Posts Tagged ‘London Korean Film Festival’

Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters (2022)

Dir.: Leah Gordon, Eddie Hutton Mills; Narrated by Adescar Sanil, Madame Raymonde Bellevue, Georges Marshall, Ronald Bellevue, Lauture Joseph Joissant, Frantzo Jean; UK/Haiti 2022, 78 min.

British documentary filmmakers Leah Gordon and Eddie Hutton Mills have taken an upbeat approach in their film about Haiti, a country with a truly grim history. Told in six chapters by six narrators – Kanaval conveys the joyful exuberance of the colourful and popular carnival without diminishing the turbulent past of this island state.

The carnival in the southern city of Jacmel gets top marks from all the narrators. The wax lyrical about the origins of the costumes and demonstrations as historical replays. Port-au-Prince might be the capital, but their carnival celebrations are eclipsed by those in Jacmel.

The first chapter deals with colonisation of the island by French and Spaniards in the late 1790s, the former soon getting the upper hand. But a strong rebel movement, under the leadership of Toussaint L’Overture, fought for independence, which was achieved by the former slaves in 1804. Unfortunately, the leader had died in French captivity, and it fell to his successor, Jean-Jacques Dessaline to build an independent republic.

Creole, the language used by the former slaves, became the official lingua franca of the liberated country. But the defeated French insisted on reparations for the loss of slavery (!) insisting on USD 150,00, over USD 20 Billion in today’s money. The Haitian’s only stopped paying for their freedom in 1947. Adescar Sanil shows the re-creation of the black loin cloths worn by slaves when they met at night. And he reflects on the progress Haiti could have made, had it not been saddled with this heavy debt.

In 1915 the US invaded Haiti – for no apparent reason –  and the slave-status of the indigenous population was more or less restored. When the US troops left the island in 1934, a system of corruption and servitude remained. Haitians responded with Voodoo, and that become their soul. Far from anything portrayed in Hollywood films – where white, vulnerable women were chased by black sorcerers – the image nonetheless stuck. The re-creation of voodoo is particularly impressive, and showcases the imagination of the contemporary carnival activists.

In 1957 Haiti elected Francois Duvalier (1907-1971) as president. Called “Papa Doc” because he was a physician and helped cure an epidemic before he became president, he soon claimed to be dictator for life. On his death, he declared that his 19 year old son Jean-Claude (1951-2014) should succeed him despite his lack of experience. Jean Claude (Baby Doc) was not as keen on murder and torture as his father, he abandoned parts of the feared “Tonton Macoute”, the hated secret police. But he enjoyed life as a playboy and ironically, his lavish, televised wedding would lead to his downfall in 1986. He fled the country, claiming “the people would have toppled him in the carnival season”.

Today’s carnival activists use paint to transform them into superheroes of Hollywood films. But the street artists are also impressively athletic and their dances are spontaneous and exhilarating to watch. The joy and exuberance is infectious, and you certainly believe Frantz Jean, the last of the narrators, when he says: “without the carnival people would go mad”. AS


Gyeong-Ah’s Daughter (2021) London Korean Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Jung-eun Kim; Cast: Kim Jung-Young, Ha Yoon-Kyung, Kim Woo Kyum, Kim Woo Kyum, Lee Chae Kyung; Republic of Korea 2022, 117 min.

Family relationships are complex and the transition between childhood and adulthood can be particularly fraught in the digital age when traditional parents discover their kids are not only having sex, but sharing explicit content on the internet. A dramatic discovery sets up the frantic first half of this feature debut by Kim Jung-eun, who then unpacks the slow fragmentation of the mother/child relationship at its heart.

Gyeong-Ah (Jung-Young) is a typical example of a clingy parent whose focus, due to her difficult marriage, has always been her daughter. Yeon-Soo (Yoon-Kyung) has left home and is teaching philosophy in a secondary school where she is extremely popular relishing her newfound freedom after the leaving the gloomy parental home behind. She hardly ever sees her widowed mother Gyeong-Ah (Jung-Young) who works as a carer in a small Korean town where both women seem to have been on the receiving end of abusive relationships with men.

