Hit the Night (밤치기, Jeong Ga-young, 2017)

Hit the Night posterFollowing her impressive, Hong Sang-soo inspired debut Bitch on the Beach, Jeong Ga-young returns with a similarly structured exploration of modern relationships though now in a suitably fuzzy colour rather than Bitch’s artful black and white. Once again, Jeong plays a meta version of herself – this time a writer/director ostensibly researching a screenplay but perhaps obfuscating her true motives even as she makes visible her innermost anxieties for her invisible audience.

Hit the Night (밤치기, bam-chi-gi) follows Ga-young (Jeong Ga-young) as she takes a young man, Jin-hyeok (Park Jong-hwan), out on the town. The pair have dinner together, but they aren’t a couple, or even really friends – Ga-young has bought Jin-hyeok’s time on the pretext of interviewing him to get background information for a screenplay she is writing. Jin-hyeok wants to be helpful and has committed to answering Ga-young’s questions as frankly as possible. Her questions are, however, extremely personal from the outset as she begins asking him about his masturbation habits almost before they’ve even sat down. As the night wears on and the drinks keep flowing, Jin-hyeok begins to smell a rat, wondering why it is Ga-young is so interested in his sex life when it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the various screenplays she outlines to him. Ga-young is indeed trying it on, her pretext of “research” a mere ruse and means towards seduction.

It has to be said that the situation is indeed creepy and Jin-hyeok has every right to be upset and offended, especially as he has repeatedly made clear to Ga-young that he has a girlfriend and is not interested in her. If Ga-young were a man taking a young woman out for dinner, plying her with drinks, asking increasingly suggestive and inappropriate questions and all on false pretences she would not be looking very good at all (much, indeed, like a classic Hong Sang-soo hero), not to mention the fact that money has already changed hands.

Nevertheless, despite his irritation Jin-hyeok decides to stay, progressing to a karaoke box rather than simply going home only to leave abruptly after palming Ga-young off on a lonely friend. Despite Jin-hyeok’s slightly underhanded machinations, there is less calculation and a clear possibility for genuine feeling between Ga-young and the other man, but she remains too fixated on her failed conquest and the idealised, unattainable fantasy romance to take a chance on an organic connection with a cheerful guy who likes movies and has his own well developed life philosophy.

Jeong’s approach is meta in the extreme – she repeatedly tells us the ongoing arc of the movie by referencing other movies while also reinforcing her intentions by foregrounding the various ideas for screenplays which Ga-young describes to Jin-hyeok. Her movie titled “Best Ending Ever” ironically has no ending while its hero aims to make a film in which all the characters speak their own fates in a conclusion that “won’t leave you hanging”, but real life is never quite so neat and there are no clean cut, narratively satisfying conclusions to be had in a “film” which is still ongoing.

Ironically enough, unlike the heroine of Bitch on the Beach, Jeong’s screenwriter makes a performance of control she never quite possesses, ceding ground to the earnest Jin-hyeok as he picks her up on her unethical practices and makes frequent attempts to reflect the inappropriate questioning back on her. Ga-young finds herself on the back foot, trying to manipulate Jin-hyeok into abandoning his principles and betraying his girlfriend even as her mask of unflappable frankness begins to slip. Yet Jin-hyeok, even if remaining steadfast in his moral goodness, finds himself captivated by Ga-young’s surprising candour while perhaps more ambivalent about her unusually predatory behaviour. With her short hair and plain, boyish clothes Ga-young adopts an aggressive, “male” persona, pursuing rather than being pursued, and using all of the same tactics that would generally be used against her only for Jin-hyeok to punch a hole through her artifice and expose the very insecurities it was designed to mask.

Not done with her meta messaging, Jeong “ends” on a Days of Being Wild inspired epilogue in which she meticulously dons her chosen persona before setting off to meet Jin-hyeok. This is a film without an ending because in its end is its beginning. Ga-young finds herself running in circles pursuing unrealistic ideals destined to end in frustrated defeat while ignoring the various “realities” which present themselves to her as she sets her sights on the “best ending ever” rather than the emotionally satisfying conclusion.


