Seen in Jeonju

Archive for December, 2009

Housemaid Update

24th December 2009

There have been further updates on the cast on the upcoming remake of the classic Korean film The Housemaid.  Several months ago it was announced that Jeon Do-yeon would be playing the title role under the direction of Im Sang-soo. On December 24, the male lead was finally cast.  Lee Jeong-jae (Oh! Brothers, Typhoon) will be playing Dong-shik, the man who lets the crazed maid destroy his family. 

It was also announced by the production company MiroVision on December 16 that Seo woo, of many tv dramas and the recent movie Paju, will play Hae-ra in the film.  Filming begins during the last week of this month.

On an unrelated note–I may be unable to post for the next week.  I will be meeting a former student/friend on the day after Christmas in Providence and fo with him to College Station, Texas. He was recently accepted into the graduate program at Texas A&M and I will be helping him find an apartment, settle in and, if possible, travel to the Gulf of Mexico.  I will return to Rhode Island on January 2 and catch up on some posting then. 

So, in the meantime, Happy New Year!

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Incoherence (1994)

22nd December 2009

incoherenceOriginally posted June 24, 2009–In 1994, acclaimed director Bong Jun-ho debuted with two films. The first was an 18-minute film which translates as White-Colored Man and which featured some very impressive actors. The second was the film which I will review today, Incoherence. I had forgotten that I owned this 30-minute short as part of the My Beautiful Short Films II collection (available on DVD) but rediscovered it as I was screening shorts for a student workshop I had to teach.

Incoherence is divided into three episodes and a rather long epilogue. Episode one is entitled Cockroach.  It is the story of a professor who has sexual fantasies about his students. Between classes he reads pornography in his office. One day, he forgets the handouts he had prepared for class and sends his favorite student to get it..only to remember that he has left his porn out in the open on his desk. He calls a short break as he races after the student. Although she beats him to the office, he hurls a book across the room which lands squarely on top of the magazine, effectively concealing it. When the surprised student asks him why he threw the book, he makes up a lie about killing a cockroach.

Episode 2 is called Up the Alleys. It starts with a jogger of about 60-years of age in an expensive, coordinated track suit running through the quiet streets. He stops in front of a house, opens a carton of milk left by the milkman and talks with the young man who has come to deliver the paper. He offers the paperboy the second pint of milk that is sitting in front of the gate before he continues his jog. As the paperboy drinks the milk, the lady of the house comes out and is furious to find her milk gone. The stunned youth tries to explain that he thought the man who offered him the milk lived in the house, but the woman does not believe him as her milk has been disappearing daily and she cancels her subscription to the paper. The old man watches all of this from around the corner and chuckles to himself as he continues his run, only to unexpectedly encounter the paperboy again in the maze of backstreets. A chase begins, sometimes real, sometimes imagined by the old man who clearly is enjoying himself.

The Night of Pain is the title of Episode 3. In it, we meet a very drunk man trying to get home. A series of mistakes leaves him stranded somewhere far from his house in the unfortunate postition of having to use the bathroom. Although he is directed to a public toilet, he finds the door locked. He is about to perform his urgent business in a less than appropriate place when he is caught by the night guard.  The short tempered guard hands him an old newspaper and tells him to crap on that in the basement, fold it up and throw it in the dumpster (like he has to do each night). When the man indignantly goes to the basement, all the while shouting “Do you know who I am,” he discovers that the cellar is where the night guard lives. There is a bed and a small kitchen set up there for him. Viewing this, the man gets a positively evil (yet funny) idea.

The Epilogue is set up to reveal exactly who each of these characters are and why their offenses are so ironic. All three appear on a talkshow discussing what is wrong with society today and offering theories as to why crime is on the rise. Although they have their televisions turned on, none of the victims of these men are watching the program carefully enough to recognize the men as the perpetrators of the crimes against them.

Incoherence is an excellent short film with some black humor sprinkled throughout and a heavy dose of irony at the end as we see who each of the characters are and what their crimes mean. The only problem with the film occurs at the end with some topical issues being discussed in the talk show clearly being dated with the passage of time.  However, it is a good film and worth tracking down to see.

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Korean Box Office: December 18-20

21st December 2009

As you can see, I am still unable to provide graphics–a situation that will be remedied once I return to Korea on in January.  But I can still provide the box office data.  Opening on nearly 1000 screens, Avatar dominated this past weekend. 

