Posts Tagged ‘Korean Arthouse’

Oldboy (2003) **** re-release

Dir: Park Chan-Wook | South Korea 120′

Many found Korean cult horror outing ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ too violent, but Oldboy takes the Asian Extreme genre even further.

Don’t be misled into thinking this is about public school boys or even dapper English gents of a certain age. Although on the surface of it, businessman Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik), appears just to be a drunken old bore. We first meet him being mysteriously abducted and imprisoned by nameless villains until he’s released from captivity after nearly 15 years, only to be contacted by his captors and offered a deal: if he can fathom why he was held prisoner in the first place he will get a chance to avenge his captors – if not, the cocktail waitress he has recently starting dating will lose her life. Some price freedom, but Oh Dat-Su is not going to put up with any more threats. Hammer in hand, he embarks on a brutal killing spree fuelled by vehement anger and searing emotional pain. Choi Min-Sik is retribution personified in an extraordinary performance that ranges from abject fury punctuated by bouts of seething humiliation – and we feel for him – aided and abetted by Park’s masterful direction. In the Asian Extreme firmament this is a coruscating Hitchockian-style Neo-Noir. MT


Treeless Mountain (2008) *** London Korean Film Festival 2018


Dir.: So-yong Kim; Cast: Hee Yeon Kim, Songhe Kim, Lee Soo Ah, Mi-hyang Kim, Boon Tak Park; USA/South Korea 2008, 89 min.

Two young children are passed around like parcels in So-yong Kim’s touching but unsentimental study of child development and sisterly love.

This thoughtful study of childhood trauma relies largely on its delicate visuals and great subtlety to explore the little girls’ world with a charming lightness of touch.

In Seoul, six-year old Jin (Yeon Kim) and her younger sister Bin (Songhe Kim) live with their mother (Lee Soo Ah) in reduced circumstances. Their father is no longer on the scene, forcing their mother to take them to the country where they will live with their great-aunt (Mi-hyang Kim), who just happens to be an alcoholic. Eventually, they are dumped on their elderly grandparents who run a farm.

The story revolves around their changing relation dynamic. At first, Jin is the strong one, bolstered by her school life and feeling of superiority. But when her mother decides to leave, Jin starts wetting the bed – a clear sign of insecurity. Not surprisingly, Bin is less affected by the new surroundings in her aunt’s house, and while Jin continues to wet the bed, their aunt mistakenly blaming her little sister for it.

Bin soon becomes the practical one, catching grasshoppers and roasting them to sell. She also finds a good way of filling their mother’s pink piggy bank with the coins for her speedy return. But Jin becomes introverted, desperate to see her mother, who never appears despite her promise. And so the kids wait in vain on the treeless mountain, before Jin declares “Mummy has told a big lie.”

Bin soon loses all enthusiasm, whilst Jin perks up, once again asserting her authority as the older girl. On the farm, their caring grandmother (Boon Tak Park), takes over the motherly role the kids desperately need, offering them the patience they will need to develop into secure teenagers.

This sensitive hommage to Bresson’s Mouchette and Jacques Dillon’s Ponette, Treeless Mountain lets Anne Misewa’s exquisite camerawork do the talking, concentrating on the intricate expressions of childhood joy and dismay. A moving exploration of childhood that makes a lasting impression. AS

London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 



For Vagina’s Sake (2017) London Korean Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir: Kim Bo-ram | S. Korean Doc | 73′

FOR VAGINA’S SAKE takes a coyly humorous approach to a bodily function that happens to half the world’s population. A woman will lose over 10 litres of blood during her reproductive years. And while in North East Asia menstruation is still often seen as an embarrassing occurrence, Dutch women treat periods much more pragmatically according to this worthwhile but rather scatty South Korean documentary debut from Kim Bo-ram.

Boram has certainly done her research and uncovered a wealth of information about this vital bodily function, uncovering startling facts from the Dark Ages and followed it through with up to date political developments. It’s a shame then that her film is hamstrung by its choppy editing, flipping backwards and forward and flitting around like a butterfly on heat, it eventually becomes exasperating in the final scenes. It’s also focused almost entirely on women in their twenties and early thirties in Holland and South Korea.

A dinner discussion in Holland reveals that young Dutch woman go for basic applicator-free protection, while in South Korea some are still scared to insert a tampon (afraid that it may get lost) in a country where periods are still taboo and anatomical ignorance is frankly shocking. We then meet an 80 year old Korean woman whose first period came after she marred at 18, and who then went on to produce five or six daughters. In those days sanitary towels consisted of natural cotton balls wrapped in cotton material. Tied with strings round the woman’s waste they often fell down, causing horrific embarrassment. And this humiliation and fear connected with staining a public seat or losing a pad in the street is still a woman’s worst nightmare today.

There follows a potted historical and religious background which verges on the macabre (if not downright misogynistic). We learn than ancient Japan women were thrown into communal pits of menstrual blood and allowed to drown, whereas in China those who gave birth would apparently go to Hell (?). Menstrual blood was considered a puny female attempt at producing sperm.

The second part of the documentary focuses on politics developments and taxes that apply to feminine hygiene products, with a discussion on the contemporary developments in sustainable protection (material pads, sea-foam, and an overlong diatribe about the menstrual cup and its advantages.


For Vagina’s Sake uses a mixture of interviews and delicately-drawn animations to put its information across and is both subjective and observational. Graphic images dovetail with lighter more frivolous hand-draughted visuals. Fast-paced and fluffy and rather than serious and analytical – the film becomes more inspirational and empowering for its contributors as it presses on. Certainly a worthwhile film to show to teenagers and students from all nationalities who may be suffering in silence, rather than learning about a shared and very natural female experience. MT


Microhabitat (2017) **** London Korean Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Jeon Go-woon; Cast: Esom, Ahn jae-hong, Choi Deok-moon, Kang Jin-ah, Kim kuk-hee, Kim Jae-hwa, Lee Sung wook; South Korea 2017, 104 min.

Jeon Go-woon’s spirited road movie sees a city girl determined to keep her independence while her friends cow-tow to tradition in contemporary Seoul. The original title ‘Little Princess’ better describes this thoughtful story of materialism versus spiritualism.

Miso (a brilliant Lee Som) may be getting on a bit, but can’t afford to heat her tiny studio flat, on her salary as a housemaid. When the rent goes up together with the price of cigarettes, she makes a dramatic decision: to move out and indulge in her favourite brand of whisky, and to keep on smoking. But what price freedom? Her boyfriend Hans-sol (jae-hong) lives in a male-only dormitory, so she can’t go there – they even have to give up having sex. Schlepping around with her belongings, like a bag lady, Miso asks her former band members for help. First off is ambitious office worker Moon-yeong (Jin-ah). She is curt and unapologetic: “I am too irritable to lie with someone”. Next is former vocalist Roki-i (Deok-moon), who now lives with his old-fashioned parents. His mother is keen on the idea. Clearly Miso is the just the right match for her son: “she can clean, and that’s all a woman needs to do”. Roki-i’s certainly keen on Miso. But she can’t deal with being hemmed in with his family, so once again it’s time to move on. The next port of call is her girlfriend Hyeon-jeong (Kuk-hee) whose husband tells his wife “to shut up and cook”. And so it goes on.

Go-woon’s refreshing debut is very much a riff on the traditional versus the modern way of South Korean life. It contemplates the difficulties and isolation of the spiritual way of life, in contrast to the more easier and socially acceptable option of materialism. Freedom may be more nourishing for the soul, but is tough on the body: It’s all very well following your heart in your twenties, but the process becomes tougher as the years go by, and when old age looms around the corner. Esom’s former band-members had their flings with music in their twenties, but they have given up on an inner life, swapping it for opportunism – with different degrees of success.

