Tag Archives: KCCUK

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: Princess Aurora – additional screenings

 

On 16th February, the ‘Chills and Thrill’s mini-season at the KCCUK began with a screening of Princess Aurora (Bang Eun-jin). Thanks to everyone who attended the screening. Many apologies that I had to leave immediately after the introduction as I would have liked to have stayed and discussed the film with you after the screening. Please get in touch on social media if you would like to talk about the film with me as I would love to hear your thoughts on it. You can find me on Facebook: Colette Balmain and on Twitter: @colettebalmain

There are two additional screenings of Princess Aurora as part of the Korean Cinema Echoes programme if you were unable to make the first one.

 

 

 

 

On 24th February, there is a short talk followed by a screening at SOAS (School of African and Oriental Studies). Details are available here.

 

On 25th February, there is another screening at Deptford Cinema, at which I will also be in attendance. You can book your ticket here.

 

Don’t miss the other films in the season. Details can be found here: Chills and Thrills: Korean Film Nights

 

 


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


LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

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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.

 

 

 


Hope (Lee Joon-ik, South Korea: 2013)

 

A young girl, So-won (Lee Re) is walking to school one day, but instead of being accompanied by her friend as usual, she is on her own. Even though the school is a short distance from her home, she is abducted by a remorseless paedophile and rapist Choi Jong sool (Gang Seong-hae) who brutally assaults her and leaves her for dead. Found, So-won is taken to hospital where she undergoes emergency surgery to try and repair the damage done to her during the merciless attack. As a result So-won is left with major physical and psychological scars and the film charts the slow and painful process of healing of not only So-won but her parents and the wider community. Can Hope/hope persist despite trauma?

Hope  is Director LEE’s 9th feature, and a welcome return to cinema for a director who not long ago was contemplating leaving the industry partly as a result of the failure of his engaging 2011 film, Battlefield Heroes, which I personally enjoyed. Hope is Director LEE at his best, dealing deftly with difficult issues in a quiet but heart rendering manner. I met Director LEE in 2012, and he was one of the nicest people, and funniest, that I have ever met. Yet, watching Hope is a devastating experience, seemingly at odds with the Director’s sunny personality. However, the social critique in Hope is a common theme in his films, as is the finely tuned understanding of relationships, particularly here in relation to the family.

 

While typically such a film would deal with the search and capture and then suitable punishment by the law or outside the law by family members, Hope is more concerned with So-won’s battle back to health, overcoming both her physical and psychological traumas. Signs of the attack are etched through the scars on her face and the ileostomy that she has to wear as in order to live, the surgeons are forced to remove her colon and divert waste into a bag that is attached to a stoma (the small bowel brought out through the stomach). So-won’s devastated parents, Dong-hoon (Sol Kyung-gu) and Mi-hee (Uhm Ji-won), grapple to come to terms with their daughter’s injury and their guilt over her attack. Her father, Dong-hoon struggles to eke out a meagre living at the metalworking factory where he works, while her mother Mi-hee who runs their small grocery store, aptly enough named after their daughter, ‘Wish’s Variety’, is coming to terms with being pregnant with their second child. As working parents, Mi-hee and Dong-hoon are constantly struggling to have enough time together as a family with Dong-hoon so tired at the end of his working day that he leaves the parenting to the equally tired Mi-hee. On the day of the attack, Dong-hoon is called into work early while Mi-hee is opening up the shop, meaning that So-won ends up walking to school on her own. The attack itself is left to the viewer’s imagination; instead shots of the broken and bloody body of So-won in the aftermath of the attack communicate the horrific nature of the assault just as the shots of a broken kite and a rolling bottle of alcohol before the attack signal the horrific nature of what is to come.

hopepicture

 

