LEAFF, LKFF and the battle for our diaries

by Philip Gowman on 4 October, 2017

in BFI London Film Festival, K-music Festival, London East Asia Film Festival, London Korean Film Festival, Opinion

LEAFF + LKFF schedule

The film festival season is upon us, and this requires some serious diary planning. Fortunately the BFI London Film Festival remains serenely distant from the ignominious tangle caused by the collision of LEAFF and LKFF. With four titles scheduled earlier in the month, including the movie that I’ve been most looking forward to all year – Won Shin-yeon’s adaptation of Kim Young-ha’s novel Memoir of a Murderer – the diary is reasonably stress free until LEAFF comes along.

But later in the month, what is one supposed to do? Last year LEAFF and LKFF kept a respectful distance from each other. This year, they overlap. Most of us do not have infinite energy, and going to movies every night during the 3 weeks occupied by LEAFF and LKFF is probably not an option, so some of the weaker titles needed to be weeded out. But even if we lived on a diet of caffeine and energy drinks for the duration, determined to get to every possible Korean film available, we would still have to make choices because of clashes in scheduling between the two festival and, much more annoyingly, clashes of scheduling within each festival.

The choices are made more complicated by some extremely tempting musical events taking place during the earlier part of the overlap. So, as I survey the landscape over the next five weeks (and assuming that I cancel everything in my diary that is not Korea-related, which of course I won’t) what are the films I plan on going to?

Namhansanseong

The Fortress: LEAFF’s opening gala

First, LEAFF. What is there to tempt me in their programme? Certainly their first two big movies would be on my list. Namhansanseong / The Fortress could be worth watching – though given that the choice facing Injo was certain defeat or ignominious surrender it will be interesting to see how the director manages to send the audience away feeling uplifted. The attraction will be in the cinematography and the stars present at the opening night’s gala Q&A. Friday night’s Anarchist from the Colony adds to the profusion of recent colonial-era dramas but is of sufficient interest on paper to divert me to the cinema on my way home from work. V.I.P – well, it’s rather too late for me.

At the weekend it’s been a long-standing rule with me that it would take a Lee Chang-dong premiere with director Q&A to make me schlep into town for an evening screening. Neither LEAFF nor LKFF are offering that temptation this year, so I’ll give LEAFF’s A Special Lady a miss.

As LEAFF gets into its second week, what are the other Korean events that it’s up against? On Monday 23 Oct it fields a very strong proposition: two films in its Stories of Women strand, with director Q&A. Very tempting. Up against it, at Borderline, there’s that bottle of sunshine that is Kingston Rudieska performing in the penultimate gig of the K-music festival. If I were free that evening, I’d be hard pushed to decide between the two, but probably a Korean take on ska would not be strong enough to tempt me away from the director Q&As.

Eun Me Ahn-Photo-Eunji-Park

Ahn Eun-me’s Let Me Change Your Name: unfair competition which completely destroys any film schedule

The next two nights LEAFF has absolutely no chance at all. Any production by Ahn Eun-me blows anything else completely of the water (even a Lee Chang-dong premiere in the presence of the director would be sunk). She’s performing as part of Dance Umbrella on the Tuesday and Wednesday, and given that the ethereal music of Park Jiha closes the K-music festival on Wednesday that’s my Tuesday and Wednesday nights sorted.

Park Jiha

Jiha Park closes the K-music festival. Unmissable

Which brings us to the battle royal on Thursday 26 October.

This year LKFF starts a week earlier than usual, which means their opening night, featuring Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After, falls slap bang in the middle of LEAFF. It’s almost as if LKFF are saying: we don’t care about LEAFF; we’re doing our own thing. But it gives LEAFF a major opportunity (if that was their intention) to spoil LKFF’s opening party by scheduling some very tempting movies to draw people away.

I’ll come clean: I’m not much of a Hong Sang-soo fan and so it would not take much to make me decide to go somewhere else.