DoP Tae-soo Kim’s images of Seoul are just breathtaking: the city glitters at night, but during daytime it looks rather drab –  just like Miso’s former friends. Shot in fifteen days, with a rather loose script – Go-woon wanted to convey the humour and absurdity during of the shoot. Microhabitat is a little gem: fast moving yet imbued with gentle insight. This intimate picture of a woman’s determination to follow her dreams at all costs is full of humour and irony. AS




Gangbyun Hotel (Hotel by the River) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Scr Hong Sang-soo. South Korea. 2018. 96mins

The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.

This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story, as the trio josh a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom as the others temporarily lose contact with their father, fearing the worst, while the old man was merely relieving himself.

In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.

Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotel is a peaceful, reflective drama, endearingly warmed by the placid equanimity of these human resolutions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT



Gangbyun Hotel (Hotel by the River) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Scr Hong Sang-soo. South Korea. 2018. 96mins

The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.

This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story. As the three of them banter, a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. When Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom for rather a long time, the others immediately fear the worst. Meanwhile the old man was merely relieving himself.

In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.

Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotel is a peaceful, reflective drama, warmed by the humour and bonhomie of these endearing interactions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT



Claire’s Camera (2017) *** | London Korean Film Festival

Dir: Hong Sang-so | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Shahira Fahmy, Kim Min-hee, Jun-yeong Jeong | Drama | Sth Korea | 69min

There are similarities between Hong Sang-soo’s latest seaside drama Claire’s Camera and his Korean set comedy In Another Country. But not only does this latest lack the mordant humour of his 2012 outing it also drifts along aimlessly, the tangible chemistry between its central characters played by gracefully Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-Hee almost making up for its unengaging narrative, posing as improvisation, yet often stretching our impatience to the maximum.

Set in an around Cannes, this whimsical whisp of a story almost brushes off the blatant marital infidelity that is quite blatantly its central premise. Sales agent Manhee (Kim Min-hee) is fired by her female boss for sleeping with the director So (Jung Jinyoung) she is representing at the festival. Her boss refuses to give her a chance to explain and it soon emerges that she is in a relationship with So, and is clearly jealous of the young Manhee.

Meanwhile, Huppert is delicately caught in the crossfire as a dilettante in the Riviera there to enjoy the festival ambiance. The results are a mildly amusing play on jealousy, social awkwardness and the more subtle aspects of the female ego in matters of love. MT


1987: When the Day Comes (2017) Korean Film Festival

Dir: Jung Joon-hwan | Political Thriller | South Korea |

With an impressive ensemble cast and polemic real-life story, director Jang Joon-hwan’s powerful portrayal of the events that led to Korea’s historic June Democratic Uprising was as much a hit with audiences as it was with critics when it stormed the box-office at the start of this year.

In 1980s South Korea, the military regime of President Chun Doo-hwan pushes the masses to breaking point with its widespread corruption and oppression. In 1987, a series of events will be set in motion through which the heroic actions of ordinary people from all walks of life result in nationwide protests, altering the course of the nation’s history forever.

When a student protester dies under police interrogation, the order is given to quickly cremate the body, effectively burying the evidence. Unfortunately for Director Park (Kim Yoon-seok, The Fortress), the head of the Anti-Communism Investigations Bureau in Seoul desperately trying to cover up the crime, Prosecutor Choi (Ha Jung-woo, Assassination) is not playing ball. Suspecting foul play, Choi refuses the request and insists on an autopsy. When it’s discovered torture was the likely cause, the race is on to bring the crime to light. Prison guard Han (Yoo Hai-jin, Confidential Assignment) his niece Yeon-hee (Kim Tae-ri, The Handmaiden) and idealistic student Han-yeol (Gang Dong-won, A Violent Prosecutor) are just some of the ordinary people who put their lives on the line to uncover the truth.

Highly regarded director Jang Joon-hwan (Save the Green Planet, 2003) has made his most ambitious film to-date with this fast-paced, tightly plotted political thriller based on the shocking true events of 1987 Korea. Like last year’s A Taxi Driver, 1987: When the Day Comes gives the blockbuster treatment to a turbulent period, resulting in an exciting thrill-ride of a film that never loses sight of the human drama at its core. Korean Film Festival Review

HEADLINING UK KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Teaser Screenings | Monday 18 June  | Picturehouse Central

Burning (2018)

Lee Chang dong, Oh Jung mi | 143’ | South Korea | Drama 

Lee Chang-dong’s sees a rich guy and an honest worker compete for the affections of an enigmatic young woman in his mysterious slow burner that sizzles with a seductive spell and intoxicates for over two hours with its captivating storytelling and strikingly atmospheric score by Mowg.

‘A literary adaptation’ can sound warning bells but this standout psychological thriller breathes life into a short story from Haruki Murakami, adapted by Lee and his co-writer Oh Jung-mi who keep things deceptively simple yet alluring with a thematically rich ride set to Hong Kyung-pyo’s sumptuous cinematography, and enfused with themes of privilege, class, stifled creativity and revenge.

Lonely budding writer Jongsu comes from a poor and dysfunctional family background and works as a deliveryman near the North Korean border where he is unexpectedly invited into the bed of his former school friend who later returns from a trip to Africa with suave but unassuming new boyfriend in the shape of Korean hotshot Ben (Yeun Steven), who seems rather to smooth to be true. But then the story becomes more complex. Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) has really fallen for the charming but insecure Haemi (Jun Jong-seo), who remembers his harsh comments on her appearance back in the day, and has since had plastic surgery.

A loose friendship soon develops between the threesome and for a while the story hums along gently mulling over its cultural references and glorying in its low key placid perfection. But all is not well in paradise and the tone takes a sinister turn after Ben confesses to being somewhat of a pyrotechnic with a penchant for greenhouse burning, and we witness this in a startling bonfire that seethes in silence. This heats up the whole affair with Haemi going missing and the two men coming head to head in a violent climax. With dynamite performances from the trio this is an elegantly crafted thriller from a Korean master at the top of his game. MT


Shoplifters (2018)**** | Cannes Film Festival | Winner Palme d’Or (2018)

Writer/Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu | Drama |121′

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s portrait of parenting, After the Storm, has much in common with this perceptive and often ambiguous satire about a family of small-time crooks and the misguided theft they commit for compassionate reasons, with devastating consequences. SHOPLIFTERS is a worthwhile addition to the auteur’s preoccupations with family life and father and motherhood – both real and imagined, and is possibly his best work so far.

In Tokyo, part-time workers Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) complement their meagre income with a sideline in shoplifting. Aided and abetted by son Shota (Kairi Jyo), they often swipe groceries from the local store near the flat they share with fellow grifter Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenager Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who turns the most lucrative tricks of the lot.

One day they take pity on an abused and timid teenager called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), offering her board and lodging in their already cramped home. This simple act of kindness is the catalyst for change in the family dynamic unleashing previously hidden motivations that range from short-sightedness to self-aggrandisement, and even narcissistic pride.

A tonal shift from upbeat bonhomie to gloomy sadness takes place in the film’s third segment when the family anticipate their emotional loss and start to fear the backlash of their rash altruism, and its damning formal retribution. Koreeda and his cast bring out  tremendous pathos in this well-meaning family, and while we feel for them as do-gooders, – in the true sense of the word – they are crucially also law-breakers. And this is the J B Priestleyan crux of this clever and beautifully crafted caper reflecting the subtle nuances of Japanese society. MT


Cannes Film Festival 2018 | On the Croisette – off the cuff update

Festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux warned us to expect shocks and surprises from this year’s festival line-up, distilled down from over 1900 features to an intriguing list of 18 – and there will be a few more additions before May 8th. The main question is “where are the stars?” or better still “Where is Isabelle Huppert” doyenne of the Croisette – up to now. The answer seems to be that they are on the jury – presided by Cate Blanchett, who is joined by Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Robert Guédiguian, Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Chang Chen and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Last year’s 70th Anniversary bumper issue seems to have swept in a more eclectic and sleek selection of features in the competition line-up vying for the coveted Palme D’Or. There are new films from veterans Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), and some very long films – 9 exceed two hours. Three female filmmakers make the main competition in the shape of Caramel director Nadine Labaki with Capernaum, Alice Rohrwacher with Lazzaro Felice and Eve Husson presenting Girls of the Sun. Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy rose to indie fame at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2008 with his touching title Tulpan, and he is back now in the main competition line-up with a hot contender in the shape of AYKA or My Little One. 

