London Korean Film Festival Announces Full Programme for 2019

The Seashore Village - Opening Gala (1st Nov)The London Korean Film Festival kicks off its 14th edition in London on 1st November and runs until the 14th at venues across the city before touring to Edinburgh Film House, Watershed Cinema Bristol, Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre, Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME, and Nottingham Broadway Cinema from 18th to 24th. This year’s special focus is dedicated to Korean cinema history in celebration of its centenary and will feature a series of classics many of them making their UK cinema premieres. 

Opening

The Seashore Village poster 2

  • The Seashore Village – Opening for the first time with a retrospective title, the festival will pay tribute to veteran director Kim Soo-yong with his 1965 literary adaptation The Seashore Village in which a community of women left largely alone after losing husbands at sea have learned to support each other in the absence of men. Review. Director Kim will be present in person to discuss the film as well as his long career in the Korean cinema industry.

Closing

Scattered Night - Closing Gala (14th Nov)

  • Scattered Night – the festival will close on Nov. 14 with Kim Sol’s 2019 drama chronicling the dissolution of a family seen through the eyes of the children.

Special Focus: 100 Years of Korean Cinema

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  • A Hometown in Heart – touching drama from 1949 in which an orphaned child monk bonds with a widow.
  • Piagol – Lee Kang-cheon’s 1955 drama was originally banned for its sympathetic depiction of Communist soldiers as they wage war under a severe commander.
  • The Flower in Hell – Shin Sang-ok classic from 1958 in which a sex worker tries to find escape by seducing the younger brother of her boyfriend who makes a living stealing from the US military.
  • Aimless Bullet – bleak portrait of post-war life from Yu Hyun-mok. Review.
  • A Coachman – a single father struggles to provide for his family in Kang Dae-jin’s 1961 drama.
  • A Woman Judge – Moon Jeong-suk stars as a young woman determined to become a judge in the face of fierce social opposition. Review.
  • Bloodline – Another literary adaptation from Kim Soo-yong, Bloodline revolves around three families in a small courtyard in which the young long for freedom and a brighter future only for their parents to lament their declining authority. Review.
  • Goryeojang – 1963 drama from Kim Ki-young revolving around the ancient practice of abandoning the old in times of famine.
  • Ieoh Island – Kim Ki-young drama from 1977 in which a murder is committed on an island inhabited only by women.
  • The Devil’s Stairway – Hitchcockian drama with shades of Les Diaboliques from Lee Man-hee in which a doctor (Kim Jin-kyu) offs his inconvenient mistress (Moon Jeong-suk) to marry the boss’ daughter only to be haunted (or not?) by the memory of his transgression. Review.
  • Homebound – Moon Jeong-suk, the director’s then muse, stars again for Lee Man-hee as a middle-aged woman finds herself trapped between personal desire and social convention when she falls for a young reporter (Kim Jeong-cheol) and considers leaving her embittered, bedridden war veteran husband (Kim Jin-gyu). Review.
  • A Day Off – legendary, long believed lost drama from Lee Man-hui originally banned for its bleakness in which a young couple find themselves in an impossible situation. Review.
  • Ticket – ’80s drama from Im Kwon-taek exploring the lives of three young women working in a “ticket” bar “coffee delivery” shop. Review.
  • The Man with Three Coffins – 1987 drama from Lee Jang-ho in which a man wanders the country looking for a place to scatter his wife’s ashes.
  • A Pillar of Mist – a young couple grow apart over time in Park Chul-soo’s 1986 drama.
  • The Age of Success – Ahn Sung-ki stars as a salesman at a sweetner company who falls ill after battling a competitor and comes up with a genius idea to get back at them while in the hospital.
  • Why Has Bodhi-Darma Left for the East? – drama exploring the lives of three monks shot over seven years.
  • North Korean Partisan in South Korea (Nambugun) – 1990 drama inspired by the life of war correspondent Lee Tae.
  • A Single Spark – biographical drama about a Jeon Tae-il, a worker who self-immolated to protest unfair working conditions.
  • The Day a Pig Fell into a Well – debut from Hong Sang-soo in which a married man on a business trip gets stranded and ends up having a weird encounter with a sex worker.
  • Three Friends – debut from Lim Soon-rye in which three misfits report for military service.
  • The Contact – romance in which love blossoms over the airways.
  • Peppermint Candy – modern masterpiece from Lee Chang-dong in which a disappointed man looks back over his life.