National Box Office Results (rank-title-percentage of ticket sales-change from the previous week-total sales to date)

1. Avatar (us) 66.0% –(new)–1,657,221

2. Law Abiding Citizen (us)–7.7% –(-)–691,103

3. New Moon (us)–6.8%–(-2)–1,856,466

4. Secret (kr)–4.5%–(-)–1,002,347

5. 2012 (us)–4.1%–(-2)–5,328,669

6. Actresses (kr)–4.0%–(-)–461,934

7. Girlfriends (kr)–2.7% –(new)–75,367

8. Ninja Assassin (us)–1.7%–(-2)–1,302,306

9. Christmas Carol (us)–0.6%–(-2)–333,796

10. Descendent of Hong Gil-dong (kr)–0.4%–(-2)–608,625

Jeonju’s Box Office:  Avatar (68.0%), New Moon (8.0%), Law Abiding Citizen (7.8%), 2012 (5.1%), Secret (4.8%), Girlfriends (2.4%), Actresses 2.0%), Ninja Assassin 0.8%, Descendent of Hong Gil-dong 0.4%, Mai Mai Miracle (jp)-0.3%–ranked 18th nationally

Coming This Week

A. Always Be Boyz (kr)–d. Kwon Woo-tak, starring Oh Se-bin, Won Chae-yeong

B. Fantastic Mr. Fox (us)–d. Wes Anderson, starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryle Streep

C. Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (fr)–d. Terry Gilliam, starring Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp-

D. Jeonwoochi (kr)–d. Choi Dong-hoon, starring Kang Dong-won, Kim Yoon-seok

E. Pokemon: Arceus and the Jewel of Life (jp)–d. Kunihiko Yuyama, (Korean dubbed version)-

F. Sherlock Holmes (us/uk)–d. Guy Ritchie, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law–

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The Best of 2009

18th December 2009

It might seem that I am a couple of weeks early in writing about what I thought were the best Korean films of 2009, but I came to the USA for the Christmas and New Years holidays so I won’t be able to see anymore films in theaters for about three weeks.  I started out making a ‘top-ten’ list but wound up with too many films for that. I sorted movies by giving them the Chaw Test ™.  Basically, I held up a movie and tried to decide if I wanted to see it again or if I would rather re-watch Chaw.  Movies that I wanted to see more than a giant pig made this list.  This list is not ranked and there is no reason for the order that they appear in.  (Graphics will be added either when I get back to Korea or when I can install Photoshop on the computer I am currently using)

Fly Penguin–No matter what criteria I used to decide on the best Korean films of 2009, this film by director Im Soon-rye would come out near the top. It is made as a well-connected omnibnus where all the characters are slightly linked to each other.  It is also a social commentary that manages not to be preachy–such as when Im made The Weight of Her for the original If You Were Me collection. This debuted at the Jeonju International Film Festival and had a general realease in the fall.  It has not yet been released on DVD but will be available in mid-January 2010.

Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells–You would think that a film starring Choi Min-shik would be promoted more.  But perhaps the decidedly art house nature of the film prevented that.  If you require a lot of action in your films–or dialogue for that matter–you may want to avoid this film.  However, if you like strong, character driven dramas set against a stark, beautiful background, then you will love this film. Available on DVD

Old Partner–This is a movie I wish everybody could see. Unfortunately, the company that has released it on DVD apparently does not agree with me because English subs were omitted.

Breathless– Just reading a blurb about the plot initially left me uninterested in this film. Yet another gangster who wants to get out of a life of crime?  But it is so much more than that and has been winning awards from film festivals around the world. An excellent and surprising movie available now on DVD

Daytime Drinking–The ultimate Korean road movie is filled with realistically quirky characters and unusual but possible events that combine to make a bizarre, memorable journey for our sympathetic main character.  Highly recommended and available on DVD.

Take Off–Even though this movie is hopelessly mainstream, I really enjoyed it. It succeeds in its task of making you feel the thrill, suspense and danger of ski-jumping while making each character interesting and their problems real.  Like films such as Marathon, there is not deep, hidden meaning–it’s just fun.  Available on DVD.

