Category Archives: Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012

Crocodile (악어, Kim Ki-duk: 1996)

Crocodile is the directorial debut of enfant terrible of South Korean cinema, Kim Ki-duk. It is an astonishingly accomplished piece of work for a first film, even more so taking into consideration that Kim Ki-duk had no formal training. Instead Kim Ki-duk studied fine arts in Paris, and it is his impeccable understanding of aesthetics that permeates his films enabling the director to construct complex, layered mise-en-scene utilizing natural objects and locations as backdrops to his intense tales of the fragility of  human relationships and the landscapes of concrete modernity against which these relationships are formed and deformed.

Crocodile itself sets the template for many of Director KIM’s early works, including Bad Guy/나쁜 남자 (2001) which it reminds me the most of, with its detailed analysis of the lives of society’s outcasts, and their struggle to exist in a hostile landscape. The film concerns the lives of a group of four of these outcasts – Crocodile (JO Jae-hyeon), grandfather (JEON Moo-song), a young boy Yang-byul (AHN Jae-hong) and a young woman Hyun-jung (WOO Yun-gyeong) that Crocodile rescues from drowning from the Han River where he and the others live, eking out a living by the selling the effects of suicide victims and hustling on the city’s busy streets.

These are lives almost bereft of hope in which violence is a fact of life, as perpetrated by those surrounding this ‘family’ including corrupt cops, mobsters and a variety of street hustlers – here as elsewhere in Director KIM’s films, violence only begets more violence, and death is never very far away. Crocodile himself is the archetypal male protagonist of Director KIM’s early works, whose hatred of self is expressed through violence towards [female] others. For Crocodile rape is the currency that expresses relations between men and women, and is the only way that he can communicate with them.  At one point, when Crocodile  is attempting to rape the girlfriend of a rich businessman who he is attempting to blackmail, he uses a condom telling his unwilling victim that he wouldn’t want to bring another like him into the world, which foregrounds Crocodile’s self-loathing. Scenes such as this in Crocodile would seem to give credence to criticisms of Director KIM’s misogynism.  However this would be to fail to understand that at is heart, Crocodile is  a love story, albeit it a cruel one, in which Crocodile is humanized through his relationship with Hyun-jung, a redemption that is only fulfilled through death with the lovers at the bottom of the Han river, amid the discarded belongings that Crocodile has fashioned into an underwater living space. There is beauty in cruelty here, as elsewhere in Director KIM’s oeuvre, and beauty that is fashioned out of the rubbish of modernity.

As in the death scene with which the film ends, the cinematography is stunning utilizing a color palate drawn from the natural world to externalize and emphasize character psychology. There is beauty in nature, and KIM Ki-duk’s cruel beauty serves to remind us of that beauty, which is being discarded through the process of modernization and industrialization, mimicking the manner in which Crocodile and his ‘family’ have been discarded by society in order to remind us of the human costs of such intractable machinic process.

Crocodile is available to buy on double DVD with Arirang, Director KIM’s award-winning documentary, and can be purchased direct through Terracotta Distribution at a discounted price. These are two films – at polar opposite ends of the scale – by one of South Korea’s leading directors, that should take pride of place in any cinephile’s collection.


Afterthoughts on Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012

The 4th year of Terracotta Far East Film Festival was extremely successful, boasting a really outstanding programme of films and events with many films playing to packed houses. The Festival has gone from strength to strength since it was originally conceived by Joey Terracotta in 2008.  The variety and scope of Terracotta is unique: it is a festival that manages to please both cinephiles and critics alike with its mixture of art house films, documentaries and blockbuster epics. Importantly, for me at least, it does not end up recreating economies of power and privilege in which Japanese cinema generally dominates such festivals, as demonstrated by the fact that it opened with a South Korean film, My Way ((마이웨이,  Kang Je-Gyu, South Korea: 2011).

Alongside South Korean cinema, Chinese and Taiwanese cinema were all represented, along with the first film ever shot in Burma, Return to Burma (Gui lái dí rén, Midi Z, Taiwan/Burma: 2011) which had its UK premiere on Friday, 13th April 2012.

Still from Return to Burma

The Terracotta Film Festival operates an audience award, by which all films are scored by viewers out of 10 and then the aggregate mark is posted. Not surprisingly, the high marks went to the less art-house contributions with the historical epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Sàidékè balái, Wei Te-Sheng, Taiwan: 2011), Studio Ghibli’s latest anime, From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara,   Goro Miyazaki, Japan: 2011) and Sion Sono’s dystopian drama Himzu (Japan: 2011) proving to be crowd pleasers – with Himzu eventually taking the honors and the audience award.