Hidden Figures: Ha Gil-jong

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  • The Pollen of Flowers – Ha Gil-jong’s debut makes a subtle jab at the repressive Park Chung-hee regime as a businessman introduces his male secretary into the home he shares with his mistress.
  • The March of Fools – 1975 drama which begins as campus comedy and then gets progressively melancholic and reflective. Review.
  • The Ascension of Han-ne – in the 19th century a woman is saved from suicide but ostracised by her community after a shaman pronounces her bad luck.

Cinema Now

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  • Grass – Hong Sang-soo drama starring Kim Min-hee as a writer eavesdropping in a coffee shop.
  • Birthday – powerful drama following a family bereaved by the Sewol ferry tragedy. Review.
  • A Resistance – historical drama inspired by the life of a teenage independence activist. Review.
  • Idol – neo-noir in which a bereaved father tries to expose the true facts surrounding the death of his son while a politician attempts to maintain his squeaky clean image. Review.
  • Extreme Job – broad comedy in which bumbling policemen open a fried chicken joint as part of a stakeout only for the place to take off. Review.
  • The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale – a weird family adopts a zombie after discovering his bite has healing qualities in Lee Min-jae’s hilariously surreal comedy. Review.
  • Height of the Wave – latest from Park Jung-bum following a policewoman transferred to a remote island.

Women’s Voices

A Bedsore (Women's Voices)

  • Youngju – a young woman looking after her brother becomes involved with the man who killed their parents.
  • A Boy and Sungreen – a schoolboy and his friend attempt to track down his absent dad.
  • A Bedsore – grandma’s bedsore exposes the cracks in an ordinary family.
  • Yukiko – chronicle of a family scarred by war.

Documentary

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  • Water Utilization Tax – documentary from 1984 following the four month struggle of farmers in Gurye.
  • Blue Bird – 1986 doc interviewing farmers about their working conditions.
  • The Night Before the Strike – 1990 doc following factory workers’ attempts to unionise.

Animation

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  • A Story of Hong Gil-dong – 1967 classic adapting the traditional folktale.
  • Astro Gardener – fantasy adventure with an ecological message.

Mise-en-scène Shorts

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  • Freckles – bittersweet tale of first love.
  • To Each Your Sarah – a woman rebuilds her life after leaving her husband.
  • Goodbye Bushman – brothers discover a “bushman” in the woods.
  • Milk – a hotel maid commits a crime to pay for baby food.
  • Yuwol: The Boy Who Made the World Dance – musical following a young boy with an urge to dance.
  • Camping – a woman is kidnapped from a campsite.
  • The Stars Whisperer – a young girl with hearing difficulties makes a new friend.
  • The Lambs – a pastor and a member of his congregation share an obsession with a dead woman.

Artist Video

Songs from the North (Artist Video)

  • Songs from the North – Yoo Soon-mi’s documentary portrait of the North.
  • Dangerous Supplement – early work from Yoo Soon-mi showcasing the theme of memory.
  • Sets – Park Chan-kyong’s examination of the North’s vision of the South.
  • Flying – Park Chan-kyong explores the North/South divide.
  • Believe it or Not – Park Chan-kyong narrative piece inspired by those who have crossed the border.

