London Korean Film Festival 2018: Documentary Fortnight

Another World We Are Making

The London Korean Film Festival has always made a space for documentary in its packed out programme but for this year’s edition they’ve decided to go a little further and give it a spotlight of its own with two weekends dedicated to the art. On August 11/12, and 18/19, six short and feature lengths films will be screened with directors Kim Dong-won and Song Yun-hyeok making an appearance to present their work.

11th August – Birkbeck Cinema

11.30am: A Slice Room

slice room still 1

Song Yun-hyeok examines the social reality behind the prosperous facade of contemporary Korean society through the lives of those living in “slice rooms”. Director Song Yun-hyeok will also be in conversation with Nam In Young following the screening.

2.30pm: The Sanggyedong Olympics / The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong

6 day struggle

Kim Dong-won’s 1988 documentary Sanggyedong Olympics follows the resistance movement towards urban regeneration amongst a community north of Seoul who had been unfairly evicted from their homes without proper compensation or adequate time to find new accommodation. Kim planned to stay only one day but ended up living amongst the community for three years.

The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral, completed during 1996-7, looks back at the pivotal 1987 sit-in which became a catalyst for the June democracy movement.

Following the two short docs, Kim Dong-won will also be in conversation with Nam In Young.

12th August – Birkbeck Cinema 

1.30pm: Repatriation 

repatriation still 1

In what many consider his masterpiece, Kim Dong-won examines the lives of the “unconverted” – North Korean “spies” who refuse to renounce their communist beliefs despite longterm imprisonment in the South. Refused the possibility of returning to the North on release, most were left without support in South Korea facing economic hardship and social stigma, dependent on solidarity networks to help them integrate into society. Kim follows two such men over a decade as they try to rebuild their lives in the fluctuating political climate of the ’90s.

The film will be followed by a conversation with Kim Dong-won chaired by Chris Berry.

4.45pm: Roundtable 

A roundtable panel discussion chaired by Professor Chris Berry discussing the Korean independent documentary scene from the late ’80s to the present. Nam In Young of Dongseo University will provide an overview of filmmaking collectives within the sociopolitical history of South Korea while directors Kim Dong-won and Song Yun-hyeok will be on hand to offer their personal experiences.

18th August – Korean Cultural Centre

3pm: Soseongri 

SKOREA-FILM-DIPLOMACY-DEFENCEPark Bae-il’s Soseongri follows a community of elderly farmers facing rural depopulation problems who find themselves in conflict with the police when the decision is taken to place the THAAD anti-aircraft system in their village.

19th August – Korean Cultural Centre

3pm: Jung Il-woo, My Friend 

Jung Il-woo, My Friend 

Kim Dong-won’s most recent film pays tribute to North American Jesuit priest, Jung Il-woo, who dedicated his life to improving the lives of the poor in South Korea.

All the events are free to attend but tickets must be booked in advance via the links above. Full details for all the films are available via the official website, and you can keep up with all the latest news via the festival’s  TwitterFacebookFlickrInstagram and YouTube channels

Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire / 클레어의 카메라, Hong Sang-soo, 2017)

Claire's Camera poster“I want talk about someone. About a man of 25, at the most. He is a beautiful man who wants to die before being marked by death. You loved him. More than that.” Hong Sang-soo channels Éric Rohmer through the aptly named Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire / 클레어의 카메라), but does so through the unexpected prism of Marguerite Duras whose poem is recited in French at the request of a sleazy Korean film director (Jung Jin-young) making a clumsy attempt to pick up the titular Claire (Isabelle Huppert) through an otherwise beautiful act of cross cultural interaction. The poem, like Claire’s polaroids, exists in an uncanny space – someone wants to tell us about a man we once loved as if we never knew him who wants to die before he is changed by death. Like Duras’ landmark exploration of the shock waves of imploding romance, Hong offers us life in fragments as Claire’s polaroids attempt to rewrite a half remembered history in order to make sense of a disordered present.

Film sales assist Man-hee (Kim Min-hee) is abruptly fired by her boss, Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee), right in the middle of the Cannes film festival. Yang-hye offers no real reason why Man-hee has to go save that her perception of her has changed. She no longer feels that Man-hee is an “honest” person and as a person who values “honesty” she no longer feels comfortable working with her. Rather than lick her wounds back in Seoul, Man-hee decides to enjoy the rest of her time in Cannes as a kind of holiday which is how she ends up meeting Claire – an older French woman who is visiting the city for the very first time and has brought along her Polaroid camera to properly record the event.

