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Ko - production in Busan
  • 10 Korean Films to Heat up the BIFF
  • by JEONG Han-seok (Film Critic) /  Oct 11, 2015
  • 10 Korean Films to Heat up the BIFF
    Here is a list of ten Korean films worth seeing at this year’s Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). First are LEE Seung-won’s Communication & Lies and JUNG Sung-il’s Night and Fog in Zona, both invited to the ‘New Currents’ section. LEE Seung-won, with extensive experience as a stage director, and JUNG Sung-il, with polished expertise as a film critic, successfully used their experience to create their own cinematic world. A number of titles from veteran filmmakers are in the ‘Korean Cinema Today, Panorama’ section line-up. Among them are JUNG Ji-woo, ZHANG Lu and JEON Soo-il’s latest works emphasizing their unique colors, while newcomers such as PARK Eun-gyoung and LEE Dong-ha are also names to look out for. Meanwhile, names like O Muel, PARK Suk-young, PARK Hong-min and CHO Chang-ho are included in the ‘Korean Cinema Today, Vision’ section, which is known for highlighting alternative works. While O Muel has been recognized in the international scene for his particular artistic sensibility with Jiseul, PARK Suk-young and PARK Hongmin are the latest hot names noted for their fresh new ideas, and CHO Chang-ho is a well known talent that has returned with a new film after a prolonged interval. All together, the line-up is a harmonious mix of the new and the seasoned. So which Korean films are expected to heat up the festival this year?
    Fourth Place
    JUNG Ji-woo / 116min / Panorama / 2015 
    Fourth Place is from veteran filmmaker JUNG Ji-woo who proved his creative talent through works such as Blossom Again and Eungyo. Conceived and funded by the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea, this film introduces elementary school swimming athlete Jun-ho (YOO Jae-sang) who never made it as a runner up for a medal. The 4th place being his best performance, no matter how hard he tries, his mother (LEE Hang-na) feels bad for her son. Her desperate wish for him to win a medal has her hire a coach, Gwang-su (PARK Hae-joon) who gives Jun-ho private lessons. Once known as a promising athlete who’s now just recognized as a former swimmer, Gwang-su isn’t shy with violence when it comes to raising Jun-ho’s swimming record. So how will Jun-ho, his mother and his swimming coach, Gwang-su’s stories unravel? Fourth Place attempts to raise awareness towards the Korean society’s deep-seated sense of rivalry and success that is causing various negative side-effects.
    JEON Soo-il / 86min / Panorama / 2015
    A man (CHO Jae-hyun) loses his wife while enjoying their honeymoon in Paris. Two years pass by without her. Believing that his wife was kidnapped, the man takes a journey to Paris and meanders through the city in search of her. He assumes she might have become a prostitute around the back alleys of Paris. Surprisingly, this film is based on a true story. Director JEON Soo-il has stated that he “wanted to explain how our lives are determined by fate, how such determined lives rule us, and how we should accept such fate.” JEON returned to his hometown Busan after studying cinema in France, and has built his career as a leading Busan-based filmmaker for years. Frequently invited to major international film festivals, his noted works are Wind Echoing in My Being, Time Between Dog and Wolf, and With a Girl of Black Soil
    Love and...
    ZHANG Lu / 70min / Panorama / 2015
    Love and... is the feature-length version of the short film funded by the Seoul International Senior Film Festival. The film has already attracted considerable attention with its star cast including the well-respected veteran actor, AHN Sung-ki, this year’s Locarno Film Festival juror and actress MOON So-ri, the lead man of ZHANG Lu’s previous film Gyeong-ju, PARK Hae-il, and rising star actress HAN Ye-ri. Set in a mental institution, there is an elderly male patient (AHN Sung-ki) who chases after hospital female janitor (MOON So-ri) with a knife in his hands. As the terrified janitor struggles to run from him, the tables are turned and the old man this time offers the woman his knife, proposing her to chase after him. It’s a truly bizarre situation, and lo and behold, it all turns out to be a scene from a film. The film’s first electrician (PARK Hae-il) and the old man’s granddaughter (HAN Ye-ri) also play significant roles. By weaving several mysterious tales together, the director discreetly shifts between reality and film.
    Circle of Atonement
    PARK Eun-gyoung, LEE Dong-ha / 100min / Panorama / 2015
    A detective (SUNG Dong-il) arriving on a crime scene to arrest a murderer realizes the situation is not as simple as he expected. To make matters worse, the murderer’s wife is killed by accident, with her daughter (KIM You-jung) left behind on her own. The detective decides to raise the murderer’s daughter himself. Ten years pass, and the two have developed a close father and daughter relationship as any normal family would have. However, a mysterious young man (SON Ho-jun) appointed to teach at the detective’s daughter’s school pulls them back into their tragic past. Circle of Atonement is co-directed by newcomers PARK Eun-gyoung and LEE Dong-ha who have extensive experience in the film scene, working on commercial films as writers and script editors. The film also boasts a strong main cast: SUNG Dong-il, a key supporting actor in mainstream cinema plays the male lead in this film; grown-up child actress KIM You-jung presents a more mature side of her; and SON Ho-jun grabs his chance to expand on his acting skills and fame.
    Another Way
    CHO Chang-ho / 90min / Vision / 2015
    CHO Chang-ho was a promising young filmmaker. After working as assistant director for KIM Ki-duk, he made his feature debut The Peter Pan Formula in 2005. With this film, he became a rising star in the Korean film scene with invites and award wins at major international film festivals such as Busan, Sundance, Berlin and Deauville. However, a long absence followed his second feature, Lovers Vanished , that was made in 2009. Another Way is his much-anticipated return in almost 6 years and his unique personality as a filmmaker that he had displayed in his previous two works is still shining. A male and female are the main characters. The man (KIM Jae-wook) is a police detective who spent a painful childhood after witnessing his mother suicide. Grown up, he still lives a hopeless day-to-day life. The woman (SEO Yea-ji) struggles to support her sick mother. But when the going gets too tough for her, she devises a plan to end her own life.