Out of the blue – the young teacher gets a sex tape containing explicit photos of her in the nude, filmed by her ex-boyfriend Sang-Hyum (Kyum). Their affair had ended acrimoniously and clearly Sang-Hyum is out for revenge. But when the tape goes viral her mother holds her adult daughter responsible rather than supporting her, even though she is the victim of a revenge crime.

The plot then turns on the different reactions and desired outcomes of the crime. Rather than siding with her daughter Gyeong-Ah demands financial compensation; Yeon-Soo wants her lawyer to go for the jugular with a custodial sentence for her ex.

A hectic first half gives way to a tonal shift into the more slow-burn nuanced exploration of the relationship breakdown showing the inner struggle between mother and daughter as the generational conflict plays out between two very different generations of women in Korea. AS


Return to Seoul (2022)

Wri/Dir: Davy Chou | Drama, 115′

French Cambodian director Davy Chou has made a name for himself with his unique cinematic gaze on Cambodia and its people. His graceful prize-winning feature debut Golden Slumbers reminisced on Cambodian cinema from the 1960s to the mid 1970s.

But his latest, a drama with the apt title Return to Seoul (aka All the People I’ll never be) is a sideways glance at cultural identity seen through the eyes of its main character, a twenty five year old French woman who returns to her native South Korea to track down her birth mother.

From the start you are not going to like Freddie (Ji-Min Park). Flouncing into a bar in downtown Seoul she flirts outrageously with a Korean guy who then makes romantic overtures, only to be told, point blank, that she already has boyfriend ‘back home’ in Paris. Arrogant and extremely pleased with herself, on the face of it, she then tells another lover who has selflessly accompanied her back to Seoul for one of her business meetings, later in the film, that “she could erase him from her life at any minute”.

Of course all this hides a deep emotional wound at her core: inflicted by a biological mother who first abandons her as a baby in a Seoul orphanage, and then declines to meet her when she painstakingly tracks her down via the Seoul orphanage where she was given up.

Told in a series of off-kilter episodes tracking her life from that first meeting in the bar, until her early thirties, the film is full of awkward characters that are neither appealing nor relatable, the exception being a French businessman (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) who turns from lover to employer, All the People is a brave but not always successful attempt to explore the complexities of forging ahead with meaningful personal and romantic relationships when your heart has been shattered at birth. MT


Hansan: Rising Dragon (2021 | London Korean Film Festival 2022

Dir:Kim Han-min | Cast:Park Hae-il, Byun Yo-han, Ahn Sung-ki | 129 mins | 2021 | South Korea

Hot on the heels of The Admiral: Roaring Currents, a naval warfare blockbuster that remains the most successful Korean film of all time with over 17 million admissions, South Korean director Kim Han-min returns to the legendary exploits of Joseon Era admiral Yi Sun-sin’s with a prequel story that is just as rambunctious but even more focussed than the hit that spawned it.

Set in 1592, six years before the events of The Admiral: Roaring Currents, the film depicts the lead up and Admiral Yi’s explosive exploits during the Battle of Hansan Island, when he led a small fleet against a vast Japanese armada. Park Hae-il, seems to be this year’s Korean ‘man of the moment’ – he also stars in Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave – and here takes over the mantle of the admiral from Choi Min-sik. Portraying Admiral Yi during an earlier naval campaign in his career, which also saw him heavily outnumbered by a Japanese armada, Park imbues the historical figure with a staunch and stolid solemnity and some of the most stunning naval set-pieces ever committed to film. Hansan: Rising Dragon closes this year’s edition of LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL.

