Korean Film Newsletter #7 - August 7, 2000

Welcome to the seventh 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 darcy@koreanfilm.org.

New at Koreanfilm.org: (a) reviews of Barking Dogs Never Bite and The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors; (b) an essay, "Genrebending in Contemporary Korean Film;" and (c) an Announcements page listing information about upcoming events.

NEW RELEASES (May - July 2000)

Kilimanjaro ["Kil-li-man-ja-ro"] Directed by Oh Seung-wook. An estranged gangster kills his wife and child before turning the gun on himself. His identical twin, a policeman, goes back to his hometown and is mistaken for his brother. He assumes his brother's identity and then gets caught up in an escalating cycle of violence. A noir film named after the seaside town of Jumunjin, sometimes referred to as 'Korea's Kilimanjaro.' Starring Park Shin-yang and Ahn Sung-ki. Produced by Sidus Films. 100 min. May 20. (http://www.killi.co.kr)

The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors ["Oh! Soo-jung"] Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo. Soo-jung works in a small video production company as a screenwriter and production assistant. She receives sexual advances from both her boss, Young-soo, and his old classmate at art school, Jae-hoon. Jae-hoon pressures her to have sex with him, but she resists. Read more about this film on the '2000' web page. Starring Lee Eun-ju, Jung Bo-seok, and Moon Sung-keun. Produced by Miracin Korea. B&W, 126 min. May 27. (http://www.oh-soojung.com)

Ditto ["Dong-gam"] Directed by Kim Jung-kwon. A female university student from 1979 acquires a HAM radio and begins corresponding with another student from her university. They agree to meet in person, but the next day she waits for him in vain. Eventually she begins to realize that her correspondent lives in the year 2000. Screenplay by Jang Jin, director of The Spy (1999). Starring Kim Hanul, Yoo Ji-tae and Ha Ji-won. Produced by Hanmac Films. 110 min. May 27. (http://www.cinelove.com)

Secret Tears ["Pi-mil"] Written and directed by Park Ki-hyung (Whispering Corridors). Kuho is driving home with friends when their car hits a 15-year old girl standing in the road. Miraculously, she survives, but is unable to speak and has no recollection of her past. Kuho takes her into his home and develops an increasing fondness for her, while at the same time realizing that the girl possesses odd psychic powers. Starring Kim Seung-woo and Yoon Mi-jo. Produced by Dada Films. 108 min. June 3. (http://www.thesecret.co.kr)

Scent of Love ["Ch'im-hyang"] Directed by Kim Soo-yong. Chan-woo, a young novelist just home from the army, receives notice of an old lover's death. He returns to the lake where they once spent time together, and becomes acquainted with the owner of a local inn. From a veteran director who produced some of the key works of the 1960s. Starring Lee Se-chang, Kim Ho-jung, and Lee Jung-hyun. Produced by KJK Films. 110 min. June 10.

My Heart ["Jeong"] Directed by Bae Chang-ho. A 16-year-old girl named Soonie is forced to marry the 10-year-old son of the village medicine doctor. Subjected to ten years of hard living, she eventually leaves the household when her husband returns from university with a 'modern' woman dressed in Western clothes. Later she lives alone brewing traditional Korean liquor, when she meets a ceramist who confesses his love for her. Screenplay by the director and lead actress Kim Yoo-mi. Starring Kim Yoo-mi, Kim Myung-gon, Yoon Yoo-sun, and Kim Jong-gu. Produced by Bae Chang-ho Productions. 111 min. June 17. (http://www.jeong-movie.co.kr)

Real Fiction ["Shil-je-sang-hwang"] Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk. A portrait artist is frustrated with his life and having a terrible day, and finally he snaps. He goes on a murderous rampage throughout the city. This film was shot without retakes of any kind, in a total of 3 hours. Eleven sequence directors and 150 production aides made use of eight 35mm cameras and ten digital cameras to get the job done. Starring Joo Jin-mo, Kim Jin-ah, and Son Min-seok. Produced by Shin Seung-soo Productions. 84 min. June 24. (http://www.shinfilm.com)

If ["I-p'eu"] Directed by Han Deok-jun. A film about a single woman who works as a urologist. When she becomes pregnant by artificial insemination, she must cope with the idea of living as a single mother. A three-second scene depicting an operation for phimosis was cut from this film at the request of Korea's Ratings' Board (which has recently undergone a shuffling of its members). Starring Lee Hye-young and Yoo Tae-woong. Produced by Kinobank. 95 min. June 24. (http://if.kinobank.co.kr)

