Korean Film Newsletter #10 -- May 11, 2001

Welcome to the tenth edition of the Korean Film Newsletter. This letter is distributed every 2-3 months to inform the reader of the latest events in the industry. An archive of past newsletters is available at http://koreanfilm.org. If you wish to be removed from this mailing list, or if you have any questions, send an email message to darcy@koreanfilm.org.

New at Koreanfilm.org: reviews of Bungee Jumping of Their Own and Friend.

NEW RELEASES (March -- May 2001)

Club Butterfly ["Keul-leob Beo-teo-p'eul-la-yi"] Directed by Kim Jae-su. A young married couple face problems at home, at work and in bed. Meanwhile, they keep receiving anonymous emails promoting Club Butterfly, an organization devoted to recreational spouse-swapping. Starring Kim Young-ho, Anita and Yoon Dong-hwan. Produced by Cinerock Pictures. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 96 min. March 3. (http://www.clubb.co.kr)

Love Her ["Geu-nyeo-ae-gae Cham-deul-da"] Directed by Park Sung-il. An adaption of the French film Betty Blue (1986) by Jean- Jacques Beineix. Starring Kim Tae-yeon, Lee Joo-hyun, Kwon Min-joong. Produced by Film Z. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: 18+. 95 min. March 17. (http://www.loveher.co.kr)

Last Present ["Seon-mul"] Directed by Oh Ki-hwan. A struggling comedian and his wife have been on strained terms ever since the couple's miscarriage. As the pressures of money and their failing marriage build up, they receive a piece of shocking news. Starring Lee Young-ae and Lee Jung-jae. Produced by Fun and Happiness. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 15+. 113 min. March 24. (http://www.sun-mool.co.kr)

Friend ["Chingu"] Written and directed by Kwak Kyung-taek. Alternate title: "Those Were the Days." Based on the real-life experiences of the director, a story of four childhood friends who grow older and drift apart due to differing backgrounds and the influence of organized crime. Starring Yoo Oh-sung, Chang Dong-gun, Seo Tae-hwa and Jung Woon-taek. Produced by Cineline II. Distributed by Korea Pictures. Rating: 18+. 117 min. March 31. (http://www.chingu4.co.kr)

Twenty ["Seu-mu-sal"] Directed by Shin Jung-kyun. Depicts the sexual awakening of a girl in junior high school, based on a real-life incident involving an explicit videotape made by a group of junior high school students. Starring Lee Ha-na and Seo Jin-won. Produced by Intercinema. Distributed by Shin Film. Rating: 18+. 97 min. April 21.

Failan ["Pa-i-ran"] Directed by Song Hae-sung. A Chinese emigrant living in Korea agrees to a false marriage to avoid being deported. Her husband, whom she has never met, is a low-ranking gangster who gets mixed up in a crime committed by his boss. One day he receives a letter from his wife, thanking him for his kindness. Starring Choi Min-shik and Hong Kong star Cecilia Cheung. Produced by Tube Pictures. Distributed by Tube Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 115 min. April 28. (http://www.failan.co.kr)

The King ["Deo King"] Directed by Lee Choong-young and Richard S. Kim. An animated film based on the biblical story of David and King Saul. A Korean-U.S. coproduction between Toonipark and High Praise. Distributed by Film Bank. Rating: General. 75 min. May 5. (http://www.toonipark.com/theking)

Indian Summer ["In-di-an Sseom-meo"] Directed by Noh Hyo-jung. A woman accused of killing her husband refuses to defend herself in court. Her lawyer, appointed by the state, becomes intrigued by her case, and eventually falls in love with her. Starring Lee Mi-yeon and Park Shin-yang. Produced by Sidus. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 15+. 104 min. May 5. (http://www.indiansummer.co.kr)


Kick the Moon! (Korean title: "Shilla-ui dal-bam") The follow-up film by director Kim Sang-jin and producer Kim Mi-hee to the hugely successful comedy Attack the Gas Station! This new film, which takes place in Kyongju (the capital of ancient Shilla and a popular tourist destination), will feature actor Lee Sung-jae (Attack the Gas Station!), Cha Seung-won (Libera Me) and longtime star Kim Hye-soo. The story centers around a love triangle that develops into an intense competition between the two male characters. Estimated release date: Spring 2001.

