Welcome to the eighth 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 at http://koreanfilm.org. If you wish to be removed from this mailing list, or if you have any questions, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
New at Koreanfilm.org: (a) reviews of The Isle, Ditto, Bi-Chun-Moo, and Joint Security Area; (b) a discussion board where viewers can post their thoughts or questions about Korean cinema; (c) an essay, "South Korean Films about the Korean War," (d) a list of books about Korean film.
NEW RELEASES (August - October 2000)
La Belle ["Mi-in"] Directed by Yeo Kyun-dong. A magazine reporter embarks on an affair with a beautiful nude model, but she continues to meet her old lover. Eventually his feelings for her develop into obsession. Starring debut actors Lee Ji-Hyun, Oh Ji-ho. Dancer Ahn Eun-mi also contributed as a "body choreographer." Produced by Keyweckshide. Distributed by Shindo Film. Rating: 18+. 91min. August 12. (http://www.whitemiin.co.kr)
Bloody Beach ["Hae-byun-eu-ro Ka-da"] Directed by Kim In-su. A group of online friends drive to a seaside cottage for a vacation, but their fun is interrupted by a vicious killer with the internet ID of "Sandman". Starring Kim Hyun-jung, Lee Hyun-kyun, Lee Seung-chae, etc. Cameos by Kim Min-sun (Memento Mori) and Lee Eun-ju (Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors). Produced by Koo & Film. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 87 min. August 12. (http://www.koofilm.com)
Record ["Jjik-hi-myun Jung-neun-da"] Directed by Kim Ki-hoon. A group of high school students decide to play a trick on a fellow student, but they inadvertently kill him. Years later, a video of the slaying is broadcast on the internet, and a mysterious killer begins to pursue the students. Starring Kang Sung-min, Park Eun-hye, An Jae-hwan, etc. Produced by Samwoo Communication. Distributed by Film Bank. Rating 18+. 91 min. August 26. (http://www.cinema-rec.co.kr)
Joint Security Area ["Kong-dong-kyung-bi-gu-yeok JSA"] Directed by Park Chan-wook. A shooting at the truce village of Panmunjom leaves two North Korean soldiers dead and a South Korean soldier wounded. Both sides tell widely differing accounts of the incident, leading to the appointment of a neutral Swiss intelligence officer to investigate. Read more about this film on the '2000' web page. Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Young-ae, Shin Ha-gyun, and Kim Tae-woo. Produced by Myung Film. Distributed by CJ Entertainment. Rating: 15+. 107 min. September 9. (http://www.cyberjsa.com)
Il Mare ["Shi-wol-ae"] Literal title: "Love Beyond Time" Directed by Lee Hyun-seung. A woman moves out of her seaside home named Il Mare. She leaves a letter to the new tenant in the mailbox, but somehow it is delivered back in time to the previous owner of the house. Eventually the two take up a written correspondence. Starring Jeon Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae. Produced by Sidus. Distributed by Buena Vista. Rating: 15+. 94 min. September 9. (http://www.siwolae.com)
Vanishing Twin ["Be-ni-shing Teu-win"] Directed by Yoon Tae-yong. Starring Ji Su-won, Koo Pil-woo, Im Ji-eun. The story of a curator named Yu-jin whose sister unexpectedly commits suicide after her return from the U.S. A short time later Yu-jin encounters a man who has the same internet ID as her sister. Produced by Y2 Cinema. Distributed by Film Bank. Rating: 18+. 107 min. September 23. (http://v-twin.movieland.co.kr)
Ghost Taxi ["Kong-p'o-T'ek-shi"] Directed by Heo Seung-jun. A taxi rises from a graveyard and speeds through the streets of Seoul fueled on a tank of blood. With a ghost behind the wheel, it drives even faster than real-life Seoul taxi drivers. Starring Lee Seo-jin, Im Ho, Choi Yoo-jung , etc. Produced and distributed by Cineworld. Rating: 18+. 94 min. September 30. (http://www.04taxi.co.kr)