Bi-Chun-Mu ["Bi-ch'un-moo"] Directed by Kim Young-jun. A Hong-Kong-swordplay-style blockbuster set in China under the Han Dynasty. Young Jinha falls in love with the daughter of a Mongol general and a Chinese concubine. The two become separated by differences in status, as Jinha works to perfect the art of Bi-chun-mu swordsmanship. Based on a late-1980s comic by Kim Hye-rin. Action sequences directed by Ma Yuk-shing from Hong Kong. Starring Shin Hyun-jun, Kim Hee-sun, Jung Jin-young, and Jang Dong-jik. Produced by Taewon Entertainment. 125 min. July 1. (http://www.b1000.co.kr)

Die Bad ["Chuk-go-na Hog-eun Na-ppeu-go-na"] Written and directed by Ryu Seung-wan. Originally shot as four interconnected short films, this film portrays violence among youth through the story of Suk-hwan, who accidentally kills a fellow student and then joins a violent gang years later on his release from jail. This film originally opened on only five screens across the country, but due to enthusiastic audience response it will be transferred from 16mm to 35mm and given a wider release in early August. Starring Ryu Seung-wan and Ryu Seung-beom. Produced by CNP Entertainment. 98 min. July 15. (http://www.diebad.co.kr)

Harpy ["Ha-p'i"] Directed by Ra Ho-beom. A group of high school students are shooting a film named "Harpy." One of the actors begins to show an interest in the screenwriter, Su-yeon, but she is scared to reciprocate because of his girlfriend. As tension escalates within the group, they relocate to Su-yeon's family resort to finish shooting, where a series of violent incidents occur. Starring Lee Jung-hyun, Kim Lae-won, and Kim Kkot-chi. Produced by Miracin Korea. 90 min. July 22. (http://www.harpy.co.kr)

Age of Peace ["P'yung-hwa-ui Shi-dae"] Directed by Lee Won-suk. A musical film starring the Korean pop group H.O.T. Features three dimensional computer animation in addition to live photography. Although the film is only 28 minutes long, the admission price was kept at the standard level of 6000 won. Starring H.O.T., Dana, Kirishima Arisa. Produced by MT-NET Korea and S.M. Entertainment. July 22. (http://www.mille21.com)

Bulgasari ["Pul-ga-sa-ri"] Directed by Shinn Sang-okk. From North Korea (produced in 1985). The Koryo-era government begins confiscating metal tools so as to forge weapons and put down a peasant rebellion. Blacksmith and village elder Tak-sae refuses to cooperate, claiming that a metal-eating monster named Bulgasari has consumed all the tools. He is thrown into prison, where he molds a small doll of rice before dying. The doll arrives home with his body, and when Tak-sae's daughter accidentally spills some blood on the doll, it comes to life as the monster Bulgasari. Starring Chang Sun-hee, Lee Jong-kuk, and Satsuma Keihachiro. Distributed by Koryo Media. 95 min. July 22.

A Nightmare ["Ka-wee"] Directed by Ahn Byung-ki. Seven university students decide to form a club of 'beautiful people.' One group member commits suicide, however, and years later the remaining six begin to suffer violent deaths, one by one. This was the closing film for the 2000 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Starring a large number of young generation stars, including Kim Kyu-ri (Whispering Corridors), Yoo Ji-tae, Ha Ji-won, Choi Jung-yoon, and Jung Joon. Produced by Mythos Films. 97 min. July 29. (http://www.kawee.co.kr)


I Wish I Had a Wife, Too* Directed by Park Heung-shik. A romantic comedy starring superstar Jeon Do-yeon (Happy End); Sul Kyung-gu, the lead actor from Peppermint Candy; and Girls' Night Out star Jin Hee-kyung. Director Park worked previously as an assistant director to Hur Jin-ho in Christmas in August, and also directed the short film A Day, which won Best Short Film at the 1999 Torino Film Festival in Italy. This will be his first feature film. Estimated release date: December 2000.

Paradise Villa Directed by Park Chong-won (Our Twisted Hero; Eternal Empire; Rainbow Trout). Set in Paradise Villa, a residence with eight separate living quarters. The film examines the lives of the people who live there: the landlord, a stock fund manager, a piano teacher, a porn actress, a nightclub singer, a water salesman, etc. Estimated release date: September 2000.

Love Beyond Time (Si-wol-ae)* Directed by Lee Hyun-seung (The Blue in You). The title, derived from Chinese characters, can be roughly translated as "A Love that Transcends Time." A woman who lives in the year 1999 is able to communicate via letters with a man who lives two years in the past. The film stars Jun Ji-hyun, who has become a hugely popular model and TV actress in the past year. This will be her second film, after starring in the little-known White Valentine in early 1999. The male lead will be played by popular star Lee Jung-jae (Interview). Estimated release date: September 2000 (Chusok weekend).

