In so many ways, the global pandemic has upended lives and rewired the connections that link all of us together. Lockdowns and quarantine have left many people feeling isolated, and others coping with intensified pressure at home. Some families have been struck by tragedy, and others have been brought closer together. And virtually all of us, I think, now feel a greater appreciation for the role of close friends in our lives.
It was with these thoughts in mind that we decided to devote this year’s Special Focus to the theme “Friends and Family”. In part, we wished to provide viewers with a note of consolation during an exceptionally difficult year. But at the same time, we were not simply looking to program feel-good movies. The films in the Special Focus are all very honest about how friendships and family ties work in the real world, while recognising the power and influence of such relationships. By taking a clear-eyed look at how people connect to each other in difficult times, these films may give viewers an opportunity to think about the relationships in their own lives from a new perspective.
It’s true that many of the films that LKFF has programmed over the past 15 years fall into this broad category. Family, as well as friendship, is a theme that has long inspired Korean filmmakers. Nonetheless, the six films in this section do stand out for their insight, creativity and accomplishment. Included are both brand new works that take the genre of the Korean family drama in exciting new directions, as well as a selection of standout works from the past decade and a half that we think many viewers will find to be exciting (re-)discoveries.
The “classics” include director Kim Tae-yong’s Family Ties (2006), which is much beloved in Korea for its emotional nuance and the manner in which it questions several received beliefs about the nature of family. Told in three separate parts, the film features a stunning collection of acting talent, including Moon So-ri, Kong Hyo-jin, Jung Yu-mi, Go Doo-shim, and more. Director Lee Joon-ik’s The Happy Life from 2007 features a similarly interesting ensemble cast (Jung Jinyoung, Kim Yoon-suk, Kim Sang-ho, Jang Keun-suk, etc.), and appears at first glance to be much more lighthearted: the story of three middle-aged men who decide to re-start their rock band from 20 years earlier. Juvenile Offender (2012) from second-time director Kang Yikwan centers around a boy in a juvenile reformatory who is unexpectedly put in contact with the mother who abandoned him as a baby. This unplanned reunion brings great turmoil, at the same time as it fills a deeper need in both of them. The more recent Intimate Strangers (2018), meanwhile, posits challenging questions about honesty and openness among a group of friends and spouses.
We are also pleased to present two new releases in this section: Moving On, director Yoon Dan-bi’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age drama which received a rapturous critical reception in Korea after its theatrical release in August 2020; and director Kim Jinyu’s engagingly-told Bori, the story of a girl in elementary school who is the only hearing member of her family – based partly on the director’s own childhood.
Often, to a greater extent than we realise, the context in which we watch films ends up influencing our viewing experience. In this year, unlike any other that has come before it, we hope that this diverse collection of films can inspire both reflection and a small measure of comfort.
Darcy Paquet (Film Critic, Academic, Author)