I did not manage to see all the films myself, as I cannot remain sedentary for long periods of time so I had to pick and choose my films carefully and in the process miss some films that ideally I should have and would have liked to have seen on the big screen. For me, there were three outstanding films of the films that I managed to see at the Festival. These were My Way (마이웨이,  Kang Je-Gyu, South Korea: 2011), UFO in Her Eyes (Guo Xiaolu, China: 2011) and Arirang (아리랑, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea: 2011).  It does need to be noted that I have not seen Himzu yet, but will be seeing it soon and posting a review on my site in due course. My honorable mention goes to Dancing Queen (댄싱퀸, Lee Suk-hoon, South Korea: 2012), which I enjoyed more than a typical romantic drama/comedy partly due to strong performances but also because the film managed to deal with a variety of social issues without disappearing into melodrama. Unfortunately and despite its ambition, my dishonorable mention has to go to Return to Burma, which was just too long and repetitive: it was a film that mimicked a documentary, which would have been better if it had been a documentary. In terms of a critique of contemporary capitalism, UFO in Her Eyes was much more successful, managing to comment on the localized nature of Chinese State Capitalism while at the same time, marking a globalized experience of late capitalism that has a resonance far beyond its locality.

I was also lucky enough to attend a masterclass with Guo Xiaolu, which was a highlight of the festival for me. As I am tend to watch mostly Japanese, South Korean and Hong Kong cinemas, I had no prior knowledge of Xiaolu, either as a writer or a director. I attended the Masterclass as I am interested in the work of East Asian female directors, particularly through my current work on South Korean cinema. The Masterclass was fascinating with Xiaolu referencing in European art house cinema, alongside theories of literature and philosophies of cinema, in her discussions of both her work and her life. I have four pages of notes from the session that I will be transcribing and posting when I have more time.

While I have already posted a review of My Way on this site, I will be writing a more extensive review for the forthcoming Directory of World Cinema: South Korea, which will share film of the year along with Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang (I will not be doing a long review of it for this site therefore). My Way and Arirang represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of contemporary South Korean cinema: one an epic war drama which tells of events in World War 2 from the perspective of a Korean soldier that constructs its cinema using broad brush strokes, the other a more subtle and precise painting of a director’s internal conflict, which may well be fiction masquerading as documentary and for which Kim Ki-duk, appropriately enough won Prize Un Certain Regard at last year’s Cannes Film Festival (sharing the award with the Argentian film, Los Labios).

Fittingly enough, I will finish this post with the trailer for Arirang with Kim Ki-duk singing the title song.

I am already looking forward to Terracotta 2013!


Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012, 12-15 April, Prince Charles Cinema, London

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The Terracotta Far East Film Festival is now in its third year and boasts an outstanding programme this year with UK, European and International premieres of South Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese films. Highlights of the festival include the opening film, My Way (Kang Je-kyu, South Korea: 2011), an outstanding war film from the director of Shiri and Brotherhood, a special preview showing of Studio Guilbi’s latest anime, From Up On Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara, Goro Miyazaki, Japan: 2011) and the UK premiere of Kim Ki-duk’s award-winning, documentary, Arirang (South Korea: 2011).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAORmPkSOog

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For all us horror fans, there is the Terror-cotta film marathon, co-sponsored by FrightFest on Friday 13th,  which sees premieres of ZOMBIE 108 (Joe Chien, Taiwan: 2012), the Japanese anime Gyo, directed by Hakayuki Hirao and based upon a manga by Junji Ito, perhaps best known in the West for being the author of the manga on which the TOMIE series of films are based as well as a big screen outing for Shimizu’s seminal and incredibly scary, Ju-On: The Grudge (Japan: 2002). There are also some shorts showing including Inchun Oh’s Metamorphosis (which those of you that read my review of it, I loved). So this an evening for all you fans of horror films and of East and Far East Asian cinema that is not to be missed.

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In terms of Korean cinema, there is a breakfast double bill on Sunday of Couples (Jeong Yong-ki: 2011) followed by Dancing Queen (Lee Seok-hoon: 2011). This double bill starts at 12 noon, and I am expecting to see many of my fellow Koreanophiles there, including some from my Korean language class that I take at the Korean Cultural Centre in London (that is until I get thrown off the course for lack of progress)!