Libera Me Directed by Yang Yoon-ho (Yuri; Mister Condom). One of the two films about firefighting currently in production. The title comes from a section of Gabriel Faure's Requiem which will serve as the musical theme of the film. In Latin these words mean "save me". Starring Choi Min-soo (Phantom the Submarine), Park Sang-myun (The Foul King), and young superstar Yoo Ji-tae (Ditto). Estimated release date: November 2000.

Siren Directed by Lee Ju-yeop. The other film in production to focus on firefighters. This will be the director's debut feature. Starring Shin Hyunjune (Bi-Chun-Mu), Chang Jin-young (The Foul King), and Jung Jun-ho. Estimated release date: November 2000.

* official English title not available yet


North Korean film opens in South Korea

The last few months have been heady times on the Korean Peninsula, with the governments of North and South Korea meeting to discuss economic and cultural exchanges to promote reconciliation. The public in general has been much captivated with the process, gathering around T.V. sets and flocking to shows by North Korean musicians and circus performers.

Amidst this backdrop, the government decided to approve the screening of North Korean films in the South. The first in a series of scheduled releases was the 1985 monster flick by Shinn Sang-okk, Bulgasari, about a metal-eating monster from the Koryo Dynasty. The film had opened in Japan to respectable audiences in 1998, and a South Korean company had imported it in the late 1990s, but had not received permission to screen the film.

Bulgasari's director Shinn Sang-okk began his career in the South, producing such classics as The Houseguest and My Mother (1961), after which he claims to have been abducted to the North along with his wife. In the late 1970s and 1980s he worked in North Korea's film industry before seeking asylum in the U.S., shortly before the shooting of Bulgasari was complete. He went on to work in Hollywood, directing an episode of the Three Ninjas series under the name of Simon Sheen. This year, the Pusan Film Festival will host a week-long retrospective of Shinn's work.

One interesting issue raised by this release was whether Bulgasari qualified as a Korean film under the nation's Screen Quota system. Under current law it is defined as a foreign import, and thus it does not count towards the 106 days/year that theaters must screen Korean films. Nonetheless the issue caused people in the film industry to question whether the current wording of the law needs to be revised.

Expecting to cash in on the new craze for North Korean culture, Bulgasari's distributors released the film on July 22. Surprisingly, however, the film flopped at the box office. MMC Theater in central Seoul replaced it after only three days due to an overwhelming lack of viewers, and within a week it had disappeared from screens in Seoul completely. (I went to see the film on a Wednesday afternoon, and was the only person in the theater.) In all, Bulgasari drew only a thousand viewers of the 11 million residents of Seoul.

Perhaps this phenomenon can be partly explained in the results of a recent poll on reunification, which cites considerably less interest among South Korea's youth in reunifying with the North. Film audiences in Korea tend to be overwhelmingly young, and few seemed interested in choosing the rather dated Bulgasari over the other Hollywood and South Korean summer blockbusters available for viewing.

Exchanges in the film industry are likely to go on, however, as evidenced by Hyundai Asan Company's announced intention to make a co-produced animated feature with the North. The film, which will probably take five years to make, will take place during Japan's invasion of Korea from 1592 to 1598. In another show of goodwill, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism recently presented North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il with four films from the South: Chunhyang, Bi-Chun-Mu, Christmas in August and The Harmonium in My Memory. There was no immediate word as to what Kim, a self-avowed movie buff who founded a film school and penned a book on film theory, thought of the films.

The 4th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, July 13-21

Following somewhat lackluster reviews in its previous edition, PiFan 2000 was generally seen to be a strong success, with increased attendance (a 15% increase over 1999), 140 films, and fewer of the technical problems that plagued last year's event. With a host of specialty sections and panel discussions, the festival gave fans the opportunity to experience and discuss films that would ordinarily not be distributed in Korea. Particularly popular this year was a section titled "Forbidden Zone", made up of extremely violent or sexually explicit movies that would presumably be rejected by Korea's Ratings Board.

Korean sections included a selection of recent films, plus a retrospective of works by actor Choi Mu-ryong, who passed away last year. A Nightmare (2000) closed the festival with its premiere screening. The festival jury also contained some famous figures in Korean film, including Jury Chairman Shinn Sang-okk, director of Bulgasari, and actor Park Joong-hoon (Nowhere to Hide). The Short Film Jury was headed by director Kim Ji-woon (The Quiet Family, The Foul King), and also included actress Suh Jung (The Isle), cinematographer Kim Yun-hee and short film director Im Pil-sung (Baby).

