Korean Film Newsletter #11 -- August 26, 2001

Welcome to the eleventh 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://www.koreanfilm.org/. If you have any questions, or if you signed up to receive this letter by email and did not receive it, send an email message to darcy@koreanfilm.org.

New at Koreanfilm.org: reviews of Failan, Kick the Moon, and Nabi (The Butterfly).

NEW RELEASES (May - August 2001)

The Humanist ["Hyu-meo-ni-seu-teu"] Directed by Lee Mu-young. Screenplay by Lee Mu-young and Park Chan-wook. The son of a rich businessman co-opts his two friends into kidnapping his father for a ransom. An ultra-gross black comedy starring Park Sang-myun, An Jae-mo, Kang Sung-jin, Park Young-gyu. Cinematography by Byun Hee-sung. Produced by Bear Entertainment. Distributed by Columbia Tristar. Rating: 18+. 95 min. May 12. (http://www.ihumanist.com)

Prison World Cup ["Gyo-do-so Wol-deu-keob"] Written and directed by Pang Sung-woong. A UN-sponsored soccer tournament for prisoners induces Korea to hold a competition among 16 prisons to select a representative. The warden of Wonju prison is forced to assemble a team with some of the nation's worst misfits. Starring Jung Jin-young, Jo Jae-hyun, Hwang In-sung, Park In-hwan, etc. Cinematography by Shin Beom-sup. Produced by Shincine. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 104 min. May 19. (http://shincine.com/worldcup)

Summer Time ["Sseom-meo-ta-im"] Directed by Park Jae-ho. Screenplay by Yoo Gap-yeol. A student activist moves into an attic room in a small town, where he discovers a hole in the floor. After spying on the woman downstairs, the wife of a policeman, he enters her apartment and embarks on an affair with her. Set in the 1980s. An official remake of the mid-1980s Philippine film Scorpio Nights by Peque Gallaga. Starring singer/actress Kim Ji-hyun, Ryu Su-young, Choi Chul-ho. Cinematography by Shin Hyun-joong. Produced by Sidus. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 103 min. May 26. (http://www.summertime.co.kr - requires Korean National ID number)

Tearful Story ["Gohae"] Directed by Kim Jung-jin. Screenplay by Han Chang-hak. A single man begins taking care of his 7-year old daughter after the death of her grandmother, with whom she used to live. At first he grapples with the everyday challenges of raising a daughter, but more serious challenges lie ahead. Starring Yoon Da-hoon, Sol Su-jin, Kim Ji-sun. Cinematography by Jung Jung-hoon. Produced by Taein Megamedia. Distributed by AFDF. Rating: general. 100 min. May 26. (http://www.gohae.co.kr)

Address Unknown ["Suchui-inbulmyung"] Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk. A group of adolescents growing up adjacent to a U.S. military base struggle with the continuing legacy of the war. A young girl becomes romantically involved with an American soldier who promises to pay for an operation on her eye. A half-Korean man is despised for his racial background, while his mother continues to write letters to her son's father in the U.S., despite that they all come back stamped "Address Unknown." Starring Yang Dong-keun, Ban Min-jung, Kim Young-min, Jo Jae-hyun and Pang Eun-jin. Cinematography by Seo Jung-min. Produced by LJ Film Co. Distributed by Tube Entertainment. Rating: 18+. 117 min. June 2. (http://www.addr-unknown.com - bilingual site)

Kick the Moon ["Silla-ui Dalbam"] Directed by Kim Sang-jin (Attack the Gas Station!). Screenplay by Park Jung-woo. Two former high school classmates run into each other years later in Kwangju. After some initial niceties, their old rivalry flares up over the beautiful owner of a local restaurant. Starring Lee Sung-jae, Cha Seung-won and Kim Hye-soo. Cinematography by Jung Kwang-seok. Produced by Fun & Happiness. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 15+. 118 min. June 23. (http://www.sdalbam.co.kr)

Yellow Hair 2 ["Norang Mori 2"] Written and directed by Kim Yoo-min. J, a nightclub singer and Y, a convenience store clerk are forced to go on the run after an outbreak of violence at the convenience store. The two become closer, but J has a secret which she is reluctant to reveal. Starring Ha Ri-soo, who made headlines as Korea's first transgender star, and Shin Yi. Cinematography by Lee Kang-min and Kim Dong-eun. Produced and distributed by Fiction Bank. Rating: 18+. 102 min. July 21. (http://www.yellowhair2.co.kr)

