Korean Film Newsletter #4 -- November 24, 1999

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

[Note that the Korean Film Page has a new, shorter web address: http://koreafilm.cjb.net. This is simply a redirecting service that will point your browser to the correct URL. The old address is still operative.]

NEW RELEASES (Sept. - Nov. 1999)

Love ["Lo-beu" ] Directed by Lee Jang-soo. Shot in Los Angeles, a melodrama about a marathoner and an adopted Korean-American woman. Starring Chung Woo-sung and Ko So-young, who acted together in the 1997 film Beat. September 18.

DVD RELEASE: In May 2000 this became the sixth Korean film to be released on DVD with English subtitles. Set within the Korean-American community in Los Angeles, the film tells a remarkably simple tale of love, together with two sideplots about the marathoner's disenchantment with his sport and the woman's search for her biological mother. Although the script is patchy and the directing somewhat uneven, the film's stars, Ko So-young and Chung Woo-sung, give perhaps the best performances of their young careers. The love story in particular is well-executed and refreshingly clear of all the plot twists we've come to expect of such stories. In all, this is an original and interesting film. One note about the DVD: unfortunately the English subtitles are quite mangled; it's difficult at times to understand what is being said. Originally they were planning to release the film without any subtitles at all, though, so we must be satisfied with what we have. One nice feature is the optional Korean-language captions, which Korean language students will surely appreciate.

Dance Dance ["Den-seu den-seu"] Directed by Moon Sung-wook. Korea's first dance movie, about a young man who gives up his medical studies to pursue dance and love. Starring Joo Jin-mo and Hwang In-young, a musical actress who has quickly become a star. September 18.

Calla ["K'a-ra"] Directed by Song Hae-sung. A young woman dies an early death, and her lover tries to reverse time to get her back. Starring Song Seung-hun and Kim Hee-sun. September 18.

Attack the Gas Station ["Chu-yu-so seub-gyog-sa-gon"] Alternate title: "At the Gas Station." Directed by Kim Sang-jin. Four men rob a gas station, just for fun. When they discover it has no cash, they decide to spend the night selling the gas themselves. Read more about this comedy, starring Lee Sung-jae, Yoo Ji-tae and Yoo Oh-sung, on the '1999' film page. October 2.

Dongsung Short Films 3 The third in a series of short films screened at Dongsung Cinematheque in Seoul. Featuring "The Refrigerator" ["Naeng-jang-go"], directed by Ahn Young-seok (which competed in the short film category at Venice '99); "To Be or Not to Be" ["It/ta/op/ta"], directed by Lee Kyung-hee; and "Judgement" ["Shim-p'an"], directed by Park Chan-wook. October 2.

The Love Story of Juliet ["Sung-Chun-hyang-jun"] Directed by Andy Kim. Don't let the English title fool you: this is an animated retelling of Chunhyang-jon, Korea's most famous folk tale. October 16.

Rainbow Trout ["Song-oh"] Directed by Park Chong-won (My Twisted Hero, Eternal Empire). A group of old friends hold a reunion at a fish farm on a remote mountain. Their initial excitement at seeing each other gives way to uneasiness as old tensions resurface and a group of hunters start to harass them. Starring Sul Kyung-gu, Kang Su-yeon and Lee Eun-ju. November 6.

Tell Me Something ["Tel-mi-ssum-ding"] Directed by Chang Yoon-hyun (The Contact). A series of black garbage bags filled with human body parts begin to pop up in various places around Seoul. Detective Cho, in charge of the case, learns that all of the victims are former lovers of Su-yeon, a woman working in the restoration section of the National Museum. Starring Han Seok-gyu and Shim Eun-ha. November 13.


Happy End ["Hae-p'i-en-duh"] Written and directed by Jung Ji-woo. Min-ki starts living at home after being laid off from his job at the bank. Meanwhile, his successful wife is having an affair with an old boyfriend. This is the first feature film by Jung Ji-woo, who made the acclaimed short "A Bit Bitter" in 1996. It also marks Choi Min-shik's first role after his award-winning performance as a North Korean commando in Shiri. Starring Jeon Do-yeon and Choi Min-shik. Opening December 11.

Urine Nation ["Yu-rin-nae-i-shun"] Written and directed by Lee Jae-yong (E J Yong). The second film by the director of An Affair (1998), about a Korean man in Seoul and a Japanese woman in Tokyo who lead similar lives. The title is taken from the name of an internet site where the two first come into contact. Shooting is scheduled to begin in early 2000.

Oh! Soo-jung (working title) Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo. This feature film was scheduled to begin shooting in November, however production has been suspended due to financial reasons. Hong, director of the acclaimed The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996) and The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), began recruiting actors over the internet in September. The film was originally scheduled to be finished in May, but at this point it is not clear when production will resume.

