Welcome to the third 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 on the Korean Film Page. If you have any questions about anything in this issue, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org
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NEW RELEASES (July - September, 1999)
Yonggary ["Yong-ga-ri"] Directed by Shim Hyung-rae. The Korean Godzilla. The most expensive Korean film ever made at ~$10 million, shot in English with foreign actors. Directed by Shim Hyung-rae, a well-known comedian. Read more about this film on the '1999' film page. July 17.
Nowhere to Hide ["In-jong-sa-jong Bol Got Op-ta"] Directed by Lee Myung-sae. An action/art film from the director of My Love, My Bride and First Love. Read more about this remarkable film on the '1999' web page. July 31.
Phantom the Submarine ["Yu-ryong"] Directed by Min Byung-chun. A South Korean navy officer seizes control of a nuclear submarine and prepares to wage war on Japan, while a young lieutenant on board struggles to stop him. Starring Choi Min-Soo and Chung Woo-sung. July 31.
The Power of Korean Short Film A collection of award-winning Korean short films produced in 1998 and 1999. Includes "The Picnic" (Song Il-gon), "An Eternity" (Kim Dae-hyun), "Simultaneity" (Kim Sung-sook), "The Execution" (Lee In-kyun), "Brushing" (Im Pil-song), "A Class Reunion" (Choi Jin-ho), and "One Day of Hitchcock" (An Jae-hoon, Han Hye-jin). July 31.
Ghost in Love ["Cha-gui-mo"] Directed by Lee Kwang-hoon. An SF-thriller-melodrama starring TV idol Kim Hee-sun and Art Museum by the Zoo star Lee Sung-jae. August 14.
Rush ["Chil-ju"] Directed by Lee Sang-in. Based on the novel Rush, Rush, Rush by Lee Jae-ik. This film is marketed as a hard-edged, realistic portrayal of the passions and desires of Korean teenagers. Features many fast driving sequences. August 28.
Fin de siecle ["Sae-gi-mal"] Directed by Song Neung-han. The second film from the director of No. 3, about the lives of young social misfits. Divided into four chapters: 'Moratorium', 'Amorality', 'Moral Hazard', 'Y2K'. Shooting 20% complete.
The Foul King ["Ban-chik-wang"] Directed by Kim Ji-woon. The second feature from the director of The Quiet Family. Song Kang-ho (Swiri, No. 3, The Quiet Family) plays a bank teller who leads a double life as a masked pro-wrestler. Shooting commenced on September 1.
Lies invited to Venice, rejected by ratings board
This September, veteran director Jang Sun-woo's latest feature Lies became only the third Korean film to compete in the Venice International Film Festival, after Lee Du-yong's Mulleya, Mulleya (1983) and Im Kwon-taek's Surrogate Woman (1986). The film received both positive and negative reactions from the festival audience, and did not receive an award. Lies, based on a banned novel by Jang Jeong-il, is the story of an affair between a 38-year old sculptor and an 18-year old high school student.
In early August, several days before being invited to the festival, the Korean Performing Arts Promotion Committee (KPAPC) voted to deny the film a rating on the grounds of excessive sexuality, thus banning it from domestic release. "Lies obviously breaches guidelines set by the Korean film law," film professor Cho Hee-mun, a member of the committee, explained. "The film is terribly dull, pointless, and just shows the act of sex." The producer was given the option of resubmitting the film with problematic scenes removed after a waiting period of three months. This is the second film after Yellow Hair to be rejected outright by the committee.
The film's producer, Shin Chul, has responded with defiance, stating that he will reapply for a rating without any scenes cut. The ratings board has come under criticism recently, as many are starting to question why Korean films are shown uncut abroad, while in Korea they are available only in edited versions. People also question why the committee has allowed controversial foreign films such as Leos Carax' Pola X and the Polish film Szamanka to be screened uncut while domestic features are denied a rating.
