Job Opportunity: London Korean Film Festival Volunteers

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The 16th London Korean Film Festival (4 – 19 November 2021) are seeking enthusiastic volunteers to carry out specific roles across the Festival and during the build-up.

The 16th London Korean Film Festival will host 30+ cinema screenings in London. We are 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, while volunteers available before the Opening Night (Nov 4) will have the opportunity to shadow members of the Marketing, Events and Programming departments, taking on general office administration tasks, helping prepare the 2021 edition of the festival.

Specific working hours and duties will differ for each programme/event and will be discussed and agreed with the LKFF staff following selection and recruitment process.

NOTE: You will be expected to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts during the festival time (4 -19 November).

All volunteer duties will comply with Social Distancing guidelines.

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 Procedure: Please email info@kccuk.org.uk with your CV and Cover Letter

– Deadline: Friday 1 OCT 2021, 2pm

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London Korean Film Festival 2021: Special Focus Announcement

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After a mostly digital edition in 2020 the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) is pleased to be returning to cinema screens across the UK’s capital for its 16th year, running from 4 – 19 November 2021. With the biggest programme dedicated to Korean cinema outside of the country itself, the festival is proud to present a rich and diverse line-up showcasing the year’s biggest box-office hits, independent cinema, women’s voices, animation, documentary, award winning shorts, plus a Special Focus celebrating the career of veteran actor and Academy Award winner Youn Yuh-jung.

This year’s LKFF will begin on 4 November with a typically exciting Opening Gala, the UK Premiere of director Ryoo Seung-wan’s action-packed true-life political drama, Escape from Mogadishu (2021). Set in the capital of Somalia during the country’s 1991 Civil War, the film centres on the staff of the South Korean embassy who become trapped as war rages on the streets around them. Stranded and under fire, the group are approached by their counterparts from the North Korean embassy. Opting for an unlikely team-up, the group make an audacious plan to reach the airport and escape the country. From action cinema maestro Ryoo Seung-wan (The City of Violence, Veteran) the film stars Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung and Huh Joon-ho and skyrocket up the charts on its Korean release this year, surpassing 3 million admissions within a month of its release and becoming the highest grossing film of 2021. The festival’s Closing Gala on 19 November will be the UK Premiere of Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness (2020). Invited to screen at Cannes in 2020, and set to open Busan International Film Festival on 6 October, this screening offers an exciting early look at the latest work from an internationally renowned director to a London audience. Starring Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, 2003 I Saw the Devil, 2010) and Park Hae-il (The Host, 2006 Memories of Murder, 2003) and featuring the festival’s Special Focus star Youn Yuh-jung, the film is a warm-hearted road trip that follows two men, one an escaped convict, who get their hands on a large sum of money and take to the road, dreaming of how they can use the cash to better their lives.

With her Oscar win and incredible performance in Minari still fresh in the minds of UK film fans the LKFF is inviting audiences to take a deep-dive into the back-catalogue of this extraordinary actress with the strand Special Focus: Youn Yuh-Jung. This programme will draw from across Youn’s career with retrospective screenings of some of her finest work to present a comprehensive look at one of Korea’s most celebrated performers. Key titles include the European Premiere of a brand new digital restoration of the actor’s very first role, Woman of Fire (1970), from Korea’s idiosyncratic master filmmaker Kim Ki-young and shown on the big screen for the first time in 50-years. Infused with director Kim’s typically audacious use of colour, this intense thriller provided a bold introduction to a dynamic new screen presence in Youn Yuh-jung. Also presented in a new 4K restoration and being shown for the first time outside of Korea, and Youn Yuh-jung’s third collaboration with master-auteur Kim Ki-young, is Angel, Become an Evil Woman (1990). This tale of two women who plot to murder their unfaithful husbands was scorned by its own director and not seen publicly until after his death at the 1998 Busan International Film Festival. Youn’s collaborations with acclaimed director Im Sang-soo will also be highlighted with screenings of A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003), nominated for Venice’s prestigious Golden Lion, and The Housemaid (2010), nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Further screenings include E J-yong’s 2016 festival favourite The Bacchus Lady (2016) with more special presentations, introductions and events still to be announced.

