Posts Tagged ‘UK Korean Film Festival’

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




A Girl At My Door (2014)

Dir: July Jung

Cast: Doona Bae, Sae-rom Kim Sae-byak Song

119min   Korean Drama   Subtitles

Set in a remote corner of countryside Korea, July Jung’s simple narrative centres on Young-nam (Doona Bae), a young Police Chief, seconded to the small community after misdemeanours in the capital Seoul. There she takes charge of the rowdy locals and drunks.  One family is particularly troublesome: the father brutalises his young daughter Dohee, encouraged by his batty mother who rides around on a truck. But when Young-nam takes Dohee under her wing, the problems start for the dysfunctional teenager. Caught between her own dodgy reputation with the Force and the mental instability of her protegee, Young-nam fights for her own professional survival in an environment that on the surface appears calm but is full of quirky surprises and unexpected pitfalls. July Jung’s subtle drama is embued with its own brand of gently subversive humour and affecting performances from Doona Bae and Sea-rom Kim in the central roles. MT


Cold Eyes (2014) | UK Korean Film Festival

Dir.: Cho Ui-seok, Kim Byung-seo

Cast: Han Hyo-joo, Jung Woo-sung, Sol Kyung-gu; South Korea 2014, 118 min.

As we all know, remakes rarely match the original outing, but Cho and Kim have succeeded in re-planting one of Hong Kong’s most original crime thrillers EYE IN THE SKY from 2007 to a seedy Seoul with their COLD EYES, the original title translating simply into The Surveillants.

COLD EYES is the story of hunters and their prey. All three main protagonists are introduced in a long and rather enigmatic opening sequence set in a high-speed tube train: Tom-boy Ha Yoon-joo (Han) is muttering to herself, her fingers moving seemingly on their own will, whilst she constantly survives (and memorises) the goings-on in the carriage. Middle-aged Hwang (Sol) casts a detached eye on the proceedings: people dropping newspapers, bumping into each other, exchanging looks. Of all the people caught on camera one figure stands out: the grim-faced, soulless James (Jung) who tries to slip into the background, avoiding eye contact. The following scene, in a restaurant, at least solves the identity of two of the trio: Ha is a young police cadet, trying to qualify for Hwang’s prestigious surveillance unit. Needless to say, she passes with flying colours, even though Hwang makes sure that she can see her limits. It’s clear that boss and apprentice have much in common: in their different ways they are obsessed with surveillance work to the point of being slightly insane, having lost contact with the real world.

The unfolding narrative concentrates on the hunt for a gang of criminals led by James, who turns out to be a sadistic killer. After a bank robbery the surveillance unit follows one the participants caught on CCTV: an overweight man, given the code name “hippo” by Hwang, who has also given all his team members animal names; Ha being “Piglet”, somehow not as grand as her own proposed “Reindeer”, eventually proves her self in the impressive denouement.

There are hand-to-hand combat scenes, car chases and long, technical explicit surveillance scenes. The directors show a seemingly endless knowledge of this field. But neither this aspect, nor the fast-forward mode of the action sequences explain the fascination of the film: Ha is dominating the proceedings subtly, a brilliant mixture of vulnerability as well as mental and physical toughness. Like Hwang, she lives in a world of her own, when she is chasing her prey with a viciousness belying her frail but lean exterior. Her eyes seem to have a much more quality than the countless lenses we see in action.

COLD EYES is a playful exercise in over-kill, carried by Ha’s personality. The Seoul settings are changing constantly between the high-tech world of the city and the seediness of the districts – leaving the viewer in no doubt, how these seemingly so different environments rely on each other. Camera work is very innovative, particularly in scenes set at great height; it also gives every member of the team and James their own POV. Whilst the narrative hardly offers any surprises, Ha and the virtuosic photography make COLD EYES a superior action thriller.


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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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


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