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One year, 12 directors, 59 films, 12 Q&As. What could be better?

Year of the 12 Directors posterThe KCC have announced their lineup for their much anticipated “Year of the Twelve Directors” – a season unimaginable a few years ago. A very simple concept: four films by the same director, each month giving a mini-retrospective, followed by a Q&A with the director. And a very well-balanced programme it is, featuring veteran directors as well as some who have only made a name for themselves in the last few years.

The biggest event is of course the 15-film Im Kwon-taek retrospective in October. And for many, the big plus of this year is that we will get to see films which aren’t readily available on subtitled DVD.

And while the whole series is to be hugely welcomed, everyone’s going to have their own thoughts about what’s good and what could be even better. Here are mine.

January: Lee Myung-se

5th: Nowhere to Hide (1999)
12th: M (2007)
19th: Gagman (1989)
26th: Duelist (2005)

Lee was a good way to start the year. Nowhere to Hide was welcomed enthusiastically by most critics and introduced Lee to western audiences, while M baffled them though delighted their eyes. Duelist is similarly beautiful to look at but ultimately insubstantial and I didn’t mind that a family get-together prevented my attending the screening and the Q&A afterwards. Catching up on the DVD of Gagman after the event I can understand why it’s not much talked about: it’s pretty unremarkable.

February: E J-yong

2nd: An Affair (1998)
9th: Dasepo Naughty Girls (2006)
16th: Untold Scandal (2003)
23rd: Actresses (2009)

We’re midway through, and it’s a really interesting month. LKL’s coverage is shaping up here.

March: Park Kwang-su

8th: Chilsu and Mansu (1988)
15th: The Uprising (1999)
22nd: A Single Spark (1995)
29th: Meet Mr Daddy (2007)

For me, the film I’m most looking forward to, out of all the films to be screened this year, at least for its historical importance, is Park Kwang-su’s Chilsu and Mansu. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy it a lot, but it’s one of those films which seem to crop up in the important books about Korean cinema, always highlighted as a seminal work. So anyone who’s serious about Korean film should try to see it.

By contrast, the film I’m most happy to miss this year is Uprising. Having bored myself senseless with it twice already, I’m not about to try a third time. I’ve yet to come across a critic who thinks it’s worth watching, and Mr Quinn over at Hangul Celluloid heartily agrees: “interminably dull … a waste of viewers’ time” he concludes. Checking my own brief notes which I jotted down when I watched it the second time, I find I wrote:

Like watching paint dry. Even Shim Eun-ha in a period bathing costume can’t redeem this film. Interesting only for the historical context – an uprising against against the Catholics in Jeju-do in the early 1900s.

So why not ditch Uprising and replace it with To the Starry Island? Then you might persuade me to abandon Unsuk Chin’s violin concerto which is being performed at the Festival Hall that night, and come to the KCC instead.

A Single Spark documents a hugely important moment in the development of South Korea’s labour movement, while Meet Mr Daddy… Hmmm. A children’s comedy comeback film after a break of 8 years? That one is a real joker in the pack of Park’s filmography. I’d like to find out more about what prompted such a turnaround, but I’m hoping to be atop the snowy peak of Jirisan on the day of the Q&A.

April: Song Il-gon

5th: Flower Island (2001)
12th: Feathers in the Wind (2004)
19th: Dance of Time (2009)
26th: Always (2011)

This month is a real treat. Song Il-gon’s films have always got enthusiastic reviews, but are hard to get on DVD. The only one I’ve seen is the intriguing Spider Forest, at the 2005 London Korean Film Festival, which is the only of Song’s films apart from Magicians not to be included in April’s screenings. I’ll be sure to be there every Thursday.

May: Jeon Kye-soo

10th: Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theatre (2006)
17th: A Perfect Day + If You were Me 4 (2008)
24th: Lost and Found (2009)
31st: Love Fiction (2011)

Confession time: a new director for me, so I’ll be looking forward to this.

June: Lee Jun-ik

7th: The King and the Clown (2005)
14th: The Happy Life (2007)
21st: Sunny (2008)
28th: Battlefield Heroes / Pyongyang Castle (2011)

Lee announced that he’s giving up commercial film-making after the limited success of Battlefield Heroes. This is a real shame given the triumphant success of King and the Clown. It will be interesting to compare rock ‘n’ roll film The Happy Life with December’s Waikiki Brothers.