Further highlights from this year’s festival include the UK Premiere of Aloners (2021), the directorial debut of Hong Seong-eun which won the Grand Prize at Jeonju International Film Festival 2021 and earned further acclaim at Toronto International Film Festival 2021. With a sensitive and absorbing central performance from newcomer Jeong Da-eun, Aloners peels back the layers of angst and loneliness of a young woman who has actively shut herself off from the world around her. The latest sweeping, sumptuous epic from the modern specialist of the historical drama, Lee Joon-ik (The Throne, Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet), The Book of Fish (2021, UK Premiere) stars Sol Kyung-gu (Oasis, Peppermint Candy) as a scholar exiled to an island who trades his knowledge in Confucianism with a fisherman in order to write a book about the sea. Following a debut at Cannes 2021, the latest work from celebrated auteur Hong Sangsoo In Front of Your Face (2021, UK Premiere) finds a young actress readying herself to meet a director interested in casting her for a film role. As is typical for Korea’s prolific filmmaker, the low-key, minimalist style and plotting gives way to profound themes.

Full LKFF2021 programme details will be announced shortly, including screenings, introductions, Q&As and more. The London Korean Film Festival 2021 runs from 4 November – 19 November with cinema screenings in London and around the UK 

Facebook: @theLKFF
Twitter: @koreanfilm
Instagram: @london_korean_film_festival

For any press requests please contact festival publicist Christopher O’Keeffe: chris@witchfinder.co (+44 7413 157 011)

Notes to Editors

About London Korean Film Festival:

The London Korean Film Festival will return to celebrate its 16th year from 4 November – 19 November 2021, featuring 35+ cinema screenings in leading venues around London. 

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 to committed cinephiles, and everyone in between.

The 16th 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. 

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 holds 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.

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London Korean Film Festival 2021: Artwork Announced

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This year’s LKFF artwork draws upon the global significance of Korean cinema with bold neon colours, standing out against a black background. As in 2020, the circular theme represents the gaze of a camera lens, focused on the LKFF logo in the centre. The theme of ‘journey’ is explored here through the circular lines tracing around the edge of the frame. Youn Yuh-jung’s incredible acting journey started in 1970 with Kim Ki-young’s Woman of Fire. Since then she has encompassed the most iconic Korean directors and landmark films. Her surname (여정, Yuh-jung) also translates as ‘journey’ in Korean.

Our bold new style reflects the recent success of Korean film, which was once again highlighted on the national stage this year when Youn picked up Best Supporting Actress Awards at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs for her role in Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020). 

Stay tuned for more announcements on our lineup and venues. Looking forward to seeing you again in November!

Artwork by Everyday-practice.

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Youn Yuh-jung: An Actor for All Seasons

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The American Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added the categories of best supporting actors, male and female, to the Oscar awards in 1937. That was only the ninth ceremony in a total of ninety three so far. One of the several thousand gold-plated statuettes presented since the event began was awarded to the much-loved South Korean actor Youn Yuh-jung (also romanised Yun Yeo-jeong) at the last Oscar ceremony in April 2021. It was in recognition of her powerful and deeply humorous supporting role as halmoni/ grandma Sunja in Lee Issac Chung’s remarkable film Minari (if Korean film Parasite had not already won the Oscar for Best Film the preceding year, Korean-American Minari might have earned that statuette as well despite the overwhelming popularity of winner Nomadland). Youn not only won that Best Supporting Actress Oscar but the Screen Actors’ Guild and BAFTA versions as well, among many other accolades. In Korea the reaction was overwhelming.

It is easy to find Youn Yuh Jung’s acceptance speech online. * Listen to her short, irrepressibly funny thank-yous– who else would use the occasion to tease a Brad Pitt – and you’ll catch the name Kim Ki-young. He was the unconventional director – ‘an awkward genius,’ Youn has called him —  who gave Youn her first film part in 1970. She was in fact given the starring role: Myungja, a not-at-all-naïve young woman who comes from the countryside to wreak havoc in a city household, an odd mix of chicken farm and bourgeois pretensions. Youn had only been acting for a few years at the time. A part-time job at TV station TBC turned into an acting vocation when she won an in-house talent competition. By 1971 TBC had handed her the lead in the first television version of the tale of Chang Hui-bin, the most famous femme fatale of the old Choseon Dynasty. Kim Ki-young had, like the television producers, recognised her unconventional modern beauty and seductive energy. Youn swept the best-actress awards in Korea that year. Kim repeated the success of Woman of Fire the following year with Youn returning as Myungja in the even stranger, more fantastic Insect Woman. So it is no surprise that twenty years later, his career in decline, Kim tried to capitalise on her magic once again in what became his final film, Angel, Become an Evil Woman (1990).

