Korean Film Nights 2018


Earth 02
Film info

Director: Kim Ki-young
Cast: Lee Hwa-si, Kim Jeong-cheol, Yeom Bok-soon, Nam Sung-hoon
125mins, 1978

Heo Sung, the son of a revered revolutionary leader is rescued from a life of rural poverty in order to study Law in Seoul. Passing the bar exam, the young man rises to become head of the household he once served when he marries the homeowner’s fickle daughter, Jeong-son. Typical of director Kim Ki-young’s female characters, Jeong-son is shown as being both stubborn and neurotic, yet also progressive with an attitude utterly unique in Korean cinema of the time. When Heo Sung returns to the village of his youth and finds the poor farmers suffering abuse at the hands of the Japanese occupiers, the ideological young lawyer commits to staying in the village to help. This neglect angers a wife already unhappy at being married to a ‘yokel’ and the increasingly bitter relationship threatens to destroy both their lives.

With Earth idiosyncratic auteur Kim Ki-young (The Housemaid, 1960), tackles an adaptation of a novel from Yi Kwang-su, who is celebrated as the author of the first Korean modern novel. Yi’s works have frequently been the subject of adaptations, with this effort from 1972 being the third version of the 1932 novel to be brought to screen.

KCCUK, 29 Mar 2018 7:00 pm

The Descendants of Cain

The Descendant Of Cain 02
Film info

Director: Yu Hyun-mok
Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Hee, Park No-sik, Jang Dong-hwi
113mins, 2018

The Descendants of Cain opens on a village celebration of Korea’s recent liberation from Japanese rule. Amidst the drinking and dancing, petty rivalries and minor grudges simmer, when the party is interrupted by the threatening presence of a returning husband, Cheo. Now an officer of the Workers' Party, Cheo is back to implement land reform, removing property from the hands of wealthy landowners and distributing it amongst the peasant farmers. One such landowner is Park Han, a respected local figure and founder of the school, at which the newly appointed Workers' Party has taken as their base. Cheo’s wife, Ojaknyeo, works for Park and a deep admiration exists between the two, even if his deep sense of propriety means it cannot be expressed. While this socially impossible relationship plays out, Ojaknyeo’s father Do-seop falls in with the brutal communist party and its efforts to turn the villagers against the landowners with promises of property and power. Dark times loom on the horizon for all.

A striking piece of anti-communist propaganda, The Descendants of Cain is one of many such films in the canon of revered film activist, educator, and director Yu Hyun-mok. Adapted from Hwang Sun-won’s autobiographical novel, both author and director shared similar experiences to those depicted in the film.

KCCUK, 12 Apr 2018 7:00 pm

White Badge

White Badge01
Film info

Director: Chung Ji-young
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Lee Gyoung-young, Shim Hye-jin, Doko Young-jae
124mins, 1992

Writer Han Ki-jo exists in a kind of daze, floating between his cramped apartment, his editor’s office and into and out of the lives of his various friends and acquaintances. A Vietnam veteran, Han earns money by publishing articles on his experiences while carrying the ambition to someday write a novel on the subject, if he can ever bring himself to put the traumatic tale down on the page. When an old comrade from his Vietnam war days comes back into his life, Han is forced to recount the terrible war-time experiences that have left the lives of both men in ruins. With a career stretching back to the 1950s, Ahn Sung-ki is considered one of Korea’s finest actors; he carries the film here as Han, while ably supported by a standout turn from, with over 100 films under his belt, fellow acting veteran Lee Kyeong-yeong  as the damaged Pyon.