My Sassy Girl ["Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo"] Written and directed by Kwak Jae-yong. An ingratiating young university student meets a young beauty whose bizarre antics and violent behavior leave him confused and in love. Starring Jeon Ji-hyun and Cha Tae-hyun. Cinematography by Kim Sung-bok. Produced by Shincine. Distributed by Cinema Service and IM Pictures. Rating: 15+. 123 min. July 27. (http://www.yupgigirl.com)

Sorum ["Soreum"] Written and directed by Yoon Jong-chan. A man moves into a run-down apartment and develops a romantic interest in his neighbor, a woman abused by her husband. A horror film starring Kim Myung-min, Chang Jin-young and Ki Joo-bong. Cinematography by Hwang Seo-sik. Produced by DreamMax. Distributed by Buena Vista International Korea. Rating: 18+. 109 min. August 4. (http://www.sorum.co.kr)

Turtle Hero ["Byeoljubu Hero"] Directed by Kim Duk-ho. Screenplay by Lee Keum-ju. An animated feature about a turtle who leaves on a quest to find a rabbit's liver that will cure the King of the Sea. Produced by Hanshin Corporation. Distributed by Buena Vista International Korea. Rating: General. 90 min. August 11. (http://www.turtlehero.com - perhaps bilingual in the near future)

Say Yes ["Sae-yi Yaeseu"] Directed by Kim Sung-hong. Screenplay by Yeo Hye-young. A happy young couple find themselves the victim of a strange, frightening man who begins to follow them on their vacation. A horror film starring Park Joong-hoon, Choo Sang-mi and Kim Ju-hyuk. Cinematography by Lee Dong-sam. Produced by Hwang Ki-sung Corp. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 105 min. August 17. (http://www.say-yes.co.kr)


"Chwi-hwa-seon" (Korean title).* The latest feature from "the father of Korean cinema," Im Kwon-taek, after the worldwide success of his previous film Chunhyang. "Chwi-hwa-seon" is based on the life of the famous Korean painter Jang Seung-up, who lived in the latter part of the 19th century. Jang's eccentric personality and heavy drinking came to win him as much fame as his excellent painting. The title role will be played by Choi Min-shik (Shiri, Happy End), with veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki, actress Kim Yeo-jin (Peppermint Candy) and a host of newcomers rounding out the cast. Shooting began in mid-July, and the film's producers are hoping to finish it in time to be considered for the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

Revenge is Mine. Park Chan-wook's eagerly anticipated follow-up to Joint Security Area will bring back actors Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun in a thriller about a father who sets out to avenge the kidnapping of his daughter. The film, which also stars Bae Doona (Barking Dogs Never Bite) went into production in August and is expected to debut in early 2002. As with JSA, director Park says he intends to focus more on the psychological aspects of the story than on the action itself.

No Blood and No Tears. A "women's action buddy movie" from Ryu Seung-wan, the talented new director who won praise with his debut Die Bad. His new feature, he says, is much closer in style to his 30-min 1970's spoof Dazimawa Lee, which screens on the internet at http://www.cine4m.com. No Blood and No Tears will star superstar Jeon Do-yeon (Happy End) in her first action role together with Lee Hye-young, a popular star from the 1980s and early 1990s who acted in such films as Im Kwon-taek's Ticket and Jang Sun-woo's The Age of Success. The film is currently in production, and it is expected to reach theaters in late 2001/early 2002.

Black Narcissus. This latest feature from veteran director Bae Chang-ho (My Heart) is a big-budget action film produced by Taewon Entertainment, the company who made Bichunmoo and Nowhere to Hide. It stars Lee Jung-jae (Il Mare), Lee Mi-yeon (Whispering Corridors) and veteran Ahn Sung-ki (Nowhere to Hide) in a story which links the present with events that happened during the Korean war. The film is tentatively scheduled for a release in November.

* official English title not yet available


A hot summer for Korean films

Local films enjoyed one of the best summers in recent memory at the box-office, led by two comedies, My Sassy Girl and Kick the Moon. These two films finished the summer with the highest box-office grosses of the season, outpacing Shrek, the highest-grossing Hollywood release (which set a record for animated films released in Korea). As of this writing, the two films are the 4th and 5th best-selling Korean films in history.

