If we talk about cinema in the new millennium, we can’t escape the rising prominence of South Korea, a film industry which is slowly making the world aware of its visceral scope and artistic leap. It is creating a new fan base worldwide by upping the game in genre offerings and delighting critics across nations for its no–holds–barred approach towards cinematic expression.
The 47th edition of the International Festival of India (IFFI) at Goa (November 20–28) this year has its focus on the Republic of Korea as an acknowledgement of its force. The fest will bring contemporary Korean films to cine-goers, while honouring renowned filmmaker Im Kwon-taek with the Lifetime Achievement Award. A formidable career that has given birth to more than a hundred films, director Kwon-taek is known for exploring Korean identity in the shadow of its turbulent past. His oeuvre is marked with box–office successes and international awards including the Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival, 2002 for Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire).
The festival will also witness the presence of several Korean film personalities including Yeon Sang-ho (director of the recent hit, Train to Busan), Lee Joon-ik (director of King and the Clown) and novelist–turned–filmmaker, Zhang Lu. However, most important will be the films on view. Here’s a ready reckoner of the pick of the fest.
Director: Choi Dong-hoon
Choi Dong-hoon has developed a huge following in his country for making blockbusters that catch the pulse of the audience without sacrificing narrative honesty. Released in 2015, Assassination broke several domestic box-office records, and is placed in the top 10 highest grossing films in Korean movie history. With terrific production value, this is a slow-burning espionage thriller that follows resistance fighters during the Japanese occupation. Since the director is known for his affection for tricksters, Dong-hoon has several twists in Assassination in the form of traitors, criss–crossers, and moral dilemmas that only make the tale a consistently intriguing vehicle.
The World of Us (2016)
Director: Ga-Eun Yoon
Director Ga-Eun Yoon, who won the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film in Berlinale 2014 for her movie Sprout, has a keen eye for the world of children. Her debut feature, The World of Us explores the complex beehive of relationships among children, at a tangent with the simplicity that we assume underlines their lives. The camera is trained on Sun (Choi Soo-in) who is an outcast in her class and her friend Jia (Seol Hye-in) who has recently moved in to the area. The film has been praised for having a sharp perceptiveness in understanding politics in the world of children, but without a judgemental streak. It shows how their world is as composite as that of adults.
Coin Locker Girl (2015)
Director: Han Jun-hee
After opening to a glorious response back home, Jun-hee Han’s Coin Locker Girl was screened at the International Critics’ Week section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Turning a mother–daughter narrative on its head, this film follows a female mob boss and her protégé, who was found as an orphaned baby in a coin-operated locker in the subway station. It shows how their relationship evolves in the gritty world of crime. Featuring Kim Hye-su, one of Korea’s most glitzy leading ladies and Kim Go-eun, the film is a reflection of the new Korea grappling with patriarchal norms.
The Shameless (2015)
Director: Oh Seung-ook
A prominent screenwriter of the 1990s, Oh Seung-uk took a long hiatus after his directorial debut Kilimanjaro (2000). His second film, The Shameless, follows the life of a detective who falls in love with the wife of a criminal. It made its world premiere in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and has been praised for bringing in a fresh approach to a formula film.
Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet (2016)
Director: Lee Joon-ik
Like his much-acclaimed and successful 2015 period drama, The Throne, director Lee Joon-ik’s Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet is another exploration of Korean history. It places the lens on the life and times of Yun Dong-ju, the young poet whose works flourished during the Japanese rule, and was put to death as a consequence. The poet — who is one of the enduring youth icons of Korea for his lyrical resistance poetry — has been brought to life by actor Kang Ha-neul, and the role of his best friend Song Mong-gyu is essayed by Park Jung-min. Unlike the chest-thumping of popular political cinema, this film is more interested in the human element: a sensitive mind trying to survive in the harsh world of politics and occupation.
The King of Pigs (2011)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Director Yeon Sang-ho is the toast of the current movie world for his zombie blockbuster Train to Busan which manages to give non-stop thrills without sacrificing its emotional coherence. His 2011 film, The King of Pigs, an animated drama about bullying in school won laurels in his home country and abroad, including three awards at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival. It was also selected for Directors’ Fortnight at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. A chilling reminder of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, this film depicts the class divide among kids in school with strikingly original strokes of animation.
The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise; he tweets @RanjibMazumder