Archive for the 'Korea movies' Category


London Korean Film Festival 제6회 런던한국영화제

The 6th annual London Korean Film Festival was held from 3-24 November this year. Although the title is not entirely accurate. Last year at least, and this year as well, the festival is shown in other cities throughout England. Previous years the bulk of the festival has been held at the Barbican. But this year no films were at the Barbican. Instead, the LKFF used the ICA and Apollo Picadilly. At first I was miffed about this because I like the Barbican. But I found the ICA was a good cinema and the Apollo is also good. However, it did mean having to be a little more organised to remember which cinema to show up to.

Due to some schedule clashes I was left with little choice on what to see this year. I was also a bit disappointed with the line up as a whole.  Notably, the LKFF did not include The Crucible. I don’t want to see this movie but it was sup rising that one of the most talked about Korean movies of the year didn’t make the line up. Perhaps they are scheduling a commercial release instead. Also disappointing was the appearance of Scandal Makers in the schedule. This is a cute movie but it was part of last year’s line-up.

In the end we saw two films:

1. Suicide Forecast. Ahead of the LKFF for reasons mentioned above (disappointment at the line up and disappointment that it wasn’t at the Barbican) I was inclined to be in a bad mood for this year’s LKFF. Then I saw Suicide Forecast and everything was forgiven.

Held at the ICA which I enjoyed, although we didn’t get designated seats, this movie was a superbly told tale of modern hardship and need to focus on the positive. The story revolves around an insurance salesman who has sold life insurance to four people with a history of attempted suicide. The company is about to be reviewed for bad practices so the salesman sets out to convince the four people to switch policies. He also needs to ensure they don’t kill themselves and make the company liable to the pay out before he can switch their policies over. In the course of his endeavours we discover the hardships these families face and why these individuals have sought an answer to their problems and that of their loved ones by ending their lives. It was generally a comedy but there were tears as well.

2. Dachimawa Lee. This was part of the Directorspective of Ryoo Seung-wan. It included the actress who starred in Greatest Love, a sitcom style rom-com (sit-rom-com?) on Korean TV when I was in Korea earlier this year. It also starred Ryoo Sueng-bum the Director’s brother and star of Suicide Forecast. This movie had the distinct aroma of a Stephen Chow movie with some 1960s Bond spoof and Sergio Leone spaghetti western tossed in for good measure. It was bizarre, over the top and a bit weird (none of that is a criticism, it was a fairly enjoyable film). Dachimawa Lee is a spy charged with recovering a golden buddha. In the process, of course, an inside job, hidden identities and so on are revealed.


London Korean Film Festival – A Frozen Flower

Tonight was the final night of movies for the LKFF being shown at the Barbican. The series of Bong Joon-ho’s movies goes on at the BFI until 14 November and some movies will be shown at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham until 18 November. The final movie at the Barbican was A Frozen Flower directed by Yoo Ha. This is an historical drama done with too much melodrama. It was a bit much for the mostly non-Korean audience and got a few laughs during scenes which were probably not supposed to be funny. It was just really too much. The story was predictable and a bit cliché. But it wasn’t all bad, the costumes and scenery were all striking and the fighting scenes were decent except for some parts of the final fight scene, which were not credible.

The LKFF, for me anyway, is over. My top three movies of the LKFF, in no particular order, are

  1. Kim’s Daughters
  2. Private Eye
  3. Scandal Makers

My two least favourite movies of the LKFF were:

  1. Dream (I think I’m done with movies by Kim Ki-duk)
  2. A Frozen Flower

Notice how I smoothly added a countdown list at the end there – that’s one of the tips for good blogging.


London Korean Film Festival – Private Eye and Scandal Makers

Tonight is the penultimate evening for the LKFF. We stayed for both movies beginning with Park Dae-min’s feature film debut, Private Eye. This is a murder mystery set in early 19th Century Seoul. It includes allusions to other great detective stories (Sherlock Holmes and Poe were the two I spotted but there could have been more) and story unfolds smoothly and at a decent clip.