Based upon a shocking true event in which a young girl was brutally assaulted and her attacker sentenced to a derisory 12 years by the Court, Director LEE’s film was criticised by some in South Korea for shining a spotlight on the unpalatable existence of child assault and stranger abuse, and in addition for subjecting the family of the original attack to increased media attention. Statistics reported by Bae Hyung-jung in an article originally published in The Korean Herald (03/03/2010), are stark: of ‘5,948 suspects who were investigated on charges of sexual abuse from January 2007 to July of this year, 2501 … were not prosecuted, according to Justice Ministry data. Even among those who were prosecuted, only 0.4 percent were handed down a life sentence and more than 42 percent were fined and 30.5 percent received a suspended term, according to the Health Ministry data.’ It needs to be noted that in the UK, while those who do get convicted get substantially longer sentences there is a history of the non-prosecution and high level cover up of sexual abusers, as highlighted by the Jimmy Saville case. And then there is the all too frequent rape of young girls in India about which little is done. These two current examples (and there are many more sadly)demonstrate that Hope’s message has a much wider application than just related to incidents in South Korea and the particular horrific assault on which the film is loosely based. And in addition to contemporary human rights issues, Hope is one of the few films to represent disability in a direct manner, without being melodramatic in the process. Although in the US alone over 100,000 people a year have surgery for a permanent or temporary ostomy, it remains a taboo topic and relegated to representation in film as the object of revulsion or ridicule. It is refreshing therefore to see how So-won and her parents learn to deal with So-won’s ‘new normal’ (a term widely used in the ostomy community): the embarrassment of the bag leaking while she is in hospital, the rustling of the bag against the skin (and Dong-joon’s ingenious solution to it), her desire to be treated normally and her gradual coming to terms with such a radical change in her bodily integrity.

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Together with this refreshing approach to disability and highlighting human rights abuses (and it needs to be noted that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by those known to the child: either other family members or people in authority that they have contact with), Director LEE displays his usual sensitivity and understanding of relationships and how relationships can be broken and then reformed, perhaps encapsulated most fully by the relationship between So-won and Dong-hoon which is pivotal to the emotional resonance of the film. Terrified by men after her attack, So-won retreats into herself and refuses to allow her father to help her. In order to bridge this gap, Dong-hoon dresses up as one of her favourite TV characters, Kokomong, visiting her in hospital and then accompanying her to and from school. While this allows for much needed moments of light relief, I found the relationship between the two to be authentic touching a reality that many directors never get close to. Indeed, it is the subtle and moving performances by Lee Re, Sol Kyung-gu and Uhm Ji-won that together with Director LEE’s subtle and nuanced filmmaking make Hope such an extraordinary cinematic tour-de-force. It is no surprise that the film won the award for the best film at Dragon Film Awards, or that all three of the main actors were recognised for their performances in 2013.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a film about retribution and punishment, then this isn’t the right film, however if you are looking for a film about recovery, redemption and hope, then here it is. Tackling a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitively, this is one of Director LEE’s finest films to date.

Notes

  1. The only other film that I remember dealing with an ostomy is the French Canadian revenge thriller, 7 Days (Daniel Grou, Canada: 2010) and here it is meted out as punishment to the rapist and murderer of a couple’s young daughter. [I do really recommend 7 Days; I found it an extremely powerful piece of cinema, but it is very much the opposite approach to that taken by Director LEE in Hope].
  2. I had a temporary ileostomy when I was much younger and think this is why Hope particularly resonated with me.
  3. The Korean title, So-won, I have been told translates as ‘Wish’ but was changed into Hope for UK and US release as Hope is a girl’s name in English. I have used ‘Hope’ here for the title of the film, but need to put a caveat that actually Wish’ has a much more subtle meeting in Korean ‘To a non-native speaker, maybe less so. Nuance. Wish feels more unattainable? phonetics? wish is softer on the lips and to the ear…wistful, fleeting, sad.’ (thanks to Jin Hee Cho for these words of wisdom).

