The Villainess (2017)

Thrills and a lot of spills

My initial reaction to the first few minutes of the film was one of bewilderment. It looked like a computer game where we followed the POV of female assassin Sook-hee as she ruthlessly disposed of 67 hired goons (my count). But after this frenzied pre-credit sequence things begin to make sense, a little.

After her incredible fighting scenes are discovered, Sook-hee is hired to join an all-female hit squad, and alongside lessons in combat and weapon use they are taught domestic skills in order to prepare them for life outside.

In terms of emotional attachment, there is a young daughter from her first marriage, presumably before she joined the task force (although the chronology is hard to follow and it might take multiple viewings to put all the strands together).

We’ve seen a lot of these blood-soaked revenge epics, but it’s unusual to see a woman in the lead. (Korean cinema is heavily male dominated).

The film becomes even more interesting when Sook-hee falls in love with her neighbour after she moves out of the collective, only for her to eventually learn that he has been following orders from the very same organisation she has just left. These scenes are less convincing than the action and the soppy scenes are somewhat unnecessary to the film. The director could have a nice sideline in TV melodramas if the action ideas dry up.

In an attempt to stay calm and anchored, Sookhee joins a professional acting company (some of the lines are somewhat intense and high-flown, not helped by the clunky subtitles). I’d love to have seen more of these scenes, but they only popped up a few times.

The final battle on the top of a bus is thrillingly done, although I didn’t know why so many people were being killed. It might not be the easiest film to follow but if you go along for the ride you will be sure to enjoy it.

Chateau Life-eze, Japan

I’d like to tell you about a really cooI place I stayed in during my recent trip to Japan. I was looking for a room on the Couchsurfing website and I came across an International Share house in Kanagawa just outside of Tokyo. The building itself is very unusual and I was glad I found it.

Firstly, its designed in a chateau-style which stands out dramatically from the grey concete of modern Japanese buildings. Secondly, It’s in a very picturesque location: perched very high up at the top of a steep hill and next to a dense forest, it’s a bit like being in the Swiss Alps.

It’s called Chateua Life-eze and they really run with the concept. The kitchen has been fitted with wooden beams and the doors are decked out with wrought iron handles.

The rooms are fairly small (for a single person) and the beds are western style (my mattress was on the firm side). Each one comes with a wardrobe, TV and desk.

The house has a third floor for women only and although I wonder if this is necessary, it might be a consideration for some people. I didn’t find out whether couples can sleep on a different floor but there are larger rooms for up to 6 guests.

There is a kitchen on the 2nd floor with excellent cooking facilities. It was so spotless that I was afraid to use it, although I did made dinner on two separate occasions. Japan has become very strict with regards to waste recycling and seems to have a problem with cockroaches. I was told to wrap all food waste in plastic bags before throwing it away.

The main purpose of my visit was to provide a cultural exchange for the mostly Japanese residents who want to learn about other cultures. I was a bit unsure what this would involve but it was mainly fine, although it took a while to break down barriers (the Japanese are at least as awkward when meting strangers as English people). They wanted to talk to me about my impressions of Japan and the differences between Japan and England. I shared some food with them, but people seemed to cook their meals separately (it’s a share house but people definitely don’t share their food).


Overall I did enjoy my stay at the Chateua but I would have liked to have spent more time with the other residents, and I would have enjoyed the opportunity for more activities. It was also a little strict (I was told not to leave any belongings in the bathroom) and I didn’t feel that I could relax completely while I was there, but other more clean and careful guests who don’t mind sticking to rules will be fine.

The people

The house is managed by Mai and Nagi. I got on well with Mai who was very charming but I really wasn’t sure if Nagi was being rude or simply didn’t appreciate me being there. Each morning she asked what I was planning to do (implying I should go somehwhere). There were two other members of staff who I spent some time with in the evening, but most guests were at work most of the time I was there). There were 7 guests who came to the cultural exchange. I thought the book of short biographies for each guest was a nice touch.


About the area:

Yomiuri is on the Odakyu line (express trains from Shinjuku take 15 minutes). There is shrine near the house and an amusement park not far away (Yomiuri Land). Tokyo Women’s University is also nearby. The Chateau can be booked through AirnB and Couchsurfing.



London Korean Film Festival 2017

Programme Announced for the 12th London Korean Film Festival / 26 October – 19 November 2017

The London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) unveiled the lineup for its 12th edition today running 26 October – 19 November with multiple UK and International premieres, a special focus on Korean Noir and including everything from Indie Firepower and Cinema Now to Women’s Voices, Classics Revisited: Bae Chang-ho Retrospective, Documentaries, Artist Video, Animations, Mise-en-scène Shorts and a roster of very special guests in attendance.

