Category Archives: Korean Culture

Korean Film Nights 3: Patchwork Unwrapping Korean Cinema

After the success of ‘Chills and Thrills’ and ‘On Foreign Ground: Visions of Migration’, the KCCUK is in the middle of its third mini-season of 2017. The title refers to Kim Hong-joon’s My Korean Cinema (2002-2006). Details of which are here. Kim leant his trade as an assistant to Im Kwon-taek, one of South Korean’s most noted and prolific directors. My Korean Cinema is a personal video series which stems from his work as a director at PiFAN Fantastic Film Fest and Commissioner for Korean Film Commission.
This strand has been curated by students on Birkbeck’s Film Programming and Curating MA.

Films coming up in this strand are as below:

The Knitting Club (Ya-geun Dae-sin Tteu-gae-jil, dir. PARK So-hyun: 2016).

This documentary focusses on Nana and her co-workers who start up a knitting club in order to bring some creativity and companionship in a world dominated by work and alienation. The underlying message of the documentary is that change is always possible, even if it happens in the most subtle of ways.

Date: 3rd August 2017
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite.

The March of Fools (Ba-bo-deul-ui Haeng-jin, dir. HA Gil-jong: 1977).

One of the most important and influential films in South Korean cinematic history, The March of Fools has rarely been screened outside of Korea. The film concerns the relationship between a philosophy student, Byeong-tae (Yoon Moon-seob) and a French literature student, Young-jae (Lee Young-ok) who get together after a group blind date between the male philosophy students and the female French students. The relationship between Byeong-tae and Young-jae has no future as he has passed the mandatory physical for military service. While the 1960s and 1970s was a time of youthful rebellion as documented in many films of the time, the protagonists in The March of Fools are represented as directionless: Young-cheol’s (Ha Jae-young), Byeong-tae’s best friend, goal in life is to catch a whale even though there are no whales on the Korean peninsula. While there is an implicit critique of the status quo in the film, scenes of student demonstrations (keeping in mind that this was produced by a director who experienced those of 6th May 1961) were cut from the theatrical version.

Date: 10th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite

Garak Market Revolution (Janggiwang: Galaksijang Lebollusyeon, dir. Jung Da-won, 2016).

This social-issue class based comedy focusses on the lives of contemporary youths in South Korea especially in the light of high unemployment. The protagonist, Doo-soo, doesn’t want to become a white-collar worker, instead he starts working at Garak Market as a labourer. Doo-soo is also a master of the Korean chess game, Janggi and when he discovers that the local homeless centre is due for demolition, he attempts to save it by challenging the owner to a game of chess.

The short film A Tent (Cheon-mak, dir. Lee hee, 2016) is also being screened.

Date: 17th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: KCCUK
Booking: free via Eventbrite

La Vie En Rose (Jangmi bit insaeng, dir. Kim Hong-joon: 1994) and conversation with the director

Set just before the Seoul Olympics of 1988, La Vie En Rose focuses on the disparate lives of a group of people who frequent a comic book rental shop which is run by Madam (Choi Myung-gil). The patrons are almost all men, and those who stay overnight at the shop get the extra benefit of being able to watch pornographic films. One day, Madam’s life is irrevocably altered when one day Dongpal (Choi Jae-sung), a gangster, seeks sanctuary from the police at the comic shop. He becomes obsessed with her and rapes her, altering both of their lives forever. Set at a time of turmoil in South Korean history, La Vie En Rose offers a nuanced exploration of the lives of people on the margins of society and their attempt to escape from the harshness of their lives.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about Korean cinema from the director, Kim Jong-hoon’s whose work has inspired this mini-season of South Korean films.

Date: 24th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Birbeck Institute for the Moving Arts.
Booking: free via Eventbrite

A Talk on the Homage Film: Director Kim Hong-joon

Kim Hong-joon

This mini-season comes to an end with a special event at Birkbeck in which the director Kim Hong-joon will talk about the ‘homage’ film in relation to the idea of the video essay film. Videoessays are a much more entertaining way of learning about film than by reading alone and feature prominently on most film studies curricula.

Excerpts from the following five short homage films will be presented:

  • The Cinematic World of Im Kwon-taek: Four Keywords-Tradition, Love, History and Road (2010)
  • 12 Shorts for Chung Chang-hwa Retrospective (2011)
  • Life Imitates Film: Looking Back on Choi Eun-hee (2013)
  • Kim Ki-deok: A Frontier-man of Chungmu-Ro (2016)
  • Ahn Sung-ki: A Persona of the Korean Cinema (2017)

Date: 25th August
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Arts
Booking: free via Eventbrite.

