Category Archives: The London Korean Film Festival 2016

Train to Busan

As a specialist – or so I like to think – in horror cinema, I have seen many zombie films ranging from the good, bad to the mildly indifferent. And just when I thought there the zombie genre was near exhaustion along comes Train to Busan with its hordes of ferocious zombies terrorising the passengers on a high-speed train whose destination is, of course, Busan. Known for his anime films and their insightful critical commentaries on socio-economics conditions in contemporary South Korea – The King of Pigs/Dwaejiui Wang (2011) and The Fake/Saibi (2013) which took on the consequences of bullying within the stratified structures of South Korea’s High School system and its impact on adulthood and religious fanaticism respectively, it is no surprise that Director YEON imbues his first live-action film with social critique utilizing the figure of the zombie as a metaphor for class disparities in late-capitalist South Korea where the gap between the uber-rich and the poor has never been more divisive.

The zombie is not an indigenous monster and the recent spate of zombie films from East Asia could be seen as an example of the globalization of horror cinema mirroring the contemporary Western obsession with zombies especially on the small screen e.g. The Walking Dead (AMC: 2010-) and iZombie (CW: 2015 – ) . With films such as Zombie 108/Z-108 qi cheng (Joe CHEIN, Taiwan: 2012),  Yakuza Apocalypse/Gokudo Daisenso (MIIKE Takeshi, Japan: 2015) and I am a Hero/Ai Amu a Hiro (SATO Shinzuke, Japan: 2016), the archetypical long-haired ghost with her creaking joints, strange vocal range and fractured body seems to have been displaced by the zombie, the living dead of Marxist thought, spectres born from neo-liberalist geopolitics – linked to the rise of corporate capitalism and the corresponding alienation brought about by the illusory freedom of consumption necessitated by the economics of the free market.

Image result for train to busan

The slow-moving, crippled, zombies of early zombie films are no longer figures of fear, instead we have fast-moving, communities of the living dead – 28 Days Later (Danny BOYLE, UK: 2002) and World War Z (Marc FORSTER, US: 2013) who are gradually becoming conscious, as envisaged by George ROMERO in his fourth instalment of the Night of the Living Dead series, Land of the Dead (US: 2005). In Train to Busan, the zombies are by-products of a leak at nuclear plant and while fast-moving, they lack the type of consciousness to repeat basic human actions which means that ultimately humans will triumph as consciousness will always prevail over pure instinct.  Despite the hordes of zombies who infect those they come across with impunity, Train to Busan’s success lies not so much with the set-pieces – as extraordinary as they are, but with the resilience of human spirit brought into focus by the presence of death. As in BONG Joon-ho’s The Host/Gwoemul (2006), the re-establishing of familial bonds – specifically those between a father and his daughter – is central not just to the narrative trajectory but to the film’s global success.

Image result for train to busan

The father here is Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and the daughter, Soo-an (KIM Soo-ahn). Seok-woo is a busy fund manager who is separated from his wife and although she lives with him, he spends little father to daughter time with Soo-an. However, he begrudgingly concedes to Soo-an’s birthday wish to visit her mother in Busan. Once on the train, Seok-woo must fight to the death to keep his daughter safe. And it is through the reconnection of father and daughter and Seok-woo’s realisation that the world of corporate capitalism to which he belongs is responsible for corrupting the fragile human relations between people, pitting rich against poor, young against old, able-bodied against disabled as embodied by the zombie threat that the film’s success lies. The desire to preserve one’s life at the expense of others is and ignore the suffering of others are essential components of late capitalism which operates through the alienation of man from his labour, and construction of a sphere of pure consumption which offers respite from the psychological warfare of capitalism. The Train to Busan offers the viewer a glimpse into contemporary socio-economic conditions in South Korea – which mimics those in the West – and argues for the importance of connections between people as the only possible response to these spaces of dissolution and destruction, private, public and environmental.

Train to Busan merges our expectations of the contemporary zombie film with action-packed scenes of zombie hordes mercilessly creating havoc and destruction both on and off the train with the family-centred [melo]drama which connects us to the film emotionally as well as viscerally. It is a film that needs – or perhaps more appropriately – demands to be seen on the big screen. It is nothing but spectacular. But it is the human heart of the film brought into relief by the hordes of zombies that makes us stay.

As a preview to the London Korean Film Festival 2016, Train to Busan is showing on 6th October at 7pm at Picturehouse Central. For tickets visit: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Picturehouse_Central/Whats_On

The animated prequel, Seoul Station/Seoulyeok, is showing at LKFF2016. Details available: http://koreanfilm.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

londonkorean2016.png

I can’t quite believe that The London Korean Festival is now in its eleventh year. I remember attending the Festival five or six years ago when attendance wasn’t great and there wasn’t a great deal of buzz around it. These days, however, it is one of the foremost film festivals in London, and something I look forward to with great anticipation.