 

 


Seoul in the City at The City of London Festival (22nd July – 17th July)

 

 

Seoul in the City is part of The City of London Festival. It runs from 22nd July to 17th July, and offers performances from acclaimed classical and traditional musicians, artists, actors and dancers.  I attended the ‘Seoul in the City Party: Forum and Reception’ held at the KCCUK on Tuesday, 24th July 2014 which started with a fascinating discussion of the history of South Korean arts and the struggle to promote Korean culture in the age of the internet. Interesting enough, we were told that numbers of people attending live performances had gone up – something that seems to be at odds with recent theories of audiences which posit the internet as displacing the audience and substituting the filmed event for the live performance. Here, access to information about performers through the internet seems to encourage rather than discourage audiences in attending a live performance. Social media, we were told, provides a mechanism to promote,  interact and participate virtually in the event, giving audiences ‘a closer physical connection to the object’. Part of the discussion was devoted to questions around how to promote Korean arts outside of Korea, and specifically in terms of ‘Seoul and the City’. Consideration was also paid to what festivals can bring to people, one response was that festivals promote cultural tourism and give context to the performance/screening. The tension between the traditional and the contemporary was also explored. In order to promote Korean, emphasis on the traditional can offer Western audiences a sense of nationhood which is aligned with the exotic.  But at the same time, contemporary art and music is necessary in order to offer a more balanced view of Korean arts. I was reminded of the latest instalment in the X-Men franchise, The Wolverine, which I watched the other night. Set mainly in Japan, the scenery and architecture was constructed through a Western orientalism, and the Japan envisaged was one in which everyone was either a Ninja, black belt in Karate, or obsessed with power and technology. There was little in the film that evoked contemporary Japan, instead (Western) views are offered a landscape of Japan filtered through romantic and orientalist glasses (and of course, the white man saved the world as is par for the course). Seoul in the City is an example of trying to overcome this dichotomy by offering an impressive range of performances and exhibitions that offer audiences a sense of the ‘exotic’ while at the same time providing contemporary artists a platform through which to share their art.

‘Seoul in the City’ has three distinct strands: K-classic (classical and traditional music); K-theatre (contemporary dance performances and a Korean Hamlet) and Dynamic Korea (a series of performances by the internationally acclaimed ‘Seoul Metropolitan B-boys ‘Gamblerz Crew). More information can be found at here: The Korean Cultural Centre

Events can be booked here: http://www.colf.org/
Alternatively ring +44 (0)845 120 7502

 

 

 

Personally I am looking forward to Lee Kyung-ok Dance Company’s performance of Andersen’s Gazes, which takes place tomorrow, 28th June at 7:00pm. The company is noted form its series of ‘Dance fairy tales for adults’ and in 2012 was award the grand prize at the Dance Korea Awards. I am interested in the intersection of fairy tales and horror cinema in my research and am fascinated how Hans Christian’s life will be portrayed through dance. The performance takes place at the Mermaid Theatre, Puddle dock.

 

Seoul in the City

 

I am also extremely excited about Yohangza Theatre Company’s version of Hamlet and seeing how Shakespeare’s play will be translated into Korean and localized through the use of traditional Korean costumes, music and characters. Anyone worried that they won’t be able to understand the play, there will be translations of the dialogue that accompany the performance. Hamlet takes place at the Peacock Theatre on Saturday 12 July 2014 at 7:30 pm.

 

This is a great opportunity to learn more about the Korean arts, and I hope to see some of you there.

 

Thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre as always.

 

 


Moebius (Kim Ki-duk, 2013)

Trailer:

 

 

Synopsis:

 

When a mother (Lee Eun-woo) discovers her husband’s (Cho Jae-hyun) infidelity with a beautiful and younger woman, she takes a violent revenge on her wayward husband, by first attempting to castrate him with a butcher’s knife, and when he throws her off, completing the said castration on their teenager son (Seo Young-ju). So begins an Operatic and Oedipal journey into the fractured spaces of the contemporary family, during which the father ‘donates’ his own organ to his son (but not before searching on the internet for alternative ways to orgasm), his son is bullied and then becomes an unwitting participant in the group rape of a beautiful woman who works at the local store (also played by Lee Eun-woo) before teaming up with her to mete out appropriate revenge on her attackers, before ending as unhappily and even more brutally then it began.