Hit the Night was screened as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival and will also be screened as part of the London Korean Film Festival on 6th November 2018, 6.30pm at the ICA where director Jeong Ga-young will be present for a Q&A.

International trailer (English subtitles)

The Return (Malene Choi, 2018)

the returm posterIn today’s sometimes hostile political environment, the question of transnational adoption has become a hot button issue with adoptees raised abroad in sometimes difficult circumstances where paper work was never correctly filed finding themselves exiled to the land of their birth despite having no knowledge of the culture and no means to support themselves. Documentarian Malene Choi, a Korean-Danish adoptee herself, frames her first narrative feature around this very thorny issue, taking inspiration from her own experiences and from those of fellow adoptees from around the world she encountered during her own attempts to find her birth parents and unlock the secrets of her history.

The central narrative revolves around two Korean-Danish adoptees, Karoline (Karoline Sofie Lee) and Thomas (Thomas Hwan), who meet for the first time at a hostel exclusively for “returnees” traveling to Korea to find their birth parents. Karoline, nervous and conflicted, talks to some of the other guests hoping to find strength in their stories of successful reunion but the stories she gathers are generally less conclusive than she perhaps expected them to be. Choi, originally planning to make a documentary focussing on the hostel itself, often found the same things – that guests would appear and disappear after only a few weeks, returning perhaps years later either to visit their birth families or to try pressing the adoption agencies again in the hope of finding more information.

Karoline’s own visit to the adoption agency turns out to less positive than she’d envisaged. The “excessively polite” employee managing her case explains that although there is actually “quite a lot” of information attached to Karoline’s file – her mother’s full name (only without her Chinese characters to help narrow it down further), a verified date and place of birth, and a reason the adoption was sought, none of it is much use in trying to find her birth mother. Later discussing the meeting with Thomas who seems a little more experienced, Karoline begins to doubt she was told the whole story and is convinced that the adoption agency is either wilfully holding information back or is simply disinterested in helping her.

Given the various circumstances surrounding international adoption from Korea from the end of the Korean War through the pre-democratic period, the government and adoption agencies might have reasons to avoid revealing the entirety of the truth. In an interview talking about the genesis of her film, Choi mentions meeting a British researcher who described the process of adoptions in this period as akin to “human trafficking”. Children, not only infants but those old enough to have memories of Korea and of their birth families, were sometimes taken without it being fully understood that they were being adopted and sent abroad, never to be returned to their parents or relatives.

A fictionalised scene of a child reuniting with a mother tells a common yet tragic story of a young girl taken advantage of by an older boy, falling pregnant, and then being disowned by her family. Talked into signing adoption papers she tries to change her mind once the child is born, but it’s whisked away from her after only seconds and she is powerless to resist. A combination of oppressive social forces from an unforgiving conformist society which looks down on “immoral” women pregnant out of wedlock to economic impossibilities and bureaucratic concerns all conspire to remove children from their birth families without proper scrutiny or much thought for where exactly they might be going.

Though Karoline and Thomas appear to have been raised well in loving families, they have each experienced other difficulties which have left them feeling adrift, caught between two cultures an unsure where exactly they fit. Karoline’s socially conservative parents were ill equipped to support her when she experienced racial bullying from the other children. They saw her as their daughter and a Dane and therefore could not understand why others didn’t because to them she “doesn’t even look Korean” – well meaning though they might have been, their solution to her suffering was an attempt to erase her ethnicity rather than embrace it. Though Thomas’ experiences were different he too experienced typically xenophobic micro aggressions, but it was the aggressors’ constant taunts of “go back to where you came from” that most hurt him. His persecutors seemed to have such a clear idea of where he “belonged” when he himself did not.

This sense of dislocation is further brought out by Thomas and Karoline’s experiences in Korea where they find themselves supposedly “at home” yet unable to communicate as neither of them speak Korean or have the necessary cultural knowledge to easily navigate the city. It also puts them at a disadvantage in their respective quests, leaving them reliant on the kindness of the hosts at the hostel to help explain some of the information they’ve been able to find as well as interpreting for them when they need to ask further questions.