 

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Korean Film Nights: On Foreign Ground

Starting in May and finishing in June, the Korean Cultural Centre is running their second curated mini-season of the year.  This season is focusses on stories of immigration to South Korea: from North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Vietnam, and Bangladesh along with diasporic Koreans. It has been curated by students from the Film Studies Programming and Curation MA at the National Film and Television School: Maria Bolocan, Mark Donaldson, Andrew Espe, Irene Silvera Frischknecht, Roberto González, Maureen Gueunet, David Perrin and Nicolas Raffin.

 

 

The programme was launched on Thursday, April 27th at 19:00 with the UK premiere of Burmese on The Roof (2016)which follows three “unnamed” Burmese migrants from very different socio-economic backgrounds who live together on a prefabricated hut on the rooftop of Masoek Furniture Industrial Corporation. The film captures their everyday life in fine detail without constructing them in terms of irreducible difference providing an insight into the struggles of living and working away from home.

 

Bandhobi (Shin Dong-il: 2009).

Date: 3rd May 2017

Time: 7:00 pm

Bandhobi centres around the relationship between Min-seo (Baek Jin-hee), 17-year old Korean girl who has a difficult relationship with her mother and her mother’s lover with whom she lives, and Karim (Mahbub Alam), a 29 year old migrant from Bangladesh whose work visa is about to expire.

The film is showing at the Korean Cultural Centre in London, which is just a three minute walk from Charing Cross Station. Tickets can be booked through Eventbrite.

 

Scenery (Zhang Lu: 2013)

Date: 11th May 2017 & 31st May (Deptford Cinema)

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

The third film in this mini-season is Scenery, a documentary which follows fourteen migrant workers as they live and work in a foreign country. Clips of interviews with them are combined with footage of their everyday lives. Zhang Lu is a Korean-Chinese film director, who prior to directing was a Professor of Chinese Literature at Yabain University,  whose films focus on the marginalised and disenfranchised. Scenary is adapted from his 30 minute short documentary, Over There, which was shown at the 14th Jeonju Digital Film Festival as part of a strand on the theme of strangers. Scenery is Zhang Lu’s first full length documentary and has won multiple awards including the Critics Prize at the 15th Black Movie Independent Film Festival in Geneva.

Booking via Eventbrite

The Journals of Musan (Park Jung-bam: 2011)

Date: 1st June 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

In The Journals of Musan, a North Korean defector Seung-chul (Park Jung-bam) who barely makes a living putting up posters of sex shops in Seoul. He lives in a crumbling apartment house on the outskirts of the city with another defector, Kyung-chul (Jin Yong-ik). Unlike his roommate who embraces the South Korean ‘dream’, Seung-chul finds it difficult to adjust to his new life. The Journals of Musan offers an insight into the often marginalised and alienated lives lived by those who cross the border from North to South Korea.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.

Seoul Searching (Benson Lee: 2015)

Date: 8th June 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

Seoul Searching is a South Korean teenage movie. Set in 1986, the film focusses on experiences of ethnic-Asian teenagers at a Summer camp in Seoul which seeks to teach the teenagers about their Korean heritage. Loosely based upon Lee’s own experiences, Seoul Searching has been compared to the US teen pictures of the 1980s such as The Breakfast Club (John Hughes: 1985). In Justin Chang’s review for Variety, he makes a direct comparison by calling the film the “Bibimbap Breakfast Club.” It examines the complexity of cultural identity for second and third generation diasporic Koreans.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.

He’s On Duty (Yook Sang-hyo: 2013)

Date: 15 June

Time: 7pm

Venue: Korean Cultural Centre

He’s On Duty explores the racism and marginalisation that migrants working in South Korea face through the experiences that Bang Tae-sik (Kim Im-kwon), a South Korean national, who pretends that he is from Bhutan in order to find work as he feels that he is discriminated against because he doesn’t look ‘Korean’ enough. The film uses comedy to expose the hardships that migrant workers face when working in a country with a strong sense of national identity which is based upon ethnic difference.

Tickets can be booked from Eventbrite.

The film is also showing at SOAS, on 12th May at 5:15pm. Tickets can be booked via SOAS.