Scanning through the selection for British fare – the Ron Howard “directed” (Thierry’s words not mine) Solo, A Star Wars Story stars Thandie Newton, Paul Bethany and Emilia Clarke but no sign of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. And although Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is there and is a hot contender for this year’s Palme, the much-awaited Jacques Audiard latest The Sisters Brothers, and Joanna Hogg’s hopeful The Souvenir Parts I and II are nowhere to be seen- but Lars von Trier is still very much ‘de trop’ on the Riviera, or so it would seem. Thierry is still thinking about this one. And on reflection he has now added The House That Jack Built – out of competition.

Apart from Godard, there are two other French titles: Stéphane Brizé will present At War, and Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – in competition, and these features will open shortly afterwards in the local cinemas – to keep the Cannois happy. The Un Certain Regard sidebar has 6 feature debuts in a line-up of 15. And the special screening section offers Wang Bing’s Dead Souls with its 8 hour running time  allowing for a quick petit-dej on the Croisette before the following days’ viewing starts!

It Follows director David Robert Mitchell will be in Cannes with his eagerly anticipated follow-up Under the Silver Lake. And Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke  brings another Palme d’Or hopeful in the shape of Ash is Purest White, starring his wife and long-term collaborator Tao Zhao.  First time director A B Shawky presents the only debut feature in the competition strand Yomeddine – a leper road movie from Egypt – and it’s a comedy!. Iranians Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows) also make the list – with Farhadi’s film starring Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem and opening the festival this year.

So out with the old guard – Naomi Kawase included – and in with the new – is Thierry’s message this year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. And stay tuned for more additions and coverage from the sidebars Un Certain Regard, ACID, Semaine de la Critique and Directors’ Fornight. MT



EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

NETEMO SAMETEMO (ASAKO I & II) (ASAKO I & II) – Ryusuke Hamaguchi

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore



SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong


UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov


KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

AYKA –  Sergey Dvortsevoy, director of Tulpan, winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard in 2008.

These two films by Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are both directors’ second feature. It will be their first time in Competition.

AHLAT AGACI (THE WILD PEAR TREE) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of the Palme d’or 2014 for Winter Sleep.

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – Lars von Trier (out of competition)





Grass (2018) | Berlinale 2018 Forum

Dir: Hong Sangsoo | Drama | Cast: Kim Minhee, Jung Jinyoung, Ki Joobong, Seo Younghwa, Kim Saebyuk, Ahn Jaehong, Gong Minjeung | Korea 2018 | Korea, 66 min

GRASS is Hong Sangsoo’s shortest film so far but he returns once again to familiar territory, this time in black and white, a exploring the dynamic between men and women when they first meet. And this one is as light-hearted as ever and takes place in a single location in the Korean capital of Seoul: a cafe with classical music. Strains of Wagner and Schubert can be heard as his regular muse Kim Min-hee, but this time there’s a twist. The heroine is using the other customers in the place as characters in a series of stories, even adapting their conversations for the dialogue while the food and Korean soju flows.


Brotherhood of the Blades II * * * DVD release

Dir: Yang Lu | Action Drama | Korea | 120’

An action-packed prequel to the acclaimed 2014 original, starring CHEN CHANG (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Assassin), BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADES II is sumptuously set in the late Ming dynasty of China, where Shen Lian (CHANG), a loyal warrior of the Imperial Guard, is searching for the truth behind a conspiracy that framed him.

Brotherhood Of Blades is gorgeous to look and engrossing to watch, its historical narrative fraught with intrigue and moral ambiguity. And although we never feel for the characters they certainly keep us entertained in glowing set pieces involving intense action and intricate swordplay where the camera darts back and forth, often at ground level looking up to the skies or in intimate close-up. Lavish emerald landscapes sparkle like priceless gems jostling with opluent period interiors. Moments of silence intensify the delicate fight sequences with echoes of House of Flying Daggers. Not a masterpiece but a competently crafted and entertaining Korean martial arts thriller. MT

BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES‬ 2: THE INFERNAL BATTLEFIELD to DVD ‪on 12th February‬ courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing

The Housemaid |Co Hau Gai (2016) * * | Dual Format Bluray release

Dir/Writer: Derek Nguyen | Gothic Horror | Vietnam | 105′

Set in 1953 Vietnam during the First Indochine War, Derek Nguyen’s premise is a captivating one with faint echoes of Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly, but that is where this comparison ends. An orphaned country girl is hired as a housemaid at a haunted French rubber plantation where she unexpectedly falls in love with the French landowner Captain Sebastien Laurent, awakening the vengeful ghost of his dead wife, Camille. Despite being the third-highest-grossing horror film in Vietnam’s history THE HOUSEMAID is rather a derivative slice of Gothic eeriness which fails to deliver despite superb production values and superb cinematography from Sam Chase (who cut his teeth on Shaft and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Stunning visuals and overactive jump scares are strung together by a threadbare narrative that appears to cherry pick from far better films of the genre such as The Woman in Black, Thriller and even Night of the Living Dead. Amateurish performances across the board fail to inject the promised erotic charge of life into this rather moribund shocker that nevertheless has a certain sinister appeal for those committed to Vietnamese cinema. MT





The First Lap (2017) | London Korean Film Festival 2017

Dir: Kim Dae-wan

Kim Dae-hwan follows End of Winter with a slim and slowing-moving domestic character-driven piece that had its international premiere in the Filmmaker of the Present competition in Locarno 2017.

Ji-young and Su-hyeon have been dating for several years in a relationship characterised by its visceral closeness rather than sexual passion. When accidentally falls pregnant the couple visit their respective parents who urge them to do the respectable thing and provide a stable home for their baby.

THE FIRST LAP feels contemplative and freewheeling as it explores the fluid dynamic between its protagonists, observations them dispassionately with scant dialogue against a background of political turmoil – such as last winter’s candlelight protests that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.

Performances and strong and subtle with Kim Sae-byeok (The Day After) convincingly natural as Ji-young, surpassing her feelings of panic at her sudden change of circumstances. For his part, Cho Hyun-chul, makes for a more playful character as Su-hyeon in a coupling that feels more like a friendship than a romantic union. Well-crafted but unremarkable, THE FIRST LAP is a realistic look at a millennial love. MT


London Korean Film Festival 2017 | 26 October – 19 November 2017

OKJAKorea has been in the news more than ever this year with a South Korean presidential impeachment and a change in government, not to mention the current North Korean crisis. Thankfully Korean Cinema has maintained a positive news profile with Bong Joon-ho’s creature feature OKJA becoming the most widely seen Korean film ever made. On this note, the 12th London Korean Film festival returns to London and across the UK offering another expansive selection of films from 26 October – 19 November.


This year’s opening film will be Hong Sangsoo’s Cannes acclaimed, THE DAY AFTER (2017) will kick-off the festival at an Opening Gala with Cinematographer and frequent Hong Sangsoo and Bong Joon-ho collaborator, Kim Hyung-ku  in conversation on the 26 October. The festival closes on 8 November (in London)  with the UK Premiere of emerging director Kim Dae-hwan‘s Indie relationship hit from Locarno, THE FIRST LAP  (2017) (followed by Director Q&A), which sees a directionless unmarried couple wade through family encounters and a potential pregnancy, in a fresh verité style that is both funny and heartwarming.

