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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
Director – Kim Hye-mi – 2021 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 77m
Discovering she is pregnant, a professional sports climber finds herself moving between alternate realities – playing tonight, Thursday, November 18th 9pm at Genesis Cinema, Mile End (book here) as part of LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
A baby in a womb. In her dream, Sy-hyeon (voice: Kim Min-ji) tells her partner Woo-in (Gu Ji-won) on waking, she was pregnant and had an injured foot and arm in casts. Worried about her weight, she skips breakfast and heads to the climbing wall at the gym. She is one of the coach’s (Bak Jugwang) two stars along with Ah-in (Park Song-yi), and he expects the two women between them to achieve first and second prize in this year’s climbing competition. Sy-hyeon has been first in the past, but she starts to worry whether Ah-in could take her crown.
After discovering in a drawer her old, mobile phone with the shattered screen from before she had the accident, Sy-hyeon starts to receive messages from her other self. One self is in good physical shape and training at the gym every day, the other is the pregnant one with the injured foot and arm sustained in a car accident, cloistered in an upstairs room in her partner’s mother’s house.… Read the rest
Director – Im Sang-soo – 2003 – South Korea – Cert. – 105m
Unsatisfactory family life in which fathers and mothers cheat on their wives and partners in search of a more fulfilling existence – screened 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 runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
Joo Ho-jeong (Moon So-ri) bemoans the fact that once you’re married, you get less sex than you did as a single woman. Judging by the opening sex scene, in which her husband comes prematurely leaving her to satisfy herself, she would probably be better off single. Still, she has a small son Soo-in (Jang Joon-yeong) to mother and a local dance classes to teach.
The relationship is not working for her husband Yeong-jak (Hwang Jung-min) either, given his full workload and the fact that he’s sleeping with his P.A. Kim Yeon (Baek Jong-rim). His mother Byung-han (Youn Yoh-jung), meanwhile, is watching her alcoholic husband die and enjoying a new lease of life with a new lover following a decade and a half with no sex.… Read the rest
Director – Im Sang-soo – 2010 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 110m
The husband of a well-heeled family has an affair with the new maid, arousing the ire of his loyal housekeeper and ruthless mother – screening on Wednesday, November 17th with a director Q&A as part of a strand of films celebrating actress Youn Yuh-jung (Best Supporting Actress, Minari) at LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th; the film is also showing on BFI Player subscription
It’s inevitable that a South Korean film with this title invites comparisons with Kim Ki-young’s 1960 film of the same name, a watershed in Korean cinema. Whatever its virtues, Im Sang-Soo’s film can’t similarly be a watershed. If it’s based on that film as its end credits claim, it abandons the original’s central thesis. The housemaid here is not a social climber intent on seducing the husband. Rather, the family are part of the pampered super-rich elite, a small girl Nami (Ahn Seo-hyun, star of Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017) who takes having a maid for granted, a heavily pregnant wife Hae-ra (Woo Seo) who thinks the difficulties of having to raise children yourself are “for common people” and a husband Hoon Go (Lee Jung-jae from TV mini-series Squid Game, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021) who, unable to get full sexual services from his pregnant wife, seeks his pleasures with the new maid Li Eun-yi (Jeon Do-youn) who appears, initially at least, somewhat uncomfortable with the idea, but then goes with the flow.… Read the rest
Director – Park Jung Bae – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 114m
A disparate group of tomb raiders attempt to outwit each other to find and obtain a valuable archaeological artifact in this lightweight, comedy caper – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
A grave hunter probing the earth with a cane-like tool hits an object several feet down. Putting his ear to the Earth, he hears a muffled child’s voice: “help me”. Horrified, he starts to dig the earth with his bare hands.
A strikingly graphic 2D-animated title sequence, in two-tone light ochre and black, with hands reaching out to one another through shafts of light, a boy crawling up an underground tunnel, a boy and girl reunited with an adult, a man crawling between multi-storey buildings by rope, high heeled female legs walking through a museum display of cultural artifacts, lots of modern urban imagery including driving a fast sports car through a city, lots of underground digging / mining imagery and a couple of male characters, one looking suspiciously like Indiana Jones, complete with hat and whip.
