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Features Live Action Movies

House Of Hummingbird (Beol-Sae, 벌새)

Director – Kim Bora – 2018 – South Korea – 138m

***1/2

A teenage girl in Seoul, Korea, 1994, comes to terms with life on a number of levels – personal, family, social, political – plays in Korean Film Nights (KFN) Summer Nights at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) on Saturday, June 11th

Seoul, South Korea, 1994. Less than ten years since South Korea has become a democracy. The year of the Winter Olympics, the death of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and the Seongsu Bridge collapse. The latter incident will leave its mark on some characters here.

Teenager Eun-hee’s mum and dad (Jung In-gi and Lee Seung-yeon) run a small food store, sourcing “only the finest ingredients”. On occasion, they deliver to other suppliers and the whole family is roped in to make sure the orders are prepped and sent out on time. They are fiercely proud parents who want only the best for their kids. The best, as they understand it, is doing well in the school and university system, presumably with the idea of getting a well-paid job afterwards.

This message is reinforced by her school. A male teacher has the girls chant, “I will go to / Seoul National University / instead of karaoke”.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The House Of Us (Woori-Jip, 우리집)

Director – Yoon Ge-eun – 2019 – South Korea – 92m

***1/2

Prepubescent girl forms a surrogate family, as she watches the relationship between her parents collapse – plays in Korean Film Nights (KFN) Summer Nights at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) on Thursday, June 9th – free admission

Eleven-year-old Lee Hana (Kim Na-yeon) watches her mum and dad argue. The family should be having breakfast, but instead mum finds ways to berate dad every time he opens his mouth. She has a brother, but doesn’t get on with him especially well. When she gets to school, Hana is as surprised as anyone else that she’s won the Good Classmate Award. Her dad is really pleased. But what she really wants is for her parents to get their relationship back on track. To this end, throughout the narrative, she keeps proposing a family trip to the seaside. But her mum is way too busy with her demanding job to spare a weekend any time soon.

One day in the supermarket, Hana observes nine-year-old Yoo-mi (Kim Shi-a) and her seven-year-old younger sister Yoo-jin (Joo Ye-rim). They seem to be happy as sisters: perhaps their family life is better than hers.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Escape From Mogadishu (Mogadisyu, 모가디슈)

Director – Ryu Seung-wan – 2021 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 121m

****

In the early 1990s, besieged North and South Korean officials join forces to escape from the Somali capital as it descends into lawlessness – out in cinemas and VoD platforms on Friday, March 25th

In 1990, both North and South Korea have yet to have a seat at the United Nations. With many of those seats and hence the UN’s votes being held by African nations, influence in Africa is seen as the key to obtaining a seat. In Somalia, both sides are keen to ingratiate themselves with the ruling Barre military regime in Mogadishu, the capital, with a great deal of subterfuge and hostility between the two rival Korean factions.

However, the regime, which has held power for twenty years, is in trouble. (Barre would be ousted in 1991). As the capital becomes a war zone with government troops fighting rebel militias, the city descends into lawlessness and both sets of Korean representatives need to get out.

If you want a wider picture of the political realities of how all this came to pass in Somalia, this film is not the pace to come. The clue is in the title: this is a Korean movie about Koreans having to depart a politically unstable country, and after some skullduggery at the start in which the car of South Korea’s Ambassador Han (Kim Yoon-seok from The Fortress, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017; 1987 When The Day Comes, Jang Joon-Hwan, 2017) is raided by bandits on its way to a meeting with President Barre the Southerners have taken months to set up, causing them to run to the meeting on foot and arrive 15 minutes late only to find the President can’t see them because he has another meeting immediately afterwards – with North Korea’s Ambassador Rim (Huh Joon-ho from Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018) who unbeknown to the Southerners hired the local bandits.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi, 아가씨)

Director – Park Chan-wook – 2016 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 155m

****1/2

Available on BFI Player from Friday, March 18th

Weighing in at a lengthy two and a half hours, this lavish, sexually-explicit, South Korean pot-boiler is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, but moves the location from Victorian England to Japanese colonial-era Korea.

Waters’ tale concerns a conman’s plot to marry and then defraud a wealthy English heiress by confining her to an asylum. He bribes a young London pickpocket (the titular ‘fingersmith’) to take on a job as the wealthy lady’s maid, hoping to get her to persuade the woman to marry him. However, his plan falls apart when the two women fall for each other.

When director Park Chan-wook discovered the BBC had already made a 2005 miniseries, he transposed the plot to 1930s Korea (a Japanese colony at the time), co-writing his script with regular female collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong. Broadly speaking, it substitutes well-off Japanese for well-off English, and Koreans for everyone else. The print being released in UK cinemas helpfully subtitles Japanese dialogue in yellow and Korean dialogue in white… [Read the rest]

Reviewed for All The Anime.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Battle At Lake Changjin II aka Water Gate Bridge (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖之水门桥)

Director – Tsui Hark – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 153m

**

Ill-considered sequel to box office barnstorming, Chinese war movie fails to match the emotional engagement and excitement of the original – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

After the exciting and energetic original, this sequel is a disappointment. It has the same expertise of CG special effects as its predecessor. However the cast is cut down, many of the memorable characters having died heroically in the first film, and there’s no attempt to replace them. Similarly, the spectacular locations are fewer in number because there’s no journey from home through different regions, so this has a smaller geographical palette to play with.

