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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.

 


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.

 


Chills and Thrills: Korean Film Nights

 

Starting from the 16th February, Korean Film Nights begins the first in three mini-seasons that comprise of a year long screening programme. Each season will showcase six films, many of which are being screened for the first time in the UK.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to curate the first mini-season: ‘Chills and Thrills: Korean Horror Cinema.’ In 2016, South Korean Horror Cinema went global with the critical and commercial success of The Wailing (Na Hong-jin), Train to Busan ( Yeon Sang-ho) and The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook). With this mini-season, I wanted to showcase the breadth and depth of South Korean horror. As such, the films chosen act as a primer for both genre enthusiasts and cinephiles. From a desperate mother whose loss of her daughter is unbearable and can only be assuaged by killing those responsible, to a pair of high-end shoes whose surface beauty hides a deadly secret, a suicide pact between young high-school girls which is not quite what it seems, a sadistic serial killer who forces his victim to tell him scary stories, a young boy whose life is blighted by the fact that he can see ghosts , and an adolescent girl whose life is brutally cut short, these films show the rich tapestry of K-horror. Each film will have an introduction. Film critic Anton Bitel will be introducing  Mourning Grave and Horror Stories.

The programme is as follows:

16th February: Princess Aurora (Pang Eun-jin: 2005)

23rd February: The Red Shoes (Kim Yong-gyun: 2005)

2nd March: A Blood Pledge (Lee Jong-yong: 2009)

9th March: Horror Stories (Kim Gok et al: 2012)

16th March: Mourning Grave (Oh In-chun: 2014)

23rd March: Fatal Intuition (Yun Jun-hyeong: 2015)

There will also be additional screenings in the Echoes programme including a screening at Deptford Cinema on Saturday 25th February 2017.

In addition, I will be giving a talk on ‘School Horror’ at New Malden Library on the 21st of February between 6pm and 7pm. Tickets are free and can be booked at the following link: Talk at New Malden Library


Over Your Dead Body/Kuime (Miike, Japan: 2014)

MIIKE is one of Japan’s most prolific contemporary directors with rarely a misstep in his extensive body of work. In Over Your Dead Body, Miike takes on one of Japan’s most noted ghost stories, that of the betrayed Oiwa, whose spirit won’t rest until her deceitful and murderous husband Iemon pays for his sins. The acts of the  ‘erotic evil character’ (iroaku), who was simultaneously attractive and repulsive, of Kabuki, who thrilled audiences in Japan in the 19th century, gave birth to the most prevalent archetype – that of the wronged woman –  who continues to haunt Japanese horror cinema, the vengeful ghost (onryo) with her long dark hair, white skin and disfigured features.

Miike, as should be no surprise, gives the ghost story of Oiwa a particularly modern twist, by merging together fantasy and reality through focus on the manner in which rehearsals for a production of Yotsuya Kaidan bleed into the ‘real’ lives of the cast. Evoking Todorov’s concept of the fantastic, Over Your Dead Body operates on dual levels merging the psychological with the supernatural. The story of Iemon and Oiwa on the stage is mirrored by the tempestuous relationship between Lousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) and Miyuke (Ko Shibasaki), with Miyuke’s understudy (Miho Nakanishi) for the part of Oiwa forming the final part of the dangerous triangular structure of the original play (in Yotsuya Kaidan, this role is taken by Ume – the beautiful granddaughter of a wealthy businessman).

Dennis Harvey in Variety (September 5, 2014) dismisses Miike’s film ‘a boring movie’ and ‘ a handsome tedious rather tedious exercise’. Yet for me, Over Your Dead Body is a triumph of slow building tension and the awful visceral horror for which Miike is noted. In this regard, it reminded me of both Miike’s Audition/ Odishon R and Imprint (Masters of Horror, TV: 2006) If the purpose of the original Kabuki play was to depict a decaying socio-political order and the subsequent loss of the spiritual, then Over Your Dead Body draws our attention to the fact that at the centre of history is repetition. Thus the purpose of intertwining rehearsals of the play with the unravelling world of its actors is an essential part of the narrative and not merely an empty formalist gesture as suggested by Harvey.