The second movie was Scandal Makers directed by Kang Hyung-chul and starring Cha Tae-hyun. After watching a series of Korean movies that were either violent, depressing or both, it was a great pleasure to watch this movie. Kang plays Nam Hyun-soo a bachelor and b-grade celebrity who finds out he is the father of a teenage woman who herself has become a single mother. Fearing scandal that would end his mediocre career and comfortable lifestyle he tries to keep things under wraps. The movie avoids becoming a soppy ‘young man realises importance of family’ movie in the Disney style. It’s funny and well-made if perhaps a bit culturally specific given that in many countries the revelation of a young man having fathered a child in his younger days would barely raise any eyebrows.


Pusan International Film Festival – a retrospective series 3

Next morning we have a fine Korean breakfast with Mi-youn’s parents. Her father grows his own bean sprouts so we had bean sprout soup which was the best I ever tasted. After breakfast I get ready wearing my hip-hop pants green chord top my hair in a high half pony and a pale make-up look. I am spending the morning and some of the afternoon alone as Mi-youn has to go to a wedding. So I head off alone but there is no trouble finding my way back to the festival. It was easy.

My first movie is “The Goal Club”, a Thai film and it was fantastic. The best movie of the whole weekend and the best I’ve seen in a while. These poor Thai boys get involved in an illegal gambling ring and start cheating the system to make more money for themselves. At the end of the movie there is a short blurb about gambling rings and their cost on society.

The move over, I opt for ice-cream for lunch – a smarties mcflurry from Maccas, not as nice as the oreo’s one.

The next movie ins YongSanGun an old 1960s Korean movie about a King in the Chosun period who tries move the grave of his mother who was poisoned and deposed so he can honor her but the court doesn’t allow it. He eventually finds out the truth of his mother’s death and about those who conspired to have her deposed. He orders hundreds to be killed over the matter. The movie was so long and boring but the story itself was interesting. I rushed out as soon as it was over and met Mi-youn. We go straight to see our next session which is short Korean films.

These ones were more abstract and ‘arty’ then the first lot The first one didn’t even have English subtitles so I really missed its point. But mostly it was some Korean guy in New York with a bird cage on his head. The symbolism of this was completely lost on me.

Another one was called ‘Black and White’ and it was two guys who break into a house, get sprung by the father, who is an ex-army man and they have a sword fight in the dark and all die. The point was it was shot in black and white and every so often someone in the film would turn a light on in the house so the scene would go from being mostly black to stark whites. It was quite clever.

Another odd one was a lady who cooked dinner for two, ate alone. We kept getting shots of pictures of her and her husband and then her crying and in the end he is lying dead on the floor with a pencil in his neck. Huh!?? Very strange.

After these films we didn’t hang around for the discussion. Instead we went to check out the souvenirs. They had more stuff than the previous day. I picked out two book markers. Mi-youn was having a hard time deciding. In the end I bought her a book and she bought me this book and some stickers. The book I bought Mi-youn and her gift to me was equal value so it was a fair deal. The volunteers on the stand were very amused to see us buy each other a gift and swap like that. It was a nice ‘feel-good’ idea.

Then it was time to catch the train. We got to the station, picked up the ticket and even had time for a fast-food all-fat burger at Lotteria. Wasn’t I just there??

I left Mi-youn and boarded the train only to be rudely kicked out of my seat (see sour note at back) but in my new seat I got to meet a very nice fighter pilot in the Korean army. A bit cute too but only 22.

The rest of the trip was uneventful except the new man in the seat next to me kept making odd sucking noises. I don’t how or why.

On arriving in Seoul I had no money for a taxi. I tired a couple of bank tellers but apparently my card is “invalid for this service”. In the end I had to walk home. Thankfully its not far and only took 30-40 minutes. Even more thankfully Seoul is pretty safe so I could actually do that.

So that ends my recollection of my trip to the Pusan International Film Festival 2001.

What Fun!