Plum Blossom ["Ch'eong ch'un"] Written and directed by Kwak Ji-kyun. A story of adolescence and sex centered around two male students who graduate from high school and try to cope with the difficulties of university life. Starring Kim Lae-won, Kim Jung-hyun, Jin Hee-kyung, Bae Doo-na, and Yoon Ji-hye. Coproduced by Eye Pictures and Intz.com. Distributed by Cinema Service. Rating: 18+. 111 min. October 14. (http://www.two-love.co.kr)
Pisces ["Mul-go-gi-ja-ri"] Written and directed by Kim Hyung-tae. A woman opens a video store across from an apartment complex. She develops feelings for one of her regular customers, but he is already seeing another woman. Starring Lee Mi-yeon, Choi Woo-jae, and Yoon Ji-hye. Produced by J-One Productions. Distributed by J & J. Rating: 15+. 98 min. October 21. (http://www.thepisces.co.kr)
Strikers ["Seu-t'eu-ra-i-k'uh"] Directed by Im Sun. The story of three high school boys who don't test well, but who possess hidden talents. When a former sweetheart becomes friendly with the academic darling of the school, the boys set themselves the task of winning her back. Starring Suh Jae-kyung, Shim Ji-ho, Kim Ji-hyun. Produced by Indivision. Rating 12+. 100 min. October 21. (http://www.indivision.co.kr)
Just Do It ["Ha-myun Doen-da"] Directed by Park Dae-young. When Byung-hwan's business fails, his family is plunged into poverty and forced to move from the city. Their anxiety deepens when Byung-whan gets drunk and is hit by a truck. All are shocked and delighted, however, when they realize the size of his medical insurance check. The family then decides that medical insurance can be a wonderful thing if one can stand a little pain. Starring An Seok-hwan, Song Ok-sook, Park Jin-hee, Park Sang-myun, Jung Joon, Lee Bum-soo. Produced by Atoms Entertainment. Distributed by I.M. Pictures. Rating 15+. 93 min. October 28. (http://www.hamunOK.co.kr)
The Siren ["Sa-i-ren"] Directed by Lee Ju-yeop. Joon-woo is a firefighter who frequently risks his life to save others. He comes into conflict with his partner Hyun, who faults him for his lack of rational judgement. Starring Shin Hyun-june, Jung Jun-ho, Chang Jin-young, An Seok-hwan. Produced by Sunwoo Entertainment. Distributed by Pass21 Entertainment. Rating 12+. 102 min. October 28. (http://www.moviesiren.co.kr)
Princess Bari* Directed by Jang Sun-woo (Lies). An animated feature based on an old shamanist folk tale. Bari is the seventh daughter of a royal couple who wish for a son. When Bari is born, the distraught king orders the baby to be thrown away, and instead she is raised by and old man and his wife with the help of Buddha. Years later the king and queen are stricken ill as punishment for abandoning a child of heaven, and Bari volunteers to travel to the land under the west sky to find a cure for them. Director Jang Sun-woo notes, "This time I want to make a nice film, a film that anyone can watch and enjoy." Visitors to the bilingual Princess Bari website at http://www.bari.co.kr can take part in the development of this project by contributing artwork. Estimated release date: 2002. Jang also has another project in development, The Return of the Little Match Seller, which took part in this year's Pusan Promotion Plan and will probably debut in theaters in 2001.
Asako in Ruby Shoes ("Soon-ae-bo") Directed by Yi J-yong. Formerly titled 'Urine Nation' (see Newsletter #4), this is the second feature from the director of the award-winning An Affair (1998). A Korean man from Seoul and a Japanese woman from Tokyo lead contrasting lives that intersect through chance meetings and the internet. Director Yi notes, "This is a film about communication between two anonymous people; they could just as well have been from Seoul and Pusan, Seoul and Pyongyang, or Seoul and New York." A coproduction between Korean distribution company Cinema Service (60%) and Shochiku Co. Ltd. from Japan (40%), with shooting divided between Seoul, Tokyo, and Alaska. Starring Lee Jung-jae and Tachibana Misato. Estimated release date: December 2000.