1261477_the-mercilessTwo out of the five Korean hits to grace Cannes Film Festival this year were crime and action thrillers typical of the booming Korean Noir genre, illuminating the dark side of society: THE VILLAINESS follows a female assassin trained from a young age, and THE MERCILESS (2017, Studiocanal, premiering at LKFF 2017) from Byun Sung-hyun, is a Tarantino-esque moody neo-noir thriller following double-crossing gangsters.

The FILM NOIR strand begins with an example of Lee Man-hui’s renowned anti-communist filmmaking, with one of his very early films in the genre, BLACK HAIR  (1964), which follows the loyal mistress of a gang boss, whose life takes a horrific turn for the worse after a violent rape is exposed. The newly restored THE LAST WITNESS (1980) that recently screened in Berlin and Busan film festivals, with director Lee Doo-yong, is based on a crime novel by Kim Seong-jung and follows lone wolf Detective Oh Byeong-ho as he goes in search of the murderer of a small time brewer. Film Noir was thriving in the 1990s, and we’ll celebrate a strong selection from that decade: the darkly humorous DEAD END (1993), THE RULES OF THE GAME (1994) following small town thugs trying to make it big and GREEN FISH (1997), the directorial debut by Lee Chang-dong who is now widely regarded as South Korea’s greatest living director.

CLASSICS screening this year will include NOWHERE TO HIDE from Lee Myung-Se (Korea’s anger to John Woo, is a highly stylised violent action noir and an influence on The Matrix.

KILIMANJARO (2000) is the rarely screened, but highly accomplished feature from Oh Seung-uk, starring veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki and Park Shin-yang; an engrossing noir following a detective mistaken for his identical twin brother, a gangster.

DIE BAD  (2000) is action maestro Ryoo Seung-wan‘s sensational debut made in 4 parts over 3 years, following two young men (played by Ryoo and Park Sung-bin) whose lives change forever after a deadly student brawl.

A BITTERSWEET LIFE  (2005) is Kim Jee-woon‘s follow up to A Tale of Two Sisters(2003) a thrilling noir that shows the ultra violent consequences of falling for the wrong girl.

A DIRTY CARNIVAL  (2006) follows a low-level debt collector as he murders his way to the top, played by one of Korea’s leading actors Zo In-sung.

NEW WORLD (2013, UK Home Ent. release by Eureka) is the second directorial feature from Park Hoon-jung, the writer behind The Unjust (Ryoo Seung-wan) and I Saw The Devil (Kim Jee-woon), in which undercover cops and shady policemen plot to gain control of Korea’s biggest crime syndicate.

COIN LOCKER GIRL (2015) is a female crime melodrama from first time director Han Jun-Hee starring veteran actress Kim Hye-soo as the psychotic crime boss known as ‘mom’ whose unsavoury trade includes organ trafficking and loan-sharking.  

CINEMA NOW strand COME, TOGETHER (2017) is Director Shin Dong-il‘s new drama about a family of three whose ranks are collapsing – a rare insight into Korean society’s highly competitive nature. WARRIORS OF THE DAWN (2017) is the popular Joseon Era drama filmed almost entirely outdoors, as a guerilla style road movie, following a group of mercenaries tasked with protecting the newly crowned prince.

THE MIMIC  (UK release in 2018 date tbc, Arrow Films) directed by Huh Jung is a chilling K-horror that follows a woman, haunted by the disappearance of her son, who is drawn to a local legend of a monstrous tiger that lures people into its cave.

CRIME CITY (2017) is an indie crime caper based on a true story, from director Kang Yoon-sung, that follows a detective (Ma Dong-seok), as he hunts down a Korean-Chinese gang headed by Yoon Kye-sang.

WOMEN’S VOICES celebrates four drama and one documentary, CANDLE WAVE FEMINISTS (2017), deconstructs the misogyny and discrimination that was rife within the revolution that led to Park’s impeachment and her spiritual mentor Choi Soon-Sil’s arrest.

JAMSIL  (2016) the feature debut of writer-director Lee Wanmin, is a rare look at two women’s transformative friendship, following a harrowing long-term breakup.

MY TURN (2017) focuses on pregnancy within the workplace, after a nurse becomes pregnant and tensions and backlash surface.

MILD FEVER (2017) captures the subtle rift between husband and wife, following a secret that surfaces from the past.

NIGHT WORKING (2017) follows a friendship between two factory workers, a Korean woman and a Cambodian immigrant.

Younger audiences will delight in the two Animations this year: LOST IN THE MOONLIGHT (2016) following 13 year old Hyun Joo-ri as a dreamy, shy girl who gets sucked into a fantasy world and Franky and Friends:

TREE OF LIFE (2016) is an exciting adventure in the Fairytale Kingdom, as two friends Kwon and Pong create havoc by asking for more food than they can eat, learning a useful lesson about the perils of wastefulness.

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL London venues include: Picturehouse Central, Regent Street Cinema, ICA, Phoenix, Close-up, LUX, Birkbeck’s Institute of Moving Image, SOAS, Kingston University, National Film & Television School, British Museum and KCCUK The festival tours to: Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME, Sheffield Showroom, Nottingham Broadway Cinema, Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre until 19 November 2017.



The Wailing (Goksung) 2016

Dir.: Na Hong-jin; Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura,
Chun Woo-hee, Kim Hwan-hee, Moo Myeong); South Korea 2016, 150 min.

Director/writer Na Hong-jin (The Yellow Sea) imagines a monstrous journey into the occult – gigantic not only in length, but also in narrative and aesthetic over-kill. What makes THE WAILING bearable in spite all of the hocus-pocus, is the performance of lead actor Kwak, whose police officer Jong-Goo is more of a loafer than an enforcer, bringing some comic relief to the often gruesome proceedings.

Set in the same rural environment as many of the famous South Korean detective mysteries like Memories of Murder, Jong is introduced at the breakfast table with his wife and daughter, eating leisurely before setting out to investigate a multiple murder – as if this would be a routine case in his tranquil village. As it turns out, Jong doesn’t need to worry, because the culprit, the father of the slain family has been already caught. Soon more gruesome killings occur, and Jong sets out into the woods, to look for the chief suspect, a Japanese stranger (Kunimura), who has been spotted eating animals. But in spite of employing a shaman (Il Gwang), Jong does not get any nearer to the solution of this mysterious murder spree, which starts to dominate his dreams, But worse is to come when his daughter (Hyo-jin Kim), is affected by the illness. Then a strange woman (Moo) starts throwing stones at the detective, before warning him that the Japanese is not the culprit. In the end, THE WAILING ends as it began: as a riddle about religious obsession: which is really the devil behind the mass slaughter – and poor Jong has to come up with the right guess, to save his daughter.

THE WAILING is not a traditional horror movie, it does not rely on jump-scares (only once) or use sound as a harbinger of approaching evil – it more or less sucks the audience in, just like the virus spreading in the village. This is a story about desperation, the helpless Jong (and the audience) trying to find a rational solution for the crimes. There is contamination, affected victims vomit constantly: bodily and psychologically possession is the name of the game. But in the end, this endless cycle of new victims and new suspects is tiring: the self-indulgence of the director takes it toll – not only in running time, but in the narrative structure of film. DoP Kyung-pye is able to create to create two separate worlds: the mundane village life, to which Jong clings too long for his own good, and the jungle of the woods, from where evil spreads. It is ironic, that after such an exhaustive tour-de-force the main emotional impact should be deflation. AS


Dong-ju : The Portrait of a Poet (2015) | London Korean Film Festival 2016

Dir: Lee Joon-ik | Writer: Shin Yeon-sik | Cast: Kang Ha-neuf, Park Yung-min | Drama | 113min | Korea

Much of Korea’s historical cinema harks back to the Colonial era as blockbuster director Lee Joon-ik teams up here with arthouse auteur Shin Yeon-sik (The Russian Novel) for a stylish black and white indie biopic of Yun Dong-ju, an early 20th century poet (sensitively played by Kang Ha-neuf) whose voice conveyed the sentiment of an entire generation in Korea when the country was under Japanese rule.