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Thu 17 Nov, 7:00pm , Regent St Cinema





Come Come Come Upward (1989) London Korean Film Festival 2022

Dir:Im Kwon-taek | Cast: Kang Soo-yeo, Jin Yeong-mi, Yu In-chon, Han Ji-il, Chon Moo-song | 120 mins | 1989 | South Korea

South Korean director Im Kwon-taek, now nearly ninety, is possibly best known outside  Korea for his ground-breaking documentary Mandala, (1981) arguably the finest film ever made about Buddhism as part of human society. In Come Come Come Upward a young woman makes her way to a mountain convent where she undergoes a demanding initiation programme in an environment best described as challenging – both physically and spiritually – not helped by aloofness erring on hostility from the other young nuns, and the almost draconian convent elder – yet none of this seems able to put her off. Flashbacks allow a glimpse of her motivations for leaving the world behind. However, the world, in the strange form of one broken yet determined man, pursues Soon-nyeo/sister Chung-hwa right to her refuge.


A Lonely Island in the Distant Sea (2021) London Korean Film Festival 2022

Dir: Kim Mi-young | Cast: Park Jong-hwan, Lee Yeon, Kang Kyung-hun, Park Hyun-suk
110 mins | 2021 | South Korea

Life is what happens when you’re making plans is very much the order of the day in this inspired drama from Kim Mi-young. The story follows Yuncheol (Park Jong-hwan) who, now in his forties, has failed in his marriage, and his early promise as a talented sculptor has gone off the boil. But the winds of change bring a refreshing new boost to life when his artistically gifted daughter Gina (Lee Yeon) decides to drop out of college and enter a Buddhist temple.

Yuncheol, who himself once imagined becoming a monk, is not sure what to think of his daughter’s decision, but her confidence inspires him to explore pastures green and this leads to a romantic attachment with an independent-minded history lecturer (Kang Kyung-hun). A Lonely Island just goes to prove that even when we think are stuck in the doldrums the winds of change can suddenly blow in alter this mindset triggering a different perspective on life.

A sensitive and profound drama about the dynamics of social interaction and the meaning of life that resonates more profoundly at the narrative develops. Yuncheol’s life may seem static but his close relationships help him to develop and deepen in unexpected ways.

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Wed 09 Nov, 8:45pm, ICA London 

London Korean Film Festival 2022

The London Korean Film Festival is back to celebrate its 17th year from 3 November – 17 November 2022, featuring 35+ cinema screenings in leading venues around London.

The London Korean Film Festival has grown from modest  beginnings to become one of the longest running and most respected festivals dedicated to Korean cinema in the world, featuring cult classic and the latest dramas, blockbusters and documentaries from the nation’s established filmmakers, auteurs and new talent. .

The 17th London Korean Film Festival is organised by the Korean Cultural Center UK with the support of the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism, Korean Film Council.

Songs from the North (2014) **** London Korean Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Yoo Soon-Mi; Documentary; South Korea/USA/Portugal 2014, 72 min.

Born 1962 in South Korea, Yoo Soon-Mi studied in the USA, where she now lectures at MassArt in Massachusetts. This is only one example of an attempt to understand her divided homeland, and follows her 2005 short film on the subject Dangerous Supplements that uses footage from American fighter planes bombing North Korea. This is an attempt to look for a landscape that seems to drift away. For Yoo, the film “is an incomplete index for the memory, a substitute for a vision that is yet to be born.”

This vision was finally realised in Songs from the North, that describes North Korea as  “the loneliest place one Earth, the country has no friends, no history, only myths, repeated endlessly from morning to night”. But for the filmmaker North Korea was always the elephant in the room, a country she wanted to visit for a long time “a land of evil that is scared as a mother’s womb”. During her three visits to the North, what emerges is a collage of interviews, film and TV archives. The masque of slips but only briefly surround the slipping but only briefly from the world’s most secretive nation.

Dedicated to her father Yoo Young-choon, whose comments to camera provide integrity and ballast to this intriguing essay film, Soon-mi Yoo does her best to maintain distance from her first person account that manages to offer insight into the culture and general ambience of this lonely state with, apparently, few friends. She visits Pyongyang and the surrounding area where white-gloved officials take pride in their marching displays, much as they do in mainland China. On the whole people seem relatively chipper with their lot, clearly they don’t know what they’re missing but is their ignorance bliss or simply a sinister form of brainwashing?.