    O Muel / 85min / Vision / 2015
    Eyelids is the latest work from O Muel, who gained considerable acclamation at major international film festivals with Jiseul. An elderly man who resides on the island of Mireukdo is the main character of this film. He seems like an ascetic, living alone in the wilderness without the help of civilization. From time to time, a phone call is followed by the presence of a visitor for whom the old man makes rice cakes to eat before they embark on a so-called ‘long trip.’ Who are the people seeking the old man? And where’s the destination of their long trip? We can perhaps assume they’re the dead, setting off on their last journey to the otherworld. Director O Muel once explained during production, “While I was working on a scenario about the sea and exorcism, the Sewol Ferry disaster occurred and it drove me utterly powerless. The film’s title was inspired by a story about Bodhidharma, the high priest who kept meditating in a cave for 9 years by cutting off his eyelids when he felt sleepy.” Like Jiseul, this film also seems to serve as a memorial service to the dead.
    PARK Suk-young / 83min / Vision / 2015
    A shabby-looking young girl is heading somewhere, dragging a small suitcase with her, or rather she seems to be aimlessly roaming the streets. Suddenly, she steps into a nearby diner where she quickly swipes food customers left behind. When the sun finally sets, she enters a deserted house piled with trash to satisfy her hunger with the stolen leftovers. The young girl is no better than a beggar. And for her, earning money is the most important thing at the moment. Any job posting for recruitment may have her rush to the place and ask, or even beg for the job. But without a contact number or a home address, no one comes forward to give her the job she needs. The film never attempts to disclose who the young girl is, what caused her desolate condition, or whether happiness is coming her way. How will this girl’s arduous fight for survival that is similar to what happens to the young girl in the Dardennes’ Rosetta -or even worse-turn out in the end? 

    Communication & Lies
    LEE Seung-won / 103min / New Currents / 2015

    A woman holds a clerical job at a small national entrance exam academy. She’s slightly odd-she has sex with almost all the male instructors at the academy, anyone of whom she has never shared any special feelings for. What’s even more absurd is that she doesn’t show any sense of humiliation or remorse when she’s reproached for such behaviors. There’s a man who works at the same academy. You can tell at first sight he’s a man of few words and of passive character. But with issues that don’t sit well with him or irritate him, he immediately calls the complaint center to appeal his grievances that are not even reasonable. The woman and the man in the film are either a chronic liar (the woman) or incapable of communication (the man). The film slowly reveals certain incidents of their past that have influenced their current mental states. Communication & Lies is a tale of a man and a woman who can’t but stay in the world of sadism after horrifically losing their minds.
    PARK Hong-min / 90min / Vision / 2015
    A man is standing on a rooftop taking photos of a woman who is also on the rooftop across the street. He happens to witness a group of assailants killing her. The assailants who notice the man’s presence come after him. Kidnapped by them, the man is stripped of his clothes and ends up being naked-abandoned at the village entrance. The man walks all the way home through the biting winter cold, stark naked. On his way, he encounters a strange little boy with a knife, and a woman sitting on the stairs, crying. When he finally reaches his house, the tension suddenly breaks loose in the film. The attack upon the man by assailants continues, and the relationship between the little boy and the crying woman is revealed as well. The desolate spaces of the mountain village that spreads out like a complex labyrinth, the cinematography which splendidly captures them, and the meticulously designed structure of the film create attractive end results for ALONE .
     Night and Fog in Zona
    JUNG Sung-il / 235min / New Currents / 2015
    Night and Fog in Zona is a feature directed by film critic-turned-director JUNG Sung-il. Interestingly, this film is a behind-the-scenes making documentary that covers another filmmaker’s film production. What’s more particular is that the subject of the film isn’t a feature filmmaker, but a Chinese documentary filmmaker, WANG Bing. Since his early days as a film critic, JUNG has ardently expressed his support for WANG and has consistently shared cinematic exchange with him. While WANG Bing was finally shooting Three Sisters and Till Madness Do Us Part one after the other, JUNG was fortunate enough to be with WANG throughout the whole production. Accordingly, Night and Fog in Zona presents extensive amounts of coverage of both films. WANG’s on-set directorial approach is quite interesting. But the film doesn’t merely cover the film shoot. At times, it seems as though JUNG is simultaneously shooting his own version of the same scenes with WANG Bing. And this kind of communication attitude creates a strange emotional resonance in Night and Fog in Zona .
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