The decades in between had been difficult for Youn. She had married a popular singer and he had taken her off to the US. She ended up with two young sons and a divorce. Back in Korea she picked up her career in TV drama but now the roles were not major ones. No one would give a lead role to a divorced woman. In conservative, patriarchal Korean society, divorce casts a much longer shadow over women than men.

Then director Im Sang-soo cast Youn in a relatively minor supporting role in his 2003 film The Good Lawyer’s Wife. And her come-back had begun. Youn more than held her own against emerging stars Moon So-ri and Hwang Jung-min in her role as Hwang’s sexually active mother, a woman determined not to be a dreary widow. In what now seems a pleasant prediction of future honours, Youn won the Busan Critics award for best-supporting actress that year. Im has cast her in other films since, but her most intriguing role was that of ‘Miss Cho’ in his 2010 remake and revisioning of Kim Ki-young’s most famous film, The Housemaid (1960). In Korea, all the best-supporting actress awards went to her in 2010.

In the space of a short retrospective it is pretty hard to suggest more than an outline of Youn Yuh-jung’s cinematic career. We have selected three films from 2016 to give some idea of the range of her acting skills across a single year: from the humour of Ladies of the Forest, to the mix of humour and tragedy in melodrama Canola and the haunting realism of The Bacchus Lady. We will soon be able to see Youn Yuh-jung in the epic TV series Pachinko. It is difficult to see anyone else in the role of matriarch Sunja: a soul-sister of Minari’s Sunja,  an embodiment of the complicated, tragic, contrary, fascinating seasons of modern Korean history.

*  For example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifGIAQz9rtk

Mark Morris

Korean Film Nights: In Transit

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In a special collaboration with Bertha DocHouse, KCCUK and Birkbeck University present a journey into contemporary Korean documentary. Korean Film Nights: In Transit addresses the continuously transforming public and private spaces of marginalised communities, which take on new meanings through different cultural viewpoints. These 4 carefully selected titles offer a meditation on spatial politics, exploring how they intersect with various personal narratives. Our programme will take place both at the Bertha DocHouse cinema and online, reflecting the current transient nature of cinema spaces.

There is a long-standing Korean documentary tradition of films about social and political change, with breakthrough works including The Sanggyedong Olympics (1988) and The Murmuring (1995). This tradition is rooted in activism, the labour movement and the amplification of underrepresented voices. It forms the historical context of our selection. In Transit showcases how four contemporary documentary filmmakers have positioned themselves within that history, both in dialogue and also offering new approaches to their craft.

Our programme explores different ways of understanding space and movement. It looks at how we negotiate our existence within spaces and how our experience is also expanded by them. The global experience of being confined into one’s house serves as a metaphor for personal spatial containment, but also reveals the socio-political structure of containment. Our four films offer an alternative way to transcend these states of confinement.

Weekends

In Transit opens with Weekends, a story about G-Voice, the first gay choir in Korea. As the group fight for their space to perform on stage, both literally and metaphorically, director Lee Dong-ha shines a spotlight on what happens when the collective helps repressed communities.

Book for Weekends, a Bertha Dochouse online screening, on Thursday July 29, 7pm

The Sea of Itami Jun

Jung Da-woon’s The Sea of Itami Jun treats space in perhaps the most literal way. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. Never quite finding his place in the world, Itami Jun designs his spaces to utilise the surrounding environment. Nothing is static in his work, not even his architecture is immune to the passage of time.

Book for The Sea of Itami Jun at Bertha Dochouse cinema, on Sunday 1st August, 6pm

Sound of Nomad

The theme of the diasporic Korean community is explored in Kim So-young’s Sound of Nomad. A filmic journey that starts in 1937, the film focuses on the Koryo people, displaced from East Russia to Kazakhstan. It looks at how the community creates their own space so far from home by embracing the richness of their culture. By taking care of each other and celebrating their roots, the community creates their own space of belonging and identity.

