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Review: Korean Film Festival Runs Until Sunday

Korean Film Festival Runs Until Sunday

Review By Yasmine Ryan

Last Friday was the opening of the Korean Film Festival at Sky City, Auckland. The opening was attended by many guests, including a delegation of representatives from the Korean film industry, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Scoop’s Yasmine Ryan.

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Twelve contemporary Korean films have been selected to form the festival, which is being held at the Sky City Festival 22-31 October 2004. This year, only Aucklanders have the opportunity to see these films, but organisers promise that the festival, which will be run bi-annually, will screen in Wellington and Christchurch as well in the future. From 2005, New Zealand films will be showcased in Korea every alternate year.

Top Korean director Je-gyu KANG attended, and told the audience at the opening that he had made his film ‘Brotherhood’ because he was against war, “And I hope George Bush fails in 12 days!” (when the US Presidential elections are being held), he added. Kang, often described as the Korean Steven Spielburg, will be visiting New Zealand film studios during his time in New Zealand and comparing the cost of filming here to that in Korea.

In a rather beautiful metaphor, Mi-Hee CHANG, Vice-President of the Korean Film Council, talked about the butterfly effect, and described the festival’s films as butterflies. Eventually, she said, these butterflies would cause a snowstorm, that is, a much stronger relationship between New Zealand and Korea.

Scoop reviews three of the twelve films being shown here for the film festival:

BROTHERHOOD Director: Je-gyu KANG Starring: Jang Donggun, Won Bin, Lee Eunjoo Screening: Tues. 26 October 5.30pm, Sat. 30 October 4.30pm (Sky City Theatre)

Using the story of two brothers, a theme common in traditional Korean literature, Kang tackles the Korean War. ‘Brotherhood’ is set slightly south of North-South border, where brothers Jin-tae and Jin-seok live with their mother and Jin-tae’s fiancée, Young-shin. When war breaks out, younger brother Jin-seok is forcibly made to join the South Korean Army. Fiercely protective Jin-tae is also drafted as he tries to rescue his brother, and makes it his mission to win a medal, a feat, he is promised, which will earn Jin-seok’s freedom.

But Jin-tae succumbs to the glory of heroism, and is drawn into the army culture. Disgusted, Jin-soek rejects his brother, all the more so when Jin-tae fails to save his own fiancée from being executed for alleged collaboration with the Communists. From this point, brutalised by the continual violence and burdened by guilt, war-hero Jin-tae is emotionally gutted and driven insane, embodying the devastation of war.

Strongly influenced by Spielburg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’, the quality of this film and its impressive special effects shows that Korean cinema is equally as capable as its Hollywood counterparts. Indeed, Kang brings more to this familiar formula than any Hollywood director could, as his perspective is somewhat unfamiliar, for his Western audiences at least.

The cocktail of extreme realism and melodrama is sometimes verging on unswallowable, particularly when cheesy slow-motion flashbacks follow gory battle scenes. Although Kang captures perfectly the sense of madness and chaos that any soldier caught in face-to-face battle must feel, it would be a little easier to watch if such scenes were shorter and fewer.

The commentary on war and the impact it has on individual lives is especially pertinent today. This film demonstrates effectively how, for the average civilian, it is often purely circumstantial and based on sheer necessity as to which side one ends up fighting for.

UNTOLD SCANDAL Director: Jae Yong LEE Starring: Yong Jun BAE, Do Yeon JEON, Mi Sook LEE Screening: Wed. 27 October 6pm, Sun. 31 October 4.30pm (Sky City Theatre)

Untold Scandal is a Korean period piece, set in the 18th century, based on the French classic novel and film, ‘Les Liaisons Dangereux’ (Dangerous Liasions). Like the French story, it is the story of a vicious and destructive game of seduction and revenge, here set amongst the Korean nobility.

Beneath a façade of virtue, cousins Lady Cho and Sir Cho Won treat the pure and naïve as their playthings. Motivated by revenge and jealousy, Lady Cho dares Sir Cho Won to seduce the 16 year old concubine-to-be of her own elderly husband, Lord Yu. She herself befriends the young Lady So-oak, taking on the rule of her advisor. Claiming to be the girl’s liberator, Lady Cho encourages her to break the strict Korean social codes.

Meanwhile, Sir Cho Won is more captivated by the strong-willed Lady Jung, faithful to the dead husband she never married.

Like the film ‘Les Liaisons Dangereux’, ‘Untold Scandal’ is full of elaborate costumes. The social codes broken by its characters are subtly different, and it is set, of course, under very different historical circumstances. Highly recommended.

SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE Director: Chang Wook PARK Starring: Kang Ho SONG, Ha Kyun SHIN, Doo Na BAE Screening: Sun. 24 October 4.30pm, Tues. 26 October 8.30pm (Sky City Theatre)

As suggested by the title, ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ tells the story of a quest for revenge. Hoping to save his sister’s life, the mute Ryu tries to donate his kidney his kidney to her, but he is told he has the wrong blood type. The chance of a kidney that matches his sister’s blood type turning up in time to save her life is unlikely, so when Ryu hears about a blackmarket organ dealer, he is willing to pay a high price..

But Ryu wakes up on the concrete floor of an empty warehouse, naked and minus a kidney and 10 million won, he is still without a kidney for his sister. Then, the hospital contact him as a matching kidney has in fact turned up – to be given to his sister in return for 10 million won. Ryu has a week to get the money, and in his desperation, resorts to kidnapping the young daughter of his former boss.

Mostly because of its main character’s muteness, there is scare dialogue in this film, and the narrative can sometimes be difficult to follow.

In a constant cycle of cause and effect, each act of revenge gives someone else a motive for another violent act, and each act is even bloodier than the last. Be prepared for prolonged torture, suicide, autopsies with suggestive sound effect, stabbings, ankle-slitting… Although the camera often pulls away for long-shots, there is something very unsettling about the violence in this film, and it is frequently difficult to watch.

For more information on the Korean Film Festival, see: http://www.nzkff.com

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