Shifting Landscape – the first of the KCC’s film seasons of 2019

The KCC announces its first group of screenings for 2019 – three early movies from the Korean New Wave. It’s nice that they’ve got three screenings in January – a month that has been something of a cultural drought for the KCC in recent years.

Shifting Landscape

shifting landscape

The release of Park Kwang-Su’s 1988 film Chil-su and Man-su marked the starting point of the Korean New Wave. The relaxation of censorship laws in the country gave aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to tell stories and address issues previously forbidden to them. The resulting films provided a new and incisive look on South Korea, its politics and history, and were hugely influential in shaping South Korean cinema as we know it today.

This season revisits the works of two New Korean Cinema directors, Park Kwang-su and Chung Ji-young, and examines the social context behind the release of their films as well as their place in South Korea’s illustrious cinematic history.

Black Republic (그들도 우리처럼)

Director: Park Kwang-Su (1990, 102 mins)
Cast: Moon Sung-keun, Park Joong-hoon, Shim Hye-jin, Hwang Hae
Birkbeck Cinema, 11 Jan 2019 6:30 pm | Reserve via EventBrite

Black Republic

Winner of the Blue Dragon award and the Singapore International Film Festival’s Silver Screen Award for Best Film, Park Kwang-Su’s second feature is a compelling social drama about the realities of South Korean society, using its rural setting as a microcosm of the country’s social and political landscapes. The lives of workers in a remote mining community are changed when an activist named Kim Ki-Young arrives to take refuge from the authorities. The mine is controlled by Lee Seon-Cheol, the mine owner’s bullish son who exerts his authority with an iron fist. The film portrays the influence of the two men on the town as they come head to head, Ki-Young’s activist spirit clashing with Seon-Cheol’s tyrannical arrogance. Their struggle is portrayed with an elegant and at times harshly realistic direction, with remarkable performances from lead actors Park Joong-Hoon and Moon Sung-Keun in his feature film debut. Black Republic’s social dimension, touching on class divide and economic inequality still resonates to this day.

White Badge (하얀전쟁)

Director: Chung Ji-young (1992, 124mins)
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Lee Gyoung-young, Shim Hye-jin, Doko Young-jae
Birkbeck Cinema, 12 Jan 2019 10:30 am | Reserve via EventBrite

White Badge

Based on Ahn Jung-Hyo’s 1983 novel Of War and the Metropolis, reissued as The White War in 1993, White Badge is a gripping account of the lives of South Korean soldiers involved in the Vietnam War, and its impact on their lives. Set during the late 70’s, the film follows Han Ki-Ju, a novelist whose publisher commissions him the difficult task of writing a book on his yearlong tour as a volunteer soldier in the war. As he begins writing, he is contacted by his old warmate Pyon Chin-Su, who never fully recovered from the horrors of the conflict, and exhibits worrying symptoms of trauma. Ki-Ju is forced to relive difficult memories of a time he’d been trying to forget. His writing and encounters with Chin-Su are punctuated by flashbacks of the war, which recount the realities of the soldiers lives with unflinching honesty. The film was screened as part of the official selection in the Tokyo and Toronto International Film Festivals and remains a gritty and captivating depiction of a rarely seen side of the Vietnam War.

Chilsu and Mansu (칠수와 만수)

Director: Park Kwang-Su (1988, 108 mins)
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Park Joong-hoon
KCCUK, 15 Jan 2019 7:00 pm | Reserve via EventBrite

Chilsu and Mansu

Perhaps the most iconic South Korean film of the 80’s, Park Kwang-Su’s debut feature is a landmark in the country’s cinema, and the starting point of Korean New Wave. Chil-Su is a playful and optimistic young man who instantly falls in love with Jin-Ah, a student working part time at the local Burger King. His rebellious spirit prompts him to quit his job and begin working with Man-Su, a down on his luck house painter.

Set with the backdrop of a repressive military government and the Americanisation of Korea, the film provides touching moments of levity and humanism as the two men struggle to exist and find their identity within working class society. There is a fantastic chemistry between the two leads, with Chil-su’s hopeful outlook contrasting with Man-su’s weariness. The film was shown at the 42nd Locarno International Film Festival and the 39th Berlin International Film Festival and has become one of the best remembered South Korean films of its era.

Nambugun (남부군)

Director: Chung Ji-young (1990, 157 mins)
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Choi Min-soo, Choi Jin-sil, Lee Hye-young
KCCUK, 18 Jan 2019 7:00 pm | Reserve via EventBrite

Nambugun

Director Chung Ji-young has managed to capture a previously rarely seen aspect of the Korean War, focusing on the North Korean side of the conflict and lending humanism to his characters. When the American forces begin military action in Korea, citizens were ordered by communist leaders to join the partisans. The film is based on the experiences of real-life war correspondent Lee Tae as his unit journeys through the country’s wild and untamed mountains. Far from a typical war film, Nambugun turns its attention to the men and women, soldiers and civilians fighting for survival in the conflict. Whichever side they’re on, each character is portrayed as inherently human, with the war as a monstrous backdrop over which they have little power. Nambugun provides an honest and engaging look at an otherwise overlooked subject and does so with outstanding performances and visual flair.

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