K-CINEMA 100: Celebrating the rich diversity of the past hundred years of Korean filmmaking
London East Asia Film Festival's director Hyejung Jeon discusses the London-based screenings, Korean cinema's ascendant talent and what lies ahead
To mark the hundredth anniversary of Korean cinema, the London East Asia Film Festival has been hosting a summer series of screenings and events at thematically-significant landmarks around London. Titled K-CINEMA 100, this special homage to the Korean film industry will be making their next stop at Leicester Square Gardens on Sat 27 July and Sun 28 July, with a wealth of open-air screenings of cinematic gems from the peninsular country.
Free of charge, fully accessible and with plenty of family-friendly selections, we spoke to LEAFF's festival director Hyejung Jeon ahead of this special weekend to hear her thoughts on K-CINEMA 100 and what the next hundred years of Korean cinema has in store for the world.
In celebration of Korean cinema's centenary, you've been locating K-CINEMA 100's screenings in places that bear a thematic resonance with the film being shown. How do you think site-specific screenings help enrich an audience's experience of a film?
By inviting audiences to enjoy K-CINEMA 100's screenings at London landmarks, we wish to transform the conventional cinema experience into a memorable event. Undoubtedly by matching the narrative of the film with the history, characteristics and flair of the site, the uniqueness of both the film and site is mutually enhanced. For instance, in May, we screened classic comedies based in 1960s Seoul at London's cinema museum, which was once a home to the comedy legend and filmmaker, Charlie Chaplin, and our June screening of The Face Reader took place at the National Portrait Gallery.
We also want to thrill the audience with a new experience of not only Korean cinema, but Korean culture as well. For example, in partnership with Mediheal, at our screening of The Face Reader we offered BTS mask packs to all the attendees so they could try Korean beauty products and bring an element from the cinematic experience or a bit of Korean culture back home after our event.
Are there any specific themes and/or styles that you feel are central to this past centenary of Korean filmmaking?
Korean filmmaking is very diverse, and that in itself could be a style that is central to the past hundred years of Korean filmmaking. Korea has a complex history, and the strength of Korean cinema is that this history has influenced many great filmmakers to bring elements of that to both commercial hits and art-house gems. Under government censorship, we had an era of witty comedies but afterwards, we saw a great deal of political dramas. Local filmmakers have continued to achieve considerable national and global presence through stylistic and thematic preferences based on Korea's past, present and future.
Are there any particular emerging trends and/or Korean filmmakers that you're excited about, which you feel will be influential in shaping the next one hundred years of Korean cinema?
One trend that I'm excited about in Korean cinema is the rise of female roles in films. Many festivals have strands dedicated to films by female directors; however, since LEAFF's programmers don't differentiate between films directed by a man or a woman, we wanted to establish a permanent strand dedicated to the stories of women. We select different narratives of women living in Asia or women from Asia living abroad. This strand has been very popular with our audiences and we've seen very strong titles each year from all over East Asia and of course, Korea.
For instance, Jeon Do-Yeon won Best Actress at Cannes for her role in Secret Sunshine, and director Park Chan-Wook's Handmaiden – based off Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith – is one of the highest grossing Korean films in the UK, and has very strong central female characters. Also, Kim Min-Hee won best actress for her performance [in On the Beach at Night Alone] at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2017. So I believe there's already a growing presence of Korean female talent, but also that this emerging trend will play a role in shaping the next hundred years of Korean cinema.
What can you tell us about the upcoming edition of the London East Asia Film Festival?
The fourth London East Asia Film Festival will take place in various venues around London this October. We'll be screening 60 films from East and Southeast Asia, alongside Q&As, masterclasses and panel discussions. Box office hits will be screened as a part of LEAFF's Official Selection, and the Competition strand will be open to find and award new, emerging directors and showcase their works in the UK. LEAFF will also bring a special strand dedicated to the best Asian horror films in time for Halloween. The annual festival will have a special strand dedicated to the centenary of Korean cinema as well, so stay tuned!
K-CINEMA 100, Leicester Square Gardens, Sat 27–Sun 28 Jul, free, leaff.org.uk/kcinema100.