Special Focus: A Slice of Everyday Life
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Baik Jong-hak, Oh Yoon-hong, Kim Yu-seok
Cert 18, 108mins, 1998
Hong’s second feature foreshadowed his ongoing characteristically complex, allusive and minimalist exploration of the perceptive gap between men and women. Jisook (Oh Yoon-hong), on a brief holiday in Kangwon with her girlfriends, has a fling with a married cop. Focus then shifts to a seemingly unconnected married professor Sangkwon (Baik Jong-hak), also visiting Kangwon with a friend. Gradually we realise the pair have a shared history which haunts both of them for different reasons. As Sangkwon moves through Jisook’s Kangwon, the film acts as a kind of palimpsest, gradually revealing the power these two ex-lovers continue to have over each other’s lives. A masterful, moving and audaciously structured exploration of subjectivity, memory and how men and women are perhaps at their most similar in their mutual inability to understand each other.
Regent Street Cinema, 08 Nov 2018 6:30 pm
Director: Hur Jin-ho
Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Shim Eun-ha
Cert 15, 97mins, 1998
Jung-won (Han Suk-kyu) lives with his widowed father and runs the small photo studio which he inherited. His daily routine consists of mundane tasks such as taking funeral headshot photos and developing photos of parking violations for traffic wardens. Darim (Shim Eun-ha) becomes a regular customer of the studio and the two slowly realise the special connection they have for each other. What Jung-won fails to tell her is that he is terminally ill.
This film is Hur Jin-ho’s directorial debut after having worked as assistant director for Park Kwang-soo on To The Starry Island (1993), and A Single Spark (1995). Hur was inspired to make the film when he saw the funeral picture of the late folk singer Kim Kwang-suk - his bravery in smiling in the face of death. Without resorting to the standard techniques of melodrama, Hur develops a compelling portrait of love, memory and death, shining a light on the poetry of seemingly mundane lives.
Phoenix, 04 Nov 2018 1:00 pm
Director: Park Chan-ok
Cast: Bae Jong-ok, Park Hae-il, Moon Sung-Keun
Cert 15, 125mins, 2002
South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-ok assembles some of the finest domestic names working today for her award-winning first feature Jealousy Is My Middle Name. Her debut follows Lee Won-sang (Park Hae-il), a heartbroken graduate student who finds himself writing for the married editor who recently wooed his girlfriend. It’s a confusing time for Lee - the kind of man who sings slow karaoke songs and brings you an orange when you’re hungover - and he soon finds himself strangely bonded to his editor (played by legendary actor Mun Sung-kun) instead of resenting him.However, when his new crush, chain-smoking photographer Park Seong-yeon (Bae Jong-ok) falls for the same editor, Lee is faced with the predicament of losing another key person in his life. Mentored by Hong Sangsoo, Park has echoed the auteur’s take on character drama with this subtle, soulful emotional study, anchored by an excellent cast.
Regent Street Cinema, 10 Nov 2018 2:00 pm
Director: Lee Yoon-ki
Cast: Kim Ji-soo, Hwang Jung-min
Cert 15, 99mins, 2004
What really goes on beneath the surface in other people’s lives? 20-something Jeong-hae (Kim Ji-soo) has an ordinary job in the local post office and is well liked among the staff but also remains something of an outsider. Typically quiet and efficient, perhaps the social ideal of graceful femininity, Jeong-hae’s days are filled with empty loneliness, performing the same monotonous tasks day in day out and spending evenings alone watching shopping TV. The decision to rescue a wounded kitten profoundly alters her sense of connection and even prompts her into pursuing a shy writer whose manuscripts she often mails, but her isolation shields a traumatic past that may prove difficult to escape. Lee’s debut feature is a masterful examination of hidden lives masked by a veneer of conventionality and of the various ways we each live privately, unknown even to those close to us.
Regent Street Cinema, 10 Nov 2018 4:30 pm
Director: Zhang Lu
Cast: Liu Lianji, Jin Bo, Zhu Guangxuan
Cert 18, 109mins, 2005
The summer heat shimmers over the plains of Northeast China when the grain is in ear, as the locals put it. Korean minority woman Cui’s husband is in jail. She survives by illegally selling kimchi from a flatbed tricycle, while the sex workers in the flat next door keep an eye on her little son, Chang-ho. A sympathetic Chinese cop offers to help her get a licence, and a male customer befriends her when they discover they are both from the Korean minority. But relying on the kindness of strangers is always a risky business.
