Following this year’s teaser screenings, the 14th London Korean Film Festival will kick off its celebration of 100 years of Korean cinema. The festivities kick off on November 1 through November 14 before making its annual week-long tour on November 18.
On Tuesday, the festival launched its full programme of films and events for the upcoming event, announcing 1965 feature, The Seashore Village, for its Opening Gala screening.
The Seashore Village centers on Hae-soon, a young woman living in a village heavily populated by women who have lost their husbands at sea. The film is directed by Kim Soo-Yong who debuted his career in 1958 with A Henpecked Husband and went on to make over 100 films in a long and distinguished career. The screening will be a debut moment for the festival’s 14th installment marking the first time a retrospective title, newly restored for its coming-out party in the UK, has been selected to open the festival.
Directing duo Lee Jihyoung and Kim Sol’s Scattered Night will be the closer for its UK premiere at the LKFF on November 14. Told through the eyes of two young children who must wait as their separating parents messily make their way towards a decision on which of them will take which child post-divorce.
The centenary celebration also continues with the Special Focus strand, building on a landmark collaboration with the British Film Institute and the Korean Film Archive earlier this year, Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period. The section will explore historically rich, culturally-important retrospective titles, many newly restored, and introduced by leading filmmakers and critics from Korea and the UK, along with Q&As, forums, workshops and unique events; Yun Yong-gyu’s A Hometown in Heart (1949) follows an orphaned young monk as he traverses temple life while longing for the return of his mother.
Of the titles from the 1950s, one will shows the harsh reality of the Korean war, while the other will shine a light on the society left in its wake:
Lee Kang-cheon’s Piagol (1955) finds a group of communist fighters waging war among mountain villages under the harsh leadership of a zealous commander.
Legendary director Shin Sang-ok would later be kidnapped and forced to make films for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Prior, Shin helmed The Flower in Hell (1958), a tale set against the back-drop of occupied post-war Korea. Disaster befalls the lives of prostitute Sonya as she schemes to find a new life for herself by seducing the younger brother of her hustler boyfriend Young-sik who makes money by stealing from the US military.
The 1960s saw a proliferation in the rich number of films from savvy directors who found ways to bypass strict government censorship. These would highlight and comment on pressing societal issues and have become some of the finest examples of classic Korean cinema; Aimless Bullet (1961) from Yu Hyun-mok, one of Korea’s most respected filmmakers and a key figure of the period, presents a powerful, downbeat view of postwar struggle as a low-level clerk attempts to earn money for his family, including a war veteran brother, a traumatised mother and a sister who is sliding into prostitution.
A Coachman (Kang Dae-jin, 1961) finds a single father similarly struggling to provide for his family, but through hard work, perseverance and a little romance, light is ultimately found amid the darkness. A Woman Judge (1962) is the country’s second-ever film from a woman director, Hong Eun-won. It follows a young woman determined to become a judge and find a meaningful place in society, despite the protestations of various individuals around her, including her own mother and husband.
In Kim Soo-yong’s Bloodline (1963) the societal conflict is generational, as three sets of parents attempt to force their children to forego personal ambitions in order to make money to support their families. Set in the immediate post-war period, the younger generation demand freedom to choose their own path as they look ahead to a brighter future.
Goryeojang (1963) is the first of two films from the idiosyncratic Kim Ki-young, director of the classic The Housemaid (1960). The title refers to the practice of families abandoning relatives in the mountains once they reach old age (as seen in Imamura Shohei’s 1983 classic, The Ballad of Narayama), a custom practiced in a small village where the film is set, as society begins to buckle under the strain of famine and starvation.
Ieoh Island (1977) incorporates the director’s highly stylised filmmaking into a psychosexual mystery thriller in which a man investigates a murder on an isolated island inhabited only by women.
From prolific auteur Lee Man-hee’s influentual 51-film resume before his tragic death at the age of 43 in 1975, The Devil’s Stairway (1964) is the first of three titles festivalgoers will get to see. Hailed as a dark mystery thriller, it centers on a chief surgeon who murders the woman with which he is having an affair, only to become tormented by her spirit; Homebound (1967) follows the wife of a bedridden writer as she stumbles upon a chance at true happiness beyond the confines of her tragic circumstances; Hailed as Lee’s masterpiece, A Day Off (1968) presents an agonisingly bleak but beautiful look at a young couple’s life in 1960s Seoul, and was originally banned by the authorities for its bold but sombre depiction of Korean society.