Haeundae–Well, I couldn’t mention Take Off without mentioning Haeundae. These two films dominated the summer box office. Haeundae is more than just a special effects spectacular. The acting is quite good and turns by some of the minor characters shine such as Lee Min-gi’s performance and this helps make up  for some of the film’s shortfalls.  DVD available from December 30.

The Story of Mr. Sorry–The last Korean-made animation I really enjoyed was Oseam but I have finally found another. Done in the style of The Fantastic Planet, this is movie is unique among Korean animations. Although the story sounds like it might be childish–a man shrinks to microscopic size to clean ears?–this film is definitely not for children especially after he discovers the doorway to the subconscious minds of his clients.  Available as part of the KAFA box set collection.

Possessed–It is difficult for horror films to make it onto a best of the year list, but Possessed deserves it. Korean horror seems to have stagnated over the years resulting in 2009 giving us such films as Yoga Academy and the latest installment of Whispering Corridors–the former laughable, the latter forgettable. Possessed however is both terrifying and memorable. Available this month on DVD

Frozen Flower–Although the story of a love triangle is nothing special, it was surprising to see Jo In-seong in the role of the king’s homosexual lover. Although this is not the first Korean queer-themed film, nor is it the first to utilize top actors, it is the first to gain acceptance by mainstream viewers most likely because of Jo. More than that, this film has some of the most lavish sets and costumes I have seen. Available of DVD.

Mother–This film definetely benefited from a second-viewing—this time without the student I originally watched it with who complained the entire time about the mistakes made in acupuncture theory. (He is majoring in Oriental Medicine and swears that there is no place to stick a pin that will make you forget all bad things). Excellent acting by Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin.  Available on DVD

Show Me The Money– an omnibus containing ten short films directed by ten different directors under the common theme of ‘money’. Some of the films are better than others, but there is only one in the collection I will not bother watching again–One out of nine is not bad and the other shorts more than make up for it. Available on DVD in late January 2010.

Treeless Mountain–This film almost didn’t make the list.  That is mostly because it was not the film I was expecting it to be. I was going into thinking it would be something more akin to Daytime Drinking. However, this is NOT a comedy and I was left feeling a little depressed. It is not necessarily a sad film though–there is quite a bit of  hope in the story of two children waiting for their mother to return as they are passed around by relatives. (I wrote a review of this and two other films on the flight over here which I will post soon). Not yet available on R3 DVD, but a Region 1 release is available.

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Life Track (2007)

15th December 2009

life trackOriginally posted July 25, 2009–Usually, I like to give low-budget, independent films a chance.  I often enjoy slow-moving, introsective films and I do not require a lot of dialog to understand the story. However, that being said, there is slow-moving and then there is stagnant. Life Track by director Kim Kwang-ho unfortunately falls into the latter category. How slow is it?  I fell asleep three times while watching it. I would wake up, go back to where I had dozed off to see what I had missed, and each time discovered that I had missed absolutely nothing.  It wasn’t the fact that there was little to no dialogue. Words are not needed if the actors can convey the story through their expressions or body language. Hell, I’m even happy if there is nice cinemotgraphy and little else to look at and I find old silent movies very enjoyable.  However, the camerawork and scenery in this film are not that much to look at, the actors, with the exception of Jang So-yeon, are not up to the task of telling a story through their expressions and there is no spoken story to fill the viewer in on the thoughts of the characters– the first sentence spoken in the film comes at the 20 minute mark and during the entire film there are only about ten lines.  In brief, I thoroughly disliked this film.

Oh, there are some good points. As I mentioned, lead actress Jang So-yeon does an admiral job. She plays a deaf woman who is unable to speak. We do learn more than halfway through the film that she knows sign language (which is kindly translated for us by subtitles). However, she only communicates this way once in the movie–and it is not even with the man she is living with.  We learn nothing new about her character through her single line. Mostly, she smiles or stands by nervously. Unlike the lead actor, Choi Geum-ho, Jang does convey readable emotions. However, the takes showing her breaking into a grin or feeling uncertain are so long that they lose their impact and the poor actress actually looks pained and uncomfortable with a smile pasted on her face. She is not to be blamed for that situation–it is clearly the fault of director Kim.