Review

Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius is in short a film about castration, both literally and psychological, and as such, is an uncomfortable viewing experience.   It is at the same time, one of the most blackly humorous film of Kim Ki-duk’s I have seen to date.  From the moment the mother cuts of her son’s penis and eats it, therefore severing any possibility that it might be re-attached in the future, to the rather inventive onscreen substitutions for sex that I have seen in a long time (perhaps in order to get around the censor’s scissors), Moebius is as funny as it is violent. In fact, I would argue that Moebius, is a tragi-comedy, and while a particularly brutal one, and should not be consigned to the  ‘extreme’ moniker  that some Western critics use as an umbrella term to implicitly critique Kim Ki-duk’s films.

 

Kim Ki-duk, who I consider one of contemporary cinema’s finest auteurs (and I do not use the overused term ‘auteur’ lightly here), should be an inspiration to any aspiring director even if they choose not to plumb the depths of human depravity and indifference, or construct cinematic commentaries on the human condition, as to demonstrating the possibilities (and liberations) offered by low-budget filmmaking. Shot in one week (that is right – a whole week), Moebius deals with what can best be expressed as the ‘human condition’: in other words the messiness,  pain and love that defines our relationships with each other. The family here, as elsewhere in Kim Ki-duk’s work,  is the very epitome of such relations: relations which are always on the verge of imploding.  Of course, Moebius takes the concept of the family to Grand Guignol proportions and the implosion becomes an explosion of incestuous desires and sexual violence. The fact that the  wonderful Lee Eun-woo plays both central female roles, situates a Freudian framework of interpretation (whether intentional or not)  demonstrating that if oedipal desires are not repressed then the civilization itself would be threatened with total destruction (Freud argues that the incest taboo is crucial to the formation of ‘civilized’ society in Totem and Taboo). If the family as a unit is interpreted as an ideological signifier of the dominant ideology (heterosexuality, patriarchy, nationality) then the destruction of the family is a necessary proviso of emancipation, and the Oedipal drama takes on its implicit political critique of the status-quo.

Kim Ki-duk’s cinematic flair is apparent here, as always. His ability to use props and costume to decorate the mise-en-scene to create a richer looking cinematic canvas than low-budget filmmaking would normally allow -can be seen  in the carefully composed contours of the small cloistered spaces that most of the actions occurs in. In addition, his signature dismissal of the centrality of dialogue to the cinematic narrative is taken to the limits here, as there is no dialogue, and besides only use of extra-diegetic music is when the camera follows the mother walking down an eerily deserted high street, Moebius is silent, with the only sounds being those emerging from the body-in-pain or the body-in-desire (both of which are substitutable here). Some critics have argued that the lack of dialogue is a cynical ploy on the part of Kim Ki-duk to make his films more ‘global’ and therefore more attractive to the Western marketplace, but this is a feature of Kim Ki-duk’s oeuvre, long before he was feted on the festival circuit and his films became more popular outside rather than inside South Korea, so it seems rather nonsensical to me. I have written about how Kim Ki-duk manages to capture the attention of the viewer without using typical cinematic conventions of dialogue or action in relation to my review of his documentary Airirang which I named as film of the year in Directory of World Cinema: South Korea (Intellect: 2013). And it is the same with Moebius, the lack of dialogue- or need to ‘explain’ the narrative – means that imagistic language which surrounds and captures the performances of the actors is riveting in and of itself: here the viewer is asked to construct the meaning of the narrative rather than as traditionally being manipulated by the camera, editing and narration, into acquiescing with the dominant (and often reactionary) ideological meaning of cinema which repeats the dominant narrative of the nation and the state. Indeed, like in the work of the French comic book artist,  Jean Giraud, who used the pseudonym of Moebius for his epic fantasy,  Arzach (which first appeared in 1974), in which there were no dialogue or sound bubbles  – and is possibly an influence on Kim Ki-duk  particularly  remembering that Kim Ki-duk started his career as an artist based in France – the pictorial image is used to generate meaning by itself, and thus challenges the formal conventions of the relation between image and text, in which the image’s meaning is anchored through dialogue and/or other textual cues. As such the use of silence, like the shattering of the familial unit, can be seen as providing a critique of the dominant ideology through which individuals are interpellated into appropriate positions dictated by those in power.