The London Korean Film Festival runs 1st – 14th November in London before touring the country until 24th. Full details for all the films as well as screening times and ticketing information will be available shortly via the official website and you can keep up with all the latest news by following the festival on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Fengshui (명당, Park Hee-gon, 2018)

FengShui poster 1A would-be-dynast gets overly involved with a weird spiritualist and almost (?) ruins the nation. Does that sound a little familiar? As metaphors go, it might be a stretch but then so much of Park Hee-gon’s Fengshui (명당, Myeong-dang) is just that. Set in the late 19th century, Park’s film is the third in a loose trilogy themed around Korean fortune telling traditions (following The Face Reader, and The Princess and the Matchmaker), but rather than questioning the efficacy of its art asks a series of questions about its application and the internecine lengths those who lust for power or otherwise feel themselves unfairly oppressed will go to to reclaim their rightful position.

Our hero, unwisely honest fengshui master Jae-sang (Cho Seung-woo), is the only one brave enough to point out that the site chosen for the burial of the late king is cursed, but inevitably he is ignored. He is of course right, which means he must be eliminated which is why a troop of soldiers working for the nefarious Kim clan show up and burn his house down, executing his wife and child by the sword when they manage to escape. 13 years later, he finds his expertise called on again when the weak and inexperienced king begins to suspect the Kim clan is plotting against him and that their shenanigans over his father’s grave may have something to do with it.

Like any typical Korean period drama, Fengshui is chiefly concerned with palace intrigue, only this intrigue is stranger than most in its bizarre obsession with the possibilities of manipulating spiritual power through acquiring “auspicious” land for whichever purpose one might wish from conceiving an heir to making sure your line holds power. The Kims are convinced they can win the throne (if by proxy) through digging up their ancestors and replanting them in more advantageous places only to discover that the grass is (literally) always greener. Still, they will stop at nothing from outright murder to psychological game playing in order to manipulate the teenage king into acting as their puppet.

One might ask themselves what the point is, what’s so great about being king anyway? The actual king might say not much, as he discovers himself a humiliated, hollow figure who wields no real power seeing as his soldiers seem set to side with Kim. Heungseon (Ji Sung), however, his “cheerful” uncle might feel differently after experiencing a lifetime of just the same. Forced to prance about doing party tricks for the Kims, barking and eating scraps from the floor like a mangy dog, he might say that being king is the only way to reclaim your self-respect and ensure you will never be at the mercy of ruthless men ever again.

The real key, however, is presented at the end when Jae-sang and his money loving friend Yong-shik (Yoo Jae-myung) are visited some years later by two men in suits who want to know the best place to start a military school to train Independence fighters. Jae-sang, having vowed to stop looking for places to bury people so he can find one to save them, is only too happy to oblige and even comes up with the name “Shinheung Military Academy” (a real school which is also, quite bizarrely, the subject of a smash hit musical). The point is further brought home with Kim’s descendent standing next to a family grave and lamenting that it can’t have been auspicious enough because they’ve lost all their power since the Japanese arrived. The subtext seems to be that feudal corruption and a subversion of traditional values such as ancestor worship and filial piety contributed to the gradual weakening of the Korean state which was plagued by insecure kings and political finagling until finally “sold” to foreign powers in the early 20th century.

Indeed, the ambitious usurpers eventually burn the soul of Korea in order to ensure their own, or rather their children’s, futures even at the expense of their nation’s. Literally fighting over a grave, the elites waste their time on pointless, internecine dynastic squabbling while ordinary people continue to suffer. Jae-sang, having given up on his own petty quest for revenge, comes to the conclusion that all this looking back is a waste of time when what they should be thinking about is the future – not burying things, but planting them. It is a good lesson, but, Park seems to suggest, perhaps one that has not yet been fully learned.


Screened as the latest teaser for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival. The next teaser screening, Zhang Lu’s Ode to the Goose, takes place on 19th August at Picturehouse Central.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Default (국가부도의 날, Choi Kook-hee, 2018)

Default poster 1The Korean economic miracle came to an abrupt halt in 1997. In an event the media labelled “the day of national humiliation”, the Korean government went to the IMF for a bailout in order to avoid bankruptcy. So, what went wrong? Choi Kook-hee’s Default (국가부도의 날, Gukga-budo-eui Nal) looks back at the fateful seven days before the country would go bust, asking serious questions about why it found itself in this position and why it chose to opt for external assistance rather than fix its own problems. The answer is, as always, a mix of disaster capitalism, incompetency, and a healthy disinterest in the lives of the less well off.