Flower Island* The debut feature film by Song Il-gon, who received a Special Jury Award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival for his short film The Picnic. Song's first full-length work, which participated in the 1999 and 2000 editions of the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), is being shot on digital video. Originally the filmmakers hoped to complete the film in time to be considered for the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, but due to time constraints the release date has been pushed back to September. The story is a road movie centered around three women.

Guns & Talks (Korean title: "Kil-leo-deul-ui su-da") Written and directed by Jang Jin (The Spy). The latest comedy by director and screenwriter Jang Jin is the story of four chatty hired assassins. The film will boast considerable star power with the newly popular Shin Ha-kyun (JSA), Shin Hyun-june (Bichunmoo), and TV megastar Won Bin (Autumn Story) in his first film appearance. The film is currently in production and is scheduled to be released in August.

Address Unknown Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk (The Isle). A single mother sends letters abroad to her son's father, an American soldier who served in the Korean War, but never receives an answer. Meanwhile the son lives under the shadow of discrimination and the continuing legacy of the war. Starring Yang Dong-kun, Kim Young-min, and Ban Min-jung. Release scheduled for late May.

2009 Lost Memories Written and directed by Lee Shi-myung. A sci-fi film set in an alternate reality in which Japan, victorious after World War II, has become an imperial superpower. Set in Seoul, the third major city of Great Japan, the story centers around a Korean-Japanese investigator named Sakamoto who, in the course of his investigations of the Chosun liberation group, gradually comes to understand the legacy of imperialism. Starring Chang Dong-gun, fresh off the success of Friend, together with Japanese star Nakamura Toru.

* official English title not yet available


Friend sets nationwide box-office record

A local feature film has once again taken the nation by storm. Following in the footsteps of Shiri and Joint Security Area, director Kwak Kyung-taek's Friend, released on March 31, needed only 37 days to record 5.9 million nationwide admissions and become the top-grossing film in Korean history. The film has been wildly popular in Korea's regional areas, particularly in Busan, where the film is set. As of May 6 the film had recorded 1,998,500 admissions in Seoul, which lags behind the city-wide record of 2,509,320 set by JSA in early 2001.

For more information about the film, read the review on the '2001' page at Koreanfilm.org.

Busan becoming new center for filmmaking

The port city of Busan, Korea's second-largest city and home to the country's most prestigious film festival, is gradually transforming itself into a major center for filmmaking. The catalyst for this change came in 1999 with the founding of the Busan Film Commission. Not to be confused with the promotional activities of the Korean Film Commission in Seoul, the Busan Film Commission is a one-stop service for filmmakers who wish to shoot in the city. It provides assistance in arranging locations, extras, sets, and completing all necessary administrative tasks. The city government of Busan has also demonstrated its eagerness to help filmmakers in providing equipment and buildings for use in shooting.

In the past year over 23 local producers have expressed an interest in shooting in Busan, including such hit films as Friend, Libera Me and films in production Resurrection of the Little Match Seller and 2009 Lost Memories. With a strong lineup of local productions already in place, the commission is now hoping to attract international film productions as well. The organization will also host an International Conference of Film Commissions to be held in Seoul and Busan this coming June.

More information is available at the organization's website at http://www.filmcommission.or.kr

Note: following the government's selection of a new romanization system for Korean, the city of Pusan has adopted the new spelling Busan. The system has attracted controversy, however, and readers are likely to see both spellings used for the foreseeable future.

The 2nd Jeonju International Film Festival

The second edition of the Jeonju (formerly Chonju) International Film Festival got off to an inauspicious start, as internal disagreements led to the resignation of the festival's programming staff only months prior to the event's opening. Nonetheless the festival opened on schedule on April 27 with a premiere screening of Lim Soon-rye's second feature Waikiki Brothers. The festival showcased 210 films in all, highlighting radical cinema, Asian independent works and digital film in particular. Attendance at the event was noticeably lower than in the previous year, leading some to speculate on the festival's future. Nonetheless highlights included the screening of three digital works commissioned by the festival and directed by Jia Zhang Ke, Tsai Ming Liang and John Akomfrah.