Yet for others, a return Korea has become a kind of answer in itself. Another American adoptee Thomas meets at the hostel first came to Korea for only a few days but felt an instant connection, as if he’d finally found what it was he’d been looking for. His adopted family, however, were far from happy with his desire to explore his Korean roots and made him an ultimatum (something which might explain why he had previously felt so unhappy) which convinced him to move “back” to Korea on a more permanent basis, certain it was the place he was “truly” supposed to be. The hostel becomes a kind of community base in itself, connecting Korean adoptees from across the world who have each had very different experiences but share something otherwise unique. Thomas, however, remains conflicted, unsure if the connection to his fellow adoptees is real or illusionary, created out of his own desire to find in them what he sought in himself.

Making use of her documentary background, Choi mixes the real and the fictional, blending unscripted sequences and interactions with non-actors with a fiercely hyper naturalist approach only to undercut it with the artifice of strange and unexpected cuts to remind us we are watching a construction. Rather than an attempt to undermine the idea of adoption itself transnational or otherwise, Choi’s aims to look at the complicated, often uncomfortable, ideas of identity, belonging, and family through her protagonists’ continuing struggle to find resolution. Feeling as if they’ve been robbed of their histories, Karoline and Thomas’ quest is an attempt to come to terms with the loss of something which perhaps cannot be returned, but only eased through the restoration of a severed connection.


The Return was screened as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2018 and will also be screened plus Q&A with actress Karoline Sofie Lee in London on 14th November as the closing night gala of the London Korean Film Festival.

Original trailer (English language dialogue/subtitles)

London Korean Film Festival Announces Full Programme for 2018

LKFF2018 The ReturnThe London Korean Film Festival returns for its 13th year kicking off in London on 1st November before touring to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, and Belfast. Opening with indie drama Microhabitat, the theme for this year’s edition is “a slice of everyday life” while the festival will also offer a selection of current hits, independent features, shorts, animation, and a few classics before bringing the London leg to a close on 14th November with Malene Choi’s The Return.

Opening

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  • Microhabitat – A young woman living hand-to-mouth decides rent is an unnecessary expense in the debut feature from Jeon Go-woon who will also be present for a Q&A. Review.

Closing

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  • The Return – A Danish Korean adoptee returns to Korea looking for her history in a semi-autobiographical fiction debut from documentarian Malene Choi. Actress Karoline Sofie Lee will be present for a Q&A.

Special Focus: A Slice of Everyday Life

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  • The Power of Kangwon Province – a woman goes on holiday and ends up spending the night with a married policeman while an adulterous professor decides to visit the same area in the second film from Hong Sang-soo.
  • Christmas in August – 1998 romantic drama from genre master Hur Jin-ho in which a photographer falls in love with a terminally ill woman.
  • This Charming Girl – an isolated young woman develops a fondness for a shy writer but struggles to overcome past trauma.
  • Grain in Ear – second feature from A Quiet Dream‘s  Zhang Lu in which a woman of Korean ethnicity in North East China makes a living illegally selling kimchee.
  • Treeless Mountain – two little girls have to learn to look after themselves when their mum leaves them with relatives to go and look for their long absent dad.
  • The Journals of Musan – Park Jung-bum’s 2011 film in which he also stars as one of two North Korean defectors trying to adjust to life in the South.
  • Bleak Night – a father investigates the death of his son.
  • Alive – Park Jung-bum directs himself in his 2014 drama about a worker in a soybean paste factory.
  • The Bacchus Lady – Youn Yuh-jung stars as an elderly prostitute in E J-yong’s exploration of life on the margins. Review
  • The Running Actress – actress Moon So-ri steps behind the camera for three connected shorts each inspired by her real life and shot through with self deprecating humour. Review.
  • The Poet and the Boy – a middle-aged, unhappily married poet (Yang Ik-june) is suddenly struck by the beauty of a handsome young man.
  • Possible Faces – a young couple take different paths after splitting up in Lee Kang-hyun’s gentle drama.
  • Mothers – a woman becomes the guardian of the illegtimate son of her late husband in the second film from Lee Dong-eun (In Between Seasons)
  • The Land of Seonghye – Seonghye falls from the corporate ladder in Jung Hyung-suk’s indie drama.