A Day Directed by Han Ji-seung (Ghost Mama). The story of a young married couple who desperately want a baby, but have difficulty conceiving. This film marks the return to the screen of Ko So-young after a yearlong absence (apart from a 'passive' cameo in Joint Security Area). She costars with actor Lee Sung-jae (Attack the Gas Station). Estimated release date: January 2001.
Bungee Jumping* Directed by Kim Dae-seung. A melodrama about a young couple in 1983 who meet as university students but then break off contact. Seventeen years later the man, now a high school teacher, has a young male student in his class who seems identical to his old girlfriend. Starring Lee Byung-heon (Joint Security Area, Harmonium in My Memory) and Lee Eun-ju (Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors). The director worked formerly as an assistant director to Im Kwon-taek; Bungee Jumping is his first feature.
Waikiki Brothers* Directed by Yim Soon-Rye. A four-member band known as the Waikiki Brothers roam about looking for work. Sung-woo, the band's leader, decides to take the group back to his hometown, but the changes he sees in his old friends cause him much anguish. This is the second feature by director Yim Soon-Rye, following her acclaimed 1996 film Three Friends. Produced by Myung Film (Joint Security Area, The Isle, Happy End).
* official English title not yet available
Joint Security Area has biggest opening ever
The political drama Joint Security Area, released on Chusok weekend in early September, has turned in the biggest opening in Korean film history. In its first week it drew 460,000 viewers in Seoul, breaking both the domestic record set by Tell Me Something in 1999 (300,000 viewers), and the all-time record set earlier this year by Mission: Impossible 2 (400,000). The following weekend it set a one-day attendance record with 104,000 tickets in Seoul. It passed the one- and two-million admissions marks in considerably less time than box-office champ Shiri did in 1999, and as of this writing it has passed Titanic to become Korea's second-best selling film of all time.
Apart from selling so many tickets, Joint Security Area (or JSA for short) has become somewhat of a national phenomenon. Directed by Park Chan-wook, the film portrays a shooting incident in the truce village of Panmunjom between North and South Korea. Sandwiched between the June 15 summit between North and South Korea and the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Kim Dae Jung, the release of this film has captured South Koreans' yearnings for reconciliation with the North. In late October, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed an interest in seeing the film, and he was promptly sent a print.
Ironically, JSA's chances of becoming the best-selling film in Korean history may be hampered by the current craze for domestic films. Whereas Shiri enjoyed a 17-week run in theaters in early 1999, JSA is likely to be pushed off screens by the release of two other highly-anticipated Korean blockbusters on November 11, Libera Me and The Legend of Gingko.
The 5th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF)
This year's Pusan International Film Festival opened on October 6th with the screening of Indian director Buddhadeb Dasgupta's feature The Wrestlers. Featuring 208 films from 55 countries, the festival drew 180,000 spectators, including a record 2000 foreign guests. The mood at the festival was lively as always, with crowds of predominantly young female viewers packing theaters for films of all types. Although the festival seemed to suffer from a higher number of technical problems than usual (ticketing and projection being the main culprits), in general the event received high praise from those who attended. Wong Kar-wai's much-anticipated In the Mood for Love (which sold out in 8 minutes) screened as the closing film on October 14.
In only its fifth edition, PIFF is now being referred to by many publications as the most important film festival in Asia. Apart from providing Koreans a chance to see films that would otherwise never reach the territory, the festival boasts two key strengths to those in the film industry: its Asian programming (outside of Korea) and the quickly-growing Pusan Promotion Plan (see article below). The festival is becoming a key event for film industry professionals who wish to bring Asian films to the rest of the world.