Claire seems to pop-up here, there, and everywhere, dressed in an old-fashioned detective’s outfit of a stylish trench coat and trilby, snapping away like she’s gathering evidence about an international conspiracy. Striking up an awkward conversation with melancholy womanising film director So eventually brings her into the orbit of the three Koreans who are, we later realise, involved in an embarrassing workplace love triangle. Yet each time Claire appears, her photos don’t make sense – she has a photo of Man-hee wearing her trench coat that we never see her take while her other pictures seem generally out-of-order with the timeline as it has been presented to us.

The only way to change things, Claire intones, is to look at everything again very slowly. Ironically enough she offers the opportunity to do just that by means of instant photography, snapping a still frame of a painful memory in order to ruminate and reconsider. She claims she takes photographs as a means of being in the moment – after all, once you take the photo the subject is no longer the same. The act of being photographed has perhaps changed them, but more than that time has passed and we’re all seconds older now than we were before if perhaps no wiser. Yet looking at the photograph, literally looking at yourself from an external perspective, prompts a reevaluation of the past and perhaps changes the course of the present.

There is also, of course, a meta dimension to all this – as he had in The Day After and On the Beach at Night Alone, Hong muses on his own romantic difficulties in casting his real life love Kim Min-hee as a character with a near identical name while also ensuring that So is even more of a Hong stand-in than his usual leads. Man-hee has been unfairly dismissed because of an indiscretion with the drunken director who has had her fired, by his current girlfriend, out of a sense of embarrassment. Both Yang-hye and So are “shocked” by Claire’s photograph which frames her in a sultry pose wearing (they claim) much more makeup than usual, while So, spotting her at a party, goes into a semi-paternal rage about Man-hee’s (not really all that short) denim hot pants and generally “immodest” appearance. Berating her for a supposed lack of self-confidence, accusing her of “selling herself” and trying to catch the attention of men, So “directs” her to be more authentic. Which is quite something seeing as he is currently dressed in a borrowed tux in order to conform to social expectations.

Authenticity, or more directly “honesty”, becomes a running theme from Yang-hye’s instance that Man-hee is “dishonest” to a young filmmaker’s insistence that it’s hard to make an “honest” film. Claire, at least, seems to be embarking on a process of “honest” art even if nothing she says or does quite adds up. Light and bright and breezy, Claire’s Camera is Hong in Rohmer mode, wistful yet resigned and perhaps even hopeful. There’s a reason everyone seems to be so “reasonable” even in the most unreasonable of situations, other people’s feelings are not something that can be debated and are best accepted even if understood only retrospectively. Claire and her camera seem perfectly aware of that, silently observing in preparation for presenting evidence in a self inquisition, but doing so with kindness even in the knowledge that sometimes it’s easier not to look.


Claire’s Camera was screened as part of a teaser series for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival. The next screening in the series will be Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum at Picturehouse Central on 30th August.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Korean Film Nights 2018: Rebels With a Cause

barefooted Youth posterFollowing on from the Novels on Screen season, the Korean Cultural Centre London is back with another series of free film screenings this time themed around those who have dared to defy the social norms of their times.

19th July – Bungee Jumping of Their Own

1024full-bungee-jumping-of-their-own-posterLee Byung-hun stars as a conflicted high school teacher who begins to see echoes of a woman he loved and lost years ago in a male student.

26th July – The Sea Knows

EWBtY1xr1lnEpnQOKim Ki-young recasts the folly of war as a romantic melodrama in which a Korean conscript to the Japanese army receives harsh treatment from his sadistic superior but later falls in love with a Japanese woman.

2nd August – A Woman Judge

71d8383407a3d1bec2d8eed51ce3a6eeMoon Jeong-suk stars as a determined young woman hellbent on becoming a judge in defiance of social convention which views marriage and motherhood as the only paths to female success. Encouraged by her father but forced to dodge her mother’s constant attempts to marry her off, she pursues her dream in spite of intense disapproval.

