Special Focus: A Century of Korean Cinema
With a selection of films that helped change the cinematic landscape of Korea, the London Korean
Film Festival (LKFF) returns for its 14th instalment with a celebration of 100 years of the silver screen.
Director: Yun Yong-gyu
Cast: Byun Ki-jong, Yu Min, Yeo Heon-Yong, Choi Eun-hee
Cert U, 76mins, 1949
A Hometown of the Heart had been a successful play before this beautiful film version brought it to a wider public. Korean mother-worship is nicely blended with reverence for the maternal Bodhisattva Kwanseeom. The visual lyricism and innocence of this tale seem all the more fragile when you consider that within some five months the country would be convulsed by war. Ironically, or just sadly, director Yun Yong-gyu - who was forced to leave for North Korea when Seoul was invaded, went on to make some of the first Korean War films in the North.
Close-up Film Centre, 08 Nov 2019 8:00 pm
Director: Lee Kang-cheon
Cast: Noh Gyeong-hui, Lee Yea-chun, Kim Jin-kyu, Heo Chang-kang
Cert U, 110mins, 1955
Piagol was one of only 15 films released in 1955. Hindsight suggests this year as the beginning of a Golden Age, at least a remarkable decade and a half, for film in South Korea. While the best-known products of the post-Korean War cinema would be predominantly melodramas and/or period films, Piagol attempted something more challenging: a historically informed, though still anti-communist, representation of leftist partisan fighters left stranded in the South after the main phase of the war ended in stalemate and the Armistice of July 1953 confirmed the bloody status quo.
Close-up Film Centre, 09 Nov 2019 8:00 pm
Director: Shin Sang-ok
Cast: Choi Eun-hee, Kim Hak, Jo Hae-won, Gang Seon-hui
Cert 15, 86mins, 1958
Shin Sang-ok had a prolific career, with more than 100 producer and 70 director credits to his name, earning him the nickname ‘The Prince of South Korean Cinema’. His 1958 classic The Flower In Hell thrilled audiences with its bold aesthetics, its mixing of genres, and its incorporation of documentary footage. Throughout the film, Shin draws attention to the relationships that working class Koreans had with US soldiers, refusing to shy away from the dark side of 1950s Korean society.
Rio Cinema, 09 Nov 2019 3:30 pm
Director: Kang Dae-jin
Cast: Kim Seung-ho, Shin Young-Kyun, Hwang Jung-Seun, Jo Mi-ryeong
Cert 18, 97mins, 1961
From the moment of its release in 1961, A Coachman became a milestone in Korean cinema, the first film from the country to win a major award at an international film festival – Berlin’s Silver Bear Extraordinary Jury Prize. Even without these accolades the film would be a landmark, an apparently simple story of endless nuance and panoramic breadth.
Picturehouse Central, 12 Nov 2019 6:45 pm
Director: Yu Hyun-mok
Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Choi Moo-ryong, Seo Ae-ja, Kim Hye-jeong
Cert 18, 112mins, 1961
Aimless Bullet is Yu Hyun-mok’s most exemplary work and a key piece of Korean realist cinema. The film captures the collective anxiety of post-war Korea through clerk Cheol-ho and his family. A commercial failure upon its initial release, it was soon banned by the military government, finally receiving its due recognition when presented at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1963. Since then the film has gained legendary status in Korea as a classic awaiting rediscovery.
Picturehouse Central, 13 Nov 2019 6:30 pm
Director: Hong Eun-Won
Cast: Moon Jung-suk, Kim Seung-ho, Yu Gye-seon, Um Aing-ran
Cert 12, 85mins, 1962
“I will defend her to the end!” Heo Jin-suk, the titular protagonist of Hong Eun-won’s first film – and only the second Korean feature by a woman director – is defending her mother-in-law who has confessed to murder, but she could be speaking for all women’s rights.