KCCUK, 26 Apr 2018 7:00 pm

A Petal

A Petal 03
Film info

Director: Jang Sun-woo
Cast: Moon Sung-keun, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Young-ran, Yoo Soon-chul
101mins, 1996

Stumbling along rivers and roads in tattered, ill-fitting clothes, an unnamed girl trails a vulgar and violent man. Refusing to leave his side no matter how much the man beats, berates, and sexually assaults her, the girl follows him home. The question of what led to the mental collapse and subsequent ruination of this once happy child provides the framework for a film that attempts to address the trauma of the Gwangju Uprising on the psyche of the Korean people. Director Jang Sun–woo (Lies, 1999) uses impressionistic flashbacks, sometimes monochrome, sometimes in startling, child-like animation, to bring a dark memory of recent history onto the screen.

Last year’s A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon) gave the blockbuster treatment to the same historic event, but its tragedy is arguably more powerful when viewed through the eyes of Jang Sun-woo’s broken protagonist, as taken from the pages of Ch’oe Yun’s short story, There a Petal Falls.

KCCUK, 10 May 2018 7:00 pm

The Old Garden

The Old Garden 05
Film info

Director: Im Sang-soo
Cast: Ji Jin-hi, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Eung-soo, Kim Hyun-ah
Cert 12, 112mins, 2007

Anti-government protests provide the stimulus for Im Sang-soo’s romantic drama that charts a love affair across the years. In The Old Garden, we first meet activist Hyun-woo as he’s released from prison after a 17-year stint. Years of cramped, often solitary, confinement have seemingly taken their toll on Hyun-woo, who appears to find difficulty communicating with his family, but in actuality the man’s mind is in another place. Journeying back to the village where he spent some time as a fugitive he recalls the time spent with Yoon-hee, a woman who gave him shelter and companionship. While the time spent together was curtailed by Hyun-woo’s commitment to his political ideology, it seems Yoon-hee never forgot him, and amongst the letters and diaries that recount the time following his arrest, an even greater gift is waiting to be found.

The film comes courtesy of a novel by Hwang Sok-yong, one of Korea’s most celebrated novelists and a political activist in his own right who, like Hyun-woo, spent time in prison for violating the National Security Law.

KCCUK, 24 May 2018 7:00 pm

The Unfair

The Unfair 08
Film info

Director: Kim Sung-je
Cast: Yoon Kye-sang, Yoo Hae-jin, Kim Ok-vin, Lee Gyoung-young, Jang Kwang
Cert 15, 127mins, 2015

Amidst a messy construction site skirmish at which police officers and hired thugs are attempting to oust a group of protesters, a young cop is killed along with the even younger son of an activist. While the boy’s father admits to killing the officer, he claims it was in an attempt to protect his son from the dead policeman’s fatal beating. Into this sticky and charged situation arrives inexperienced public defender Jin-won (played by Yoon Kye-sang), his kind-hearted yet trouble-avoiding senior Dae-sok, and a reporter desperate to break the story, Soo-kyung. Reluctant to take on the case at first, Jin-won eventually sympathises with the plight of the father, and takes it to trial. As the case escalates, political corruption and illicit deals are uncovered that lead to the very top of the social ladder.

In The Unfair, an all-star cast brings Son Aram’s courtroom novel to life in producer-turned-director Kim Sung-je’s debut directorial feature. The story echoes the events of the Yongsan Tragedy when residents protesting the redevelopment of a neighbourhood were forcibly evicted leading to several deaths, including that of a police officer.

KCCUK, 07 Jun 2018 7:00 pm

My Brilliant Life

My Brilliant Life 03
Film info

Director: E J-Yong
Cast: Song Hye-kyo, Kim Seung-wook, Gang Dong-won, Baek Il-seob
Cert 12, 117mins, 2014

My Brilliant Life presents an idyllic image of youth and innocence as it recounts the first dream-like encounter of Mira and Dae-su at the tender age of 17. Falling in love, pregnancy and giving up on their future in order to raise a child may seem like an abrupt entry into the adult world, but it’s nothing compared to the experience that lies ahead for their son, Ahreum. While the parents (played by attractive young stars Song Hye-kyo and Gang Dong-won) are the very image of youth, Ahreum has Progeria Syndrome, a condition that results in rapid aging and a variety of age-related medical ailments. Ahreum fights for life with the aid of his loving parents, elderly best friend and neighbour Mr. Jang and the crew of a fundraising TV show that is documenting his life. Gentle humour underscores the drama throughout the film as the poetic words of the exceptional Ahreum narrate a message of life and love in the face of extreme difficulty.

