Welcome to the sixth 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. If you signed up to receive this newsletter, and did not receive it, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Special note* -- The Korean Film Page now has its own domain name, http://koreanfilm.org. Visitors to the old address will be automatically forwarded to the new location.
New on the Korean Film Page: (a) reviews of Chunhyang and The Foul King; (b) a listing of the films available with English subtitles over the internet; (c) some background information about the making of this site.
NEW RELEASES (Feb. - Apr. 2000)
Barking Dogs Never Bite ["P'eul-lan-da-seu-ui Ke"] Alternate title: A Higher Animal. Directed by Bong Jun-ho. Literal title: "The Dog of Flanders." A portrait of life in a contemporary apartment, where a university instructor takes cruel revenge on a pair of yapping dogs. From the director of the acclaimed short film Incoherence (1995). Starring Lee Sung-jae and Bae Doo-na. February 19. (http://www.bluescreen.co.kr/flandas)
Black Hole ["Ku-mong"] Directed by Kim Guk-hyung. A surgeon awakes in a strange place with large gaps in his memory. Coming across a letter recorded onto a cassette tape, he learns of the sinister acts he committed in a past relationship with a patient named Sunyoung. Starring Ahn Sung-ki and Kim Min. March 4.
Promenade ["San-chek"] Directed by Lee Jeong-guk. Four longtime friends rehearse for the annual performance of their band, as they struggle with the pressures of love and marriage. From the director of the 1997 melodrama The Letter. Starring Kim Sang-joong and Park Jin-hee. March 4. (http://www.sanchek.co.kr)
Emergency Room: The Movie ["Jung-hap-byung-won The Movie: Ch'on-il-dong-an"] Directed by Choi Yoon-seok. Based on a popular TV drama from the mid-1990's, a tale of love and department politics amongst a group of resident doctors. Starring Shin Eun-kyung, Jin Hee-kyung, and Choi Chul-ho. March 4. (http://www.afdf.co.kr)
Black Honeymoon ["Shin-hon-yeo-heng"] Alternate title: "Strange Honeymoon." Directed by Na Hong-kyun. A group of newlyweds travel to Cheju Island on a honeymoon tour. New groom Joon-ho gets drunk and, walking into the wrong hotel room, makes love to another woman by accident. The next morning his corpse is found eyeless on the beach. Starring Cha Seung-won and Chung Sun-kyung. March 11. (http://www.tcent.co.kr)
Truth or Dare ["Chin-shil ge-im"] Directed by Kim Ki-young. (No, not *that* Kim Ki-young) A young woman kills a rock star. As the police dig deeper into the case, they discover a web of illicit activity linking the victim and his fans. Starring Ahn Sung-ki and Ha Ji-won. March 18. (http://www.truth.hitel.net)
My Own Breathing ["Sum-gyul"] Directed by Byun Young-ju. The final installment of an acclaimed trilogy of documentaries about Korean Comfort Women. Read more about this film on the '1999' page. March 18. (http://www.boim.co.kr)
Interview ["In-t'u-byu"] Directed by Daniel H. Byun (Byun Hyuk). A group of filmmakers are shooting a series of interviews about love for their new documentary. The director of the film becomes particularly intrigued with one young interviewee, but he doesn't realize that the stories she tells him are all untrue. This film was recently named as the 7th Dogme film. From the co-director of the award-winning 1991 short Homo Videocus. Starring Shim Eun-ha and Lee Jung-jae. April 1. (http://www.loveinterview.co.kr)
The Isle ["Som"] Directed by Kim Ki-duk (Birdcage Inn). Set in a remote fishing ground, where a groundskeeper sells bait and occasionally her own body to visiting fishermen. When an ex-cop seeks refuge from the police after killing his lover, the groundskeeper (who speaks not a single line in the film) agrees to look after him. Starring Seo Jung and Kim Yoo-seok. April 22. (http://www.theisle.co.kr)
The Anarchists ["A-na-k'i-seu-teu"] Directed by Yoo Young-shik. A band of five terrorists who call themselves the Anarchists battle Chinese and Japanese authorities in 1924 Shanghai. Conflict from within the group and betrayal from without threaten to tear the company apart. The first ever Korean-Chinese coproduction, shot entirely in China. Starring Chang Dong-gun, Kim Sang-joong and Jung Jun-ho. April 29. (http://www.anarchists.co.kr)
The Warriors * Directed by Kim Sung-soo. The latest film from the director of Beat and City of the Rising Sun. A swordplay epic set in 1375 to be shot in China featuring many of Korea's top stars. Reportedly the film's producers are also looking for a top female actress from Hong Kong to complete the casting. Starring Chung Woo-sung, Ahn Sung-ki, Lee Jung-jae, and Yoo Oh-sung. Estimated release date: February 2001.
