LKFF 2022: Cinema Now – Programmer’s Note

Every past, and every future, begins in its own now. Though ideally timeless, and typically manifesting some time after they were originally conceived, films are always instantiated in and bound to the present of their release – and so while there are other strands in the London Korean Film Festival which take a more retrospective or historic look at the national filmic output, the purpose of the Cinema Now strand is to offer a synchronic cross section of contemporary, popular Korean cinema, and to take the temperature of the moment, at the ever-shifting coalface of the here and now where chronology and culture intersect in real time.


So even though a film like Byun Sung-hyun’s period piece Kingmaker (2021) might be looking back to the turbulent Sixties and Seventies when Korea was still under the oppressive thumb of military dictatorship, it is also looking forward to a kind of figure – the political spin doctor – who is still prevalent in today’s politics. And while the vehicle for Kwon Soo-kyung’s Stellar: A Magical Ride (2021) might be a barely roadworthy Hyundai Stellar from the late Eighties, it transports its repo man hero (and us with him) on a present-day journey which will reconcile him both to his late estranged dad, and to his own future fatherhood.


The past also collides with the present in Kim Min-geun’s Director’s Intention (2021), as a location scout retreads her old romantic haunts in Busan with a film director who has long since left her – but is perhaps back to rekindle old love. Or in Davy Chou’s Return to Seoul (2022), where a Francophone young woman, made part of the Korean diaspora as a baby, returns to Seoul several times to find herself and to reconnect with her lost roots, her fractured identity, and her birth parents. Or in a different way in Cheon Myeong-kwan’s chess-like low-key crime thriller Hot Blooded (2021), which opens near its end, and then spends much of its remaining duration catching up with that critical moment of a low-rent gangster’s fate, as he makes a move that will forever change his course in life.


My favourite of this year’s films, The Anchor (2022, Jeong Ji-yeon), also plays games with time, shuffling different periods and personae into a single, intensely twisty psychodrama about mothers and daughters, mesmerism and madness. Its lead character Jung Se-ra (Chun Woo-hee), a TV news anchor, is driven in her career by her domineering mother Lee So-jeong (Lee Hye-yeong) – herself a one-time news anchor – and briefly crosses paths with yet another young mother Yoon Mi-so (Park Se-hyeon) whose traumatised, triggering fate resonates with Se-ra’s own in enigmatic, irrational ways. This tightly plotted, disorienting thriller is a chronicle of women under pressure in a man’s world, and promises a long future for its exceedingly talented writer/director Jeong Ji-yeon. For if her last work, the short film Blooming in Spring, came out as long ago as 2008, it is never too late to bloom again.



Anton Bitel