Cinema Now

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  • Heart Blackened – Jung Ji-woo remakes Fei Xing’s Silent Witness in which a wealthy CEO hires a fancy lawyer to defend his daughter who has been charged with the murder of her step-mother, a famous pop-star.
  • Love+Sling – father and son wrestlers face off when the girl next door turns down the son’s confession because she likes the dad…
  • The Princess and the Matchmaker – thematic sequel to The Face Reader starring Shim Eun-kyung as a princess who prefers the astronomer brought in to find the perfect match to anyone he suggests.
  • Seven Years of Night – thriller taking place over seven years beginning with the death of an innocent girl. Q&A chaired by Anton Bitel.
  • Little Forest – a lost young woman retreats to her country home in Yim Soon-rye’s take on the much loved Japanese manga. Review.
  • The Witness – a middle-aged salaryman witnesses a murder but selfishly keeps quiet even as the death toll rises.
  • Hotel by the River – the latest (?) from Hong Sang-soo in which a poet and his two estranged sons chat about death .

Woman’s Voices

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  • Hit the Night – Bitch on the Beach‘s Jeong Ga-young once again stars as an extremely forward screenwriter “interviewing” her crush on the pretext of research. Jeong Ga-young will be present for a Q&A moderated by Sophie Brown as well as for a director talk at Kingston University at 11.30am on 7th November.
  • For Vagina’s Sake – documentary in which director Kim Bo-ram travels around the world exploring attitudes to menstruation.
  • Grown Up – filmmaker Jang Hye-yeong chronicles the process of bringing her disabled sister home to live with her in Seoul.
  • Women’s Voices Shorts Programme

Indie Firepower

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  • Motel Cactus – a series of encounters take place at a love hotel in Seoul. Introduction by Tony Rayns.
  • Camel(s) – a middle-aged couple have a lengthy one night stand in Park Ki-yong’s indie drama. Park Ki-yong will be present for a Q&A.
  • Old Love – Park Ki-yong’s most recent film in which old lovers reconnect at Incheon airport. Park Ki-yong will be present for a Q&A.
  • Adulthood  – a 14-year-old girl’s life is turned upside-down when her long lost uncle shows up at her father’s funeral and cheats her out of her inheritance. In order to get the money back she has to pose as his daughter so he can scam a lonely pharmacist. Review.
  • Back From The Beat – an aspiring DJ’s life is disrupted when he makes an unwise remark about employment rights. Introduction by Tony Rayns.

Contemporary Classics: Lee Myung-se & The 1990s

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The subject for this year’s classic film special focus is director Lee Myung-se who began his career with Gagman back in 1988.  Lee will be present at each of the screenings for a Q&A. 

  • My Love, My Bride – Park Joong-hoon and Choi Jin-sil star as a mismatched couple in Lee’s romantic comedy.
  • First Love – an aspiring actress falls head over heels for a chain smoking writer from Seoul.
  • Their Last Love Affair – a married poet falls for a journalist who said some nice things about his work… screening with Short Can’t Live Without You

Animation

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  • The Shower – animation based on a short story by Hwang Sun-won in which a young boy becomes fascinated by a girl who plays by the stream.
  • Pororo, Dinosaur Island Adventure – Cute penguin Pororo returns for another adventure in which he travels to a tropical island to save some dinosaurs from a greedy alien and his robot minions.

Mise-en-scene Shorts

The-Monologue

Artist Video

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The London Korean Film Festival runs 1st – 14th November in London before touring the country until 25th November. Full details for all the films as well as screening times and ticketing information are available via the official website and you can keep up with all the latest news by following the festival on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.