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Ko - production in Busan
  • 3 Films at the Center of Hot Issues at BIFF
  • Oct 19, 2012
    O Muel’s Jiseul received 4 awards at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). This low budget monochrome film based on the real incident of the Jeju Uprising (April 3rd, 1948) elicits sympathy for its solemn atmosphere. Pluto directed by SHIN Su-won also received fervent responses. the themes of the film directly faced society. It sharply questions the reality of education in Korea. Fatal by LEE Don-ku is not to be missed. This film puts stress on realities that are often glossed over and it directly connects to human instincts such as guilt, conscience and responsibility. These 3 films all created small but influential waves at the 17th BIFF.
    ▶ FATAL

    Forgiveness of the New Testament and Self-Reflection of the Old Testament
    By HONG Hyo-suk
    When Fatal was screened in the ‘New Currents’ section of this year’s Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), it received attention for its extremely low budget of KRW 3 million (USD 2,700). Yet it deserves more attention for ex-actor director LEE Don-ku's outstanding management of actors .
    The critical mind in this film corresponds to that of Secret Sunshine and Poetry, both directed by LEE Chang-dong. As the director used to be an actor himself, he is very good at eliciting realistic performances from unknown actors to get to the bottom of the themes he is seeking to deal with.
    Bullied by bad students, Seong-gong unwillingly takes part in the gang-rape a girl named Jang-mi. He bumps into her 10 years later and immerses himself in religion (Christianism) to seek forgiveness. He later becomes obsessed with the idea that the rest the attackers must ask her forgiveness and have themselves redeemed as well.
    The narrative is composed of two keywords, ‘sin (sexual assault)’ and ‘forgiveness’, and seems quite simple on the surface, but the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim becomes complicated when the identity of Seong-gong‘s obsession with sin is revealed. As it gradually becomes clear whether or not Seong-gong is the perpetrator or the victim, the film asks questions about self-reflection, hence how one can save himself from sin rather than just suggesting an answer to Seong-gong’s deed.
    The church community Seong-gong joins reflects his repeated attempts to seek forgiveness and his hallucinations become tools to strengthen his rage against the bad students who raped Jang-mi. Although the film does not ask in-depth questions about forgiveness with regards to religion, Seong-goon's visions suggest the philanthropic forgiveness associated with Jesus.
    On the other hand, the standard of forgiveness he has towards the perpetrators resembles that of a prophet who enforces the law. When Seong-gong goes to his 3 accomplices and kills them in turn, he comes close to getting rid of the trace of his own sin. However, what becomes obvious after his judgement is complete is that his sin still remains. The result was, as the director LEE said, that “The trace of sin never disappears.”
    ▶  PLUTO

    A Powerful Message Urging for the Normalization of Education
    By HUH Nam-woong
    The first feature film SHIN Su-won directed was Passerby #3 (2010), a film with an optimistic view on the struggle of a housewife juggling between house chores and her passion after she decides to become a film director at a late age. Pluto is her second feature film. Although the two films were directed by the same director, the second one reveals itself to be far less optimistic.
    At a competitive high school, elite student Yu-jin is found dead. Jun (played by LEE David, who appeared as the grand son of YOON Jeong-hee in Poetry directed by LEE Chang-dong) becomes the prime suspect right away because he studied with him in a group, but he is soon set free due to lack of evidence.
    Back at school, he makes up his mind to take revenge on the school mates who framed him. However, they are the smartest students with the best grades in school. He later realizes that those who are willing to do whatever it takes to get good marks drove Yu-jin and him to the corner.
    Some might ask what the title ‘Pluto’ has to do with the cold reality of education in Korea driving students into a hellish survival game. The reason that Pluto was excluded from our solar system is because it is too far from the sun and too small to be regarded as a planet. Students with low academic performances being left out no matter what talent they might have reminded the director of the exclusion of Pluto. SHIN actually thought of a pleasant comedy film when she first mapped it out, but later changed her mind. As she says, “I changed it to a tragic story after hearing news about students being sacrificed by examinations like rabbits being hunted down.”
    As an ex-teacher herself, SHIN wanted the film to go further than just enlightenment and criticism. Yu-jin dies very early in the film and then the present and the past cross over along shifts of Jun’s eyes like in a mystery film because she wanted to amplify the cinematic elements of the film.
    In the end, the film points out the fact that the horrible situation of today where students have to fiercely compete against each other has been caused by indifference and incapacity of grown-ups. Can there be any hope in society when students are put into deadly situations in what is supposed to be the safest environment for them? Pluto presents us with a message urging for the normalization of education unless we want our children to become monsters in order to pass exams.
    ▶  JISEUL

    Wish for a Win-Win and Reconciliation Through History
    By JANG Byeong-won
    The hottest film at the 17th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) was undoubtedly Jiseul directed by O Muel. One of the 10 films screened during the ‘Korean Cinema Today – Vision’ program, Jiseul yielded a marvelous outcome by winning the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award, the CGV Movie Collage award (given by Movie Collage, CGV’s multiplex cinema brand for cinematic variety), the Citizen Reviewers’ Award (selected by citizen critics) and the DGK (Director's Guild of Korea) Award.
    Receiving many awards does not necessarily explain the entire value of the film. Jiseul, based on the conflict between the army and the island's inhabitants during the ‘Jeju Uprising’ that broke out on April 3rd 1948, marks a turning point for films dealing with the ordeal of modern Korean history.
    The film's title ‘Jiseul’, is Jeju island’s local dialect for potato, and it uncovers the disgraceful history of the island which is stained with grudge and hatred. Potato was a very precious crop that the inhabitants lived on in the caves.
    The soldiers who had to kill the inhabitants without knowing why and the islanders who were too innocent to understand what situations they were being forced into were at the center of the tragic incident that lies in the middle of Korea's modern history.
    Jiseul is a massive requiem that fiercely sweeps the heart of viewers by soothing the bitter wound of Korea’s southernmost island. The ‘Jeju Uprising’ is a very significant incident that was a disgraceful part of Korean history since the restoration of its independence, yet it has remained unknown outside of the island.
    The actors as nonprofessionals but also ordinary people living as garage owners, boiler repairmen or singers on the island. On the other hand, the soldiers were played by actual actors from Seoul. By taking the local background of actors into consideration, the realism of the film is increased.

    O Muel, who has constantly portrayed the culture, emotions and customs of Jeju island as an islander, said, “As a director from Jeju island, I had to deal with the incident some time or other.” He then added, “It is not only an important incident in Korean history. It must be viewed as a significant event in world history.”
    Finally, he explained about his creed saying, “Rather than putting stress on a confrontation formented by grudge and revenge, I wanted to make a film about the wish for a win-win and reconciliation through history that has been neither healed nor solved.”
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