Lee’s delicately romantic and often humorous treatment is underpinned by Shin’s potent script that successfully evokes the artistic subject matter, exploring Yun’s lyrical poems that led to his imprisonment by the Japanese authorities who tortured and emotionally abused him, along with his friend and resistance activist Mong-kyu, during the Second World War.

The tone is light but serious in a narrative that explores the young mens’ burgeoning creative talents and the difficult relationship with their traditional parents – who try to force them into more solid professional careers – as they hone their craft in preparation for university. Deeply affected by Japanese Imperialism, the education system comes under pressure as Japan’s try to submerge Korean heritage and force its own culture on the country through the educational establishments.

Young ‘matinee idol’ stars Kang Ha-neul and Park Jung-min are well cast and supported by more established performers. This is a film that will possibly have more appeal to young audiences than the more diehard arthouse connoisseurs but offers thoughtful insight into an interlude of Korea’s creative past. MT


The Last Princess | London Korean Film Festival 2016

Dir: Hur Jin-ho | Biopic Drama | 127min | South Korea

Hur Jin-ho gives full rein to romantic melodrama in his sumptuous retelling of the unhappy life in exile of Princess Yi Deok-hye, who was the last member of Korea’s Joseon Royal Dynasty. Based on Kwon Bi-young’s novel of the same title, it chronicles her life from a tiny child in the Changdeok palace in Seoul, until her capture by the Japanese authorities who transported her to Japan where she lived a cloistered existence until the last years of her life in her beloved country. Interwoven into the period narrative is a strand that takes place in 1960s Seoul that offers romantic and historical resonance to the central story that deals with the princess’s tragic life.

Son Ye-jin is leads with a performance of regal dignity tinged with discrete emotional interludes in this illuminating study that exposes not only the cruelty of the Japanese but also the treachery of the  Koreans who betrayed their own people by kowtowing to Japanese imperialism, many ending up in positions of power after the Japanese annexation ended in 1945.

This is a more sombre offering than Park Chan-wook’s recent drama The Handmaiden although it deals with another historical interlude in the history of the Korean occupation. Hur, Lee Han-eol, and Seo Yoo-min begin their narrative a decade into Japanese occupation with King Gojong (Baek Yun-sik) still acting as the leader of his country and doting on his youngest child Deok-hye. Her confidence in her father’s love instills an unshakeable self-belief in the little princess who is seen in floods of tears in a touching scene where he father is dies after drinking a poisoned persimmon cocktail.  Later she defies the Japanese authorities  by refusing to wear a kimono and asserting her authority with graceful detachment as an inspiration leader for her people, although in private she is miserable and desperate to return home. In Toyko she is reunited with Kim Jang-han (Park Hae-il), to whom she was betrothed in childhood, and who is now high up in the Imperial Japanese Army and working alongside Deok-hye’s nephew Prince Yi Woo (Go Soo) for the underground resistance movement. He hatches several plans to get her and her brother Crown Prince Yi Eun (Park Soo-young), to safety in Shanghai but the wicked Japanese Chief of Staff always manages to rumble them. This no-win stalemate for Deok-hye climaxes in a torrid night in a hut with Jang-han followed by a momentous meltdown on a white sandy beach where, once again, an escape plot is foiled by the arch-villian, arriving on the boat she thought would take her to freedom. Although the THE LAST PRINCESS is a well-crafted historical drama that feels like a Hollywood epic with its rousing orchestral score and grippingly eventful storyline. MT


London Korean Film Festival 2016 | 3-27 November 2016

Yourself copyThe LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL  (LKFF) celebrates its 11th year running with an extended run from 3 – 27 November at accessible state of the art venues around London.

Opening with the UK Premiere of female director Lee Kyoung-mi’s The Truth Beneath at Picturehouse Central, in keeping with this year’s edition which has a ‘Special Focus on Women’. Hong Sang-soo’s San Sebastian Best Director winner Yourself and Yours, (left) is one of the titles worth seeing.  So often called the “Woody Allen of Korean cinema”, his films are full of dry wit and probing characterisations. His 18th feature is the closing gala at Regent Street Cinema on 27 November.

The Focus on Women strand will screen 11 key works. Worth looking out for will be a rare screening of Nam-ok Park’s 1955 drama The Widow (Mimangin), (image below) the first film to be directed by a Korean woman. The festival also explores Korea’s New Wave before presenting UK premieres of the latest Korean outings: Jin-ho Hur’s The Last Princess (2016) a biographical drama set during the Korean struggle for Independence under Japanese rule. Two documentary features join the programme in the shape of Wind on the Moon, a charming documentary that explores the life of a mother and her deaf mute child and Keeping the Vision Alive (2001), Yim Soon-rye’s study that explores the journey of Korea’s women filmmakers.

unknownYoung-joo Byun’s tense mystery thriller Helpless (Hoa-cha) (2012) and for those that like their cinema dark and vengeful there is Woo Min-hun’s Inside Men (2016) featuring Korean star turn Lee Byung-hun as a wronged political henchman; the European premiere of Asura: City of Madness, Kim Sung-soo’s impressively over-the-top and violent gangster thriller, where a shady gets caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. And flying the flag for the country’s animated talent is Seoul Station (2016) a prequel to the breakout zombie hit of the summer Train to Busan. MT



The Widow (1955) | Mimangin | London Korean Film Festival 2016

imagesDir: Nam-ok Park | Writer: Bo-ra Lee |Cast: Min-ja Lee, Seong-ju Lee, Tak-kyun Lee, Ai-shim Na, Dong-hu Shin, Yeong-suk Park

90min | Drama | Korea

Nam-ok Park was a Korean athlete who turned her talents to film journalism and eventually to filmmaking. Her feature debut and only film is a tenderly told domestic drama that doesn’t idolise maternal love in its exploration of the realities of postwar life from a female perspective in 1950s Korea. Unfortunately, the final scenes of the film have been lost and so actual outcome remains an eternal enigma.

Young war widow and refugee Shin (Lee Min-ja) has been left to fend for herself and her young daughter Ju (Lee Seong-ju). The financial help she gets from a dutiful married friend of her husband, Lee Seong-jin (Shin Dong-hun), is misinterpreted by his jealous and controlling wife (Park Yeong-suk), who suspects the two of having an affair, intuitively sensing his strong feelings for Shin.

Sensitively-crafted and photographed in the leafy suburbs of Seoul, the film provides insight into the social politics of the day, showing how women were forced to rely on manipulative behaviour due to their lowly status in comparison to men. Rich women, such a Mrs Lee, were able to take lovers to entertain them while their husbands were busily running empires., and Mrs Lee pays a young man called Taek (Lee Taek-kyun), to take her out and about and one day while the two are frolicking on the beach, Taek saves little Ju from drowning in the sea.