Sour note: Just as my great (almost) weekend closes I have a rotten encounter with a dumb ajoshi. He changed my ticket with his, I don’t know why. But just as its too far to walk back, my car being the opposite end of the train, I realise his ticket ends before mine. I absolutely totally and definitely refuse to get out of this seat. And I hope from now on not to fall for that stupid trick again. And when I got to my new seat there were two girls too scared to talk to a foreigner even when I spoke in Korean. I hope the rest of the trip is better than the start…off we go!!

That is the final instalment of the my travel diary from the PIFF 2001.


Pusan International Film Festival – a retrospective series 2

We slept in Saturday morning and work up mid morning. There was a full Korean breakfast waiting with Japjae too. Then we got ready to head out. I chose to wear me dark green thin corduroys with black t-shirt and my hair blow dried and down.

We leave home to the subway station. Its not far and no transfers. Still we are chatting all the time. Mi-youn is worried it will be too crowded and claustrophobic. Me, I’m hoping for a crowd. its all about atmosphere. In the end we are both satisfied – a good crowd but not suffocating. We are standing in the middle of the crowd having only just arrived when Arirang TV asks me for an interview. Mi-youn, on my behalf, agrees straight away. As they are setting up a Korean channel joins in as well! They just ask a couple of questions about why I came, what I think of PIFF, etc. I got  a bit tongue tied but hopefully no-one will notice. Anyway it was perfect to make the whole thing really feel like a festival, a special event. Next I get my picture with some costumed promoters of the new Harry Potter movie. We change our reservation slips to tickets and then go and enjoy a coffee before our first movie.

The first movie for us in ‘Unfinished Song’. An Iranian film about a researcher from Tehran trying to record old folkloric songs of Iran. These songs were sung by women but women are banned from singing in public so the old songs are being forgotten. The researcher hears of a Lady called Hayran who is the only woman who knows the songs. He has trouble  finding her and when he finally tracks her, she is in prison….for gleemanship. And so it goes and then he discovers a dark history with her and his father. It ends sadly when she is about to sing for the researcher to record and he mentions that his father is dead. She starts crying and cannot sing. The end. It was a really great movie.  And to our pleasure/surprise the director showed up even though it was not scheduled. He thanked us for coming and after the movie I got him to sign my Film2.0 magazine over the section about his movie and Mi-youn and I got a photo with him. Fantastic!

There was also an older famous actress in the crown. Mi-youn pointed her out.

There is time before the next movie session so Mi-youn leads the way to a very old, delicious noodle house. Its not big nor classy but the grub is good and its the first I’ve actually liked the fish flavoured water. It was really  nice with the noodles.

Then back to the main area to wander the stalls, get my large Film2.0 bag for throwing lots of useless pamphlets in. We also pick out a t-shirt each and Mi-youn buys one for Sun-je (formally Joseph but Mi-youn’s father told her to change his name apparently it was bad karma or some such).

The next session was Korean short films. In order, Acid Rain, 8849m, A Music Box, Once…Something, and Round. The first was about a loser Korean salaryman who, after a drinking night with work mates picks up a girl prostitute and taker her to a yeogwan. After the deed is done he finds he is out of cash to pay her. They fight and the owner comes in and drags the man to a 24 hour teller but its out of order. Eventually he calls a work mate lady to come help him out. She does. But when the owner gets back he tells the girl he didn’t get the money. The loser guy is driving home and he gets a call…from his wife.

8849m is two guys climbing a mountain in a (real) snow storm. One guy dies but the other perseveres up to the top of the mountain. At the summit he wants to take a photo of him, the view and the Korean flag. He makes several unsuccessful attempts and then the camera freezes up. He puts it in his clothes to warm it but during the wait he too dies of frostbite.

A Music Box was a non-speaking deal and it appeared to be a bit of a ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” thing. It was a lady who took some pills and then cut her wrists but had flashbacks of a pretty young girl dancing and a young woman who I guess was her when she was younger. It was in black and white.

