Having gone through all of the main sections, here a few more retrospectives and sidebars that seem particularly worthwhile:
A respected Korean production house that has consistently fought to give cineastes freedom in their craft, Myung Films sports one of the best filmographies in the business and it is no surprise that they should be the subject of a retrospective at a major Korean festival, especially as studios are growing more and more powerful and increasingly shying away from auteurs, many of whom have now embarked on international careers. Eight of their best films will be screened later this month and all of them come highly recommended:
Though known for later works like A Bittersweet Life (2005), The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008) and I Saw the Devil (2010), Kim Jee-woon's debut feature is one of the best examples of Korean cinema from the beginning of its boom period. This dark-comedy about a family-run lodge and the unfortunate deaths of its guests features a stellar cast, including Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, 2003) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, 2003), and was followed by a Japanese remake from Takashi Miike called The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001).
Another early film starring Choi Min-sik, Happy End is the antidote to the often overly-saccharine and maudlin melodramas that come out of Korea (though I do love these too). Featuring a career-making turn from Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine, 2007) and another great performance from Choi, this dark film about a man who knows his wife is cheating on her and isn't sure what to do about it remains one of the best Korean films of the late 1990s.
Being the first Kim Ki-duk film I saw, The Isle occupies a special place for me. This film about a young woman who runs an out of the way fishing resort is not for the thin-skinned. It's seemingly cold and gratuitous violence, not to mention its latent misogyny (though this is debatable), have put off many a viewer but it's austere beauty and surprising elegance have also won it, and its director, a legion of fans.
A one-time holder of the all-time Korean box office crown, the debut film of Park Chan-wook is a frank, magnificent and altogether engaging tale of camaraderie in the face of absurdity on the front line of the perpetual animosity between the broken sides of the Korean peninsula. Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun (I Saw the Devil), Shin Ha-gyun (Save the Green Planet, 2003) all give wonderful performances in what has endured to become a classic of Korean cinema. It doesn't have the stylistic excess or bizarreness of his later work but Park proved that he was a supremely gifted helmer on the strength of this taught and perfectly plotted thriller.
The only film in this retrospective I haven't seen is one that has been on my to watch list for some time. It has a stellar cast, including Ryoo Seung-beom (Crying Fist, 2005), Hwang Jeong-min (The Unjust, 2010) and Oh Gwang-ok (Night Fishing, 2011) and is an early work from a director who has become more and more impressive as time has worn on, her most recent work, Rolling Home With a Bull, being one of my favorite films from 2010.
Im is a controversial director whose mordant, erotic and often rancorous films have divided viewers. Personally I find him fascinating but much of his work has fallen short for me. Save for A Good Lawyer's Wife, his most perfectly realized film starring two of the country's best actors on their A-game, Moon So-ri (Oasis, 2002) and Hwang Jeong-min. The film is both corrosive and lyrical and unlike some of his latter work, it does show that Im has some heart.
Once again staring two of my favorite Korean actors, Ryoo Seung-beom and Hwang Jeong-min, Bloody Tie may not be one of the very best Korean gangster films, such accolades should be reserved for A Dirty Carnival (2006), A Bittersweet Life (2005), Rough Cut (2008) and their ilk, but it is nevertheless a superb slice of genre entertainment whose routine narrative is more than compensated for by its magnetic leads.
Ah yes, the romcom, there had to be one (this is Korean cinema after all)! Cyrano Agency may not be My Sassy Girl (2001) but it is one of better offerings of the genre from the last few years and it serves to remind audiences that romcoms have so much potential and can appeal to both genders. Hollywood cinema has sullied what used to be a beautiful form of cinema. Who will ever forget Bringing Up Baby (1939) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Cyrano Agency doesn't reach those heights but it certainly heads in the right direction.
I am particularly excited for this sidebar which features six comedies from the 1970s, which served to brighten up the day during a very dark period for South Korea. Earlier this year Darcy Paquet (koreanfilm.org
) programmed the magnificent Darkest Decade: 1970s Korean Cinema during the Udine Far East Film Festival which I was lucky to take in in its entirety. I don't expect the films in this program to reach the same level of quality but for any cinephiles in search of something rare you can't do a whole better than this. I have not heard of any of these films and I can't even find any information about them but I am very keen to check out Outlaw on a Donkey
, an early 70s Korean Western Parody.
In any case I'll be doing my best to watch as many of these as I can!
There is still plenty on offer besides what James and I have covered. I hope to dip into a few of the other programs, such as:
- A broad selection of genre shorts from around the world and one of the signature sections of the festival.
And there's still more, including some special screenings, such as The Shining (1980), open air screenings and more!
So, so much and so little time. It makes me sad actually since I know I'll only be able to watch a small portion of the full program. Anyway, time to get excited! Things get underway next Thursday with the Opening Ceremony, which will be attended by Ha Jung-woo, Ha Ji-won and Lee He-joon among others and the Opening film Horror Stories. We'll be doing one more preview here at ScreenAnarchy where James and I will offer our picks just ahead of the fest!