The hit film Friend, meanwhile, had its record-breaking run in theaters draw to a close on July 27, after amassing a total of over 8 million viewers (US$44 million) across the country. It is now the best-selling film ever in Seoul as well as for the nation as a whole.

Currently Korea is gearing up for the September 7 release of Musa: The Warrior, the most widely-anticipated film of the year. The epic drama starring Jung Woo-sung, Joo Jin-mo, Ahn Sung-ki, and Chinese star Zhang Ziyi is expected to draw monster crowds at the box-office. With many more potential hit films scheduled for the fall, it appears possible that Korean films may amass a market share of 40-50% for the year 2001 as a whole, a level almost unheard of in today's market. As of June 17 (prior to the release of Kick the Moon and My Sassy Girl), market share for Korean films stood at 39%.

Netizen funds

A practice which began last year partly as a marketing ploy has grown into a new source of finance for Korean films. Referred to as "netizen funds," these online investment tools allow ordinary citizens to buy small shares in film productions. If the film performs well at the box-office, the investors receive back the money they invested, plus a percentage of the profits (if the production loses money, the investor loses money as well). Film studios have found that people who invest in the funds often work hard to encourage other viewers to see the movie as well. Last fall the film Joint Security Area raised $75,000 in this manner, and rewarded its investors with a return of 400%.

The money raised by netizen funds represents a small percentage of the overall budget of a film, nonetheless such high levels of profit have not escaped notice. Professional investors have quickly leapt into the game, buying up large blocks of shares and leaving ordinary citizens with little opportunity to get involved. On May 21 when 150 million won ($115,000) worth of shares for the film Kick the Moon were made available over the internet, they sold out in only 10 seconds. That film went on to sell over 4 million tickets and become the 4th best-selling Korean movie of all time.

With the amount of money invested in these funds growing at a steady rate, the government announced in July its intention to regulate the funds as they do with more conventional investment tools, in order to protect investors and insure against any possible irregularities.

Megaplexes reshaping the viewing market

Korea's scores of new multiplexes are drawing more and more viewers to the theater, while at the same time rewriting the rules for the viewing market. Led by Megabox Cineplex - a 16-screen theater in southern Seoul - as well as the CGV theater chain, multiplexes are using their new-found power in the market to introduce new procedures and pricing schemes.

One change that has come about is the timing of weekly releases. Recently, Megabox Cineplex broke with tradition and began opening major releases on Fridays instead of Saturdays. After initial protests by other theaters, most other venues have followed suit, and currently a two-tier system is in place, whereby bigger releases open on Fridays and smaller films reach screens on Saturdays.

Another significant change has been in price. After successfully carrying out a rise in ticket prices to 7000 won (see Newsletter #9), Megabox and CGV have introduced a variable pricing scheme. During peak hours, such as weekend afternoons and evenings, admission prices are raised to 8000 won. During normal hours prices remain at 7000 won, and off-peak tickets cost 6000 won. In addition, the first screening of each day has a special discount price of 4000 won. The theaters claim that the new system helps to reduce crowding and provide a more balanced flow of viewers during the week.

Feature films invited to Venice, Toronto, Montreal

For the first time ever, two Korean feature films have been invited to compete at the Venice International Film Festival, scheduled to run from August 29 to September 8. With the festival introducing two distinct but equal competition sections to begin this year, Kim Ki-duk's Address Unknown received an invitation to the Venezia 58 section, while Song Ilgon's debut feature Flower Island will screen in the Cinema of the Present section, devoted to younger directors who work in a more experimental style. These films represent the fifth and sixth films to compete at Venice, and the third year in a row that Korean films have been represented. Director Kim Ki-duk has also become the only Korean director to receive two invitations to Venice, after his controversial film The Isle screened last year.

Meanwhile, two high profile festivals in Canada will feature Korean films in their selection. The Montreal World Film Festival (Aug. 23 - Sep. 3) will host the international premiere of hit film Friend in their competition section. Also screening will be the world premiere of Im Jong-jae's My Beautiful Days, Choi Jae-eun's On the Way, and two films from last year: Park Ki-hyung's Secret Tears and Kim Young-joon's Bichunmoo. The Toronto International Film Festival (Sep. 6-15) will screen the international premiere of the much-anticipated Musa: The Warrior, as well as Kim Ki-duk's Address Unknown and Moon Seung-wook's Nabi (The Butterfly).