9th August – The Barefooted Young

barefooted Youth stillKim Ki-duk (the old one!) draws inspiration from Ko Nakahira’s Dorodarake no Junjo for a tragic tale of love across the class divide as poor boy Du-su (Shin Seong-il) and Ambassador’s daughter Johanna (Um Aeng-ran) meet by chance and fall in love. Faced with the impossibility of their “pure” love in an “impure world” the pair find themselves an impasse, unable to reconcile their true feelings with the demands of the society in which they live. Review.

16th August – Mandala 

Mandala posterIm Kwon-taek’s “artistic breakthrough” stars Ahn Sung-ki as a young man who has abandoned his girlfriend and university studies to become a Buddhist monk but later meets an older man who indulges all of life’s Earthly pleasures such as wine and women.

23rd August – Black Republic

Black Republic still 1Park Kwang-su revisits the democratisation movement in its immediate aftermath as a student who hides from the authorities in a small mining village finds himself at odds with his environment while haunted by the possibility that his longed for revolution will not come to pass.

The Rebels With a Cause season runs throughout July and August. All screenings are free but must be booked in advance and take place at the Korean Cultural Centre in central London. Reservations are currently open for all the films via the links above. You can keep up to date with all the latest screening news via the Korean Cultural Centre and London Korean Film Festival websites and be sure to follow the festival on TwitterFacebookFlickrInstagram and YouTube channels for the most up to date information.

Tickets are also currently on sale for the latest teaser screening for London Korean Film Festival – Claire’s Camera, at Regent Street Cinema on 23rd July, 7pm. The next teaser in the series has not yet been announced but will take place on 30th August.

Korean Film Nights 2018: Korean Novels On Screen

Kim Ki-young earth posterAfter a brief pause, the Korean Cultural Centre London is set to resume its series of free film screenings with a brand new strand celebrating literary adaptations. Running from March to June, Korean Film Nights 2018: Korean Novels on Screen will showcase a diverse selection of films inspired by books from the “literary films” of the golden age to the recent hits of today.

29th March – Earth 

Earth-02Housemaid director Kim Ki-young adapts Yi Kwang-su’s 1932 novel of resistance in which a poor boy studies law in Seoul and marries the daughter of the landowner he once served only to decide to return and help his home village suffering under Japanese oppression.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 16th April, 7pm.

12th April – The Descendants of Cain

Descendants of Cain poster 2

Yu Hyun-mok (Aimless Bullet) adapts Hwang Sun-won’s autobiographical anti-communist novel in which a struggle over the means of production plays out against an impossible love story between the estranged wife of a communist agitator and the noble hearted founder of the school the communists have commandeered as their base.

26th April – White Badge

White Badge still 1Directed by Chung Ji-young, White Badge adapts Anh Junghyo’s autobiographical Vietnam novel in which a traumatised writer (played by Ahn Sung-ki) is forced to address his wartime past when an old comrade comes back into his life.

10th May – A Petal

a petal horizontalAdapting the novel by Choe Yun, Jang Sun-woo examines the legacy of the Gwangju Massacre through the story of a little girl who refuses to leave the side of a vulgar and violent man no matter how poorly he treats her.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 22nd May, 7pm.

24th May – The Old Garden

the old garden still 1Adapted from a novel by writer and activist Hwang Sok-young, Im Sang-soo’s The Old Garden follows an activist released from prison after 17 years who cannot forget the memory of a woman who helped him when he was a fugitive in the mountains.

7th June – The Unfair

The unfair horizontalThe debut feature from Kim Sung-je, the Unfair is an adaptation of Son Aram’s courtroom thriller which draws inspiration from the Yongsan Tragedy in which residents protesting redevelopment were forcibly evicted and several lives were lost including one of a police officer.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 19th June, 7pm.

28th June – My Brilliant Life + Q&A with author Kim Ae-ran

my brilliant life still 1An adaptation of the novel by Kim Ae-ran who will also be present for a Q&A, E J-yong’s My Brilliant Life stars Gang Dong-won and Song Hye-kyo as teenage parents raising a son who turns out to have a rare genetic condition which causes rapid ageing.

All of the screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Centre at 7pm and are free to attend but must be booked in advance via the links above. You can keep up to date with all the latest screening news via the Korean Cultural Centre and London Korean Film Festival websites and be sure to follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook, FlickrInstagram and YouTube channels for the most up to date information.

Tickets are also now on sale for the first of the 2018 Teaser Screenings for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival – Be With You which takes place at Picturehouse Central on 25th April at 9pm.

