Korean Film Newsletter #1 -- May 10, 1999

Welcome to the first edition of the Korean Film Newsletter. This letter will be distributed every 2-3 months, and will inform the reader of the latest events in the industry. An archive of past newsletters is available on the Korean Film Page. If you have any questions about anything in this issue, send an email message to darcy@koreanfilm.org

The first half of 1999 has been dominated by the release of "Shiri", which has become the best-selling film ever to be released in Korea. At the time of this writing the industry is preparing to release a new wave of features for the summer season.


City of the Rising Sun (No Sun) ["T'ae-yang-eun Op-ta"] (dir. Kim Sung-Soo) Starring Chung Woo-sung, Lee Jung-jae. From the actor and director who created the 1997 hit film Beat, a story about Korea's younger generation.

Dr. K, Medical Mystery ["Dak-T'o K"] (dir. Kwak Kyung-taek) Starring Cha In-pyo, Kim Hye-soo. A young surgeon is able to produce miraculous recoveries in his patients. The head surgeon grows suspicious and begins to investigate. This film screened in a smaller section of the 1999 Berlin Film Festival.

Shiri ["Shwiri"] (dir. Kang Jae-gyu) Starring Han Suk-gyu, Choi Min-shik, Kim Yoon-jin, Song Kang-ho. The most popular movie in Korea's history. A group of North Korean agents steal the closely-guarded CTX liquid bomb, and plan to detonate it at a soccer match in Seoul. Read more about this feature in the '1999' section of the Korean Film Page.

Love Wind, Love Song ["Yon-P'ung-Yon-Ga"] (dir. Park Tae-young) Shot on location on Cheju Island, Korea's most beautiful southern province. A romance between a tourist from Seoul and a native tour guide. Features some breathtaking shots of the local scenery. Starring Ko So-young and Chang Dong-gun.

Mayonnaise ["Ma-yo-ne-jeu"] (dir. Yoon In-ho) Starring Choi Jin-shil, Kim Hye-ja. Based on a contemporary play, this film examines a strained mother-daughter relationship. The title is taken from the mother's frequent application of mayonnaise as a hair product.

Harmonium in my Memory ["Ne Ma-eum-ui P'ung-geum"] (dir. Lee Young-jae) Starring Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Byung-heon, Lee Mi-yeon. In 1962, a young teacher from Seoul gets his first job at a small school in the country. One of his older students develops a crush on him. Read more about this film in the '1999' section of the Korean Film Page.

The Great Chef ["Buk-gyong-pan-jom"] (dir. Kim Ui-seok) Starring Kim Seok-hoon, Myung Sae-bin. From the director of "Marriage Story," a film set in a Chinese restaurant. Over 80% of the film was shot on location in a small restaurant in the Chinese section of Inchon.

The Mystery of a Cube ["Kon-ch'uk-mu-han-yuk-myon-gak-ch'e-ui Pimil"] (dir. Yoo Sang-wook) Starring Kim Tae-woo, Shin Eun-kyung, Lee Min-woo. Five university students form a group to honor the late poet Lee Sang, and become caught up in a series of adventures. Featuring an award-winning screenplay and highly advanced special effects, this movie appears to be a cross between Indiana Jones and Dead Poets Society.

The Spy ["Kan-ch'op Li Ch'ol Jin"] (dir. Jang Jin) Starring Yoo Oh-sung, Park In-hwan, Park Jin-hee. A comedy about a North Korean spy. Jang Jin's latest feature aims to humanize North Koreans in the eyes of those from the South. A spy from Pyongyang arrives in Seoul and suffers a series of mishaps. His mission? To steal the genetically-altered South Korean "Superpig." Read more about this feature on the '1999' film page.


Les Insurges (dir. Park Kwang-soo) High hopes were placed on this Korean-French co-production becoming the first Korean film chosen for the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival, but it has reportedly run into severe financial problems. Apparently the French production company who signed onto the project has yet to release any funds, and so production has been temporarily suspended. The film is directed by veteran filmmaker Park Kwang-soo (Chilsu and Mansu, To the Starry Island, A Single Spark) and stars Lee Jung-Jae (An Affair, No Sun) and Shim Eun-ha (Christmas in August, Art Museum by the Zoo). A literal translation of the Korean title would read, "Lee Jae-Soo's Rebellion."

Lies (dir. Jang Sun-woo) This film, based on a novel of the same name by Jang Jung-il (the author of To You, From Me), has been completed, but it remains an open question if it will ever be released. Director Jang Sun-woo has made some controversial films in the past (Bad Movie, A Petal, To You From Me, Seoul Jesus), but the degree of sexual explicitness in this film reportedly tops anything previously screened in Korea by a wide margin. The production company, ShinCine, is refusing to release it, and even if they were to agree, the film would have to pass through the nation's censorship board. My own guess is that Jang will use this film to call attention to Korea's censorship laws, in particular its ban on the public screening of pornography. The issue was raised in 1997 when the censorship board rejected Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, provoking demands from some groups to establish adult movie theaters where such films could be screened. The film was eventually released after President Kim Dae Jung assumed office in 1998, but the issue of censorship and adult movie theaters is still a matter of sharp debate.

