In this Episode: Korean Cinema in 2013…
KOFIC recently launched "Korean Cinema Today", a bimonthly podcast that's all about the wonderful world of Korean cinema. Hosted by Pierce Conran, the show features the latest Korean cinema news, features, discussions, and interviews with special guests from the industry. In this special episode, Pierce has Darcy Paquet in studio to talk about the past year's big features, their top 5 films of the year, industry trends, as well as mention some of the big period films coming our way in 2014.
"Korean Cinema Today" is only four episodes in, and so while they are still finding their feet, the show is shaping up to be another fantastic new initiative by KOFIC. The show is hosted by Pierce Conran (editor of Modern Korean Cinema, Twitch Korean film correspondent, and writer for the Korean Film Council) and thus far he has already had interviews with Kwak Gyeong-taek ("Friend 2"), Lee Cheol-ha ("Hello Orchestra"), and has Darcy Paquet (one of Korea's leading and dedicated film critics) on the show to talk about 2003 (a landmark year for Korean cinema). In this special episode Darcy joins Pierce once again to discuss the incredible year that was 2013.
TOP KOREAN FILMS OF 2013:
The two start out by sharing their thoughts on 2013, a year that "really surprised" Darcy with the level of success it achieved. 2012 was a phenomenal year for Korean films, but 2013 outplayed even its impressive numbers. Darcy notes that the Korean film "bubble" seems to just be getting bigger and bigger, and has not yet popped as some might have thought. He also shares his thoughts on why admissions are so high, mentioning that the major demographic (woman in the 30s) have now being accompanied by a much broader audience (older Koreans and more families, for example, are heading to the cinema's in notable numbers). Darcy does, however, believe that in 2014 we will see a "levelling off", saying that "gravity has to take over" at some point.
Some of big blockbusters they discuss include: "Miracle in Cell No.7", "The Berlin File", "Snowpiercer", "The Face Reader", "Secretly and Greatly". Both were rather surprised by the massive success of this year's number one film ("Miracle in Cell No. 7"); Darcy notes that although it really pulled in the crowds, it didn't really get a lot of support from critics who thought it perhaps took advanced of its material and was a little too manipulative. Pierce voiced that he was really attracted to the cast, which included some big names in Ryu Seung-ryong, Park Shin-hye, Oh Dal-soo, Park Won-sang, and the youngster Kal So-won.
Ryoo Seung-wan's "The Berlin File" was also a talk about in length, another film that divided critics (Pierce expressed his concerns over the film's English dialogue), but it did become the most commercially successful action film of 2013. Darcy tells us that Ryoo's film was well received both locally and internationally, and that it was shot mostly in Europe. The film, like all except "Miracle in Cell No.7", came short of reaching the mythical "10 million admissions mark", a figure Darcy felt was an unreasonable to hold "The Berlin File" up to given its subject matter. Still, Ryoo's action film pulled in 7.1 million to make it the fourth highest grossing Korean film of the year.
They also discussed Bong Joon-ho's French-inspired thriller "Snowpiercer", a film that, according to Darcy, was "very unique" but "could have gone either way". "Snowpiercer" spent 8 weeks in the top ten and claimed 9.3 million admissions ($63.5M). Bong's latest was almost overtaken a month later when "The Face Reader" (9.1M admissions) hit the circuit, a film that really capitalised on the Chuseok holiday (Darcy says it was the "perfect Chuseok movie"). Pierce also really enjoyed the film, calling it "very fine commercial entertainment" and "fun period romp".
The second feature by director Jang Cheol-soo ("Bedevilled") was also chatted about; a film Darcy rightfully noted was "driven by star power" as it included some "fresh face K-drama stars". The film, as Pierce highlights, was really popular and managed to break the all-time record for a single day's admissions haul. Like "The Face Reader", the film's success was discussed also in terms of its released. "Secretly and Greatly" came out in June, around the time when university students had a little more time on their hands. Darcy and Pierce also both found the Hong-Kong remake "Cold Eyes" very interesting in terms of how it managed to capture Seoul as an iconic city (compared to say New York and Hong Kong), and thought that its setting was an interesting part of the film's success.
AWARD CIRCUIT: (24:15)
In this section of the podcast Darcy and Pierce discussed some of the Korean films that were active on the festival scene. Films such as O Muel's "Jiseul", Hong Sang-soo's "Our Sunhi" and "Nobody's Daughter Haewon", Yeon Sang-ho's "The Fake", and a few others: "A lot films, a lot of awards".
Earlier in the podcast the two breifly mentioned how the thriller genre was still a big trend for producers and film companies. They pick up the topic again here, adding that the spy thrillers have also been regular feature (e.g. "The Berlin File", "Commitment", "The Suspect"). Darcy believes that although the issues of spies is part of Korea's reality with the North, the current films that have handled the issue haven't been able to get a real grip on the subject matter. He said that they're "not entirely fantasy" and are a "fact of life", but he's been largely unconvinced thus far.
KOFIC NEWS: (35:56)
This section discussed the Korean Film Council's recent move down to the coastal city of Busan, a transition that reflects the growing importance of Busan (apparently the new offices also have a great view of the main area of the Busan International Film Festival). They also outline KOIFC's interest in become more involved with China through new co-production deals and other types of industry support.
TOP TEN: (40:32)
Part of being a film journalist means producing a list of your top films of the year, and in this section Peirce probes Darcy for his. Darcy has seen 80 films this year and has narrowed his list down to "Snowpiercer", "Nobody's Daughter Haewon", "Sleepless Night", "Very Ordinary Couple", and "The Fake". Pierce had not yet finalised his own list, but has since released his top picks which can be viewed here.
Looking Forward to 2014: (48:42)
As mentioned Darcy feels that the industry will reach some form of a plateau this year. Pierce tells us that the trend of period pieces will continue into 2014, and flags a few new period yarns coming out this year to keep an eye on: "KUNDO : Age of the Rampant", "Memories of the Sword" (aka "A Touch of Zen"), "The Huntresses", "Pirates", and "Battle Of Myeongryang".
THOUGHTS ON THIS EPISODE:
This was a fantastic talk that gave a great overview of the Korean film industry's most successful year to date. Darcy is a well-respected and knowledgeable critic whose experience and insight on the industry is always highly valued, so hearing his thoughts on some of this year's top flicks here was very welcomed. We all know what Korean films are making the bucks at the box office, and so I enjoyed hearing a little more about what was happening on the festival circuits, as well as Darcy and Pierce's thoughts on this year's trends and films to look forward to in 2014. Hearing what films made Pierce and Darcy top 5 was also a treat, and they flagged some interesting films that should be worth a watch. The audio quality did drop just over halfway through the episode, but these kinds of gremlins and teething issues tend to happen. So although you may have to listen a little more carefully later on in the episode, it was not enough to detract from this great special episode from two of Korea's top journalists and critics.
The Korea Cinema Today podcast is available for free on iTunes:
Episode 2: New Direction for Korean Film Maverick
Episode 3: Korean Film Critic Darcy Paquet Reflects on 2003
Episode 4: Korean Cinema in 2013
What did you think of this episode of Korean Cinema Today? Share your thoughts with us and others in the comment section below!
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