Her excursions were heavily censured, often we hear her ‘handlers’ shout “no filming” or “stop”. At one point a man literally runs away from Yoo shouting “filming too long”. But Yoo stays true to her opening shot, were high-wire acrobats at the circus, one of them abruptly falling into the safety-net, destroying the illusion of a perfectly functioning display. Yoo is looking for moments when the citizens drop their mask for a moment; when even the awe-inspiring, official version of life comes to a halt: a group of bearded men in a billiard saloon, seen through the beads; a traffic cop on night duty, again indirectly captured through a bus window, restaurant employees cleaning up the place, whilst asking Yoo if it was worth filming at all.

Her father had fought as a young man in the Korean War. Afterwards, most of his friends, convinced that communism was the future, emigrated to the North, where they all perished in brutal purges. Yoo directly asks her father to camera, if he shared the political convictions of his friends. And after a pause, he is affirmative, concluding that only the love for his mother kept him back. He goes back in time, criticising the North Korean regime for its failures from a Marxist point of view: communism is built on economic success, but the regime has never come to terms with it, instead it went for personal politics, which are just the super-structure.

The official State Propaganda pieces are hilarious: huge halls, decorated in Soviet-style of the 1950ies, are filled to the brim. On stage, a North Korean version of a young pioneer exclaims the great leader (which ever Kim was in power) loves him like a father and a mother. Whilst his own mother died of shame on account of his father’ treachery to the nation, the great leader forgave him. And there he is, singing the praises of Kim, and making him forget he is an orphan: his pride in representing the leader in public is the highest honour.

Another TV production talks about Japanese soldiers losing the will to fight when resistance fighters sang the praise of the first Kim, who is credited with getting rid of the Japanese invaders. The death of Kim Il Sung was too much to bear for the country’s citizens. Hysterical collective weeping is showcased as a major attraction. Afterwards soldiers berate their wives for their lack of patriotic engagement. All this against the background of a wintry Pyongyang, dreary as it can be. All TV programmes somehow look as is they are shot from a different planet, even though the regime is credited with sending a communications satellite into space, at no point do we believe that we are in the 20th or 21st century.

Elegantly structured, the film conveys the feeling of utter solitude. The tone is melancholy, modest even, but still a corrective to our first hand knowledge, because Yoo never stops wanting to learn more about this hybrid state: she confronts it with glaring truth, but she never forgets that it is still the sibling of her, and her father’s, homeland. AS



London Korean Film Festival 2019

The London Korean Film Festival (LKFF 18th-24th November 2019) this highlights the historic milestone of 100-years of Korean cinema along with an exciting mix of UK and International premieres, guests and events across a diverse set of strands.

Korean cinema continues to prove its worth on the international stage. This year alone has seen Bong Joon-ho win the Palme D’Or with Parasite at the Cannes Film Festival and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) released to critical acclaim in UK cinemas, while Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, 2016), The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016) and Little Forest (Lim Soon-rye, 2018) have all found recent success. Now, with 2019 marking the centenary of Korean cinema, the LKFF will shine a light into the past to offer insight into the full and fascinating history of a groundbreaking national cinema that has lead up to the acclaimed hits of today.

This celebration of Korea’s cinematic history opens with classic melodrama The Seashore Village (1965) a story of a young woman, Hae-soon, living in a village heavily populated by those who have lost their husbands at sea. A vivid portrait of the hardships faced by the women of the village and their methods of coping through sisterly comradeship and an understanding of the natural world around them, the film features striking monochrome cinematography. Courtesy of veteran director Kim Soo-yong, now in his 90s, who made his film debut in 1958 with A Henpecked Husband and went on to make over 100 films in a long and distinguished career, the revered filmmaker will be present on opening night to discuss The Seashore Village, his life in film and 100 years of Korean cinema.

Continuing the festival’s championing of new independent cinema, the LKFF will hold its Closing Gala on 14th November Scattered Night (2019, above). Told through the eyes of two young children who must wait as their parents go through a disruptive divorce. Minimalist and sober in style, the film offers an intimate and heart-breaking child’s eye view of a family is disarray.

