Tag Archives: Han Cinema

2 famous Korean actor scandals

The first ‘scandal’ concerns Kim Min Hee’s affair with the much older and married director Hang Sang Soo (Ha Ha Ha). Ever since the affair was confirmed, the actress has  suffered negative publicity with many refusing to watch her films in the cinema. The situation has become so bad that she has been forced to leave  Korea for America, where it has been confirmed that she married the director in July this year; depsite the director still technically being married to his first wife. I know, crazy!

Sadly, all this fuss and scandal is detracting from what an amazing actress she is, especially with her recent turn in Park Chan Wook’s Agassi ( soon to be shown in London as part of the LEAFF).

I bet people pour more hate and scorn on the women in these affairs, without accepting that the men are hardly innocent themselves. In the case of Sang Soo, his own wife has denied that her husband has actually left her and maintains that they are still married. She released a statement confirming

“I will never divorce him. I’m going to wait for him until I die. I still love my husband, and he loved me too. Everyone around us knows how family-oriented my husband is. I’m being hopeful. My husband will return to me.”

The situation became even more tangled when the mother of Kim left a message to the director’s wife saying it was harder to be the mother of a woman who had fallen in love with a married man than to be the woman whose husband had left her.

Scandal number 2 concerns actor Kyung Ku. The great Korean actor left his wife in 2006 and married Song Yun-ahin 2009.

However, many fans blamed his new wife for the marriage break-up, claiming she was a home wrecker. The online abuse directed at the couple became so bad that they eventually filed a lawsuit against 57 website users for defamatory statements made  about them on internet forums. This was despite the fact that the actor made clear that the actress had no effect on his marriage breaking up. Most people didn’t believe it and the actor now has a reputation for questionable moral standards.

I guess it’s easy to judge people but much harder if you have to experience these situations first hand. My feeling is that people in South Korea have higher standards when it comes to marriage and the treatment of anyone who threatens marital stability is usually harsh. Still, it could be worth pointing out once in a while that celebrities are normal people just like everybody else.

 

Train to Busan “Busanhaeng” film review

You may think you know all about zombies but have you wondered what it would be like to be on a train with fifty of them all running after you and gnashing at your ankles?

Zombies on a train is the premise of this film, a big hit in South Korea. If you had no idea this film was a horror, or that it featured zombies, it might be quite exciting but I imagine most people will go into this knowing exactly what to expect.

Some kind of catastrophe has led to an outbreak in which dozens of writhing undead are roaming the streets of Seoul looking for their next victims. A group of travellers including main lead Gong Yu are on the train to Busan.  They’ve barely gone twenty minutes before there is clearly something wrong with some of the passengers. Checking the situation on their phones, the passengers see that the country is in a state of emergency.

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They try to leave at the next station but find that the soldiers who are waiting for them have already been bitten. The most exciting and tense scenes are when the group must flee back on to the zombie ridden train, running away from swarms of rabid recruits. Once back on its a long journey for the remainder of the film. Here’s where the film runs out of steam. Once you’ve seen one zombie, you’ve seen them all. The film becomes a very standard struggle for survival and the scenes of characters running down train corridors become very repetitive.

It’s not a bad film.  Its directed in expedient fashion but for a train film its seriously lacking any ambient sound effects such as the clickety-clack sound  you would expect of a train on a track (or do South Korean trains run completely silently?).Fans of zombies will not be disappointed.Otherwise,  it’s more of what we’ve already seen many times over.

My score: 6/10.

Tunnel film review

It doesn’t seem long ago when Korean film makers were dazzling the world with prizewinners at International festivals such as Oldboy  and Pieta. As well as these harsh ,violent films there were gentle odes to Buddhism (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring) and the magnificent Untold Scandal, which set the story of Dangerous Liaisons in the Joseon Dynasty period.

South Korea  has one of the strongest national film industries of any country, but they haven’t had an international hit for several years. Many of its most acclaimed directors have either gone of the rails (kim Ki Duk) or made films for America (Park Chan Wook and Joon-ho Bong.

