Film - London Korean Film Festival

The London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) takes place from 1st-14th November in London before embarking on the annual tour 18th-24th November. Here's some highlights to look out for...

Much of this year’s LKFF programme, and indeed the Special Focus strand, will highlight the historic milestone of 100-years of Korean cinema. Other strands include an exciting mix of UK and International premieres, guests and events  Korean cinema continues to excite global audiences with a steady stream of titles that satisfy both artistic and commercial appetites.

This year alone has seen Bong Joon-ho win the Palme D’Or with Parasite at the Cannes Film Festival and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) released to critical praise in UK cinemas, while Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, 2016), The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016) and Little Forest (Lim Soon-rye, 2018) have all found recent success. Now, with 2019 marking the centenary of Korean cinema, the LKFF will shine a light into the past to offer insight into the full and fascinating history of a groundbreaking national cinema that has lead up to the acclaimed hits of today.

This celebration of Korea’s cinematic history is established with the festival’s Opening Gala on 1st November, The Seashore Village (1965). With the LKFF now in its 14th year, this marks the first time a retrospective title has been selected to open the festival. Newly restored, and presented in the UK for the very first time, the film tells the story of a young woman, Hae-soon, living in a village heavily populated by women who have lost their husbands at sea. A vivid portrait of the hardships faced by the women of the village and their methods of coping through sisterly comradeship and an understanding of the natural world around them, the film features striking monochrome cinematography. Courtesy of veteran director Kim Soo-yong, now in his 90s, who made his film debut in 1958 with A Henpecked Husband and went on to make over 100 films in a long and distinguished career, the revered filmmaker will be present on opening night to discuss The Seashore Village, his life in film and 100 years of Korean cinema.

Continuing the festival’s championing of new independent cinema, the LKFF will hold its Closing Gala on 14th November with new directing team Lee Jihyoung and Kim Sol’s Scattered Night (2019, UK Premiere). Told through the eyes of two young children who must wait as their separating parents messily make their way towards a decision on which of them will take which child post-divorce. Minimalist and free of melodrama, the film offers an intimate and heart-breaking child’s eye view of a crumbling family dynamic.

Here's just a few of the other highlights on offer in between those two galas (find the full programme here) :-

Strand - Special Focus - find out more and book tickets here

The Special Focus strand, A Century of Korean Cinema, follows on from a landmark collaboration with the British Film Institute and the Korean Film Archive earlier this year, Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period which presented the country’s oldest surviving films, produced during the turbulent period of occupation during the Second World War. The LKFF 2019 will continue where that acclaimed season ended, launching into a full programme of cinema spanning the decades and featuring works from Korea’s visionary filmmakers of the past and leading up to the early works of prominent directors spearheading the nation’s cinema today.

The Flower in Hell - Dong-shik, an innocent young man from the countryside, arrives in Seoul in search of his brother. Amongst the busy streets, markets and American army bases of the post-war city, Dong-shik eventually finds that his brother Young-shik has become a small-time criminal romantically involved with Sonya, a sex worker. Dong-shik tries to convince him to return to their hometown together, but they soon find themselves embroiled in an unexpected love triangle.

The Man with Three Coffins - A gloomy man wanders the wintry eastern sea coast bearing the ashes of his wife. Her home had been in North Korea, and he feels compelled somehow to scatter her remains somewhere up there despite the division of the nations and the heavily fortified border. On his journey he will encounter three women all seemingly marked by the shadow of his wife’s death, perhaps possessed by her spirit.

The Age of Success - 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.

Strand - Cinema Now - find out more and book tickets here

The Cinema Now strand once again showcases the best of contemporary Korean cinema with a diverse and exciting line-up including some of Korea’s finest recent titles, including festival sensations and domestic box office hits from the past year.

