Korean Film Newsletter #16 -- February 7, 2003

Welcome to the sixteenth edition of the Korean Film Newsletter. This letter is distributed every three 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 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: (a) reviews by various contributors of The Classic (2003), A.F.R.I.K.A. (2002), Marriage is a Crazy Thing (2002), My Beautiful Days (2002), Over the Rainbow (2002), A Perfect Match (2002), and Wet Dreams (2002). (b) pages devoted to 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s cinema, with reviews of Splendid Outing (1978), Surrogate Mother (1986), The Man With Three Coffins (1988), and To the Starry Island (1993); (c) a special section devoted to filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, with two essays by Adam Hartzell; (d) coverage of the 2002 Pusan International Film Festival by five attendees in a special section; (e) an essay on censorship and classification issues in the Korean film industry since 1995; (f) a review of the book Im Kwon-Taek: The Making of a Korean National Cinema by Adam Hartzell; (g) a new weekly newsletter on DVD releases posted on the web, from contributor V. Naldi.

NEW RELEASES (Oct 2002 - Jan 2003)

Addicted ["Jungdok"] Directed by Park Young-hoon. Screenplay by Byun Won-mi, Song Min-ho. A married couple lives together in a suburban home with the husband's younger brother. One day, separate car accidents that put both brothers into a coma. A year later, the younger man wakes up believing himself to be his older brother. Starring Lee Byung-heon, Lee Mi-yeon, Lee Eol, Park Sun-young. Cinematography by Kim Byung-il. Produced by Cine2000. Distributed by Showbox. Rating: 15+. 110 min. October 25. (http://www.joongdok.co.kr)

Sex Is... ["Sajang-seongeo"] Written and directed by Lee Ji-sang, Lee Song Hee-il, Yu Sang-gon, Kim Jeong-gu. Four short works about sex by some of Korea's most well-known independent filmmakers. Starring Kim Hyun-soo, Nam Kyung-pyo, Park Mi-hyun, Oh Hyun-ji, Park Jae-hyun. Cinematography by Lee Dong-hoon, Ko Jeong-ho, Park Sang-hoon, Hwang Il. Distributed by Indiestory. Rating: 18+. 95 min. November 1. (http://www.sexy4.co.kr)

Wet Dreams ["Mongjeonggi"] Directed by Jung Cho-shin. Screenplay by Park Chae-woon. A student teacher comes back to her old school for mandatory teaching practice. She has fallen in love with the teacher who is supervising her, but four of her students, struggling with adolescent desires, have fallen in love with her. A teenage sex comedy starring Lee Beom-soo, Kim Seon-ah, Noh Hyung-wook, Jeon Jae-hyung, Jung Dae-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Shin Hyun-tak. Cinematography by Suh Jung-min. Produced by Kang JeGyu Films. Distributed by A-Line. Rating: 15+. 96 min. November 6. (http://www.mongjung.co.kr)

She Brings Us Danger ["Yuadokjon"] Directed by Hong Jong-oh. Screenplay by Hong Jong-oh, Bae Hyo-min, Park Kwang-shik. Three single men who work as martial arts instructors come across an orphaned baby. They take the child into their home, but then they learn she is the daughter of a deceased gang lord. Starring Park Sang-myun, Lee Won-jong, Ahn Jae-mo, Kim Yoon-kyung, Lee Jae-yong, Choi Hakrak. Cinematography by Song Haeng-ki. Produced by Vision Entertainment & C2 Communications. Distributed by Big Blue Film. Rating: 15+. 110 min. November 7. (http://www.babyalone.co.kr)

Ardor ["Milae"] Directed by Byun Young-ju. Screenplay by Kim Jae-yeon, Byun Young-ju. After discovering her husband's infidelity, Mi-heun moves her family to a country village to re-start their lives. While there she meets a local doctor and enters into a sexual relationship with him under the guise of a game. Starring Kim Yoon-jin, Lee Jong-won, Kye Sung-yong. Cinematography by Kwon Hyuk-joon. Produced by Fun & Happiness. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 112 min. November 8. (http://www.deeploves.co.kr)

Unborn But Forgotten ["Hayanbang"] Directed by Lim Chang-jae. Screenplay by Han Hyun-geun. A Ring-styled movie about a series of women in the same apartment who die after seeing a certain website. Starring Lee Eun-ju, Jung Jun-ho, Kye Sung-yong. Cinematography by Park Hee-ju. Produced by YOU Cinematheque. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 95 min. November 15. (http://www.white-room.co.kr)

Jail Breakers ["Gwangbokjeol teuksa"] Directed by Kim Sang-jin. Screenplay by Park Jeong-woo. Two long-term prisoners manage to break out of jail by tunneling underneath the prison wall with a spoon. Upon returning back to society, they read in the newspaper that they are scheduled to be pardoned under a special amnesty on the very next day. The desperate warden agrees to pretend nothing happened if they can break back into prison unnoticed. Starring Sol Kyung-gu, Cha Seung-won, Song Yoon-ah, Kang Sung-jin, Yu Hae-jin. Cinematography by Jung Kwang-seok. Produced by Director's Home. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 15+. 119 min. November 21. (http://www.815day.co.kr)