Bong-ja * Directed by Park Chul-soo (Push! Push!, Kazoku Cinema). A film centering around two women: the headstrong title character, a woman in her mid-30's who sells kimbap in a railway station, and a teenage girl who takes over her home. Starring Suh Gab-sook and Park Soo-jung. Estimated release date: August 2000.
La Belle Directed by actor/filmmaker Yeo Kyun-dong (Out to the World, Killer Story). The story of an intense relationship between a photographer and a nude model. Starring Oh Jee-ho and Lee Jee-hyun. Shooting is reportedly complete, but a release is not expected until May 2001.
* working title
Five Korean films invited to Cannes.
A record five Korean films have been invited to the 53rd Cannes International Film Festival, to be held from May 10-21. Topping the list is Im Kwon-taek's Chunhyang, which has become the first Korean film ever to participate in the festival's Competition Section. Im's film, which has a new English-language webpage at http://www.chunhyang21.com, will be eligible for the festival's Palme d'Or, Grand Jury Prize, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay awards. At the festival selection committee's request, 15 minutes have been cut from the domestic release print.
Following the four Korean short films that participated in last year's festival, Yoo Chul-won's Usan ("umbrella") will compete in the Short Film Competition Section. Several high-profile feature films will also be screening in other sections. The third film by Hong Sang-Soo, The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (Korean title: Oh! Soo-jung) will compete in the Un Certain Regard section, following in the footsteps of Hong's second film, The Power of Kangwon Province. Jung Ji-woo's debut feature, Happy End, starring Jeon Do-yeon and Choi Min-shik, will compete in the Critics' Week section. Finally, Lee Chang-dong's second film Peppermint Candy will be screened in the Director's Fortnight section.
Awards will be announced on May 21. Complete festival coverage is available at the festival's website: http://www.festival-cannes.org.
The 1st Chonju International Film Festival, April 28 - May 4
The inaugural edition of the Chonju International Film Festival opened on April 28, featuring diverse programming and a commitment to alternative, forward-looking film, digital work in particular. Held in the southwestern city of Chonju, an area rich in history which served as a center for filmmaking in the mid-1950's, the festival features a more academic atmosphere than the more commercially-centered festivals of Pusan and Puchon. The event seemed to focus less on promoting Korean and Asian film to the world (Pusan's specialty) than to introducing Korea to diverse filmmaking and providing a forum for Asian independent film. Hong Sang-Soo's third feature film, The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, opened the festival and was considerably well received. Retrospectives were also devoted to Aleksandr Sokurov, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Chantal Akerman.
Four awards were given at the festival, one for each section of the Main Program: the Chonju People's Award to Audition, by Miike Takashi (Japan); the Daring Digital Award to Riot by John Akomfrah (U.S.); the Woosuk Award for Asian Independent Cinema to M/Other by Suwa Nobuhiro (Japan); and the Korean Short Film Award to Scissors by recent graduate Lee Ki-chul. More information can be found at the festival's website: http://www.ciff.org.
Judging from the level of local interest and the strength of its programming, the festival had to be considered a success, although technical glitches dampened the event, in particular the malfunction of the English-subtitle projection system. Nonetheless, Chonju in its opening edition looks to have already become a distinctive and important part of Korea's film landscape.
Computerized ticketing system receives go-ahead
One technological hurdle facing the Korean film industry has been the implementation of a universal, computerized ticketing system for the nation's theaters. Such a system would provide more accurate information about box office returns, while also giving consumers added convenience in reserving tickets online or by telephone. The National Tax Agency has also shown interest in such a system so as to more accurately determine profits made by theaters.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism began strongly encouraging theaters to adopt an electronic system named TicketLink. The local association of theater owners, however, opposed the system in favor of a privately-developed system which they claimed was more reliable and cost-effective. With accusations of self-interest being hurled on both sides, the issue looked to be headed to the courts. However in April, the theater association unexpectedly reversed its position and agreed to adopt the new system. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that the threat of prosecution by the National Tax Agency of some key figures in the theater association helped to sway the group's leadership.
Full implementation of the system will likely take some time, as theaters upgrade to the newer equipment, but it appears that eventually computerized ticketing will become the norm.
