The Day After Opens London Korean Film Festival 2017

The day after posterFollowing a long series of teaser screenings which culminated with Cannes hit The Villainess, the London Korean Film Festival has now revealed the complete lineup for this year’s event which runs from 26th October to 19th November 2017.

Opening Gala

The day After Still 2The London Korean Film Festival 2017 will open with one of three films released this year by prolific director Hong Sang-soo – The Day After. Another whimsical comedy of manners from Hong, The Day After stars Kim Min-hee as the new girl at a publishing firm completely unaware that she’s taken the place of the previous new girl who has been “let go” after an affair with the boss ended badly.

Closing Gala

first lap stillClosing the festival will be the second film from Kim Dae-hwan who picked up the best new director award at Locarno for this awkward tale of familial disconnection. The First Lap revolves around young couple Ji-young and Su-hyeon who are not married but have been living together for a few years. Discovering they might be about to have a child of their own, the pair decide to try and reconnect with their old families before starting a new one.

Special Focus: Korean Noir, Illuminating the Dark Side of Society

The Merciless still 1The special focus for this year’s festival is Korean Noir and Korean cinema has certainly had a long and proud history of gritty, existential crime thrillers. Running right through from the ’60s to recent Cannes hit The Merciless, the Korean Noir strand aims to illuminate the dark side of society through its compromised heroes and conflicted villains.

  • Black Hair – Lee Man-hee’s 1960s genre hybrid neatly mixes noir with melodrama as a gang boss’ wife is blackmailed after having been raped by one of her husband’s underlings only to be facially disfigured and cast away when her husband learns of her assault. Read the Review.
  • The Last Witness – Lee Doo-young’s 1980 mystery thriller follows a police officer’s investigation into the murder of a brewery owner which leads him back to events of 25 years earlier and into the darkest parts of his own soul. Director Lee Doo-young will be in attendance for a Q&A.
  • Dead End – Darkly humorous 19 minute short directed by City of Madness’ Kim Sung-soo.
  • The Rules of the Game – released in 1994, the second film from Jan Hyun-soo follows a young man who comes to the city to join a gang but ends up selling his girlfriend into prostitution.
  • Green Fish – the 1997 debut from the now legendary Lee Chang-dong follows a recently demobbed soldier who returns home to find nothing waiting for him and eventually falls in with gangsters.
  • Nowhere to Hide – Lee Myung-se’s experimental 1999 noir stars Ahn Sung-ki as a ruthless gangster.
  • KilimanjaroThe Shameless director Oh Seung-uk’s 2000 debut also stars Ahn Sung-ki as a gangster alongside Park Shin-yang playing a pair of twin brothers one of whom is a criminal and the other a policeman. Director Oh Seung-uk will be in attendance for a Q&A.
  • Die badVeteran / Battleship Island’s Ryoo Seung-wan made his debut with this 2000 four part crime themed portmanteau film.
  • A Bittersweet Life –  Kim Ji-woon’s 2005 existential hitman thriller stars Lee Byung-hun as a conflicted mobster.
  • A Dirty Carnival – Yoo Ha’s celebrated gangland thriller from 2006
  • New World – an all powerful policeman tries to bring down a crime syndicate through underhanded means while an undercover cop begins to wonder if his mission will ever end in Park Hoon-jung’s tense psychological thriller.
  • Coin Locker Girl – a baby found in a coin locker gets sold to a gangland organ trafficker who decides to raise her as her own in Han Jun-hee’s dark 2013 drama
  • The Merciless – Premiered at Cannes in 2017 Byung Sung-hyun’s The Merciless is a violent thriller in which an undercover cop and the leader of a prison gang team up for gangland domination.

The Noir section will also feature a panel event, Forum on Korean Noir, featuring Eddie Muller (president Film Noir Foundation), Huh Moonyoung (film critic), Last Witness director Lee Doo-young, and Kilimanjaro director Oh Seung-uk.


Cinema Now 

master still one.jpgThe best in recent cinema across the previous year ranging from period drama to financial thriller, gangland action, social drama, and horror.

  • Come, Together – Shin Dong-il examines the destructive effects of financial pressures on a middle class family.
  • Crime City – turf war drama starring  Ma Dong-seok. Director Kang Yoon-sung will be present for a Q&A.
  • In Between Seasons – Intimate family drama following a mother’s reaction to discovering the relationship between her son and his best friend is closer than she thought.
  • Warriors of the Dawn – historical drama set in 1592 in which a group of mercenaries attempt to protect the newly crowned prince on a perilous journey.
  • Master – corporate thriller in which a team of fraud specialists led by Gang Dong-won attempt to unmask a dodgy financial guru played by Lee Byung-hun. Read the Review.
  • The Mimic – horror movie in which a monster lures children away to eat them by impersonating familiar voices.