The upcoming decision on this film will likely set a precedent for the censorship of Korean films. If Lies should receive a contract for foreign distribution at the Toronto Film Festival (to which it was also invited) then the ratings board will be under great pressure to approve it. Should the committee decide to reject the film a second time, the producer will be obligated to wait one year before reapplying for a rating.
Korean films at international film festivals
Apart from Lies, an unusually high number of Korean films have been invited to participate in overseas film festivals. "The Refrigerator", a fascinating 30-minute piece by recent film school graduate Ahn Young-seok, competed in the short film category at Venice and drew positive reviews. In early July, An Affair (1998) by Lee Jae-yong became the first Korean film to win the grand prize at the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival. Park Kwang-soo's The Uprising (Les Insurges) competed at the Locarno Film Festival and won a small prize. "The Picnic" by Song Il-gon won the top prize and $5,000 at the Melbourne Film Festival in Australia. 'Till We Meet, a film by Cho Moon-jin about a North Korean soldier who defects to the South, premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival in September. Two Korean films, Lies and Girls' Night Out (1998) were invited to the Toronto Film Festival. Art Museum by the Zoo (1998) will screen at the Mannheim International Film Festival in mid-October, and Kazoku Cinema (1998) will compete at the Chicago International Film Festival. Finally, a large number of Korean films will be screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival (Sept 24-Oct 10): Lies, Nowhere to Hide, Doctor K, Fly Low, The Picnic, Rush, and Flight of the Bee (Bee Fly) (1998).
Pusan Film Festival to run October 14-23
The fourth annual Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) will open on October 14 with the world premiere of Peppermint Candy, the new film by novelist and filmmaker Lee Chang-dong (Green Fish). This year's festival will feature 211 films from 54 different countries.
New Korean films to be screened at the festival include: the opening film, which recalls 20 years in the life of its protagonist in seven chapters, and which Lee described as having the feel of seven individual short films; the final installment in Byun Young-ju's remarkable trilogy of documentaries on Comfort Women; Lee Du-yong's latest feature L'Amour, about an elderly couple; and several works by new directors. The festival will also feature three special programs: a retrospective of Yu Hyun-mok, including his 1961 feature Obaltan (Aimless Bullet); a Masterpieces of Asian Cinema section; and a program devoted to Asian independent filmmaking from 1980-2000.
Chinese director Zhang Yimou's feature Not One Less, which recently captured the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, will close the festival on October 23. Visit the festival webpage at http://www.piff.org.
Korean films gaining recognition in France
Korean films are generating increased interest in France after the screening of a small Korean film series in Paris earlier this year. Hong Sang-soo's 1996 feature The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well received the highest praise, with enthusiastic reviews published in Le Monde and Cahiers du cinema. This fall, the annual Festival d'Automne sponsored by Cahiers du cinema has taken Korean film as its theme, and will screen a large number of Korean features. The festival's website offers more information at http://www.festival-automne.com.
KOFIC announces new chairman
Under pressure from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Shin Cegill has agreed to resign as chairman of the Korean Film Commission. Vice Chairman Moon Sung-Keun has also offered his resignation; however, both will retain their positions on the ten-member committee that oversees the organization. Shin is believed to be the victim of an ongoing struggle in the Korean film industry between the so-called "old" and "new" generations. The two most outspoken representatives of older filmmakers, former KMPPC president Yoon Il-bong and Kim Mi-ji, head of the Korean Motion Picture Artists Association, reportedly used their influence in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to bring about a change in leadership. Park Jong-guk, who formerly worked in the Ministry of Culture, will assume the position of chairman while Cho Hee-mun, film professor and outspoken member of Korea's ratings board, will become the new vice chairman.