The students at the National Film School have done a really great job curating this season. In post-Brexit Britain, we can all learn something from the experiences of ‘Others’, whether they are fictional or factual. I would highly recommend that people catch at least one if not more of the films in this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Missing (Lee Eon-hee, South Korea: 2016) – Screening 10th April 2017

Director Lee’s second feature, Missing/Lost Child follows the desperate search of a single mother, Ji-sun (Eom Ji-won), recently separated from her physician husband, for her young daughter, Da-eun (Seo Ha-nee), who goes missing one day seemingly abducted by her Chinese nanny, Han-mae (Gong Hyo-jin). Following Princess Aurora (Pang Eun-jin: 2005) – which was screened as part of the recent Chills and Thrills mini-season at the KCCUK – and The Truth Beneath (Lee Kyoung-mi: 2016), Missing explores the fragile bond between mother and daughter through a female perspective. Starring Eom Ji-won, who played the mother in Lee Joon-ik’s heart-breaking Hope (2013) and the Principal of the strange girl’s school in The Silenced (Lee Hae-young: 2015), and Gong Hyo-jin – a prolific actresses – whose most recent film is A Single Rider (Lee Joo-young: 2017), Missing boasts a stellar cast and recorded over 1 million admissions on its release in South Korea last year and an award by Korea’s Film Actor’s Association for Gong Hyo-jin.

It is nice to see ongoing recognition of the work of female directors by The London Korean Film Festival and Korean Cultural Centre UK and as such, it is important that we support such work as the spotlight all too often fails to fall on female directors, relegating them a secondary status and as a consequence silencing female voices and perspectives in the process.

The film is the second in the series of Teaser screenings for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival 2017 and is the UK premiere of the film. It will be introduced by Evrim Ersoy, Head Programmer for Fantastic Fest (Austin, Texas). The screening takes place at Picturehouse Central on Monday 10th April 2017, at 6.30pm.

Tickets can be booked direct at the following link: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Picturehouse_Central/film/lkff-preview-screening-missing/tickets/24224

Hope to see some of you there.

 


Choi Min-sik: The Interview

Attending the group interview of Choi Min-sik at BAFTA was without doubt the highlight of my year. Charming, modest and humorous, Choi was a delight to interview and opened up about his career to date to the assembled Asian film bloggers and writers.

While Choi Min-sik has become inseparable from the iconic vengeful victim Oh Dae-su in OldBoy, he is one of South Korea’s most respected actors with a long career dating back to 1989 when he appeared in Kuro Arirang directed by Park Chong-won. Since, he appeared in some of the most successful South Korean films of all time including Shiri /Swiri (Kang Je-Gyu: 1999) and The Brotherhood of War/Taegukgi (Kang Je-Gyu: 2004) – playing a North Korean ‘anti-hero’ in both. In between these two block-busters, Choi Min-sik took on the role of the legendry nineteenth century painter, Jang Seung-Up, in Im Kwon-taek’s Chihwaseon (2002). Although Choi Min-sik has played some meditative characters, including  Kang-jae, a washed up gangster who enters into a marriage of convenience with the beautiful Failan (Cecilia Cheung) in Song Hae-Sung’s 2001 film of the same name, and Choi in Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells, a white collar executive who finds spiritual enlightenment when delivering the remains of a Nepalese migrant to his family, Choi Min-sik is better known – particularly in the West where he will forever be associated with Oh Dae-su – for his action roles, particularly those that explore the brutal side of human nature.

The Interview (please note that the questions and answers are from the transcribed interview by Paul Quinn of Hangul Celluloid). 

I was interested to discover when researching for the group interview that Choi Min-sik had actually taken the script of I Saw the Devil to Kim Jee-woon, which formed the basis of my first question.

Dr. Colette Balmain: I would like to ask a question about I Saw the Devil: I read that you were the one who took the script to director Kim Jee-woon and I wondered what attracted you to it since the character you play has really no redeeming qualities or characteristics at all; it’s a very evil character?

Choi Min-sik: When I first saw the script what I felt was this person could only have been born this way with evil genes. He looks like everyone else but the way he was born and who he became felt incredibly sad to me. However, the victim who had been sacrificed by this utter psychopath and having been embroiled in a huge amount of sadness and anger transformed into a devil that’s even worse than the psychopath; I found that idea and process very interesting – almost a reversal of the origins of violence. I felt that the two characters being gridlocked in these extreme acts as the audience watches the process would also be of interest to those viewers and would in some way contaminate them, in the process, and what lay beyond the acts of violence of the two men played by Lee Byung-hun and myself was what I really found interesting. The violence in I Saw the Devil grows to such an extreme that it almost becomes comedic, in a sense, and objectively watching it you can see members of the audience laughing because they realise it’s so outrageous and I wanted to look at that contamination of violence and violation that takes place. I also wanted to share society being rather overwhelmed with act of violence in the world we live in now, and share the terror and feelings of fear that come with that.

