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Korean Films Shine at PIFF

2007/10/16 Source

The twelfth annual Pusan International Film Festival was a bountiful showcase for Korean films. Joining the international competition were many types of Korean films, including: big budget, independent, experimental, documentary, short, and re-mastered classics. The struggling Korean film industry seemed alive and well at the festival where audience enthusiasm and quality films encouraged hope for a vibrant future.

Some Korean films in the festival had already played in Korean theaters earlier in the year. These films were of notable merit and they were able to gain more international recognition by playing in the festival. These films included: "Secret Sunshine", "Breath", "Beyond the Years", "Soo", "Hwang Jin Yi" and "The Show Must Go on".

Lee Chang-dong, the acclaimed director of "Secret Sunshine", explained a few of his methods. Korean films often include scenes with a crying actor but Lee Chang-dong "doesn't like fake tears. Tears should be real, so often times it is hard to get realistic tears after the first take. Usually I use the first or last take and sometimes I only shoot one take". He also explained how he finds actors "on a case by case basis", not because he has certain actors he wants to work with. He allows his actors much freedom in creating their characters and he feels that the most important thing for making a good movie is "an interesting story". "I am not Christian, so the idea for Secret Sunshine just came to me by observing the world around me".

Another director who made a film by observing the world around him was Korean-American Director, Michael Kang. His latest film, "West 32nd" , is a riveting look into the world of Korean-American gangsters in New York. "I wanted to make a film that showed all of the different types of kyopo (Koreans living outside of Korea), from immigrants just off of the boat to second generation Korean-Americans who feel removed from Korean culture". The film is truly the first of its kind, showing the Korean-American experience with a feeling of homage to Korean culture and clearly to Korean gangster films.

Also gaining attention at the festival was the heavily anticipated Korean film",M" . Crowds of screaming fans waited outside the press conference and hundreds lined up early in the morning to get a chance to scrap up any remaining tickets. The film went over well and created quite a buzz at the festival. It should have a solid run in Korean theaters next month if this is any indication.

Among other Korean titles that will soon reach Korean theaters, were the films "Spare" and "Hello, Stranger" . "Spare" is a delightful, tongue-in-cheek take on the international gangster scene. A Japanese gangster tries to bring a man, who is wanted by the Korean mafia, out of Korea in order to transplant his kidney for his dying father. The film does a nice job of mixing action and laughs and even includes a hilarious voice over by supposed know-it-all audience members. "Hello, Stranger" is a poignant film about a North Korean defector who finds himself lost in South Korea. The first half of the film shows his bafflement as he adjusts to South Korea, where the second half shows that he is already even more adjusted than a Vietnamese man he meets. He goes from the confused wanderer to the leader as he helps the Vietnamese friend find his old girlfriend. This film provides a window into the outsider's perspective of modern Korea and it is sure to provoke thoughts of the problems created by the prolonged reunification of the peninsula.

These two films, although totally different genres, both emphasize the theme of miscommunication between opposing languages. Both films include oddly similar scenes where two people speak to each other in different languages and wrong assumptions are made. The scenes are quite funny in both films, but the similarity cannot be overlooked. Other Korean films at the festival also had themes of miscommunication between cultures and this may be pointing to a larger issue that modern filmmakers are facing in the globalizing world.

The Asian Film Market, which was held alongside the festival, showed that international co-productions are becoming a bigger part of the Asian film industry. The film industries of Asia are still quite young in terms of infrastructure and as they grow they will begin to rely more and more on foreign sales. Korea seems to be leading the way for Asian cinema these days and a successful festival like PIFF validates their growth. The grandfather of Korean Cinema, Im Kwon-taek, whose hundredth film, "Beyond the Years" , graced the festival, said that "Korea's growing talent pool is gaining more experience, so they will be the solid base for the future of Korean cinema". The Korean films at PIFF may be just what the doctor ordered for the Korean film industry, a fresh crop whose shine may resonate.

Josh Hoffman(KOFIC)

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