Korean Film Nights: MA-EUM (마음) Brochure

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Voices of the Silenced, Programme Note

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Born in the Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Park Soo-nam is a second-generation Korean-Japanese. She first gained fame as a bestselling author with her book Crime, Death and Love (1963), which comprises two collections of correspondence between herself and Lee Jin-woo, a Korean-Japanese death row inmate who allegedly murdered two Komatsugawa High School girls in 1958an incident most known internationally through Ōshima Nagisa’s film Death by Hanging 絞死刑 (1968). 

In 1985, she shifted from writing to filmmaking with her debut as a documentary filmmaker on The Other Hiroshima. This was followed by Korean A-bomb Victims Tell Their Story, Song of Ariran – Voices from Okinawa (1991), Nuchigafu – Life is a Treasure “Gyokusai” Stories in the Battle of Okinawa (2012), and The Silence (2017). Park Maeui scavenges durations of silence from 50 hours of footage captured by her mother over her 30-year long filmmaking career; a personal film archive thus became an invaluable reservoir of historical testimonies.

“I thought video was the only way to capture their trembling words and bodies, as language couldn’t convey such profound silence (Voices of the Silenced, 2023, 46:47).”

This is what Park Soo-nam told the camera when she was asked why she first started making films—it was to capture the silence that evaded the pen. The register of non-utterance, including the countenance, the gesture, and the wordless flow of unfilled time conveys the lived experiences that cannot be reduced to speech—especially for those whose mother tongue is stripped away from them. Language becomes a weapon of subjugation, communication turns into a battlefield, and to speak is to be complicit in the reenactment of violence. Trinh T. Minh-ha effectively underscores the language of silence in her writings about voyages across continents and languages:

“In other words, silence not as opposed to language, but as a choice not to verbalise, a will not to say, a necessary interval in an interaction—in brief, as a means of communication of its own (elsewhere, within here, 2011).”

We listen to the voices of the silenced.

Eleanor Lu, programmer

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Korean Film Nights: Ma-eum (마음)

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Film is a powerful form of expression; a voice that takes many forms but is at its most powerful when spoken from the heart. “Ma-eum” can mean both heart and mind, symbolising the inseparable bond between reason and emotion.

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha describes Ma-eum as a true spirit, an inherent part of a person’s soul that remains unshaken by displacement or oppression. It resides in memory and is present in every word we speak.

We have curated a selection of films that use documentary cinema as a tool to express unique voices, preserve memory against the tide of forgetting, and maintain identity in the face of colonialism and modernisation. 

Our artists express themselves through imagery, speech, action, and song, whether collectively or individually, personally or publicly, intimately or boldly. They speak from the Ma-eum, the spirit-heart. 

Many of our films are screening in the UK for the first time. Our programme includes shorts, artist films, features, and audiovisual works that explore historical events in both documentary and essayistic approaches. We aim to present a chorus of voices that demonstrate cinema’s unique ability to turn the specific into the universal. Experience the resonant power of Ma-eum; a symphony of spirits and memories.

Programmed by Birkbeck, University of London, Film Programming and Curating MA Students:
Cheryl Ho
Eleanor Lu
Najrin Islam
Paul Salt
Zhiyin Du
Mentored by Ricardo Matos Cabo

It is the mark. The mark of belonging. Mark of cause. Mark of retrieval. By birth. By death. By blood. You carry the mark in your chest, in your MAH-UHM, in your MAH-UHM, in your spirit-heart.

You sing.

– Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee, 1982

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The Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) was originally founded in 1984 in a small classroom inside the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation, predecessor to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). This has allowed it to flourish in a location very close to the Korean film industry, and for 40 years it has served as an educational venue for discovering and amplifying the Korean film landscape’s future potential. It is a place where the masters of modern Korean film found their beginnings, and where new talent is able to take charge of the future.


The Korean Academy of Film Arts is a national-level film education institute that has the special purpose of advocating for the training of film industry professionals. There was a time when the traditional process of becoming a director in the Korean film industry involved an apprenticeship system under which members of a specific director’s direction team would work as an assistant in order to gain experience. 