After a restructuring of the festival competition section, this year's Golden Kebbi for best film went to The Ugliest Woman in the World by Spanish director Miguel Bardem. A full list of the awards presented by the festival are listed below:

Best Film: The Ugliest Woman in the World, by Miguel Bardem (Spain); Special Jury Prize: The Nameless by Jaume Balaguero (Spain); Best director: Shinoda Masahiro, Owls' Castle (Japan); Best Actor: Pascal Greggory, Why Get Married the Day the World Ends (Belgium); Best Actress: Sara Dogg Asgeirsdottir, Witchcraft (Iceland); Audience Award: Tuvalu by Veit Helmer (Germany); Best Short Film: The Periwig-Maker by Stephen Schaeffler (Germany); Jury Award, Short Film: La Comtesse De Castiglione by David Lodge (England); Audience Award, Short Film: Black XXX-MAS by Peter Van Hees (England).

Japanese film - third stage opening

Over the past year and a half, the Korean market has been undergoing a gradual opening to Japanese pop culture (see newsletter #3). For many years it was illegal to screen or sell Japanese films in Korea, due to long-standing hostilities connected with Japan's 35-year occupation of Korea. In 1998, however, the Korean government reached an agreement with Japan to repeal the restrictions in several stages. The first-stage opening took place on October 20, 1998; and a second-stage opening was carried out on Sept. 10 of last year.

On June 27, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism made public the details of a third-stage revision. As regards the film industry, the new law calls for all films save those rated R-18 (restricted to those of 18 years and above) to be granted permission for local screenings. In addition, animated features which have won prizes at select international film festivals will also be approved for release. In the past, Japanese animation was banned from Korea due to fears that its popularity among youth might overpower the Korean animation industry.

The announcement by the government produced a fair amount of worry both in and out of the film industry that the opening might be proceeding at too fast a pace. Japanimation, in particular, is likely to debut with a bang, as a large black market currently exists for such works. The government defended its decision by claiming that the increased diversity and competition brought to the market by Japanese films have already had positive effects on the film industry.

Some films scheduled for release in the coming months are Bayside Shakedown (released in July), Godzilla 2000, Bullet Ballet, and the animated Princess Mononoke.

The Isle invited to Venice

Kim Ki-duk's The Isle (2000) has been selected to participate in the competition section of the 2000 Venice Film Festival. This is the fourth Korean film to compete in the festival, following last year's selection of Lies by Jang Sun-woo (see newsletter #3). The festival has also selected two Korean short films - Ha Ki-ho's To My Love and Lee Sang-yeol's Self Portrait 2000 -- to compete in the festival's short film competition. This year's festival will run from August 30 to September 9, and can be followed at http://www.labiennale.com.

Lies civil lawsuit brought to close

Prosecutor Moon Sung-woo of the Seoul District Prosecutor's Office ruled on June 29 that the controversial film Lies is not obscene, thus bringing to a close a lawsuit lodged by an alliance of citizens' groups against the film's producers and distributors last January. Moon noted that standards for judging works to be pornographic have changed over time, and that Korean society had reached a level whereby films such as Lies can be publicly screened. He added that even before the judgement, there had been no intention on the part of the Prosecutor's Office to indict the individuals who produced and distributed the film.

Three comic filmmakers collaborate on digital film project

Three of Korea's most talented young filmmakers - Kim Ji-woon (The Quiet Family, The Foul King), Jang Jin (The Spy), and Ryu Seung-wan (Die Bad) - have undertaken a project to write and direct three 30-minute digital comedies to be screened on the internet. The project will be produced by venture group Media 4M and screened on their website. Jang Jin has said that at this stage they do not intend to screen the films in theaters.

The first release, Coming Out by Kim Ji-woon, can be viewed at http://www.cine4m.com beginning on August 7th. Jang Jin's film will become available in September, and Ryu Seung-wan's film will be released in October.

"DVD Rooms" debut in Korea

Anyone who has spent time in Korea is probably familiar with the video room ('bidio-bang'), a store divided into small, dark viewing quarters where customers can view a video tape in private for a moderate fee (usually 4-5,000 won or US$4 per person). These businesses, which seem to exist on every street corner, are particularly popular with young couples in cities where privacy can be hard to come by. The U.S. government has been pressuring Korea for years to outlaw the businesses, claiming that they violate restrictions on the public screening of videotapes. The Korean government has resisted this pressure, however, at least up through the present time.

