The schedule for this year’s London Korean Film Festival seems to be bigger than ever. So many varied themes to satisfy all cinematic tastes; several directors and actors brought to London for interviews and Q&A sessions with the audience; galas, animations, shorts, comedies and much more.
With such a feast laid out in front of us, it seems strange to look back with something approaching nostalgia at the first film festival organised by the KCC back in 2006 at the Odeon Covent Garden, and the several London Korean Film Festivals which preceded that event in previous years in the Prince Charles Cinema and elsewhere.
Life was simpler back in those days. There was virtually no advance publicity – no slick trailers, no professionally designed logos, no harnessing the power of social media or friendly bloggers to get the message out (indeed, in those days, there were hardly any friendly bloggers to harness). There were no gala events, few Q&As, and on the rare occasions that a director did come over, either for a festival or premiere, it was difficult to find a knowledgeable critic to moderate the Q&A session, and the quality of the questions from the audience showed that they had little depth in Korean cinema. Things have improved immeasurably since then in so many ways.
So what was good about the festivals back in 2006 and before?
I’m not talking about the fact that the screenings were free. Yes, that was nice. It meant you could come along just to try a film and, if you didn’t like it, it didn’t really matter because you hadn’t wasted any money. The downside was that you couldn’t pre-book, which meant that for the popular films the queues stretched round the block. Does anyone remember the queues which literally stretched all the way around Leicester Square for the popular films at the festival arranged by staff from the Korean Anglican Community Centre in 2006 and previously? Of course, not everyone got in.
No, what I’m talking about is the fact that there was only one venue. Or, more to the point, there was only one film being screened at any particular moment in time. That meant that, for the out-and-out Korean Film fan with no other commitments, you could get to every single screening. You could try all the films, good and bad. You could see some completely dreadful ones and curse the fact that you had wasted two hours of your life (for me, A Sudden Crash of Thunder in the 2001 festival fell squarely into that category). But also you could be completely surprised and delighted by a film which on paper you might not have otherwise gone to see but which unexpectedly enthralled you. (Again, back in 2001, it was E J-Yong’s An Affair which did that to me, and I’ve loved all his work ever since).
This year, there are six venues involved in the festival in the London area, which means plenty of opportunity for simultaneous screenings. The detailed screening list shows exactly how many films are packed in to the nine days of the London festival.
But how is one to choose between Behind the Camera (followed by Q&A with E J-Yong, 6pm on 13 November at the Curzon Soho) and Lee Joon-ik’s Hope (followed by Q&A with its lead actor Sol Kyung-gu, also at 6pm on the same day, just down the road at the Odeon Covent Garden)? Yes, Third Window will be releasing Behind the Camera soon on DVD, but you won’t get a chance to ask the director about it immediately afterwards. Yes, you could skip Hope on the Wednesday and instead see the repeat next day down in Kingston, again with Q&A, but then you have to sacrifice Kang Woo-suk’s Fist of Legend or the classic Piagol, or two other potential options which are all screening at the same time in different theatres. At a rough count, there are 33 separate screenings and events at this year’s London Festival, but even if you have all the time in the world you have to sacrifice around 14 of them because of scheduling clashes.
It’s tough. And the risk is that, by choosing to go to the films you think you’re most going to enjoy (because you’ve enjoyed previous films by that director, or featuring that actor, or because you’ve heard some good buzz about them), you miss out on the unexpected ones.
Oh well. It’s such a luxury to be able to choose between so much that is enticing. Maybe having to be selective is good for us. At least we can all be together at the opening and closing galas. Here’s hoping we all end up making the right choices in between. Enjoy the festival, everyone.
And what will I choose? Probably Behind the Camera on the Wednesday – the trailer below makes it look irresitible – and then I’ll go down to Kingston on Thursday for Hope. Paul Quinn’s review over on Hangul Celluloid is compelling. And then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the best of the rest come out on DVD.