Secret ["Pi-mil"] Written and directed by Park Ki-hyung. The second film from the director of Whispering Corridors (1998). An older man takes in a young girl who possesses a kind of psychic power. A relationship between the two develops, described as "Lolita-esque, but nonsexual." Shooting is scheduled to begin in early 2000, with a release date predicted around May.


Pusan Festival runs from Oct 14-23

The fourth edition of the Pusan International Film Festival was judged by most to be a big success. With over 200 films, a large number of foreign guests, the second Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), and crowds of avid moviegoers, PIFF has secured its place as one of the most interesting and important festivals in the region. A great number of guests praised the festival for being well-organized, extensive, and easily accessible.

Although no one film clearly stood out from the others in the program, there were several screenings that drew interest. Among foreign guests, Lee Myung-se's Nowhere to Hide, which has now been invited to over 20 international film festivals, seemed to be the most popular choice. Jang Sun-woo's film Lies, which sold out 20 minutes after tickets went on sale, was the closest thing to an event film at the festival, as domestic viewers scrambled to obtain tickets. Among young viewers, Shinya Tsukamoto's Gemini was the most talked-about film, winning the festival's Audience Award. The winner of the New Currents Award for young Asian directors was Timeless Melody by Horoshio Okuhara.

This year's festival benefited from the opening of Daeyoung Cinema, a new 5-screen theater built directly on PIFF square. Whereas in the past the festival utilized mostly late-60's era theaters for its screenings, Daeyoung provides high quality sound and projection facilities, eliminating much of the problems faced in previous years. With the 13-screen Pusan Theater scheduled to open in the spring of 2000, the festival will boast a large number of high quality facilities within easy walking distance of each other.

The second edition of the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) expanded its offerings this year with a great number of workshops, discussions, and meetings between filmmakers and potential investors. A video screening room with a large number of films that were not screened at the festival proved to be quite popular. The cash awards for this year's PPP went to projects by Fruit Chan, Bae Chang-ho, Murali Nair, Makoto Shinozaki, Kim Eung-Soo, and Song Il-gon.

This year's retrospective focused on director Yu Hyun-mok, one of the leading figures of Korea's Golden Age in the 1960s. The screening of Yu's work, including such films as Obaltan (Aimless Bullet) (1961) and Daughters of Pharmacist Kim (1963) seemed to draw more interest from foreign guests than in previous years. Yu was available for question and answer sessions after each screening. Seven films were screened in total, and the festival also published a commemorative book and video to mark the event.

The biggest criticism of the festival seemed to focus on its selection of Korean films. The Korean Panorama section contained only 11 films, meaning that many of the year's most interesting releases were not screened. Of those that were chosen, there appeared to be a clear bias toward the work of older, established directors, which in general did not draw much interest from audiences or critics. One suggestion made to the festival was to devote one theater to the exclusive screening of Korean films, so that foreign guests could view a more complete picture of the films produced in a given year.

In all, roughly 180,000 people attended the event, slightly down from the 191,000 who attended last year.

Note: PIFF's official website (http://www.piff.org) contains an extensive series of news reports from the festival. I have also pasted these reports into a Microsoft Word document (30 pages) which I would be happy to forward to interested people.

Ratings Board 3, Korean and International Film 0.

In October, Korea's 15-member ratings board refused to give a rating to Eyes Wide Shut, the final film of director Stanley Kubrick, on the grounds of excessive sexuality. The board's refusal obligates the film's distributor to wait two months and then reapply with offensive scenes removed.

Furthermore, the film's contract, signed between local distributor Warner Brothers Korea and the director's widow, Christiane Kubrick, prohibits censorship of the film in any form. Thus, the committee's decision has effectively banned the film indefinitely.

In related news, Shin Chul, producer of the controversial film Lies, has reversed his earlier position of defiance towards the ratings board and agreed with director Jang Sun-woo, the investing company and distributors to cut several offensive scenes from the film. The producer's decision was expected to secure the film's domestic release, but the ratings board instead rejected the film a second time, and it will remain in limbo for at least another two months.

Finally, under pressure from the ratings board, the producer of the much-anticipated film Tell Me Something has agreed to remove several scenes from its domestic release print. This kind of negotiated censorship before a film's domestic release appears to happen quite frequently. The film was judged by the board to be excessively violent and sexually explicit.

Park Chong-won resigns from ratings board

Park Chong-won, director of the acclaimed films My Twisted Hero (1992) and Eternal Empire (1995), as well as the newly-released Rainbow Trout, has formally resigned from Korea's ratings board. Park's resignation is reportedly due to the board's position on Jang Sun-woo's film Lies. There has been no word yet on who will replace Park on the board.

