Special Focus: Korean Noir, Illuminating the Dark Side of Society

Black Hair + Introduction by Huh Moonyung

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Film info

1964. Directed by Lee Man-hee , starring Moon Jung-suk, Jang Dong-hwi, Cert 18 , 105 mins.

Yeon-shil is the loyal mistress of gang boss Dong-il. In trying to hide her shame – the fact that she had been raped by a violent drug addict – she only compounds her plight. One of Dong-il’s men shows him a compromising photo of her being again attacked by the man who was blackmailing her. Her punishment is to have a broken bottle slashed across her face. Disfigured and abandoned, Yeon-shil lives with her assailant and sells herself on the streets. A swirl of black hair pulled across her once lovely face struggles to mask the emblem of a shame she never deserved.

A world where it is always night-time, grim men roam dark underpasses and tunnels with violence in mind, and a gang boss broods in a grimy basement storeroom; the Seoul of Lee Man-hee’s noir masterpiece seems partly realistic yet, despite its melodramatic touches, a weirdly abstract subterranean nightmare.

Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 2017 12:00 pm

The Last Witness + Q&A w/ Director Lee Doo-yong

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Film info

1980. Directed by Lee Doo-yong , starring Hah Myung-joong, Jung Yoon-hee, Choi Bool-am, Cert 18 , 158 mins.

Detective Oh Byeong-ho goes searching for the murderer of Yang Dal-su. Someone has bludgeoned small-time brewer Yang to death by a quiet riverside: no witnesses, no apparent motive. As lone-wolf Oh wanders about the winter landscape of South Jeolla Province and Seoul, he finds himself caught in a story of treachery, rape and murder. It all goes back to Yang’s role as leader of an anti-Communist militia that hunted down a desperate band of northern guerrillas in the final days of the Korean War.

Based on a crime novel by Kim Seong-jong, the film tries to pack nearly all of the book into its extended running time. Dramatic camera angles and off-kilter framing added to the rapid cutting style generate considerable energy. This style also creates a kind of perceptual anxiety which seems to reflect the growing emotional turmoil of our guide into the labyrinth, detective Oh.

Regent Street Cinema, 04 Nov 2017 2:00 pm

Masterclass with Kim Hyungkoo + Dead End screening

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Film info

1993. Directed by Kim Sung-soo , starring Kim Gi-ho, Lee Du-il, An Eun-mi, Cert 18 , 19 mins.

Renowned cinematographer Kim Hyungkoo will speak about his experience of working in the Korean film industry for the past 25 years. Kim studied at the American Film Institute and went on to work with some of the most critically acclaimed auteurs from Korea, including Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sangsoo and Lee Chang-dong. This event will also include a screening of Kim Sung-soo’s Dead End (1993) in its rarely seen original print. Kim's versatility behind the camera has enabled him to work on projects which employ different visual styles and directorial approaches, from the hyperactive Beat, to the naturalistic On the Beach at Night Alone.

Birkbeck Cinema, 28 Oct 2017 6:00 pm

The Rules of the Game

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Film info

1994. Directed by Jang Hyun-soo , starring Park Joong-hoon, Lee Gyoung-young, Oh Yeon-soo, Cert 18 , 109 mins.

From its big-synth opening chords you know you’re in for a bit of an early 90s treat, whether it’s the conman with a Filofax or sleazy shots of fishnet tights. In this world of boxy suits and hair scrunchies, a small-town thug travels to Seoul with the intention of joining the most violent and feared of the mobster gangs. As he struts the streets winding everyone up with absurd braggadocio, there is violence but it reads as stagey and camp, and indeed the main pleasure of this film is its absurdity and period charm – especially when you realise that the reference points are 1930s Hollywood meshed with 1980s TV. Lead actor Park Joong-hoon is something of a national treasure in South Korea and has been tipped for a starring role in the forthcoming season of local TV hit Bad Guys.

KCCUK, 30 Oct 2017 7:00 pm

Green Fish + Introduction by Roger Clarke

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Film info

1997. Directed by Lee Chang-dong , starring Han Suk-kyu, Shim Hye-jin, Cert 18 , 114 mins.

In 1997 Lee Chang-dong wrote and directed Green Fish. At the time, it was simply the debut film of an established novelist, but we now know that it also heralded the arrival of a very significant film-maker. Han Suk-kyu is 26 year-old Makdong, a young man discharged from the military, who, rootless and unsure, becomes involved in the grubby life of a Seoul gangster. The nearest thing the director ever did to a genre film, Lee’s rare and sophisticated sensibility is already in evidence, as is his ability to find a striking image, deploy a fluid use of camera, and, most of all, get the best performances possible out of his actors. There are many who regard Lee as South Korea’s greatest living director, and since this is a relatively rare screening in the UK, you should run, not walk, to see it.