However, after the 1980s, the industry underwent radical changes as large numbers of exchange students returned from overseas film schools and kick-started a movement towards independent films created outside the system of popular media. This upheaval also prompted the emergence of private film education institutions independent of universities’ film departments, short film festivals, and private video technology that enabled the screening of copied videos. New directors and new film styles began to emerge in earnest, deviating from the traditional apprenticeship system and instead building on a foundation of various forms of human composition and diverse film cultures. KAFA, established in this trend, has created a different, alternative education opportunity situated somewhere between the film industry and an educational institution. It has made remarkable achievements by accommodating both non-majors who want to take their first shot at filmmaking and more experienced members of the industry who are interested in developing their own directorial styles. 


Above all, KAFA has been the starting point both for those directors who led the heyday of Korean films since the 1990s, such as Bong Joon-ho, Hur Jin-ho, Jang Joon-hwan, Min Kyu-dong, and Kim Tae-yong, as well as those who have led the generational shift of contemporary Korean films, such as Jo Sung-hee, Um Tae-hwa, and Huh Jung. Since its establishment, KAFA has steadily introduced dozens of high quality short and feature-length films every year, positioning itself as the birthplace of fresh talent in the Korean film industry.


To celebrate the 40th anniversary since KAFA’s founding, the London Korean Film Festival will introduce 4 feature films and 11 short films. These films have been positively received among KAFA works, and can act as a gauge for the beginnings of the directors and actors who are at the forefront of the Korean film industry.


Um Tae-hwa, whose 2023 film Concrete Utopia enjoyed critical success, made his debut in 2013 with the film  INGtoogi: The Battle of Internet Trolls. Also released in 2013 was director Kim Jung-hoon’s feature film Tinker Ticker. These two films both work that offer sharp insights into the nature of humankind, society, and the cultural Zeitgeist. 


Director Han Ka-ram’s Our Body is a work that highlights the presence of the female directors who have been shifting the Korean film landscape in recent years, as well as demonstrating the director’s unique personality in its focus on the idea of the “body” itself.


Mother Land, a stop-motion animated film by director Park Jae-beom, was painstakingly completed over the course of many years. The film illustrates the director’s deep affection for and dedication to the art of stop-motion, which is exceptionally uncommon in Korea, and also acts as an indication of the broad spectrum of talent emerging from KAFA programmes.


The festival also features 11 carefully selected short films, including: Container, a film from the sharp mind of director Kim Se-in, who received critical acclaim for her 2022 film The Apartment with Two Women; Don’t Step Out of the House, by director Jo Sung-hee, the director behind the 2021 sci-fi hit Space Sweepers; and director Jung Yu-mi’s film My Small Doll House, which has been widely praised by the animation world. 


All in all, these films represent the past 40 years of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, and through them, audiences will be able to experience all the contemporary emotions and concerns of the Korean film industry. 

Mo Eunyoung

Programmer for Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

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LKFF 2023 Brochure

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All around the world, the spectrum of film themes and film forms that portray impairments continues to expand. Disabled actors are increasingly being cast in roles as disabled characters, and we are also seeing growing diversity in the types of impairments portrayed in these films and stories. In the 2022 film The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, for example, scenes that show the blind lead, Jakko, are filmed in focus, while scenes that show the world around him are mostly a blur. The 2021 film CODA (an abbreviation that stands for “Child of Deaf Adults”), which tells the story of a hearing daughter to two d/Deaf parents, made headlines when d/Deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the 73rd Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as father Frank Rossi. 


However, in the case of Korean films, it is still extremely rare for Disabled characters to be portrayed by Disabled actors. A notable exception is Disabled actor and painter Jung Eunhye, who played Young-hui, an artist with Down syndrome, in the 2022 television series Our Blues. In a majority of cases, though, theatrical films about disability treat the characters’ impairments as little more than symbols of hardship or simple plot devices. 


At this year’s Korea Season, we will introduce four films that address the theme of disability. These two fiction films and two documentaries are works that each ask, in their own way, for the audience to engage with the idea of disability more deeply.


