The "new" Korean cinema.

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I was just thinking about starting a thread on new Korean films when there was a mention of them on the "obscure films" thread.

I don't know if there's really a "new wave" to be identified in Korea right now. The most interesting of the new films do have a lot in common stylistically and thematically, but they also tend to be somehow conservative in a way that doesn't really scream "vanguard." Still it's undeniable that far more Korean films are getting Western distribution, or making it to festival screens, than before. I wish I knew more about the phenomenon myself. I've seen a few films at festivals, and a few more thanks to eBay, where a number of recent Korean films are available on nice DVDs for realtively cheap. (Most are either Region 0 or Region 3.)

Some of the more interesting directors are Hong Sang-soo (The Power of Kangwon Province, The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, Turning Gate) and Hur Jin-ho (Christmas in August, One Fine Spring Day). Many of these exhibit the influence of Hou Hsiao-hsien--long takes, lots of quotidian details and silent pauses, camera pulled well back from the actors--, but often applied to more conventional storylines than in Hou's own films. You could almost call it an academicizing of the Hou style, i.e. a "Hou school." An emblematic film in this regard is Spring in My Hometown where a lot of the action is staged in *extreme* long shot.

Another really good one in a different (more conventional perhaps) style is Take Care of My Cat, which does coming-of-age better than any other recent film I can think of. It follows a few characters and the cross-cutting between their lives is very graceful and rich.

I still haven't seen Shiri, or indeed many of the more commercial Korean films that have been getting a lot of press. I'd be interested to know everyone's impressions of the films mentioned above or of any other's they've been able to see.

amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 19 May 2003 14:14 (seventeen years ago) link

One thing recent Korean movies have been doing well is taking the oft-maligned genre of romantic comedy and injecting it with healthy doses of naturalism and quiet visual panache; the results are often much more appealing than recent American attempts. The narrative structure often adheres close to the genre while the incidental details and visual presentation recalls either the Taiwanese new wave and/or neorealism. One Fine Spring Day is a magnificent example, but good too is My Sassy Girl (which is being remade in Hollywood--watch out!) which stars the lovely Jeon Ji-hyun; she's also in Il Mare, which I haven't seen. I hear Failan is really good.

amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 19 May 2003 14:51 (seventeen years ago) link

I didn't like Take Care of My Cat that much. Sure it was realistic, but also a bit dull; too much realism can be a bad thing too.

I'm not familiar with the directors you mention, but has anyone seen any films by Kim Ki-duk? He seems to be a highly original talent.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Monday, 19 May 2003 14:52 (seventeen years ago) link

injecting it with healthy doses of naturalism

Naturalism seems to be the key word; Kim Ki-duk is a prime example of this, but it is a word I'd also use for Take Care of My Cat, Attack the Gas Station, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Lies etc.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Monday, 19 May 2003 15:02 (seventeen years ago) link

I saw The Isle, and wasn't particularly moved one way or another.

slutsky (slutsky), Monday, 19 May 2003 15:38 (seventeen years ago) link

Tuomas, tell us more about those films you mention.

Is anyone here Korean?

amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 19 May 2003 21:27 (seventeen years ago) link

I thought Attack the Gas Station was Taiwanese? Anyway, I enjoyed it, it's fun, though I got the impression that some things were definitely getting lost in the translation (both linguistically and culturally).

Jordan (Jordan), Monday, 19 May 2003 22:42 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm 3% Korean!

The blockbuster stuff is as good as any film industry on the planet is producing at the moment, e.g. MUSA, the best Kurosawa rip-off in many a year. The art stuff I can't take - some flashes of style but no ideas behind them, e.g. Chunhyang which I mentioned in the "pictures I walked out of thread". The middle ground seems to be interesting, e.g. Il Mare, which definitely has ideas (mostly lame ones unfortunately) but more importantly succeeds on the "old-fashioned romance" level in a way that Hollywood films don't. I need to explore this middle ground more, though.

b.R.A.d. (Brad), Monday, 19 May 2003 23:57 (seventeen years ago) link

I suppose most of the films I mention occupy such a "middle ground," although Spring in My Home Town is probably farther on the "arty" side than the others (I didn't like it quite as much as some of the others I mentioned either). As for Chunhyang, I managed to miss both that and all of an Im Kwon-taek festival that took place in Chicago earlier this year. From the little I know of him, I understand he is of a much older generation of Korean filmmakers, who spent several decades churning out genre films until "graduating" to prestige pictures (historical epics, biopics, etc.) in the 1980s. A lot of critics and friends I trust have spoken very highly of his work. What did you dislike about Chunhyang?