The programme has been carefully programmed and curated to offer viewers a wide range of films and creative, experimental work from South Korea. There is something in the festival to please everyone: from the casual filmgoer, to the cinephile and the lover of big-budget action films. For me, what is especially exciting is the focus on woman directors with eleven films ranging from The Widow, the first and sadly only film, from PARK Nam-ok, to BYUN Young-joo’s Helpless – the director best known for her wonderful and heart-breaking trilogy of documentaries on the comfort women – The Murmuring (1995), Habitual Sadness (1997) and My Own Breathing (1999), and JEONG Jae-eun’s coming-of-age film Take Care of my Cat (2001). In a move rarely seen in film festivals, the London Korean Film Festival’s Opening Gala is a film directed by a woman. LEE Kyoung-mi’s The Truth Beneath is a psychological thriller about the desperate search for the missing daughter of a political who is running for the National Assembly. Having previously worked as writer and assistant director on PARK Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance (the final film in what is now known as the Vengeance Trilogy 2002-2005), LEE’s second film – her first Crush and Blush (2008) is also showing – promises much.

The other films in Special Focus: The Lives of Korean Women through the Eyes of Women Directors are:

Paju (PARK Chan-ok: 2009)

Forever the Moment (YIM Soon-rye)

Cart (BOO Ji-young: 2014)

Our Love Story (LEE Hyun-ju: 2015)

The Way Home (LEE Jeong-hyang: 2003)

The second strand is called Hits from 2015-2016. I think we can all agree that 2015-2016 has been a record-breaking year for South Korean especially on a global stage with Train to Busan (YEON Sang-ho: 2016) breaking box-office records around the world for a foreign film and a fan favourite with audiences at the recent FrightFest (Shepherds Bush, August 25-29). Great things have been written about The Wailing, NA Hong-jin’s follow-up to his breath-taking thriller, The Yellow Sea (2010) which had its UK premiere at The 60th London Film Festival. Luckily for those that missed it, there is a teaser screening on 06 October 7:00pm at Picturehouse Central.

Having managed to see it myself, I recommend that you don’t sit around and wait for the DVD release but see it on the big screen. It is a hybrid of World War Z (Marc Forster, US: 2013), 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, UK: 2002) but with a particularly South Korean flavour. The zombies are way too quick and there are far too many of them, I would rather run into the shambling zombies of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (US: 1978). The Train to Busan is a high octane zombie film with a touch of melodrama that keeps you riveted to the seat throughout. Luckily the animated prequel, Seoul Station (2016) is showing in this strand.

 

The other films in this strand are:

Dong-Ju: The Portrait of a Poet (LEE Joon-ik: 2015)

Fourth Place (JUNG Ji-woo: 2015)

A Violent Prosecutor (LEE Il-hyung: 2015)

Inside Man (WOO Min-ho: 2015)

The Phantom Detective (JO Sang-ho: 2016)

The Hunt (LEE Woo-chul: 2016)

Asura: The City of Madness (KIM Seong-soo: 2016)

One Way Trip (CHOI Jeong-yeol: 2015).

The third strand is Indie Firepower, programmed by Tony Rayns. Traditionally independent films have struggled in South Korea, due to the lack of funding and once completed, exhibition sites. As such it is nice to see an independent movement growing and represented here. Two of the films are by a young director, PARK Hong-min. His first feature A Fish (2011), was shot in 3D, and is the manner in which he did so, makes A Fish one not to miss.

His second film, Alone (2015), is also showing in this strand. The other films are:

Jesus Hospital (SHIN A-ga: 2011)

Soju and Icecream (LEE Kwang-kuk: 2016)

A Mere Life (PARK Sang-hun: 2013)

Miss Ex (JEONG Ga-young: 2016).

Classic Revisited: LEE Jang-Ho Retrospective is the fourth strand and is programmed by Mark Morris, Oxford University. LEE Jang-ho was one of the most important directors of the Korean New Wave and influential in changing the shape of South Korean cinema indelibly. The films showing in this strand are:

The Man With Three Coffins (1988)

theman

EON Wu-dong (1985)

Good Windy Days (1980).

This is a great chance to  these influential films the way they were meant to be seen – on the big screen and to get an sense of the strong history of South Korean cinema.

The fifth section is Animation and consists of just two films:

Kai (LEE Sung-gang: 2016)

The Tayo Movie Mission: Ace (RYU Jung-oo)

 

Documentary forms the sixth strand and is a genre that South Korea has a long and proud tradition in. The films showing are:

Cinema on the Road (JANG Sun-woo)

My Korean Cinema: Episode 1-8 (KIM Hong-joon)

Wind on the Moon (YI Seung-jun: 2016)

Factory Complex (IM Heung-soon: 2015)

Breathing Underwater(KO Hee-young)

The last section is Mise-en-Scene Shorts which previews the work of up and coming directors. Showing are:

Summer Night (LEE Ji-won: 2016)

Love Complex (OH Seong-ho: 2015)

You Should Know That (HAN Ji-su: 2015)

Deer Flower (KIM Kang-min: 2015)

Bargain (LEE Chung-hyun: 2015)

Nae-ap (KIM In-geun: 2015)

Birds Fly Back to the Nest (JEONG Seung-o: 2016)

Keep Coming (KIM Geon: 2015).

There is also a showing of Artist Videos, with Lux and Ricardo Matos Cabo which focusses on work by CHO Seoung-ho and YOON Soa Sung-a.

The festival concludes with Yourself and Yours by HONG Sang-soo, one of South Korea’s most internationally renowned directors. A fitting end to what is an awesome programme.

Further details:

Official website: http://koreanfilm.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theLKFF

Twitter: @koreanfilmfest

Special thanks to The Korean Cultural Centre for all their help and support over the years.