Korean Chinese director Zhang Lu’s remarkable second feature pioneered the making of independent films in China about minority people by minority directors. Sleekly minimal, his perfectly controlled visual design makes you feel Cui’s restraint as she suffers in silence. But when betrayal pushes her beyond the limit, it suddenly shifts gears and the release is like a summer thunderstorm.
Regent Street Cinema, 10 Nov 2018 6:40 pm
Director: Kim So-yong
Cast: Kim Hee Yeon, Kim Song Hee, Lee Soo Ah
Cert U, 89mins, 2009
A pair of sisters learn to cope with the sudden absence of their mother when she leaves them in the country with “Big Aunt” while she goes looking for their long absent dad. Following her Canada-set debut In Between Days (2006), Kim So Yong returns to her native Korea for another autobiographically inspired tale - though this time one of childhood’s end. Kim’s film offers a potent, unsentimental examination of impoverished childhood in which the girls wander around in too small shoes with only one outfit and a pair of pyjamas each, eventually resorting to grilling grasshoppers just to survive. Yet for all of its everyday sadness, Treeless Mountain is a sympathetic look at life on the margins of a prosperous society in which a little girl faces adult treachery with a stoic maturity and finally resolves to find her own place independent of a perhaps uncaring world.
Phoenix, 03 Nov 2018 1:00 pm
Director: Yang Ik-june
Cast: Yang Ik-june, Kim Kkobbi and Lee Hwan
Cert 18, 130mins, 2008
One of the most startling and uncompromising debut features of this century, Breathless follows Sang-hoon (Yang Ik-june), a foul mouthed and belligerent loan shark who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a school girl, Yeon-hee (Kim Kkot-bi). Raging at anyone that gets in reach of his fists, Sang-hoon’s actions are often unforgivable, but are rooted in, though not excused by, a traumatic upbringing. With a deeply troubled home life of her own Yeon-hee is undaunted by his ferocity, and after standing up to his vile temper the two begin to connect.
Directed, written and starring Yang Ik-june, it was a multi-award winner on the festival circuit and catapulted his talent into the spotlight with a character that seems so unrecognisable now to the tubby and sensitive poet he played in this year’s The Poet and the Boy (also playing in the ‘Special Focus’ strand). A decade has passed since it first played at the London Korean Film Festival, and with enough grim realism in two hours to rival a whole Shane Meadows box set, Breathless still has audiences gasping.
Picturehouse Central, 04 Nov 2018 2:00 pm
Director: Park Jung-bum
Cast: Park Jung-Bum, Jin Younguk, Kang Eujin, Park Youngdeok
Cert 15, 127mins, 2011
Seong-chul rents a room with his friend Kyung-chul. Both are defectors from North Korea. While Kyung-chul is full of ambition and money-making schemes, honest Seong-chul struggles to hold down any job, even at the karaoke bar where the girl he has an eye on in church works. Befriending a stray dog – the metaphor is all too clear – life begins to look up when he hits rock bottom. After confessing his whole story at a prayer meeting, the girl from church takes pity on him. But how long will his luck last?
What’s worse than living in North Korea? Living in South Korea as a defector, suggests Park Jungbum’s eye-opening debut. Park not only directs but also stars as Seong-chul, his own real-life friend who died a few years after making it to Seoul. Relentless and Bressonian, this extraordinary film lifted the lid on a reality that few South Koreans knew about before.
Regent Street Cinema, 11 Nov 2018 4:00 pm
Director: Yoon Sung-hyun
Cast: Lee Je-Hoon, Seo Jun-Young, Park Jung-Min
Cert 15, 116mins, 2010
While Bleak Night is framed around a mystery narrative as a father searches for answers into his son’s suicide, its emotional heft comes from the fine performances of the young cast, all of whose star would continue to ascend, following this impressively gritty debut release from director Yoon Sung-hyun.
