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Highs, Lows for Korean Films at Cannes Fest

2005/05/24 Source

By Paolo Bertolin
Contributing Writer

CANNES, France - Registering a record presence of six full-length features invited to all official selections and one short competing in the Cinefondation, Korean cinema was set to fete another great year at the outset of the 58 th Cannes Film Festival.

However, the response from the juries, as well as from international critics, buyers and audiences proved not to match with the great expectations created by sheer numbers and the many renowned names involved.

Hong Sang-soo's "Tale of Cinema" (Kukjangjon), Korea's lone entry to the competition section of the event, failed to raise enthusiasm among international critics, and even his hardcore supporters, the French, did not stand up in his defense, as they did last year for "Woman is the Future of Man". The newspaper Lib eration went so far as to call the film " unworthy of the Korean filmmaker".

Regardless of the achievement of his latest work, Hong's sincere commitment to filmmaking was without question. "I am convinced that every man needs a passion", he said during the news conference. "To me cinema is a motor, but also an addiction. It helps me to live".

Earlier in the festival, which ended Saturday, Kim Ki-duk's latest "The Bow" had the honor to play as curtain raiser of Un Certain Regard, a non-competition section. However, the 12th feature by the director, who won two consecutive Best Director awards in Berlin and Venice, was met with lukewarm reviews.

On the festival daily published by Screen International , Lee Marshall ascribed "The Bow" to the weaker "Island" tendency of Kim's filmography, including the likes of "The Isle" and "The Coast Guard", as opposed to the more compelling "city" stream of "Samaria" and "3-Iron". Despite the critical letdown, sales company Cineclick Asia registered hefty business on the film, finalizing distribution deals with more than ten territories, including France, Italy, the UK, Mexico, Russia and Israel.

On the other hand, Lim Sang Soo's controversial "The President's Last Bang", which was shown in the Director's Fortnight, was met with general praise. Derek Elley in Variety 's daily tagged the film as a "ramped-down Korean version of " Doctor Strangelove"' and described it as a "virtuoso slice of sustained black humor".

Dan Fainaru in Screen International labeled Lis film as an "Asian modern version of Julius Caesar, in which, quite appropriately, action speaks louder than words", predicting "a healthy festival life for this well-rounded drama". MK Pictures quickly sold the film to French distributor CIPA, which earlier this year released Im's previous "A Good Lawyer's Wife".

Also screening at the Directors' Fortnight, "Crying Fist" (Jumeoki Woonda) by Ryoo Seung-wan, was the only Korean film to grab a prize, the International Critics Award for non-official selections.

At the Critic's Week section, Chinese-Korean coproduction "Grain in Ear", a sophomore entry by Zhang Lu, centered on a Chinese-Korean woman illegally selling kimchi in a village on the border of China and North Korean.

At the end of the day, the Korean film gaining widest recognition in Cannes was undeniably Kim Jee-woon's lavish noir "A Bittersweet Life". The film, which premiered in an out-of-competition midnight screening, the film was hailed as "a tour de force of noirish style and Korean ultra-violence that will have genre fans nailed to their seats" by Derek Elley, who recognized "strong chances as a cult item".

At the press conference, "A Bittersweet Life" star Lee Byung-hun, who was in Cannes for the first time, joked about the famed "Montee des Marches", the climb of red-carpeted stairs leading to the Palais of the Festival: "I am training every day on the stairs of my hotel".

"A Bittersweet Life" sold to Studio Canal for France, Nippon Herald/Pony Canyon for Japan, and Lucky Red for Italy.

At the market screenings, CJ Entertainment paired "A Bittersweet Life" with a trailer of Park Chan-wook's "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". The third segment of Park's trilogy on revenge shaped as a hot sale with international buyers and is already foreboded as a surefire contender for Venice Festival.

Other significant market activity concerning upcoming Korean productions include Korea Pictures' agreements with UK, Japan, Russia, Portugal, Indonesia, Benelux and Greece distributors racked up on a 6-minutes trailer of Lee Myung-se's actioner "Duelist", Cineclick Asia's selling of horror "Red Shoes" to UK, Italy and Taiwan, and Show East's finalization of deals with France, Vietnam and Thailand on another prospected candidate to Venice Festival, Heo Jin-ho's eagerly anticipated "April Snow".

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