LKFF 2022: Indie Talent – Programmer’s Note

The four films included in this year’s Indie Talent section were chosen to provide a glimpse into the kind of stories Korean independent filmmakers are telling in the present day. Whereas many commercial filmmakers have to assess and anticipate the type of stories audiences want to hear, for independent directors the choice of what story to tell often comes from someplace personal. In that sense, there is an intimacy to Korean independent films that distinguishes them from their bigger-budget brethren. These works invite us into the filmmaker’s mind, where we can share his or her concerns. At the same time, taken together these films illustrate various issues that are relevant to society as a whole.

Those concerns range in breadth from the base to the very tip of Maslow’s famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. A film like Oh Seong-ho’s Through My Midwinter illustrates a situation that is sadly common among those in their twenties in contemporary Korea: dreams of self-actualization (the top levels of Maslow’s pyramid) and even personal relationships (the middle levels) are threatened when basic economic and physiological needs come under pressure. The film’s sympathetic but clear-eyed portrayal of a struggling young couple has resonated strongly with many viewers. Financial trouble and struggles with debt are widespread in contemporary Korean society, and the waning of the pandemic has done little to alleviate this. Park Song-yeol and Won Hyang-ra’s brilliant Hot in Day, Cold at Night also covers similar subject matter, but adopts a completely different tone, using lacerating humour to depict the lives of a jobless husband and wife who are pushed into making some desperate choices.       

Moving up the pyramid, family relationships have been an enduring theme for Korean independent filmmakers over the years, serving as the focus of acclaimed films like The World of Us (2016) and Moving On (2019). The Hill of Secrets by Lee Ji-eun continues this tradition but approaches it from a fresh perspective, considering the tangled threads that bind together family, pride and ambition. A look at the Korean independent films of the past year reveals many examples of stories structured around a parent-child relationship. This is hardly unique to Korean cinema, but it does show how the ways in which families communicate and rely on each other continue to evolve with each subsequent generation.   

Kim Mi-young’s A Lonely Island in the Distant Sea also has a father-daughter relationship at its centre, but it might be more accurate to describe it as the parallel journeys of two people quietly searching for meaning and contentment in life. In many ways this is more about what they choose to give up, than about what they strive to achieve. More broadly, after a decades-long concentration on economic growth, Korean society is more frequently turning to questions related to fulfilment and meaning in daily life. These are questions with no easy answers, but independent films like this one are opening up new conversations, and telling stories that the mainstream industry may have overlooked.   


Darcy Paquet