Extreme Job - an incompetent and dysfunctional five-person police team takes over a run-down chicken shop in order to observe and infiltrate a drug syndicate's headquarters across the road. When their special chicken recipe becomes a massive hit with the public, it is a case of stakeout meets takeout, as cooking and crime-busting get ever more confused, until this ensemble of misfits finally learns why they were put together in the first place, and why their leader Captain Ko (Ryu Seung-yong, Seven Years of Night, 2017) has the nickname 'Zombie'.

Height of the Wave - When police chief Yeon-su (Lee Seung-yeon) is dispatched to a remote fishing village, she takes it as an opportunity to rebuild her relationship with her teenage daughter and recover from a bruising divorce. But pretty soon her daughter is out of control, while the tight knit community reveals itself to be hiding a terrible secret it can barely even acknowledge. Chief Yeon-su quickly finds herself isolated, out of her depth and under siege as she desperately tries to do the right thing.

The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale - the Park family sees the arrival of a zombified young man at their home/business as an opportunity for economic and erotic exploitation - not least because the zombie's bite, as well as eventually having its usual effect, also serves, Viagra-like, to bring old men's moribund libidos rising from the grave.

Strand - Women's Voices - find out more and book tickets here

This now-regular strand has reinforced and expanded upon issues raised in its films with roundtable discussions and panel events featuring directors, actors and leading voices in contemporary feminist film criticism. This year celebrates the work of first-time women directors.

Yukiko - Framed by the question “Can you mourn for a person of whom you have no memory?”, Noh Young Sun’s first documentary feature tells a heartbreaking story of absence and loss rooted in the turmoil of the Korean War.

A Bedsore - The seemingly idyllic domestic life of retired man Chang-sik (Kim Jonggu), of his bed-ridden wife Gil-soon (Kang Aesim), unable to speak after a stroke, and of her caretaker Sook-ok (Jeon Gukhyang), an undocumented Korean Chinese immigrant, starts tumbling down when Gilsoon develops a bedsore that refuses to heal. The tense situation throws Sook-ok’s precarious status into sharp relief as Chang-sik’s attempts to control her result both in violent outbursts and an awkward proposal. While the older couple’s adult children reprimand their father for crossing the boundaries and violating the caretaker’s dignity, they have their own bone to pick with each other.

Strand -  Documentary - find out more and book tickets here

This year's Documentary strand highlights the work of two of the country’s political film collectives which developed in the 1980s. Seoul Film and Jangsangotmae established a relationship between theory and practice in order to develop a new kind of cinema, which they called ‘people’s cinema’ or ‘national cinema’.

The Night Before the Strike - It’s 1988, and the post-Olympic Korean economy is booming. Factory workers at Dongseong Metal Engineering work day and night to meet demand. Fighting against low pay and hostile treatment, our main characters - the core group of workers at the forge welding department - maintain their solidarity, share their sorrows and watch each others’ backs. The group attempt to form a trade union, though in the process a conflict arises triggered by those who are afraid of potential consequences. To break their spirit, the company managers use devious tactics, recruiting a goosadae (literally company-saver) to spy, blacklist and intimidate the would-be union members.

Bluebird - born from conversations with the farmers about their life and miserable working conditions and is based on a real story. The short film addresses the demise of rural activity and livelihood caused by the liberalisation of the agricultural import market. It was shown and discussed with the farmers all over the country, creating an incident with the censorship board that led to the arrest of members of the group.

Strand -  Hidden Figures: Ha Gil-jong - find out more and book tickets here

This celebration of renowned director Ha Gil-jong shines a light on the work of one of Korean cinema’s most iconoclastic auteurs. Rising to prominence in the 1970s, a dark period for Korean filmmaking as the Park Chung-hee led government exerted its control through strict censorship, Ha Gil-jong stood out with a radical, politically-charged voice, challenging contemporary society through the language of film.

The March of Fools -A much beloved Korean cinema classic from 1975, The March of Fools starts off as a bawdy comedy, as two slacker students get drunk and try to get laid, with varying degrees of success. Slowly the tone shifts into melancholy, as the two men consider their destinies, in a repressive society where they feel out of place.