Cinema Service to release 20 films in the next 12 months.

In a sign that the Korean film industry may be recovering from its post-1997 slump in production, Cinema Service announced that they plan to release 20 domestic films in the upcoming twelve months. From the years 1993-1997, the Korean film industry produced an average of 60-65 films per year, but in the aftermath of Korea's economic crisis the number dipped to 43 in 1998. The first half of 1999 was also characterized by a slow rate of production, despite a surge of interest in domestic films.

Cinema Service, founded by producer and director Kang Woo-seok, is the largest production/distribution company in Korea. The films that they plan to release from November 1999 to October 2000 include Rainbow Trout (Nov. 6), Tell Me Something (Nov. 13), Memento Mori (Dec. 24), Junomyung Bakery (Jan. 18), Foul King (Jan. 29), Interview (with Shim Eun-ha and Lee Jung-Jae), and Urine Nation, among others.

Chonju International Film Festival to debut in April 2000

The first Chonju International Film Festival is scheduled to run from April 28 - May 4, 2000. This new festival aims to place itself within the upper echelons of Korea's international film festivals, together with Pusan and Puchon. It will focus on alternative cinema, defined in the broad sense as "challenging visions and diverse experiments that engage viewers with critical reflections and serious dialogue." It will also place a special emphasis on digital film.

The festival's main program will include 18 alternative films from world cinema; a section on Asian independent film; Korean feature films; and Korean shorts. Special sections for 2000 will be devoted to digital film, animation, retrospectives of three prominent filmmakers, the political avante garde, Sci-fi midnight screenings, low budget B movies, and a collection of debut films by prominent filmmakers. Serving as programmers for the festival will be professor Kim Soyoung of the Korean National University of the Arts and Chung Sung-Ill, chief editor of the film magazine Kino.

Chonju, located in the southwestern part of the country (about 3 hours from Seoul), served as a major film production locale in the 1950s. This festival aims to put Chonju back on the map as a key city within Korea's film community. For more information, email alt2k@unitel.co.kr.

Actor Choi Mu-ryong dies at age 71

Choi Mu-ryong, one of the brightest figures of Korea's Golden Era, died of a heart attack on the evening of November 11. A star in radio, theater and song as well as film, Choi became the heartthrob of a generation in the 1960's, starring in such features as Obaltan ("Aimless Bullet") and Red Muffler. In total he acted in more than 500 films in a career that spanned four decades.

Choi experienced many highs and lows since his film debut. In the 1960's he became part of one of the biggest news stories of the decade when he was found to be having an extramarital affair with actress Kim Ji-mi. He was imprisoned on charges of adultery and later divorced his wife, the actress Kang Hyo-shil, to marry Kim. However, several years later he would divorce Kim as well, saying famously, "I am parting from you because I love you."

In 1988, after leaving the film world, he was elected as a representative to the National Assembly from the district of Paju City in Kyonggi-do. In 1994 he would be arrested for fraud due to his participation in a construction project in Pundang, Kyonggi-do.

Choi is survived by one son, the popular actor Choi Min-soo (Marriage Story, Phantom the Submarine), born of his first wife.

Shiri opens in Hong Kong

The Korean blockbuster Shiri debuted this month in Hong Kong on 15 screens throughout the city (fourteen with a print dubbed into Cantonese with English subtitles, and one in the original Korean with Cantonese and English subtitles). The film proved to be quite popular with audiences, placing third on box-office charts, and grossing $322,673 in its first week. The following figures are excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter (16-22 November issue). Note the high screen average compared to the other films, all Hong Kong new releases:

1. Metade Fumaca 30 screens; $437,276 BO; $14,576 screen average
2. He is My Enemy, Partner and Father 31 screens; $345,549 BO; $11,147 screen average
3. Shiri 15 screens; $322,673 BO; $21,512 screen average
4. A Wicked Ghost 16 screens; $73,569 BO; $4,598 screen average

Shiri also opens in Taiwan this month, and its Japanese release is scheduled for January 2000.

New film magazine debuts on October 4

The weekly magazine Freeview has become the latest addition to Korea's film magazine market, joining Cine 21, Kino, and the Korean editions of Premiere and Screen International. Freeview shares much in common with its primary competitor Cine 21 in terms of organization and content, but its overall appearance is less glossy than that of the latter.

Brief descriptions of the existing Korean-language film magazines follow:

CINE 21: (weekly) One of the best selling magazines in Korea, containing a large number of original essays and photographs. Contains domestic news reports, international film reports, special features, reviews of opening films, weekly profiles of domestic and international actors, in-depth readings of selected films, a special cinema cartoon, a schedule of screenings throughout Korea, and more. A complete web edition is available at http://www.hani.co.kr/c21. Registered in April 1995. 104 pp., 2,500 won.