Choi is less effective as an actor, but of course that is because he is not a professional actor. I liked the fact that they used an actual handicapped man to play the role of the man who takes in a woman on the run instead of using an actor pretending to be physically challenged.  However, not being a professional, Choi is unable to bring much feeling into his long stares which come across as blank and completely unreadable. I had no idea what he was thinking throughout the film and the choices his character makes near the end came as an absolute surprise–not in a good way, but in a confusing ‘out-out-of-left-field’ kind of way.

The final scene of the film is suitably shocking and definitely caught my attention. But I think the 90+ minutes leading up to it were a waste. The entire movie would have been better as a fifteen minute short than a feature length picture. There were a few other interesting plot points, like what Choi does to the couple in the car, but even that was not developed sufficiently. Another scene that seemed like it was important, the flashback of  young Choi and his mother, left me scratching my head as to what it meant.

I don’t often say this, but I do not recommend this film–even for obsessive collectors like myself. Buy it only if you often have guests who stay too long–pop this in the DVD player and I guarantee that they will be out the door (or comatose) within ten minutes.

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Korean Box Office: December 11-13

13th December 2009


I don’t have too much to say about this week’s box office.  Frankly, I was pretty busy last weekend due to end-of-semester work and didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on in movies.  (that is not to say I didn’t watch some DVDs while calculating grades–as soon as I get the grades uploaded, I will write a review or two).

 Below are the films opening this coming week.  I am certain Avatar will do well–not sure about Girlfriends (though I know I have no interest in it). It may do well as the ‘couple’s movie’ for the Christmas season.  I think both Just Friends? and Missing Person look interesting, but as independent arthouse films they probably won’t get a wide release.


a. Avatar (us)–d. James Cameron, starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana

b. Girlfriends (kr)– d. Kang Seok-beom, starring Kang Hye-jeong, Han Chae-yeong www.girlfriends2009

c. In the Electric Mist (us)– d. Bertrand Tavernier, Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman

d. Just Friends? (kr)–d. Kim JoKwang-soo, starring Seo Ji-hoo, Lee Je-hoon

e. Missing Person (kr)–d. Lee Seo, starring Choi Myeong-soo, Kim Gyu-nam

f. Red Like the Sky (it)–d. Cristiano Bortone, starring Luca Capriotti, Simone Gulli http://blog.naver.com2009heaven

g. 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope (jp)–d. Yukihiko Tsutsumi, starring Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa

h. What Do You Do? (kr)–d. Ko Dal-woo & Kim Mo-mo starring Jo Joon-ho, Son Hyeon

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Director Kang Cheol-su

12th December 2009

kang cheol-suOriginally posted May 14, 2008–On February 23, 1944, the man who would become known as director/writer Kang Cheol-su was born in the city of Jinju. His real name is Bae Yoon-shik, but he changed it after graduating from Saribel University and started his lifelong career–writing comics.  He debuted in 1960 with the comic book series Myeong-Tam-Jeong and for the next decade he continuously wrote comic books for children. However, in the mid-70s, he changed his target audience and started creating comics for adult readers. He had many popular series, but the most popular ones were Cheongnyeon Manse, Love’s Scribble, Money-Money-Money, Memories of Barbari, Shin Baduk Story and Night Sakura.

Of the above half dozen stories, one stood out as a cut above the rest, Memories of Barbari. It was the sad tale of a young man in constant search of money, sex and love. Sometime in the mid to late 80s, it was adapted as a stage play and was successful enough for production companies to become interested in it. In 1989, Kang was given the chance by Taekwang Productions to direct a movie based on his comic book. The film version starred Lee Hyo-jeong (whose only recent movie role recently was a small part in Silmido) as Dal-ho.  Dal-ho is deeply in love with Eun-kyeong (Ha Hee-ra) but she sees him as a man with no future and wants nothing to do with him. Dal-ho sets off, not only to prove her wrong, but also see if he can perhaps do better in finding a girlfriend.  He soon discovers that not all beautiful woman are kind.  Every woman he meets deems him to be too childish and cannot endure having him around. Eventually, Eun-kyeong, in the film version at least, comes around to discover that she does indeed love him.   While the comic book was a huge success, the film was not and it flopped in the theaters.

Although, Memories of Barbari was the only film directed by Kang, many of his other ‘graphic novels’ were their way onto the silver screen. The Dull Servant Pal Bul-chul was made into a movie in 1980 with a sequel, The Hero Pal Bul-chul, opening the following year. Both were directed by Ko Eung-ho. Love’s Scribble became a film in 1988 (d. Shim Jae-seok) and Money, Money, Money hit the silver screen under the direction of Yoo Jin-seon in 1991.  The most recent film adapted from one of Kang’s comics was The Story of an Unemployed Man (d. Jeong Joon-seob) in 1997.