July: Lee Hyun-seung

5th: The Blue in You (1992)
12th: Sunset into the Neon Lights (1995)
19th: Il Mare (2000)
26th: Hindsight / Blue Salt (2011)

It was the Jeon Ji-hyun vehicle Il Mare (which I’m neutral about) that got Lee noticed by early hallyu fans; his earlier films don’t get much attention. Hindsight is one of the bigger films of the last 12 months, starring Song Kang-ho. Overall, this could be an interesting month.

August: Lee Yoon-ki

9th: This Charming Girl (2004)
16th: Love Talk (2005)
23rd: My Dear Enemy (2008)
30th: Come Rain, Come Shine (2011)

One of those directors I’ve wanted to see on the big screen but never succeeded. I’m really looking forward to this month, though some critics found Lee’s latest film (starring Hyun Bin) rather too slow.

September: Jeon Kyu-hwan

6th: Mozart Town (2008)
13th: Animal Town (2009)
20th: Dance Town (2010)
27th: Varanasi (2011)

A director I’ve completely missed out on (I didn’t manage to get to Dance Town at the LKFF last year), so I’ll come to September with an open mind.

October: Im Kwon-taek

15 films throughout the month.

What can I say other than that this is the most important film event the KCC has put together since they opened up in 2008, and that I’m probably going to miss most of it as I’m often on holiday in October? I hope they screen Genealogy before I get on the plane, and that I manage to get home in time for the Q&A.

November: Song Hae-seong

8th: Rikidozan (2004)
15th: Maundy Thursday (2006)
22nd: Failan (2001)
29th: A Better Tomorrow (2010)

An interesting director – Failan is a film which people rate highly, though I mark it down for its soppy melodramatic nature. Rikidozan is a very engaging but slightly over-long biopic. I’m looking forward to his remake of one of my favourite Hong Kong films, while the death row romance Maundy Thursday seems to be worth a look.

December: Lim Soon-rye

6th: Waikiki Brothers (2001)
13th: Forever the Moment (2008)
20th: Fly Penguin (2009)
27th: Rolling Home with a Bull (2010)

In December I would rather that space was found for Lim Soon-rye’s debut feature Three Friends (1996), one of the first Korean films I saw in the 2001 festival. It could usefully replace Forever The Moment, which has had a fair number of outings at the KCC since it came out on DVD. But as I haven’t seen Forever the Moment yet I don’t mind too much. (It nestles near the bottom of my DVD to-watch pile, as I balance my enthusiasm for Moon So-ri with my aversion to sports movies. There always seems to be something more deserving to watch). But keeping the best till last, Christopher Bourne over at New Korean Cinema declares Rolling Home with a Bull to be Lim’s “best film to date, a superior addition to her already impressive body of work.” A fine way to end the year.

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

4 thoughts on “One year, 12 directors, 59 films, 12 Q&As. What could be better?

  1. I’m looking forward to April the most – will definitely not miss a single one of those screenings!

    Not too worried about the ‘slowness’ of “Come Rain, Come Shine” – the good reviews I have read of that film give me the impression that the reviewers who didn’t enjoy the film perhaps generally don’t care for slow films so much, or were simply expecting something else.

    “Maundy Thursday” has an absolutely heart-wrenching story. I only read the manga (Japanese) which was based on a novel (Korean), but I’m not sure I can muster up the courage to watch the film at the KCC because I’m certain I’ll be crying for half an hour straight (as I did with the manga).

    Do you know, will we still get a London Korean Film Festival, on top of the Im Kwon-Taek retrospective?

  2. I hadn’t really followed Maundy Thursday, so I look forward to that one.

    Maybe we should have a little meetup after one of the Song Il-gon films

    I’m assuming there will be an LKFF this year, but you’re right, there’s almost enough 2011 films in this fest to see us through a credible 2012 LKFF programme.

  3. Is it too late to petition for

    March: Park Kwang-su

    15th: Uprising – to be replaced with To The Starry Island – if read alot of positive reviews amd have been intending to watch it, but since the KCC is doing a coverage on it’s director, it would be better to watch on a “bigger” screen.

    1. I spoke to someone at the KCC about this and they can’t really change the programme. It’s gone to print and it wouldn’t look good to change, I think.

      While I know I should be going along to support them, I’ll be going to Unsuk Chin’s violin concerto at the South Bank instead.

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