The cast of characters issue would be easy enough to fix within the war genre: members of a military unit die, others come to the fore to replace them in the vacuum created. But no, here all we get are People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 7th Company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and his younger brother Wu Wanli (Jackson Lee) and no real attempt to further develop their relationship under fire. The two characters are just there, and the audience is expected to carry over their emotional investment from the first film without the second one providing any reason for doing so.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dear Pyongyang

Director – Yang Yong-hi – 2005 – Japan – 107m

****

The return of a Japanese-Korean woman’s brothers to North Korea, encouraged by her parents, causes her considerable grief over the years – online in the UK as part of Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) from Monday, January 17th to Sunday, February 6th, 2022.

The Zainichi are ethnic Koreans living in Japan. When that latter country was divided into North and South Korea, the Japanese required Koreans to designate themselves accordingly. Thus, they were forced to choose one side or the other and it reinforced their identity either way. From 1959 onwards, some 90 000 North Koreans returned from Japan to Korea in full expectation that it would be only a matter of time before North and South were reunited as a single nation once again. That still hadn’t come to pass by the time this documentary was completed, and it still hasn’t today some 15 years on.

As a six-year-old, Yang Yong-hi watched her three older brothers get on a one-way boat trip to North Korea, the country her dad designated their Fatherland. However, it wasn’t the world in which they – or she – had grown up. She was born in the Japanese town of Tsuruhashi where a quarter of the population was Korean.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Finding Angel (Cheonsaneun Baileoseu, 천사는 바이러스)

Director – Kim Seong-jun – 2021 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

Who is the mysterious so-called ‘Angel’ who every Christmas delivers a box containing a large sum of money to a needy local resident of a small, rural town? – out in cinemas on Friday, November 26th

For the last seventeen years at Christmas, the ‘Faceless Angel’ has visited the town of Rohsong in Jeonju City, South Korea to leave a box containing money for a local person in need. Last year, an old woman received the money she needed for a knee operation. Who this person might actually be has remained a mystery, but the locals are glad the Angel is there doing what he or she is doing.

Wishing to solve the mystery and with the journalist’s scent of a good story, newspaperman Kim Ji-hoon (Park Sung-il from Samjin Company English Class, Lee Jong-pil, 2020) arrives in the town in December as the temperature plummets. He makes enquiries at the town office but the girl on the front desk (Lee Ga-kyung) stonewalls him. His attempts at talking to the townspeople don’t get him very far until he talks to old Miss Ok-bun (Moon Sook) about renting a room and she promptly puts him up in her freezing upstairs bedroom.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Microhabitat (So-gong-nyeo, 소공녀)

Director – Jeon Go-woon – 2017 – South Korea – 106m

****1/2

The price has gone up. Yet again! A woman who wants nothing more from life than to be able to enjoy whisky and smoking enacts a radical plan to combat everyday inflation – on MUBI from Thursday, November 25th as part of their New South Korean Cinema season.

Miso (Lee Som aka Esom), whose name in Korean means both ‘smile’ and ‘micro’, lives in a small, one room, unheated apartment in Seoul. So cold in fact that when she and her boyfriend Hansol (Ahn Jae-hong) start peeling off multiple layers of clothing in the middle of winter that she’s given up by the time she’s down to her slip. It’ll have to wait ’til the Spring.

Having enough money is a constant struggle, but she’s shrewd and always puts aside enough for basic outgoings like food and rent as well as pleasures like smoking and whisky every month. When her landlord tells her the rent is going up, because his landlord is putting his rent up and he needs to pass some of the increase on to his tenants, she realises she’s going to have to cut something.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Lucky Chan-sil (Chansilineun Bokdo Manhji, 찬실이는 복도 많지)

Director – Kim Cho-hee – 2019 – South Korea – 95m

****

When a film director she’s worked for over several years dies, his film producer has to rethink her life – currently streaming on MUBI as part of their New South Korean Cinema season

Director Ji (Seo Sang-won), his fortysomething producer Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum) and three or four others are drinking Soju round a table after a hard day’s work on the set. Suddenly, Ji slumps forward. Everyone thinks he’s kidding. He’s not. He’s dead. Unexpectedly dead. Ji makes little independent films in his own highly idiosyncratic style. If he’s no longer there, then the film, too, is dead. And Chan-sil, who has only worked with him, is suddenly out of a job.

With her regular income gone, she downsizes and moves into a cheap flat owned by an ageing live-in landlady (Youn Yuh-jung). It’s near the top of a hill, so other members of the abandoned film production help her carry stuff up there. She sees a lot of her flighty actress friend Sophie (Yeung Soon-ah) for whom she now goes to work as a cleaner. These changes of circumstance give her the both the space and the opportunity to reassess her life.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness (Hebeun: Haengbokeui Nararo, 행복의 나라로)

Director – Im Sang-soo – 2021 – South Korea – 101m

*****

A meds thief on the verge of arrest and an escaped convict inadvertently steal money from gangsters closing gala with a director Q&A as part of a strand of films celebrating actress Youn Yuh-jung at LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which ran in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

The sexual frankness of director Im’s earlier A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003) and The Housemaid (2010) is absent from his latest, a producer-suggested project more lightweight than his usual fare which nevertheless achieves a degree of poignancy. Its template is the German film Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Thomas Jahn, 1997) in which two terminally ill men steal a car so that one of them can visit the sea before he dies, the car unfortunately belonging to a gangster and carrying a quantity of cash in the boot.

Writing his own script around this loose premise, Im makes the man who wants to see the sea a convict, inmate 203 (Choi Min-sik from The Tiger, Park Hoon-jung, 2015; Lucy, Luc Besson, 2014; New World, Park Hoon-jung, 2013; Lady Vengeance, Park Chan Wook, 2005), sent to the hospital for an MRI scan where it’s discovered he has a brain tumour and two weeks to live.… Read the rest