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Bae Chang-ho retrospective: the highlight of LKFF 2017

Bae Chang-ho
Bae Chang-ho with Mark Morris at the Close-up Cinema (photo: KCCUK)

For me, the highlight of this year’s London Korean Film Festival was the brief retrospective of some of Bae Chang-ho’s early output. I’ve had a soft spot for Director Bae’s work for over 15 years now: My Heart was one of the first Korean movies I saw, back in the London Korean Film Festival in 2001. It didn’t have the immediate crowd-pleasing glitz of some of the films with which it shared the programme (which if I remember right included JSA, An Affair and Swiri), but its gentleness and warm-heartedness has lingered with me and makes me want to return to the movie again and again.

Mark Morris, who helped curate the retrospective, wrote an informative essay on Bae Chang-ho and the 1980s for the festival catalogue, which is reproduced in full on the festival’s website. And Paul Quinn over on Hangul Celluloid has written a briefer introduction to Director Bae’s work to go with his transcription of the group interview that was held as part of the festival:

Bae Chang-ho was the most commercially successful director of the 1980s, making a number of chic melodramas aimed directly at the younger generation of film-goers. His debut film, People of the Slum (1982), and subsequent works such as Whale Hunting (1984), Deep Blue Night (1985) and Our Sweet Days of Youth (1987) all generated enthused reactions from not only ordinary movie-goers but also critics. Despite these successes, Bae refused to dwell in one place and through the 80s and into the 90s he pushed on in his artistic explorations, even enduring box office failures. The hit maker of the 1980s transformed himself into a maker of low budget, independent films such as My Heart (1999) and The Road (2004). While his early works showed elaborate filmmaking techniques that were second to none among his contemporaries, his later works can be more characterized by a simple, down-to-earth approach to storytelling and image capturing. (text: Paul Quinn)

Whale Hunting has long been a movie I’ve wanted to see – a seminal and popular road movie from 1984. As it’s available neither on DVD nor online this was a priority for me when I saw that it was on the schedule for this year’s festival. I was not disappointed. Like most of Bae’s films of the period, it features a youthful Ahn Sung-ki in a leading role, and also includes Lee Mi-sook and the quirky musician Kim Soo-chul completing the trio of travelers.

Bae Chang-ho
Bae Chang-ho with Mark Morris at the Close-up Cinema (photo: LKL)

The other two movies in the retrospective contrasted well with Whale Hunting but shared a number of similar themes – not least of which is that feeling of warm-heartedness which attracted to to My Heart.

In person, Director Bae is generous with his time – he gave careful and considerate answers at the Q&As following each screening and at the group interview – and made us all want to explore as much of the rest of his output as we can lay our hands on. Thanks to Mark Morris and the KCC for bringing him over for the festival!


Photo credit to Paul Quinn for the thumbnail image accompanying this post.

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