The next one, oddly was Polish actors but directed by a Korean. I didn’t really get this one either. A girl seems to remember being kidnapped when she was young and her husband’s older brother comes to visit and tells a story of a girlfriend of his who lost a baby in a miscarriage and later kidnapped a girl. But the older brother was too young for the girl’s memory of being kidnapped to match the story so I was a little confused.

The last movie in the set “Round” was quite good. It was two boxers preparing for a fight but it also showed bits of them being interviewed after the fight. You didn’t find out until the end who won. It was well done. The lights came on in the theatre and in walked one of the boxers from the movie. Both the boxers in the movie are boxers in real life.

Then the directors of each film came out front, plus the main actor from 8849m for a question and answer session. I got Mi-youn to ask why the interview scenes in the last movie were black and white but the rest was in colour. I expected an answer about artistic interpretation but in fact he said that he originally taped the interviews in black and white and when he did some movie trick to add the colour it came out all green so he kept it in black and white. A technical error.  Mi-youn also asked his age cause he looked so young. He is 28 and married.

That was the final session for the day so we left the cinema and decided to go for a wander around some nearby markets before dinner. It didn’t take long and it was surprisingly empty. However, outside the cinema there was a stage set up and they were doing some show with stars from the movie “The Last Winter” but it was too crowded to see anything. Walking away from the market there were more police guarding a van which we supposed had some celebrities inside but after 2 minutes we got tired of waiting and walking on.

We went for Solluntang for dinner. It was a nice place with delicious kimchi. Except at one pint the waiter tossed a four shelf high trolley of dirty dishes right up against our table. It was crazy. There was heaps of room to put the trolley rather than cramming it right up against our table…..ah, Korea.

After dinner Mi-youn promised to take me to Texas Street, an infamous place for drugs, prostitutes, and crime. There are many Russian and U.S Navy people who frequent the place and it has a reputation far worse than Itaewon. I found out why. In Itaewon there are prostitutes, drugs and crime but there are also lots of people just out to have some fun. In Texas Street the only people out were the drug sellers, prostitutes and Navy boys looking for something. No general crowd to conceal or dilute their presence. It was definitely more seedy than I expected. Mi-youn really didn’t like it so we didn’t stay for a drink. We left Texas Street.

We caught the train planning to head to a place I’d never been before to have a couple of beers but it was getting a bit late and the place was quite far. We aborted that plan and instead went to Seomyun and Hollywood. My second time to Hollywood. We take a seat at the bar, where most people are. The waiter gets a beer for me and June Bug cocktail for Mi-youn. He impressively opens my beer using his forearm and shakes Mi-youn’s cocktail by flinging it and twisting it and generally giving a little cocktail performance. Ahhhhhh… first beer in over a month. How sweet that golden taste. Now the drunk man across the bar keeps staring at me. Mi-youn notices this too. Oh, well he is also looking quite drunk so we assume he is harmless and sure enough a bit later he losses interest in staring at me.

Another waiter, a young hip-hop clad 22 year old comes over and listens in on our conversation but he can’t speak English. He is a cutey and tells me how beautiful I am. What a sweetie!! Only two beers but with another big day ahead its time to head home. In the doorway of Mi-youn’s house, every night a po-ja-ma-ja is set up. I think its wonderful.

We get home and her parents are there so I give them my ‘thank-you-for-letting-me-stay’ gifts. A bottle of red wine and some Aussie coasters. We decided to open the bottle for a quick nightcap. I chat a little to Mi-youn’s father and then we watch a little of a video of Mi-youn’s Mother’s recent trip to China. The scenery was spectacular.

My glass empty and time for bed. I’m asleep in 2 minutes.


London Korean Film Festival – Insadong Scandal

After a weekend off, it was back to the LFKK. Insadong Scandal delves into the underground art world of forgeries and fakes. The story is well-known with a little twist at the end. Our hero, played by Kim Rae-won, is brought in to restore a newly discovered painting from the Jeosun era by Bae Tae-jin, an art gallery owner and crook. Bae is a classy bitch and it was hard not to be impressed by her strong character and style.  I thought Kim Rae-won looked very familiar and was very surprised to find out that he was the lead guy in Otapbang Koyangi – a Korean soap which was on when I was living in Korea. Wow, does he look different, but still handsome.


