Korean Film at the 54th BFI London Film Festival

Three Korean movies at the BFI London Film Festival this year. At the time of writing the evening screenings of Poetry and End of Animal are sold out, but there are still tickets for the others. Film descriptions by Tony Rayns, from the BFI website.

Lee Chang-dong: Poetry

Thu 21 October 20:15 Vue Screen 5
Fri 22 October 14:45 Vue Screen 5

Cannes winner Lee Chang-dong shows scenes from the life of an ageing woman who joins a poetry class – and then learns that her grandson is implicated in a terrible crime.

Poetry

Lee Chang-dong follows Secret Sunshine with another powerful and moving story of a woman finding inner strengths – perhaps even an identity – she never knew she had. Yang Mi-ja (the great veteran star Yun Jung-hee returning to the screen after 16 years) lives in a dormitory town outside Seoul, looks after her teenaged grandson Wook on behalf of his divorced mother, and has a part-time job caring for an elderly disabled man. One day, on impulse, she joins a poetry-writing class and starts trying to follow the tutor’s advice to see more intensely what’s around her. But she soon discovers that Wook is implicated in the suicide of a girl classmate, and pressure from parents of other boys in Wook’s class starts to force her to contemplate doing things that were previously unthinkable. In a film rich in visual and verbal poetry, not to mention flawless performances from the entire cast, Lee succeeds in broaching moral, sociological and sexual questions without deviating an inch from his larger project to map the fault-lines in Korean society. Poetry and cinema may be dying arts, but Lee is on the battle-lines to save them.

Jo Sung-Hee: End of Animal

Thu 21 October 13:30 ICA 1
Thu 21 October 18:30 ICA 1

Maybe the most striking debut in Korean film history, this pocket-sized apocalypse shows the day when electricity disappears and the road becomes a dog-eat-dog world.

End of Animal

One of the most striking debuts in Korean film history, End of Animal conjures up an apocalypse whose implications are out of all proportion with the film’s own scale. You could think of it as a broken-down road movie. Soon-Young is travelling by taxi to her mother’s place in Taeryung when the driver picks up a second passenger who soon reveals that he has no money or plastic to pay his share of the fare. What the stranger does have, though, is uncanny insights into the minds of both Soon-Young and the driver (the latter’s marriage has been in trouble since he was caught with an underage girl), and he goes on to predict that all electrical power will fail any moment now… which it does. The driver walks ahead to seek help, the stranger vanishes and Soon-Young is left alone. Before you know it, the road has become a dog-eat-dog world in which everyone has dark secrets and no-one can be trusted. Only the stranger seems to have Soon-Young’s best interests at heart, but he’s never in touch when she needs him. Jo Sung-Hee’s remarkable film reaches a heart of darkness that ordinary disaster movies cannot reach.

Hong Sang-soo: Oki’s Movie

Thu 21 October 18:30 Vue Screen 3
Fri 22 October 13:00 Vue Screen 3

In a typically inventive piece of storytelling, Hong Sang-soo wryly chronicles a young woman’s reactions to dating two very different men.

Oki's Movie

Hong’s new film (his second this year) presents itself as a series of four short films, each with its own title and credits, but actually knits together to form one story about a young woman who dates two very different men. Oki (Jung Yu-mi) is studying film in a college in Seoul and has an affair with her professor, Song (Moon Sun-gkuen). Two years later, she has an affair with fellow student Jingu (Lee Sun-kyun) – which provokes Song’s jealousy and causes him to give Jingu low marks for his course work. We meet the two men in the first chapter; Jingu is now married to a woman who resents most things about him and has a faculty job alongside Song, who he continues to irritate. The other three chapters look back a few years to the time of the affairs with Oki; the last is her own short movie in which she compares her experiences of the two men on excursions to Mount Acha. As you’d expect from Hong Sangsoo, much soju is drunk, neurotic insecurity proliferates, and the chasm between men’s and women’s experiences opens pretty wide. Of course, it’s all done with sardonic wit, laugh-out-loud humour, wry embarrassment… and an ironic touch of Elgar.

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(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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