Kang Woo-seok tops Cine21's Power 50
In its May 2 edition (#249), Cine 21 film magazine published its annual list of the 50 most powerful figures in the Korean film industry. At #1 once again was director and producer Kang Woo-seok, chairman of Korea's largest production and distribution company, Cinema Service (see Newsletter #1). In the past 12 months, Cinema Service has released such hits as Nowhere to Hide, Attack the Gas Station, and Tell Me Something. In the coming months, Kang (Two Cops) will also direct the feature Shilla Moonlight (working title), starring Park Joong-hoon, Lee Sung-jae and Ko So-young. Other items of note from the list (last year's rank noted in brackets):
Directors: #2  Kang Jae-gyu (Shiri); #13  Im Kwon-taek (Chunhyang); #17 [debut] Lee Chang-dong (Peppermint Candy); #22  Jang Sun-woo (Lies); #24  Chang Yoon-hyun (Tell Me Something); #28  Hong Sang-soo (The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors); #36 [debut] Kim Jee-woon (The Foul King); #47  Lee Kwangmo (Spring in My Hometown).
Actors: #6  Han Seok-gyu (Tell Me Something); #9  Moon Sung-keun (The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, The Committee to Protect the Screen Quota); #20  Shim Eun-ha (Tell Me Something); #25  Jeon Do-yeon (Happy End); #32  Ahn Sung-ki (Nowhere to Hide);
Women: #10  - Shim Jae-myung (president, Myung Films); #15 [debut] Oh Jung-wan (founder, Bom Films); #20  Shim Eun-ha (actress); #25  Jeon Do-yeon (actress); #46 [n/a] Chae Yoon-hee (president, All That Cinema).
Interview named first Asian Dogme film
Interview (2000), directed by Daniel H. Byun and starring Shim Eun-ha and Lee Jung-jae, has reportedly been named the first Asian Dogme film, and the 7th overall. Dogme95 is a manifesto created by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, which grants official 'Dogme' status to films that adhere to a set of rules listed in their Vow of Chastity. The Vow, among other restrictions, prohibits props and sets, requires hand-held camera, and maintains that all action portrayed in the film actually take place. Although written perhaps partially in jest, the manifesto has gained worldwide attention and will likely boost Interview's international marketing campaign. More information about Dogme95 can be found at http://www.dogme95.dk (note that it has not been updated to include Interview).
Grand Bell Awards
The Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards, perhaps Korea's most prestigious awards ceremony, was held on April 18 at the Sejong Cultural Center in downtown Seoul. Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy (2000) received the highest accolades, taking home the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay awards. Actress Jeon Do-yeon followed up her success at the Chungryong Awards with another Best Actress award for Harmonium in My Memory, while veteran actor Choi Min-soo was a surprise pick for Best Actor for his role in Phantom the Submarine. A partial list of the awards follows:
Best Picture: Peppermint Candy; Best Director: Lee Chang-dong, Peppermint Candy; Special Jury Award: Chunhyang; Best Actress: Jeon Do-yeon, Harmonium in My Memory; Best Actor: Choi Min-soo, Phantom the Submarine; Best Supporting Actress: Kim Yeo-jin, Peppermint Candy; Best Supporting Actor: Joo Jin-mo, Happy End; Cinematography: Jung Kwang-seok and Song Heng-ki, Nowhere to Hide; Lighting: Seo Jung-dal, Phantom the Submarine; Best Screenplay (Original): Lee Chang-dong, Peppermint Candy; Best Screenplay (Adaption): Lee Young-jae, Harmonium in My Memory; Best Short Film: (tie) The Picnic and 28th October, 1979, a Sunny Sunday; Editing: Go Im-pyo, Phantom the Submarine; Visual Effects: Yoo Dong-ryol, Phantom the Submarine; Sound Effects: Kim Seok-wan, Phantom the Submarine; Original Soundtrack: Won Il, The Uprising; Art Direction: Min Eon-ock, Chunhyang; Costumes: Bong Hyun-sook, The Uprising; Best New Director: Min Byung-chon, Phantom the Submarine; Best New Filmmaker: Moon Yong-shik (Cinematography), The Great Chef; Best New Actress: (tie) Lee Jae-eun, Yellow Hair; Ha Ji-won, Truth or Dare; Best New Actor: Sul Kyung-gu, Peppermint Candy.