To say much more would be to say too much, except to suggest that Over Your Dead Body is worth seeking out, not just for Miike’ completionists but for fans of Japanese horror more generally. Evoking the colour palate of Japanese Edo-gothic, Over Your Dead Body is sumptuously horrifying reminding us of that in contemporary Japan, a stagnant economy and corresponding ‘youth bulge’, has lead to social isolation and alienation as marked by the increase in lonely deaths (kodokushi) among the middle aged and elderly population and the withdrawal from society (hikikomori) among the younger generation as well as high suicide rates. If we fail to listen to the past, we are doomed – a salutary lesson that underpins much contemporary Japanese horror cinema with Kurosawa’s recent Creepy/Kuripi Itsuwari no Rinjin  (2016) a case in point.

The DVD can be bought via Amazon although I would recommend pay a little bit more for the Bluray

References

Harvey, D (2014). Toronto Film Review: ‘Over Your Dead Body’, Variety, September 05, 2004, http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/toronto-film-review-over-your-dead-body-1201299283/ (accessed 18 October 2016).

Shirane, H. (2013). Early modern Japanese literature: an anthology, 1600-1900. Columbia University Press, pp. 456-457.

Todorov, T. (1975). The Fantastic. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

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Creepy (KUROSAWA, Japan: 2016)

 

One of my favourite Japanese directors, KUROSAWA Kiyoshi has made one of the most significant contributions to Japanese horror cinema starting with Sweet Home (1989) – which is well worth watching if you can track down a copy – and most recently with Creepy/Kuripi Itsuwari No Rinjin, based upon the novel by Yutaka Maekawa. His 2001 techno-horror Pulse/Kairo is one of the most haunting, evocative explorations of the alienated state of late capitalism: people disappear leaving just burnt ashes in their wake, signifiers of the fragile nature of existence and the processes of personal and historical amnesia. Creepy explores psychological rather than supernatural horror: here the monster – that which disrupts the narrative and needs to be removed in order for order to be restored – could be anyone/is everyone.

Creepy takes place in a seemingly normal neighbourhood where a retired policeman, Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) lives with his wife, Yasuko (Yuko Takechi) after retiring from the police force after a confrontation with a particularly brutal serial killer, changes his world forever. On the surface the neighbourhood seems idyllic, yet the neighbours are less than welcoming and Yasuko is increasingly isolated while Takakura becomes distracted looking into an old case where a family went missing in a neighbourhood similar to theirs, leaving behind their youngest daughter, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi). Meanwhile the strange neighbour who lives next door, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who has a sick wife and teenage daughter, latches onto Yasuko’s loneliness and a strange, creepy relationship develops between them.

Image result for creepy kurosawa

 

Unlike the phantasmagoric threats of his earlier films, here the threat is other people, particularly those living in close contact. In a sense, this makes Creepy more frightening than his  supernatural horror films. How well do we know our neighbours when the concept of a community has been fractured and fragmented by our modern lifestyles in which technology has become a replacement for connection and personal communication? While Takakura begins to realise that the neighbourhood that the Honda family lived in ‘looks like a crime scene’, he fails to recognise that it is in fact a mirror image of his, and that in fact from a distance the two neighbourhoods including the placement of the houses are exactly the same.  The slow build-up to the eventual dénouement is creepy, as in the title of the film, and as past and present convalesce in a shocking final 30 minutes and a refusal to offer the review a neat resolution: the circularity of time and double structure which brings together different and disparate temporalities* articulates Kurosawa’s mediation of the nature of time, memory and the past which unifies his work, whether ‘horror’ or ‘not’.

 

Creepy, has been, unfairly in my opinion, compared to his other films and seen as lacking as a result. I would argue that Creepy is one of the most accomplished films that Kurosawa has directed: I found it genuinely frightening and horrific and compulsive viewing. I would highly recommend seeing it. Creepy is on at the moment and will have its premiere at the London Film Festival: details available here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff.