I watched Tunnel at Wimbledon cinema (shown there because of the large Korean community in New Malden). Although it was a perfectly decently-made  film I wondered why it was so unusually bland. If it wasn’t for the frequent jabs at the Korean government, or references to recent safety disasters such as the Sewol Ferry sinking, this could have been a Hollywood blockbuster.

Driving to work one morning, car salesmen (Jung-soo) finds himself spending longer than he would to like at a gas station when an old man mishears him and puts to much petrol in his car. On they way, he calls his wife Se-hyun  and tells her he has bought a cake for his daughter’s birthday (why is it always the kid’s birthday in these films?) Then, as he enters the tunnel, he is caught in the middle somewhere when a rockslide causes the tunnel to collapse.

Luckily, he can still make communication with the outside world because his film has 82% battery; and even 150 metres underground he always has a perfect mobile phone reception. Calls are made between him and wife Seohyun, as well as the head of the rescue operation Dae-kyoung (O-dal su).

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I’m not sure why anyone would want to make a film about a man stuck in a tunnel. The possibility of doing anything new with it are  so small. There’s little in the way of tension. Although film tries to show the lack of water and how he must carefully ration it to be drunk each hour. The film only really becomes exciting when he learns that the tunnel is to be re-built after the chances of finding him alive are considered to low. Then he has to race against time to find his way out), although why he didn’t think of this before I have no idea.

Bae Doona has little to do in this film and we don’t learn anything about their relationship beside the fact that they have a four-year old daughter. The film contains some humour (usually towards the incompetence of the tunnel builders who couldn’t remember how many ceiling fans they had put in) and there’s even a cute dog who has somehow survived under the fallen rubble.

It looks like this film is one for Koreans only.

Rating: 5/10

Book review: A Kim Jong Il Production

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Incredible True Story of North Korea and the Most Audacious Kidnapping in History 

By Paul Fischer

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Anyone under the impression that the North Korean regime under the Kims is anti-cinema should consider the fact that kim-Jong Sil amassed an incredible library of films, some 20,000, including the Friday the 13th series and James Bond, which were his favourites.

The movie mad dictator was so enthralled with cinema that he made sure his citizens went to state-sanctioned productions once a week.

At the heart of this terrifying portrait of a madman is the scarcely believable kidnapping of the most famous South Korean actress and Director, both of whom were forced against their will to come to the North and make propaganda films for the Supreme Leader. Once in North Korea, the pair were given funding by Kim and made some of the most famous films of their career including Pulgasari.

Actress Choi Eun-Hee was held hostage and forced to act in Kim Jon-Il's propaganda films.
Actress Choi Eun-Hee was held hostage and forced to act in Kim Jong-Il’s propaganda films.

Any hard facts about the notorious regime are few and far between as the country has allowed few foreign visitors, however Paul Fischer has amassed some truly astounding facts about the Kim era dictatorship.

For example, the legendary account of the great leader’s birth in the sacred mountain known as ‘Paektu’, is revealed to be an outrageous work of fiction foisted on the North Korean people. Jong-Il was not born in Korea and his birth name was Yura. In fact, he only became Kim-Jong-Il in his twenties.

Tales of the regime’s criminal behaviour have led the family to be compared to the Corleones, and Kim Jong-Il to Tony Soprano.

Kidnappings of foreign nationals were all too common in North Korea. However the most outrageous is surely the capture of Choi Eun Hee, then the most famous actress, and her husband, Sang-ok Shin.

The success of these South Korean films must have been known to Kim Jong-Il. Most of the North Korean productions came with heavy political messages and were highly complimentary to the government. In fact the films were only a part of the relentless propaganda fed to its citizens, who have been led to believe that they live in a promised land. School children were made to destroy dolls of American soldiers, who they referred to as Yankee dogs. South Korea was known as ‘American’s Whore’. The television news reported news of riots and savage fighting in South Korea. It was said that the Chinese were starving due to having given up socialism.