The Coast Guard ["Hae-an-seon"] Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk. Along the fiercely-guarded sea border near the DMZ, a South Korean soldier on guard duty mistakes a civilian for a spy and shoots him, leading to a vicious cycle of violence and madness. Starring Jang Dong-gun, Park Ji-ah, Kim Jeong-hak, Yu Hae-jin. Cinematography by Baek Dong-hyun. Produced by LJ Films. Distributed by Korea Pictures. Rating: 18+. 94 min. November 22. (http://www.coastguard.co.kr)

Public Toilet ["Hwajangsil, eodieyo?"] Directed by Fruit Chan. Screenplay by Fruit Chan and To Kee. A series of vignettes containing various characters and shot all over the world. Many of the stories are in some way connected to public toilets. A Korean-HK-Japanese co-production starring Abe Tsuyoshi, Jang Hyuk, Sam Lee, Jo In-sung. Cinematography by Henry Chung, Lam Wah-Chuen, and Wong Man-wan. Produced by Digital NEGA. Distributed by A-Line. Rating: 12+. 102 min. November 29. (http://www.whereistoilet.com)

Too Young To Die ["Jugeodo joh-a"] Directed by Park Jin-pyo. Screenplay by Lee Su-mi. A couple in their seventies meet, fall in love and rediscover sex. A fictional story based on the lives of the film's main actors. Starring Park Chi-gyu, Lee Soon-ye. Cinematography by Jung Yong-woo. Produced by May Film. Distributed by Big Blue Film. Rating: 18+. 67 min. December 6. (http://www.ijoajoa.co.kr)

A Bizarre Love Triangle ["Cheoleomneun anaewa paranmanjanghan nampyeon geurigo taekwonsonyeo"] Written and directed by Lee Mu-young. A woman named Keum-sook goes to prison in place of her best friend, only to discover later that her friend and Keum-sook's boyfriend have hooked up while she was gone. Starring Kong Hyo-jin, Jo Eun-ji, Choi Kwang-il. Cinematography by Ko Su-bok. Produced by EGG Films. Distributed by New Line Korea. Rating: 18+. 92 min. December 6. (http://www.taekwongirl.co.kr)

The Romantic President ["Piano chineun daetongnyeong"] Written and directed by Jeon Man-bae. A new teacher is having problems with an uncooperative student, so she demands to speak to the student's father. Her father turns out to be the president of Korea, however. Starring Ahn Sung-ki, Choi Ji-woo, Im Su-jeong, Kim Hyung-il, Lee Kang-sook. Cinematography by Byun Hee-sung. Produced by Cinewill. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: general. 95 min. December 6. (http://www.pianoooooooo.co.kr)

Sex Is Zero ["Saekjeuk-sigong"] Written and directed by Yoon Je-gyun. A sex comedy about the misadventures of a man who returns from the military to university, and the aerobics student he falls in love with. Starring Lim Chang-jung, Ha Ji-won, Choi Seong-guk, Jin Jae-young, Yu Chae-young. Cinematography by Kim Yong-chul. Produced by Doosaboo Films, Film Z. Distributed by Showbox. Rating: 18+. 96 min. December 12. (http://www.sexiszero.com)

Whisper Princess ["Hwiparam-gongju"] Directed by Lee Jeong-hwang. Screenplay by Park Gye-ok. Action-comedy-melodrama about a South Korean rock drummer who meets the daughter of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who is visiting Seoul as a member of an arts troupe. Starring Kim Hyun-soo, Ji Sung, Park Sang-min, Sung Ji-ru. Cinematography by Choi Chan-gyu. Produced by Maro Pictures. Distributed by Sinabro Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 106 min. December 24. (http://www.whifaram.co.kr)

H ["H"] Directed by Lee Jong-hyuk. Screenplay by Lee Jong-hyuk, Kim Hwi-jae, Oh Seung-wook. After a series of vicious murders targeting women, a man confesses to the crimes and turns himself in to the police. However, the following year the murders start up again, with the man still in prison. Starring Yeom Jung-ah, Cho Seung-woo, Ji Jin-hee. Cinematography by Peter Gray, Choi Jin-woong. Produced by B.O.M. Film Productions. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 110 min. December 27. (http://www.iamh.co.kr)

Conduct Zero ["Pumhaeng-jero"] Directed by Jo Geun-shik. Screenplay by Lee Hae-joon, Lee Hae-young. Joong-pil is the toughest student in his high school, but one day his life is thrown into disarray when he falls in love with an A-student, and a challenger comes in the form of a new student with powerful fighting skills. Starring Ryu Seung-beom, Kong Hyo-jin, Im Eun-kyung, Kim Kwang-il. Cinematography by Jo Yong-gyu. Produced by KM Culture. Distributed by Big Blue Film. Rating: 15+. 100 min. December 27. (http://www.manner0.co.kr)

The Madeleine ["Madeullen"] Directed by Park Kwang-chun. Screenplay by Sol Jun-seok. A university student comes across a former classmate from his hometown school. They become reacquainted, and then decide to date each other, but only for one month. Starring Jo In-sung, Shin Min-ah, Park Jeong-ah, Kim Soo-roh. Cinematography by Kim Young-chul. Produced by Free Cinema. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 15+. 118 min. January 10 . (http://www.madeleine.co.kr)

Double Agent ["Yijung-gancheop"] Directed by Kim Hyun-jeong. Screenplay by Shim Hye-won, Baek Seung-jae, Kim Jung-haeng. A North Korean spy defects to the South during the height of Cold War tension in the 1980s. At first, Southern intelligence agents are suspicious, but eventually they hire him to utilize his expertise. Starring Han Suk-kyu, Ko So-young, Cheon Ho-jin. Cinematography by Kim Seong-bok. Produced by Koo& Film. Distributed by Showbox. Rating: 15+. 123 min. January 23. (http://www.koofilm.com/spy)

