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Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013: Korean Cinema

Don’t know Bong Joon-ho from Park Chan-wook? The EIFF 2013 exploration of South Korean cinema will enlighten you

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Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013: Korean Cinema

Virgin Forest

When Bong Joon-ho’s The Host screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2006, audiences applauded the Korean director’s deliriously unpretentious monster movie as a breath of fresh air. His English-language debut Snowpiercer (recently shot in the Czech Republic and starring John Hurt and Tilda Swinton), has wrapped just in time to allow Joon-ho to head up the EIFF’s international feature film jury. His presence spearheads the festival’s focus on South Korean cinema, with a series of UK premieres to enjoy as well as a slot in the International Competition for Kang Yi-kwan’s low-key domestic drama Juvenile Offender.

In the Focus on Korea strand, O Muel’s war drama Jiseul has already proved popular in his homeland as well as at Sundance Film Festival (where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize). It’s a sombre and sobering true story detailing how Korean troops, under the direction of the US military government, fought a brutal campaign on the southern island of Jeju in 1948. Filming in black and white on the actual island, Muel artfully balances the experiences of a unit of soldiers under orders to wipe out a small village, against those of the villagers forced to hide in the island’s caves.

Also taking a lead from real events is National Security by Chung Ji-young, based on the experience of a pro-democracy activist who was interrogated and tortured by government agents at the notorious Namyeong-dong detention centre. Set against the background of highly competitive schools, Shin Su-won’s Pluto looks at murder, rivalry and how the intense work ethic of South Korean students erupts into open rebellion and a tense hostage situation, while Ryoo Seung-wan’s The Berlin File is an espionage melodrama from one of Asia’s top directors. A tale of international intrigue, the story exploits the current North/South Korean tensions as two spies on opposite sides of the border are involved with a sinister conspiracy.

There’s more reflective work in Virgin Forest, in which ex-newsreader Lee Hyun-jung creates an improvised documentary/drama in which she visits the home of her recently-deceased maternal grandmother, providing a meditation on death and family history. It screens alongside two shorts, Han-Bok-Ja’s Homo Coreanicus and Day Trip. The latter is made by Park Chan-wook, the director who started the current resurgence of Korean cinema thanks to the likes of Oldboy and Stoker. Here, he’s working in collaboration with his brother, Park Chan-kyong.

Focus on Korea is part of Edinburgh International Film Festival, various venues, Wed 19–Sun 30 Jun.

Jiseul (Ji-seul)

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • South Korea
  • 108 min
  • Directed by: Meul O
  • Written by: Meul O
  • Cast: Min-chul Sung, Jung-Won Yang, Young-soon Oh

Historical tale of the Jeju Massacre, in which American-influenced Korean troops brutally suppressed perceived communist activity on Korea's Jeju island in 1948. Although sensitively and respectfully made, it's let down by weak characterisation and a lack of socio-political background.

Pluto (Myungwangsung)

  • 2012
  • South Korea
  • 114 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Su-won Shin
  • Cast: Da-wit Lee, Jun Sung, Sung-ha Cho
  • UK release: 6 June 2014

At an elite boarding school, the murder of a top student adds fuel to the rivalry and suspicion among his class.

Juvenile Offender (Beom-joe so-nyeon)

  • 2012
  • South Korea
  • 108 min
  • Directed by: Yi-kwan Kang
  • Written by: Yi-kwan Kang, Joo Young Park
  • Cast: Won-tae Choi, Rae-yeon Kang, Jung-hyun Lee

Is there a future for the family? A young high-school dropout, released from reformatory in the custody of a mother he has barely known, learns that his girlfriend has given birth to his child and given it up for adoption. Battling his own heritage of familial neglect, the young man tries to create a more stable life…

National Security (Namyeong-dong 1985)

  • 2012
  • South Korea
  • 110 min
  • Directed by: Ji-yeong Jeong
  • Cast: Kim Eui-Seong, Kim Jung-gi, Eui-sung Kim

The anatomy of inhumanity. Set in 1985, this is the true story of a pro-democracy activist who was interrogated and tortured for three weeks by government agents at South Korea’s notorious Namyeong-dong detention centre. With a calm and compassionate style, the director depicts the mechanics of torture, the…

The Berlin File

  • 2013
  • South Korea
  • 120 min
  • Directed by: Seung-wan Ryoo
  • Cast: Jung-woo Ha, Suk-kyu Han, Seung-beom Ryu

State-of-the-art thrills from a master action director. Ryoo Seung-wan, one of Asia’s top directors, spins a fast-paced and twisty yarn of international intrigue. After an arms deal in a Berlin hotel ends in chaotic violence, a North Korean spy who narrowly escapes comes to suspect that he’s been set up by a double…

Virgin Forest (Wonsirim)

  • 2012
  • South Korea
  • 73 min
  • Directed by: Lee Hyun-jung
  • Cast: Lee Hyun-jung, Lim Ku-man, Lee Sang-woo

A clash of views on the past. The filmmaker and her brother visit the home of their recently deceased maternal grandmother. They revive memories of the past, while dealing with the clash between their own very different personalities and between their different views on life, death and the family history. An alluring…

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