Sometimes these appalling statistics can get in the way of the human drama of the captive film maker and actress.

Yet the book makes us fully aware of what living under this government must have been like. All the myths go to show the extent to which Kim went to cultivate personality cult, with himself as a self-appointed Divine Leader.

As well as being a massive movie buff with an archive collection of every South Korean film to that date) Jong-Il had written his own film text book called On the Art of Cinema, which contained such instructions as “a masterwork should be monumental not in size but in content” and he encouraged his writers and directors to favour character over plot, emphasizing “the different fates and psychology of persons … rather than the events themselves.”

In an interview with the Great leader, a microphone was secretly placed in the handbag of Choi-Eun Hee. Jong-Il discussed the sort of films they would produce, and Jong-Il stunned them by offering them $2 million US a year for a budget, clearly with the aim of gaining prestige for North Korean films at international film festivals.

It’s not spoiling the book by revealing that the couple eventually find freedom. It’s whilst on a promotional tour in Austria that they manage to break away from the regime’s clutches. What’s sad is that many in South Korea believed that the kidnapping was staged, an attempt by the director and his wife to revive their diminishing careers. Perhaps because of this, they were never entirely accepted in South Korea.

Although the book is as much about the Supreme Leader as it is about the kidnapping, it’s a powerful love story as any in the movies. The couple divorced in 1975 but reunited after the kidnapping. In many ways it was the kidnapping that brought them back together.

Shin Ok made no more films after 1986, but he made the Cannes Jury in 1994, ushering in a new era for cinema by granting the grand jury prize to Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction. As for Choi Eun Hee, she received the best actress award in 1985 at the 14th Moscow Film Awards for her part in the film Sogum. 

A Girl at My Door

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Director: July Jung

Doona Bae, Sae-ron Kim, Sae-byeok Song

There is a reason why all films have long credit seequences. The list of personnel involved in making a film is invariably long and most end titles for even a modest film like this are at least 3 minutes of the film’s duration. It could also be a useful device to allow the audience to reflect on what they have seen. It may be that the only way to process something very emotional such as this film is to spend three minutes staring at a black screen before returning to the world outside.

Korean filmmakers have already proved themselves some of the best in the world such as Park Chan Wook and Kim KI-Duk. Now from first time director July Jung comes this small, perfectly judged mini-masterpiece.

Police officer Yeong-nam has been relocated from the big city to a tiny rural backwater where the locals ride tractors along a highway and spend what little free time they have in the village’s beauty salon or in the karaoke bars. It’s a small scale environment that Yeong-nam does not adjust to well. Soon she is pouring alcohol into water bottles – the only way that she can find peace and sleep at night.

Into her closed off existence comes a young girl who seems to be the town’s whipping girl. Arriving at Nam’s door, the gir reveals a history pf physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. A bond forms between them and before long they become increasingly close: shopping for clothes together, sharing meals and even sharing baths.

For a scene which shows the  opening up of the police officer, look no further than that at the half-hour mark. In this scene, we learn all we need to know about the characters’ feelings towards each other. Nam has finished cooking dinner, and we know  from her expression that the girl has not received such an act of kindness for a very long time. The TV has been on in the background and the young girl performs a K-pop style dance, revealing her childish innocence and sweetness. The camera cuts back to Nam’s reaction: a perfect expression of amusement and acceptance. Its a look that suggests she is not going to judge the girl in any way but give her the freedom to express herself in any way she can.

The performance from Bae Doona could scarcely be better. There’s not a hint of overracting in her acting, just emotional realism. Think Marion Cottillard in Six days and Seven Nights and you get an idea of the kind of pure cinema I am talking about. The young girl from Ajusshi (Jae-Ron Kim), is now a teenager, all grown up. It’s a difficult part to play when you’re only 14 yourself but somehow she comes across believably.

I was genuinely moved by the ending. Admirers of pure cinema, natural performances will surely find much to love about the film. From now on I am watching anything Doona Bae does with serious interest. And if you’re new to the world of Han cinema, what are you waiting for?