Heading into the 1980s, and the nation’s struggles are reflected by filmmakers in works commenting on wealth disparity, corruption and materialism among other critical social issues.
Trailblazing filmmaker and Golden Bear (2005) award-winner Im Kwon-taek whose legacy has been celebrated at places Cannes, Venice and Berlin, brings Ticket (1986) to the LKFF, looking at the lives of three newlyhired sex workers in a small seaside town. Lee Jang-ho returns to the LKFF with The Man with Three Coffins (1987), billed as an experimental piece which described as a non-linear, dream-like story that addresses issues of displacement after the Korean War. The film centers on a man who wanders the countryside looking for a location to scatter his dead wife’s ashes.
New Wave director Park Chul-soo’s Grand Bell Award-winning A Pillar of Mist (1986) follows the plight of a married couple. Boundless, controversial filmmaker Jang Sun-woo’s The Age of Success (1988) mixes anarchic comedy with a sharp skewering of rampant 1980s capitalism.
Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, director Bae Yong-kyoon’s seven-year single-camera production, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (1989), is described as a meditative reflection on the lives of three Buddhist monks.
Slowly emerging from the political turmoil of the 1980s, Korean cinema would continue to grow in reputation in the 1990s as filmmakers gained increasing international recognition with their work and new artists appeared, many of whom are still finding commercial and critical favour around the world to this day:
North Korean Partisan in South Korea – a.k.a. Nambugun (1990) is based on the accounts of a real-life war correspondent, Chung Ji-young. In A Single Spark (1995), Park Kwang-su shines a light on the country’s strong protest practices as he follows a young law school student inspired by the life of a manual worker who burnt himself to death in a demonstration over unfair labour practices.
Celebrated auteur Hong Sangsoo’s 1996 directorial debut, The Day a Pig Fell into a Well (1996), follows four intertwined lives in a fragmented, self-reflexive chronology and bares many of the great director’s established trademarks.
Lim Soon-rye has found success as a woman director telling powerful stories often concerning women and marginalised lives with hits including Forever the Moment (2008) and last year’s Little Forest (2018). Presented here, her debut Three Friends (1996) is a biting satire that finds three young men, each one considered something of a social misfit, whose lives are disrupted when they must report for military service.
In Chang Yoon-hyun’s romantic pic, The Contact (1997), love blossoms as a radio DJ plays a Velvet Underground track. Celebrated Burning director Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999) looks at different episodes of a man’s life to portray a tragic personal story which, in true Lee style, further comments on Korean society as a whole.
Commencing the Cinema Now strand showcasing the best of contemporary Korean cinema will be Hong’s Grass (2017, UK Premiere), while director Lee Jong-Un’s critically-acclaimed Birthday and Joe Min-ho’s period drama A Resistance (2019, European Premiere) comprise of the section’s selections that are based on a true story.
Continuing the strand are thrillers, Idol (2018, UK Premiere) from director Lee Su-jin, and Lee Byeong-heon’s roaring cop comedy Extreme Job (2018, UK Premiere), as well as Lee Min-jae’s action horror romp, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale (2018, UK Premiere).
Billed as a captivating meditation on human nature, LKFF favourite Park Jung-bum Special Jury Prize winner at Locarno, Height of the Wave (2019, UK Premiere), follows a police officer, Yeon-soo, who is transferred to an isolated island with her daughter when the actions of the locals start to cause alarm.
The Hidden Figures line-up from LKFF and Barbican will celebrate renowned director Ha Gil-jong’s subversive, outstanding, iconoclastic work. The Pollen of Flowers (1972) tells about a relationship between a businessman and his protégé (with forbidden sexual undertones) goes awry with the introduction of the younger man into the home of the boss’s mistress.
The March of Fools (1975), a perennial favourite and Ha’s best known film, is a college comedy that offers a snapshot into 1970s student life, with dark undertones that reflect on the prevailing dictatorship of the time. The Ascension of Han-ne (1975) mixes elements from traditional ghost stories and shamanic practices to tell the story of a woman who is saved from suicide only to later fall prey to the gross antagonism of the village shaman.