 

While  the performances of Cho Jae-hyun (a Kim Ki-duk regular) and Lee Eun-woo are great, it is the youngest member of the cast, Seo Young-ju (15 at the time of the shooting),who stands out. Having not seen any of his work before  – he has been acting since he was 10 in K-drama (South Korean Television Dramas) – I was extremely impressed by what a mature performance, in a difficult role for someone of his age, that Young-ju gave. In a group interview, organised by Terracotta Distribution, Young-ju told us that it was his (award-winning) role in Juvenile Offender (Bumjoe Sonyeon, dir. Kang Yi-kwan, 2012) that led to Kim Ki-duk  sending him the script for Moebius, and it shows an emotional maturity that even though Young-ju, as he freely admitted, did not understand the plot  – but then, who does understand a plot of a Kim Ki-duk film? – accepted the role despite Kim Ki-duk’s reputation as a director of controversial and challenging cinema. In fact, it seemed that this reputation was what made Young-ju accept the role. He told us that he wanted to play similar roles in the future, ones that involved difficult and dark emotions in order to evolve as an actor.  In Moebius, Young-ju -despite his protestations in the interview that he could have done better – embodies a range of emotions, from vulnerability, to anger, hate,  [forbidden] desire, captured through a performativity which is always authentic, in a manner that is far beyond his years.  The shame when he discovers that the only way that his father’s supplanted penis will inflame  with desire is through the presence of his mother and his mortification and eventual self-castration, like his performance throughout the film, is finely judged and never once becomes unbelievable.  Without Young-ju’s strong central performance, Moebius would have the visceral and intellectual intensity that it has – which is, of course, why Kim Ki-duk sent Young-ju the script in the first place. Without doubt, Young-ju Seo is an actor who on the basis of this will go from strength to strength in the future.

For me, Kim Ki-duk never disappoints, and Moebius is a riveting piece of art cinema at the hands of one of the most innovative and interesting directors of contemporary times and as such, not to be missed.

 

Thanks to Joey Terracotta and Terracotta distribution for arranging the group interview with Young-ju Seo, during the Terracotta Film Festival 2014. and to Young-ju Seo for being so generous with his time.

 

 

 


Interview with Director Kim Jee-Woon

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Yesterday I was lucky enough to interview one of my favourite South Korean directors, Kim Jee-woon for the second time. If I remember correctly, Director Kim was the first director that I ever interviewed. At least this time, I was less terrified and overwhelmed by the experience. As before, Director Kim was charming and his responses thoughtful.  There was some confusion about whether the interview was a group or individual, and I had prepared for a group interview, so my questions would have been different if I had realised that I was going to be given the opportunity to interview him one-to-one. I only had fifteen minutes, so managed to ask just three questions.

CB: One of the issues in the news at the moment is about cuts to Korean films for international release, e.g. Snowpiercer. In opposition, the international DVD release of I Saw the Devil is different to the Korean DVD release (which we got in the UK). Such changes, as in the case of I Saw the Devil, and The Good, The Bad and The Weird, alter the meaning of the film. How do you feel about having to make changes to your own films for different markets?