The 5th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, July 12-20

The fifth edition of the annual Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) continued to prove a hit with viewers, featuring 140 films from 35 countries and selling over 40,000 tickets. The nine-day festival, devoted to popular films which deviate from mainstream aesthetics, opened on July 12 with Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and closed with Pierre Jeunet's Amelie from Montmartre and Yoon Jong-chan's acclaimed horror film Sorum.

The festival's strength in recent years has been its strong selection of lesser-known international films, many of which eventually find commercial distribution in Korean theaters. This year, New Zealand director Harry Sinclair won the prize for Best Film with The Price of Milk, a story about a loving couple who live in the country with their 117 cows. Other prizewinners are listed below:

Best Film: The Price of Milk, by Harry Sinclair (New Zealand); Special Jury Prize: Tears of the Black Tiger by Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand); Best Director: Hirayama Hideyuki, Turn (Japan); Best Actor: Boris Aljinovic, Three Chinamen with a Double Bass (Germany); Best Actress: Kang Hae-jung, Nabi (Korea); Audience Award: Three Chinamen with a Double Bass by Klaus Kraemer (Germany); Best Short Film: The Tale of the Rat that Wrote by Billy O'Brien (Ireland); Jury Award, Short Film: Copy Shop by Virgil Widrich (Austria); Audience Award, Short Film: Rejected by Don Hertzfelt (USA).


Awards at international film festivals

At this year's edition of the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, Kim Ho-jung of Nabi (The Butterfly) took home the Bronze Leopard for Best Actress. Nabi's director, Moon Seung-wook, was also awarded the "Environment is Quality of Life" award from the Junior Jury, with the following message: "In a world in which everything is sold and exploited, Nabi is a poignant illustration of how humanity will always be dependent on its environment, and a vigorous expression of the primordial paradox that Nature gives life, but also takes it."

Park Chan-wook's smash hit Joint Security Area was voted the first runner-up for Best Film at the 2001 Seattle International Film Festival, held from May 24 to June 17. JSA's Song Kang-ho was also named second runner-up for the festival's Best Actor Prize.

Composer Cho Seung-woo was given a special award from the Buenos Aires International Film Festival for his soundtrack to the film Barking Dogs Never Bite. The festival was held from April 19-29.

Cho Min-hwan, producer of Bong Joon-ho's film Barking Dogs Never Bite, was awarded the "High Hopes" Award for best newcomer at the Munich Film Fest, held from June 30 - July 7. According to the award's sponsor, the honor is meant to "actively promote the commitment of international producers to new, talented filmmakers."

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.

Bichunmoo (2000) - Special Edition. A region-3 DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
The Isle (2000). A region-3 DVD from Universe Laser in Hong Kong.
The Gingko Bed (1996). An all-region DVD from Tai Seng in Hong Kong (dubbed only).
Black Honeymoon (1999). A region-3 DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
Art Museum by the Zoo (1998). A region-3 DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
Happy End (1999). A region-3 DVD from Universe Laser in Hong Kong.
The Siren (2000). An all-region DVD from Daum Media in Korea.
The Humanist (2001). An all-region DVD from Saerom Entertainment in Korea.
Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001). An all-region DVD from Atlanta DVD in Korea.
Ditto (2001). An all-region DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
Bedroom and Courtroom (1998). An all-region DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
No. 3 (1997). A region-3 DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
Last Present (2001). A region-3 DVD from 20th Century Fox Korea.
Love Her (2001). An all-region DVD from Media Bank in Korea.
Nudl Nude (1999). An all-region DVD from Cinexus in Korea.
Nudl Nude 2 (2000). An all-region DVD from Cinexus in Korea.
Green Fish (1997). An all-region DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
The Uprising (a.k.a. Les Insurges) (1999). An all-region DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
Love Wind, Love Song (1999). An all-region DVD from Spectrum DVD in Korea.

Memento Mori (1999). A Video CD from Mei Ah in Hong Kong.
The Isle (2000). A Video CD from Universe Laser in Hong Kong.
Happy End (1999). A Video CD from Universe Laser in Hong Kong.
The Contact (1997). A Video CD from Shu Kei's Creative Workshop in Hong Kong.

Coming soon: Memento Mori (1999); Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000); Sopyonje (1993).

