Special Focus: The Lives of Korean Women through the Eyes of Women Directors
This is an exciting moment for women behind the camera. Globally, the focus is on female filmmakers: who they are; what they are achieving; and how there can be more. This panel brings together two of Korea’s most exciting women directors, 21st century rising star Lee Kyoung-mi, whose second film The Truth Beneath opens this year’s festival, and Yim Soon-rye, whose nine-film career bridges the millennial divide, from her first film Sechinku (1996) to the upcoming Little Forest. Joining them will be a leading light in new British cinema, to compare, contrast and converse about the changing opportunities and challenges, pleasures and risks, for women in national and international film industries, as the space opens up to tell more – and more varied and complex – stories.
“Compared to all other Asian countries, Korean female directors are considered to be the most active,” writes Anchalee Chaiworaporn in The Celluloid Ceiling, and our speakers will discuss how this came to be and what has changed since Park Nam-ok became the first Korean female feature filmmaker in 1955 with The Widow. Yim documented her own generation of female filmmakers – and the pioneers who went before them – in Keeping The Vision Alive, and we will talk about the importance of state funding, film schools, independent cinema, women’s film festivals and programming strands, and the changes in gender politics and film technologies that are shaping how we see the lives of women through the eyes of Korean and international women directors.
CHAIR: Chris Berry - Professor of Film Studies at King’s College
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 ERA Films, award-winning writer.
Hye Young Cho - Programmer of Seoul International Women's Film Festival
Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 16 4:30 pm
From handball stars to pearl divers and factory workers to art students, from young friends at a loss to a refugee mother in love, this year’s festival has a wide range of Korean women’s lives on view, in films by female directors from the 1950s to the present day. On this panel we’ll ask who these characters are, how they are portrayed, and what changes when there are women behind the camera as well as in front of it – in Korean cinema, and inter- nationally. We’ll hear from scholars, critics and programmers, and get into the rich detail of diverse representations, as we talk about seeing age, class, ethnicity, sexuality and ability as well as gender on screen.
According to the Geena Davis Institute and UN Women, in the 21st century popular Korean cinema is way ahead for its representation of women. 36% of its speaking characters are female, and 50% of films have female leads or co-leads, who are less sexualised than the global norm. The portrayal of working women is closer to numbers in the real world in Korean film than in many other national film cultures, and also portrayed the highest percentage globally of female characters working in STEM jobs. Come and get behind the numbers with our expert panel: talk about your favourite (or least favourite) character, discover new films and stories, and take part in a wide-ranging conversation about what we’ve seen on screen – and what we still want to see.
CHAIR: Sophie Mayer - Feminist film activist and the author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema
Lee Kyoung-mi - Director (The Truth Beneath, Crush and Blush)
Yim Soon-rye - Director (Forever the Moment, Waikiki Brothers)
Jane Gull - Director (My Feral Heart, Sunny Boy)
Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 16 6:00 pm
1955. Directed by Park Nam-ok , starring Lee Min-ja, Tackyun, Choi Nam-hyun, Yu Gye-seon, Na Ae-sim , 75 mins.
The Widow belongs to a different world. The fact that Park Nam-ok’s intimate, hand-crafted contribution is now more highly regarded than most films of the mid-1950s – and that despite a lost ending – is due to both the down-to-earth treatment of one contemporary widow’s life and to aspects of a ‘primitive’ style. Park was the first woman director to produce a feature film, and she seems to have managed it at times with a baby on her back.
The widow Min-ja is one of many thousands of Korea War widows. She refuses to follow the Confucian codes and remain ever loyal to her husband’s memory; she meets a young man and she wants him. Neither does she immolate her desires in the role of mother: she parks her daughter in the countryside when the little girl threatens to antagonise the boyfriend. Park Nam-ok’s story resists the pull of melodrama. Her style of shooting can seem uncertain, but consider the scene of Min-ja getting dressed to go out. We watch Min-ja watching herself in the mirror, guided by a director’s female gaze. A rare hint of a way of filming not to be recovered for a long, long time.