KJW: Director Kim explained that the reasons for the differences in the international and Korean cuts of I Saw the Devil and The Good, The Bad and The Weird were different. In relation to I Saw the Devil, cuts were made because the Korean system does not have a restrictive (R or 18) rating, therefore if he had not made cuts in terms of the graphic violence then I Saw the Devil would not have received a theatrical release in Korea (which is a shame because the cannibalism scenes were the most interesting for me).  With The Good, The Bad and The Weird, it was necessary to get the film edited quickly in order for it to be entered into competition at Cannes. In this case, it was the Korean version that was the Director’s cut, as he had longer to actually edit together and produce his directorial version.  Normally therefore it is the Korean versions that should be taken as the director’s cut.

Commentary: I asked this question in light of the ongoing debate about whether Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer will be cut for the international release and also in light of the fact that last year when writing a book chapter about Director Kim’s I Saw The Devil, I mistakenly ended up with the Korean DVD cut of the film and not the international cut. While the Korean cut of I Saw the Devil is longer by 2 minutes I think, most of the references and scenes to do with cannibalism had been cut and replaced with either exposition or in one case an extended sex scene. As I was writing about cannibalism, this then proved to be slightly difficult for me. I was also aware that the international version of The Good, The Bad and the Weird was different to the Korean cut. While such strategies may well be seen as necessary in terms of localization, the end result is that a film’s meaning is altered by such changes.  Of course, the worst example of this is Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985), which when released as Creepers with half an hour missing which rendered the film unintelligible.

In relation to Director Kim’s response, it is interesting to know that in most cases (with the exception of I Saw the Devil and Director Park’s Thirst) the Korean version should be taken as the director’s cut.

CB: You lived in France for a while. How important was this in terms of your subsequent career? (it seems to me that France always made less distinction between art and genre cinema – which is what defines your films.

KJW: I spent 5 months travelling around Europe and 3 months in Paris, during which time I watched over 100 films which gave me a wealth of cinematic knowledge and understanding.

Commentary: There was a bit of mistranslation going on here, and I don’t think Director Kim knew what I was asking (or it might be that I was being a bit unclear with my phrasing of the question). For me the striking feature of Korean cinema is its affinity with French cinema, and my point here was that the type of distinctions between art and genre cinema in French cinematic thought and practice are not mutually exclusive as they tend to be elsewhere. You only have to look at the fact that films by Mario Bava and Dario Argento, both Italian horror film directors, were premiered in France at art-house cinemas, whereas in the US they were much more likely to have appeared on double bills of exploitation cinema for the drive-in crowds.

CB: Despite the fact that The Last Stand opened to mixed reviews, I have read that you are attached to another English language feature Coward. What lessons have you learnt from The Last Stand that you will be able to put to use with Coward? (based upon graphic novels).

KJW: The Last Stand was difficult as the studio system in the US is very different to the system in South Korea. The shorting days were shorter, as was the shoot itself. In the US, you are answerable to producers, the studio, actors, assistant directors and thus has less say over the final product. Having experienced this, I believe that it will be easier making Coward as I now understand how the system operates. I also feel as it is a noir film that it will fit in with my style better.

Commentary: I was particularly interested to read that he had signed on for another English-language production despite the fact that The Last Stand had not done particularly well either critically or commercially, unlike Park Chan-wook’s Stoker which did very well critically although not commercially. Very few foreign directors had managed the transition, especially those who have a very strong directorial signature. The horror stories about experiences with studios that foreign directors have had are well-known.  At the same time, I fully understand a director’s desire to take on additional challenges and be able to address the widest audience possible, and have no problems with the fact that foreign directors attempt to make this transition. Success stories though are few, John Woo mainly managed it, Hideo Nakata flunked badly and Dario Argento said that after the experience of Trauma he would never again make a film in the US again (one can only wish that he had kept to this promise).

Do I think that Director Kim will have a better experience this time? I am not sure, I hope he does, but at the same time fear that his strong aesthetic sensibility and imagistic vocabulary will be contained. I live in hope and wish Director Kim the best of luck.

Thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre UK for arranging the interview, and of course to Director Kim for being so generous with his time. Apologies for any mistakes in transcribing his responses. 

The reviews of Director Kim’s shorts and the Q&A session that followed will be posted shortly.


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.