2010: a bumper year for Korean film?

Not so long ago, the Korean film industry seemed to be in the doldrums. Darcy, Twitch and others were sounding notes of gloom that Korean cinema had lost its way. But then things picked up again, with blockbusters such as Haeundai, and new indie films such as Breathless making the headlines and bringing in the box office receipts. The big directors such as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho seem to keep coming up with new things to please the mainstream, while at the opposite end of the spectrum Kim So-yong reaches out to the international arthouse audience with Treeless Mountain.

Yoon Jeong-hee in Lee Chang-dong's Poetry
Yoon Jeong-hee in Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry

2010 seems to be shaping up to be another good year. For me, the one I’m most looking forward to is Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry. Director Lee always provides food for thought, and while more recently he came to people’s attention in the West because of Milyang when Jeon Do-yeon walked off with the Best Actress award at Cannes, he’s consistently produced films which take a long, critical look at aspects of Korean society. Like Bong Joon-ho’s Mother last year, this film features a veteran actress, 65 year old Yoon Jeong-hee (윤정희), whose most recent film before this was 15 years ago. According to the Korea Times,

Yoon plays the role of a grandmother who lives in the suburbs with her teenage grandson. Though in her 60s, she is still naïve, curious and charming like a little girl, and one day becomes immersed in the world of poetry. She begins to explore the beauty of the small things in everyday life as she builds her craft, but when a terrible, unexpected incident occurs she discovers the dark side to things

Poetry will be seen at the Cannes festival in May and, it is hoped, will appear at either the BFI London Film Festival or the London Korean Film Festival later in the year. Let’s hope also that Director Lee will be invited over to London for Q&A. We’ve had Park Chan-wook in London at least twice recently. Surely it’s Lee Chang-dong’s turn this year.

Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Jeong-jae in Im Sang-soo's Housemaid remake
Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Jeong-jae in Im Sang-soo’s Housemaid remake

Another exciting 2010 release is the remake of Kim Ki-young’s Housemaid. The original is a tough act to follow, but with Im Sang-soo directing, and Jeon Do-yeon starring, there’s a chance that even traditionalists will not be too disappointed. Also starring Lee Jeong-jae, the stills from this film look promising. It will be appearing in the Cannes Palme D’Or competition alongside Poetry.

Kang Soo-yeon and Park Joong-hoon with director Im Kwon-taek
Kang Soo-yeon and Park Joong-hoon with director Im Kwon-taek

The prolific Im Kwon-taek continues his exploration of Korea’s cultural heritage in his 101st film. We’ve had pansori in Seopyeonje and Cheonnyeonhak, painting in Chihwaseon, and now Korean paper (hanji) in Scooping up the Moonlight (달빛 길어올리기). According to the Korea Times, Park Joong-hoon stars as a middling civil servant who applies for a hanji-related project in hopes of a promotion but becomes obsessed with the beauty of hanji. Kang Soo-yeon plays the role of a documentary filmmaker who meets him while working on a story about the traditional art. While the theme of traditional culture might be a familiar one for Director Im, this is his first attempt at digital cinema.

Ha Ha Ha
Ha Ha Ha. Is there a Hong Sang-soo film which DOESN’T have a still with two characters facing each other over a few bottles of soju?

Hong Sang-soo also returns with another art-house pleaser, Ha Ha Ha, invited to the Prix Un Certain Regard section of Cannes. The Playlist has some of the details: two stories with different viewpoints and dealing with extra marital relations and following characters working in the film business. Which of course describes just about every single Hong Sang-soo film. “It is this repetition that keeps Hong’s films from being unique, yet making Hong’s oeuvre unique at the same time,” says Adam Hartzell in a thoughtful review of Hong’s previous film, Like You Know it All. “Not just characters are repeated, but the very actors who play them.” But for this film, Director Hong has scored a considerable coup in casting the wonderful Moon So-ri in one of the roles.

Cafe Noir
Jung Sung-il: Café Noir

Another film I’ll be sure to track down is E J-yong’s Actresses, not just because it contains Lee Mi-suk, who also acted for Director E in An Affair, but also because Darcy gives it a rave review over at Koreanfilm.org. Finally, another arthouse film which made an appearance at the Rotterdam International Film Festival this year was Jung Sung-il’s Café Noir. “With its homages to Hong Sang-Soo, Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook and Kim Ki-Duk it is a compendium of ten years of recent Korean film history,” says the Rotterdam Festival site. But clocking in at 197 minutes it requires an investment of time.

There will no doubt be many films to avoid as well. And this year being the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War it was only to be expected that there would be one or two films dealing with that theme, with A little pond, a treatment of the No Gun Ri incident, topping the list. “The finest North Korean Propaganda film ever made,” says an early reviewer.

There will however be plenty of more watchable films this year, and I can see that what little space I have left in my DVD drawer will soon be taken up.

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