Other classics due to screen are Yun Yong-gyu’s touching melodrama A Hometown in Heart (1949) which follows an orphaned young monk as he traverses temple life while longing for the return of his mother. Moving into the 1950s. Lee Kang-cheon’s Piagol (1955) finds a group of communist fighters waging war among mountain villages under the harsh leadership of a zealous commander. With its nuanced depiction of communists the controversial film was originally banned for a perceived pro-communist message. From legendary director Shin Sang-ok (who would later be kidnapped and forced to make films for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il) comes The Flower in Hell (1958), set against the back-drop of occupied post-war Korea. Disaster befalls the lives of prostitute Sonya as she schemes to find a new life for herself by seducing the younger brother of her hustler boyfriend Young-sik who makes money by stealing from the US military.

The Korean Film Archive has made a huge database of classic films available on its YouTube channel with English subtitles. They have put together a list of some of the most influential and important films from each decade and we have pleasure in sharing these with a credit to the organisation

The 1930s

Sweet Dream (Lullaby of Death) (미몽죽음의 자장가 | 1936 | Yang Ju-Nam)

One of the few lost films from the Japanese colonial era (1910-45) that has been rediscovered in recent years tells the story of Ae-sun, the vain wife of a middle-class man who has no interest in looking after her family and is chased out by her husband, only to find out her lover is not the prosperous entrepreneur she thought he was but a poor student and criminal.

The 1940s

Tuition (수업료 | 1940 | Choi In-Gyu)

A film based on the memoir of a fourth-grade student who received the grand prize in a writing contest sponsored by the Gyeongseong Daily. A boy, whose parents sell brass spoons on the street while his grandmother is sick in bed, struggles to find money for his tuition.

Spring of the Korean Peninsula (반도의 | 1941 | Lee Byung-Il)

A young filmmaker and his crew struggle to bring the famous Korean story of Chunghyang to the big screen. The film allows a fascinating insight into the complexities of filmmaking in Korea in the 1940s, and via posters on the studio walls indicates the wide variety of film influences, from German expressionism to Hollywood dramas, that Korean directors in this period had.

A Hometown of the Heart (마음의 고향 | 1949 | Yoon Yong-Kyu)

A touching yet subtly presented story of a boy in a Buddhist temple hoping to find his mother. One of the few surviving works from the politically turbulent period of the late 1940s, just before the outbreak of the Korean War (1950-53).


A Hometown of the Heart (1949) – Image © LKFF Website

The 1950s

Piagol (피아골 | 1955 | Lee Kang-Cheon)

This decade saw the first major attempt in cinema to confront the recent war and its ideological divisions. Piagol focuses on partisan Communist fighters based in the South who, hiding in the mountains, continued to fight on behalf of the North.

Madame Freedom (자유부인 | 1956 | Han Hyeong-Mo)

Films of the 1950s confronted some of the key issues facing Korean society as it rebuilt itself anew. Like Madame Freedom, an adaptation of the decade’s most scandalous serial novel, many centred on women who symbolised the tension between collapsing traditional values and the influence of Western capitalism. The box-office success of this film encouraged a renewed flow of investment into a film industry hit hard by the war.

The Flower in Hell (지옥화 | 1958 | Shin Sang-Ok)

Inspired by both Italian Neorealism and Hollywood genre films, The Flower In Hell paints a hard-edged portrait of a broken city where the only way to get ahead was to break the law.


The Flower in Hell (1958) – Image © LKFF Website

The 1960s

Aimless Bullet (오발탄 | 1961 | Yoo Hyeon-Mok)

Filmmakers took advantage of weakened censorship in the 1960s to introduce more pointed social criticism into their films. This certainly applies to Aimless Bullet, a searing depiction of the economic wasteland of post-war Seoul whose brooding pessimism and superlative filmmaking helped establish it as an all-time classic.

A Woman Judge (여판사 | 1962 | Hong Eun-Won)

“I will defend her to the end!” Heo Jin-suk, the titular protagonist of Hong Eun-won’s first film – and only the second Korean feature by a woman director – is defending her mother-in-law who has confessed to murder, but she could be speaking for all women’s rights.

