A look at the closing movies from recent LKFFs

Park Hae-il and Choi Min-sik in Heaven: To the Land of Happiness
Park Hae-il and Choi Min-sik in Heaven: To the Land of Happiness

As I left the cinema after Friday’s closing movie of the 2021 London Korean Film Fest, somewhat on a high because it was such a good film and Q+A, I observed to a friend I happened to bump into: “That was the best closing gala for years!”

As I said that, the most recent decent closing movie I could bring to mind was Im Kwon-taek’s Hwajang. That movie had closed the festival in 2014. Between then and now all I could remember was the infuriatingly wtf-minimalist Love And… (Zhang Lu) and a Hong Sangoo. To be fair, I’ve often been on holiday during the LKFF so I won’t have watched many of the recent closing movies. But I’m fairly diligent in reviewing the schedules, and I couldn’t remember being disappointed at missing any of the final screenings.

So I thought I’d look through the archives and see whether there had indeed been a recent trend of ultra-indie / art-house / minority interest movies closing the festival in recent years.

Here’s the result: a list of opening and closing movies from all London Korean Film Festivals going back to 2003, which is as far back as I have records, though I remember attending a really good festival in 2001 for which I think the closing movie might have been JSA.

Year Opening movie Closing movie Organiser
2003 Hi, Dharma! (Park Chul-Kwan) YMCA Baseball Team (Kim Hyeon-Seok) KACC
2004 Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho) Oldboy (Park Chan-wook) KACC
2005 Rikidozan (Song Hae-sung) Windstruck (Kwak Jae-young) KACC
2006 Princess Aurora (Bang Eun-jin) Rules of Dating (Han Jae-rim) KACC
2006 Typhoon (Kwak Kyung-taek) Crying Fist (Ryoo Seung-wan) KCCUK
2007 Breath (Kim Ki-duk) I’m a Cyborg (Park Chan-wook) KCCUK
2008 The Good, the Bad and the Weird (Kim Ji-woon) Public Enemy Returns (Kang woo-seok) KCCUK
2009 Thirst (Park Chan-wook) Frozen Flower (Yoo Ha) KCCUK
2010 The Man from Nowhere (Lee Jeong-beom) The Housemaid (Im Sang-soo) KCCUK
2011 War of the Arrows (Kim Han-min) The Unjust (Ryoo Seung-wan) KCCUK
2012 The Thieves (Choi Dong-hoon) Masquerade (Choo Chang-min) KCCUK
2013 Hide and Seek (Huh Jung) Boomerang Family (Song Hae-sung) KCCUK
2014 Kundo: Age of the Rampant (Yoon Jongbin) Revivre (Im Kwon-taek) KCCUK
2015 Ode to My Father (JK Youn) Love And… (Zhang Lu) KCCUK
2016 What Lies Beneath (Lee Kyoung-mi) Yourself and Yours (Hong Sang-soo) KCCUK
2017 The Day After (Hong Sangsoo) The First Lap (Kim Dae-hwan) KCCUK
2018 Microhabitat (Jeon Go-woon) The Return (Malene Choi) KCCUK
2019 The Seashore Village (Kim Soo-yong) Scattered Night (Lee Jihyoung and Kim Sol) KCCUK
2020 Pawn (Kang Dae kyu) Bori (Kim Jinyu) KCCUK
2021 Escape From Mogadishu (Ryoo Seung-wan) Heaven: To the Land of Happiness (Im Sang-soo) KCCUK

I haven’t looked at the budget of the various films, or box office statistics, but I think the above list bears out my gut reaction as I left the theatre on Friday. Of course, budget and box office does not guarantee a worthwhile viewing experience. There are plenty of big-budget stinkers and conversely plenty of art-house gems. But from 2015-2020 the only closing movie I’m a little sad to have missed is Marlene Choi’s The Return, which Bella Frey reviewed here.

Everyone has their own preferences, but I’m personally quite happy if we’re returning to slightly more mainstream films as a way to round off the festival in style. Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness was a great way to spend a couple of hours and consequently leaves me with warm feelings about the festival as a whole.

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