Cutting backwards in time, the film follows three high-school boys as their relationships incrementally sour when minor slights escalate into major rifts. The problems start when charismatic Ji-tae (Lee Je-hoon) and introspective ‘Becky’ fall out after each of them inadvertently wounds the other’s pride. As the scheming Ji-tae’s anger turns to cruel bullying, the self-assured Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-young) gets involved, earning his former buddy’s ire in equal measure.
Expertly capturing the slowly mounting tensions and violent consequences that result when stubborn male pride gets in the way of emotional understanding, the film posits a bleak future for young men similarly trapped in silence.
Regent Street Cinema, 09 Nov 2018 6:20 pm
Director: Park Jung-bum
Cast: Park Jung-bum, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Myung-hun
Cert 18, 175mins, 2014
Official Selection International Competition
LOCARNO INT. FILM FESTIVAL 2013
Jeonju International Film Festival 2014
Jungchul labours to survive. He works at a construction site but his co-worker steals his salary; he cuts trees in a forest to sell to a factory; he makes fermented soybean paste on a production line; he butchers a chicken for his boss’s party. However hard Jungchul strives to make ends meet for himself and his family - his severely depressed sister and her daughter - he cannot seem to escape from a series of calamities. “Why can I never have anything?” he screams in despair.
Following The Journals of Musan, Park Jungbum returns with his second feature, in which he again plays the protagonist. Mostly composed of long takes, this film intends to “portray being alive”, to borrow Park’s words. The many spectacular locations in the film are the fruits of Park’s endeavour to find perfect spots in rural Kangwon province to provide a fitting background against which his characters’ exasperated physicality and exhausting struggles play out.
Regent Street Cinema, 13 Nov 2018 6:30 pm
Director: E J-Yong
Cast: Youn Yuh-jung, Chon Moo-song, Yoon Kye-sang
Cert 18, 110mins, 2015
A film about a 65-year-old prostitute who unofficially adopts a young boy to raise with her misfit neighbours, The Bacchus Lady (E J-yong, 2016) is a bittersweet drama that celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances.
Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung is mesmerising as So-young, an escort working exclusively with elderly clients and using her profits to put her son through university in America. When her path collides with Min-ho (Choi Hyun-jun), whose parents are in the violent throes of a paternity battle, she takes him under her wing and bossily enrols the help of her neighbours to help care for him while she works.
As Min-ho adjusts to his colourful new home life, So-young’s relationships with her clients move into risky new territory, forcing her to make difficult moral choices while confronting her own painful past. The third collaboration between E J-yong and Youn Yuh-jung, The Bacchus Lady is a strong-hearted film about inner strength and the many ways of coping.
Rio Cinema, 04 Nov 2018 6:30 pm
Director: Moon So-ri
Cast: Moon So-ri, Sung Byoung-sook, Yoon Sang-hwa
Cert 15, 71mins, 2017
Art imitates life in this brazenly honest and delicately diaristic tale of revered actress Moon Sori. Moon, famous for her award-winning roles in The Handmaiden (2016) and Oasis (2002), plays herself in an impressive directorial debut laying herself bare as she invites us to laugh, cry and witness the roles she plays behind the big screen and under the make-up; a wife, mother, friend, daughter and her own worst critic.
Over three acts - or three connected shorts - there’s catharsis in Moon’s comedic approach to her unfolding life. With gracefully paced strokes, she paints a vulnerable picture of the anxieties of women maturing under the spotlight. Offering sensitive insight into the neurosis of a successful actress and how she juggles life behind closed doors, The Running Actress is a portrait of the pressures and burdens of fame in an industry that values youth and beauty.
Picturehouse Central, 02 Nov 2018 6:30 pm
Director: Kim Yang-hee
Cast: Yang Ik-june, Jeon Hye-jin, Jung Ga-ram
Cert 15, 110mins, 2017
We’re on Jeju Island, though we see nothing of its tourism industry. But in spirit we’re closer to Venice – the Venice of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice (1912), where a middle-aged writer is suddenly, inexplicably struck by the beauty of a young man and finds his whole life upended because of it. The Jeju writer is Hyeon Taekji (Yang Ik-june), a second-rate poet mired in defeatism with a strong-willed wife who’s determined to get pregnant before it’s too late. The boy is Seyun, a dropout from high school who is the main carer for his ailing father and works daytimes selling sugary American donuts. Hyeon worries that he might be gay, but his wife is scornful and resentful … Kim Yanghee’s astonishing debut feature moves from delicious comedy to a transfixing, precisely measured map of the human heart. Yang Ik-june is indelible as Hyeon, a role light years from the gangster he played in his own debut feature Breathless (2010).