As if to signal its hubris, the Korea of 1997 is busy celebrating its accession to the OECD and emergence on the world stage as a major player, escaping post-war austerity once and for all. Young Koreans have embraced consumerism with gusto. Luxury goods and foreign travel are becoming increasingly popular with the government insisting everything is on the up and up. However, listeners to Son Sook’s Woman’s Era are telling a different story – cafes not getting customers, businesses going under, people not getting paid. With the Asian Financial Crisis mounting, the Korean Won is being hit hard and the government does not have the reserves to cover its debts. A high ranking Bank of Korea official, Si-hyun (Kim Hye-soo), has concluded that the nation has one week to find a solution before everything comes to a grinding halt.

Meanwhile, self-interested merchant banker Yoon (Yoo Ah-in) has come to the same conclusion on his own but his aims are very different. Where Shi-hyun sees crisis, Yoon sees opportunity. He quits his job and starts calling up wealthy clients with an innovative pitch. Explaining to them that the country is about to go bust, he outlines a plan to short the government which will make them a lot of money though at the expense of those without who will be hung out to dry when it all goes to hell.

As Yoon tells his investors, the trouble is that the entirety of the modern Korean Economy is built on lies. An underling is tasked with explaining the crisis to the president in simple terms, only for Si-hyun to grimly suggest he tell him “we spent borrowed money like it was water hoping to get an extension and here we are”. Factory owner Gap-soo (Heo Joon-ho) is excited to receive a large order from a major department store, but put off when he realises that they intend to pay him with a promissory note. The department store CEO belittles his concerns, implying that he can’t be much of a player if he doesn’t know that’s how business is done these days. Gap-soo’s partner is all for it and so they sign, but when banks go bust promissory notes become worthless and they need ready cash to pay their staff and suppliers.

Si-hyun tries to make the case for saving the economy to protect the working classes but her advice falls on deaf ears. Often the only woman in the room, Si-hyun is dismissed as a “secretary” while the all male officials make a point of talking to her male assistant and accusing her of being “sentimental” when she points out that people will starve if they put their plan into action. The conclusion that she gradually comes to is that the crisis is an elaborate game being played by elites for their own gain at the expense of ordinary men and women all across the country. Odious finance ministers prioritise saving the Chaebols, warning their friends and cronies, while deliberately running down the clock so the country will have no other option than running to the IMF full in the knowledge that an IMF bailout comes with considerable strings which will vastly constrain their sovereignty and economic freedom – effectively handing control over to the Americans who will use it as an excuse to extend their own business interests by insisting on destructive labour reforms which will devastate the working classes.

Si-hyun’s exasperation leaves her making a last ditch effort to get the government to see sense only for the IMF negotiator (Vincent Cassel) to make her removal another of his red lines, her plain speaking instantly deemed “inappropriate”. Meanwhile, Yoon’s headlong descent into amoral profiteering begins to prick at his conscience even as he tries to justify his actions to himself. 20 years later, it might seem as if the crisis is over but its effects are very much still felt. Gap-soo’s factory may have survived, but it’s running on exploited foreign labour while the Chaebols continue to run rampant over the increasingly unequal Korean economy. None of the problems have been solved and another crisis is always on the horizon. Tense and infuriating, Default is a story of moral as well as financial bankruptcy which places the blame firmly on systemic corruption and the undue influence of self-interested elites while acknowledging that little has changed in the last 20 years leaving the little guy very much at the mercy of capricious Chaebol politics.


Default was screened as part of the 2019 Udine Far East Film Festival. It will also be screened as the next teaser for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival on 20th May at Regent Street Cinema, 7pm.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Winter’s Night (겨울밤에, Jang Woo-jin, 2018)

Winter's Night poster“You clumsy man, don’t lose her again!” a busybody landlady instructs the hero of Jang Woo-jin’s Winter’s Night (겨울밤에, gyeoulbam-e), neatly cutting to the heart of the matter with just a few well directed words. In Korean cinema, the is past always painfully present but our pair of dejected lovers haunt themselves with echoes of lost love and pangs of regret mixed with a hollow fondness for the days of youth. The fire has long since died, but the memory of its warmth refuses to fade.