In Women’s Voices, the LKFF enlists roundtable discussions and panel events featuring directors, actors and leading voices in contemporary feminist film criticism. This year’s cadre of first-time women directors lists the following four starting with Cha Sung-duk’s Youngju (2018, UK Premiere) which finds a young woman forced into the role of parent to her wayward younger brother as she forms an unlikely relationship with the man who accidently killed her parents; Ahn Ju-young’s A Boy and Sungreen (2018, International Premiere) tells of an awkward schoolboy’s attempt to track down his father with the help of his more forthright female best friend; Shim Hyejung’s A Bedsore (2019, International Premiere) tackles issues of treatment and care for the elderly as family wounds fester when a stubborn bedsore develops on a bed-ridden grandmother; Intimate documentary Yukiko (2018, UK Premiere) finds director Young Sun Noh trace a family history scarred by war.
This year’s LKFF Documentary Fortnight delves into the country’s two political film collectives which developed in the 1980s; The Seoul Film Collective (1982-1987) produced a number of films that contributed to the collective social and political reform movement that developed in South Korea throughout the decade.
Water Utilization Tax (1984) presents the four month economic struggle of farmers in the Gurye county area and exposes their difficulties and organised response, while Blue Bird (1986) was born from conversations with farmers about their life and working conditions.
The Jangsangotmae Film Collective gets a spotlight with The Night Before the Strike (1990), depicting the repression of a group of low-pay factory workers by their company managers as they attempt to unionise. Though banned the film was exhibited in unofficial venues such as Jeon-nam University, where the government sent in riot police to stop the screening and seize copies of the film. Ironically, over 300,000 people would eventually see the film making it the most viewed independent film of that year.
The Animation strand will take its cues from Special Focus, showcasing Korean animated classic, pioneer Shin Dong-Hun’s thought to be long-lost A Story of Hong Gil-dong (1967) which tells of the titular folk hero – the spurned son of a nobleman – who soon discovers he has supernatural abilities which he puts to use righting the many injustices he encounters on his travels.
The Shorts Strand highlights award-winning works discovered at Korea’s prestigious Mise-en-scène Short Film Festival (MSFF), inviting past winners Jang Jae-hyun (The Priests, Svaha: The Sixth Finger) and Lee Kyung-mi (Crush and Blush, The Truth Beneath) to sit as MSFF Directors and lead the search for new and uniquely creative shorts:
Freckles (2019), is a bittersweet tale of first love that finds one young girl tasting romance after a drunken first kiss whilst at fat camp; To Each Your Sarah (2019) sees one woman forced to rebuild her life after leaving a cheating husband; Goodbye Bushman (2018) revolves around two brothers whose Africa-inspired games take a strange turn when they come across their own real-life ‘bushman’ in the woods; Milk (2019) follows a hotel maid working to afford baby formula and forced to commit a petty crime; Yuwol: The Boy Who Made the World Dance (2018) is a charming musical following a young boy with the infectious urge to dance; Camping (2019) holds dark thrills as a woman is kidnapped whilst at a remote camping spot with her husband; The Stars Whisperer (2019) involves a young girl with hearing difficulties who forms a new relationship over a day spent skipping school; The Lambs (2019) is centered on a pastor and a member of his congregation who share a dark connection and an obsession over a dead woman.
For Artist Video (in collaboration with LUX | Artists’ Moving Image), director and cinematographer Yoo Soon-mi presents a visually dazzling portrait of North Korea in her documentary Songs from the North (2014, UK Premiere), which interrogates the shared memory and collective history of the North and South Korean people. Dangerous Supplement (2005) follows suit, providing an insight into the artists’ early work, particularly the theme of memory that informs Yoo’s later pieces.
Three works are presented from visual artist Park Chan Kyong, with Sets (2000) examining the North’s perception of South Korea by looking at the constructed sets of South Korean streets and buildings housed at the National Film Studio of North Korea; Flying (2005) examines the North-South divide via footage of flights in and out of Pyongyang and from the streets of the northern capital; Believe It or Not (2018) (produced by Park’s brother, acclaimed director Park Chan-wook) is a short narrative piece inspired by the many people who have made the dangerous journey across the border.
London venues include Regent Street Cinema, Picturehouse Central, Close-up Film Centre, Phoenix Cinema, Rio Cinema, ICA, Barbican, British Museum, LUX, Birkbeck’s Institute of Moving Image and the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK).
The LKFF 2019 tour stretches to Edinburgh Film House, Watershed Cinema Bristol, Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre, Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME and Nottingham Broadway Cinema, from November 18 through 24.
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