The Classic ["Keullaesik"] Written and directed by Kwak Jae-yong. A young university student finds a secret box filled with her mother's letters and a diary. Reading it, she learns of her mother's first love affair, a story which closely matches her own experience at the university. Starring Son Yeh-jin, Cho Seung-woo, Jo In-sung, Lee Ki-woo, Im Yeh-jin. Cinematography by Lee Jun-gyu. Produced by EGG Films. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 12+. 132 min. January 30. (http://www.classicromance.co.kr)


Scandal* Director E J-yong's third feature after An Affair and Asako in Ruby Shoes will transpose the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses to Chosun Dynasty-era Korea. Although yet to start shooting, the film's casting has already attracted notice, with actresses Lee Mi-sook (An Affair) and Jeon Do-yeon (Happy End) taking the lead roles opposite TV drama star Bae Yong-joon, who will be making his cinematic debut. Financed by CJ Entertainment, the film is scheduled for a summer release.

Old Boy* Park Chan-wook's fifth film, following the awards and controversy surrounding his previous feature Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, is "very loosely" based on a Japanese comic book called "Old Boy", in which a man is released from a private prison after ten years of no contact with the outside world. Talented actor Choi Min-shik (Chihwaseon, Failan) has agreed to take the lead role, with shooting scheduled to start in spring of this year.

A Tale of Two Sisters ["Jang-hwa, Hong-ryun"] The third feature film by Kim Jee-woon, director of The Foul King, updates a classic Korean novel into modern times, and shapes it into a horror film. The film will star actresses Im Su-jeong (The Romantic President), Moon Geun-young (Lovers Concerto), and Yeom Jung-ah (H). Currently in shooting, it is expected to be released in May.

The Good Lawyer's Wife ["Baramnan gajeok"] Produced by Myung Films, this third feature by Im Sang-soo (Girls Night Out, Tears) is expected to draw attention with the casting of actress Moon So-ri in her first role after winning an award at Venice for Oasis. With a large ensemble cast, the film tells the story of an extended family in which almost everyone is having an illicit affair or going through a personal crisis. The film is scheduled for a spring release.

Maruchi Arachi* The latest feature from Ryu Seung-wan (No Blood No Tears, Die Bad) will feature his younger brother Ryu Seung-beom (a rising star in his own right) and model Yoon So-yi in her film debut. The film tells the story of a policeman and his sidekick who develop supernatural skills in martial arts. Financed by Cinema Service, the film is scheduled to start shooting in April, with a release tentatively planned for November 2003.

Cheon-nyeon-ho* ("The Thousand-Year Lake") A martial arts fantasy shot in China and based on the 1969 classic film from Shin Sang-ok. Starring top actor Jung Jun-ho together with actresses Kim Hyo-jin and Kim Hye-ri. Budgeted at $5m, the film is scheduled to be released this summer.

Ogu* Based on a popular local musical, this film will mark the long-awaited cinematic debut of theatre director Lee Youn-taek. The film tells the story of some escorts to the next world who arrive to take the soul of a deceased grandmother, but who end up getting entangled with events on earth. Starring Lee Jae-eun (Jakarta), the film will be released in late winter or early spring.

* official English title not yet available


CJ-Cinema Service merger set to transform Korean film industry

Korea's two biggest film companies, CJ Entertainment and Cinema Service, are moving towards a merger of their film operations which is expected to have far-reaching effects on the industry. Should everything proceed according to plan, the result will be a company that towers over all others in film investment, production, distribution, and exhibition.

The linking up of the two companies is expected to take place sometime after March, when CJ Entertainment buys up to a 35.4% share in Plenus Entertainment, the parent company of Cinema Service. Although details of the merger have not yet emerged, many expect that Cinema Service, under founder Kang Woo-suk, will oversee most or all of the combined companies' production and investment operations, which CJ Entertainment will focus more on distribution and overseeing multiplex chains CGV and newly-launched Primus Cinema.

Many in the film industry have expressed concern that the merger will be bad for the industry as a whole. Some have argued that the two companies together will be unable to produce as many films as they did separately, meaning that fewer movies will be produced per year. Another concern is that smaller companies will have a more difficult time raising money to make films, with investors preferring to work through CJ-Cinema Service. With details on the structure of the merger still hazy, it will likely be some time before filmmakers find out if these fears are justified.

Final wrap-up for 2002

Korean cinema continued to post outstanding numbers at the box-office in 2002, despite the pessimistic mood that currently reigns in the industry. Local movies captured an estimated 47% of the market nationwide, a level virtually unheard of in most countries outside of the U.S. Production levels were up as well, with a total of 77 Korean films released in theaters, compared to 65 in 2001.

The top performing Korean film was the gangster comedy Marrying the Mafia, which attracted over 5 million viewers to outgross all other films in 2002. (Note however that Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, released in mid-December, went on to pass its total in early 2003) Other Korean films to land in the top ten include the rural-set drama The Way Home, college sex comedy Sex Is Zero, action comedy Jail Breakers, and police thriller Public Enemy.

