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  • Korean Filmmaking Feted at Cannes Film Festival
  • by Pierce Conran /  May 30, 2017
  • Celebration and Commemoration at 70th Anniversary on the Croisette
    As the dust settled on the red carpet of the Palais des Lumieres on Sunday evening, Korean filmmakers may have come away empty-handed from the awards ceremony of this year’s 70th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, but it was nonetheless an eventful year for Korean films on the Croisette, with four Korean films in the official festival selection, as well as the latest film by Korean master BONG Joon-ho, which was backed by US studio Netflix.

    5 Korean Films in the Official Selection

    2017 was the fifth time that the official competition welcomed two Korean filmmakers, which both BONG’s Okja and Hong Sangsoo’s The Day After vying for the Palme d’Or. The last time was 2012 when IM Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money and once again Hong, with In Another Country, made it into the lineup. Indeed it was an especially big year for Hong, who became the first Korean filmmaker to have two films playing in the same festival, with his 20th film Claire’s Camera invited to Special Screenings. In a year of doubles, this edition also marked the first one where two Korean films were invited to the Midnight Screenings lineup (out of just three), with JUNG Byung-gil’s The Villainess and BYUN Sung-hyun’s The Merciless.

    Sadly, Korean films weren’t the only thing to hit the news during the mid-May festival as attendees woke up on the festival’s first Friday to news of the untimely passing of KIM Ji-seok, the deputy director and executive programmer of the Busan International Film Festival, who passed away the previous evening in Cannes after succumbing to a heart attack. Condolences from around the world quickly poured in for KIM, who has been credited to his ample contributions to the promotion of both Korean and Asian cinema across the world throughout the last 20 years. A memorial was set up in the Korean Pavilion within the Cannes Film Market and a moment of silence was observed during the Korean Film Night held on the Croisette on Monday evening.

    The first of the Korean directors to go before critics this year was BONG, whose big-budget fantasy adventure Okja screened on Friday. While the film marked BONG’s first invitation to Cannes’ competition section, celebration quickly turned to controversy as the selection was also the first time that Netflix, a studio which largely skips theatrical windows, was invited to the festival (along with Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, also in competition this year). The film rode in with an ominous morning press screening, which kicked of at 8:30am with a screen malfunction that covered the top third of the image. Strong jeers at the Netflix logo were followed by mockery as the screening continued for almost 10 minutes before the lights came back on. Following a short pause the films restarted without any fuss and before the end of the film the festival had already issued an apology for the technical fault.

    BONG’s sixth film, which features a global cast comprising Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and new Korean face AHN Seo-hyun, received mostly strong reviews, with Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian affording it a rare five-star grade. BONG’s technical prowess and original vision was praised while some critics expressed concern for the film’s more cartoonish elements and its simplistic environmental message. Global viewers will get their chance to weigh in when the film debuts on Netflix on June 28th, while limited audiences in Korea, UK and the US will be granted a chance to see it in theaters. The film will also screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and close the Sydney International Film Festival next month.

    Beyond the Sadness, Through the Controversy

    Sunday brought with it two Korean films, starting with Hong Sangsoo’s Claire’s Camera. Shot during last year’s Cannes and featuring his In Another Country star Isabelle Huppert and current muse KIM Min-hee who has appeared in all three of his 2017 films and picked up the Silver Bear for Best Actress from the Berlin International Film Festival in February for On the Beach at Night Alone, the film is one of the auteur’s shortest, clocking in at just 68 minutes, but was nonetheless met with a positive critical reception during the festival. Reviewers reserved praise for Huppert and KIM and were quick to note that despite its brevity and lack of technical sophistication, it should not be seen as a small work within Hong’s filmography. 

    Later in the day, action film The Villainess kept viewers awake despite a 12:30am start and 129 minute running time. The third film from Confession of Murder (2012) director JUNG, the hyper-kinetic revenge title features KIM Ok-vin in the lead role, who last appeared on the red carpet in the South of France for PARK Chan-wook’s Thirst in 2009. Write-ups were mostly favorable, with many praising the film’s propulsive and innovative action set pieces while at the same time finding fault with its meandering and melodramatic plotting. The film debuts in Korea on June 8th, while buyers have already been confirmed by sales agent Contents Panda for the US and UK.

    Hong and his star KIM strode the steps to the Palais once more on Monday afternoon for the competition film The Day After. The 21st film from the director, shot in Seoul earlier this year, is his first black and white work since The Day He Arrives, which featured in the Un Certain Regard lineup at Cannes in 2011. Like many of Hong’s films, the intimate infidelity drama drew positive yet mixed responses, with some noting it as a worthwhile but minor work from the director, while others considered it one of his best, noting its powerful theme of regret.

    Wednesday evening welcomed the last Korean team to this year’s Cannes, when BYUN Sung-hyun’s gangster tale The Merciless got started around 11pm. While the director cancelled his trip to France, stars SUL Kyung-gu and IM Si-wan led the team up the red carpet. The film is currently in theaters at home, and has accrued 846,000 admissions after 12 days in theaters.

    Beyond the invited films, the most visible Korean director at Cannes this year was actually PARK Chan-wook, a former Grand Prix winner for Old Boy in 2004, who was in town for the length of the event as one of the members of the international jury, alongside Will Smith, Jessica Chastain, jury president Pedro Almodovar, and more. Both directors PARK and BONG took part in a special photo call in the middle of the festival to commemorate Cannes’ 70th anniversary, alongside past award winners and dozens of luminaries from the global film world.
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