(Photo Courtesy: Director Kim Han-kyul)
The London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) boasted a host of cinematic treats including the grand opener Arrow (Kim Han-min, 2011) the acclaimed Sunny (Kang Hyeong-cheol, 2011) and a retrospective collection of Ryoo Seung-wan's movies, not to mention the bonus of a performance from much-adored K-pop legends Shinee. While these big events drew in the masses and were obvious crowd pleasers, there was a lot more to the festival than blockbusters and heartthrobs.
For me, the standout screening was the Mise-en-scene Korean Shorts programme. Born from a Korean initiative to produce new films "beyond the barrier of genre", this diverse bill of shorts, all of which were released in 2011, took London on a magical mystery tour through Korean cinema. From a late-"Night Fishing" lake to a ritualistic funeral, from a criminal's hideout to a typically alcohol-filled café, and from a school hall to a run-down motel, Mise-en-scene Korean Shorts unveiled many previously unseen facets of K-film to mainstream-movie-loving audiences. And what could have been better to attract their attention than "Night Fishing"?
Unsurprisingly, "Night Fishing", the highly anticipated "iPhone" short from K-cinema hero Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong is a strange, enjoyable and thought-provoking short. Possibly everything else about it is surprising, though.
The opening sequence is a surreal and mesmerising introduction courtesy of K-indie band UhUhBoo Project, whom we find standing in the countryside, dressed in weird, exaggerated black outfits and singing a folksy tune. What follows is a series of bizarre scenarios for us to piece together. We expect a story of what happened to one man when he went fishing, and maybe a few spooky twists along the way. Instead, we get an insight into ancient shamanistic rituals, and the way they are still performed to this day, combined with an exploration of the universal theme of tragic loss.
The "narrative" flits between two worlds; one of night, darkness and uncertainty, inhabited by our empathetic fisherman/ family-man protagonist Gi-suk, and one of colour, light and brightness, populated with family members and filled with movement and emotion. The two are segued with an ambiguously freaky and mysterious dead / ghost / shaman-girl, the sound of whose ritualistic bells shaking still rings in my head.
In many ways, "Night Fishing" is signature "Park:" off-the-wall, awesome, affecting, impeccably directed and acted, with essences of horror and mysticism. Yet this is a truly experimental film, and would be even if not filmed on an iPhone. The memorable visual image of a shaman's hat blowing in the wind epitomises its entirety in its beauty, curiousness and folklore-steeped connotations. So here we find yet another essential addition to Korean cinema from Mr Park Chan-wook.
As though "Night Fishing" wasn't delightful enough, its concept also inspired LKFF to hold a (very) short film competition. The only rules were that entries be no longer than one minute long, and of course, be shot entirely on a mobile phone. This inspired Londoners to get imaginative, allowed us to be practically involved and gave us a platform to show off our work. Yes, the seven "short"-listed masterpieces were shown on the big screen, directly after "Night Fishing". If that's not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I don't know what is!
The LKFF's description of "Ghost - Short" as "a fantasy, supernatural film about a strange man that lives in an abandoned building" is somewhat misleading - this makes it sound like some kind of sci-fi experience or else a ghost story. You'd be very disappointed if this is what you were looking for, but not if you were after a very cleverly constructed and somewhat disturbing exploration of a reclusive, perverted and criminal character.
We piece his story together through inventive visual and aural images, including some old chicken bones coming to life as a puppet-like mini-character, colliding inappropriately with images of children playing. We find ourselves laughing in delight at the charming animation, and then feeling sickened with ourselves for having done so. Exactly what the guy is guilty of is never clarified, only to magnify the unpleasant taste left in the mouth by "Ghost - Short".
Not only is Ghost expertly shot, edited and executed, it also dares to delve into the very darkest cracks of society and makes us feel uncomfortable enough to question what we think we know about those who move outside the realms of the norm.
"Chatter" (20 mins)
(Photo Courtesy: Director Kim Han-kyul)
Dir: Kim Han-kyul
Starring: Jae-hong, Seu Jung-hyun, Jung Da-won, Bae Yoo-ram, We Joo-kyun, Choi Min-young, Jung Ji-hyung
Speaking of the norm, "Chatter" is an ultra-realistic, ultra-naturalistic comedy / drama with bags of appeal. It focuses on a group of youths meeting up for food, drink and, inevitably, a chat. The title has a double-meaning though, as the referential "chatter" is also the gossip and backchat that goes on amongst the group. Reminiscent of a stage play, "Chatter" is dialogue-driven and steeped in dramatic irony.