An estimated 107 million movie tickets were sold in Korea in 2002, the highest number since 1973 (last year there were 89 million). This amounts to US$506 million, which is expected to make Korea one of the 10 biggest cinema markets in the world. Much of the rise in admissions in recent years has been credited to multiplexes -- an estimated 100 screens were added last year, bringing the total to about 1000 nationwide.

Korean films continue to sell well abroad as well. According to the Korean Film Commission (KOFIC), 151 Korean films, including 30 short films, were sold to 32 countries for a total of US$15m. Japan accounted for the biggest part of the dollar total at 44%, with Chinese-speaking territories at 14% and European territories 12%.

Top 10 lists for 2002

With the end of the year, various local film magazines have polled their own critics to select the best Korean films of 2002. Although there was no clear consensus on the overall best work, several titles have stood out among critics' choices. Results are listed below:

CINE 21 (weekly): 1. Turning Gate, 2. Oasis, 3. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 4. Too Young To Die, 5. Chihwaseon.

FILM 2.0 (weekly): 1. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 2. (tie) Turning Gate, Oasis.

KINO (monthly): 1. Chihwaseon, 2. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 3. Oasis, 4. Turning Gate, 5. Camel(s), 6. Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, 7. Public Enemy, 8. My Beautiful Girl, Mari, 9. Bad Guy, 10. Roadmovie.

This year, various readers from Koreanfilm.org have put together essays on their own personal favorites. These can be found at http://www.koreanfilm.org/topten2002.html.

Investment troubles for Korean film companies

In recent months it has become clear that Korean cinema is facing troubles in the area of film investment. Since the late 1990s, most film financing in the industry has come from venture capital companies. In the years 2000 and 2001 in particular, the success of films like JSA and Friend, together with the lackluster performance of the local stock market, resulted in a huge surge of money invested in films. Many outside investors with little knowledge of cinema eagerly invested money, as rumors spread that investing in Korean films was certain to produce double-digit returns.

By late 2002 it became apparent that, despite the continued boom in Korean cinema, most films were not earning money for their investors. The average budgets of feature films have risen significantly over the past few years (due perhaps to the amount of easy money flowing into the industry), and so even films that found mid-level success at the box-office were not producing significant profits. This, together with the high-profile flops of expensive films like R U Ready? and Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, meant that by the end of 2002, most venture capitalists had frozen their investment in cinema.

Although large companies like CJ Entertainment and Cinema Service are largely able to finance their own films, smaller production companies are now facing a crisis. This bursting of the investment bubble is expected to lead to big changes in the industry, as smaller companies struggle to find new ways of raising money to make films.

Too Young To Die released in theaters, new film banned

Too Young To Die, the controversial film about an elderly couple's re-discovery of sex, finally received an 18+ rating from the Media Ratings Board to allow it to be released in regular movie theaters (see Newsletter #15). The film had been effectively banned by the board, holding up its release for several months. A compromise was finally reached whereby producer May Films darkened scenes judged to be problematic, in place of making cuts. The film was released on December 6, and ultimately attracted 59,000 admissions nationwide for a box-office total of about $300,000.

Meanwhile in January, low-budget comedy Jugeullae sallae became the third film to receive the board's infamous 'restricted' rating which bars a film from release in ordinary theaters. On January 29 the film's production company received an 18+ rating by re-submitting the film to the board after removing a scene involving a pizza and a certain bodily fluid.

PIFF 2002

The 7th Pusan International Film Festival took place from November 14-23, host to a wide range of films, guests, industry events, and enthusiastic crowds. With its reputation now cemented as the leading film festival in Asia, there was perhaps less of a sense of discovery this year, but the festival's importance and developing maturity were reflected in how it now serves as a center for discussion and industry activities related to Asian cinema.

A total of 5,338 guests from Korea and other countries attended the event, with total audience levels amounting to 167,349. Of special note was the attendance of festival directors from Cannes, Venice, and Berlin -- the first time in recent memory that any festival worldwide has hosted the heads of all three prestigious festivals.

The 226 films in the main program concentrated mostly on films from Asia and Europe, with only one feature and one short film hailing from the U.S. Special programs were devoted to films by Oshima Nagisa related to Korea, Taiwan New Wave Cinema, and the films of veteran Korean director Kim Soo-yong. The world premiere of Kim Ki-duk's The Coast Guard opened the event (to a largely unenthusiastic reception), while a screening of Kitano Takeshi's Dolls closed the festival.

Many of the Korean films screening in the festival dated from earlier in the year, reflecting a slight dry spell in Korean arthouse features from the final quarter of 2002. Nonetheless Park Chan-ok's debut feature Jealousy is My Middle Name and Byun Young-ju's Ardor received praise among the newer films on offer.

Also the topic of much discussion was the festival's move of the industry events and many screenings from its traditional city-center location to the beachside Haeundae district an hour away. With industry events like the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) and the Busan International Film Commission Showcase (BIFCOM) taking up a larger and larger portion of the festival, the superior hotels and facilities in Haeundae are expected to place pressure on the festival to make a permanent move.

Two films shared the top prize in the festival's competition section for first- and second-time Asian directors: Indian director K.N.T. Sastry's The Rite... A Passion and Korean director Park Chan-ok's Jealousy is My Middle Name. A full list of awards is presented below.