In recent months something new has appeared in Korea: the DVD room. Taking advantage of fast-growing interest in DVDs, these new businesses offer increased sound and picture quality for their customers for a somewhat higher price (9-10,000 won/person). Some businesses also have the capability to broadcast the digitally-coded films on software played back through a computer, meaning that by negotiating with production companies they can offer recent films that have not yet been released on video or DVD.

DVD rooms are particularly good news for foreigners residing in Korea, since, unlike videos, many DVDs come equipped with optional subtitles in different languages. Nonetheless, for those interested in Korean films there are still only four or five titles available, since most domestic DVD companies do not provide subtitles for Korean films.


Honors at international film festivals

*** Peppermint Candy (2000) was named co-winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 35th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, held from July 5-15 in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. Aside from sharing the second-most prestigious prize at the festival, the film also won the Don Quixote Award from the FICC Jury and received a NETPAC Prize Special Mention. In the coming months, Peppermint Candy will also screen at the Montreal, Vancouver, and London Film Festivals.

*** Chunhyang (2000) by Im Kwon-taek has been invited to be the opening film at Focus on Asia: The Fukuoka International Film Festival, which runs from September 8-17. A very select number of Korean films have ever opened international festivals, Peppermint Candy being the first (Pusan 1999), followed by Nowhere to Hide (Sydney Asia-Pacific FF 2000) and The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (Chonju 2000). Chunhyang will also be shown at the upcoming Telluride, Toronto, New York, and Edinburgh film festivals.

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.

Love (1999). With Chung Woo-sung and Ko So-young. On DVD with Chinese, Korean and (poor-quality) English subtitles. All codes.

Channel 69 (1996). Directed by Lee Jeong-guk, starring Shin Hyunjune and Hong Kyung-in. On DVD with English subtitles. All codes.

Christmas in August (1998). On Video CD with English and Chinese subtitles. From Hong Kong.

Tell Me Something (1999). On Video CD with English and Chinese subtitles. From Hong Kong. This is the uncut version of the film, not the Korean release.

A large number of films have also been released recently on DVD *without* subtitles, including The Coachman ['Mabu'] (1961), The Surrogate Woman (1986), Girls' Night Out, City of the Rising Sun (Our Sunny Days), A Promise, The Mystery of a Cube, The Adventures of Mrs. Park, Hoodlum Lessons, Yellow Hair, Millions in My Account, Baby Sale, Man With a Gun, The Man Upstairs and the Woman Downstairs, and others.

Korean films abroad

Korean films are continuing to draw increased interest overseas. In France, the 1998 film Girls' Night Out was given its commercial release on July 5. A Korean short film, Crack of the Halo, was also recently sold to France for museum and special screenings. The Korean blockbuster Shiri has been sold to Russia, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Greece has also acquired the rights to The Anarchists (2000), La Belle (2000), and Girls' Night Out.

In Japan, The Quiet Family (1998) will have an August release in 12 cities after a successful May run on one screen in Tokyo. A Japanese company has also reportedly bought the rights to shoot an official remake of this film. (This will be the second Korean film in recent years to be remade, after Edward Berger filmed a German remake of The Contact (1997), titled Frau 2 Und Happy End. It is due out later this year.) Other films recently purchased for Japan include The Ginkgo Bed ($300,000), The Ginkgo Bed II (in production)($700,000), The Isle ($100,000) and the newly revamped 2000 version of the film Yonggary ($1.675 million).

In recent months there have been no Korean films released in Hong Kong, however various sources have indicated that Happy End (1999), Bi-Chun-Mu (2000), Attack the Gas Station (1999), The Foul King (2000), Interview (2000), and Memento Mori (1999) may all reach the territory eventually. Meanwhile, the recent English-subtitled Hong Kong VCD releases of Shiri, Christmas in August and Tell Me Something have been selling quite well on internet retail sites. (A bootleg subtitled DVD of Shiri has also reportedly been selling like crazy in Hong Kong)

Finally, it appears that Im Kwon-taek's Chunhyang (2000) will be released in commercial theaters in New York City this coming winter. New York-based distributor Lot 47 (http://www.lot47.com), a fledgling company headed by arthouse veteran Jeff Lipsky, has acquired North American rights to the film from a sales division of French-owned Canal Plus. Distribution of the film will hopefully pave the way for an eventual video and/or DVD release in the U.S.

Special thanks to Yeon Hyeon-sook and Ryan Law (Asian Film Library Bulletin) for helping me compile this newsletter.

August 7, 2000
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Darcy Paquet/ darcy@koreanfilm.org /Posted August 11, 2000