But what have LEAFF done with this open goal? Intentionally or otherwise, they’ve misfired. On paper, they’ve deployed some pretty impressive weaponry: the director’s cut of Ryu Seung-wan’s Battleship Island, and Huh Jung’s second full-length thriller, The Mimic. But if there were nothing else to tempt me away, I’d be at the Hong Sang-soo. The director’s cut of Battleship Island? I can’t see how adding another 18 minutes to the running time of a tedious and already over-long film is going to make it any more watchable. The Mimic? Of all the movies showing at either of the two festivals, that’s the one I most want to see (I rather liked Huh’s debut feature, Hide and Seek). But if LEAFF thought they had an exclusive on it, they were mistaken, because LKFF has it too. And although I have many gripes about the LKFF’s internal scheduling conflicts this year, The Mimic is one of the movies in their programme which you can watch without missing out on a screening elsewhere.

So, if it was only movies that I had to think about I’d be at the LKFF opening gala. But LEAFF have done something unexpected: they’ve also scheduled Korean indie duo Bahngbek at the Rich Mix that evening, the context being that one half of that duo has been responsible for the soundtracks of The Throne, Veteran and more. LEAFF’s programming is such that if you go to the Rich Mix you can’t go to either of their Korean movies that evening, but an opportunity to hear the weird and wonderful sounds of Baik Hyun-jhin and Bang Jun-seok live would tempt me away from any cinema. So if I make it back to London from my conference in Sheffield in time, I’ll pop in to hear the tail end of their gig.

Bahngbek poster

Does Bahngbek score over the films on show that evening?

After LKFF’s opening night, the battle between the warring festivals is less heated. LEAFF has no further Korean movies other than daytime screenings over the weekend, leaving my diary free for LKFF’s Warriors of the Dawn first thing on the Friday evening (Crime City, which together with its Q&A promises to end after midnight, is too late for me). Strangely, other than a midday screening of a children’s animation in Finchley, LKFF has nothing during the day on Saturday, leaving the field clear for LEAFF’s Dancing with Jikji and maybe even Loser’s Adventure. On the Sunday afternoon I’m so annoyed with the KCC for scheduling Lim Minouk’s artist videos up against Han Younghee’s documentary Goodbye My Hero I’ll probably go to LEAFF’s I’ll just live in Bando in a fit of pique.

Warriors of the Dawn

Warriors of the Dawn: definitely on the cards for Friday 27th

From Sunday onwards, LKFF’s only competition is itself, and while some of the time it’s reasonably easy to choose, there are other times when, even though you know a lot of the scheduling is probably driven by the venues themselves, you imagine that there’s some malign force at work aiming to frustrate you.

So, on Monday there’s a three-way choice between In Between Seasons, a Women’s Voices triple bill and a 1994 Noir film (I’ll probably go for the noir); on Tuesday the choice is easier, between a documentary on the Yongsan tragedy and a film which many of us have on DVD already; but on Wednesday we’re back to the tough choices: a sequel to the Yongsan documentary and the first of Bae Chang-ho films. How are you supposed to choose between those two? The following night you have to choose between Bae Chang-ho and a Women’s Voices film; and on the Friday Bae Chang-ho has to compete against a noir double bill.

Saturday you have to choose between Koo Donghee’s art films and a classic 1980 noir (with director Q&A); and if you want to see Jung Yoon-suk’s indie films you have to miss two other noirs. Crazy. The same director’s Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno goes up against a major session of short movies, but if you plan your diary right you can catch that one at the BFI London film festival a couple of weeks earlier.

Fortunately for the final three days of the festival, with the single-screen Regent Street Cinema left as the last venue standing, there are thankfully no diary clashes, so if you have the stamina you can catch two noirs, two thrillers (including The Mimic) and what looks to be a very congenial closing movie.

The First Lap

The First Lap, with director Q+A, closes the 2017 LKFF

So much to choose from. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see more? Anyway, lest I seem too grouchy, let’s finish with huge thanks to the organisers for bringing us so much goodness.

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