Full Screening Dates in the UK are as below and are reproduced from Eureka’s website:

London, Haymarket Cinema (2016 LFF – UK Premiere), 8 October 2016  Book Now

London, Vue West End Cinema (2016 LFF Screening), 9 October 2016  Book Now

Nottingham, Broadway (Mayhem Film Festival), 16 October 2016  Book Now

Sheffield, Showroom (Celluloid Screams), 22 October 2016 Book Now

London, Curzon Soho (2016 London East Asia Film Festival), 23 October 2016

(more to be announced… )

 

*See Lim, Bliss Cua. Translating time: Cinema, the fantastic, and temporal critique. Duke University Press, 2009.

 

 


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/

 

 

 

 


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.

 

 

 


The 1st London East Asian Film Festival (LEAFF) 20th – 30th October 2016

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The London East Asian Film Festival, organised by Hye-jung Jeon, is an annual film festival which brings together the best of East Asian film, including both mainstream and independent cinema. Her vision is to bring together Asian films that will help audiences understand the diversity and richness of East Asian cinemas and cultures. This festival plays a vital part in de-orientalising ‘Asia’ and ‘East Asia’ by making visible local connections, cultural specifity and global flows between East Asia and the West. This is perhaps best epitomised by Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden which is based on Sarah Watter’s bestselling historical thriller, Fingersmith (2002).

The festival is divided into five carefully curated and programmed strands: Official Selection; Competition, Retrospective, Stories of Women, and Film Festival Focus. In the Official strand is a film by one of my favourite Japanese directors, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Creepy, which has been creeping out audiences on its way to us in London. To say that I am excited is an understatement, especially as Kurosawa will be in attendance at the festival and doing a Q&A after the screening of the film.

It is a film that NEEDS to be seen on the big screen and is a chance to get to know one of Japan’s foremost directors whose 2008 film Tokyo Sonata won Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The opening film is The Age of Shadows by KIM Jee-woon who will also be present at the screening. KIM Jee-woon operates with precision with a saturated cinematic palate that affects viewers on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.

Of special importance is the screening of Spirit’s Homecoming about the Comfort Women which will be followed by a Q&A in association with PAWA.

The fact that this film was crowd-funded testifies to its importance and is another film that should not be missed in my opinion. The Comfort Women are women, used as sexual slaves during the Japanese Occupation of Korea, who were subjected to harrowing ordeals at the hands of soldiers. Their stories are captured in the documentary series, made up of The Murmuring (1995), Habitual Sadness (1997) and finally My Own Breathing (1999), directed by Byun Young-joo. This fictional addition to the stories of these women, whose voices had been silenced and whose voices will be silent when the last comfort woman dies, forms a part of the representation / restoration of history that should never be forgotten.

Another special mention goes to the screening of Beautiful 2016, an omnibus film, with shorts by JIA Zhangke (China), Stanley KWAN (Hong Kong), Alec Su (Taiwan) and NAKATA Hideo (Japan & another of my favourite directors), co-produced by the Hong Kong International and Film Festival Society (HKIFFS) and Heyi Picture, encompasses the philosophy behind the inception of LEAFF. The ‘Beautiful’ film series has been running since 2012 and boasts shorts by KUROSAWA Kiyoshi, TSAI Ming-liang, Christopher DOYLE, HUANG Jianxin and many others.

The Retrospective section of the Festival is devoted to PARK Chan-wook, who rose to fame in the West with the second film in his Vengeance Trilogy, OldBoy (2003) and has been making audiences laugh, scream and even cry ever since. His 2009 vampire film, Thirst, is a cinematic tour-de-force, while his 2006 fantasy drama, I’m A Cyborg: But That’s OK is one of the most lyrical and beautiful films produced in contemporary times. I recommend catching the later, as it is one of those films that doesn’t get as much critical or cultural appreciation as his others.

