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Korean Films at the 59th Cannes Film Festival

2006/05/09 | 597 views | Permalink | Source

Yoon Jong-bin
The Unforgiven in Un Certain Regard

First-time feature director Yoon Jong-bin makes his international debut in the Un Certain Regard at this year's Cannes. His film is about two boyhood friends who meet during their mandatory military service and later experience the tragic consequences of habitual violence in the army. With its steady and non-self-indulgent approach to drama, the film made its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival to accolades from critics and audiences alike, garnering invitations from the world's most prestigious festivals.

The Unforgiven was originally 27 year-old Yoon Jong-bin's graduation film from the Film Studies Department at Chung-Ang University, based on his experiences while serving in the army himself. "Every Korean man that does military service has experiences like this", says Yoon, referringto the bullying and violence. "It's not a special story. If you are a man and live in Korean society, you can't live apart from military service, even after you are discharged. No one really talks about what happens much, so I decided to make it into a film". Although not a special story, it is told with a unique sort of irony and a subtle feel for absurd situations.

Yoon Jong-bin shot the film over a month during a summer vacation and another during winter vacation on a shoestring budget which included prize money from Korea's Mis-en-scene's Genres Film Festival, a Pre-production Support Fund from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), and personal funds that he put together "just like any other film student".

He met lead actor Ha Jung-woo - who plays the superior that tries to protect his friend in the army - after seeing him in a play. Seo Jang-won, who plays the problematic subordinate, was introduced to him through an acquaintance. Yoon himself plays the newcomer that is trained by SEO in the film. The three belatedly found out they were all from the same university, one known for its drama and film departments.

With so little time and money for production, Yoon took advantage of the time before and in between shoots to do a great deal of pre-production work. Because the actors had their own busy schedules and the film's locations weresometimes hard to access one of them was a real army base with strict rules - Yoon went to the sites during pre-production and shot scenes from the script with his crew on video. "I would take the videos back to the actors and talk with them about different ways to do things", says Yoon. Once they got on set, they would change things andcould get more creative, but they were also prepared in advance - something Yoon found helps the creative process and plans to continue doing in the future.

When The Unforgiven was shown at his department's graduation screenings, a professor, Lee Hyun-seung - also a director himself of films like Il Mare, invited Choi Yong-bae, CEO of established production and distribution company Chungeorahm Films, to see Yoon's film. Although it was just a student's graduation film, Choiimmediately decided to give it theatrical distribution and funded post-production including a 35mm blow-up.

As an independent arthouse film, The Unforgiven saw modest box office profits, but Choi says he took it on because of the potential he saw in young Yoon Jong-bin. "I wanted to make use of all the personal networks and resources I have to help him", says Choi. They are now working on Yoon's second film together, to be produced by Chungeorahm Films.

Citing Hong Sang-soo, Martin Scorcese, and Kim Ki-duk as influences, Yoon says, "I like shooting on site the most - the joy of discovery you get as you try different things and put them on film". Right now, he's working on the script of his yet-to-be-divulged his second feature, working towards the day he is back on site shooting.


Bong Joon-ho
The Host in Directors' Fortnight

In the Directors' Fortnight selection "The Host" , a mutant creature emerges along the banks of the Han River in Seoul, and a concessions stand owner, played by Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, JSA - Joint Security Area), is pitted against the creature with his quirky little band of a family to get back his abducted daughter.

The father is "not retarded, but has what could be called subtle differences with a normal person",says director Bong Joon-ho. Nor is the rest of his family of younger siblings quite normal. "They are cynical about one another, don'tget along very well, but still depend on one another, making them more realistic and more of a Korean family".

The director doesn't see much drama in perfectly normal, well-to-do people. He deliberately thought of what could be the furthest from the Hollywood-style creature-fighting experts in most monster films, and portrayed how sad and human this family's desperate struggle is against the mutant creature.

So "The Host" is no regular sci-fi monster movie. From the director of the thriller Memories of Murder and wry black comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, it goes without saying that however conventional the genre might appear, it could easily be turned on its ear. Bong jokingly tries to insist that "The Host" "is a thoroughly commercial popcorn film", but no one really believes him - although they may have faith in the box office admissions it will clock up, based on the hit status of Memories of Murder. Bong is known for taking accepted genres and adding unusual social and political commentary, with a wry humor and irony running through it all.