New Currents Award ($10,000, tie) -- The Rite... A Passion, K.N.T. Sastry (India) and Jealousy is My Middle Name, Park Chan-ok (Korea); Special Mention, New Currents - Too Young To Die, Park Jin-pyo (Korea); FIPRESCI Award - Too Young To Die, Park Jin-pyo (Korea); NETPAC Award for Best Korean Film - Roadmovie, Kim In-shik; PSB (Audience) Award - Too Young To Die, Park Jin-pyo (Korea); Sonje Fund (Best Korean Short) - Chapter Two: How to Breathe, Lee Hyung-suk; Woonpa Fund (Best Korean Documentary) - tie, On the Right Track, Lee Ji-young and Mudang-Reconciliation of the Living and the Dead, Park Kibok.

Note that this year Koreanfilm.org provided special coverage of the festival. To read more, visit http://www.koreanfilm.org/piff2002/

PPP 2002

The three-day Pusan Promotion Plan, held concurrently with the Pusan International Film Festival, again showed strong growth this year. The event highlighted 21 projects in development from Asian directors, giving the producers and directors of the films a chance to meet with potential financiers in an effort to raise money for production. Some of the projects to capture attention included the Iran-Afghanistan co-production Rainbow, which will become the first film shot by an Afghan director since Taliban rule, to Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien omnibus film The Best of Our Times, to be shot with three other young directors. Three Korean projects were showcased: the fifth film by director Hong Sang-soo, Solongos by director Min Kyu-dong (Memento Mori) to be shot in Mongolia, and Texture of Skin, a new animated film from Lee Sung-gang (My Beautiful Girl, Mari). In addition, five new Korean directors were highlighted in the New Directors In Focus program, with the hopes of allowing them to make their first feature film.

Apart from the more than 500 official business meetings that took place for the above projects, there were several events and seminars co-hosted by the Korean Film Commission or the Busan Film Commission regarding Asian co-productions, location shooting in Asia, and a special effort to launch an Asian Film Industry Network among Asian countries to support Asian cinema. For more information on the PPP, its selected projects and the awards granted at the event, visit the PPP's website at http://ppp.piff.org.

Blue Dragon Awards

This year's Cheongryong (Blue Dragon) Awards were tainted by politics, as Lee Chang-dong's Oasis, which swept many of the year's other awards ceremonies, was withdrawn from consideration by production company East Film in protest against the conservative stance of the award ceremony's sponsor, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Oasis remained in consideration only for the Best New Actress award, which it won.

Awards for the 22nd Blue Dragon Awards: Best Picture: Chihwaseon; Best Director: Im Kwon-taek, Chihwaseon; Best Actress: Kim Yoon-jin, Ardor; Best Actor: Sol Kyung-gu, Public Enemy; Best Supporting Actress: Song Yoon-ah, Jail Breakers; Best Supporting Actor: Yoo Dong-geun, Marrying the Mafia; Best Cinematography: Jung Il-sung, Chihwaseon; Best Screenplay: Park Jeong-woo, Jail Breakers; Best New Director: Kim In-sik, Roadmovie; Best New Actress: Moon So-ri, Oasis; Best New Actor: Hwang Jeong-min, Roadmovie; Technical Achievement: Jang Sung-ho, 2009 Lost Memories. A special award for the year's most popular actors was presented to Cha Tae-hyun, Jung Jun-ho, Kim Jeong-eun, Jeon Do-yeon.


The links between the television industry and the film industry are strong, and much acting and directing talent crosses back and forth between the two media. Korean TV dramas have enjoyed increasing popularity in other parts of Asia, and have also found a niche in Hawaii. More information about dramas can be found at http://www.koreanwiz.org and http://www.soompi.com.

The following is a list of the dramas which have drawn at least a 25% audience rating over the last three months.

Top rated dramas, Oct 22, 2002 - Feb 3, 2003

1. Ya-in Shidae (SBS) -- 48.5%, Dec. 09
2. Inuh-agassi (MBC) -- 41.6%, Jan. 03
3. Nesarang Nugulkka? (KBS2) -- 33.6%, Dec. 29
4. Ol-in (SBS) -- 32.8%, Jan. 30
5. Dangshin-yeopi Joh-ah (KBS1) -- 29.2%, Dec. 20
6. Ju-puneul Chowon-weeye (KBS2) -- 25.6%, Jan. 04

(Source: TNS Media Korea.)

Ya-in Shidae -- "The Rustic Period" (SBS, from Jul. 29) Written by Lee Hwan-kyung. Directed by Jang Hyung-il. A drama based on the childhood and political life of Kim Doo-han, who rose to fame as a gangster under the Japanese occupation and later became a politician in the late 1960s. Starring Ahn Jae-mo, Kim Young-chul, Choi Dong-jun, Lee Deok-hee, Jung Young-sook, Jeon Mi-seon, Ko Du-shim, Jo Hyung-ki, Lee Soon-jae. (http://tv.sbs.co.kr/period/)

Inuh-agassi - "Little Mermaid" (MBC, from Jun. 24) Written by Im Sung-han. Directed by Lee Ju-hwan. A TV drama writer seeks to get revenge on her father and his new family, years after he left with another woman. She decides to write a drama that will expose her father's wrongdoing. Starring Jang Suh-hee, Jung Bo-seok, Woo Hee-jin, Lee Jae-eun, Kim Sung-taek, Han Hae-sook, Ko Du-shim. (http://www.imbc.com/tv/drama/mermaid/)