Korean film releases abroad

On May 26, Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area enjoyed a major release in Japan, opening on 225 screens throughout the country. This was the highest number of screens ever booked for a Korean film in Japan, and despite stiff competition at the box-office, the film debuted at #1 at the box-office and remained in the top ten for 8 weeks. Distributors Cine Qua Non and Amuse Pictures expect to easily pass the US$15 million they earned with Shiri in its Japanese release last year.

Art Museum by the Zoo was released on July 12 in Hong Kong, home to many fans of Shim Eun-ha. Released on only one screen, the film nonetheless has grossed HK$360,000 in six weeks. Also in July, a film series titled Korean Cine-Force grossed HK$201,095 in 30 screenings for an attendance rate of over 80%. Films screened included Il Mare, La Belle, The Quiet Family, Nowhere to Hide, Spring in My Hometown, Birdcage Inn, Phantom: The Submarine and Art Museum by the Zoo, plus two short films which screened at Cannes 2001: I Can Fly to You But You... and The Holy Family. Most popular with viewers were Il Mare, La Belle, Art Museum by the Zoo, and Nowhere to Hide, all of which are scheduled for theatrical release. Il Mare will open on four screens on 30 August.

Lee Myung-Se's Nowhere to Hide was given a brief release in the U.K. on June 29 by Metro Tartan. (Mis)-marketed as a John Woo-style film, it opened on five screens at #28 at the local box-office, earning just under $7000 in its first three days.

In North America, Miramax bought the rights to martial-arts blockbuster Bichunmoo, as well as the rights to shoot a U.S. remake. The release of Chang Yoon-hyun's Tell Me Something, originally scheduled for August, has been moved to September 10 by distributor Kino International. Meanwhile, the first U.S. film series to focus on contemporary Korean film packed seats from August 17-26 in New York. Sponsored by Subway Cinema and the Korean Film Forum, the series screened eleven films to mostly sold-out crowds, with festival organizers adding two screenings of crowd favorite Joint Security Area to satisfy demand. Other films screened included: Tell Me Something, The Isle, Memento Mori, Barking Dogs Never Bite, The Foul King, My Heart, Christmas in August, Attack the Gas Station, Art Museum by the Zoo and An Affair. For more details, visit http://www.subwaycinema.com.

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: Bichunmoo (2000).
JAPAN: Wonderful Days (pre-sales); Friend (2001); The Foul King (2000); Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001); The Siren (2000).
HONG KONG: I Wish I Had a Wife (2001); A Masterpiece in My Life (2000); Friend (2001); Peppermint Candy (2000); Ghost in Love (1999); An Affair (1998).
SINGAPORE: I Wish I Had a Wife (2001); A Masterpiece in My Life (2000); Sorum (2001); Friend (2001).
TAIWAN: A Nightmare (2000); Friend (2001); The Anarchists (2000); I Wish I Had a Wife (2001); A Masterpiece in My Life (2000).
INDONESIA: A Nightmare (2000); Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001); Sorum (2001); Shiri (1999); Plum Blossom (2000); The Cut Runs Deep (2000).
THAILAND: Friend (2001); A Nightmare (2000); Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001); Sorum (2001); Plum Blossom (2000).
CHINA: Friend (2001); Peppermint Candy (2000) - TV rights; Our Sunny Days (1999) - TV rights.
VIETNAM: Friend (2001).
MALAYSIA: Friend (2001); Ghost Taxi (2000).
INDIA: Shiri (1999); Plum Blossom (2000).
GERMANY: A Nightmare (2000).
POLAND: Joint Security Area (2000); The Legend of Gingko (2000).
SCANDINAVIA: Friend (2001).
NORWAY: Peppermint Candy (2000).
NETHERLANDS: The Legend of Gingko (2000).
BELGIUM: Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000).
MEXICO: Bichunmoo (2000).
SOUTH AFRICA: Bichunmoo (2000).
ARGENTINA: Bichunmoo (2000).
PORTUGAL: Art Museum by the Zoo (1998); The Foul King (2000); Memento Mori (1999); Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (2000); Tell Me Something (1999); Ghost in Love (1999).
TURKEY: 2009 Lost Memories (pre-sales).

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

August 26, 2001
Number of subscribers: 1265

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Darcy Paquet/ darcy@koreanfilm.org /Posted September 3, 2001