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 00:10 (seventeen years ago) link

It was a traditional Korean musical = "let's hope no one notices how hackneyed the plot is, so we can fool them into thinking this gutturral smut is art music".

Jonathan Rosenbaum liked it though - it was very lushly shot if you like that sort of thing.

b.R.A.d. (Brad), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 01:02 (seventeen years ago) link

im 50% korean.

i really dislike the sentimentality that finds its way into lots of korean film/drama/music and media in general, always romantic longing or sweetness with autumn leaves and tepid pianos. im also not too down with the "wacky" sense of humor (ie: Foul King, My Sassy Girl).

ive found that i mostly like the pulpy horror/exploitation things that have been going on, 301/302, Phone, Memento Mori, The Isle (well, i was moved anyway). on the other hand i didn't think so much of Lies or Tell Me Something. admittedly i've long been a fan of the Japanese post-Ring horror and Miike/Tsukamoto/etc stuff so there may be a shared sensibility that's doing it.

maybe this is a sort of "middle ground"? or probably just a genre appreciation. Shiri and Chunhyang (as tenuous pop vs. arthouse sides) didn't hold my interest too well.

Honda (Honda), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 05:23 (seventeen years ago) link

Tuomas, tell us more about those films you mention.

Attack the Gas Station is a comedy about a bunch of stupid wannabe gangsta's, who try to rob a gas station and take the employees as hostages. It's a brutal and thrashy slapstick sort of a film, quite weird fo western tastes, but apparently it was a surprise hit in Korea.

Barking Dogs Never Bite is a subtle comedy about ordinary people and the pursuit of their ordinary dreams. It's both low-key and funny, and quite moving in a quiet sort of way.

Lies is the sort of art shit that's been criticized in this thread. It's about two sadomasochistic lovers who beat each other on the ass with big sticks. A curious film, but not worth the admission.

The Isle, of course, is the Korean sensation, at least for me it is. It's one of the most original and evocative films in years, I really can't understand how it could've left Slutsky unmoved. Also, it's not horror/exploitation as Honda, though it does have a couple of quite gruesome scenes. I guess you could call it an "art film", but it's not your typical pretentious art flick, since it's easy to understand and highly emotional. This review sums the film up neatly.

By the way, has anyone seen Peppermint Candy?

Tuomas (Tuomas), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 07:49 (seventeen years ago) link

Whoops, the last link was broken. Here's the link for The Isle review.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 07:51 (seventeen years ago) link

it's not horror/exploitation as Honda

As Honda said, obviously.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 07:53 (seventeen years ago) link

yeah that was lazy. i was gonna add a little blip about how it's a bit different than the "omg! fishhooks + sex!" kind of cursory reaction a lot people are giving it. it was a lot more elegant than i had suspected from reading press.

Honda (Honda), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 08:10 (seventeen years ago) link

I really liked Take Care Of My Cat - not overly sentimental, as said above really really good fem,ale coming of age drama (and the text messaging on screen was a real nod to modern life). As I said elsewhere I wasn't so keen on Shiri, possibly because its ridiculous sentimentality early on tipped the wink to its so called twist (which was then even more unconvincing). That said for a film with a plot not a million miles from The Dancer Upstairs it was more convincing on the love angle (possibly cos it was so soppy). The Isle still isn't out here though I've heard very good things.

Pete (Pete), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 08:46 (seventeen years ago) link


Jang Sun Woo's highly controversial film chronicles the bizarre sexual relations of a 38 year-old man, J, and an 18 year-old student, Y, who is intent on losing her virginity before graduation. After the initial encounter, they embark on a sexual odyssey toward the realms of obsession and sadomasochism. No common love affair, theirs tests the limits of both body and mind. Intense desires drive them into a relationship that revolves around pain, pleasure and unavoidable lies. As J's sexual needs take on addictive dimensions, Y begins to draw back. Insecurities, doubts and indiscretions begin to weigh on a love that once knew no limits... - From the Back Cover

There were a couple of things that will stick:
1) When the female protagonist is telling her story on the train to the camera and she glances shyly to the old lady to see if she is not listening
2) When the female protaganist is beaten up by her best friend and the crew cries cut, and the camera keeps rolling and the protagonist is in obious emotional distress
3) the shit/kiss scene

so I would say: worth the price of admission/rental but I do concede that the SM scenes failed to strike a chord

Jan Geerinck (jahsonic), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 10:01 (seventeen years ago) link

3) the shit/kiss scene

Classic lines from not so classic films, part IX: "Now I know you really love me. No one else would eat my shit."