The Seashore Village (갯마을 | 1965 | Kim Su-Yong)

Introduced at the Opening Gala of last year’s LKFF, The Seashore Village follows the story of a beautiful fishing village home to a community of widows who have lost their loved ones at sea. This was one of the earliest successful munye (literary adaptation) films, a genre which would come to define much of South Korean cinema during the 1960s.


The Seashore Village (1965) – Image © LKFF Website

The 1970s

Woman of Fire (화녀 | 1971 | Kim Ki-Young)

Woman of Fire (recommended by film critic Anton Bitel) sees Kim Ki-Young remake his stunning classic The Housemaid (1960) with an energy and passion that would come to define Korean cinema of the 1970s. Focusing on the role women play within the home, the film follows a composer and his wife, whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the introduction of a new housemaid.

Hometown of Stars (별들의 고향 | 1974 | Lee Jang-Ho)

Lee Jang-ho’s sensational debut introduced his sardonic experimental style and focus on socially relevant cinema, through the story of a woman who turns to alcoholism after suffering a torrent of emotional and physical abuse from men.

The March of Fools (바보들의 행진 | 1975 | Ha Gil-Jong)

Ha Gil-jong’s penultimate film starts off as a bawdy comedy, as two drunk students try to get laid with varying degrees of success. Slowly the tone becomes melancholy as they consider their destinies in a repressive society where they feel out of place.


Ticket (1986) – Image © LKFF Website

The 1980s

People of the Slum (꼬방동네 사람들 | 1982 | Bae Chang-Ho)

A shantytown south of Seoul has collected poor people and misfits from all over the country into its twisting alleyways. Myeong-suk is known as ‘black glove’: she wears that glove on a hand severely burnt while saving her baby boy from a horrible injury. For his debut film Bae planted a love triangle inside a Korean neo-realist setting where poverty pokes sharp elbows into the basic decency of ordinary people. The film’s success launched him into a career as the most popular director of the 1980s.

Ticket (티켓 | 1986 | Im Kwon-Taek)

Min Ji-sok (Kim Ji-mee) is the no-nonsense owner of a cafe in the tough port town of Sokcho. Her ‘girls’ serve more than tea or coffee, if a male customer purchases the right ticket. Against the background of the women’s sorrows and moments of happiness, we learn the story of how Ji-sok herself ended up in dead-end Sokcho.

The Age of Success (성공시대 | 1988 | Jang Seon-Woo)

A year after the release of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) with its sardonic credo of “greed is good”, director Jang Seon-Woo unveiled what looks three decades on like the Korean response – a vivid, madcap comedy of corporate intrigue and naked self-advancement.


North Korean Partisan in South Korea (1990) – Image © LKFF Website

The 1990s

North Korean Partisan in South Korea (남부군 | 1990 | Chung Ji-Young)

Director Chung Ji-Young captures a previously rarely seen aspect of the Korean War, focusing on the North Korean side of the conflict. Based on the experiences of real-life war correspondent Lee Tae, the film illuminates the struggles of the men and women, soldiers and civilians fighting for survival in the conflict – portrayed as inherently human, whichever side they’re on.

Seopyonje (서편제 | 1993 | Im Kwon-Taek)

This musical drama tells the story of a family of pansori (traditional Korean opera) singers trying to make a living in the modern world. It broke box office records to become the first Korean film to draw audiences of over one million and helped revive popular interest in traditional Korean culture.

A Single Spark (아름다운 청년 전태일 | 1995 | Park Kwang-Su)

This seminal protest drama by Korean New Wave filmmaker Park Kwang-Su offers two narratives: the true story of young textile factory worker and activist Jeon Tae-il, who famously set himself ablaze in 1970, and the partly fictionalized efforts of another activist, who five years later tries to commit Jeon’s tale to the page while evading capture. The film was co-written by none other than the future Korean cinema masters Lee Chang-dong and Hur Jin-ho.