The third Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival concluded on July 24 with the awarding of the Puchon Choice to Siam Sunset (1999), an Australian film directed by John Polson. The Jury's Choice award was given to Cube (1998), a Canadian feature by Vincenzo Natali. This year, in response to the audience's enthusiasm for short films, the festival established a new award for the best short, which was given to "Le Film donc vous etes le heros" (You Are the Hero in this Film) by Belgian director Pascal Rocteur. The festival, although beset with occasional technical difficulties, attracted a total audience of 210,000.
Three Korean titles released on DVD
September marked the Korean film industry's first foray into the DVD market, with three titles chosen for release: Shiri (1999) [note that the production company decided to change the spelling of the title], Whispering Corridors (1998), and The Spy (1999). Henceforth new titles will be added on a monthly basis. The DVD format offers a rare opportunity to buy Korean films with English subtitles.
[Note: It now appears that these DVD's have been released without English subtitles. More information will be forthcoming. -Ed.]
On a related note, Harmonium In My Memory (1999) became the second feature (after Spring In My Hometown) to be released on Video CD format with English subtitles. A Video CD is an earlier, less expensive version of a DVD that can be played in CD-ROM drives or in a regular DVD player.
Korea modifies restrictions on the importation of Japanese films
Korea's longstanding restrictions on the importation and screening of Japanese films underwent a second set of modifications in September. These changes make up the second stage in a planned, gradual opening of the Korean market to Japanese films. In October 1998, permission was granted to import Japanese films that had been awarded a grand prize in the Cannes, Venice, Berlin, or Academy Award film festivals (see the '1998' film page for more details).
This month, the list was expanded to include all G-rated films, plus films that have been awarded prizes at any of 70 film festivals from around the world. There are now about 120 Japanese films that can be legally screened in Korea. Japanese animation will be excluded from this list to protect the fledgling domestic animation industry. Plans are underway to release the popular Love Letter in the next few months.
North Korean filmmakers support Screen Quota System
Filmmakers from North Korea have spoken out against U.S. efforts to coerce South Korea into eliminating its Screen Quota System. The following is quoted from an article in the Pyongyang Times:
"It is quite natural for the south Korean moviemen and other people to protest against the US pressure and the south Korean authorities' subservient attitude [...] We moviemen in the north render unqualified support to the campaign of our colleagues in south Korea to preserve national integrity and defend national culture."
Call for Papers
Contributors sought for one of the first full-length English language studies on Korean film traditions:
Made in Korea: Cinema and Society Since 1945
Topics for the anthology may include, but are not limited to: history, industry, genres and cycles, auteurs, stars, documentary, Post-colonial identity, ideologies.
Please send an abstract and a copy of your CV by November 1 to:
Frances Gateward, Unit for Cinema Studies, 3092 FLB 303 S. Mathews, University of Illinois, Urbana IL 61821 USA
Fax 217 333 7310 email: email@example.com
A retrospective on Kim Ki-young
The UCLA Film and Television Archive will present THE DIABOLICAL CINEMA OF KIM KI YOUNG from October 16 - 28, 1999. The film series will present all five existing English subtitled prints of Kim's films. For more information, visit their webpage at http://www.cinema.ucla.edu. Co-sponsored by the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles.
A Korean film series travels across eastern North America
The Korean Cultural Center, in cooperation with Columbia University, is presenting a Korean film series, which will premiere at Columbia from Sep. 10 - Dec. 8, 1999, and then continue on to screen at 9 other universities over the next year. Dates and locations for the series are listed below. For more information, visit http://www.koreanculture.org.
Yale University: Jan 20 - Feb 7, 2000
Toronto University: Jan 20 - Feb 7, 2000
Princeton University: Mar 9 - 27, 2000
McGill University: Mar 9 - 27, 2000
Dartmouth College: April 13 - May 1, 2000
Cornell University: Sep 14 - Oct 2, 2000
University of Pennsylvania: Sep 14 - Oct 2, 2000
Georgetown University: Nov 9 - 20, 2000
Harvard University: Nov 9 - 20, 2000
September 17, 1999
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