Korean films at the 57th BFI London Film Festival

The London Film Festival is upon us with its annual treat of Hong Sang-soo premieres and one or two other films, mostly screened at inconvenient times and / or places. Didn’t we have a Choi Min-sik gangster movie which broke the sensitive two-hour barrier last year too? This year’s looks a bit more promising though. Of course, a Hong Sang-soo film is always a gentle pleasure, but the debut of Jung Young-heon is the one I’d go to see, if only it was on at a sensible time.

Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정)

Director-Screenwriter Jung Young-heon
Producer Song Hye-jin
With Choi Sung-ho, Kim Jin-wook, Jang Won-young Kim Jae-koo
South Korea 2013 106 mins

Lebanon Emotion poster

A grieving loner finds his life turned upside-down when he stumbles into a brutal underworld grudge-match in Jung Young-heon’s award-winning debut.

BFI Southbank, NFT2 — Friday Oct 11, 2013 3:30 PM
ICA, Screen 1 — Sunday Oct 13, 2013 8:45 PM
Buy tickets on BFI website

First-time director Jung Young-heon says that he was deeply depressed by a family death when he made Lebanon Emotion and saw it as a healing project. That tells us something about the grieving protagonist Heon-woo – but doesn’t explain the nightmarish underworld grudge-match he stumbles into. Heon-woo has borrowed a friend’s apartment in a development area – it’s close to a mountain and deer-hunting grounds – and unexpectedly finds himself nursing an injured woman. She has just come out of jail; she celebrated by calling the criminal thug she hates most to curse him. Unfortunately he’s the vengeful sort, so he comes looking for her… Using evocative wintry locations, the film builds a powerful sense of impending disaster as a violent cat-and-mouse game is remorselessly played out. The odd title (from a poem by Choi Jeongrye) suggests that life’s questions are sometimes unanswerable. Best Director prize, Moscow Film Festival. (Text: Tony Rayns)

New World (신세계)

Director-Screenwriter Park Hoon-jung
Producer Han Jae-deok
With Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Park Sun-gwoong, Song Ji-hyo
South Korea 2013, 134 mins

New World poster

A violent struggle for crime syndicate succession in Park Hoon-jung’s entertaining thriller that pays its dues to The Godfather and Infernal Affairs.

VUE, Screen 5 — Saturday Oct 19, 2013 6:00 PM
Screen on the Green — Sunday Oct 20, 2013 3:00 PM
Buy tickets on BFI website

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Thriller Festival in Beaune, New World also took the Korean box office by storm in the spring. Park Hoon-jung (he scripted I Saw the Devil) announces himself as a director with a slam-bang underworld drama which draws pretty openly on ideas from The Godfather and the Hong Kong trilogy Infernal Affairs but has a muscular vehemence all its own. He’s created seriously meaty roes for his three leads: Lee Jung-jae as the police mole in the crime syndicate Goldmoon, Choi Min-sik as his hard-bitten police handler and Hwang Jung-min as his uncouth ‘sworn brother’ – and rival for leadership when their big boss meets an untimely end in a road ‘accident’. Industrial-strength brutality meets finely honed wit in a labyrinthine plot which turns on control of lucrative new trade-routes between Korea and China. It sings, loud and proud: glad to be generic. (Text: Tony Rayns)

Our Sun-hi (우리 선희)

Director-Screenwriter Hong Sang-soo
Producer Kim Kyounghee
With Jung Yu-mi, Lee Sun-kyun, Kim Sang-joong, Jung Jae-young
South Korea 2013, 88 mins

Our Sunhi poster

Hong Sang-soo’s comedy of manners (Best Director, Locarno) centres on a young woman who wants to study abroad and three hopeless men who orbit her.

Curzon Mayfair, Screen 1 — Oct 13, 2013 6:00 PM
ICA, Screen 1 — Tuesday Oct 15, 2013 3:30 PM
VUE, Screen 5 — Friday Oct 18, 2013 12:30 PM
Buy tickets on BFI website

Hong Sang-soo’s new comedy of manners (his second film this year!) shows three men orbiting around an elusive young woman who seems quite capable of getting ahead without much help from any of them. Sun-hi is an almost-dropout in her mid-20s who decides to try for graduate school in the US. She asks Professor Choi for a reference letter but doesn’t like what it says about her personality; she appeals to him for a rethink/rewrite. Meanwhile she runs into two other guys who dote on her: her needy ex-boyfriend Mun-su and her introverted college senior Jae-hak, who has left his wife to live alone. Much advice flows between them all, most forcefully when drink is taken. But Hong is amused to observe how circular it all is: how platitudes get recycled from one conversation to another, and how most of it anyway falls on deaf ears. Droll, and cutting. (Text: Tony Rayns)

Nobody’s Daughter Hae-won (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Director-Screenwriter Hong Sang-soo
Producer Kim Kyoung-hee
With Jung Eun-chae, Lee Sun-kyun
South Korea 2013, 90 mins

Nobodys Daughter poster

Hong Sang-soo’s gentle, melancholic comedy focuses on listless Seoul student Hae-won and tilts at bathos and self-delusion with wit and charm.

BFI Southbank, NFT3 — Wednesday Oct 9, 2013 8:30 PM
BFI Southbank, NFT3 — Thursday Oct 10, 2013 1:00 PM
Buy tickets on BFI website

Why does Seoul student Haewon keep dozing off? Is she depressed by her mother’s departure for Canada? Tired of her relationship with her teacher, the fickle – and married – filmmaker Seong-jun? Will the events of the coming weeks rouse her from her listlessness, or will she carry on dreaming. With its focus on fraught male-female relationships, mix of gentle comedy and meditative melancholia, and playful way with narrative repetition and fragmentation, this is clearly a Hong Sang-soo film. That it’s related, like In Another Country (which played in last year’s LFF), from a woman’s point of view makes little discernible difference to Hong’s view of human foibles: the various men hitting on Hae-won are again prone to bathos and self-delusion, while she herself is as insecure and indecisive as Delphine in Rohmer’s The Green Ray. Like that patience-trying heroine, she’s rightly regarded with bemusement and compassion – wherein lie the film’s wit and charm. (Text: Geoff Andrew)

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