Korean Indie Cinema Heats Up for a Busy August
Jul 30, 2019
- Writerby Pierce Conran
Award-Winners, Docs and Genre Pics Fill Up Release Schedule
Korean cinema posted its best performance ever during the first half of 2019, from Extreme Job all the way to PARASITE, both of which went over the ten million viewer mark. As summer got underway however, and BONG Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winner began to cool on the charts, local films were shoved aside in favor of a slew of Hollywood imports, many of them Disney titles or comic book adaptations.
Last week, as peak summer humidity returned to the peninsula, ushering in what is traditionally the busiest box office season of the year, the local studios began to unleash some of their biggest titles of the year, and will continue to do so through to mid-August. Yet at the same time, Korea’s independent scene is also getting ready to return to the spotlight next month as each week in August will welcome a variety of notable low-budget titles, some of them fresh from award-winning festival runs, others showing on screens for the very first time.
This week for KoBiz, we look over August’s packed Korean indie release schedule.
My Name Is KIM Bok-dong
DIRECTOR SONG Won-geun
RELEASE DATE August 8
From investigative journalist SONG Won-geun of The Korea center for Investigative Journalism, My Name Is KIM Bok-dong is a documentary about the comfort women activist KIM Bok-dong. The film chronicles her entry into the public eye in 1992, when she reported herself as a victim of sexual slavery during the Japanese Colonial Era, her subsequent estrangement from her family and her work as an activist, all the way to her passing earlier this year. In the interceding period she was one of the key voices in the movement to extract a formal apology from the Japanese government concerning the sexual victimization of Korean woman during the Colonial Era. The film debuted this year at the Jeonju International Film Festival in the Korea Cinemascape section.
DIRECTOR IM Heung-soon
RELEASE DATE August 8
From IM Heung-soon, the director of Venice Biennale Silver Lion awardee Factory Complex (2015), comes the new mixed-format documentary Ryeohaeng. IM’s film tells the stories of several North Korean women who defected and live in the south. Unlike typical documentaries, IM imbues his work with dreamy reveries and musical interludes as the defectors explain their backgrounds and what surprised them after moving south of the border. The film was made in the city of Anyang, which is said to be a city where one comforts one’s mind and rests one’s body. The project was supported as an Anyang Public Art Project. Ryeohaeng debuted at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) in 2017, where it earned the Audience Award in the Korean Fantastic Features section.
To Kill Alice
DIRECTOR KIM Sang-kyu
RELEASE DATE August 8
The feature debut of director KIM Sang-kyu, To Kill Alice is a documentary that chronicles the experiences of SHIN Eun-mi, a US citizen born in South Korea who spent some time traveling North Korea and wrote about her experiences. After publishing a popular book on the subject, which offers an alternative view as to what life is really like in the North, she earned the enmity of fringe conservative groups. She was hounded and at one point attacked during her book tour and eventually, in 2015, she was expelled from the country for her views. To Kill Alice debuted at the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in 2017 and went on to earn the Audience Award at the Seoul Independent Documentary Film Festival and a selection at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in 2018.
DIRECTOR YU Eun-jeong
RELEASE DATE August 15
The Audience Award winner in the Korean Fantastic Features competition section of last year’s BIFAN, Ghost Walk was branded as a promising feature debut for director YU Eun-jeong by both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. The film is a horror-drama that follows an aimless and antisocial young woman during the Chuseok holidays who suddenly dies. Her ghostly spirit then awakens and experiences the past few days in reverse, as she discovers what happened to her. The leading role is played by indie film actress HAN Hae-in, who will next be seen in The Art of Loving at the Jecheon International Music & Film Festival (JIMFF), while JEON So-nee of After My Death (2018) and Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage co-stars.
The Sea of Itami Jun
DIRECTOR JEONG Da-woon
RELEASE DATE August 15
The CGV Arthouse Award winner from this year’s Jeonju International Film Festival, The Sea of Itami Jun is the story of Itami JUN (aka YOO Dong-ryong), a Korean architect who was born in Japan. JUN was a renowned architect working in Japan and Korea who was famous for his minimalist structures, among them the Podo Hotel and the Church of Sky on the Eastern side of Jeju Island. This documentary not only focuses on his life’s work but also his difficulty as a Korean who lived and worked in Japan. JUN passed away in 2011. This is the feature debut of JEONG Da-woon, who previously made shorter Architecture-themed works.
Hello, My Cat
DIRECTOR SHIN Hye-jin, BOK Woon-suk
RELEASE DATE August 22
An omnibus work featuring four segments directed by SHIN Hye-jin and BOK Woon-suk about humans and their cats. Described as a healing movie, much like last year’s Little Forest by director YIM Soon-rye, Hello, My Cat features various characters played by actors such as KIM So-hee of The Truth Beneath (2016), KIM Ki-chun of Psychokinesis (2018) and KIM Hee-cheol of Familyhood (2016) as ordinary citizens learning to share their home with their furry feline friends. The film debuted in the Korean Fantastic Features competition of this year’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN).
House of Hummingbird
DIRECTOR KIM Bora
RELEASE DATE August 29
Already well known to KoBiz readers is KIM Bora’s sensational debut film House of Hummingbird (2018), which premiered last October in the New Currents Competition of the Busan International Film Festival last year, where it earned a brace of awards, and has been on a tear on the global film festival circuit ever since. The film has screened and won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and Istanbul Film Festival, among a total of 24 awards to date. The film stars PARK Ji-hu as a young adolescent girl in Seoul circa 1994 as she grapples with a complicated family situation and burgeoning relationships. Indie film stalwart KIM Sae-byuk (The First Lap, 2017) co-stars.
The House of Us
DIRECTOR YOON Ga-eun
RELEASE DATE August
The House of Us is director YOON Ga-eun’s follow-up to her sensational debut The World of Us, which bowed to considerable acclaim in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016. Much like her previous feature and her acclaimed shorts, such as 2013’s Sprout, YOON’s new once again follows the lives of young girls as they grow up in and grapple with the suffocating adult world that surrounds them. During her fifth grade summer break, Hana wants nothing more than to go on a trip with her family which has been going through a rough patch. At the same time she meets two sisters staying with their uncle. Hana is played by new actress KIM Na-yeon, while AHN Ji-ho of A Boy and Sungreen plays her brother and KIM Si-a of Miss Baek (2018) plays one of her new friends.