Strand - Artist Video - find out more and book tickets here

The Artist Video strand, in collaboration with LUX | Artists’ Moving Image, focuses on two
distinctive voices in experimental film work, director and cinematographer Yoo Soon-mi and visual artist Park Chan Kyong.

Flying - an uncanny document of the historic 2000 summit between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il, the first time leaders of both countries had met since the Korean war. The film utilises mainly unused footage, shot by news channels, of the flight between Seoul and Pyongyang, and the subsequent welcoming ceremony, set to the first part of Yun Yi-sang’s 1977 Double Concerto. Yun was an acclaimed composer whose work sought to apply East Asian aesthetics to Western classical structures, who visited North Korea several times for his research, and was eventually accused of pro-North Korean activities and being close to Leader Kim Il-song. As a result, his music was banned in South Korea until shortly before his death in 1995.

Songs from the North highlights the difference between the presumed visuality of communism and the actual images emanating from North Korean television. Just as the songs clearly denote a by-gone era, presenting themselves as the musical equivalent of Soviet social realist paintings, the contemporary television images feel oddly anachronistic, as if not belonging to any particular moment of the 20th and 21st centuries, but to an alternative modernity instead. And yet, in spite of their military undertones, or precisely because of them, the songs also fill the film with a heavy sentimental charge.

Strand - Animation - find out more and book tickets here

In the spirit of this year’s Special Focus, the Animation strand will showcase a classic Korean
animated film, along with a colourful new feature for children.

Astro Gardener - While staying at her grandma’s country home, Suha encounters a squat little man in a spacesuit, called Omu. He’s the Astro Gardener, a single-minded celestial caretaker, who protects the “dark” of the galaxies from the handsome but dangerous galactic pirate Pluto. Suha embarks on an often funny space adventure, featuring a super-cute puppy (who later becomes two super-cute puppies), a scary hulking henchman who has a marshmallow heart, and a baseball game to save the universe

A Story of Hong Gil-dong - Hong Gil-dong is the illegitimate son of a nobleman who’s cast out of his home and vows to fight injustice. He’s joined by a pint-sized tearaway thief, Chadol Bawi, and together they face evil officials who exploit poor people.

Strand - Mise-en-scène Shorts - find out more and book tickets here

The Shorts Strand highlights award-winning works discovered at Korea’s prestigious Mise-enscène
Short Film Festival (MSFF). Having been a platform to launch the career of many
directors now working within the Korean film industry, this year the festival invited past winners
Jang Jae-hyun (The Priests, Svaha: The Sixth Finger) and Lee Kyung-mi (Crush and Blush, The
Truth Beneath) to sit as MSFF Directors and lead the search for new and uniquely creative

Milk - Sai (Raminda Charoenmak) works as a hotel maid to earn extra money for baby formula, annoying her overbearing husband (Wichan Kanchanarung) who accuses her of neglecting both him and their children. She becomes friendly with a guest, with whom she bonds over the shared joy of motherhood. But Sai’s desperation leads her to petty theft.

Yuwol: The Boy Who Made the World Dance - Every movement is a dance to Yuwol (Sim Hyun-seo), from his eyes to his fingers to his feet, even as his stern teacher Ms. Hye-lim (Choi Min) frowns upon any frivolous activity. Soon his ‘infection’ spreads to everyone around him, and Yuwol dances through the streets, finding joy and magic in these dancing moments, even as his teachers try to chase him down. The dance can’t be contained.

Camping - Having recently lost their business and declared bankruptcy, Ji-eun and her husband take a camping trip in what they think is an isolated and remote spot. But when strangers appear, Ji-eun suspects that something sinister is going on; soon she finds herself kidnapped, presumably for ransom, and must think fast to save herself.

Images & info - London Korean Film Festival.

The festival runs from 1st - 14th November.

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