Korea has been in the news more than ever this year with a South Korean presidential impeachment and a change in government, not to mention the current North Korean crisis. Thankfully Korean Cinema has maintained a positive news profile with Bong Joon-ho’s creature feature Okja becoming the most widely seen Korean film ever made. So it’s no better time for the 12th London Korean Film Festival to be back in London and across the UK offering another expansive selection of films from one of the most exciting film industries in the world.

This year’s opening and closing films complement each other as two highly acclaimed dramas presenting unique perspectives on non-traditional romantic relationships – and both star Actress Kim Saebyeok. The UK Premiere of prolific auteur Director Hong Sangsoo’s Cannes acclaimed, The Day After (2017) will kick-off the festival at an Opening Gala with cinematographer and frequent Hong Sangsoo and Bong Joon-ho collaborator, Kim Hyung-ku in conversation on the 26 October. Following bemused characters in matters of the heart, this is “a black & white comedy of missed chances… a Rohmer-esque monochrome comedy of confusion” (Variety). The festival closes on 8 November (in London) with the UK Premiere of emerging director Kim Dae-hwan‘s Indie relationship hit from Locarno, The First Lap (2017) (followed by Director Q&A), which sees a directionless unmarried couple wade through family encounters and a potential pregnancy, in a fresh verité style that is both funny and heartwarming.

Two out of the five Korean hits to grace Cannes Film Festival this year were crime and action thrillers typical of the booming Korean Noir genre, illuminating the dark side of society: The Villainness (following a female assassin trained from a young age, screening as a special preview at LKFF press launch 11 Sept) and The Merciless (2017, Studiocanal, premiering at LKFF 2017), the latest feature from Byun Sung-hyun, a Tarantino-esque moody neo-noir thriller following double-crossing gangsters. “South Korea has such a turbulent modern history ridden with violence and political, social upheavals… I think that may be why we are good at making thriller movies like this,” said Jung Byung-Gil, director of The Villainness” (Daily Mail). It’s fitting that the festival shines a light on the killer genre this year with a full range of crime capers both old and new.

The strand begins with an example of Lee Man-hui’s renowned anti-communist filmmaking, with one of his very early films in the genre, Black Hair (1964), which follows the loyal mistress of a gang boss, whose life takes a horrific turn for the worse after a violent rape is exposed. We are thrilled to be screening the newly restored The Last Witness (1980) that recently played in Berlin and Busan film festivals, with director Lee Doo-yong in attendance; the film is based on a crime novel by Kim Seong-jung and follows lone wolf detective Oh Byeong-ho as he goes in search of the murderer of a small time brewer.

Film Noir was thriving in the 1990s, and we’ll celebrate a strong selection from that decade: the darkly humorous Dead End (1993), The Rules of the Game (1994) following small town thugs trying to make it big and Green Fish (1997), the directorial debut by Lee Chang-dong who is now widely regarded as South Korea’s greatest living director.

In America, Director Lee Myung-Se was seen as Seoul’s answer to Hong Kong’s John Woo with his hit, Nowhere to Hide (1999), a highly stylised violent action noir and an influence on The Matrix. Kilimanjaro (2000) is the little seen, but highly accomplished feature from Oh Seung-uk, starring veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki and Park Shin-yang; an engrossing noir following a detective mistaken for his identical twin brother, a gangster. Die Bad (2000) is action maestro Ryoo Seung-wan‘s sensational debut made in 4 parts over 3 years, following two young men (played by Ryoo and Park Sung-bin) whose lives change forever after a deadly student brawl.

A Bittersweet Life (2005) is Kim Jee-woon‘s follow up to A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) a thrilling noir that shows the ultra violent consequences of falling for the wrong girl. A Dirty Carnival (2006) follows a low-level debt collector as he murders his way to the top, played by one of Korea’s leading actors Zo In-sung. New World (2013, UK Home Ent. release by Eureka) is the second directorial feature from Park Hoon-jung, the writer behind The Unjust (Ryoo Seung-wan) and I Saw The Devil (Kim Jee-woon), in which undercover cops and shady policemen plot to gain control of Korea’s biggest crime syndicate. Coin Locker Girl (2015) is a female crime melodrama from first time director Han Jun-Hee starring veteran actress Kim Hye-soo as the psychotic crime boss known as ‘mom’ whose unsavoury trade includes organ trafficking and loan-sharking.