Hong Kong directors in Korea
Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai (Chungking Express, Happy Together) has announced that the final part of his newest project, titled 2046, will be shot in Pusan. Wong has also recruited veteran Korean actress Shim Hye-jin to play a key role in the film. On a separate note, the director will be making his world acting debut in five episodes of a Korean TV sitcom titled "Love Boat." Wong will speak in English and use his real name in the drama, which opens on May 6.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong action superstar Jackie Chan has been in Korea to shoot his latest work, titled The Accidental Spy. Korean actress Kim Min (Black Hole, An Affair) will take the female lead in the film, which takes place in Hong Kong, Korea, and Turkey. Directed by Teddy Chen (Purple Storm), The Accidental Spy will be shot entirely in English, and a release date is planned for early 2001. At HK$170 million it is Chan's most expensive film to date. (Visit the official website at http://www.goldenharvest.com/spy/index.htm)
Under-15 rating returns
On April 24, the Under-15 rating was reintroduced into Korea's rating system for feature films. Although the Under-15 rating (which stipulates that spectators under 15 are prohibited from attending) existed in the past, it was eliminated under a revision of the ratings system in 1999, leaving only the General, Under-12, and Under-18 ratings. During this time, films that catered to a teenage audience have been obligated to negotiate with the Ratings Board in order to receive the Under-12 rating, cutting scenes when necessary. In past months, such films as The Happy Funeral Director (2000) have received Under-18 ratings on the basis of language alone, drawing protests from film producers who don't wish to lose younger viewers.
Yoo Young-shik's The Anarchists, released on April 29, became the first film to receive the reintroduced Under-15 rating. Partly on the strength of its younger viewers, the movie opened at #1 in the weekly box office charts.
Awards at international film festivals
*** Lee Myung-se's Nowhere to Hide won four of the six awards presented at the second Pan-Asia Film Festival of Deauville in mid-March, including the Grand Jury Prize for best film, Best Director, Best Actor for Park Joong-hoon, and Best Cinematography.
*** In April, Harmonium in My Memory (1999) by Lee Young-jae won the top prize at the Verona Film Festival, Schermi d'Amore (Love on the Screen), a festival of romantic and melodramatic films. Also competing in this festival was E J Yong's 1998 film An Affair, which took home the Best Artistic Contribution prize and the Critics Prize.
*** The Bird Who Stops in the Air (1999), directed by Jeon Soo-il, won the top prize at the Fribourg Film Festival in Switzerland. This film, starring Sul Kyung-gu (Peppermint Candy), also screened in a noncompetitive section of the 1999 Venice Film Festival. It is currently waiting for its domestic release.
*** The 1999 film Mayonnaise by Yoon In-ho won the Suvarna Chakoram (best film) at the Kerala Film Festival in India (March 31 - April 7). Mayonnaise is Yoon's second film.
*** My Heart by veteran director Bae Chang-ho won the Audience Award at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, a key showcase for popular Asian film. My Heart is scheduled to receive its domestic release on May 13.
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 information about how to order these films online, visit http://koreanfilm.org/subtitles.html.
Beat (1997). Starring Chung Woo-sung and Ko So-young. On DVD with English subtitles. All codes.
Spring in My Hometown (1998). On DVD with English subtitles.
The Soul Guardians (1998). From Hong Kong, on DVD with English and Chinese subtitles.
Special Note: In the past month, five Korean films have been released on DVD, but only one of them was made available with English subtitles, despite the fact that subtitles do already exist for these films. The issue of whether or not to subtitle a DVD is sometimes more complex than meets the eye, due to international distribution and other factors. Nonetheless, some assurance that there is overseas interest in Korean films may help to persuade DVD companies to subtitle more films. If you are interested in buying subtitled Korean DVD's, take a second to write to the following companies and request that they subtitle their future releases: Bitwin (email@example.com) and Dasol (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Korean films abroad
The past two months have seen a number of Korean films gain limited entry into foreign markets. On March 23, Chang Yoon-hyun's Tell Me Something opened in Hong Kong to a strong star-focused marketing campaign and, for its first week, a #1 ranking in the local box office. The film's notoriously complex (and perhaps somewhat loopholed) plot has spawned long threads on local internet discussion boards.
In Japan, Shiri (local title: Shuri) passed the 2 million mark in nationwide admissions, as agreements were reached to import three more Korean films: Phantom the Submarine ($400,000), Attack the Gas Station ($150,000 plus 50% of box-office proceeds), and Tell Me Something ($500,000). Releases for these films are expected later this year.
Meanwhile, Shiri has also been sold to Spain for $200,000, helped by a strong international marketing effort.
Finally, the action-art film Nowhere to Hide has been sold to France for $220,000 (Jang Sun-woo's Lies, the most recent Korean film to be sold to France, was bought for $150,000). Following its highly successful U.S. premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Nowhere to Hide also screened in New York at the Museum of Modern Art's New Directors - New Films series. The audience reportedly started cheering after the film's opening sequence. The film continues to get heavy festival exposure, and worldwide rights to the film have recently been acquired by Lions Gate Films International.
Note: Final box-office figures have now become available for 1999, and the local market share for Korean films stood at 36.1% (see article in Newsletter #5).
Thanks to Cho Eunjung (KOFIC), Lee Eun-Jung (Korea University) and Stephen Cremin (Asian Film Library) for their help in compiling this newsletter.
May 9, 2000
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