Indie Fire Power

Bamseom Pirates Seoul InfernoProgrammed by Tony Rayns, this year’s indie strand has a special focus on documentary filmmaker Jung Yoon-suk who will be attending the festival in person to present his films.

  • Non Fiction Diary – 2014 documentary directed by Jung Yoon-suk centring on a notorious clan of serial killing cannibals. Director Jung Yoon-suk will be present for a Q&A
  • The White House in My Country – documentary short by Jung Yoon-suk. Director Jung Yoon-suk will be present for a Q&A
  • Ho Chi Minh – documentary short by Jung Yoon-suk. Director Jung Yoon-suk will be present for a Q&A
  • Bamseom Pirates Inferno – 2017 documentary by Jung Yoon-suk focussing on an underground punk band. Director Jung Yoon-suk will be present for a Q&A
  • Merry Christmas Mr. Mo – indie comedy/drama from Lim Dae-hyung in which a dying barber’s only wish is to star in a short film directed by his estranged son.
  • A Confession Expecting a Rejection – witty drama following characters on and off screen as they discuss various topics from failed relationships to disappointing film courses.

Women’s Voices 

jamsil still 1Focussing on female viewpoints this year’s Women’s Voices strand includes one narrative feature and four short films.

  • Jamsil – drama focussing on the lives of two women. Director Lee Wanmin will be present for a Q&A.

Shorts

  • Candle Wave Feminists – an examination of the misogyny hidden inside the campaign to unseat Park Geun-hye Director Kangyu Garam will be present for a Q&A.
  • My Turn – 15 minute drama focussing on pregnancy in the workplace.
  • Mild Fever – 36 minute drama in which a secret comes between a husband and wife.
  • Night Working – 28 minute drama exploring the relationship between a Korean factory worker and a Cambodian migrant.

Classics Revisited: Bae Chang-ho Retrospective

whale hunting still 2Three films from legendary director Bae Chang-ho each starring Ahn Sung-ki.

  • People in the Slum – drama revolving around a single mother who always wears black gloves and has a rebellious son with a tendency to steal things.
  • Whale Hunting – a boy gets rejected by his crush and runs away to hunt whales but ends up wandering round with a tramp and helping a mute girl find her voice again.
  • The Dream – a monk breaks his vows of chastity, attacks a young woman, leaves the monastery to start a family with her, but never captures her heart.

Documentary

good bye my heroWorkers’ rights and examinations of the Yongsan tragedy in which five civilians and one police officer lost their lives during a protest against redevelopment dominate the feature documentary strand.

  • Two Doors – documentary examining the Yongsan tragedy. Director Kim Il-rhan will be present for a Q&A.
  • The Remnants – documentary examining the Yongsan tragedy. Director Kim Il-rhan will be present for a Q&A.
  • Goodbye My Hero – an unemployed father battles for reinstatement
  • Dream of Iron – industrial ship building documentary

Animation

lost in the moonlight still 1Two charming yet very different animated adventures aimed at a younger/family audience.

  • Lost in the Moonlight – a shy young girl dreaming of the spotlight gets lost in a fantasy world.
  • Franky and Friends: A Tree of Life – Franky and Friends head off on a journey to save the world after nearly destroying it through wastefulness

Mise-en-scène Shorts

tombstone refugee still 1A selection of shorts from the Mise-en-scène International Short Film Festival.

  • Tombstone Refugee – alternative burial drama.
  • Home Without Me – a young girl looks for familial love
  • Thirsty – a man struggles to makes ends meet
  • Between You and Me – behind the scenes comedy drama.
  • Dive – drama about a boy’s love of water
  • The Insect Woman – centres on a young girl obsessed with insects.
  • 2 Nights 3 Days – follows a couple on the eve of their wedding anniversary.

Artist Video

This year’s collaboration with LUX | Artists’ Moving Image focusses on the work of two artists – Lim Minouk and Koo Dong-hee.

Lim Minouk

  • New Town Ghost
  • Wrong Question
  • Portable Keeper
  • The Weight of Hands
  • The Possibility of the Half
  • S.O.S. – Adoptive Dissensus

Koo Dong-hee

  • Tragedy Competition
  • The King Fish
  • Under the Vein: I Spell on You
  • Crossxpollination
  • What’s Not There

The London Korean Film Festival runs from 26th November to the 19th October at multiple Central London venues before heading out on tour to Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME, Sheffield Showroom, Nottingham Broadway Cinema, and Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre.

The full programme including details for all the films, screening times and ticketing information will be available on the official website in due course but you can also keep up with all the latest developments via the festival’s Facebook page, Twitter account, Flickr, YouTube and Instagram channels.