Bong's second film Memories of Murder was based on a true story of serial killings that happened in the Korean countryside during the 80s' military dictatorship. It confused a handful of foreign viewers unaware of the context of the film, but otherwise delighted those who knew not to expect a whodunit and who reveled in the intense psycho-drama and social irony portrayed in the film. An edifying film, Memories of Murder became the top hit of 2003 in Korea, taking in 5.2 million admissions nationwide. The film was awarded at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, and was likewise invited to many others.

His first film, Barking Dogs Never Bite, about a man driven to drop a dog off the rooftop of an apartment, and the young woman who is on a mission to find the mysteriouslymissing dog for its owner, was also invited to the San Sebastian International Film Festival, as well as others including the Rotterdam film festival and the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival.

Having fantasized about this Han River creature film since high school, Bong Joon-ho got the chance to make it after talking with producer Choi Yong-bae, head of Chungeorahm Films. They agreed it would be critical to have a realistic monster, but found no one in Korea had yet accrued the skill and experience to handle a project such as "The Host" .

So they went abroad and worked with New Zealand's Weta Workshop, which designed the creatures in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series and King Kong, and John Cox's Creature Workshop, which includes the pig series Babe and Peter Pan in its filmography. Bong Joon-ho worked closely with them to design a realistic-looking water mutant which became characterized not by terrifying horror, but a more human personality that was neverthelessdominated by brutal and heinous violence.

The crowning visual effects were done by The Orphanage, a California-based firm that did VFX for Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy, as well as Zhang Yimou's Hero. Visual effects supervisor Kevin Rafferty, who worked on Star Wars Episode 1 and Jurassic Park started collaborating with Bong from the pre-production stage.

In the end, Rafferty and his San Francisco-based team of 60 worked on about 100 shots of the creature, with Bong and his Seoul-based production crew going over them nearly every night to check, change, and confirm everything down to the details of skin color and tail movements. "It was almost like making two different films",says Bong. One live action drama, and another 3D computer-generated one. "It was exhausting. We didn't have any problems with language or cultural differences, but the time differences and matching up office hours were what was hardest".

However, all that's done now, and Bong Joon-ho's boyhood fantasy has become reality on the big screen, to be seen in Cannes.

A great admirer of Kim Ki-young and Alfred Hitchcock, Bong Joon-ho says he humbly appreciatesit when critics call him an auteur, but that he has yet to find his stride in a genre or style that he thinks he can excel in. "I haven't found out what I do well yet. When I do, I'll keep doing just that, but until then?

Eom Hye-jeong
Home Sweet Home in the International Critics' Week's Special Program of Short Flms

Eom Hye-jeong's Home Sweet Home is in the International Critics' Week's special short film program this year at Cannes. Inspired by news articles about family suicides in Korea and Japan that were spurred on by bankruptcy, the film tries to humanize the dead as having memories and feelings the same way the living do.

A graduate of the School of Film and Multimedia at the Korean National University of Arts (KNUA), UM shot her film on a budget of $17,000, using 35mm film and school equipment. Her funds included family support and $3,000 in post-production support from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

"I knew I wouldn't be able to repay the cast and crew with much money", says UM. "But I made the promise to them that the production would be enjoyable, and that once the film was made, I would make sure to get it out to as many audiences as possible". The film thus went to almost 20 different festivals, including the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. It won the Jury's Grand Prix and the French Critics' Discovery Prize at the 29th Rencontres Internationales Henri Langlois Festival, qualifying it for a special screening at the Cannes Critics' Week.

Notably, actor Dong Bang-woo (Resurrection of the Little Match Girl) played the lead role of the father. Well-known in Korea for his film, theater, and television performances as well as having produced Lee Chang-dong's "Oasis" and Peppermint Candy, Myeong has often been a patron of student short films, acting in them for almost nothing whenever a good script was given to him.

Originally an award-winning cinematography major with an MFA and an MA from KNUA, UM says directing her own shorts has lent her a better understanding of filmmaking, and feels it will help her when working with directors in future. She is currently working on pre-production of a feature film as cinematographer.

As for her directing career? "Later on, when I am older and know more about the world", she says, commenting that the kind of films she would like to make would require more experience and wisdom. In the meantime, she still finds cinematography fascinating and enjoyable.

Jean NOH

* This article is on the Korean Film Observatory, quarterly magazine published by Korean Film Council, Cannes Special Edition, no. 18.
** Jean NOH is the Korea correspondent for film industry magazine and writes here in an independent capacity.

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