The Full Programme is:

Thursday 20th October

19:30 – AGE OF SHADOWS (ODEON Leicester Sq, sc1) | Q&A | Official Selection

Friday 21st October
18:30 – THE HANDMAIDEN (Picturehouse Central, sc1) | Q&A | PCW Retrospective

Saturday 22nd October
10:00 – GREAT PATRIOTEERS (ICA Cinema, sc1) | Film Festival Focus
13:30 – BAFTA talk w/ PCW & NIGHT FISHING (BFI, sc1) | Q&A | PCW Retrospective
15:30 – GOSANJA (Curzon Soho, sc1) | Q&A | Official Selection
18:00 – SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, OLD BOY, LADY VENGEANCE (Picturehouse Central, sc2) | INTRO | PCW Retrospective

Sunday 23rd October
10:00 – CURTAIN CALL (ICA Cinema, sc1) | Film Festival Focus
15:30 – TUNNEL (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Q&A | Official Selection
18:00 – GOODBYE SINGLE (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Q&A | Official Selection
20:30 – CREEPY (Curzon Soho, sc1) | Q&A | Official Selection

Monday 24th October
14:00 – NFTS seminar w/ PCW | PCW Retrospective
18:30 – BEAUTIFUL 2016 (Curzon Soho, sc1) | Official Selection
20:30 – HARMONIUM (Curzon Soho, sc3) | UK PREM | Official Selection

Tuesday 25th October
18:30 – A YELLOW BIRD (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Q&A | Competition
20:30 – MIDNIGHT DINER (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Q&A | Special Spotlight

Wednesday 26th October
18:30 – THE WORLD OF US (Regent Street Cinema) | Q&A | Competition | Stories of Women
18:30 – STOKER + DAY TRIP (Hackney Picturehouse, sc3) | PCW Retrospective
20:30 – BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK (Regent Street Cinema) | Stories of Women

Thursday 27th October
18:30 – HEE (Regent Street Cinema) | Q&A | Stories of Women
20:30 – SPIRIT’S HOMECOMING (Regent Street Cinema) | Q&A in association with PAWA | Stories of Women

Friday 28th October
15:30 – KARAOKE CRAZIES (Curzon Soho, sc1/3) | Q&A | Competition
18:30 – JOINT SECURITY AREA (Ritzy Picturehouse, sc2) | PCW Retrospective

Saturday 29th October
10:00 – BREATHING UNDERWATER (ICA Cinema, sc1) | Film Festival Focus
15:00 – NESSUN DORMA (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Offical Selection
15:30 – SPIRIT’S HOMECOMING (Sheffield Showroom) | Q&A | Stories of Women
18:30 – THIRST + JUDGEMENT (Ritzy Picturehouse, sc2) | PCW Retrospective

Sunday 30th October
10:00 – THE LAUNDRYMAN (ICA Cinema, sc1) | Competition
13:00 – PEKAK (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Offical Selection
15:30 – BANGKOK NITES (Curzon Soho, sc3) | Official Selection
18:30 – I’M A CYBORG + BITTER SWEET SEOUL (Hackney Picturehouse, sc3) | PCW Retrospective
19:00 – THREE (Ham Yard Hotel) | Q&A | Official Selection

*Subject to change (venues, times)

For up-to-date information, please visit the official Facebook site:http://www.leaff.org.uk/

Web Page:

On Twitter: @LEAFilmFest

You will find me on twitter, talking all things East Asian especially with relation to horror cinema and videogames, although I have been known to ramble about K-Pop and K-drama @ColetteBalmain

Mark your diaries and book your tickets. I hope to see some of you there.


Tokyo Tribe (Sono, 2014)

 

Sono is one of the most prolific Japanese directors, although not up to the standards of Miike who manages more than one film a year without a noticeable drop in quality. Ever since Suicide Club/Jisatsu Saakuru (2001) and Exte/Ekusute (2007), I have been a big fan of his work. Suicide Club has perhaps the best opening sequence in horror.