Black Hair (검은 머리, Lee Man-hee, 1964)

Black Hair 1964 posterFilm noir can be the most contradictory of genres. A moralistic world filled with immortality, fatalism mixed with existential angst, and a rage against society which is always tinged with a resignation to living on its margins. Genre in Korean cinema has always been a little more fluid than elsewhere and Lee Man-hee’s seminal crime thriller Black Hair (검은 머리, Geomeun Meori) is also a melodrama – the story of a self loathing man committed to his own arbitrary codes, and a woman he expects to pay the price for them.

In a brief prologue that has little to do with the ongoing narrative, ruthless gangster Dong-il (Jang Dong-hui) extorts a corrupt CEO by blackmailing him over some illicit smuggling. Meanwhile, across town, the gangster’s wife, Yeon-sil (Moon Jeong-suk), meets with a man, Man-ho (Chae Rang), in a hotel room. She’s come to pay him off, hoping it will be for the last time but Manh-ho, an opium addict, knows he’s onto an endless cash cow and refuses to put an end to their “arrangement”. Sometime ago, Man-ho raped Yeon-sil and has been blackmailing her for money and sexual favours ever since. Yeon-sil threatens to tell her husband and the police and suffer the consequences, but Man-ho knows she won’t. Dong-il’s gang have a strict rule about adultery and if Yeon-sil trusted him enough to believe he would believe her about the rape, she would have told him already.

Another goon hides behind a screen, snapping photos of Yeon-sil and Man-ho which he later passes on to Dong-il. The boss is shocked and shaken. He knows he has to enforce the rules he himself set down for the gang, but he never expected them to cost him his wife. Eventually Dong-il orders an underling to slash Yeon-sil’s face with a broken bottle, after which she is exiled from the gang. Anyone who tries to repair her scars or help her in any other way will be treated as an enemy.

At this point the narrative splits as Yeon-sil is cast down into a sleazy underworld, living with her blackmailer who pimps her out as a common streetwalker and then steals all her money to spend on drugs and booze. She pines for her husband whom she has been prevented from seeing, longing to at least explain why she did what she did and ensure he knows that her heart has always been with him. Dong-il, by contrast, is going to pieces – his gang no longer respect him, he feels guilty about the way he treated his wife, and he has no idea where to go from here.

Unlike other films of the era or film noir in general, Lee’s world view is non-judgemental in its treatment of the respective paths of Yeon-sil and Dong-il. Yeon-sil is left with no choice than to enter into a life of casual prostitution and the film forgives her for this – the fault is that of Dong-il and Man-ho rather than her own. Having been horribly scarred, she wears her hair longer on one side to hide her disfigurement but is constantly reminded of her emotional damage through its physical manifestation and the reactions it often elicits. Picking up a client in the street, she’s threatened with violence and cruel words for having “deceived” him when he catches sight of her disfigured face. A passing taxi driver witnesses the attack and challenges the man so Yeon-sil can escape. The cabbie then hires her and they spend the night together in a nearby brothel. He surprises Yeon-sil by being entirely unfazed about her facial scarring, offering to help her get it treated if that’s what she wants, and making it clear he would like to spend more time with her off the clock.

Yeon-sil’s life is completely controlled by her triangular relationship to the three men – her unforgiving husband Dong-il, the cruel and venal Man-ho, and the good and decent cab driver. After meeting the cabbie, Yeon-sil tries to see Dong-il again but his boys stop her. They say they’ll take her to see him, but really they’re planning quite another destination. Luckily, in a staggering coincidence, they’re spotted by the taxi driver who once again saves Yeon-sil, taking her home to stay with him and proposing they embark on a more formal relationship.

This is more of a problem than it seems for Dong-il’s guys who now fear their boss will find out they tried to kill his wife in an effort to wake him up from his ongoing existential malaise. The rules of the gang are tough and clear – adultery is not permissible, no woman is allowed to leave, no exceptions are to be made. Dong-il, however, is beginning to rethink the code he himself designed. A conversation with his childhood nanny throws up a number of interesting questions. She blames herself for giving Dong-il “evil” milk which has led to his spiritual corruption, though Dong-il later tells Yeon-sil that he did not choose evil so much evil chose him. He created these “evil” gang rules, but failed to live up to them in continuing to feel attached to Yeon-sil – he feels he must punish himself for the “sin” of being unable to forget her and abide by his own honour system which he now feels to be pointless and arbitrary. Effectively issuing himself a death sentence, Dong-il changes tack confirming that he has, in a sense, chosen evil even if it was a “choice” of refusing to resist the path set down for him. Suddenly realising the emotion he felt for Yeon-sil was love, he is struck by a terrible feeling of loneliness. 