Shin meanwhile, is more impressed by Taek’s masculinity than Mr Lee’s romantic gestures and cleverly uses his money to set a business, tempting Taek to move with her and be a business partner, while paying a neighbour to looks after Ju. But the plan falls through when Taek’s former girlfriend suddenly turns up, not having died in the war after all, and Taek is also forced to make a choice between his past love and his future prosperity. There’s nothing new about the message here: that honest women and men will always follow their heart, while weaker souls have to resort to scheming and subterfuge. MT



Sunset on the Sarbin River (1967) | LKFF 2015

Director: Chung Chang Wha

Cast: Shin Young-Kyun, Kim Hye-Jung, Nam Goong Won, Yoon Il-Bong

12omin  Action Drama  Korea

Filmed in black and white, this ambitious if overlong pro-Korean anti-imperialist action drama blends humour, romance and brutality in the melancholy story of an earnest Korean student, his name japanised as Musumoto, who feels compelled to join the Japanese Imperial Army and do his bit for the War. Doing rather well, he is promoted to officer in charge and transferred to Burma where his platoon is visited by the famous  “teishintai” or ‘comfort’ women. On the way to the front the troops are betrayed to the guerillas of the new independence army by a solitary single mother with whom Musumoto reluctantly falls in love. But when her child is accidently killed during manoeuvres by troops under his command, her guerilla husband swears revenge on the hapless officer who, despite his valiant efforts, remains the miserable and thwarted Korean hero of the piece. Chung Chang Wha crafts an intelligent, emotional and perceptively humorous tribute to Korea’s fierce national pride at being subjected to Japanese Imperialism during the Second World War. MT


Ode to My Father (2014) | Gukjesijang | LKFF 2015 2 -14 November

Dir.: J K Joun | Cast: Jeong-min Hwang, Yunjin Kim | South Korea 2014, 126 min.

A full-blooded epic, ODE TO MY FATHER spans over fifty years of Korean history. Full of overwhelming images from the chaos of the war; the danger of the mining, to the brutal war in Vietnam: all this is more enough for one film. Unfortunately, J K Joun too often drifts off into sentimentality, the action is tragic enough to impress without going over the top. Impressive performances and Byung-woo Lee’s powerful score save the drama offering a fascinating a overview of 20th Century Korean history from the personal perspective of one man.

We first meet our hero Yoon duk, as a boy in 1950 in North Korea, fleeing with his family from the Chinese army. An American warship takes some of the refugees, but during the chaotic scrambles to get on the ship, Yoon looses his sister Maksoon. His father tries to find the little girl, but is never seen again. The grown-up Yoon (Hwang) will mourn the loss of his sister for the rest of his life: he cannot overcome his guilt. The family settles in Busan, where they work for Yoon’s aunt Kkotbun in her grocery shop, which Yoon will inherit one day.

In West Germany in the Sixties, he works in a mine near Duisburg, just escaping an accident with his life, he falls in love with the South Korean nurse Youngj (Kim). The two marry and have children, but Yoon again goes abroad to fight against the Vietcong in the Vietnam War. A TV-show tries to re-unite families who lost each other during the turbulent Korean history, and Maksoon, who has been adopted by American parents, sees her family again, just before her mother dies. Yoon, who stubbornly does not want to sell his shop (which is being demolished to make space for a modern shopping centre), finally agrees to sell – for the first time in his adult life, he accepts defeat. AS



Memories of Murder (2003) | Salinui Chueok | LKFF 2015 | 2-14 November

KCCUK-KFF-Press_backdrops copyDir.: Bong Joon-ho; Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim sang-gyeong); | Crime Drama | South Korea 2003 | 132 min.

Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) constructs a terrifying drama around the unsolved mystery of South Korea’s first serial killer who raped and murdered ten women between 1986 and 1991 in Gyeong-gi, a provincial town south of Seoul. The victims were between thirteen and seventy-one years old; the murders remains unsolved.

Local cop Park (Kang-ho) tries to pin the murder on the local half-wit Baek, but when the more sophisticated officer Seo (Kim) arrives from Seoul, he finds another favourite suspect: a factory worker. Whilst the DNA data is sent to the United States, it is now Seo who snaps: he wants to kill the worker, and Park has great difficulty in stopping him. The two cops have learned to hate each other, and the hunt for the murderer is secondary to each of them: they simply want to be right. But the DNA results do not give any proof and the case remains unsolved. Park is seen at the end of the film looking into a small tunnel, where the second victim had been found. The only real ‘witness’ is a little girl who asks him what he is looking for. It emerges that she has seen another man a few weeks ago, looking into the same tunnel. Park, who is now a business man, tries in vain to get any identification from the girl: “he looked normal” is her answer.

MEMORIES OF MURDER is an absurdist variation of a cop movie. Far from being interested in solving the case, Park and Seo fight with each other, their brutality illustrating how the fine line between their own violent intent and that of the  man they are chasing. Park’s family life shows him to be a domestic tyrant and Seo, who tries to be sophisticated, is nothing but an insecure and fragile man. Original and haunting. AS


The Liar (2014) Geo-Jiu-Mal | LKFF 2015 | 2 -14 November

KCCUK-KFF-Press_backdrops copyDir.: Dong-myung Kim; Cast: Kim Kkobbi, Chun Sin-hwan; South Korea 2014, 95 min.

In this scathing critique of the effects of Korean materialism, Dong-myung Kim creates an often bizarre portrait of Ah Young (Kkobbi), a young beautician who is a compulsive liar and fantasist. Ah Young’s fiancé, Tae-ho (Sin-hwan), is very much in love with her but Ah dreams only of a world where luxury is hers by right rather than through the hard work necessary to achieve success. A profligate by nature, she steals luxury goods, invites her colleagues for meals she cannot really afford, and finally manages to gain fraudulent control of an expensive apartment.

In reality, her life is one one of comparative drudgery: sharing a small flat with her sister, who is often drunk, her violent husband makes her life a misery. Her mother, who abandoned the family, prefers her lover to her daughters and Ah’s father is missing, having run up a mountain of debt. But she treats the only person who loves her (Tae-ho) with contempt, even inventing a richer fiancé for her workmates, until one fateful night when her world implodes.

Kim Kkobbi is brilliant as the fragile Ah Young, she seems to swim through life in a dream, delicately evoked in DOP Sun-young Lee’s saturated pastel colour palette. Drifting alone in her fake world, Ah Young always looks the same, her bewildered eyes unable to trust reality, lost in an absurd and an empty universe of her own making, that gradually  threatens to engulf her. In chasing materialism she creates a world where reality seems, quite literally, beyond the pale. AS


Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).


On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.


And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT


68th Locarno Film Festival | Preview 2015

Bruno Chatrian unveils his eclectic mix of films for the 68th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 5 until 15 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Hong Sang-soo, Andrzej Zulawski and Chantal Akerman (left) will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.


dejanlost and beautifulFourteen world premieres compete for the Golden Leopard including Korean comedy delights from Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then and mavericks in the shape of Andrzej Zulawski who this year brings Cosmos. Pietro Marcello’s docu-drama Bella e Perduta (above right) will compete with Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier and Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s hotly awaited doc Not a Home Movie (above topis sure to delight both the press and the public. Two Sundance 2015 outings will screen in competiton: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, exploring the journey of an American stand-up comedian and James White, a coruscating family drama from Josh Mond. Sophomores in the section include Pascale Breton with her appropriately titled Suite Amoricaine and Georgian auteur Bakur Bakuradze’s Brother Dejan (above left). Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest film is a thriller, Schneider vs Bax. that focuses on a hit man whose mission is to kill a reclusive author (below left).

Schneder vs Bax

To open the festival in the open-air Piazza Grande, Jonathan Demme is back with Ricki and the Flash. Scripted by Diabolo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, it explores the efforts of an ageing rock star to get back to her roots.jack copy

Locarno is known for its European flavour such as Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison starring Cécile De France, Lionel Baier’s LGBT title La Vanité (nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes) and Austrian auteur Elisabeth Scharang’s Jack (right) which tackles the thorny topic of recidivism through the story of a brutal murderer. Philippe Le Guay’s comedy Floride stars Sandrine Kiberlain and Jean Rochefort and German director Lars Kraume’s The State vs Fritz Bauer explores the story of a prosecutor in the Auschwitz trials. From further afield comes Anurang Kashyap’s Bollywood gangster drama Bombay Velvet, Barbet Schroeder’s historical drama Amnesia and Brazilian director Sergio Machado’s Heliopolis. 