The Korean films screened at the festival drew forth a very mixed response from the foreign press. Although Chunhyang and The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors received mostly positive reviews from most writers, the general opinion was that the quality of Korean features had dropped compared to previous years. This may be partly due to the festival's Korean programming, as the Korean Panorama section focused more on overlooked films than those which received the highest critical acclaim. Conspicuously absent from the category were several films invited to other major international film festivals, such as Happy End (Cannes), The Isle (Venice), Barking Dogs Never Bite (San Sebastian), Memento Mori (Stockholm), and The Foul King (Toronto).
The festival had hoped to screen a selection of North Korean films at this year's event, but despite an expressed interest from North Korea, the section was not able to be assembled in time for this year's event. This section will reportedly be a top priority for next year's festival.
For an extensive collection of news reports and information, visit the festival's homepage at http://www.piff.org.
Awards presented at the 5th PIFF: New Currents Award - The Day I Became a Woman, Marziyeh Meshkini (Iran); FIPRESCI Award - Sunflower, Yukisada Isao (Japan); Special Mention, FIPRESCI Award - Tears, Im Sang-soo (Korea); PSB (Audience) Award - Die Bad, Ryoo Seung-wan (Korea); NETPAC Award - Chunhyang, Im Kwon-taek (Korea); Sonje Fund (Best Korean Short) - Bardo, Yoon Yong-ho; Woonpa Fund (Best Korean Documentary) - Sky-Blue Hometown, Kim So-young.
The 3rd Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP)
One of the key events at the Pusan Film Festival is a special three-day "pre-market" for Asian films, modeled after its partner, the Rotterdam International Film Festival's Cinemart. Each year the festival showcases a select number of Asian film projects in the development or production stages, giving out cash awards and also providing an opportunity for these filmmakers to meet with prospective financiers. Over the past three years, many Asian filmmakers have found the money they need to complete their films and introduce them at film festivals around the world.
This year's PPP featured 22 projects from 11 different countries, featuring some of Asia's most talented directors, including Tsai Ming-liang, Yu Lik-wai, Clara Law, Iwai Shunji, Harada Masato, Shaji Karun, Jang Sun-woo, and Zhang Yuan. An estimated 250 formal meetings took place between these filmmakers and such companies as Warner Bros., Miramax, France's Canal Plus, and Japan's NHK.
The top award at the event, sponsored by the City of Pusan, was split between Chinese writer-director Lou Ye's The Summer Palace and Hong Kong director Yu Lik-wai's Pusan Story. Other awarded projects include Park Kwang-su's The Trigger, Song Il-gon's The Knife, Clara Law's The Mechanical Bird, Zhang Ming's Weekend Plot and Muramato Taishi's Mask de 41. More important than the awards, however, was the opportunity shared by all participants to meet with companies and vie for international co-financing.
Perhaps the biggest indication of PPP's effectiveness is the success currently being enjoyed by many of the market's past selections. Such films include Jafar Pahani's The Circle (Iran), which won the top prize at this year's Venice Film Festival; Fruit Chan's Little Cheung (Hong Kong), which won a Silver Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival; and Platform by Zhang Ke, which won the NETPAC Award at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. In all seven former PPP projects screened at this year's PIFF.
Hong Kong filmmakers coming to Korea
With Korean cinema drawing increasing media exposure in Asia and worldwide, several actors from Hong Kong have signed on to star in upcoming Korean films. The first to do so was actor/singer Leon Lai, who will take the lead role in an action film (Korean title 'Chun-sa-mong') set for a release in early 2001. Lai has developed a close relationship with Korea over the years, and many of his films such as Comrades, Almost a Love Story and City of Glass have performed well at the box office. Lai will be performing the role in Korean, but his lines may be dubbed for the theatrical release. Another Hong Kong star involved in a current production is Zhang Ziyi, best known for playing the younger heroine in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Zhang will take the female lead opposite Korean heartthrob Chung Woo-sung in the highly anticipated The Warriors, a period piece set in China which is currently in the shooting stage.
Recently news has also surfaced that popular young actress Cecilia Cheung (Fly Me to Polaris, Twelve Nights) will make a Korean film. Cheung, who earlier this year become the first non-Korean to model for a local cosmetics firm, will play the role of a Chinese-Korean immigrant in a film that is still in developmental stages. Actor Choi Min-shik (Shiri, Happy End) has been rumored as a co-star.