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.

A Taxi Driver (택시 운전사, Jang Hoon, 2017)

A Taxi Driver PosterIn these (generally) well connected days of mass communication when every major event is live broadcast to the world at large, it’s difficult to remember a time when dreadful things might be happening the next town over yet no one knows (or perhaps dares to ask). Until 1979, Korea had been under the control of an oppressive dictatorship which was brought to a sudden and bloody end by the murder of the president, Park Chung-hee, at the hands of one of his aides. Though the democracy movement had been growing, hopes of installing a modern governmental system were dashed with the accession of the de facto president, General Chun Doo-hwan, who reinstated martial law, placing troops on the streets on the pretext of a possible North Korean invasion. In an event known as the Gwanjgu Uprising, a long term peaceful protest led by the area’s large student population was brutally suppressed with large numbers dead or wounded by government soldiers.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, regular Joe taxi driver Kim Man-seob (Song Kang-ho) is trying to go about his everyday business and is finding all of this protesting very irritating, especially when he is forced to swerve to avoid a young man running from riot police and breaks the wing mirror on his otherwise pristine vehicle. Man-seob thinks these kids don’t know they’re born, if they’d spent time abroad like he did in Saudi Arabia, they’d know that few places are quite as nice as Korea is. A single father raising his young daughter alone, Man-seob’s major worry is money. He’s four months behind on his rent and his daughter keeps getting into fights with the landlord’s son. Actually, the rent might not be such a pressing problem seeing as Man-seob’s landlord is a close friend and colleague – close enough for him to cheekily ask to borrow the money to “pay” it so his friend’s wife will stop being so mean. When he overhears another driver boasting that he’s picked up an improbably large fare that’s exactly the same amount as the money Man-seob owes, Man-seob bluffs his way into stealing it out from under him. Man-seob, however, has not stopped to consider why a foreigner wants to pay him an insane amount of money to drive from Seoul to provincial Gwangju.

Like many in the Korea of 1980, Man-seob is a man just trying to get by. He has his private sorrows, but largely avoids thinking about the big picture. To him, the Seoul protest movement has become such normal inconvenience that he keeps cream in his car to help cope with the smell of the smoke bombs. He thinks all of this rancour is just kids out of control and will eventually blow over when order is restored.

Others feel differently. A BBC journalist relocated from Korea to Tokyo describes the situation as “tense” and avows that this time something may be about to break. Tokyo in 1980 is a nice place to live, but extremely boring if you’re an international journalist and so German reporter Peter (Thomas Kretschmann) catches the next flight out with the intention of investigating the rumours of state sponsored violence coming out Gwangju.

Though Man-seob’s original motivation is the money, the events he witnesses in Gwangju have a profound effect on the way he sees his country. Bypassing roadblocks and sneaking into a city under lockdown, Man-seob and Peter witness acts of extreme violence as the army deploys smoke grenades, beatings, and bullets on a peaceful assembly of ordinary people. Prior to the military’s intervention, the atmosphere is joyful and welcoming. The people of Gwangju dance and sing, share meals with each other, and all are excited about the idea of real social change. This juxtaposition of joy and kindness with such brutal and uncompromising cruelty eventually awakens Man-seob’s wider consciousness, forcing him to rethink some early advice he gave to his daughter concerning her difficult relationship with the little boy next-door to the effect that non-reaction is often the best reaction.

Rather than focus on the Uprising itself, Joon presents it at ground level through the eyes of the previously blind Man-seob and the jaded Peter. Inspired by real events though heavily fictionalised (despite a search which continued until his death, Peter was never able to discover the true identity of the taxi driver who had helped him), A Taxi Driver (택시 운전사, Taxi Woonjunsa) is a testament to the everyman’s historical importance which, even if occasionally contrived, speaks with a quiet power in the gradual reawakening of a self-centred man’s sense of honour and personal responsibility.


A Taxi Driver was screened as the sixth teaser for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival 2017. Tickets for the next and final film, The Villainess which screens along with the official programme launch at Regent Street Cinema on 11th September, are on sale now.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Missing (미씽: 사라진 여자, E Oni, 2016)

missing posterReview of E Oni’s Missing (미씽: 사라진 여자, Missing: Sarajin Yeoja) first published by UK Anime Network.