We first meet Eun-ju (Seo Young-hwa) and her husband Heung-ju (Yang Heung-joo) in a taxi driven by an extremely chatty man of about the same age which is to say around 50. Heung-ju, sitting uncomfortably in the front while his wife sits alone in the back, explains that he first came to this area 30 years previously when he did his military service. Bored and perhaps irritated by her husband’s conversation, Eun-ju realises she has lost her phone and insists they turn back to go and look for it at the temple they have just left. Heung-ju is annoyed but makes a show of humouring his wife while she refuses to leave, forcing the couple to stay overnight in a small inn that he later realises is the same place they stayed 30 years ago on the very night that they first became a couple.

As is pointed out to Eun-ju several times, losing a phone is an inconvenient and expensive mistake but perhaps not the end of the world. Nevertheless she continues to hunt for it as if it were her very soul, eventually explaining to a confused monk that it is all she has and even if she were to buy another one it wouldn’t be the same. Eun-ju’s attachment to her phone may hint at a deeper level of loss which has contributed to the distance she feels between herself and her husband, but the search is as much metaphorical as it is literal, sending both husband and wife out on a quest to look for themselves amid the icy caves and snow covered bridges.

An early attempt to check CCTV yields a pregnant image of a young soldier (Woo Ji-hyun) and a girl (Lee Sang-hee) sitting across from each other before they disappear and are replaced by the older Eun-ju and Heung-ju. Eun-ju later re-encounters the younger couple several times, becoming witness to their impossibly innocent romance which is such an eerie reminder of her own that one wonders if they are simply ghosts of her far off past. The soldier, an earnest, shy poet tries and fails to stop the girl walking onto the same thin ice that Eun-ju will later brave not quite so successfully, while the girl gleefully tells him that she has recently broken up with her boyfriend. They are young and filled with hope for the future, while Eun-ju is older and filled only with disappointment. Still, there is something in her that loves these young not-yet-lovers for all the goodness that is in them as she takes the younger woman, and her younger self, in her arms and warmly reassures her that the future is not so bleak as it might one day seem.

Meanwhile, a petulant Heung-ju has gone out looking for his “lost” wife but been distracted by the shadow of another woman (Kim Sun-young) wandering across the back of his mind. He drinks too much and ends up singing sad solo karaoke before discovering an old flame sleeping on a hidden sofa. She doesn’t immediately recognise Heung-ju and so runs away in fear, but later joins him for a drink over which she flirts raucously but probably not seriously while he moons over his wife, mourns an old friend, and recalls their student days lived against the fiery backdrop of the democracy movement.

Together again the couple attempt to talk through their mutual heartaches, expressing a mild resentment at the other’s unhappiness and their own inability to repair it, but seem incapable of bridging the widening gulf which has emerged between them. Trapped in an endless loop of romantic melancholy, the pair fail to escape the wintery temple where, it seems, a part of them will always remain, haunting the desolate landscape with the absence of recently felt warmth. A beautifully pitched exploration of middle-aged malaise and the gradual disillusionment of living, Winter’s Night tempers its vision of unanswerable longing with quiet hope as its two dejected lovers hold fast to the desire to begin again no matter how futile it may turn out to be.


Winter’s Night was screened as the first teaser for the 2019 London Korean Film Festival. Tickets for the next teaser screening, Default at Regent Street Cinema on 20th May, are already on sale.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

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)

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. Review.

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. Review.
  • 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

My Love, My Bride 1990 still 1

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

the shower (korean animation) still 1

  • 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

Grace-Period

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.