Not to be outdone by their acting cousins, Hong Kong directors have also lept into the fray. Apart from filmmakers Wong Kar-wai and Jackie Chan (see Newsletter #6), arthouse directors Fruit Chan and Yu Lik-wai have also announced projects that will be filmed partly or wholly in Korea. Fruit Chan's Public Toilet W. C. compares Korea's efforts to upgrade public restrooms with the bathroom culture in Japan, China, Hong Kong and the U.S. It is being shot on digital video and financed by Korean company DigitalNEGA. Pusan Story by Daniel Yu Lik-wai (Love Will Tear Us Apart) centers around an adoptee who returns to Korea to search for her biological parents. This project, which is still in early stages of development, was co-winner of a $20,000 prize sponsored by the City of Pusan and awarded at this year's PPP (Pusan Promotion Plan).
New film magazine debuts
Two new Korean-language film magazines have joined the already vibrant market for publications on Korean film. Titled Cinebus and Film 2.0, respectively, the new weeklies hope to develop into major rivals for the currently top-ranked film weekly Cine21. Debuting on September 2, Cinebus boasts a host of features including new releases, weekly box-office figures, essays, actor profiles, and sections devoted to film news from Korea, Japan, China (including HK and Taiwan), Europe and Hollywood. The magazine also has a website at http://www.cinebus.com. Film 2.0 debuted in October and features a website with news, profiles, essays, and special television-style webcasts at http://www.film2.co.kr. With the new entries, Korea now publishes three weekly film magazines (Film 2.0, Cinebus, Cine21) and four monthlies (Kino, Screen, Premiere, and Nega).
Chunhyang to represent Korea in nominations for Foreign Language Film Oscar
Im Kwon-taek's acclaimed Chunhyang has been selected to represent South Korea in the competition for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2001 Academy Awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stipulates that each country may choose one film to be considered for the award. All nominees are then screened for a panel of judges before five finalists are nominated and announced in February.
The selection of this film was made by the Korean Film Commission after lobbying by the film's U.S. distributor, Lot 47. Chunhyang is scheduled to open in a wide number of territories in the coming months, including France (Nov. 22, under the title "Le chant de la fidèle Chunhyang"), Japan (mid-December), the United States (Jan. 5), Brazil, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Argentina, and Germany. Sales to several other Asian territories are pending as well.
Awards at international film festivals
*** The Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, directed by Hong Sang-soo, was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 2000 Tokyo International Film Festival. Apart from winning the second-most prestigious award at the festival, the film also was given a Special Mention by the jury of the Asian Film Award.
*** Lee Myung-se's 1999 feature Nowhere to Hide was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2000 Fukuoka Asian Film Festival in Japan, which ran from July 2-9 (not to be confused with the Fukuoka International Film Festival held in September). Park Joong-hoon also received Best Actor honors from the festival. In addition, Lee Young-jae's Harmonium in My Memory (1999) was one of two films to be awarded a Special Mention.
*** Attack the Gas Station by Kim Sang-jin was winner of the Audience Prize at the 2000 Fantasia International Film Festival, which was held from July 13-31 in Montreal.
*** Eraser Wrestling, a short film by Min Dong-hyun, took home the second prize in the Giffoni International Film Festival for young people, held in Italy. A jury composed of children and teenagers chose the prizes.
*** Lee Seok-hoon's short film For the Peace of All Mankind was given a Special Jury Citation at the 51st Montecatini International Short Film Festival, held this past July in Italy.
*** Where Have You Been? by Kim Jin-sung was also awarded second prize in the non-student, over 15 minute category of the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films held this August in California. The festival featured over 250 short films from 30 countries.
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 more information about ordering these films, and a full list of subtitled Korean films on home video, visit http://koreanfilm.org/subtitles.html.
