We’ve almost finished clearing the London Korean Film Festival backlog, the only major review outstanding now being Park Chan-kyong’s fascinating documentary Manshin. While I’m polishing that, here are a few brief reviews of the films I didn’t feel moved to write dedicated articles about.
A heavy and depressing story redeemed by the sensitive acting of the lead actress, Chun Woo-hee, a performance for which she recently won best actress at the Blue Dragon awards. The film starts with Han being moved to another school as a result of an incident in which it is clear she was not to blame. The rest of the film gradually reveals what the horrific incident was, through pointers given by Han’s psychological condition, and by flashbacks which are often difficult to distinguish from the present day, as both present and past involve Han helping out in a convenience store when not at school.
The film of course raises questions about the unfair treatment of guiltless female victims and culpable male perpetrators. It also raises questions about school security. Preposterously (at least to British eyes), Han’s classroom is invaded by a crowd of angry ajummas and ajosshis, presumably parents of the teenage rapists, who harangue the poor girl for signing a piece of paper. What the paper was that her money grabbing drunk of a father made her sign is not made clear.
There’s not much hope to be found in Han Gong-ju, abandoned by her parents and the System. And just in case you thought she was going to find redemption through music, just remember that this is a Korean film, and happy endings are not guaranteed.
Overall, a well acted but sometimes confusing film dealing with a shocking and depressing subject. Not a film to watch if you want to leave the theatre feeling uplifted or entertained, but appreciate it for its bravery and for Chun Woo-hee’s acting.
Lee Su-jin (이수진) Han Gong-ju (한공주, 2013)
At last. A Korean thriller that doesn’t confuse the hell out of me. Jung Woo-sung is superb as the ruthless, calculating master-criminal with the very unthreatening name of James. Sol Kyung-gu is fine as the head of the surveillance team, and Han Hyo-ju convincing as the wayward but super-talented rookie. There are no misleading sub-plots, no criminals infiltrating the police (or vice versa), just a simple pursuit, the main uncertainty being how many good guys James is going to slaughter on the way. Hugely entertaining. Watch out for the Peppermint Candy reference at the end, as Sol Kyung-gu stands in the path of an approaching train. It’s also nice to have a cameo performance from Simon Yam at the end, star of the Hong Kong movie Eye in the Sky (Yau Nai Hoi, 2007) of which this is a remake.
Jo Eui-seok (조의석), Kim Byeong-seo (김병서) Cold Eyes (감시자들, 2014)
The killer behind the old man
In Jung Woo-sung’s debut as a director, he directs Choi Jin-ho as a calculating, reclusive contract killer who is almost a carbon copy of James in Cold Eyes. The target is an old man, so decrepit that he shuffles along the street at less than a snail’s pace but is nevertheless found working out at the gym every day. The short is full of enjoyable cliches – from the killer’s gloriously camp and elegant manager (Yoo In-yeong), to his steak and red wine eating habits. The unique feature of the story is the killer’s reluctance to compete the contract because the victim is about to die of natural causes anyway. Can the killer bring himself to see the contract through?
The story was written by Lee Yoon-jung, with whom Jung Woo-sung is working as producer in Remember O Goddess.
A Girl at My Door
A stunning debut from director July Jung with superb performances from Bae Doo-na as a new police station chief in the Yeosu region of Jeollanamdo and Kim Sae-ron as a damaged but resourceful schoolgirl. The film touches on a range of social issues – sexism, exploitation of illegal migrant workers, prejudice against homosexuals, alcoholism and child abuse. How the director manages to conjure a movie that is strangely uplifting out of such grim subject matter is something of a miracle. The film was one of the highlights of the festival.
July Jung / Jeong Joo-ri (정주리) A Girl at My Door (도희야, 2014)