My comments: I found Choi Min-sik’s philosophical response about violence as a form of contamination particularly instructive especially as someone who writes about and teaches extreme cinema. Media panic around violent cinema (and of course video games) for me functions merely as a mechanism through which to divert societal/governmental responsibility from socio-economic issues that impact on the prevalence (and I am not saying that deprivation is the only reason for violence, but that it is a formative one in many cases) of real-life violence. Moral outrage over violent cinema also does not take into account the viewer’s relationship to the screen, or indeed the manner in which violent films such as I Saw The Devil engage the viewer into an act of complicity with that violence by making us aware of the cinematic frame. By doing this, it is our desire to see violence and enjoy that violence that is being foregrounded – in these terms, I Saw The Devil provides a critical commentary on violence rather than a how to do it guide as the press and politicians would have us believe.

(Interestingly enough although we were all trying not to ask Choi Min-sik about Spike Lee’s recently release remake of OldBoy, or indeed specific questions about the original, when I did eventually come around to the topic, Choi Min-sik response was both enthusiastic and illuminating (making me wish that perhaps I had asked the question sooner).

Dr. Colette Balmain: I wanted to ask about Oldboy: When I showed Oldboy to my students, I think it resonated with them more than any other film I’ve ever taught. There’s something in Oldboy that is very Korean but it’s also universal as well – there is something that speaks outside of Korea in a very direct way. Given that and given the remake that’s about to come out, how do you feel about remakes of Korean films? And I know many of my students are horrified that Oldboy is being remade, even by Spike Lee.

Choi Min-sik: Today at lunch, I was at the headquarters of Universal which shot the remake of Oldboy and they had a very “sorry” attitude towards me [Choi Min-sik laughs]. I had huge expectations for the film and to have Josh Brolin, who I consider to be an excellent actor, play my role I felt was extremely positive but when I told them I was full of expectations they replied that I really shouldn’t have high expectations for the film at all. However, I think they were being very modest and I think they were just treating me with according respect as the actor who was in the original film. I am very expectant of how the remake will be, I’m greatly anticipating it and I think it will be very interesting to see how a different culture interprets the story.

My commentary: I really liked this response as I feel exactly the same way about remakes. Yes, they might not work some, or indeed most, of the time but that it can be interesting to see how another culture interprets the same story. And I often argue that a remake can lead a viewer to the original, which for me has to be a win-win solution for everyone involved – even if it is just too say how much better the original is.

My concluding thoughts: Choi Min-sik is one of his generation’s truly great actors – and as Mark Morris pointed out in the Q&A after the screening of Nameless Gangster (my review will follow shortly) – not just of South Korean cinema but of cinema. In person, he is charming and irrepressible and extremely modest for an actor with such an outstanding body of work.  It is not often you get to meet a cinematic hero, but thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre UK and BAFTA I did just that. I am still slightly overwhelmed by the experience. Despite masquerading as an academic, I am at heart a fan who cannot believe her luck at what she gets to do for a living.

Thanks to Paul Quinn of Hangul Celluloid for transcribing the interview, which you can find in full  here: Choi Min-sik Group Interview

Again thanks to the KCCUK for making this possible.


Survey on Korean Popular Culture in the UK

I am writing a chapter on Korean Popular Culture in the UK for a publication about the popularity of Korean Popular Culture in Europe and wanted to include an audience study as part of the chapter.  If you live in the UK and are interested in Korean Popular Culture in any form, I would be grateful if you could spend 10 minutes filling in the form.  All participants will remain anonymous.

Thanks

Colette

Clicking on the link below will download a copy of the form, which you can save, and complete.

SurveyonKoreanCultureintheUKonlineupdate


Videos from the Year of 12 Directors at the Korean Cultural Centre, UK

Director E J-Yong (February 2012)

Director Park Kwang-Su (March 2012)

Director Song Il-gon (April 2012)

Director Jeon Kye-soo (May 2012)

Director Lee Joon-ik (June 2012)

Director Lee Hyun-seung (July 2012)

Director Lee Yoon-ki (August 2012)

Director Jeon Kyu-hwan (September 2012)
 


Be-Being present the Korean Masque Music Project: ‘Yi-myun-gong-jak’

The Be-Being ‘Korean Masque Music Project’ was performed as part of ‘All Eyes on Korea’:  A Hundred Day Summer Festival (June – September 2012). The performance took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre in London. The above clip, is courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK), and is a demonstrative of just how wonderful the performance was. Mask Cultures are some of the oldest type of musical dramatic performances in the World, and this was a great introduction to Korean Mask Culture, and was fully appreciated by audience in what was an almost capacity crowd at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This is the accompanying description by the Korean Cultural Centre in promotional material:

“This concert of traditional Korean music consists of both original compositions and reinterpretations of various traditional Korean mask plays. The title of the concert, Yi-myun-gong-jak, refers to an activity or action behind the scenes: wire-pulling in the background revealing the symbolic power of the mask and the masquerade.” (KCCUK, 2012).