IMG_1536The CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE selection includes a fascinating array of indie newcomers with first or second films that focus on the filmmakers of the future: In Tagalog; Dead Slow Ahead (right) is cinematographer Mauro Herce’s debut (right). French helmer. Vincent Macaigne’s debut drama is Dom Juan. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister) stars in Keeper by Guillaume Senez. Melville Poupard, Andre Desoullier and Clemence Poesy star in Le Grand Jeu, a debut for Nicolas Pariser and The Waiting Room from Serbian Bosnian director, Igor Drljaca, and starring Canadian actor Christopher Jacot (Hellraiser), and those that have seen the enchanting Elena by Petra Costa will be excited to see her next experimental docu-drama Olmo & the Seagull.


Ground we copy

This strand screens perhaps the most auteurish films of the festival with a distinctive style and look. Two new Polish films stand out, My Name is Marianna (right) from Karolina Bielawska and Brothers from Wojciech Staron (below right).Christopher Pryor’s black and white New Zealand doc The Ground We Won (above) and Aya Domenig’s The Day the Sun Fell from the Sky (left).

brothers copy

The Jury Selection offers a chance to see their favourite titles including Guy Maddin’s stylish drama, The Forbidden Room, Joanna Hogg’s superb study of a family holiday seen through the eyes of a single, middle-aged woman: Unrelated; and Denis Klebeev’s Strange Particles. The competition jury comprises U.S. photographer-director Jerry Schatzberg; German actor Udo Kier; Israeli director Nadav Lapid; and South Korean actress Moon so-Ri.

Te Premeto Anarquia

Locarno also screens a retrospective of Sam Peckinpah including his standout Western PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Marco Bellocchio will receive a Pardo d’Onore and show his 1965 classic I PUGNI IN TASCA along with Michael Cimino whose all time seventies favourite THE DEER HUNTER stars Robert De Niro. MT





Madonna (2015) | Un Certain Regard | Cannes 2015

Shin Su-won

81min  Korean   Drama

South Korean filmmaker Shin Su-won is no newcomer to Cannes, where this year she shows a Noirish thriller MADONNA in Un Certain Regard.

This glossy, well-mounted affair transports us back to the Dickensian days where grave robbers regularly dug up bodies to sell to the medical profession. Here in 21st century Seoul, organ transplants thrive in the cut-throat (or even chest?) world of private medicine. Here a nurse attempts to stymie a heart transplant operation involving a pregnant sex-worker with low self-esteem and a wealthy industrialist, and you can guess who has the good heart.

Shin Su-won is not afraid of dangerous subjects and unpleasant characters who operate in a dog eat dog world where only a social elite can survive. Her LFF hit Pluto centred on rich high school kids desperate to get to the top and will trample on their fellow schoolfriends on the way. A this is a fight for life – at its most fundamental state – with a brilliant central performance from Korean star, Seo Young-hee.

Slightly marred by overlong flashbacks that rob the film of tension and dramatic punch,   its fractured narrative draws a vibrantly contrasting picture of the haves and have-nots.

In a downbeat Seoul, a pudgy Hye-rim (Seo) is seen is surviving on the edges of society in a grim bedsit as she stuffs her face with noodles while watching the Korean equivalent of X Factor on TV.  In an expensive private hospital her new job involves pandering to the egos of captains of industry who exert their power with selfish and demoralising demands. A billionaire living vegetable with a failing heart has repeated coronary transplants while he lies on life-support as shadow of his illustrious past.

When a donor finally arrives Hye-rim discovers she is not on death’s door but merely pregnant – her business card reveals she is a part-time prostitute called Madonna. The tycoon son (Kim Young-min) has a vested interest in keeping his father alive (as a cash cow) and orders Hye-rim to locate the ‘victims’ next of kin for a ‘sign-off’ form for a transplant.

This is a well-paced drama that intrigues for the first hour then starts to drag as it becomes over-involved in the backstory of Madonna, which is predictable and tedious to the main action. Kwon So-hyun’s gives a worthy performance as the pitiful Madonna whose life speaks volumes about the misogynist world of elitist South Korea, but it’s also a rather exaggerated portrayal of a social outcast that often draws an unsympathetic response. Nevertheless by the finale, it emerges that at least Hye-rim’s heart is in the right place. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL runs until 24 May 2015 | Un Certain Regard | Cannes 2015

Revivre (2013) | UK Korean Film Festival

Dir.: Im Kwon-taek

Cast: Ahn Sunki, Kim Hojung, Kim Qyuri; South Korea 2014, 93 min.

In his 102nd feature film REVIVRE, veteran South Korean director Im Kwon-taek tells the story of an ageing man caught between his duty to a dying wife and his lust for a young woman. Based on the short story “Hwajang” by Kim Hoon, the ambivalence played out in the film is explained by the double meaning of ‘Hwajang’ in translation: “putting on make-up” as well as “cremation”.

Mr. Oh (Sunki) is an advertising executive for a major company producing beauty products. In his mid-fifties, he lives a very unhappy life: His wife Jinkyung (Hojung) is dying of a brain tumour, and he is suffering from prostate trouble, causing him to visit a hospital on a regular basis, to have his bladder emptied. Further more, his job is very stressful, competitors and his own staff making his working life a living hell. No wonder therefore, that he is falling in love with the young Choo Eunjoo (Qyuri), a new employee in his department. We suspect that the latter might be taking advantage of the situation, when Oh is finding out, that his by now deceased wife knew along about his feelings for the young woman.

Set between the months of February and December, Hoon’s short story is very much told in internal monologues. Im Kwon-taek avoid voice-overs, which would have been an easy solution, and tries instead to focus the narrative on Oh, whose ambiguity dominates the proceedings. His relationship with his wife is typical: whilst he is looking after her in the hospital, even performing tasks for the nurses, it becomes clear in flash-backs that he never really loved her. He sees her, like his job, as a duty, which he performs as well as possible. The only events he really enjoys before Choo Eunjoo appears, are the long drinking dinner parties with his staff. Family and work life always collide: after the funeral of his wife, Oh’s house is full of family guests, but he prefers to tend to employees who need his authorisation for the forthcoming release of the summer collection. Whilst he makes one failed attempt to talk to Choo, he prefers to imagine making love to her. Mr. Oh is a lonely man indeed and he is going to realise this even more when he learns rather surprising facts about the woman of his dreams.

REVIVRE is an elegy, a melancholic portrait of an old man who has to come to terms with his own mortality and a life that from the outside might have looked a success, but was much more empty. In one short scene with his wife and her dog, we see how much more the dog means to her – the gulf between the couple was only camouflaged by the presence of their children and Oh’s long working hours. The camera follows him often mournfully; in long shots he seems to disappear into the background. Sunki’s Oh is very understated, he is played with great restraint and his inner hollowness is translated into a stooping walk and long gazes into a far-away world. Somehow he seems to be so lightweight that a wind could blow him away. REVIVRE is a convincing “trauerarbeit”. AS


UK Korean Film Festival 2014 | 6-21 November

A_GIRL_AT_MY_DOOR_2 copyThis year’s Korean Film Festival will focus on the work of maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who is best known for his controversial titles such as PIETA and MOEBIUS. The UK premiere of his Venice Festival hopeful ONE ON ONE will also screen during the festival. The opening night film: Yoon Jong-bin’s KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT, is a 19th century ‘Robin Hood’ style Kung-Fu thriller about a militia group of bandits – Kundo – who rise up against their unjust nobility, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Cult classics will again feature this year with a selection from the archives under the ‘K Classics’ strand such Ki-young Kim’s shocking melodrama THE HOUSEMAID (1960).