Innocent Witness tells the story of Ji-woo, an autistic teenage girl, as she stands witness in a murder trial. The script was written by Moon Ji-won, the writer behind last year’s world-famous drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo, and bears some similarities, in that it deals with both autism spectrum disorder and the legal system–in fact, Innocent Witness could be considered a prequel to the story of Extraordinary Attorney Woo. ( Moon Ji-won stated in an interview that when she was asked to write the script for Extraordinary Attorney Woo, she approached it as if she were writing the story of Ji-woo, the lead of Innocent Witness, growing up and becoming a lawyer.) In the film, Ji-woo states that although her dream is to become a lawyer, that may never become her reality–however, she can become a witness instead. However, her suitability in the role of “witness” is rooted in a debate over her trustworthiness, which is inevitably linked to prejudice against Disabled people. The film effectively links themes of trust, solidarity, prejudice, and understanding with the reality of being disabled in today’s society. 


Corydoras seeks to expand on these themes by documenting the odyssey of Park Dong-soo, a disabled man with cerebral palsy who left his facility ten years ago and has been living independently ever since. Park’s story is one of resilience and determination, as he has overcome many challenges to build a life for himself outside of the institution. The documentary explores Park’s memories of the care home and his doubts about freedom, while also celebrating his achievements and his unwavering spirit.

Nocturne is another documentary film that connects disability with the realms of family history and art. The film delves into the psychology of a family who continues to fall out and reconcile. It shows the younger son’s observations of his mother, who tries to support her older son’s disability by encouraging his art, and his cold realisation of the deep emotional rift that exists in the family.


Finally, My Lovely Angel tells the story of a man who finds new meaning in his life as he learns to communicate with a child who has audiovisual impairments, which are still not widely known or understood. The film focuses on the way the two characters communicate, and shows the way their communication creates an almost utopian world between them. Despite the dramatic setting, delicate performances by the two lead actors makes the audience believe in the power of intentional communication.


Choi Eun Young


Programmer for Persons with Disabilities Film Festival in Korea

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Korean independent filmmakers continue to turn out an impressive number of new features every year, despite a lingering downturn at Korea’s box office and cuts to public funding. With surprising regularity, large numbers of talented new directors emerge and make names for themselves each year. The Indie Talent strand is devoted to highlighting such new voices, as well as the works of established directors who are pushing themselves in new directions.


Independent cinema is an important complement to the mainstream industry because it provides space for different approaches to storytelling and characterization. This can be seen in the assortment of characters who appear in the four films chosen for this section. One of the “rules” that screenwriters working in the mainstream industry are expected to follow is that main characters generally must be likeable, dynamic and exude a positive energy. There’s perhaps nothing wrong with this in itself, but the end result is that protagonists all tend to fall within the same set of familiar, recognised types.


The heroes of independent films tend to be more like us: lacking confidence, susceptible to mood swings and exhibiting a messy blend of positive and negative traits. The decisions they take can sometimes be frustrating to viewers, but in the end, it is often their weaknesses that make them appealing. Take for example the character of Seol-hee in director Lee Kwang-kuk’s A Wing and a Prayer. In the very opening scene, she’s grilled in a job interview about her dreams and ambitions for the future, and she answers quite honestly that she has none. Her roommate Hwa-jeong is frustrated to no end at her lack of initiative, but we come to see Seol-hee in a different light when she encounters someone who needs her help. Indecisive, directionless heroes are hard to find in mainstream cinema, but Seol-hee emerges as a memorable and fully three-dimensional character nonetheless.


Jisu, the protagonist of director Shim Hye-Jung’s Flowers of Mold, gives an alarming impression when we first see her. Her habit of rifling through trash to discover secrets about her neighbours seems unhinged, not to mention morally problematic. Despite this, there’s something fascinating about the contradictions in her personality and the way she goes about her daily life. Gradually, the film gives us greater access into her mind and heart to help us understand her actions. 


Director Lee Jeong-hong’s A Wild Roomer is very much about ordinary, flawed, contradictory human beings. The protagonist Gi-hong is no exception, being an interesting conversationalist but slightly lazy and prone to making gaffes. In place of a clearly structured plot, A Wild Roomer focuses instead on his various encounters with a range of similarly eccentric people. 


