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
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.