Other films worth watching are Seong-hoon Kims’ A HARD DAY starring Baek Jong-hwan, and July Jung’s A GIRL AT MY DOOR, which was nominated in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year. THE KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-15 IN LONDON AND 16-21 NATIONWIDE. Tickets and schedule available here

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One on One (2014) | London Korean Film Festival 2014

Director/writer: Kim Ki-Duk

Don Lee, Kim Young-min, Lee Yi-kyung, Cho Dong-in, Yoo Teo, Ahn Ji-hye, Jo Jae-ryong, Kim Joong-ki

Drama, South Korea, 122 min

Kim Ki-Duk hasn’t been given a competition berth at Venice since he controversially won the Golden Lion in 2012 (beating off The Master almost by proxy), so it’s to the second-string Venice Days strand that the veteran Korean prankster goes. And it’s a shame if he’s completely side-lined by the critical fraternity here, even if One On One is a lesser film than his grisly but hilarious Moebius (2013), which premiered here last year out of competition. His latest somehow remains an intriguing skew-eyed look into the pain of violence n the giving as well as in the gruesome receiving.

Moebius began with a castration and got grislier from there, and alarm bells start ringing from the off as Kim launches into a brutal murder of a teenage girl in the opening frames. But even with its lot of ultra-violence and extended torture sequences, there’s a more nuanced tone at work as the narrative gathers momentum. Months after the murder, a group of mysterious mercenaries abduct the killers and those who authorised the murder one by one, torturing them through rusty nails, hammers, pincers, and electrocutions. But they only torture until the perpetrators admit their part in the plot, letting them live with any shame or indeed pride they might’ve held. It starts with dogsbodies, and the film takes us up the chain of command to the top of a web of gangsters. At first the men are apologetic and say they only did what they were told, but later the top men say they did it because it was a just action – one whose motives are never conclusively revealed. But when one character tells its leader (Don Lee) that there is “something sad in you”, he reflects a man whose viciousness is as painful to him as it is to those he gives it out to (well, almost).

At first the film’s kill-list narrative suggests we’re in the territory of a genre flick, but Kim plays with the ideas that the film present and it becomes a more than adequate allegory on the echoes of genocide, where culprits at different points of the chain of command have different explanations for unforgivable crimes. The paramilitary group themselves disguise themselves in various garbs – from an anti-communist brigade to a shady government organisation, as if to heighten the sense that this story cold play out on different levels in different settings.

The film’s violence becomes so routine that it may well bore some, but that’s part of the point, so numbed are these characters to a world where violence begets violence. One of the members of the paramilitary is a victim of domestic violence, raped in a scene that might’ve just have crossed an exploitative line here. But as one character says, “dictators are in families just as much as countries”, and I found myself considering, among the expected bloody finale, the implications of how violent men are often as much troubled as troubling.


Q&A with the Director at the Villa Degli Autori, Venice Lido [youtube id=”ergRH05lqnw” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Pluto (2013)

Dir.: Shin Suwon; Cast: David Lee, Sung June, Kim Kkobi-bi:

South Korea 2012, 120 min.  Psychological Drama

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The director Shin Suwon was a teacher at a middle school before turning to filmmaking. Her valuable working  knowledge of the system makes this film even more depressing than it already is and proves that truth is sometimes than fiction.

Kim June gets transferred to an elite school where the top 10 students form a clique and engage in acts of rape, murder, bomb-making in a bid to eliminate their fellow students, ensuring that they maintain top grades eventually allowing exclusive access to the revered Seoul National University.

In contrast to the other, wealthy students, June is from an underprivileged background with a mother who financing the family by selling insurance. June takes the place of a girl who has killed herself;  and after his roommate Jujin Taylor is murdered by masked students, June becomes the main suspect with the local police.

Another pupil Sujin, then hacks into the activities of the group via the internet, trying to find out more about the suicide of her friend Eun-Joo. This psycho-drama culminates, with June committing further atrocities in a bid to discover the truth. The action takes place in the cellar of the school building, which was once the site of a CIA torture chamber.

Despite a rather bewildering script, PLUTO succeeds in being frightening with its frosty, wintry, blue and white aesthetic. These characters are like sharks in an aquarium. June is shown as an hopeless opportunist, unable to solve anything without resorting to violence. But at least he is aware of his nefarious actions. The rest of the group is busy trying to keep the exclusivity of their elite intact, for fear they may threaten their status. Random acts of physical and psychological violence are an everyday occurrence, and never questioned, in their quest to achieve  their goals: a place at the National University. The use of surveillance equipment is logical, it gives the film an extra layer of emotional fascism.

With this immersive study of evil, Shin Suwon demonstrates how the environment of the school prepares these young, well-heeled psychopaths for their future leading roles in society. AS


Haewon, Nobody’s Daughter (2013)

Dir. Hong Sang-soo, Cast: Jung Eunchae, Lee Sunkyun

South Korea   87 min.   Drama

South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (Hahaha)) shows in his latest film NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON the unravelling of a personality: aspiring actress Haewon, played by a very impressive Jung Eunchae, has an on/off relationship with an older, married professor (Lee Sunkyn), who is the father of a recently born baby.

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After her mother leaves Seoul for Canada, Haewon looses her last ‘anchor’ in life. Her personality fragments, she sleeps at day time, loses more and more contact with her acting school, drinks too much and flees into a parallel universe, in which she ‘directs’ life via a permanent inner monologue. She can’t differentiate any more between important and unimportant events and wanders off into a vacuum that only her inner voice can fill. Her often hysterical laughter is the only obvious sign of her psychological deterioration, so that her friends find her rather ‘odd’, because they are too self-centred to help and unable to commit to anything but the acute present.

The narrative develops in episodic format, so as to underline the lack of continuity in Haewon’s life. She always visits certain places: mainly a park, a motel and an old fort, as if trying to re-connect with the past, even though it is exactly this past with has thrown her life into disarray. But she is unable to find a solution,because she can’t connect the important points in her life any more and  it becomes totally structureless as she drifts more and more away from herself. She wanders often and long, particularly in the rain, as if trying to purify herself. But since she can’t ask the right questions, or even worse, can’t remember what to ask, all her physical exercises take her even more away from herself.

nobody_3 copy copy copy copy copyHer relationship with the professor has issues, so does her relationship with an fellow student: everything is in flux. Haewon is the object rather than the subject of Sang-soo’s film – even though paradoxically both men in her life believe her to be strong. She drifts along in a way that makes her loose more and more of her personality.  Sang-soo has selected a muted palette here and most of the drama takes place outside, with a few claustrophobic indoor shots): everything is murky and somehow diffuse,  just like Haewon.  There is a timeless feel to the narrative which could be set anytime between the 70s and today.

The sensation here is one of being dragged along on a slow-moving river, not unpleasantly, but somehow disturbingly. There are no dramatic incidents, everything is more or less of the same colourless grey: a permanent misunderstanding on the part of Haewon, who is floating away into near oblivion. Unable to read her own (or anybody else’) real intentions, she relies only on her internal world to direct herself. She does not say it, but one expects her at any moment to voice the obvious: “I don’t know why I am doing this”.

Hong Sang-soo’s latest treat IN ANOTHER COUNTRY is a quirky comedy drama starring Isabelle Huppert is yet to hit our screens but in the meantime this well-observed portrait of a young women fragmenting under the pressure of her loneliness, low-key but with extreme sensitivity is something worth discovering. A little gem. Andre  Simonoviescz


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