Book for Sound of Nomad + Rec. Q&A, a Bertha Dochouse online screening, on Thursday 5th August, 7pm

Time to Read Poems

The act of finding one’s home is depicted in Lee Soojung’s Time To Read Poems. What connects the five main characters is a drive to create their own safe spaces: mentally, physically, economically and socially. With the sensibility of a poet, the director gives them a way to express their vulnerabilities.

Book for Time To Read Poems at Bertha Dochouse cinema, on Tuesday 10th August, 6.30pm

In Transit gives space to the unrepresented, voice to people and stories often left silent or at the social and political margins. The selected films are predominantly directed by women and focus on the Korean diaspora, the working class and sexual minorities. By showcasing these films, we highlight the importance of community and the people with whom we share our lives and spaces. All these stories look back as a means to imagine a more connected and inclusive future.

They explore the importance of memory for who we are but also who we want to be. These documentaries show us the courage and resilience of the people in stories of displacement, those who take an active role in transforming their social and political realities. We experience a journey through the creation of collectively inhabited interior and exterior spaces, where identity is transferred and rediscovered. In this current moment of continuing uncertainty, of being in transit, these stories remind us of the potential we have for transformation.

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Filming Against the Odds: Five Films, Four Women Directors from Korea

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Our new series of Korean Film Night screenings is devoted to the work of four of the small number of women film-makers who managed to create feature films between the middle and end of the last century: from Park Nam-ok’s pioneering The Widow from 1955 to Lee Seo-gun’s offbeat fantasy Rub Love of 1998. On its way, the series offers a much-belated UK premier for two films by Choi Eun-hee from the 1960s.

The Korean Cultural Centre in London and its annual London Korean Film Festival has often highlighted the work of women film-makers past and present. ‘Women’s Voices’ has become a vital section of LKFF programmes. The 2016 LKFF Special Focus on women directors introduced work from Park’s The Widow to films by Lee Kyoung-mi (Crush and Blush 2008, The Truth Beneath 2016), a director whose recent 2020 Netflix series The School Nurse Files is still intriguing and mystifying viewers worldwide. Jeon Go-woon’s haunting Microhabitat (2017) occupied the opening gala spot in 2018, in recognition of the power of independent film-making by contemporary young directors.

This century has seen a wider participation by women in the entire film industry than would have been possible only decades ago. University film and television departments have flourished, the Korean Academy of Film Arts (since 1984) and Korea National University of Arts/K-Arts (since 1993) have produced graduates well-trained in film theory and practice. They have made it increasingly possible for talented, determined young women to take at least the first steps towards a career. For example, someone like Lee Kyoung-mi, with a first degree in Russian, could follow her truer passion and enroll as a student at K-Arts. (Even so, in her particular case, it seems to have been the friendly support of Park Chan-wook as producer on Crush and Blush which helped convert a gifted maker of indie short films into a significant new director.)

In earlier times the route to any film career was fairly narrow. To even dream of becoming a director generally meant beginning at the bottom, with the hope of apprenticing yourself as assistant director to an established film-maker. You had to learn on the job in a thoroughly commercial, almost exclusively male business, one which did not encourage experimentation on the artistic or personnel front.

When Park Nam-ok set out to shoot The Widow in the summer of 1954, South Korea was still lifting itself out of the ruins of the Korean War. Park, a huge film fan in her teens,  had written film reviews and tried to enter the film world in the late 1940s. She could only make it as far as the role of ‘scripter’ (a.k.a. ‘continuity girl’) for what happened to be Choi Eun-hee’s debut film in 1947. She joined a Ministry of Defense film unit during the war, where she gained crucial experience and made useful friendships. To create this first Korean film by a woman director, Park Nam-ok put together some money from her sister and obtained the help of a film-veteran and former neighbour, Jeon Chang-keun, who served as producer – he was her version of a Park Chan-wook. She cast the lovely rising star Lee Min-ja as her Shinja. Despite all that, the film was not a success nor did Park find a way to continue her career.