Burial alive is just one of the many disparate elements thrown together in this lightweight, comedy caper which combines historical Korean archaeology with grave robbing, double-cross, a super rich, big business villain, ruthless gangsters, Seoul locations, and a happy-go-lucky wheeler-dealer thief hero.… Read the rest
Director – Kim Cho-hee – 2016 – South Korea – 29m
A woman descends from the heavens in search of a mate, but lands in a forest where the pickings are slim – part of a strand of films celebrating actress Youn Yuh-jung at LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
The source of this plot is a folk tale known as The Fairy And The Woodcutter or The Heavenly Maiden And The Woodcutter. There seem to be a number of variants of the story – a good, much longer summation can be found here – but, broadly speaking, it concerns a woodcutter so poor that no woman will marry him. He lives alone with his mother. One day, he hides a deer from a hunter and in return, the deer offers to grant him a wish. He wishes to be married. The deer tells him of a pool to which beautiful maidens descend from the heavens to bathe. If he steals the clothes of one, she’ll be unable to return and he’ll be able to make her his wife. He must not, however, return her clothes until she has birthed three children, otherwise she will use her clothes to fly back to the heavens.… Read the rest
Directors – Jung Jae-ik, Seo Tae-soo – 2021 – South Korea – 97m
Recovering from an accident that’s left him disabled, an honest but naive man falls prey to both social welfare bureaucracy and scam artists – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
Jae-gi (Jo Min-sang) wakes up in hospital to discover that he’s lost the use of both his left arm and his body from the waist down. Much less disabled fellow patient Bong-su (Song Min-hyuck) assures him he’ll get level 1 or 2 social security assessment – Bong-su has got level 2. Watching his assessment interview, however, it’s clear Bong-su knows how to game the system in his favour, playing limbs as painful, so he can’t move them, not being able to walk even the occasional step. This contrasts with Jae-gi’s assessment, where he tries to be honest and shows everything he can do with maximum effort. This gets him assessed as a woefully inadequate level 5, which means in effect he can’t get the level of help he needs to live in a dignified manner.
His cousin Eun-ju (Han Tae-gyeong) is a single parent mum living in the flat Jae-gi’s mum left him.… Read the rest
Director – Lee Je-Yong – 2016 – South Korea – 111m
After visiting the doctor to discover, not entirely unexpectedly, that she has gonorrhea, elderly woman So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) witnesses his being stabbed by a woman claiming he’s her child’s father. In the ensuing chaos as the woman is taken away by police, she tells her son Min-ho (Choi Hyun-jun) to get away. Taking pity on him, So-young helps the boy evade the police and decides to look after him.
Her condition directly affects her work: prostitution. As she cheerfully tells upstairs landlady Tina (An A-zu), “no work today – the product is out of order.” However, that doesn’t stop her soliciting for blow jobs. The Bacchus of the title refers to an energy supplement, the supply of which is her cover for working at the oldest profession.
What does get in the way, though, is having to look after Min-ho. Sometimes she can get Tina to babysit, sometimes fellow tenant Do-Hoon (Yoon Kye-Sang), sometimes she must take him with her, leaving him on street corners or cheap hotel lobbies while she entertains clients.… Read the rest
Director – Kim Ki-young – 1971 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 98m
A married couple’s housemaid seduces the husband, ensnaring him in a love triangle from which there is no escape – 4K Restoration played at the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) (European Premiere) and screens again 6.30 at the ICA on Friday, November 5th book here as part of a strand dedicated to actress Youn Yuh-jung (Best Supporting Actress, Minari) at the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) which runs from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th
Kim Ki-young is probably better known for his breakthrough film The Housemaid (1960) than any other title. Not only did the film establish him as a maker of dark films about twisted relationships, it also inaugurated something of his trademark style. While a real watershed in Korean cinema generally and Kim’s career in particular, the material was something he felt he could do a lot more with: he remade it directly not once but twice as Woman Of Fire (1971) and Woman Of Fire ‘82 (1982). Where the highly effective original was shot in both black and white and the old 4:3 Academy format, the two remakes like many of his later films were both colour and scope, and made full use of both, giving them additional qualities lacking in the original.… Read the rest