Finally, A Letter from Kyoto delves into all the complicated tension, affection and misunderstanding that can exist among three grown sisters and their mother. This work fits into the category of films whose characters feel more real than fiction, in part because director Kim Min-ju never strives unnaturally to make the characters likeable. If we do end up liking them after all, it’s because we recognise so much of ourselves in their struggles.   


Darcy Paquet

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LKFF 23: WOMEN’S VOICES – Programmer Note

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The six films introduced in the Women’s Voices programme of the London Korean Film Festival illuminate the theme of “women in relationships,” using diverse formats to explore the various difficulties women face in their interpersonal interactions. These difficulties are strongly rooted in reality, which can invoke a sense of frustration, but through the deep concerns and numerous formats presented in these films, audiences are able to view the world through new perspectives and with new possibilities. 

In recent Korean films, there is a noteworthy tendency to focus on the relationship between mother and daughter, in particular a mother-daughter relationship that is entangled by complex emotions among other family members. These mothers and daughters hate and love each other, feel comfort and discomfort with each other, and see their pasts and futures in each other. Some movies that explore these aspects of the mother-daughter relationship include both dramas like The Apartment with Two Women or Missing Yoon and documentaries like Welcome to X-World, among others.

A Table for Two, featured in this festival, is a documentary film that examines the deep and intimate foundations of the mother-daughter relationships by focusing on a daughter, Chaeyoung, who suffers from an eating disorder, and her mother, Sang-ok, who is raising Chaeyoung alone. Director Kim Bo-ram originally set out to explore why so many young Korean women in their teens and 20s show symptoms of disordered eating, but after meeting Chaeyoung and Sang-ok, discovered that such symptoms are often closely related to both social conditions and close interpersonal relationships. The film also portrays those individuals who listen carefully to the concerns of the main subjects and support them in renewing their relationship.

The festival also features three short films, My Annoying Mother, A Room of Two Women’s Own, and My Little Aunt, all three of which take mother-daughter relationships as their main theme.

My Annoying Mother features a young woman named Gayoung, who dreams of becoming a film director, despite opposition and discouragement from her mother. She feels that a mother should cheer for, encourage, and help her daughter, yet her mother belittles her and criticises her skills and studies. To express her feelings, Gayoung chooses to make a movie about how much she hates her mother. The film My Annoying Mother maintains a bright and cheerful atmosphere until the end, and the use of film and direction as a plot device allows audiences to explore both sides of the mother-daughter relationship.

A Room of Two Women’s Own is a short film about housework, which is essential to our lives but is rarely respected as a “job.” In the film, writer Ji-young is struggling to keep up with her housework. There are two people in her life who want to help her out: her mother, and a ghost in her apartment named Muyoung (a Korean word meaning “nameless”). The film explores Jiyoung’s desire to rewrite her relationship with her mother while distancing herself from the things her mother takes care of for her.

Finally, My Little Aunt tells the story of the friendship between 12-year-old Soyoung and her aunt Ji-ran. It focuses on the idea of “liberation of the chest,” and happily depicts portraits of women of different generations set against the backdrop of Jeju Island. The women in this film display a sense of freedom despite their expectation of disharmony from the men in their lives, and the film depicts the life of and subtle changes in Soyoung’s mother, who is fairly conservative in personality. These three short films each explore the topic of “care” in their own way.

The final films of the program are animated short films That Summer and How to Get Your Man Pregnant. 

That Summer is the story of two girls who met and fell in love as teenagers. Their romance is set against a watercolour-like background that makes their love story seem soft and dreamlike. At age twenty, the two girls head into the city, but struggle to find their place in the world as they search for money, dreams, relationships, and their own queer identities. The film demonstrates how closely the personal, intimate act of love is linked to the social conditions that surround them.

Finally, How to Get Your Man Pregnant uses the lens of science fiction to examine the practical problems of pregnancy and childbirth. The contrast of the witty dialogue with the serious setting in which male pregnancy is possible enables both pleasant laughter and a thoughtful consideration of the issues presented. 

These films showcase the wide variety of ways in which films can express the problems that women face socially, as well as the concerns that plague them in their interpersonal relationships. Through these six colourful works, audiences have the opportunity to listen closely to the voices of female creators that are resonating in Korea.