Unfortunately, I found the overt misogyny of  his 2010 film Cold Fish/Tsumetai Nettaigyo (2010) very hard to come to terms with. Humour, black or not, around rape is highly problematic. I didn’t feel that I could watch it again, and therefore never wrote a review as films need repeated viewing in order to write a proper review – at least for me it is the case. I suspect that part of my problem with it was culturally located as rape itself, is unfortunately, a common component of Japanese cinema. Since then, I have avoided Sono’s films but the trailer of Tokyo Tribes was interesting and I felt that perhaps I had been too hard on Sono. After all missteps are common in any field of the arts and most great directors have one or more turkeys in their back catalogue.

So back to Tokyo Tribe, a film that sets out – consciously  or unconsciously – to offend women and members of the LGBTQIA community in the first 10 minutes. The overall concept is great. A hip-hop musical about competing tribes in a dystopic Tokyo, who eventually come together in peace against a common enemy, is both inventive and innovative. Tokyo Tribe is based on the best-selling manga by Santa Inoue (1987-2005) which was published in Boon, a street fashion magazine which is now published by Shodensha, and feels like a throwback to the mid to late 1980s. The fact that Sono choose to introduce the tribes to the audience by having Mera – the boss of Bukuro Wu-Ronz – trace the geography of the different tribes over the half-naked body of a policewoman (who tries to arrest him on her first day on the job) alerts us to the insistent discourses of male voyeurism and fetishism than run throughout the film. The fact that the female tribe members, are either prostitutes, or dressed up like 2000s Missy Elliot and coded in non-normative terms,  is highly problematic. In addition, the schoolgirl heroine, Erika, who has some kick ass moves – we are told that she comes from Wong Kong (Hong Kong) – is often freeze framed or in slow motion as the camera pans in up skirt to linger on her white underwear is even more troubling.

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Not another panty shot please!

While as other critics have argued, Tokyo Tribe like other Sono films, embeds a social critique of Japanese society, politics and patriarchy, it seems to me that the film simultaneously constructs figures of female empowerment and strips them off that empowerment by overt sexualisation through the use of  terms ‘cultural scopophilia’. I use the term ‘cultural scopophilia’ here to foreground the othering of cultural and ethnic difference in Tokyo Tribe through the visual lexicon of fashion as signifier of Otherness. Erika’s innocence – or sexualized innocence as connoted by her schoolgirl uniform at the beginning – is the opposite to the hyper-sexuality and non-normative sexuality of the Kabukico Gira Gira girls. In addition, while the Mushashino tribe might be all about love and peace, there are limits to this love and peace – as the transcribed lyrics go “No homos, we ain’t Kissing Dudes”. While homophobia, unfortunately, remains at the heart of contemporary hip-hop and rap, Sono did not have to replicate and foreground this homophobia.

Nkoi gets his ‘freak on’

Further the son of the film’s bloated baddy, Lord Buppa (Riki Takechi), Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka) keeps slaves that they don’t eat for dinner and pleasure, as his personal puppets cocooned in an ivory room in which his harem have to position themselves as furniture or perform for him in order not to incur his wrath. Once again, suppressed homosexuality is coded as inherently deviant and monstrous, in its opposition to dominant heterosexuality which is capable of ‘peace and love’ but not, as I pointed out previously, to all.

There is much to be enjoyed in its visual excesses and poetic raps, it is just necessary to be aware of what problems such excesses may mask. Excess is not necesssarily subversive. Here excess functions as licenced rather than unlienced carnival, the former  of which props up the dominant ideology by allowing space for subversion and by controlling that space. While I always enjoy Sono’s visual mastery, I was uncomfortable with the gender and sexual politics on display here. As much as it could be claimed that Sono is critiquing such politics, in the end he reinforces such politics at the level of image and sound. In repeating the visual and aural legacy of hip-hop which is predicated on the oppression of women and non-normative sexualities, the message of ‘love and peace’ rings rather hollow.