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The festival closes with the UK premiere of Sion Sono’s Himizu (Japan: 2011).

In addition to the film screenings, there are a range of events including a Taiwanese Party, Director Q&A’s and Masterclasses.

I have already booked my festival pass (£60.00), which gives me admission to all of the films and special events. I hope to see some of you there!.

Details of the full programme can be found at:

http://terracottafestival.com/home

I will be updating my site regularly with reviews and news from the festival.


My Way (마이웨이: Kang Je-Kyu, South Korea: 2011)

My Way (마이웨이) is Director Kang’s follow up to his successful 2004 Brotherhood: Taegukgi (태극기 휘날리며) award winning and box office record breaking epic – with more than 10 million box office admissions – about the impact on the Korean War on two brothers, who end up fighting for different sides during the brutal conflict. While Brotherhood: Taegukgi is inward looking – concerned with internal divisions and conflict – My Way is outward looking, taking as its inspiration a ‘true story’ of a Korean Soldier, Yang Kyoungjong, who is said to have fought for the Kwantung army in 1938 before being captured first by the Soviet Army and then by the German Army. Purportedly he was eventually captured by the US army during the invasion of Normandy  and ended up in a POW in Britain before being released in 1945 (see ‘Going My Way with KANG Je-kyu ‘ in Korean Cinema Today, Kang Byeong-jin [ available at <http://koreanfilm.or.kr/webzine/sub/feature.jsp?mode=A_VIEW&wbSeq=41>] for further details). While some critics have questioned the ‘veracity’ of the story on which My Way is based, Director Kang’s most ambitious and South Korea’s most expensive film to date is a ultimately tragic tale of the fate of ordinary soldiers (whether they are Korean, Japanese, German or Russian), who are caught up in a brutal conflict beyond their understanding and who risk losing their humanity in the fight for survival.

My Way’s starry cast includes the popular South Korean actor JANG Dong-gun as KIM Joon-Sik, ODARGIRI Joe, one of Japan’s most famous actors, as HASEGAWA Tatsuo, and noted Chinese actress and singer BINGBING Fan.  However it must be noted that Fan Bingbing is underused in her role as Shirai, a Chinese Solider and sharpshooter who helps Joon-Sik escape from the Japanese Army, and ends up dead for her efforts. Bingbing sparkles briefly but is too soon extinguished to have any real impact in a film that it concerned about [military] masculinity and identity. This is all too true of War films, unless they are concerned with woman’s domestic struggle or valiant efforts on the home front.

Like Director Kang’s Brotherhood, My Way mainly focuses in on the relationship between two men who end up on opposite sides of a conflict. Joon-Sik and Tatsuo become childhood friends when Tatsuo’s family moves to Seoul (Gyeongseong) where his grandfather is a high ranking official in the Japanese Colonial Army in 1928. Their friendship is based upon a common interest in Marathon running, an interest which will be divisive in a later years when both compete to be included in the Olympic team: a race which Joon-Sik wins but is disqualified in order that Tatsuo can take the place in the team.  This ‘unfair’ decision directly leads to Joon-Sik being conscripted into the Japanese Army where he is forced to fit alongside the determined Tatsuo, for whom sacrifice in the name of the Emperor is the true sign of a man, and leads a suicidal charge against the Mongolian Army, before being captured and forced to fight for the Russians alongside his friend and competitor, Joon-Sik.

The film’s panoramic scope from South Korea, to the icy expanses of Siberia and the beaches of Normandy, offers a snapshot of the killing fields of World War 2 that is never less than impressive, managing to be both horrific and beautiful at the same time.  Eschewing military jingoism, My Way is concerned with the day to day life of ordinary soldiers, who are the literal embodiment of the vagaries of War for whom which political ideology and economic ambition means little beyond the human instinct for survival.

The fact that My Way has not performed particularly well to date at either the South Korea or Japanese box offices, especially compared to Brotherhood, attests to the fact that the historical conflict between Japan and South Korea is still a raw sore in the national imaginary of both countries. In addition, My Way is silent about the plight of woman, especially the ‘comfort’ woman – Korean military prostitutes –whose stories are one of the true horrors of the conflict between Japan and Korea. However, irrespective of this, Director Kang’s film is a cinematic tour-de-force and unmissable.

If you live in the UK, My Way is the opening film of the Terracotta Far East Film Festival, on 12th April 2011, at 20:30 pm, which takes place at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square.

Details on the Festival and how to book are available here:

http://terracottafestival.com/films/2012/my-way