There is a much reproduced photo of her taken during the shoot, looking care-worn, her baby girl on her back. Film scholars have written about the sacrifices Park made to get the film completed, with apparently no help in caring for that little girl. In later life, she herself preferred a different, unsentimental photo: at a 1962 film festival in Tokyo, Park stands, in formal hanbok, next to top Korean star Kim Jin-kyu as Japanese superstar Mifune Toshiro leans over to light her cigarette.

Park Nam-ok’s The Widow deftly resists the pull of melodrama. A conventional approach might have protagonist Shinja wracked by guilt over neglecting her daughter and/or sleeping with a new man, the daughter could come down with some horrible disease and Shinja be forced to give herself to her patron, etc., etc. At least one critic has even suggested that Park’s lack of sentimentality was simply due to her lack of experience in proper (melo?) film-making. The Widow still seems a worthy forerunner to the women’s films which would follow.

During the 1960s film production soared. From some 100 features made in 1959, close to 200 would become the average. Despite the need for more directors, only two women had the chance to step behind the camera for significant productions. Hong Eun-won began as scripter, then fully-fledged scriptwriter before shooting her first film A Woman Judge in 1962. The film screened in the Special Focus section of LKFF 2019. Hong only made two more films, neither of which survive, before returning to scriptwriting. Something like a pattern was emerging in which women might be given three chances to direct, but producers were reluctant to let them develop a real career. Certainly the odds were never good.

Choi Eun-hee was already one of the biggest stars of the fifties and sixties before she made the first of her three films, Daughter-In-Law, in 1965. Her husband, Shin Sang-ok, already a major film director and producer, was just about to establish Korea’s largest studio, Shin Films. It may be hard to judge what degree of creativity Choi herself brought to the rather conventional and melodramatic story; the script was based on a popular radio series. While even her acting skills may not persuade us that Jeomsun really is a twenty-something, the relationship which develops between Choi/Jeomsun and the little master conveys a real sense of warmth and affection. The film was a success.

A Princess’ One Sided Love (1968), from two years later, is a lively costume drama set the middle of the Joseon era. It is refreshingly free of sentimentality and high-seriousness. Shin Films had the resources to produce a number of sagŭk historical dramas, but few achieve the humour of Choi’s. If only it had been shot in colour! Audiences nowadays can still appreciate how comically outrageous princess Suk-gyeong’s behaviour is: chasing a man — lower-status at that, defying her mother, insulting her grandfather, prowling the capital dressed as a man. As part of the film’s promotion, a special pre-release screening was held for a women-only audience. Maybe just a gimmick, but it  would be nice to know what the reaction had been.

Hwang Hye-mi was the lone woman director of commercial films active in the 1970s. She entered the film industry, as it were, from the top. Hwang had helped to produce films by the veteran Kim Soo-yong and her friend, writer-turned director Kim Seung-ok, before directing three films herself between 1970-72. First Experience (1970), a romantic melodrama, was well received by critics and the public. Yet no print survives of it nor of her two other melodramas.

Lee Mi-rye was only 28-years old when she made My Daughter Rescued from the Swamp in 1984. (We’d probably say, ‘saved from the gutter’). She had taken a familiar route: from scripter, when still a student, to a veteran director (Yu Hyun-mok ), then assistant director to another (Kim Ho-sun), to helming her first feature. The film was a hit, especially with younger audiences, ranking fifth most popular for the year. Her former mentor Kim Ho-sun paid her a left-handed compliment when in 1986, apparently trying to cash in on her success, he turned out a My Daughter Rescued from the Swamp 2. It flopped. People still recall fondly her second film Young-Shim (1990). Based on a popular manhwa (comics and print cartoons), it pulled out all the stops to appeal to youth culture, music and dance included. Lee went on to make four more films, the final one the disappointing This is the Beginning of Love (1990). Producers wanted her to stick to ‘high teen’ material, films pitched at teenagers and university students. Lee chose to leave the business.

Already, at the age of twenty, Lee Seo-gun had gathered praise for her short film The Suicide Party (1995); by twenty-one she had scripted the controversial film 301, 302 (1995) for established director Park Chul-soo. It is well worth mentioning that one of the two co-stars of the film, Pang Eun-jin, would go on to become a successful director the following decade. And she’s made more than three films.