Below is a short documentary on the Korean Masque Dance which is helpful in explaining its origins and meanings.

Of course, for fans of South Korean Cinema, memories of the wonderful The King and the Clown (왕의 남자: 2005) were not far away, as elements of the Korean Masque Dance are utilised by Director Lee in his sumptuous tale of treachery and Court intrigue during the reign of King Yeonsan (4 October 1476 – 20 November 1506).

The performance has made me want to find out more about Korean Masque Cultures, and certainly in relation to South Korean cinema, which is the subject of my current research.


Crossroads of Youth (청춘의 십자로)

Crossroads of Youth is one of Korea’s earliest silent films, which would have at the time had narration by a byeonsa (the Korean equivalent of the Japanese benshi). The function of the byeonsa was to tell the story in the absence of diagetic dialogue (which in Western cinema was told through intertitles), in addition to the live music that accompanied the flickering images on the screen. It seems likely that as in Japan, byeonsa would have garnered fans, who would flock to see them, rather than the film that was showing. It is difficult to understand the impact of the byeonsa without actually experiencing the performance that accompanied cinema in the early years of the century in Korea.

I was lucky enough to be invited to see it, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Centre,at the Barbican in London on 2nd August 2012. It was an event that I shall not forget quickly.

Crossroads of Youth premiered in Korea in 1934 and the print has been restored by KOFA. It was the second feature film of Ahn Jong-hwa, who prior to directing had been an actor himself. Crossroads of Youth, is based upon the tribulations of young man, Yong-bok, whose wife of seven years deserts him for a wealthier man,Kye-chul, upon which Yong-bok leaves his village and moves to Seoul in search of a new and better life. While in Seoul, Yong-bok meets the lovely Kye-soon, who is looking after her ill father and her younger sister. Kye-soon falls in love with Yong-bok, but tragically falls foul of the manipulative and decadent Kye-chul – whose decadence is signaled through his fascination with Westernization –  who sexually assaults her, having previously done the same to Yong-bok’s sister, Young-ok, who has come to Seoul searching for her brother. Pushed to the extremes, Yong-bok takes his revenge against Kye-chul, savaging beating up his adversary, before leaving Seoul with Kye-chul and Young-ok.

In its contemporary incarnation, the ‘performance’ (which I am using here instead of screening to stress the ‘eventness’ of the experience), is directed by KIM Tae-yong, who co-directed one of my favourite Korean ‘horror’ films of all time, Memento-Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기: 1999),with Director MIN Kyu-dong – the second in the Whispering Corridors series (1998-2010). This was then the third film of Director Kim’s that I had seen, as last year, I saw his 1996 family [melo]drama, Family Ties (가족의 탄생), at the free screening at the Korean Cultural Centre.

This performance was the second in the London, the first took place last year as part of the Thames Festival. Details of this can be found in Philip Gowman’s review at London Korean Links:

http://londonkoreanlinks.net/2011/09/05/crossroads-of-youth-at-thames-festival/.

The narrator,  actor JO Hee-bong, was wonderful in a demanding role which meant that he had to adopt different roles, including that of the narrator, during the 70 minutes running time, with only short breaks during the musical numbers. The nuances of the narration, may well have been lost to non-Korean speakers, but that didn’t prevent  the audience laughing at the comedic elements of the performance, which were juxtaposed against the dramatic melodrama of the original ‘text’. The musical accompaniment was suitably evocative, mixing together the traditional and the contemporary, and the musical numbers were powerful and functioned to further foreground the meeting of the melodramatic and comedic that defined this powerful performance. Crossroads of Youth cannot be reduced to mere plot elements, as it is an experience that is constituted through its “eventness”.  Mikhail Bakhtin writes: ‘The event of being is a phenomenological concept, for being presents itself into a living consciousness as an event, and a living consciousness actually orients itself and lives in it as in an event.’ (1993, Toward a Philosophy of the Act, Austin: University of Texas Press,  p. 78).

Director Kim told me that he changes elements in the script from year to year, so that the performance of Crossroads of Youth is in continual metamorphosis. This is without doubt the most ambitious project of Director Kim’s career, and one of the most successful. I look forward with great anticipation to seeing it again, knowing that a second ‘experience’ will be of necessity a different experience. Director Kim’s project is one which returns the excitement and spectacle to cinema, constructing an active audience through its ‘eventness’ rather than one dazzled by the mere spectacle of so many contemporary films – which are all surface and no substance. Here the opposite was true.