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Korean Presence Strong at 57th Berlin Film Festival

2007/02/06 Source

By Paolo Bertolin
Contributing Writer

ROME _ After a year when they were excluded from the three main international competitions _ Cannes, Venice, Berlin _ Korean films are set for a dramatic comeback on the international festival circuit in 2007. While new efforts by directors Lee Chang-dong and Im Kwon-taek are already highly touted for a slot in Cannes' competition in May, the official press conference for the Berlinale, which took place on Jan. 30, nine South Korean productions and co-productions in the event's lineup.

Leading the cohort is Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK", which will be running for the festival's highest recognition, the Golden Bear. It will be interesting to note the response of Western critics and audiences to Park's latest, especially in the wake of the weak response it got on its home turf. A stark departure from his brand-making vengeance trilogy, Park's romantic fantasy set in a psychiatric ward was regarded as a lesser achievement by domestic critics and failed to excite audiences, resulting in Park's worst performance at the box office since 2002's "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance". "I'm a Cyborg But That's OK" will mark Park's second time in Berlin competition, as he already participated in 2001 with "JSA - Joint Security Area".

The Korean-French co-production "Desert Dream" by Zhang Lu is also invited to the main competition. Director Zhang, a Chinese of Korean ethnic background whose new offering is set in Mongolia, won the New Currents Award at the 10th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) with the film "Grain in Ear" in 2005.

Representing the Republic of Korea in the Panorama selection are no less than three features: Lee Jae-yong's "Dasepo Girl", Hong Sang-soo's "Woman on the Beach" and Lee Song-hee-il's "No Regret". Based on a popular comic series, E's colorful comedy premiered in Korea last summer but did not gather the support of the director's previous film "Untold Scandal".

After being unexpectedly turned away from the Venice competition, where it was originally considered as a surefire contestant, Hong's "Woman on the Beach" will finally have its European premiere in Berlin. International critics who discovered the film in Pusan greeted it as a return to form for Hong after the poorly received "Woman is the Future of Man" and "Tale of Cinema".

The first feature length film by Lee Song-hee-il, who made his name through a series of gay shorts, "No Regret" was the hit sensation of the 11th PIFF. Claiming the title of the first real Korean gay feature, "No Regret" had around 40,000 viewers in its home release, a landmark for an independent film.

In the Forum of Young Cinema, Lee Yoon-ki's critically acclaimed "Ad-Lib Night" will make its international debut. Lee's third outing on the big screen is his second to be invited to the prestigious, independently organized sidebar. His PIFF New Current Award-winner, "This Charming Girl", screened at the forum two years ago. Also in the forum is a.k.a Nikki S. Lee a self-portrait made by the renowned Korean American artist.

Two more Korean films will compete in the children and youth section of the Berlinale: "Ice Bar" by Yeo In-kwang and "Like A Virgin" by Lee Hae-yeong and Lee Hae-joon, a quirky story of a teenager who enters a ssireum competition to gain money necessary to afford a sex change operation.

The festival will open on Feb. 8, with the world premiere of Olivier Dahan's "La Vie en Rose", a biopic of French singing muse Edith Piaf. Awards will be announced Feb. 17.

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