The tide of melodrama which Park Nam-ok seemed to resist, and which women directors of the sixties and seventies generally drifted along with, had very little purchase on Lee Mi-rye and none, it seemed, on Lee Seo-gun. Her exploration of fantasy and dark emotions in Suicide Party led onto the black, queasy humour of 301, 302. It pairs as neighbours a food-fetish chef, 301, with a victim of sexual abuse suffering from anorexia, 302. We might guess that after that, Lee’s Rub Love (1998) was intended as an exercise in lightness, even silliness, kept aloft more or less by visual experimentation and the beauty of female lead Lee Ji-eun, then at the peak of a short career. The film appeared at a time when for a number of reasons, such as competition from TV and Hollywood, audiences for Korean-made films were meager, nothing like the crowds who would support the revivified cinema of this century. Lee would have to wait until 2009 to make her next film. The Recipe is a nostalgic evocation of food, memory and lost love: Lee played it safe this time and let a bit of melo in by the front door.

So much for the past. We can look forward to the autumn and to seeing what new women film-makers the next edition of the London Korean Film Festival – the 16th —  will be introducing to both me and to you.

Our KFN series Filming Against the Odds: Five Films, Four Women Directors from Korea starts on 14 May with Daughter-In-Law. Films will be hosted on the KCCUK YouTube channel and released every two weeks.

The last film in our season, Lee Seo-gun’s groundbreaking 1998 sci-fi drama Rub Love, is available here.

The Widow will be available throughout the season on the Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel here.

*Filming Against The Odds is programmed in collaboration with the Korean Film Archive and curator Mark Morris

*Mark Morris is a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. For the past 40 years he has been teaching and researching East Asian culture, with a special interest in Korean Cinema. He is an advisor to the London Korean Film Festival and participates regularly in a wide variety of film events in the UK, Europe and South Korea.

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Lee Byung Yoon (BEFF) and the ‘Yuwol Universe’ short films

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Lee Byung Yoon was born in Seoul, was raised in the United States, and returned to Korea to study film directing at the Korea National University of Arts. There he discovered a love for dance, and, between commercial shoots and dance classes, made the 25-minute short Yuwol: The Boy Who Made the World Dance in 2018 under his working name BEFF.

At the heart of this short is a phenomenon akin to tarantism, a medieval dancing mania associated with the Italian province of Taranto and the bite of the tarantula. Here, though, the setting is a contemporary school and its surroundings in a Korean city, where dreamy young misfit pupil Min Yuwol (Sim Hyeon-seo) wakes up in class with an irresistible rhythm luring first his eyes, and then his whole body, into motion. As his strict teacher Miss Hye-lim (Choi Min) imposes discipline on the class, Yuwol finds himself at the centre of an outbreak of compulsive twitchings and zombie-like convulsions among his peers which he, through the exuberant force of his presence, choreographs into dance around him. Recognising Yuwol as patient zero in this rapidly spreading infection of resistance, Hye-lim and the other teachers pursue the boy, only to succumb to the craze one by one, and to abandon themselves to the subversive, addictive rhythm. It may all be just a dream of rebellious freedom, but Yuwol’s sense of wayward joy proves irrepressible, even in reality.

This is a spectacular extravaganza, taking Yuwol through a wide range of routines and locations, from pop in the school corridors, to tap in a Youtube studio kitchen (with BEFF himself playing a dancing director), to an intimate pas à deux in the school’s staff room, to a Grease-style outdoors ensemble number in the playground. Its message, articulated by Yuwol as “Who cares? Let it out”, is an ecstatic plea against the forces of repression, even as, with a certain irony, the beat of the music imposes an order of its own, if different from the prevailing conformity.

Made two years later, BEFF’s 10-minute follow-up short I Wanna Dance With Somebody sees Yuwol (now played by Kim Jong-woo) as a grown-up, headband-wearing ‘loser’ in college. Amid a rash of mysterious infections that have kept the teachers from class, Yuwol gets the dance bug again, but fails to finds a partner in this university environment, and so, alone in a gym, he dances solo to the strains of Whitney Houston singing “I wanna dance with somebody… who loves me” around a mirror, until his younger self (Sim Hyeon-seo) emerges and joins the lonely student in an enthusiastic duet.