Regent Street Cinema, 06 Nov 16 11:30 am
2001. Directed by Yim Soon-rye , 51 mins.
This film by acclaimed New Wave director Yim Soon-rye is the perfect complement to this year’s LKFF focus on women independent filmmakers. The film encourages the possibility for an alternative history of Korean cinema as told by the women working in film. The vision being kept alive is that of filmmakers like Park Nam-ok, who with her film The Widow from 1955, paved the way for other independent women filmmakers. The film combines excerpts of films with interviews with contemporary feature and documentary directors such as Byun Young-joo and Jang Hee-sun who speak openly about their own experiences and their endurance in a male dominated and conservative industry.
British Museum, 10 Nov 16 3:30 am
2001. Directed by Jeong Jae-eun , starring Bae Doo-na, Lee Yo-won, Ok Ji-young, Lee Eun-sil & Lee Eun-ju , 112 mins.
A coming of age film that portrays the lives of five female friends as they make the transition from a vocational high school to the adult world. With few options available to them, they face harsh realities regardless of their aspirations and capabilities, which also test their friendship. Virtually ignored when first released, director Jeong Jae-eun’s debut feature offers a rare picture of how young South Korean women think, what they worry about, and how they interact and enjoy themselves. In its episodic and nondramatic mode, the film celebrates these young women – marginalised, vulnerable, yet independent and spirited – and their friendship.
Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 16 8:00 pm
2002. Directed by Lee Jeong-hyang , starring Yoo Seung-ho, Kim Eul-boon , 87 mins.
A single mother brings her seven-year-old son, Sang-woo, to a remote village in order for him to spend some time with his mute grandmother as she tries to find a new job. Accustomed to city life, Sang-woo at first finds difficulty adjusting; he prefers fried chicken to the Korean traditional chicken soup that his grandmother prepares. The boy slowly immerses himself in the environment, as he opens himself up to his grandmother. In this humanistic film, director Lee brings out the natural performances of both then child actor Yoo Seung-ho, and non-professional actor, Kim Ul-boon, who plays the grandmother. This poetic tribute to the mother of all mothers would inevitably lead one to look back to one’s own relationship with their own mother.
Regent Street Cinema, 08 Nov 16 8:45 pm
2007. Directed by Yim Soon-rye , starring Moon So-ri, Kim Jung-eun, Kim Ji-young, Cho Eun-ji, Uhm Tae-woong , 124 mins.
A popular box-office hit, the film dramatizes a real event – the Korean women’s hand-ball team’s winning the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Han Mi-sook (Moon So-ri) and Kim Hye-kyung (Kim Jung-eun), whose golden days have passed, join the national handball team with Song Jung-ran (Kim Ji-young) and Oh Soo-hui (Cho Eun-ji). They struggle to keep up their physical condition and handle the generation gap within the team. They also have to deal with various personal issues as middle aged women (‘ajumma’- a degrading term for middle aged women) – such as family finances, child-care, and social discrimination against divorced women. The film invests much time in letting the audience empathize with the ‘ajumma’ characters, which leads us to experience their joy and frustration in the last minutes as if they are our own.
Regent Street Cinema, 06 Nov 16 1:00 pm
2008. Directed by Lee Kyoung-mi , starring Kong Hyo-jin, Lee Jong-hyeuk, Seo Woo, Hwangwoo Seul-hye , 100 mins.
Lee Kyoung-mi worked with Park Chan-wook as a scripter on Lady Vengeance (2005), before debuting with this quirky comedy in which Park himself makes a cameo. A coming-of-age film for adults, Russian language teacher Mi-sook suffers from uncontrollable hot flushes. Assigned to teach English, Mi-sook becomes colleagues with her first love from high school, Jong-cheol, who is having an affair with a young, attractive female colleague. Jong-cheol’s daughter Jong-hee then teams up with Mi-sook, fearing her parents’ divorce. No better than her student when it comes to self-esteem, Mi-sook forges an interesting relationship with Jong-hee as the director dwells on what it means to be the object of another's affection.
Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 16 2:00 pm
2009. Directed by Park Chan-ok , starring Lee Sun-kyun, Seo Woo , 111 mins.
Having already turned heads with Jealousy Is my Middle Name, a dark workplace drama with echoes of Hong Sangsoo, who she previously worked as an assistant director for, Park Chan-ok returned with the devastating and altogether different drama Paju in 2009. Featuring a show-stopping lead performance from Seo woo, who can also be seen in Crush and Blush, the film paints a grim but gripping portrait of a society in the midst of tearing itself apart through alacritous and avaricious modernisation. Though heavy-going, the film’s limpid themes and smouldering staging highlighted Park’s manifold talents behind the camera.
Regent Street Cinema, 07 Nov 16 8:30 pm
2011. Directed by Byun Young-joo , starring Lee Sun-kyun, Kim Min-hee, Cho Seung-ha , 117 mins.
Kim Min-hee, the star of Right Now, Wrong Then and The Handmaiden, wasn’t always seen as a serious actress, but that changed following her revelatory turn in Byun Young-joo’s Helpless. Kim plays a fiancé who suddenly disappears on the way to meet her boyfriend’s parents. Thinking she has been kidnapped, he tirelessly searches for her, but eventually begins to uncover her surprising secrets. Though filled with mystery and filmed with panache, the power of Helpless is its devotion to character, which turns the conundrum of the missing woman’s circumstances into an emotional and fascinating journey.
Odeon Camden, 12 Nov 16 4:00 pm
2014. Directed by Boo Ji-young , starring Yum Jung-ah, Kim Young-ae, Moon Jeong-hee, Kim Kang-woo, Do Kyung-soo , 103 mins.
Probably the very first Korean commercial film to confront the issue of non-regular temporary labour. The film is directed by Boo Ji-young whose previous films – Sisters on the Road (2009) and Moonwalk (2011) – include interesting takes on gender and sexual politics. The story is largely based on the 2007 E-land Home-ever non-regular workers’ strike. Having worked in The Mart for five years, Hye-mi (Yum Jung-ah), a breadwinner for her family, has been promised promotion to a permanent job for her excellent performance. Out of the blue, all the female non-regular workers in the place, receive an SMS message informing them of the termination of their contracts. Seon-hui (Moon Jeong-hee) proposes setting up a labour union and Hye-mi, reluctantly accepts a supporting role. The development of subsequent events may appear clichéd yet, the brilliant acting of the cast, in particular, Yeom Jeong-a, and the cinematography – lighting and location filming – light up a graceful glow in the darkness of the world in which we live.
Picturehouse Central, 13 Nov 16 4:00 pm
2015. Directed by Kim Soo-jung , starring Jang Liu, Jin Yong-uk, Park Byeong-chul , 111 mins.
In a world where self-worth is determined by wealth, Park Seoyoung (Jang Liu) is a woman in debt. After being fired from her supermarket job for deceiving customers, she pressures her sick mother to disappear in a bid to save money on hospital fees. The corruption continues when Seoyoung befriends troublemakers at her new workplace and consorts with a morally-questionable monk. Meanwhile, her disabled brother, Youngjun (Jin Yong-uk) struggles in his attempts to find a wife and further his career. Winner of the ‘Excellent Picture Award’ at the ‘Seoul Independent Film Festival 2015’, director Kim Soo-jung shows the absurd and pitiful lives of two outcast siblings, irredeemably bound by blood.
Picturehouse Central, 13 Nov 16 6:00 pm
2015. Directed by Lee Hyun-ju , starring Lee Sang-hee, Ryu Sun-young , 99 mins.
Yoon-ju is an introverted but promising fine art student, working on her graduation exhibition. While searching for materials for her project in a junk shop, she notices Ji-soo, a beautiful young woman. Another chance meeting at a convenience store draws the two women together, and they start a relationship. Although younger, Ji-soo is confident and more experienced, whilst the novice Yoon-ju is consumed by her love and desire, and starts to neglect her artwork. Capturing the nuances of emotional processes, the film depicts the romance between two women that is not so different from any other love story despite its added challenges.
Picturehouse Central, 13 Nov 16 8:15 pm