Close-up Film Centre, 10 Nov 2019 8:00 pm
Director: Kim Soo-yong
Cast: Kim Seung-ho, Hwang Jung-seun, Shin Seong-il, Kim Ji-mee
Cert 18, 83mins, 1963
Bloodline is set in a divided Korea and unfolds in Seoul’s Haebangchon district, where many of those displaced from North Korea have settled. The film follows an indigent widower (Kim Seong-ho) who gets by working as a housing agent, and his son (Shin Seong-il), who uses every trick in the book to earn some extra cash. Living next to them is the breadwinner (Shin Young-kyun) of a family of four, who, though his job as a litter picker barely gives him enough to live on, must support his ailing wife, elderly mother and disabled daughter.
This screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Kim Soo-yong.
Regent Street Cinema, 03 Nov 2019 2:00 pm
Director: Kim Ki-young
Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Ju Jeung-ryu, Kim Bo-ae, Kim Dong-won
Cert 18, 87mins, 1963
Goryeojang is a term used to describe the mythical custom of abandoning one’s parents in the mountains once they reach old age. Kim Ki-young’s 1963 film of the same name is set in a famine-ravaged village that practises this custom; the film explores a variety of characters and their struggle for survival. The central character of the film is Gu-ryeong. Permanently injured as the result of a childhood accident, he endures ceaseless insults and ostracism. This makes for uncomfortable viewing for a contemporary audience, yet Kim does not shy away from the brutal and grotesque side of human nature, embracing it with typical black humour.
ICA London, 05 Nov 2019 6:15 pm
Director: Lee Man-hee
Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Jung-suk, Bang Seong-ja, Jeong Ae-ran
Cert 18, 110mins, 1964
Kim Ki-young showed in The Housemaid (1960) that in the hands of a master of suspense a stairway could take on a malevolent life of its own. Lee Man-hee’s atmospheric noir has two. Kim Jin-kyu often played sober, middle-class professionals, men born to wear suits. In this psycho-thriller the respectability of his Dr Hyeon will be peeled away from him layer by painful layer.
Picturehouse Central, 13 Nov 2019 9:20 pm
Director: Lee Man-hee
Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Jung-suk, Kim Chung-chul, Lee Yong
Cert 18, 91mins, 1967
Homebound (1967), alongside Full Autumn (1966) and A Day Off (1968), is known as one of Lee Man-hee’s masterpieces of melodrama. Lee is known for being a director who does not use the spaces in his films as mere locations, but instead as devices to portray the psychological state of his characters, or to communicate awareness of the film’s overall theme. Lee contrasts the silence, broken simply by the sound of footsteps on the stairs at the two-story mansion in Incheon, and the streets of the city of Seoul overflowing with the sounds of people and car horns. He uses this to effectively depict Ji-yeon both as a wife responding to societal expectations, and as an agent of desire.
Regent Street Cinema, 02 Nov 2019 7:30 pm
Director: Lee Man-hee
Cast: Shin Seong-il, Ji Yun-seong, Kim Seong-ok, Kim Sun-cheol
Cert 15, 74mins, 1968
Seoul. Winter. Sunday. One fairly dodgy-looking young man, one pregnant young woman, and a pack of cigarettes. From this raw material Lee Man-hee, the most imaginative and visually inventive director of Korea’s 1960s and 70s, made a black-and-white masterpiece.
Regent Street Cinema, 02 Nov 2019 2:00 pm
Director: Kim Ki-young
Cast: Lee Hwa-si, Kim Chung-chul, Park Jung-ja, Park Am
Cert 18, 110mins, 1977
This is an extinction rebellion! Ieoh Island, Kim Ki-young’s third film with his young star Lee Hwa-si, is justly hailed as the most bizarre Korean film of all time, for its shamanic necrophilia, foggy island of women divers and cursed men, flashbacks-within-flashbacks, and lots of dead fish. Kim’s trademark horror combines his psychosexual drama with a parable of pollution that could not feel more timely.