Nesarang Nugulkka? - "Who's My Love?" (KBS2, from Mar. 2) Written by Kim Su-hyun. Directed by Jung Eul-young. A contemporary drama about a large family that all lives in the same building, together with two outspoken female renters. Starring Ryu Jin, Myung Se-bin, Yoon Da-hoon, Lee Tae-ran, Kim Jung-hyun, Lee Seung-yeon. (http://mylove.kbs.co.kr/)

Ol-in - "All-in" (SBS, from Jan. 15) Written by Yoo Chul-yong. Directed by Choi Wan-kyu. A 24-episode drama based on the life of international gambler Cha Min-soo, starting from when he worked as a bodyguard. Starring Song Hye-gyo, Lee Byung-heon, Ji Sung and Park Sol-mi. (http://tv.sbs.co.kr/allin/)

Dangshin-yeopi Joh-ah - "It's Nice Being Next To You" (KBS1, from Jul. 1) Written by Jung Sung-hee. Directed by Lee Sung-ju. A daily TV drama series about two girls growing up in the 1970s and 1980s who fall in love with the same person. Starring Ha Hee-ra, Jung Hye-young, Lee Jae-ryong, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Ja-young. (http://beside.kbs.co.kr)

Ju-puneul Chowon-weeye - "On the Green Grassland" (KBS2, from Jan. 4) Written by Kim Ji-woo. Directed by Park Chan-hong. A long-running series about the love between a female pediatrician and a young man from a poor background who wants to move up in life. Starring Yoon Tae-young, Chae Lim and Chae Jeong-an. (http://green.kbs.co.kr/)

Nun-saram - "Snowman" (MBC, from Jan. 8) Written by Lee Chang-soon. Directed by Kim Do-woo. A 20-episode drama about a high school girl who, after losing her parents, studies to join the police force. Soon, she falls in love with the policeman boyfriend of her elder sister. Starring Jo Jae-hyun, Gong Hyo-jin, Oh Yeon-soo and Kim Rae-won. (http://www.imbc.com/tv/drama/snowman/)


Awards at international film festivals

Park Chan-ok's debut film Jealousy is My Middle Name was named winner of the VPRO Tiger Award, the top prize awarded at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The jury described it as "an ambitious film about human relations, written and directed with confidence and sensitivity, and supported by strong ensemble acting." Each year the festival awards three equal prizes to first or second-time directors taking part in the festival's competition section. The other two awardees included Extrano by Santiago Loza (Argentina) and With Love. Lilya by Larisa Sadilova (Russia). This is the second time that a Korean film has won the prestigious award, following Hong Sang-soo's The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well in 1997. Park will receive 10,000 euros and her film will be guaranteed distribution in the Netherlands.

Park Ki-yong's acclaimed b&w digital film Camel(s) was awarded a FIPRESCI Special Mention at the Viennale Film Festival in Austria. The jury noted the film's "achievement in audio-visual design in unveiling the fears and disillusionment at midlife."

Director Min Byoung-hun's second feature Let's Not Cry was awarded an Artistic Achievement Award and a Special Mention for actor Muhamed Rahimov at the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece. Shot entirely in Uzbekistan, Let's Not Cry received its premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival last July.

Park Jin-pyo's controversial drama Too Young To Die was awarded a special mention at the third FILMeX festival, with the jury noting, "We wanted to give more courage to this outstanding young filmmaker." A rising star among Asian festivals, the FILMeX was held from December 1-8 in Tokyo.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, directed by Park Chan-wook, picked up a Special Jury Award at the Courmayeur - Noir Festival (www.noirfest.com), which wrapped up on December 15 in Courmayeur, Italy. The jury noted that the film "walks a strong balancing line between human compassion, poetic moments and also instances of extreme violence that might sometimes shock a Western viewer."

Documentary filmmaker Kim So-young's Sky Blue Hometown ("Haneulsaek gohyang") was presented with the NETPAC Award for Best Asian Documentary at the 3rd Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival in December. The film tells the story of ethnic Korean painter Shin Soon-nam, who was deported from his hometown of Vladivostok, Russia to Uzbekistan under the Stalin regime. More information about the film can be found at http://www.sky-bluehometown.com

Action blockbuster 2009 Lost Memories was voted winner of the Audience Award at the Gerardmer Fantastic Film Festival in France. The festival wrapped up on February 2.

New DVD releases with English subtitles

The following are the latest releases of Korean films on DVD with English subtitles. For more information, visit my wife's online DVD store at http://www.yeondvd.com.

OASIS (2002), from CJ Entertainment in Korea.
SAVING MY HUBBY (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.
ARDOR (2002), from Cinema Service in Korea.
OBALTAN (1961), from CineKorea DVD in Korea.
CHIHWASEON (2002), from Cinema Service in Korea.
IF THE SUN RISES IN THE WEST (2002), from SRE Corporation in Korea.
ROADMOVIE (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.
KOREAN SHORT FILM ANIMATION COLLECTION (2002), from Pop Entertainment Asia in Korea.
R U READY? (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.
LOOKING FOR BRUCE LEE (2002), from Pop Entertainment Asia in Korea.
ADDICTED (2002), from Metro DVD in Korea.
MARRYING THE MAFIA (2002), from Spectrum DVD in Korea.
FAMILY (2002), from Bitwin in Korea.
THE CONTACT (1997), from SRE Corporation in Korea.
HARMONIUM IN MY MEMORY (1999), from SRE Corporation in Korea.
LOVERS CONCERTO (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.
2424 (2002), from A9 Media in Korea.
THE PHONE (2002), from Starmax DVD in Korea.
A PERFECT MATCH (2002), from Starmax DVD in Korea.
RECORD (2000), from Spectrum in Korea.
OH! LALA SISTERS (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.
BOSS X-FILE (2002), from Metro DVD in Korea.
OVER THE RAINBOW (2002), from Starmax in Korea.
YELLOW FLOWER (2002), from SRE Corporation in Korea.
CHAMPION (2002), from EnterOne in Korea.