The festival presented several awards, including the Asian Indie-Cine Forum - Woosuk Award which was shared by This is My Moon by Asoka Handagama (Sri Lanka) and Mysterious Object at Noon directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand). The award for the Korean Shorts competition was Noonday by Jang Myung-sook, and the Cinemascape - Jeonju Citizens' Award was won by Wang Xiaoshuai's Beijing Bicycle (China/Taiwan).

The impetus given to the city by the festival has also led to talk of establishing of a Jeonju Film Commission. Led by the example of Busan, Jeonju hopes to regain the status it held in the 1950s as a regional center of film production. One of the key figures behind this movement is Lee Jang-ho, director of many classic films from the 1970s and 1980s who has recently revealed a new project titled Happiness (working title).

Cinema Service bought by Locus Holdings, Inc.

Cinema Service, one of the two biggest film studios in Korea, announced in March that it had been acquired by Locus Holdings Corporation. The friendly buyout places 62.7% of Cinema Service's stock in the hands of Locus Holdings, a local holding company which was spun off of parent Locus Corporation in October 2000. Benefits to Cinema Service include access to more stable sources of funding, as well as increased ties with Sidus Corporation, a major film, music, and star management company which is also under Locus Holdings' umbrella. Cinema Service founder Kang Woo-suk will reportedly maintain complete creative control over the company's products.

Two short films selected for 2001 Cannes International Film Festival

Although this year no feature films were selected to participate in the Cannes International Film Festival, two short films have been invited to take part in official competitions. The Holy Family by Shin Dong-il (35mm, color, 12 min.) will be part of the annual Short Film Competition section, and Kim Young-nam's curiously-titled I Can Fly to You But You... (35mm, color, 48 min.) will participate in the Cinefoundation section for first-time filmmakers and film students. Awards will be announced on May 20.

A record nine Korean film companies will also be taking part in the business-oriented Cannes Market, to be held concurrent with the festival. Top sales companies Cineclick Asia, Cinema Service, CJ Entertainment, Kang JeGyu Films, Mirovision, and Tube Entertainment will screen a total of 20 films for prospective buyers, including such films as Friend, Bungee Jumping of Their Own, I Wish I Had a Wife, Joint Security Area, Failan, Address Unknown, a promo reel for MUSA - The Warrior and Japanese director Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Sťance, represented by Mirovision.

The 38th Grand Bell Awards

This year's edition of the Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards was filled with controversy, with critical favorite Friend receiving no awards and Han Ji-seung's A Day taking home an unexpected four prizes. Best Picture was awarded to last year's smash hit Joint Security Area, which also received awards for Best Actor (Song Kang-ho), Sound, and Art Direction. The annual awards ceremony was expanded this year to incorporate a series of screenings for the public. Nonetheless public dissatisfaction with the awards led to a series of resignations following the event. A partial list of the awards is listed below:

Best Picture: Joint Security Area; Best Director: Han Ji-seung, A Day; Best Actress: Ko So-young, A Day; Best Actor: Song Kang-ho, Joint Security Area; Best Supporting Actress: Yoon So-jung, A Day; Best Supporting Actor: Jung Eun-pyo, Kilimanjaro; Special Jury Award: A Day; Cinematography: Seo Jung-min, Libera Me; Lighting: Shin Jun-ha, Libera Me; Best Screenplay (Original): Ko Eun-nim, Bungee Jumping of Their Own; Best Short Film: Uncle Bar at the Barbershop, Kwon Jong-gwan; Editing: Park Soon-duk, Libera Me; Original Soundtrack: Hwang Sang-joon, The Legend of Gingko; Art Direction: Kim Sang-man, Joint Security Area; Costumes: Kim Min-hee, Bichunmoo; Best New Director: Im Sang-soo, Tears; Best New Actress: Lee Eun-ju, The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors; Best New Actor: Ryu Seung-beom, Die Bad.