Tuomas (Tuomas), Tuesday, 20 May 2003 14:11 (seventeen years ago) link

I loved The Quiet Family from a few years back, a black comedy reminiscent of Shallow Grave. Very funny / underrated.

I wasn't that blown away by Shiri at first (I think I was intially surprised by how 'Hollywood' it was), but I've grown to like it more and more over repeat viewings. The romantic stuff is a bit corny, but aside from that it's a great action movie.

I've got Symphony For Mr Vengeance and Die Bad on the way to me which I can't wait to see, have read good things about both.

Mil, Saturday, 31 May 2003 00:16 (seventeen years ago) link

Two words -- Volano High.

PVC (peeveecee), Saturday, 31 May 2003 01:17 (seventeen years ago) link

Volcano High that is,

PVC (peeveecee), Saturday, 31 May 2003 01:18 (seventeen years ago) link

Quiet Family was nice, but perhaps too low-key and slow. A black comedy shouldn't be afraid to go over the top.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Monday, 2 June 2003 09:08 (seventeen years ago) link

six months pass...
bump if anybody's still reading.

just saw Tale of Two Sisters and thought it was fantastic. manages to pull above the standard slow burn morose style that a lot of Asian horror is doing (though it too has long haired spooky girls). great macabre set design and multifaceted story/performances. next up, Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs.

i also liked Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance quite a bit as unrelentingly bleaks as it is. anybody see the My Wife is a Gangster films?

scissors (Honda), Tuesday, 9 December 2003 12:03 (seventeen years ago) link

Kim Ki-duk seems to be falling in the category of "directors that always disappoint you, but not enough to stop you from watching their films". After The Isle I've seen three other films of his ("Birdcage Inn", "Adress Unknown" and "Coast Guard"), none of which reached the same brilliance. They all have their share of good moments, but it seems Ki-duk has too much raw energy and too little coherence. His new film is supposed to be a peaceful, Buddhist vision instead of the usual everyday violence, I hope he'll come through with that...

Tuomas (Tuomas), Tuesday, 9 December 2003 15:04 (seventeen years ago) link

one month passes...
just a note to recommend "turning gate" aka "on the occasion of remembering the turning gate" to everyone

it's great

amateur!st (amateurist), Monday, 2 February 2004 22:32 (seventeen years ago) link

some of the least pointless graphic sex scenes ever

amateur!st (amateurist), Monday, 2 February 2004 22:32 (seventeen years ago) link

Funny how we think of those scenes as graphic -- they certainly are powerful scenes -- yet strict Korean censorship prohibits the display of pubic hair. We're seeing less, but it comes off as much more given the intensity of the scenes (especially the build up to them.)

Turning Gate is not only one of the best of the new Korean cinema, it is one of the greatest films I've seen in about ten years.

Come to think of it, ALL of Hong Sang-Soo's films are fantastic.

BabyBuddha (BabyBuddha), Monday, 2 February 2004 23:04 (seventeen years ago) link

i mean i was really impressed with how the particulars of the relationships between the characters were evident, and even developed, in the sex scenes. and it wouldn't have worked if the director had hedged and put them under covers, or shot it obliquely.

i was surprised honestly because i tend to think of asian cinemas, korea's especially, as notably chaste (even the japanese cinema if you except the subgenres of sadeian violence and sex, and of course porn) in what they can portray, but aside from the pubic hair thing, which is trivial as you note, these were some of the most forceful and almost discomfortingly realistic sex scenes i'd ever seen

amateur!st (amateurist), Tuesday, 3 February 2004 11:13 (seventeen years ago) link

four years pass...

Woman on the Beach out on DVD today.

Dr Morbius, Tuesday, 30 December 2008 15:08 (twelve years ago) link

ten years pass...

= o

longtime caller, first time listener (man alive), Saturday, 30 November 2019 03:02 (one year ago) link

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