Pusan International Film Festival – a retrospective series 1

Diary blogging or writing down old diaries via the medium of blog is not new. Although I have heard on the grapevine that it is becoming more popular. Always keen to be toward the front of the curve, I have decided to join the trend. I recently found an old notebook purchased at the 2001 Pusan International Film Festival (before we all changed to Busan spelling), which had a short diary of my visit to that event. So, I have decided to serialise the diary here on the blog. There are three entries which will appear over the next three days.

PIFF, Friday 9 November, 2001

I saw a promo weeks in advance, PIFF 2001. Conveniently it started the day I did an exam, a Friday. Escape after the exam, a weekend in Pusan, visit Mi-youn and watch movies. A great idea!! I e-mailed Mi-youn, picked out some movies, got my rail ticket and waited with growing excitement for the time to come.

Finally Friday 9 November 2001 rolled round. My bag packed the work day over I walked with my friend to the subway station chatting happily about my upcoming weekend. Upon getting off the subway train I proceed to the exit but for some unknown reason my card decides to go loopy and not allow me through the turnstile. A nice lady struggles in English to point out there is something wrong with my card. She needn’t have bothered. Pointing out the obvious , in any language, is still obvious. In the end I furtively glanced around then ducked under the turnstile with my bags and continued on my way.

Then I came out the exit furtherest from the Seoul Station as possible! Not the best start but time is plenty, the weather’s fine so I walk to the station with a bounce in my step (as much as my heavy luggage would allow) and a smile on my face.

On the way a seemingly American lady asks for direction and I help her on her way. My good deed done for the day. I enter the station, check my gate number and proceed to fuel up on an all fat, bad-for-your-health dinner. Bulgogi burger set at Lotteria. Good stuff!

Now its just a short wait to board the train. I take a seat and whip out my Film2.0 mag with its PIFF special section. I’m (attempting to) read it when the kindly looking ajooma seated beside me interrupts to chat with me. She figures my Korean must be good as I’m ‘reading’ a Korean mag. No problem, its good practice for me. We chat about jobs, family and, of course, marriage. She is taking the same train as me but only to Taejon so we walk along the platform and board together but her seat is further down. Nice to meet you ajooma!

I have so many things to entertain myself on the train. I have CDs, I have my Film2.0 mag with PIFF 2001 special inside plus I have Bleak House by Charles Dickens with not a page yet read. I start with the mag and Skunkhour CD. This takes about an hour and a half just to “briefly” flick through and read a few paragraphs here and there. And now my head is hurting a little from so much concentration so I switch CDs to enjoy the soothing, soulful tunes of Tracey Chapman, shut my eyes and take a kip.

Feeling slightly, though not much, more relaxed I finish my nap and pull out Bleak House, ceremoniously turn back the cover and begin to read….what!? I didn’t understand what was going on in the first chapter. I read it again…ahh now I get it. I have to concentrate harder. I can’t read the whole book twice!

I get through the second chapter and understand it too. First time. But this is hard work, like reading Korean. I close the book. Only thirty minutes left. I choose to stare blankly into space for the remaining time.

The train reaches Pusan. It is 12:37 Saturday morning. I get off the train and enter the station. No need to worry about Mi-youn, she is there waiting and loudly calls my name even before I see her. We greet, no hugs and immediately she bursts into endless chatter. Its great to see her again; its good to be in Pusan.

We leave the station and jump into a taxi. Its only a short ride to her area. Once there we decide to have a midnight snack at the noodle house which is not only open but apparently in a kinda rush hour. Its packed and pumping. I have noodles. Mi-youn opts for some very tasty kimchi mandoo.

After this we made our way up to her house but we continued to talk late into the night. I don’t even know what time we went to bed. We slept in the same room because the old spare room is now a study/store room. I had a strange dream about [name withheld] of [my hometown] – of all people!!

July 2018
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