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)
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.
Official website: http://koreanfilm.co.uk/
Special thanks to The Korean Cultural Centre for all their help and support over the years.