London Korean Film Festival Wraps 11th Edition

by Pierce Conran

News category: Blog

Women’s Focus Generates Strong Discussion

The 11th edition of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) wrapped in the British capital on November 17th with a screening of Hong Sang-soo’s new arthouse film Yourself and Yours. Meanwhile, the festival is still taking place through a roadshow that has seen it bring Korean titles all across England, hitting locations in Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham, as well as in Glasgow in Scotland and Belfast in Northern Ireland. This year’s event will reach its final stop in Belfast, when it screens LEE Kyoung-mi’s The Truth Beneath, the festival’s opening film, on November 27th.

This year’s LKFF welcomed a number of notable figures from the Korean film scene as it screened an even mix of commercial hits and acclaimed independent and documentary titles, as well as older films across its various strands. In addition to its annual focus on arthouse cinema, documentary and animation, the festival staged a special focus titled ‘The Lives of Korean Women through the Eyes of Women Directors’, which explored a number of pertinent issues facing contemporary Korean society as well as its film industry.

Stars on the Stage

A longtime supporter of the film festival from afar, it was my pleasure to attend the festivities for the very first time this year. Put on annually by the Korean Cultural Center UK (KCCUK), supported by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC - Chairman, Kim Sae-hoon) and sponsored by Asiana Airlines and Corinthia Hotels among others, the London Korean Film Festival has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and is now at the forefront of both a surge of Korean film festivals around the globe and a growing tide of interest in Korean culture in the United Kingdom.

First up this year was the Opening Gala, which took place on November 3rd at the Picturehouse Central theater within London’s Soho district, right around the corner from Piccadilly Circus. On a brisk Thursday evening with a familiar light scattering of raindrops, a packed house took in the screening of Lee Kyoung-mi’s thriller The Truth Beneath. In town for the opening ceremony as well as a screening of her debut Crush And Blush (2008) and a series of forums held in conjunction with the Women Directors focus, director Lee took to the stage for a chat with noted Asian film critic and LKFF programmer Tony Rayns following the screening.

Also attending the opening were film director Kim Sung-soo, producer Han Jae-duk and actor Jung Woo-sung, who were all in town to support the UK premiere of their dark new thriller Asura: The City of Madness. Prior to their screening on Friday, the director and star, who have now worked together four times (following Beat, City of The Rising Sun and Musa-The Warrior), took part in a special masterclass in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) campus.

Having the distinct pleasure of moderating the session, I was able to ask the pair about their work together, as well as their separate career paths, and what led them to embark on their latest collaboration. Students in attendance were barely able to contain their excitement, particularly anytime superstar JUNG addressed the crowd.

Women Directors and the Masters from Korea

Saturday’s focus shifted to the Women Directors program, with a pair of panels put on for festival visitors. The first was a forum entitled ‘Crushing It: Women Behind the Camera’. Moderating the session was Chris Berry, a professor of Film Studies at King’s College, while the featured participants were director LEE Kyoung-mi, director YIM Soon-rye, who was in town to present her women’s handball film Forever The Moment (2008) and Jane Gull, director of My Feral Heart and Sunny Boy.

The second panel of the day, bearing the title ‘Take Care of My Sisters: Representing Women on Screen’, was moderated by Sophie Mayer, a feminist film activist and the author of ‘Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema’ and featured Maria Cabrera, curator and co-founder of Reel Good Film Club, Tara Judah, critic, broadcaster and film programmer, Dr. Preti Taneja, research fellow, co-founder of ERA Films, award-winning writer, and Cho Hye-young, programmer of the Seoul International Women's Film Festival.

In addition to the talks, the program screened several important women’s films of contemporary Korean cinema, including Jeong Jae-eun’s Take Care Of My Cat (2001), Lee Jeong-hyang’s The Way Home (2002), Park Chan-ok’s Paju (2009), Byun Young-joo’s Helpless (2012), Boo Ji-young’s Cart (2014) and Lee Hyun-ju’s Our Love Story. The films and the panels served to shed a light on the role of women in Korean cinema, an industry with a higher-than-average number of lead and speaking roles for women, while disproportionately few of the directors of commercial films are women.

Sunday was dominated by another very special guest receiving a retrospective at this year’s LKFF. Baek Yoon-sik, who returned to Korean cinema after a decades-long absence with the off-the-wall cult classic Save the Green Planet (2003), took part in a Q&A following a screening of IM Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money (2012) and also introduced the evening show of his recent hit Inside Men, in which he played an influential and devious newspaper editor-in-chief. Other films in his retro included The Big Swindle (2004) and The Art Of Fighting (2006).

Invited for this year’s ‘Classics’ program, Tuesday welcomed the arrival of esteemed 1980s’ filmmaker Lee Jang-ho. A subversive yet commercially successful director during a difficult time of Korea’s modern history, Lee took part in Q&A sessions for his classics Good Windy Day (1980) and The Man with Three Coffins (1987). Also screened was his 1985 period romp Eoh Wu-dong.

Filling out the festival program were several titles in the ‘Indie Firepower’ lineup curated by Tony Rayns, including Park Hong-min’s films A Fish (2013) and Alone, while LKFF also presented programs on ‘Documentaries’, including Im Heung-soon’s Factory Complex (2015) and ‘Animation’, such as Yeon Sang-ho’s Seoul Station, a prequel to the smash zombie thriller Train to Busan.

This article was reprinted with the kind permission of the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

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