As in much of Lee’s work, Yeon-sil and Dong-il are trapped by their own society and belief systems and finally perhaps by feeling. Yeong-sil is frequently captured behind bars or caught in a window, imprisoned within the frame as she tries to reconcile herself to her precarious position, daring to hope for a new, decent life with the good hearted taxi driver while also mourning her love for Dong-il and living with the humiliation caused to her by Man-ho. Lee’s structure is sometimes unclear as he introduces a fairly pointless subplot about the taxi driver’s modern woman little sister who has moved out to be independent but works in a hostess bar, inhabiting the same sleazy world as Yeon-sil and Dong-il, only more innocently, but never does much with it beyond contrasting the lives of the two women who occupy slightly different generations and have very different options open to them. There’s a fatalism and inevitability in the way Yeong-sil and Dong-il live their lives to which the taxi driver and his sister do not quite subscribe but Lee breaks with the genre’s trademark pessimism to offer the glimmer of a bittersweet ending and the chance of a new beginning for the much abused Yeon-sil now freed of her dark associations.


Black Hair is the second in The Korean Film Archive’s Lee Man-hee box set which comes with English subtitles on all four films as well as a bilingual booklet. (Not currently available to stream online)

Master (마스터, Cho Ui-seok, 2016)

master posterCorruption has become a major theme in Korean cinema. Perhaps understandably given current events, but you’ll have to look hard to find anyone occupying a high level corporate, political, or judicial position who can be counted worthy of public trust in any Korean film from the democratic era. Cho Ui-seok’s Master (마스터) goes further than most in building its case higher and harder as its sleazy, heartless, conman of an antagonist casts himself onto the world stage as some kind of international megastar promising riches to the poor all the while planning to deprive them of what little they have. The forces which oppose him, cerebral cops from the financial fraud devision, may be committed to exposing his criminality but they aren’t above playing his game to do it.

“Entrepreneur” Jin Hyun-pil (Lee Byung-hun), CEO of the One Network financial organisation which is about to make an unprecedented move into investment banking, is in the middle of an energising speech to his investors. He’s booked a massive stadium with lighting and stage effects worthy of a veteran rock star and is doing his best snake oil speech to convince the ordinary people who’ve invested their life savings in his obviously dodgy pyramid scheme that he’s going to make banking great again by handing ownership back to the masses. Many are convinced by his inspirational attitude, but Captain Kim Jae-myung (Gang Dong-won) of the financial crimes division smells a rat. He knows there’s something very wrong here and is determined to bring Jin down before his exploits ruin the lives of even more innocent families just trying to make a better life for themselves.

Their way in is through Jin’s systems guy, Park (Kim Woo-bin), who’s been in on the scam from the beginning but is pretty much amoral and has been working his own angle on the whole thing. Spineless and opportunistic, Park is primed for police manipulation even if it takes him a few flip-flops before he picks any kind of side aside from his own. Kim is after Jin’s mysterious ledger which contains a host of information on his backers which would cause considerable damage to those involved and give the police the kind of leverage they need to expose Jin’s enterprise for what it really is. However, before they can spring the trap, Jin escapes with his ill gotten gains and goes into hiding leaving hundreds of innocent families who’ve fallen victim to his scams destitute, frightened, and humiliated.

Playing against type, Lee Byun-hun inhabits his sleazy, TV evangelist meets cult leader of a villainous conman with relish as he lies, cheats, steals and weasels his way out of trouble. After a potential liability is killed, Jin enjoys his crimson morning smoothie with unusual delight leaving a bright red bloodstain across his upper lip as he ironically mutters “what a shame” watching the news footage of his flunky’s death. Not content with the vast amount of money he stole by exploiting the innocent dreams of people with little else, Jin tries the same thing again abroad, taking his “wife” Mama (Jin Kyung) with him though even she seems to know Jin is not to be trusted and could turn on her at any moment. Cornered, the only words of wisdom Jin has to offer is that perhaps he made a mistake in trying to run to the Philippines, he should have tried Thailand instead.

Starring three of South Korea’s biggest actors, Lee Byun-hun, Gang Dong-won, and Kim Woo-bin, Master takes on an almost tripartite structure as the upper hand passes between the three protagonists. Systems analyst Park is mostly out for himself and switches between each side more times than can be counted before gaining something like a conscience and committing to a particular cause while Kim and Jin mastermind a cat and mouse game advancing and retreating yet stepping further into each other’s territory. The game is an ugly one. Master is a fitting and timely indictment of those who make impossible promises to vulnerable people desperate enough to take the bait in the hope of making a better life for themselves and their families, yet it also fails to capitalise on its themes, preferring to leave them as subtle background elements to the cerebral games of one-upmanship and fractured loyalties between Jin, Kim, and Park. Over long at 143 minutes, Master is unevenly paced yet picks up for its Manila set, action packed finale which is out of keeping with much of what has gone before but ends things on an entertaining, upbeat note as justice is served, wrongs righted, and the truth revealed.


Master was screened at the 19th Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)