Regent Street Cinema, 06 Nov 2017 9:10 pm

Nowhere to Hide + Introduction by Dr Kate Taylor-Jones

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Film info

2017. Directed by Lee Myung-se , starring Park Joong-hoon, Ahn Sung-ki, Jang Dong-gun, Cert 12A , 112 mins.

A detective investigates the murder of a drug boss in this highly stylised violent actioner that saw director Lee Myung-Se, in America at least, marketed as Seoul’s answer to Hong Kong’s John Woo. It has been cited as an influence on The Matrix. This is the period in South Korean cinema where directors were gleefully using every trick in the technical playbook - and what the film lacks in narrative cohesion it more than makes up for in extravagant style.  After this genre masterwork Lee spent four years in America unsuccessfully trying to put together an English-language debut. It never happened, and his career never quite recovered. Taking place over 72 days often in the pouring rain, this is a police procedural with an all-too familiar cop duo, taking a prime Western slab of noir and slathering it with gochujang.

Regent Street Cinema, 04 Nov 2017 8:30 pm

Kilimanjaro + Q&A with the Director Oh Seung-uk

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Film info

2000. Directed by Oh Seung-uk , starring Park Sin-yang, Ahn Sung-ki, Cert 18 , 108 mins.

Released in 2000 when many renowned Korean directors such as Park Chan-wook and Ryoo Seung-wan began to make their mark, Oh Seung-uk’s Kilimanjaro remains a little-seen but highly accomplished feature debut, made fourteen years before his second and most recent film The Shameless. Set in the seaside town of Jumunjin on Korea’s East coast, it stars Park Shin-yang both as the detective Hae-shik, and as  his identical twin brother, the gangster Hae-chul. Suspended for not properly investigating the killing of Hae-chul’s wife and child, Hae-shik returns to his hometown with the ashes of his brother. There, mistaken for the late Hae-chul, he is sought after by a local gang. Also starring veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki, Oh’s noir feature is an engrossing tale about the perpetual nature of violence.

Regent Street Cinema, 04 Nov 2017 5:30 pm

Die Bad + Introduction by Victor Fan

Die Bad
Film info

2000. Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan , starring Ryoo Seung-wan, Park Sung-bin, Ryoo Seung-bum, Cert 18 , 96 mins.

Action-maestro Ryoo Seung-wan launched onto the Korean cinema scene in 2000 with this sensational debut that was made on a budget of just 65 million won (£45,000) over a period of three years as four short films that were then woven together. In these four different parts, the film follows how the lives of two young men - Suk-hwan (played by Ryoo) and Sung-bin (Park Sung-bin) - change when Sung-bin accidentally kills another student in a brawl in a billiard room. Sung-bin spends seven years in jail, and is then sucked into the criminal underworld, while Suk-whan becomes a cop. Bristling with energy and full of Ryoo’s kinetic flare, Die Bad is a gritty but immensely gripping film about the challenges faced by youth and the deadly spiral many find themselves in.

Regent Street Cinema, 03 Nov 2017 8:50 pm

A Bittersweet Life

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Film info

2006. Directed by Kim Jee-woon , starring Lee Byung-hun, Kim Young-cheol, Shin Min-a, Cert 18 , 120 mins.

"You can do 100 things right, but one mistake can destroy everything."

These words of gangster kingpin Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol) to his obedient enforcer Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) are imaginatively played out in Kim Jee-woon's follow-up to A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). Part aesthete, part thug, Sun-woo likes to drink bitter espresso, but sweetens it with a sugar cube. When he uncharacteristically falls in love with his boss' young girlfriend (Shin Min-a), his immaculately measured life comes apart at the seams, and a self emerges that is driven more by emotions. Ensuing scenes of messy rebirth and ultra-violent destruction serve to dramatise Sun-woo's inner conflict as much as internecine gangland struggles. This makes A Bittersweet Life a genre film that is as cerebral, psychological, even spiritual as it is viscerally thrilling, with untold depths reflected in the brilliant sheen of its surfaces.

KCCUK, 31 Oct 2017 7:00 pm

A Dirty Carnival

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Film info

2006. Directed by Yoo Ha , starring Zo In-sung, Lee Bo-young, Nam Koong-min, Cert 18 , 141 mins.

A fictional South Korean filmmaker taps the illicit life of a childhood friend for a successful gangster movie, and faces the consequences. The story of a low-level debt-collector who, faced with lack of funds and a sick mother, opportunistically murders his way up the greasy pole, the lead is played by Zo In-seong, one of Korea’s leading actors, who brings real conviction to the role.  Both domestically fraught and the epically blazing in equal measure, it covers ground from land-development corruption to the protagonist’s fragile courtship of a girl who works in a bookshop and hates his gangster lifestyle. Running long at 141 minutes, this is ultimately the story of a desperate man trying and failing to understand himself. Like the karaoke that dots the narrative, he is always singing someone else’s song.