THE RING VIRUS (1999), from Star Treasure Holdings in Hong Kong.
SCENT OF A MAN (1998), from Winson in Hong Kong.
MY BOSS, MY HERO (2001), from Winson in Hong Kong.
STORY OF A MAN (1998), from Winson in Hong Kong.
THE WAY HOME (2002), from Edko in Hong Kong.
JUST DO IT (2000), from Deltamac in Hong Kong.
A.F.R.I.K.A. (2002), from Fortex Group Ltd. in Hong Kong.
RUSH (1999), from Modern Audio in Hong Kong.
MY OLD SWEETHEART (1995), from Winson in Hong Kong.
KILIMANJARO (2000), from Modern Audio in Hong Kong.
PHANTOM THE SUBMARINE (1999), from Modern Audio in Hong Kong.
THE HAPPY FUNERAL DIRECTOR (2000), from Modern Audio in Hong Kong.
THREE (2002), from Panorama in Hong Kong.
Coming soon: The Way Home (2002), Jail Breakers (2002).

Korean films abroad

Im Kwon-taek's Chihwaseon, which earlier this year won the Best Director award at Cannes, has become the best-selling film ever to open in France. Titled Ivre de femmes et de peintures ("Drunk with women and paintings"), the film opened on 60 prints on November 27 and to date it has attracted over 236,000 admissions (appr. US$1.4m). For comparison, Musa was released on 145 prints last summer with a significantly stronger marketing campaign, but ultimately grossed only 197,400 admissions. Im's previous film Chunhyang opened on 40 prints in 2002, grossing 40,971 admissions. Following its box-office success, Chihwaseon became the first Korean film ever to receive a nomination in the Foreign Film category of the Cesar Awards, France's most prestigious awards ceremony. Observers also note that it is the first film released in France to be prominently recognized and marketed as Korean, as distinct from other Asian countries.

Meanwhile Failan, also starring Choi Min-shik, was released in France on 40 prints on December 18, but to date it has grossed a disappointing 19,000 admissions. Compared to past releases, this beats Tell Me Something which also opened on 40 prints, but is roughly similar to Memento Mori's performance on 19 prints and less than The Isle, which grossed 33,030 admissions on only 7 prints. On February 26, the first three films by Hong Sang-soo -- The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (5 prints), The Power of Kangwon Province (5 prints), and Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (10 prints) -- will open in an unusual simultaneous release.

In the U.S., Lee Jeong-hyang's The Way Home was released by Paramount Classics on November 15. Earning an impressive $41,000 on three prints in its opening weekend, the film has gradually spread to more screens in other cities, earning $347,500 to date. The film currently ranks as the second-best performing Korean film released in the U.S., but it has an uphill struggle to reach the $799,000 earned by Im Kwon-taek's Chunhyang in 2001. Meanwhile Im Kwon-taek's latest feature Chihwaseon is scheduled for a February 14 release in New York on three screens (Lincoln Plaza Cinema, Cinema Village, and Cinema Arts Centre). Distributor Kino International plans to release the film nationwide shortly thereafter; for more information, visit Kino's official website to support the release at http://www.kino.com/chihwaseon/

Korean cinema's situation in Japan, meanwhile, has taken a downturn with the disappointing performance of Volcano High on its December 14 release. Distributor Amuse Pictures, which has been one of the most active companies in importing Korean films to Japan, spent a considerable amount of money in re-editing, dubbing, and adding Japanese on-screen text and music to the film, but after five weeks the film had only grossed $440,000 in nine key cities. The poor performance is likely to have an effect on how actively Amuse markets its future Korean releases, including pan-Asian hit My Sassy Girl. Nonetheless one Korean film has performed admirably in Japan, with melodrama Last Present (2001) doing so unexpectedly well on one screen in Tokyo that it will be released in a further two cities. As of January 10 it had earned an impressive $170,000 for distributor Pandora on one screen.

In Russia, the Korean animated title Elysium received its first worldwide theatrical release on November 28 in more than 20 cities. In its first three weeks the film is estimated to have drawn upwards of 200,000 viewers, resulting in a considerable windfall for production company Big Films, which receives a 50% royalty on all theatrical revenues. The local version of the film features dubbed voices from members of the popular Russian rock group Snipers, which is expected to have considerably heightened the film's appeal. Elysium, a 3D animated science fiction film set in the year 2113, is expected to be released soon in Italy, France, Germany and Thailand, with a Korean release scheduled for mid-2003.

Korean-Chinese co-production Musa opened in China on January 11 on a reported 180 screens nationwide, following a promotional tour to Beijing and Shanghai by lead actors Jung Woo-sung and Joo Jin-mo. The film, which screened in its longer 158-minute version, was deemed a success at the box office, remaining among the top three performing foreign titles for its first three weeks. This was the second Korean-Chinese costume drama to open in China, following the release of Bichunmoo in 2000. That film garnered over 120,000 admissions in Shanghai alone in its first month.