LKFF has pulled together the best Cinema Now, Korean films that are making waves world-wide in cinemas and online. One such masterpiece is the European Premiere of In Between Seasons (2016) by first time director Lee Dong-eun, based on the director’s own comic book, portraying an intimate family drama following two young gay lovers as they grapple with family life. Master (2016) which took 50.5 million dollars at the box office (topping the new Star Wars Rogue One), is a slick new financial action thriller that follows an investigator who pursues the president of a Korean company that’s involved in fraud and corruption. It stars today’s biggest actors Lee Byung-hun, Gang Dong-won and Kim Woo-bin. Come, Together (2017) is Director Shin Dong-il‘s new drama about a family of three whose ranks are collapsing – a rare insight into Korean society’s highly competitive nature. Warriors of the Dawn (2017) is the popular Joseon Era drama filmed almost entirely outdoors, as a guerilla style road movie, following a group of mercenaries tasked with protecting the newly crowned prince. The Mimic (UK release in 2018 date tbc, Arrow Films) directed by Huh Jung is a chilling K-horror that follows a woman, haunted by the disappearance of her son, who is drawn to a local legend of a monstrous tiger that lures people into its cave. Crime City (2017) is an indie crime caper based on a true story, from director Kang Yoon-sung, that follows a detective (Ma Dong-seok), as he hunts down a Korean-Chinese gang headed by Yoon Kye-sang.

This is the second year of our Women’s Voices strand, showcasing four dramas and one documentary all from contemporary feminine points of view, films that are at the very heart of feminist politics. An extremely current and relevant documentary, Candle Wave Feminists (2017), deconstructs the misogyny and discrimination that was rife within the revolution that led to Park’s impeachment and her spiritual mentor Choi Soon-Sil’s arrest. The feature debut by writer-director Lee Wanmin, Jamsil (2016) is a rare look at two women’s transformative friendship, following a harrowing long-term breakup. My Turn (2017) focuses on pregnancy within the workplace, after a nurse becomes pregnant and tensions and backlash surface. Mild Fever (2017) captures the subtle rift between husband and wife, following a secret that surfaces from the past. Night Working (2017) follows a friendship between two factory workers, a Korean woman and a Cambodian immigrant.

Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns will introduce the UK to Korea’s Indie Firepower, a selection of films from the country’s most intriguing independent filmmakers, including a special focus welcoming Artist filmmaker Jung Yoon-suk, whose films have focussed on Korean social and political life. The Home of Stars (2010) is a sardonic cage of modern Korean history and Non Fiction Diary (2013) deals with Korea’s first serial murder case in the 1990s. His latest, Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno (2017) also screens at the BFI LFF (6 and 7 October), embracing nihilism, protest, politics and rebellion and a strong sense of humour following a young Korean, grindcore punk band. Also on show are two of his shorts, The White House in My Country (2006) and Ho Chi Minh (2007). This strand celebrates two other offbeat indies with Merry Christmas Mr. Mo (2016), an unusual tragi-comedy shot in black & white centered on a relationship between an ageing father (played by veteran actor Gi Ju-bong) and his semi-estranged son, and A Confession Expecting a Rejection (2017) a daring and witty film that follows on and off screen characters as they discuss subjects ranging from failed relationships to dodgy film courses.

Dr. Mark Morris returns this year with another finely curated selection of Classics Revisited, focussing on 1980’s veteran director Bae Chang-Ho, who began his career as assistant director to the great Lee Jang-ho (the focus of our Classics retrospective in 2016). Closely linked with the rising ‘People’s Movement’ which campaigned against the authoritarian government, his first award-winning film People in the Slum (1982) echoes the issues of the people at that time. Adapted from a series of vignettes written by Lee Dong-cheol, Bae Chang-Ho crafted a film echoing life at the bottom of society, and ended up having to adapt the social criticism in the script following hints from government censors, blending the tale of these three main characters into a melodrama. In this short retrospective we’ll see a key selection of his films: Whale Hunting (1984) is a much loved Korean road movie following two misfits and a woman wandering a snowy landscape, and The Dream (1990) Bae’s second period film that follows the affair between a young Buddhist monk and a beautiful young woman. Bae wrote the script for The Dream along with aspiring assistant director Lee Myung-se, who had been his AD since his Whale Hunting days.

Contemporary Korean Documentaries have arguably never been more vital in exposing insights into structural inequalities in South Korea, and advocating community building and political awareness. This year the Documentary strand focuses on the activist work of the feminist collective Pink Skirt whose films deal with LGBT and workers’ rights – including Goodbye My Hero (2016) and the diptych Two Doors (2012) and The Remnants (2016) that show the fall out from a demonstration in 2009 against the redevelopment of Yongsan in Seoul, which left 5 people dead and 3 protesters in prison. We will also screen the long overdue Premiere of multimedia artist Kelvin Kyung Kun Park’s A Dream of Iron (2012), an industrial film symphony, looking at the scale of industrial machines and processes involved in constructing huge ships.