Kim Ae-ran’s literary debut, No Knocking in This House won the first Daesan Literary Award in 2002, and the author has subsequently picked up many others including the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Today's Young Artist Award. Kim Ae-ran's 2011 novel The Youngest Parents with the Oldest Child was adapted to the screen in 2014 made into a film by by E J-yong withas as My Brilliant Life.

KCCUK, 28 Jun 2018 7:00 pm

Bungee Jumping of their Own

Bungee Jumping 1St Choice
Film info

Director: Kim Dae-sung
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Lee Eun-ju, Yeo Hyeon-soo, Hong Soo-hyun
101mins, 2018

In 1983, college freshman In-woo falls for fellow student Tae-hee. His relentless pursuit pays off when, during a hike, they declare their mutual love and decide to seal it with a bungee jump in New Zealand. At the moment of leaving Seoul, In-woo waits in vain at the station for Tae-hee, who never shows up. Seventeen years later, In-woo - now a high school teacher with a family of his own - starts seeing idiosyncrasies of his former lover in a male student, and slowly becomes obsessed with him. As the mystery of who this boy might be unfolds, In-woo must deal with gay jibes and his own memories of Tae-hee to try and make sense of it all. A powerful romantic drama that tries to answer the question: can love endure forever? Using a cyclical structure, Director Kim Dae-seung opens and closes his film following the course of a river, which suggests that love is never-ending, just as the current that never stops. He elevates love above and beyond classifications such as sexuality, boldly challenging notions of heterosexism and what constitutes the ‘norm’.

KCCUK, 19 Jul 2018 7:00 pm

The Sea Knows

The Sea Knows 1St Choice
Film info

Director: Kim Ki-young
Cast: Woon-ha Kim, Sang-sa Lee, Ye-chun Lee
119mins, 2018

In 1944, Japan is conscripting Koreans into the Imperial Army. Students Arowoon and Inoue are forced to journey across the sea to Nagoya, where they face gross mistreatment from their sadistic Japanese superior, Mori. Nevertheless, they retain their defiant spirit in both word and deed. When Arowoon ventures outside the barracks, he encounters another side to Japan through a young woman called Hideko. Although she is Japanese, he defies convention, yet again, by falling in love with her. He finds solace in her tenderness and resolute devotion, despite the fierce opposition to their union. However, their ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story takes a terrifying turn when the war threatens not only their lives, but also that of their unborn child. Will fate grant this unconventional pair a happier ending than Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers? Kim Ki-young, originator of the grotesque in Korean film, explores the full horrors of World War II in this epic. At the same time, he rails against racial prejudice, providing hope for a more egalitarian future with his defiant lovers. Kim considered The Sea Knows amongst his best works in his maverick career as a ‘cineaste who went ahead of the times’ (KoFA).

KCCUK, 26 Jul 2018 7:00 pm

A Woman Judge

Film info

Director: Hong Eun-Won
Cast: Kim Seung-Ho, Moon Jung-Suk, Yu Gye-seon, Kim Seok-hun
87mins, 2018

A young, determined woman, Jin-suk, has her mind set on becoming a judge. Encouraged by her father who sends her off to a monastery to focus on her studies, and despite her mother’s fervent efforts to marry her off to a wealthy suitor, Jin-suk defiantly follows her own path. With those around her doing nothing but oppose and obstruct, should she relent and follow the route society expects of her, or can she go against all odds and fulfil her dream? Hong Eun-won, the second woman in Korea to direct a film, said that she was “...interested in making films that depicted the lives of women, but seen through a woman’s eyes rather than imagined by male writers and directors.” In taking this approach, Hong boldly challenged both the melodramatic portrayals of women in Korean cinema of the time, and the directorial world that remains to this date monopolised by men. 

