winning actress Isabelle Huppert in the lead role is decent as at the very least she tries to act in the midst of some truly atrocious acting display from the Korean quadrant (Kwon Hae-hyo and Moon So-ri, in particular). I am amazed to read that this film is being nominated for a number of Korean film awards and even completed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps, the film is easily riding on the fame of director Hong Sang-soo’s past films, as I cannot think of any other reasons. Even taking into account that most of Korean actors are out of their comfort zone by the need to commute in English, but some of the acting on display is borderline amateurism and almost unforgiving. When the best thing to come out of this film is the bad acting and dialogue from the lifeguard character (played by Yoo Jun-sang), you know the film is not entirely promising at all.

Isabelle Huppert is probably the anchor in the film, as possibly one of the few people to come out of the film unscratched. She portray the “fish out of water” role quite decently without standing out, but her true motivation is never actually explored. Kwon Hae-hyo who plays the Korean counterpart is clearly terrible and his acting is almost unbearable. His wife played by Moon So-ri is outright annoying, while Yoo Jun-sang who plays the lifeguard is easily the spot light and shining light of the film. Every movement, gesture and dialogue induce laughter. I don’t care whether his acting is so bad that it is funny or deliberately done, whatever it is, Yoo Jun-sang manages to provide plenty of entertainment and a lone bright spot of the movie.

All in all, “IN ANOTHER COUNTRY” feels low budgeted, suffers from poor production values and equally bad acting. While the cultural exchange and poor dialogue may be funny at first instance, it gets repetitive as the film goes on. Essentially, director Hong Sang-soo is probably trying to say something wacky about love, foreign people and Korean man, but “IN ANOTHER COUNTRY” doesn’t do it for me. The only good news is that the film is at times so bad that it is funny. (Neo 2013, Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013)

I rated it 5/10