The best selection from the Mise-en-scène International Short Film Festival this year includes: Tombstone Refugee (2017), which looks at alternative burials, Home Without Me (2017), which follows a young girl seeking familial love and friendship, Thirsty (2017), which follows a young man struggling to make ends meet, Between You and Me (2017), which looks at the behind the scenes of the making of a film, Dive (2017) about a boy’s love of water, The Insect Woman (2017) about a girl’s fascination and obsession with insects and 2 Nights 3 Days (2017), following a couple on the eve of their anniversary celebration.

For its second edition, Artist Video (a collaboration with LUX | Artists’ Moving Image), sees two ‘Artist in Focus’ programmes with two prominent Korean artists working in film: Lim Minouk and Koo Donghee. Drawing their inspiration from political activist cinema from the 1970s (Lim) and contemporary television and internet culture (Koo), their work is representative of the diversity and richness of contemporary Korean artists’ moving image. Six video works from Lim Minouk (2003 – 2010) include political and poetical work that sides with the vulnerable and those that have been displaced. Five video works by Koo Donghee (2003 – 2012) exemplify her highly staged portrayals of the banality of life, interrupted by accidental situations. Koo uses objects, spaces, animals – often aquatic – and actors who respond in real time, to unrehearsed situations.

Younger audiences will delight in the two Animations this year: Lost in the Moonlight (2016) following 13-year-old Hyun Joo-ri as a dreamy, shy girl who gets sucked into a fantasy world and Franky and Friends: Tree of Life (2016) an exciting adventure in the Fairytale Kingdom, as two friends Kwon and Pong create havoc by asking for more food than they can eat, learning a useful lesson about the perils of wastefulness.

Guests confirmed for this year’s festival include:

  • Cinematographer Kim Hyeong-guThe Day After
  • Director Kim Dae-hwanThe First Lap
  • Director Lee Doo-yongThe Last Witness
  • Director Oh Seung-ukKilimanjaro
  • For Noir forum – Eddie Muller (Founder of Film Noir Foundation) and Hur Moon-young (Film Critic & Programmer)
  • Director Bae ChanghoPeople in the Slum, Whale Hunting, The Dream
  • Director Chung Yoon-chulWarriors of the Dawn
  • Director Jung Yoon-sukNon-Fiction Diary, Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno, Whale Hunting, The Dream
  • Director Kim IIl-rhanTwo Doors and The Remnant
  • Director Lee Wanmin & Actor Kim SaebyeokJamsil
  • Director Kang Yoon-sungCrime City



London venues include: Picturehouse Central, Regent Street Cinema, ICA, Phoenix, Close-up, LUX, Birkbeck’s Institute of Moving Image, SOAS, Kingston University, National Film & Television School, British Museum and KCCUK


The festival tours to: Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME, Sheffield Showroom, Nottingham Broadway Cinema, Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre until 19 November 2017.


Facebook: @theLKFF

Twitter: @koreanfilmfest

Instagram: @london_korean_film_festival


To apply for Press Accreditation and for any interview requests and stills please contact: Elizabeth Benjamin Publicist,

Notes to Editors

About London Korean Film Festival:

The London Korean Film Festival will return to celebrate its twelfth year running 26 October – 19 November 2017, running for two weeks in London before embarking on an ambitious tour around the UK.

The London Korean Film Festival has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the longest running and most respected festivals dedicated to Korean cinema in the world. We’ve built a name upon presenting lineups consisting of everything from the country’s most successful blockbusters to thought-­‐provoking independents from its finest auteurs. Across a variety of finely curated strands we aim to cater for general audiences, committed cinephiles, children, and everyone in between.

The 12th London Korean Film Festival is organised by the Korean Cultural Centre UK with the support of the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism, Korean Film Council and Korean Film Archive.

More about the KCCUK:

Since being opened by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in January 2008, under the jurisdiction of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, the KCCUK has gone from strength to strength in its role of enhancing friendship, amity and understanding between Korea and the UK through cultural and educational activities.

As well as presenting a diverse range of ongoing monthly events focused on Korean film, drama, education and literature, the KCCUK regularly welcomes Korean luminaries from many cultural fields to discuss their work, organises the annual film festival as well as traditional and contemporary musical performances and holding a number of exhibitions throughout the year, allowing artists to showcase their talent. From the KCCUK’s central London location (just off Trafalgar Square), the institution’s dedicated cultural team work to further develop established cultural projects, introduce new opportunities to expand Korean programmes in the UK and to encourage ongoing cultural exchange.