In Hong Kong, three blockbuster hits from Korea were released in early December with disappointing results. My Boss, My Hero, distributed by Panasia and released on November 28, grossed only HK$ 770,490 after two weeks of a medium-sized release. Champion, the first Korean film distributed by Panorama, opened on December 5, drawing less than 2,000 admissions on 7 screens. Musa, released on December 5 by Panasia, ended up with only 1,100 admissions on 4 screens. Stepping into 2003, Intercontinental started their Korean film release schedule with The Phone on January 16 on 12 screens, and got a better than expected result of HK$ 2m. Internet-based romance Who Are You? opened on January 30 at Cine-Art House with very limited marketing and less then expected box-office.

Despite the climate, distributors in Hong Kong still seem to have confidence in Korean cinema. A Perfect Match is scheduled for a February 20 opening. The release of 2009 Lost Memories will be delayed to accommodate a promotional visit from leading actor Jang Dong-gun. Meanwhile, Broadway Cinematheque, managed by distributor Edko, will hold "Korean Film Festival 2" from Feb. 20 to Mar. 5 screening 17 features films and 13 shorts and animations, and opening with Too Young to Die. The program includes a special section showcasing 10 films from Cinema Service in honor of their 10 year anniversary. Three films in the program, namely Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Wanee and Junah, and Bad Guy, are expecting a release in Hong Kong shortly. Other upcoming releases include Kim Joo-man's 2001 film Running 7 Dogs.

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: Volcano High (2001); Friend (2000); Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002); YMCA Baseball Team (2002); Bet On My Disco (2002); Camel(s) (2002); Hi Dharma (2001); Bad Guy (2002).
JAPAN: Oasis (2002); Champion (2002); Double Agent (2003); Ardor (2002); Blue (2003); 2009 Lost Memories (2002); Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000); Failan (2001); Happy End (1999); Kick the Moon (2001); Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine (2000).
HONG KONG: Unborn But Forgotten (2002); Lovers Concerto (2002); Who Are You? (2002); Saving My Hubby (2002); Bet On My Disco (2002), Running 7 Dogs (2001).
CHINA: Bet On My Disco (2002); Iron Palm (2002); Saving My Hubby (2002); Lovers' Concerto (2002); Oasis (2002); Peppermint Candy (2000); Green Fish (1997), The Way Home (2002), Champion (2002).
SINGAPORE: Lovers' Concerto (2002); Bet On My Disco (2002); Yesterday (2002); YMCA Baseball Team (2002); H (2002); Can't Live Without Robbery (2002); A Perfect Match (2002); Addicted (2002); Ardor (2002); The Classic (2003); Desire (2002); Double Agent (2003); Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); Saving My Hubby (2002); The Coast Guard (2002); YMCA Baseball Team (2002).
THAILAND: Champion (2002); Plum Blossom (2000); Bet On My Disco (2002); Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); A Perfect Match (2002); Addicted (2002); Break Out (2002); Conduct Zero (2002); Family (2002); Lovers Concerto (2002); Saving My Hubby (2002); R U Ready? (2002); Sword in the Moon (2003); The Cut Runs Deep (2000); Two Cops series (various); Unborn But Forgotten (2002); YMCA Baseball Team (2002).
MALAYSIA: A Day (2001); Asako in Ruby Shoes (2000); Besame Mucho (2001); Il Mare (2000); Musa (2001); Yesterday (2002).
INDONESIA: Failan (2001); Funny Movie (2002); Guns & Talks (2002); L'Abri (2002); Oh! Lala Sisters (2002); R U Ready? (2002); Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); Yesterday (2002); The Way Home (2002); Unborn But Forgotten (2002); The Romantic President (2002); Wanee and Junah (2001); The Last Witness (2001).
VIETNAM: Break Out (2002); Chihwaseon (2002); Guns & Talks (2001); Libera Me (2000); Musa (2001); Over the Rainbow (2002); Surprise Party (2002); Volcano High (2001); Who Are You? (2002).
RUSSIA: Oasis (2002); Sword in the Moon (2003); ARES (2003).
SCANDINAVIA: Yesterday (2002); Unborn But Forgotten (2002).
UNITED KINGDOM: My Wife is a Gangster (2001); Champion (2002); Guns & Talks (2001); Jungle Juice (2002); Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).
FRANCE: Unborn But Forgotten (2002).
GERMANY: No Blood No Tears (2002); Public Enemy (2002); The Last Witness (2002).
ITALY: Oasis (2002); Hi, Dharma! (2001); My Wife is a Gangster (2001); Friend (2001).
PORTUGAL: Friend (2001); Sorum (2001); Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (2000).
CZECH REPUBLIC: Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); Yesterday (2002); Musa (2001).
GREECE: Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); R U Ready? (2002); 2009 Lost Memories (2002); Memento Mori (1999).
ISRAEL: Bad Guy (2002); Happy End (1999); Joint Security Area (2000); Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002); Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002); The Way Home (2002); Yesterday (2002); 2009 Lost Memories (2002).
IRAN: 2009 Lost Memories (2002); Joint Security Area (2000); Musa (2001); The Way Home (2002); Yesterday (2002).
MEXICO: The Way Home (2002).

Special thanks to Yeon Hyeon-sook (YeonDVD.com) and Ryan Law (Krmdb.com) for their help in compiling this newsletter.

February 7, 2003
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Darcy Paquet / darcy@koreanfilm.org / Posted February 15, 2002