The short uses familiar yet stereotypical characters to deconstruct the circles that we all move in, and the ways we interact with each other. There's also a running social commentary on modern-day Korean culture, including attitudes towards homosexuality, gender roles and societal hierarchy.
The beauty of this film is the way that not that much actually happens, yet so much does. Anyone who's had a messy, argumentative, alcohol-fuelled evening will understand and enjoy "Chatter"'s interplay, humour, and message. And let's face it, that's most of us!
The somewhat unlikely title and subject matter of "The Recorder Exam" simply adds to its breathtakingly emotive effect. We are thrust into the life of nine-year-old Eun-hee in the events leading up to the most important day of her life so far.
It doesn't take long for us to realise that the exam in question isn't all that's on her mind - it's not easy being a young girl living in rural Korea. Firstly there are the issues of finding it hard to fit in at school, being punished by teachers, and feeling the pressure to study hard. Then on top of that, despite a troublesome brother and the fact that that no one at home understands her interest in recorder-playing, Eun-hee has to keep up with and conform to family values.
The pains of childhood being something every human being can relate to, we invest a lot in Eun-hee, and find ourselves truly rooting for her. Inevitably, tears are shed (and are again now, just from thinking about it!) This is testament to some of the best child acting I have ever seen, matched by a captivating supporting cast. As a viewer you have to be willing to commit to "The Recorder Exam", but it will be so worth it.
The programme ended with a bang: the action-packed, down-and-dirty "Broken Night". Moving back into Korea's criminal underworld, this is a thrilling tale of intertwined and conflicting wrong-doings. The action spirals from a car / moped crash between a road accident fraudster, and a conspiring couple of opportunists who plan to bribe him for their own gain.
It's impossible to like any of the lowlife characters, but when the seriousness of the repercussions of their actions comes to light, we can't help but sympathise. Their selfishness, ruthlessness and almost-guiltlessness throw questions of karma and morality into the mix.
If you like serious and gritty action, this is for you. To be honest, though, "Broken Night" was the only short on the bill that I was a bit disappointed with. For me, it promised a little more than it delivered, and took itself too seriously to be any fun. Yet other audience members highlighted it as a fave.
That's exactly what I loved about Mise-en-scene Korean Shorts. The programme took the audience on a journey of films so diverse, it would be impossible for anyone to love every minute of every one, yet it provided something for everyone. We were able to pick out favourites and least favourites, and were encouraged to consider and dissect every film with care and honesty. It's amazing to think how each of the short films evoked such strong reactions, lasting impressions and deep emotions in just a matter of minutes.
Since LKFF, I've discovered other Korean shorts including vampire comedy-horror "Metamorphoses" (Oh Inchun, 2011) and zombie drama "Mother I Love You" (Hong Young-geun, 2009). As I continue to be impressed by the originality, creativity and depth of Korean short films, I'll eagerly continue to seek them out. If you're looking for some refreshing, modern and top-quality film-making, you should definitely do the same.
Annie Cole lives in South London, UK, but her heart and soul remain in Korea. After returning from a teaching year in 2009, she began to record her memories, thoughts and reviews on various blogs. She is a vegetarian foodie and a lover of horror films, indie culture, modern art, interesting literature, kooky fashion and anything cutesie. She has made it her mission to seek out, enjoy and share all things London/Korean.
Updated Korean Box Office for the Week-end 2012.05.11 ~ 2012.05.13
The number one movie this week is "Marvel's The Avengers",...More
New Competition Reality Show For The Next Global K-Pop Idol Star
Despite seeing a slight hiccup along the way over visa issues for international contestants, the b,...More
Girls' Generation, KARA, Wonder Girls -- Most Popular Groups Awarded Hangul URLs
Hangul Smart Domain Organization, which is the group that provides URL addresses in the Korean lan,...More
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads (not for episodes) for US$2.99 per month (you can cancel anytime).
The first step is to sign up as a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show.