Since ancient times drama has had a preoccupation with motherhood and a need to point fingers at those who aren’t measuring up to social expectation. E Oni’s Missing plays out like a Caucasian Chalk Circle for our times as a privileged woman finds herself in difficult circumstances only to have her precious daughter swept away from her just as it looked as if she would be lost through a series of social disadvantages. Missing is partly a story of motherhood, but also of women and the various ways they find themselves consistently misused, disbelieved, and betrayed. The two women at the centre of the storm, desperate mother Ji-sun (Uhm Ji-won) and her mysterious Chinese nanny Han-mae (Gong Hyo-jin) are both in their own ways tragic figures caught in one frantic moment as a choice is made on each of their behalves which will have terrible, unforeseen and irreversible consequences.

Ji-sun is a busy woman. Recently divorced from her philandering doctor husband, Ji-sun is in the middle of a nasty custody battle over her daughter, Da-eun, which she has technically already lost though refuses to concede. Seeing as Ji-sun is barely ever at home (and when she is, she’s often still working), Chinese nanny, Han-mae is on hand to help her out. Han-mae’s Korean is imperfect, but she’s good with Da-eun and seems to have the knack for calming both the little one and her mum.

Other than the custody battle heating up as Ji-sun’s mother-in-law is intent on getting her grand-daughter away from her son’s awful former wife, Ji-sun’s life was functioning pretty well, all things considered. When she comes home one day and realises Han-mae and Da-eun aren’t around she’s a little put out but assumes they’re just delayed, have stopped off with friends, or are off somewhere having a lovely time without her. When they haven’t comeback by nightfall Ji-sun starts to worry.

Missing does its best not to judge either of the women. Though there is the subtle criticism of Ji-sun’s parental absenteeism, it’s largely manifested through her own feelings of guilt and fear as she’s placed in the difficult position of unexpected, middle-aged single parenthood. Divorced from her cold-hearted, selfish, lothario of a husband, Ji-sun would have needed to get a high paying job and maintain a middle class lifestyle to have any hope of keeping her daughter though the need to maintain both of those things would necessarily mean that she won’t be able to spend a lot of time with her child. Torn between the need to prove she can support herself alone and the need to play a fuller role in her daughter’s life, Ji-sun is understanably squeezed from both ends and left with little choice about any of it.

The problems both she and Han-mae face are those of an inherently sexist and intolerant society which forces them to prove themselves as women and judges them harshly when it believes they’ve deviated from the expected course. Ji-sun’s bosses make overtly sexist comments towards her, exclaiming that this is why they “don’t like employing mothers”, the police don’t want to believe her kidnap story because she’s just another hysterical woman, and her ex-husband knows he can take their daughter simply because he’s a man with a good job and a ready home.

Han-mae’s life has been darker and crueller, though hers is a greater struggle as she finds herself in an even lower status through being non-Korean and having poor language skills. Language skills are something she’s actively been denied in order to keep her from trying to escape a life of serfdom but in any case Han-mae’s prospects are not good. Ji-sun’s investigations take her to some very dark places as she searches for her child and begins to understand the reasons why she was taken. As a mother, as woman, and as a human being it is impossible to not to understand why Han-mae’s story ends the way it does, but it’s also impossible to not acknowledge a degree of unwittingly complicity in her ongoing suffering.

The last scene brings us unwelcomely back to that early debate surrounding the true mother and the unbreakable bond between a parent and a child, solving a complex problem neatly and smoothing it over with the gloss of emotion. Early on in the courtroom, Ji-sun says she’d do whatever it it took to keep her daughter, even run away with her if she had to. Later she says so again to a shady guy in a police cell who has more idea of what “anything” might mean, but Ji-sun was already doing quite a lot for Da-eun in running herself ragged just for the right to be near her. Neither Ji-sun or Han-mae were in any way at fault in the series of events which brought them to this point, a decision was made for them which was to have terrible, irreversible consequences. The two women are victims of the same oppressive social codes, but life is very different for each of them and if Ji-sun had been guilty of anything at all it was a blinkered way of living in which women like Han-mae are a barely visible presence except when needed to fulfil their allotted role.


Reviewed as part of a series of teaser screenings for the London Korean Film Festival 2017 the next of which, Queen of Walking, takes place at Regent Street Cinema on 22nd May 2017 at 7.30pm.

Original trailer (English subtitles)