It is a peculiar fantasy, showing an adult still very much in step with the rhythms of his inner child, while also capturing a moment of narcissistic longing and self-love as dance. The credits declare it part of the ‘Yuwol Universe’, leaving us wondering where BEFF and ‘Team Yuwol’ will take this chorophile character next.

Register to attend our Lee Byung Yoon on Yuwol KFN online talk.

 

 

 

Anton Bitel is a part-time Classicist and freelance film critic, contributing regularly to (among others) Sight & Sound, Little White Lies and VODzilla.co. He is a programmer for the London Korean Film Festival.

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Doc Alliance and Jeonju Film Festival

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At the end of 2020, DAFilms launched a new platform in Asia. Given the platform’s origins in the 7-festival Doc Alliance as well as its recurring collaborations with European and North and South American festivals in general, it seemed only natural that this new Asian iteration would forge a similar path in new regions. And of all the festivals in South East Asia, few can claim to be quite as essential to both Asian and world cinema as Jeonju IFF. DAFilms is happy to announce that its first festival collaboration on the Asian continent is with Korean’s most important film festival, bringing a crop of films hand-picked by festival programmers to Asian and world audiences via DAFilms. This first focus on Korean film via Jeonju is a significant step in the direction of bringing locally-curated Asian and Korean films to international viewers, something LKFF has itself been engaged in since the start of its mission. This particular selection combines many different kinds of works, spanning history, politics, dance, art, UFOs, and domestic drama, giving a flavour of the sheer breadth of Korean film and television today, as well as hinting at the future of festival collaborations at DAFilms, which will cover a similarly broad sweep.

Doc Alliance is the result of a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals.The aim of the Doc Alliance initiative is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and continuously promote quality creative documentary films.

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Yi Ok-seop and Koo Kyo-hwan: Three short films

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Part of our Spring KFN season celebrating short film innovators.

Yi Ok-seop is the writer/director of a number of short films (starting with her 2010 debut Please Find My Mum), and of the feature Maggie (2018), which screened at the BFI London Film Festival. Koo Kyo-hwan is an actor who in 2013 debuted as writer/director on the shorts Where Is My DVD? and Welcome To My Home – in which he also starred. In 2014, Koo would take a lead role in Yi’s short A Dangerous Woman, and so began a long and fertile creative collaboration which lasts to this day. Koo has headlined as an actor in nearly all Yi’s subsequent work, as well as co-writing and co- directing her shorts Love Docu (2015), Fly To The Sky (2015) and Girls On Top (2017), and co- writing Maggie. Much of their work is collected on a shared YouTube channel, from which we have selected three of their short films that come with good English subtitles.

You can watch all of the below films on Yi Ok-seop & Koo Kyo-hwan’s YouTube channel here. When viewing use the CC button for English subtitles.

Where Is My DVD

They say ‘Write what you know’, and in Koo’s directorial debut Where Is My DVD? there would appear to be an obvious element of the autobiographical, even if that is constantly subverted by a strong streak of the absurd. Here the quest of actor Gi-hwan (Koo) to retrieve disk copies of all his previous films is at once a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a methodical confrontation with past colleagues and formative experiences, a wry metacinematic odyssey through the ambitions, pretensions and disappointments of Korea’s indie filmmaking scene, and a preparation for his latest role. Along the way, there is a recurring fixation with oral hygiene – and it all culminates in a coda (presented as a DVD’s ‘special feature’) in which the (semi-)fictive Gi-hwan receives unwitting encouragement from none other than Korea’s most successful writer/director, Bong Joon-ho.

Watch Where Is My DVD? here

A Dangerous Woman

Yi’s A Dangerous Woman is a love triangle. Fine arts student Bo-kyung (Kim Kkot Bi) has been going out for four years with Duk-woo (Koo), but while their relationship is comfortable, she feels it has long since lost its heat and become suffocating (a metaphor that in one sequence will become literalised) – so she has strayed to fellow artist Soo Jang (Baek Soo Jang), and now finds herself caught between them, leaving her life as dysfunctional as the second-hand fan that she has recently acquired. It is a funny, breezy portrait of a compromised woman, plus a cabbie who rejects his assigned part as an incidental character, and some very smart intermixing of diegetic and non-diegetic music to underscore Bo- kyung’s heartbreak.