KCCUK, 02 Aug 2018 7:00 pm

The Barefooted Young

Film info

Director: Kim Ki-duk
Cast: Shin Seong-il, Um Aeng-ran, Yoon Il-bong, Lee Yea-chun
115mins, 2018

Adolescent films first gained widespread popularity in Korea during the 1960s; of these, The Barefooted Young (or Barefooted Youth, as it is sometimes translated) is the best-known example. In the film, Doo-soo - a lower class gangster - stumbles across a group of thugs harassing two young women. He intervenes, saving the women but getting himself injured in the process. When one of the women, a diplomat’s daughter named Johanna, comes to thank him in person, the two begin a relationship. Whilst highlighting the vast socio-economic gap between Doo-soo’s underworld and the upper class existence of Johanna, the film reflects the rise of youth culture in the 1960s. Moreover, it portrays the rebellion and force for change bubbling beneath a rigid class structure, as well as its repercussions. Kim Ki-duk (1934–2017), whilst best known outside of Korea for his 1967 monster film Yongary, was one of the leading young directors of the Korean cinematic wave of the 1960s and made distinctive and successful melodramas. The Barefooted Young is Kim Ki-duk’s rallying cry against social inequality and class barriers with its effective use of melodrama and romance. 

KCCUK, 09 Aug 2018 9:00 pm


Mandala 1981
Film info

Director: Im Kwon-taek
Cast: Ahn Sung-Ki, Jeon Moo-song, Bang Hee, Gi Jeong-su
112mins, 2018

Set in contemporary Korea, Mandala follows two rather different characters: Pob-un, a young Buddhist monk who has decided to quit his university studies and leave his doting girlfriend, instead embarking upon a search for answers regarding the futility of human existence, and Ji-san, an elderly, rather unconventional monk who indulges all life’s earthly pleasures, particularly alcohol. The two meet by chance on the road in rural Korea and together they start a journey of selfdiscovery, reflecting upon the issues of freedom of choice, religious devotion and enlightenment. Based on an eponymous bestselling book by Kim Seong-dong, Mandala was regarded as the breakthrough film of Im’s career, and was one of the rare Korean films of its time to also be screened internationally. A contemplative work that avoids clichés about religion and meditation, Mandala is one of Im’s two main works dealing with Buddhism (the other being Come Come Come Upward, 1989) and a truly poetic film, with its symbolism and imagery perfectly complemented. 

KCCUK, 16 Aug 2018 7:00 pm

Black Republic

Black Republic 3
Film info

Director: Park Kwang-Su
Cast: Moon Sung-keun, Park Joong-hoon, Shim Hye-jin, Hwang Hae
102mins, 2018

Opening on a pitch black screen, we begin to hear a voice: it is the words of the mother of the protagonist, Han Tae-hoon, a student who becomes involved in the Korean democratisation movement of the 1980s. The woman’s voice stands for both mother and country, a land then plunged into darkness. Tae-hoon flees from the authorities using a fake identity and seeks refuge in a mining village, but the state-repressive forces are not the only ghost he is trying to escape - the lingering thought of the possible failure of the democratisation movement never ceases to haunt him. Tae-hoon does not belong in his chosen hideout; his presence starkly reveals the undeniable tensions between intellectuals and blue-collar workers, a division permeating through the minjung movement. Ten years after the Gwangju Uprising, Park Kwangu-su revisited that traumatic period in the history of contemporary Korea. Park’s early filmography echoes the same social tensions and Tae-hoon, like his other male protagonists (see Chilsu and Mansu, 1988; To the Starry Island, 1993), poignantly embodies the opposition between the individual and the masses.

KCCUK, 23 Aug 2018 7:00 pm