The Cine21 Power 50 rankings

For the sixth year in a row, Cinema Service founder Kang Woo-suk has been named the most powerful figure in the Korean film industry. Each year, film magazine Cine21 publishes the results of a poll of 48 figures from the film industry to determine the industry's most influential and powerful people. Kang Woo-suk -- director, producer, and founder of local studio Cinema Service -- has placed first in every year in which the poll has been conducted.

For further results and commentary, visit http://www.koreanfilm.org/htdocs/dcforum/DCForumID1/258.html


Awards at international film festivals

At the 25th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Bong Jun-ho's Barking Dogs Never Bite was named co-winner of the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics Federation) Award for young Asian cinema. Sixteen other films were in competition for the award.

Popular and critical favorite The Foul King (2000) was named winner of the Audience Award at Udine, Italy's Far East Film Festival, a leading showcase for popular Asian cinema. Over 70 films were in competition for this award, which is the only honor bestowed by the festival. The runner up for the prize was Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area, with Jung Ji-woo's Happy End (1999) also ranking high in the balloting.

The Isle by Kim Ki-duk was named winner of the grand prize Golden Crow at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films. The festival, now in its 19th edition, ran from March 9-24.

Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area won three prizes at the Deauville Asian Film Festival in France (not to be confused with the Deauville American Film Festival held in the same city). In addition to the Best Picture and Audience Awards, Song Kang-ho picked up a Best Actor prize for his role as a North Korean sergeant.

The Oporto International Film Festival in Portugal, also known as Fantasporto, bestowed a Best Actress Prize on Suh Jong for her role in Kim Ki-duk's The Isle. (2000). The film also won the Special Award of the Jury. The Oporto festival has reportedly also bought the distribution rights to The Isle and Happy End (1999) for Portugal.

At the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival in California, The Anarchists (2000) by Yu Young-sik was named co-winner of the festival's Audience Award. Cinequest ran from February 22 to March 4.

At the Verona Film Festival, Schermi d'amore ("Love on the Screen," a festival of romantic and melodramatic films), Lee Hyun-seung's Il Mare was honored with three awards: the Jury Prize, the Critics' Prize and the Young Jury's Prize. The festival ran from April 20-29.

New books on Korean film

Contemporary Korean Cinema: Identity, Culture, and Politics by Hyangjin Lee, Professor at the University of Sheffield. Manchester University Press, March 2001. Paperback: ISBN 0719060087, 251 pp. Hardcover: ISBN 0719060079, 256 pp.

The first full-length study of Korean film to be published in English, Contemporary Korean Cinema discusses various aspects of film and society in both South and North Korea. Unit headings include: "The Creation of National Identity: A History of Korean Cinema"; "Gender and Cinematic Adaptions of Ch'unhyangjon"; Nationhood and the Cinematic Representation of History"; and "Class and Cultural Identities in Contemporary Korean Cinema."

Synopsis from Amazon.co.uk: "This examination of the role of Korean film as a cultural text of Koreans in both the North and South focuses on the conflicting self-identities of a people still strongly committed to their common cultural traditions despite political division. This study defines the significance of filmmaking and film viewing in Korean society. It covers the introduction of motion pictures in 1903, Korean cinema during the Japanese colonial period (1910-45) and the development of North and South Korean cinema up to the 1990s. It introduces the works of Korea's major directors, and analyzes the Korean film industry in terms of film production, distribution and reception. Based on this historical analysis, the study investigates ideological constructs in 17 films, eight from North Korea and nine from South Korea."

New releases with English subtitles

The following are the latest releases of Korean films with English subtitles. Note that subtitles are sometimes available in one format (e.g. DVD) but not in others (Video CD, videocassette). For ordering information, more details and a full list of subtitled Korean films available for purchase, visit http://www.koreanfilm.org/subtitles.html.

My Heart (2000). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

The Foul King (2000). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (2000). A Region 3 DVD with English subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Shiri (1999) - Special Edition. An all-region DVD with English, Japanese, and Korean subtitles from Bitwin in Korea.