FREEVIEW: (weekly) Contains film news, festival reports, reviews of opening films, special features, interviews, profiles of filmmakers and stars, a schedule of screenings throughout Korea, and "Freeview Academy," a collection of essays about film studies and classic films. Registered in April 1999. 96 pp., 2,500 won.

KINO: (monthly) The glossiest and most difficult to read of Korea's magazines. Contains a large number of interviews and special features. Kino has a working relationship with the British monthly Sight and Sound and the French magazine Positif, reprinting selected articles and reviews from these publications in translation. Most of the magazine is written locally, however. A large section in the back of the book is devoted to reviews, with complete cast lists and credits. Registered in November 1994. 254 pp., 6,000 won.

PREMIERE: (monthly) The Korean edition of the France-based Premiere International. Covers both domestic and international film. Often comes with special gifts, such as posters or other items. Registered in September 1995. 176pp., 4,500 won.

SCREEN: (monthly) The Korean edition of the U.K.-based Screen International. Covers both domestic and international film. Often comes with special gifts. Screen has also organized special film series in the past for its readers. Registered in November 1983. 228 pp., 6,000 won.

Shim Eun-ha, Jung Woo-sung voted most popular actors

In their October 1999 issue, the editors of Screen magazine published the results of a readers poll of the most popular actors and actresses of Korea. Coming in at the top of the list were actress Shim Eun-ha (Christmas in August, Art Museum by the Zoo, The Uprising) and actor Chung Woo-sung (Beat, Phantom the Submarine, Love). The complete results are listed below:

ACTRESSES: 1. Shim Eun-ha 2. Ko So-young 3. Kim Hee-sun 4. Jeon Do-yeon 5. Shim Hye-jin 6. Kim Hye-soo 7. Jin Hee-kyung 8. Shin Eun-kyung 9. Choo Sang-mi 10. Kim Ha-nul

ACTORS: 1. Chung Woo-sung 2. Han Seok-gyu 3. Park Shin-yang 4. Ahn Sung-ki 5. Park Joong-hoon 6. Choi Min-shik 7. Chang Dong-gun 8. Lee Sung-jae 9. Yoo Oh-sung 10. Lee Byung-hun

On a slightly related note, actress Lee Jung-Hyun, who starred in Jang Sun-woo's 1996 film A Petal (and who is also pictured at the top of the Korean Film Page) has launched a successful career in pop music. Her album is currently #2 on the charts.


Prizes at international film festivals

Lee Young-Jae's 1999 feature Harmonium in My Memory has won the Special Jury Prize at the Leeds International Film Festival, in a competition for first time directors. This festival was Harmonium's international debut.

Additionally, Park Chong-won's new release Rainbow Trout took home the Special Jury Prize from the Tokyo International Film Festival, which ran from Oct. 30 - Nov. 7.

Official homepages for recent films

The following are some official homepages for recent feature films. Unless otherwise noted, all are Korean-language only. However, many of the headings within each page are printed in English, so it is possible to navigate the sites without a browser that supports Korean. Many of these homepages include movie stills, video trailers, screen savers, wallpaper, and posters.

Lies by Jang Sun-woo. In Korean and English. http://www.shincine.com

Happy End by Jung Ji-woo. http://www.thehappyend.com

Tell Me Something by Chang Yoon-hyun. http://www.tellmething.com

Love by Lee Jang-soo. http://love.preview.co.kr

Calla by Song Hae-sung. http://bluescreen.co.kr/calla

Nowhere to Hide by Lee Myung-se. http://www.bluescreen.co.kr/nowhere

Phantom the Submarine by Min Byung-chun. http://www.bluescreen.co.kr/phantom

Attack on the Gas Station by Kim Sang-jin. http://juyuso.com

Korean Film Retrospective in Toronto

From November 12 to December 5, Cinematheque Ontario is presenting a large retrospective of South Korean film. The program consists of 18 films, with special attention given to the directors Im Kwon-taek (4 films), Hong Sang-soo (2 films), Park Kwang-soo (4 films), and Lee Myung-se (4 films). Also included in the program are films by Lee Chang-ho, Lee Chang-dong, Park Ki-yong, and Lee Kwangmo. More information can be found at http://www.bell.ca/filmfest or by calling 416-968-FILM.

Thanks to Stephen Cremin (Asian Film Library) and Hanna Lee (KOFIC) for their help in compiling this newsletter.

November 24, 1999
Number of subscribers: 173

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Darcy Paquet/ darcy@koreanfilm.org /Posted November 25, 1999