A Tiger in Winter (호랑이보다 무서운 겨울손님, Lee Kwang-kuk, 2018)

Tiger in Winter poster“Life just keeps getting harder” sighs a weary policeman charged with extracting a coherent statement from an accidental hero who only wants to talk about a tiger. Lee Kwang-kuk’s third feature, A Tiger in Winter (호랑이보다 무서운 겨울손님, Horangiboda Museoun Gyeoulsonnim), is in some ways a more conventional exercise in comparison with the time bending reflexivity of his earlier work, but the journey he takes us on is similarly circular as a melancholy young man finds himself chased out of his natural habitat and cast adrift, outside of his comfort zone too resentful to crawl back into a familiar cage but too afraid to embrace his freedom. 

On the day a tiger escapes from the zoo, Gyeong-yu (Lee Jin-wook), a failed writer, “loses” his day job and has to temporarily vacate his apartment because his girlfriend’s parents are coming to visit and she evidently hasn’t told them she is “living in sin”. Gyeong-yu offers to stay and meet them, but bristles when his girlfriend wonders if he’s ready to make a firm a commitment. He packs and leaves, planning to return in a few days’ time when the coast is clear. Decamping to a friend’s place, Gyeong-yu continues his night “job” as a designated driver which brings him into contact with an old girlfriend – Yoo-jung (Ko Hyun-jung), who is also a writer and apparently successful but suffering from an extended bout of writer’s block and has descended into a self destructive spiral of alcohol fuelled existential desperation.

After reconnecting with Gyeong-yu, Yoo-jung pulls down a book he once gave her from her well stocked bookcase – a Korean translation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway’s hero fights his age as manifested in a powerful marlin and dreams of youth in the lions of Africa. The film’s English title, “A Tiger in Winter”, is perhaps a mild pun on “The Lion in Winter” which again tells of a once proud old man struggling to deal with his bodily decline, only Gyeong-yu is still young even if he feels himself diminished and brought low by life. Unlike the old man, he has stopped fighting and accepted his defeat. He no longer writes and flounders aimlessly, running away from the things that frighten him without aim or purpose. The loosed tiger is a manifestation of the fears Gyeong-yu refuses to fight which render him both physically and artistically impotent.

Writing, or perhaps art of any kind, becomes its own kind of vice – a dangerous addition, a need which must be sated or displaced without which the rest of life remains hollow. Unable to satisfy her need for creation, Yoo-jung has crumbled under the pressure of her own expectations and retreated into the comforting world of the permanently tipsy even whilst knowing that the alcohol itself inhibits her ability to create and forever separates her from that which would make her whole. She wants to stop, throws away her soju, but can’t move past her inability to face herself and resolve her creative doubts. Yoo-jung wants the quick fix, and like any addict, she is past caring about the harm she might do to herself and others in the pursuit of it.

Gyeong-yu, meanwhile, almost wallows in his degradation as he allows himself to be belittled by the customers who call for his services and insist on treating him like a servant. Designated driving doesn’t seem like a particularly safe arrangement for either party – many of Gyeong-yu’s customers are extremely drunk and willingly allowing a man they don’t know to drive them somewhere in their own car while they are barely conscious, while conversely many refuse to pay or accuse Gyeong-yu of damaging the car while berating him for acting in an insufficiently humble manner. Yet it’s not humiliation that knocks Gyeong-yu out of his stupor but trauma and a direct confrontation with someone else’s despair.

Tigers lurk everywhere, though when Gyeong-yu finally learns to look his in the eye it’s a very cute and non-threatening sort of tiger which perhaps makes him feel foolish for having evaded it for so long. Lee may not be playing with time in his usual fashion, but he sends Gyeong-yu retreating into the past all the same in an attempt to hide from his fears only to discover you can’t walk backwards into the future. An exploration of the destructive power of the creative urge, the soul crushing inertia of artistic block, and the continuing rootlessness of a life lived in flight, A Tiger in Winter is another beautifully poetic character drama from Lee whose world weary optimism loses nothing in its seeming simplicity.


A Tiger in Winter was screened as the final teaser for the London Korean Film Festival which will open on 1st November with Microhabitat. The full programme for this year’s event is now available on the official website – tickets on sale soon!

International trailer (English subtitles)