Watch A Dangerous Woman here

Girls On Top

The much shorter, much more surreal Girls On Top concerns a circus performer (Lee Joo-young) who has recently quit aerial acrobatics for unicycling, her friend (Chun Woo-hee) who has had to abandon a beloved cactus that has outgrown her apartment, and the gravity-defying solidarity that these two women show each other as they face change together.

Watch Girls On Top here

 

 

Anton Bitel is a part-time Classicist and freelance film critic, contributing regularly to (among others) Sight & Sound, Little White Lies and VODzilla.co. He is a programmer for the London Korean Film Festival.

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Korean Film Nights: Short Film Innovators

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For our Spring edition of Korean Film Nights, we present short films from two innovative YouTube channels. In the era of Coronavirus we have witnessed the film industry shifting online, and these offerings showcase the rising stars who have continued to draw audiences of thousands to view their imaginative, dramatic and artistic works.

Our first selection is from YouTube channel Salon De 0.5 F (Underground Salon). We will shortly be hosting an online event with talented directors Kim Soy and Kim Kkobbi, stay tuned for details on what promises to be an insightful talk. When viewing our short film selections on YouTube use the CC button for English subtitles.

And So Again Today: Four short films from the Underground Salon

And So Again Today is the collective title for a compilation of four Korean short films, all directed by actors, and all posted on the YouTube channel Salon De 0.5 F (Underground Salon) in 2020. In a sense those are the only formal connections between the films but, perhaps in reflection of the filmmakers’ ages, they are also linked thematically by a preoccupation with the surrender to (or retreat from) adulthood.

My wife has gained weight, Ryu Deok-hwan

In Ryu Deok-hwan’s My wife has gained weight, after a husband (Kim Tae-hun) carefully observes his wife (Jang Young-nam) after she expresses anxiety over how much weight she is putting on, he diagnoses her ‘problem’ as being mostly the effects of maternal devotion and finds a way to share the burden of both her dutiful eating and her new exercise regime. It is a tender portrait of a couple attentive to their family’s needs, and together accepting, even embracing, the changes that come with parenthood and middle age.

Watch My Wife Has Gained Weight here

My Eggs, Kim Soy

Kim Soy’s My Eggs begins with its filmmaking protagonist Sujin (played by the director herself) being reminded how close her screenplays are to her life, and then follows her reluctant journey, at the insistence of her mother (Ahn Min-yeong), to get her ova frozen, even though she does not want children of her own. It is a playful tale of an eccentric woman made aware that her biological clock is ticking, and struggling to live her own life despite the expectations of others. Sujin’s confidante is her own egg (voiced by Lee Min-ji), which talks to her from within her ovary – but Sujin’s real children are indie films just like My Eggs, even as it is strongly implied that this script too is autobiographical.

Watch My Eggs here

Season of the Next Steps, Heo Joon-seok

There ought to be little in common between Ryoo Seung-wan’s ultraviolent action film The City of Violence (2006) and Heo Joon-seok’s gentle short Season of the Next Steps, but in fact both begin with a premise lifted straight out of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983): old friends reunite in adulthood after one of them has died. In Heo’s film, disgruntled office worker Kuk-hee (Kim Kuk-hee) returns from the city to her former country town for a funeral. There she learns that, unlike herself, her old bandmates Sa-bong (Yoon Sa-bong) and Jae-yoon (Yoon Je-yoon) have clung to their rebellious countercultural ways, and that perhaps she too could do with rediscovering the spirit of her lost childhood.

Watch Season Of The Next Steps here

Do you like camping?, Kim Kkobbi

My personal favourite of the four is Kim Kkobbi’s Do you like camping? (aka Aimez-vous camping), in which a motorcyclist (played by Kim), camping by the windy sea, spurns a hipsterish male fellow camper’s attentions while herself fixating on a female camper (Yozoh) who is more her speed. As everyone vies to have – and to be seen having – an authentic camping experience, posturing pretensions are exposed to the elements. Wryly observed, and never quite going where expected, this is an off- season, off-kilter delight, subverting everything including its own gestures towards romance.

Watch Do You Like Camping? here

 

 

Anton Bitel is a part-time Classicist and freelance film critic, contributing regularly to (among others) Sight & Sound, Little White Lies and VODzilla.co. He is a programmer for the London Korean Film Festival.

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