Regent Street Cinema, 07 Nov 2017 6:30 pm

New World

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Film info

2013. Directed by Park Hoon-jung , starring Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Cert 18 , 134 mins.

The second directorial feature from Park Hoon-jung, the screenwriter behind The Unjust and I Saw the Devil, New World is a noirish gangster epic in which undercover cops and shady policemen plot from the shadows to gain control of Korea’s biggest crime syndicate, Goldmoon, when its CEO is killed in a suspicious car accident. With a succession crisis mounting, police chief Kang (Choi Min-sik) launches “Operation New World” in which he hopes to manoeuvre his long-term undercover agent, Lee Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae), into the top spot by taking out the two main factions led by flashy gangster Jung Chang (Hwang Jun-min) and the unscrupulous Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong). In this world of habitual double crossing and confused identities, no one can be trusted and the only certainty is betrayal.

Picturehouse Central, 29 Oct 2017 8:45 pm

Coin Locker Girl

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Film info

2015. Directed by Han Jun-hee , starring Kim Hye-soo, Kim Ko-eun, Cert 18 , 110 mins.

In this Incheon-based, super-saturated female crime melodrama from first time director Han Jun-Hee, veteran South Korean star Kim Hye-soo plays the psychotic crime-boss known as ‘Mom’ whose unsavoury trade includes organ-trafficking and loan-sharking. Former street kid Kim Ko-eun plays the tomboy protégée Il-young who suddenly turns soft and can’t bring herself to kill a trainee chef as commanded - much to Mom’s cold fury. With its violent and melancholic disposition, as well as the twists and turns of its themes of stolen childhood, traded bodies and soul-destroying vengeance Coin Locker Girl eschews Hollywood redemption themes for a determinedly unresolved conclusion. By the end we’ve been on quite the ride, which begins and more or less concludes in the station transit locker where Il-young was first found as an abandoned baby.

Phoenix, 05 Nov 2017 3:00 pm

The Merciless

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Film info

2017. Directed by Byun Sung-hyun , starring Sul Kyung-gu, Yim Si-wan, Cert 18 , 120 mins.

Opening with a conversation about food followed by sudden, murderous violence, and fracturing its chronology into separate timelines, this latest feature from Byun Sung-hyun owes a certain debt to Quentin Tarantino, but is also a moody neo-noir, all existential musings, rain-swept treachery and savagery just out of shot.

Whether inside prison or out, ruthless gangster Jae-ho (Sul Kyung-gu) and his new young protégé Hyun-su (Yim Si-wan) struggle to trust each other in a world of endless double-dealing and betrayal. "The events that unfold in your life usually come from behind," Jae-ho tells Hyun-su, "never from the front." These words certainly capture something of this character's constant guardedness - but they also slyly help convey the homoerotic subtext of a film that ends up being as much tragic love story as twisty thriller.

Regent Street Cinema, 03 Nov 2017 6:30 pm

Special Focus on Korean Noir Forum

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This very special event is composed of two panels, the first of which brings together two exciting guests. Eddie Muller, the ‘Czar of Noir’, will first sketch out the history and key elements of film noir while renowned film critic and programmer Huh Moonyung will present a number of key Korean films whose 'noirness' has generated critical debate. Following on from these introductions, curator, critic and filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht will moderate the discussion, interrogating the relationship between film noir and ‘Korean noir’.

In the second panel we will hear more from two Korean film directors whose work was included in the special noir programme this year: Lee Doo-yong (The Last Witness) and Oh Seung-uk (Kilimanjaro, Green Fish). Lee will talk us through his understanding of how Korea’s complex history relates to Korean noir film-making. We look forward to deepening our knowledge of Korean noir through sharing a conversation with two directors who have lived through different eras of Korean cinema. The discussion will be moderated by film critic Huh Moonyung.

Regent Street Cinema, 05 Nov 2017 2:30 pm

Masterclass with Director Lee Doo-yong

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Throughout his carreer, Lee Doo-yong's films have married artistic achievement with commerical success. He began with the key genre of 1960s ‘Golden Age’ of Korean cinema, melodrama, but soon moved onto taekwondo thrillers inspired by Hong Kong action cinema. Lee also contributed to the creation of new styles of historical drama, including the pastoral erotic genre, while later turning his hand to gritty 1980s versions of melodrama.

The Last Witness (1980), which we are screening at this year’s festival, may be his most powerful film. But others, such as the historical tragedy Spinning the Tales of Cruelty Towards Women (1983) or the witty and sexy Mulberry (1985), are just as highly regarded today. Our masterclass with Lee Doo-yong will be an opportunity to revisit some of the many highlights of his remarkable life and work.

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 03 Nov 2017 5:15 pm