This is just a selection of what’s on offer at this year from 1 -24 NOVEMBER for the full programme visit the website.

The Seashore Village (1965) **** London Korean Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Kim Soo-yong; Cast: Shin Young-kyun, Ko Eun-ah-I Hwang Jung-soon; South Korea 1965, 91 min.

The Seashore Village was the thirty-forth film of prolific director Kim Soo-yong, who made 109 features between 1958 and 1999. Now in his nineties the director still travels the world to present his films giving Seashore a feisty send off to the delighted audience at a lively Q&A in Regents Park Cinema (and bemoaning the absence of his two main actors) where his film opened the London Korean Film-Festival 2019.

Based on the novel by fellow director Bae Chang-ho and Executive produced by Ho Heyon-chan of Last Autumn fame, Seashore Village is a mournful melodrama about doomed love, but also a celebration of female solidarity amid hostile working conditions which makes today’s gig economy look like a walk in the park. 

On a remote island, beautiful young pearl fisher Hae-soon (Ko Eun-ah-I) has just got married. But her husband is to become one of many victims of the ocean that both gives and takes away the villagers lives. And when he does not return from a fishing trip, Hae-soon joins the fate of many of the island’s women, widowhood. Sadly custom prevents them from marrying again so she must live with her mother-in-law Hwang Jung-soon. 

Many of them have resigned themselves to a lonely life, others have chosen lesbian relationships. But Hae is too beautiful to sink into oblivion and is soon getting unwelcome attention from the local men. One is Sang-soo (Shin Yong-kyun), a rootless coalminer, who lives near the village. Hae is annoyed by Sang-soo, but eventually succumbs to his persistence. But he cannot keep their affair secret, and when he starts boasting about his luck, the couple have to leave the village, with the help of Hwang Jung-soon, Hae’s mother in law. But their relationship is doomed to fail. Everywhere the go, men just cannot keep their hands off the beautiful young woman in the dark and brutal depiction of the male in Korean society

Resplendent in black and white The Seashore Village has a strong documentary character yet retains its poetic sensibilities, the widescreen images of DoP Chun-Jo myong reminding us very much of Visconti’s La Terra Trema and Flaherty’s cult classic Man of Aran. AS



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 | 



The Return (2018) | **** London Korean Film Festival

Dir: Malene Choi | Writer: Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen | With Thomas Hwan, Karoline Sofie Lee | Doc | Denmark | 85′

Two Danish-Korean adoptees return for the first time to the country of their birth in search of their origins, in this refreshingly thoughtful and quietly devastating arthouse documentary debut from Malene Choi. Based on her own experiences THE RETURN is a stunningly photographed and touchingly resonant meditation on destiny and identity, nature and nurture. Muted visuals and Philip Nicolai Flindt’s subtle sound design lend a dreamlike quality of mystery and alienation to this contemplative study of two young people uprooted from Denmark, the country that has become their home and where they have grown up, and returned to their original their birth lands. Despite this yearned for homecoming, they somehow feel disorientated and thrown into confusion in the search for their biological parents. Both internalise their feelings into discrete expressions of loss, anxiety and sadness. So locked away is their private grief, that they often admit to feeling nothing, but the trauma clearly lives within them, hidden deep in their souls.

Thomas’s story is particularly harrowing as it emerges during the emotionally-charged first meeting with his birth mother that he was actually conceived after a one night stand. Clearly he is devastated, but remains dignified in front of his mother, suppressing the trauma that slowly seeps out in dramatic physical expressions during a trip around Seoul  – together with Karoline, where they both let off steam by going boating together and enjoy cocktails. For her part Karoline is less emotionally buttoned up but equally traumatised, especially during a meeting with a hospital adviser who tries to help but simply lacks the necessary resources to further the Korean girl’s inquiries. Clearly she is angry, but also disappointed.

Without resorting to sentimentality or even attempting to create a falsely romantic narrative arc, Choi paints a realistic and utterly convincing portrait of two people who cannot go forward until they have gone back – with satisfaction and closure. 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


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