Picturehouse Central, 03 Nov 2018 6:45 pm
Director: Lee Kang-hyun
Cast: Kim Saebyeok, Park Jonghwan, Yun Jongseok
Cert TBC, 131mins, 2017
Lee Kang-hyun presents a nuanced, delightfully ordinary portrait of a young couple’s separation in Possible Faces (2017). Winner of the Citizen Critics’ Award at Busan International Film Festival, the film follows the now parallel lives of Kisun (Park Jonghwan) and Hyejin (Kim Saebyeok), two aimless souls who have parted ways after three years of living together.
Hyejin leaves her job and begins work on remodelling her mother’s restaurant, eating alone in cafes and pottering around her apartment. Kisun treads water as a high school administrator until he strikes up a friendship with Jinsoo (Yun Jongseok), a student who plays on the school’s soccer team, that evolves into something deeper.
Favouring small details in the everyday over high impact drama to drive his narrative, Lee allows his characters to intertwine subtly, complementing each other’s stories and presenting a gentle reflection of significant connections in a solitary city.
Regent Street Cinema, 11 Nov 2018 7:00 pm
Director: Lee Dong-eun
Cast: Lim Soo-jung, Yoon Chan-young, Lee Sang-hee
Cert 15, 107mins, 2017
Last year’s In Between Seasons was no fluke: Lee Dong-eun’s second feature gets to grips with the complexities of the parent-child bond even more searchingly, and to even more moving effect. We’re in Cheongju, a medium-sized town where Hyojin runs a small primary school which isn’t doing too well. For reasons we don’t need to go into here, she’s more or less forced to become the guardian of a ‘difficult’ teenage boy, the son (by another mother) of her late ex-husband. The boy, Jongwook, is emotionally inarticulate in the way that male teens often are and he treats Hyojin as a virtual stranger; without telling her, he goes looking for the birth-mother who abandoned him. And then his friend Joomi carelessly gets herself pregnant and starts planning to have the baby and give it up for adoption. The film’s intricate plotting dovetails the ambivalent feelings which govern these lives and asks: is parenting purely biological, or something more?
Picturehouse Central, 05 Nov 2018 8:45 pm
Director: Jung Hyung-suk
Cast: Song Ji-in, Kang Doo
Cert 15, 117mins, 2018
Shot in luminous black and white, this is a deeply affecting contemporary portrait of a society, a city and, above all, a woman, all struggling to cope with rapid economic change. Seonghye (Song Ji-in) is an educated young woman whose life appears inexplicably in freefall. Unfolding with a forensic eye for social detail, we gradually discover why Seonghye finds herself marginalised from the plastic yet comfortable corporate world she once inhabited. Physically and mentally exhausted, working two minimum wage jobs, everything is falling apart for Seonghye. Change does come but at considerable cost. When one character says “it’s all about money, money, money – the shit of money”, it’s hard to argue. And yet there is something even darker lurking in the heart of this tough, gorgeous and nuanced work which deservedly won the Grand Prize at this year’s Jeonju Festival’s Korean Competition strand. Riveting.
Picturehouse Central, 03 Nov 2018 1:00 pm
In a time when cinema has become more and more of a vehicle for escapism, why do we still return to the stories of everyday lives? What is it about the work of Ken Loach, Yasujiro Ozu and Hong Sangsoo that continues to strike a chord with audiences around the world?
This year’s panel discussion, moderated by Guardian and Financial Times journalist Danny Leigh, is dedicated to the festival’s special focus strand, ‘A Slice of Everyday Life’, which celebrates films that pay attention to the familiar yet poetic stories of ordinary people, capturing the intimate and subtle drama of our day-to-day existence. The forum will be an opportunity to hear from South Korean and UK film industry professionals, programmers and filmmakers alike, adding further context to the screenings included in the strand and shining a light on the idea of ‘everydayness’ on screen.
Picturehouse Central, 03 Nov 2018 4:00 pm