Jakarta (2000). An all-region DVD with English and Korean subtitles. From Media Bank in Korea.

Nowhere to Hide (1999). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Attack the Gas Station (1999). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea. A full-screen DVD of this film was also released by Mei Ah in Hong Kong.

Tell Me Something (1999). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Love Bakery (2000). An all-region DVD with English subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Interview (2000). An all-region DVD with English, Chinese and Japanese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

La Belle (2000). An all-region DVD with English, Japanese, and Chinese subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Ghost in Love (1999). An all-region DVD with Chinese and English subtitles. From Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Coming soon on DVD: Green Fish (1997), Love Wind, Love Song (1999).

Korean film releases abroad

The hit films Shiri (1999) and Tell Me Something (2000) have recently been sold to distributors in the North American market. Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Group became the first major U.S. distributor to purchase a Korean film, obtaining rights to Shiri for the North American and Latin American territories. The company announced it will release the film later this year with a "very targeted marketing campaign." Meanwhile, the gory thriller Tell Me Something was purchased by independent distributor Kino International, and is scheduled to be released in early fall on up to 30 screens throughout the United States. Video and DVD rights to the China-set action film The Anarchists were also recently bought by IndieDVD.

In Hong Kong, a wave of Korean films is set to hit the local audience, with 12-15 films scheduled for release this year. The Foul King, featuring dubbing by local superstar Stephen Chiau, opened March 15 on twenty screens with the week's highest screen average (#2 at the overall box-office). Jung Ji-woo's Happy End also enjoyed a very successful release on only 4 screens, spending two weeks on the box-office top ten. Other recent releases include The Isle (2000) on four screens and Interview (2000) on one screen. Memento Mori (1999) is also scheduled for a May 24 release.

As a major release of Joint Security Area approaches in Japan, two other Korean films had small openings: Lies (2000) on six screens and Attack the Gas Station on two screens. The melodrama Ditto is also scheduled for a 40 screen release this summer.

Last year's hit films Il Mare and Bichunmoo both opened in Singapore in recent months, with Il Mare enjoying strong reviews and both receiving moderate audience support. Bichunmoo debuted at #8 and Il Mare at #9 at the local box-office. Kim Ki-duk's Birdcage Inn and Im Sang-soo's Girls' Night Out also had minor releases, and in upcoming weeks both Fin de Siecle ("Segimal," 1999) and Paradise Lost (1998) will open.

Finally in France, Nowhere to Hide opened on May 2 on 21 screens throughout the country to appreciative crowds. The Isle also opened on April 25 with strong critical reviews and even stronger audience support. Despite receiving almost no marketing or publicity, The Isle was drawing a high average of 864 tickets for each screen (16 screens in total). This summer, Tell Me Something is scheduled to be released on 40 screens.

International sales

Note that sales to a given country do not necessarily guarantee a release. This is not a comprehensive list; I am merely passing along what I have heard.

UNITED STATES: Tell Me Something (1999), Shiri (1999); The Anarchists (2000) - video rights.
JAPAN: Ditto (2000), Ghost Taxi (2000).
HONG KONG: Memento Mori (1999), Dream of a Warrior (2001); Art Museum by the Zoo (1999); Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001); Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000); The Quiet Family (1999); Il Mare (2000).
TAIWAN: Last Present (2001), Dream of a Warrior (2001).
SOUTHEAST ASIA: Dream of a Warrior (2001).
FRANCE: Memento Mori (1999).
UNITED KINGDOM: Nowhere to Hide (1999).
RUSSIA: The Isle (2000), Joint Security Area (2000).
SPAIN: The Isle (2000).
PORTUGAL: Happy End (1999), The Isle (2000).
INDONESIA: The Legend of Gingko (2000), Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001), The Anarchists
(2000), Plum Blossom (2000).
THAILAND: The Legend of Gingko (2000).

Special thanks to Yeon Hyeon-sook, Ryan Law and Stephen Cremin (Asian Film Library Bulletin) for their help in compiling this newsletter.

May 11, 2001
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Darcy Paquet/ darcy@koreanfilm.org /Posted May 22, 2001