Son Sinae

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LKFF 23: CINEMA NOW – Programmer’s Note

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As the strand devoted to contemporary Korean film, Cinema Now surfs the Zeitgeist and rides the Hallyu’s crest, capturing the present in cross-section. This synchronic approach to a national cinema ensures two things in conflict: continuity, and novelty. For while the strand’s selection represents the cutting edge and the (roaring) current of Korean cinema today, the discoveries at that coalface have surfaced only because of what has been previously mined – and so every year Cinema Now uses the ever-shifting prism of the present to look backwards as much as forwards. 


Walk Up, for example, is a return – not just of the Festival’s old friend Hong Sangsoo, but of his typically simple seeming narrative format that conceals within it something more complex. Here, appropriately enough, Hong’s subject is time itself, which makes several abrupt leaps forward, even as the location – a semi-residential, multi-stor(e)y building – never changes. In this structure we see characters – including ageing film director Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo), who would appear to be a stand-in for the director himself. Looking back in a different way is Lee Hae-young’s beautifully stylised Phantom, a classic whodunnit/spy adventure set during the Japanese Occupation, yet coming with all manner of kickass modern sensibilities. 


Park Sang-min’s sophisticated metamovie I Haven’t Done Anything uses a ‘screenlife’ format to show washed-out actor Oh Tae-kyung (played by the real Oh) drawing on his best known role from the past (a bit part in Oldboy (2003)) as he attempts to reinvent himself (or someone similar) as a Youtube influencer. This one builds from arbitrary-seeming chaos to an elegant conclusion that is as perfect as it is unexpected and cynically confronting. It is also, at 90 minutes, relatively short in duration for a Korean film these days. Even more compact and economic, despite a boldly involuted narrative structure, is Chang Hang-jun’s taut neo noir Open The Door, which looks back over the disintegrating lives of a migrant Korean family across two generations in New Jersey, while inverting its own episodic chronology to suggest inevitable, indeed Irreversible (2002) tragedy born out of early optimism, with every opened door closing on a brighter future. 


Similarly retrospective is Min Yong-keun’s postmodern portrait Soulmate, which not only looks back over many years of two women’s evolving friendship both as schoolmates and fellow artists, but is also a seamlessly relocated remake of an earlier Chinese film. Like the photorealist sketch at its centre, this is a (cinematic) trompe l’oeil, tricksier than it first seems. Also dealing with schoolgirl friendship, though otherwise very different, is Lim Oh-jeong’s punkishly anarchic Hail To Hell, in which two suicidal teenagers, out for revenge against their tormentor, find themselves at war with a doomsday cult, before seeking salvation on their own terms. There is simply nothing else out there like this. Meanwhile Lee Sol-hui’s Greenhouse shows a middle-aged carer and mother whose mental illness – along with a chain of bad decisions – lead her to spiral downwards in her increasingly inextricable professional and personal lives. The palpable tension here is pure Hitchcock. 

Anton Bitel

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Job Opportunity: London Korean Film Festival 2023 Volunteers

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The London Korean Film Festival (2nd – 16th November 2023) is seeking enthusiastic volunteers to carry out specific roles across the Festival and during the build-up.
Our volunteer programme is a good way to gain experience in a variety of areas, from event production to technical, while also gaining insight into the film festival sector and Korean culture. Depending on the shift, volunteers’ responsibilities might include providing good customer service to our audiences, guests and delegates. We will also have various runner or production crew tasks before the Opening Night (Nov 2nd).
Specific working hours and duties will differ for each programme/event and will be discussed and agreed with the LKFF staff following the selection and recruitment process.
NOTE: You will be expected to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts during the festival time (2nd -16th November).
All LKFF volunteers working over 4 hours on any given day will receive subsistence and travel cover.
– Eligibility: Over 18s
– Festival Location: Central London.
– Application Process:
Please submit your application via online form, any other way of appliying wont be considered. Your application should outline why you are interested in the role, as well as the skills and experience. The closing date for applications is Friday 6th October.
Once applications have been processed, selected candidates will be notified.
– Deadline: Friday 6th October, 2pm
If you have any questions, please get in touch via kcclkff@gmail.com
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