ICA London, 12 Nov 2019 6:15 pm
Director: Park Chul-soo
Cast: Choi Myoung-gil, Lee Young-ha, Park Jung-ja, Seo Kap-sook
Cert 18, 115mins, 1986
Through this mundane-sounding, anti-melodramatic tale, Park Chul-soo constructs an image of a whole generation of young, middle-class Korean women who, by the decade of the 1980s, were facing challenges unknown to most of their mothers: how to succeed in higher education, enter the world of work and at the same time maintain roles as wife and mother. Choi Myung-kil gives an understated performance as a young woman who will finally make the most difficult decision of her life.
Rio Cinema, 03 Nov 2019 3:30 pm
Director: Im Kwon-taek
Cast: Kim Ji-mee, Ahn So-young, Myeong Hui, Lee Hye-young
Cert 18, 108mins, 1986
Min Ji-sok (Kim Ji-mee) is the no-nonsense owner of a cafe in the tough port town Sokcho. Her ‘girls’ serve more than tea or coffee, if a male customer purchases the right ticket. Ji-sok has just taken on three new girls: the experienced but ditzy Miss Yang, tough cookie Miss Hong, and the innocent Miss Yun. Against the background of their sorrows and moments of happiness, we learn the story of how Ji-sok herself ended up in dead-end Sokcho.
Regent Street Cinema, 06 Nov 2019 6:20 pm
Director: Lee Jang-ho
Cast: Lee Bo-hee, Kim Myung-kon, Ko Seol-bong, Chu Seok-yang
Cert 18, 105mins, 1987
This complex, beautiful and puzzling film is Lee Jang-ho’s most accomplished literary adaptation, transforming the uncanny fiction of Lee Je-ha into a visually haunting classic. Lee Bo-hee plays the wife, in flashbacks, then reappears as a part-time prostitute and also as a nurse taking a dying old man on his own impossible trajectory North. This is a very Korean – therefore universal – story of divided selves and sundered nations. The final shamanic rite by the riverside is one of the most mysterious scenes in Korean cinema.
Picturehouse Central, 10 Nov 2019 9:15 pm
Director: Jang Sun-woo
Cast: Ahn Sung-Ki, Lee Hye-Young, Choe Bong, Jeong Bu-mi
Cert 18, 112mins, 1988
A year after the release of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) with its sardonic credo of “greed is good”, director Jang Sun-woo unveiled what looks three decades on like the Korean response – a vivid, madcap comedy of corporate intrigue and naked self-advancement. The stage is the bland office of Seoul food manufacturer, Yumi, its corridors stalked by the ambitious Kim Pan-chok (Ahn Sung-ki), a salesman with a gift for self-promotion and a fierce devotion to a macho, militaristic form of capitalist endeavour: “Sleep More Than Four Hours, You’re Doomed,” reads a poster on his bedroom wall.
Regent Street Cinema, 04 Nov 2019 8:40 pm
Director: Bae Yong-kyoon
Cast: Lee Pan-Yong, Sin Won-sop, Hwang Hae-jin, Go Su-Myeong
Cert U, 175mins, 1989
Bae Yong-kyoon devoted years to the making of this remarkable film. He produced, directed, lighted, photographed and edited it: he, did at least, have some help with the haunting soundtrack. The sheer visual beauty and mystery of the mountain setting, creatures – a jay, a young cow – who seem to attend the little boy, water rushing over uncannily smooth river rocks: all this suggests a kind of animated mandara meant to take us into deeper contact with life and death, being and non-being.
KCCUK, 11 Nov 2019 7:00 pm
Director: Chung Ji-young
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Choi Jin-sil, Choi Min-soo, Lee Hye-young
Cert 12, 157mins, 1990
Lee Tae (Ahn Sung-ki), a travelling correspondent for the North Korean news agency, finds himself plunged into battle as the tide begins to turn against Kim Il-sung’s army and partisan auxiliaries fighting in the South. Long after he has traded in pen for rifle, he and his comrades will experience small victories, but they are gradually overwhelmed by the merciless forces arrayed against them – including the remorseless Korean winter.
This screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Chung Ji-young.
Regent Street Cinema, 02 Nov 2019 3:45 pm
Director: Park Kwang-Su
Cast: Moon Sung-keun, Hong Kyung-in, Kim Seon-jai, Lee Joo-sil
Cert 15, 96mins, 1995
Long before the box office titans Taxi Driver (1976) and 1987: When the Day Comes (2017), Korean New Wave filmmaker Park Kwang-su made the seminal Korean protest drama A Single Spark. Released in 1995, the film offers two narratives: the true story of young textile factory worker Jeon Tae-il, who became an activist for workers’ rights and famously set himself ablaze for his beliefs in 1970; and the partly fictionalised efforts of another activist, who five years later tries to commit Jeon Tae-il’s tale to the page, all the while evading capture.
Regent Street Cinema, 04 Nov 2019 6:30 pm
Director: Hong Sangsoo
Cast: Kim Eui-Sung, Park Jin-sung, Cho Eun-sook, Lee Eung-kyeong
Cert 18, 117mins, 1996
Never released in the UK, LKFF regular Hong Sangsoo’s debut heralded a striking new international voice back in 1996. Here, Hong follows four people in their 30s through the streets of Seoul. Disillusionment slowly takes hold of this 80s generation who fought for political freedom, only to now find themselves adrift in an unrecognisable brave new world.
Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 2019 6:30 pm
Director: Lim Soon-rye
Cast: Hyun-sung, Lee Jang-won, Jeong Hui-Seok, Kim Hwa-yeong
Cert 15, 92mins, 1996
The first feature from one of the most celebrated women directors from South Korea, Lim Soon-rye, is a melancholic and insightful coming-of-age tale which captures perfectly the lives of average twenty-year-olds living in Seoul in the late 1990s. Lim, whose most recent work Little Forest (2018) was presented at the LKFF last year, portrays the three boys with remarkable warmth and humour without falling into sentimentality. Although there are plenty of laughs to be had in Three Friends, the underlying uncertainty that these young men face in their transition to adulthood echoes the plight of many young people more than two decades on from the film’s release.
Rio Cinema, 10 Nov 2019 3:30 pm
Director: Chang Younhyun
Cast: Han Seok-kyu, Jeon Do-yeon, Chu Sang-mi, Kim Tae-woo
Cert 15, 107mins, 1997
A radio producer, stoic and mysterious as played by Han Seok-kyu, and a telemarketer, played to genial perfection by Jeon, are both hurting from failed or unrequited love, and through an LP of Velvet Underground sent to the producer’s show station, they begin a series of online chats, growing close, sharing their woes, and eventually something more. This classic tale of missed connections and the slow ebbs and flows of emotion comes to life under the sure hand of director Chang Younhyun, who guides a camera that is frequently on the move, compositions that highlight reflections and chasms between characters and subtly powerful sound effects, all under Lou Reed’s dulcet tones on Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’.
This screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Chang Younhyun.
Regent Street Cinema, 03 Nov 2019 7:20 pm
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Moon So-ri, Kim Yeo-jin
Cert 18, 129mins, 1999
"I am going back!" declares Kim Yong-ho (Sul Kyung-gu) at the beginning of Peppermint Candy, as he stands on a rail bridge, his arms outstretched for an oncoming train. Made just before the new millennium, Lee Chang-dong's second feature also goes back, anticipating the inverted chronology of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), Gaspar Noë's Irréversible (2002) and François Ozon's 5x2 (2004) through a series of receding flashbacks that trace five periods in this suicide's life, right back to the doomed promise of his youth.
Regent Street Cinema, 03 Nov 2019 4:30 pm