Tell Me Something (dir. Chang Yoon-hyun) The second feature by Chang Yoon-hyun, whose debut film The Contact (1997) launched a wave of popular interest in domestic films. It will star Korea's two hottest stars, Han Seok-gyu (Swiri, Christmas in August, The Contact) and Shim Eun-ha (Christmas in August, Art Museum by the Zoo). Shooting will begin in May, and if this screenplay is even slightly serviceable, the film is certain to be a megahit.

Peppermint Candy (dir. Lee Chang-dong) From the director of the critically-acclaimed 1997 feature Green Fish. Lee's second release is being produced by UniKorea, the newly-formed production company headed by actor Moon Sung-keun (see below). Both Lee and the UniKorea are strongly opposed to the star system that prevails in Chungmuro, so we may be introduced to some new actors in this feature.


Shiri to be released in Japan.

Samsung Entertainment has recently reached a $1.3 million agreement to release the hit movie Shiri in Japan. Very few Korean films are ever exported abroad; for example, no Korean film has ever been given a theatrical release in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, Samsung Entertainment is currently holding negotiations with distribution companies in the United States, Australia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for the sale of theater and video rights to Shiri. Samsung hopes to bring in a total of $6.5 million in foreign distribution fees.

Wong Kar-wai casts Korean actress in latest film.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai has recently chosen acclaimed actress Shim Hye-jin to act in his latest film, a SF melodrama with a working title of 2046. Shim will join actor Tony Leung and Japanese rock singer Kimura Takuya in the lead roles. In the past ten years Shim has acted in over 20 features, including such films as Green Fish (1997), The Ginkgo Bed (1996), To the Starry Island (1993) and Marriage Story (1992). This will be her first role in a foreign film.

President Kim reverses stance on screen quota.

In recent trade talks, President Kim Dae Jung informed U.S. officials that due to public resistance he was reversing his earlier policy in regards to the screen quota system. Kim had originally advocated a gradual reduction of the quota from its current level of 106 days/year, but after facing heated public protest he has decided to leave the quota untouched, at least for the time being. Read more about this issue in the '1998' section of the Korean Film Page.

Four short films invited to Cannes 1999.

Although no Korean feature films were selected to participate in the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, four entries will be competing for the Short Film Palme d'Or. Three of these are in the Short Film Competition section: "An Eternity" by Kim Daehyun, "Simultaneity" by Kim Seong Sook, and "The Picnic" by Song Il-gon. A fourth film, "The Execution" by Lee In-kyun, will compete in Cinefoundation, a section inaugurated last year which collects outstanding work by film students. "The Execution" will be eligible to receive both a Cinefoundation grant and/or the Short Film Palme D'Or. The jury judging these films will be headed by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. To read more, visit the official Cannes website at http://www.festival-cannes.fr/cannes99/va/allfilms/index.html

Actors, filmmakers create new production company.

UniKorea Culture & Art Investment Co. Ltd., an investment firm made up of actors and filmmakers, was launched in January with an initial operating budget of 3 billion won ($2.5 million). The Korean film industry is currently dominated by large conglomerates and profit-oriented investors who are often only willing to finance films with large commercial potential. UniKorea aims to diversify the film market by supporting creative films that lie outside of the mainstream. It will finance up to eight films per year, beginning with Peppermint Candy, the second feature by award-winning director Lee Chang-dong. They also plan to set up a star management division to recruit and train promising actors for roles in the company's films. The firm hopes to provide a reliable means for individual investors and small companies to contribute to the domestic film industry. UniKorea is chaired by well-known actor Moon Sung-keun.

Unagi released in Korea.

Unagi (1997), the award-winning film by Japanese director Shohei Imamura, opened in theaters throughout Korea on May 3. This is only the third Japanese film to be given a theatrical release in Korea. The film qualifies for release under new revisions to long-standing restrictions on the importation of Japanese films. To read more about this issue, see the "1998" section of the Korean Film Page.

Kang Woo-seok named most powerful figure in Chungmuro.

In a recent article, the film magazine Cine21 drew up a list of the 50 most powerful figures in the Korean film industry, which is centered geographically in a section of Seoul named Chungmuro. Their choice for the most powerful figure in the industry is director and producer Kang Woo-seok. Kang's past directorial credits include such films as Two Cops (1993), Seven Reasons Why Beer is Better than my Lover (1996), How to Top my Wife (1994), Who Saw the Dragon's Toenails (1991) and School Records are Not Proportional to Happiness (1989). He currently serves as the chairman of CinemaService, which in 1998 produced and distributed a great number of features, including Whispering Corridors, An Affair, and Art Museum by the Zoo. This is the second year in a row that Kang has been ranked at the top.

May 10, 1999
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