Shiri (1999). The best-selling Korean movie of all time. On DVD with English and Chinese subtitles. From Edko Video in Hong Kong. This disc is marked as Region 3, but it has been confirmed as working in all regions.
Christmas in August (1998). Starring Han Suk-kyu and Shim Eun-ha. On DVD with English and Chinese subtitles. From Edko Video in Hong Kong. This disc is marked as Region 3, but it has been confirmed as working in all regions.
Real Fiction (2000). Directed by Kim Ki-duk. On DVD with English subtitles. All regions.
The Pyongyang Circus in Seoul (2000). A performance of the Pyongyang Circus on their visit to Seoul in early 2000. With English, Japanese, and Chinese subtitles. All regions.
Korean film releases abroad
Three Korean films are scheduled to open in North American theaters in the coming months. Jang Sun-woo's controversial Lies is scheduled to be the first, debuting on November 17. Distribution company Cowboy Booking International is coordinating the release. Nowhere to Hide by Lee Myung-se will follow on December 22 (initially in New York and Los Angeles) with Lion's Gate Releasing handling the film. These two films will join Chunhyang (Jan. 5) in forming an unprecedented trio of Korean releases in U.S./Canadian territory, all within the space of two months.
In Japan, Jang Sun-woo's 1997 feature Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie opened in September, followed by the release of Peppermint Candy on October 21. The latter in particular received strong critical reviews. Star actress Shim Eun-ha also visited the country in October to promote two of her works which are opening in early November: Tell Me Something (Nov. 4) and Art Museum by the Zoo (Nov. 11). Other recent releases include: The Taebaek Mountains by Im Kwon-taek (Oct. 28), Green Fish by Lee Chang-dong (Nov. 4), The Soul Guardians by Park Kwang-chun (Nov. 4), and Lee Kwangmo's Spring in My Hometown (Nov. 11). At the Tokyo International Film Festival, meanwhile, the much-anticipated The Legend of Gingko produced by Kang Je-gyu made its worldwide premiere.
Korean films are also returning to Hong Kong after an absence of several months. Attack the Gas Station (1999) opened on November 2 on nine screens throughout the city, and the fantasy swordplay movie Bichunmoo (2000) is scheduled to open in late November. For the marketing of Bichunmoo, the distributor is focusing especially on the star power of Kim Hee-sun, well-known to Hong Kong viewers through her television dramas. The film also recently opened in mainland China. In December, distributor Edko has plans to release Kim Jee-woon's The Foul King (2000).
Finally, in October Kang Je-gyu's Shiri (1999) made an impressive opening in Singapore, coming in at #2 at the local box office. In recent weeks the 1998 film Girls' Night Out was also given a Singapore release.
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.
HONG KONG: La Belle (2000); Plum Blossom (2000); Girls' Night Out (1998); Our Sunny Days (1999); Phantom, the Submarine (1999); The Contact (1997); A Nightmare (2000); Happy End (1999).
SINGAPORE: Phantom, the Submarine (1999); La Belle (2000); Fin de Siecle (1999).
INDONESIA: Phantom, the Submarine (1999); The Soul Guardians (1998); Dr. K (1999); Fin de Siecle (1999).
TAIWAN: Tell Me Something (1999).
THAILAND: La Belle (2000).
NETHERLANDS: Phantom, the Submarine (1999).
YUGOSLAVIA: Phantom, the Submarine (1999).
UNITED KINGDOM: The Isle (2000).
FRANCE: Peppermint Candy (2000); Tell Me Something (1999); The Isle (2000).
GREECE: Peppermint Candy (2000).
Special thanks to Yeon Hyeon-sook, Ryan Law, and Stephen Cremin (Asian Film Library Bulletin) for helping me compile this newsletter.
Personal note: I will be getting married this coming January 14 here in Seoul. Forgive me if I am less responsive to user email in the next couple months! - if you have a question, post it to the new discussion board at http://www.koreanfilm.org/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi. I will continue to update the site as much as I can.
November 8, 2000
Number of subscribers: 691
Back to Korean Film Page