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Haeundae (2009)

10th December 2009

haeundaeoriginally posted July 29, 2009–Haeundae Beach, sometimes called the Waikiki of Korea. It is a long, beautiful beach of fine sand and turquoise water. It is also walled in by hotels and apartments, but these are quite nice looking in and of themselves and although they subtract from the natural beauty of the area, they add an air of luxury and excitement.  Going to Haeundae three out of four seasons each year will result in a relaxing afternoon of walks on the beach and maybe some delicious raw fish in the evening. However, going there at the height of summer offers a completely different experience. The beach becomes packed with tourists. It won’t be long before the local news starts giving ‘counts’ of how many people were estimated to be at Haeundae. It will start at about 800,000 and work its way up to over a million sunbathers and swimmers  literally covering the sand with a sea of people. The nightlife is filled with fireworks, concerts, food and drink.

This crowded and exciting locale is the scene of the first film in Korea to feature a natural disaster.  In this case, we have a tsunami that is fast approaching the south coast of Korea–and not just any tsunami–this is a mega-tsunami that towers more than 100 meters in height. The people frolicking on the beach are unaware of their impending doom until an earthquake rocks the shore. From then they have only ten minutes to get to safety as a mountain of water rushes forward to engulf them.

Only ten minutes..  The wave will come, the water will recede and there is the possibility of another bigger wave.  That does not seem like enough time to cover an entire movie. So the first hour of the film is taken up with introducing the characters we will soon be watching fighting for their lives.  Three couples stand out among the cast of thousands, Man-shik/Yeon-hee, Kim Hwi/ Lee Yoo-jin, and Hyeong-shik/Hee-mi.  Man-shik (Seol Kyeong-gu) has been friends with Yeon-hee (Ha Ji-won) since childhood. Since his wife left him, Yeon-hee has been taking care of Man-shik who cannot seem to control how much he has to drink. His drunkness however is not due to being deserted by his spouse. It is because he survived the Indonesian Tsunami that claimed the life of Yeon-hee’s father.  Kim Hwi (Park Joong-hoon) is an oceanographer who watches for undersea earthquakes and predicts the possibility of tidal waves. He has recently been reintroduced to his career-driven ex-lover Lee Yoo-jin (Uhm Jeong-hwa) and her young daughter. Finally, their is the comic, budding love between lifeguard Hyeong-shik (Lee Min-gi) and a tough tourist from Seoul Hee-mi (Kang Ye-won).

The film takes its time to flesh out these characters and several others whom I didn’t mention so that when the wave strikes we actually care about the people involved and to add a personal touch to tragedy which will cost thousands of lives.  And it does an excellent job doing just that.  If you are going into the movie expecting non-stop action, you might be disappointed because the story starts off with just the day-to-day dramas that we all experience. However, when the action starts, it is amazing to behold. The computer graphics are well done in this movie and the acting is excellent. Seol Kyeong-gu and Ha Ji-won are excellent actors who know how to deliver a story and Park Joong-hoon has the experience to pull off anything–so I was not surprised that their rolls were good. I was surprised at the excellent work by Uhm Jeong-hwa and Lee Min-gi in this film.  Their acting in this movie surpasses anything that they have done before–and both of them had me crying at one or two points in the course of the film.  (Because of his work here, I am actually looking forward to seeing A Million which will open soon and also stars Lee Min-gi)* updated–A Million was not worth the wait*

If the film is so good but not perfect. Why?  Well, one of the reasons for that as the cast was introduced, I was able to predict who would live and who would die with an amazing degree of accuracy. Many of them commit ‘Hollywood-cinema-sins’…Person A is greedy, he must be punished. Person B is a bad mother, she must be punished, Person C will supply a noble death, Person D will die saving a child…  These are standard cliches that dominated the sub-genre of ‘Natural Disasters/Nature-Gone-Wild’ films which were especially popular during the 1970s (Like Towering Inferno, Avalanche–and earlier classics like The Birds).  And another, minor, problem I had was about the second wave.  I had to wonder—’How did anyone survive?’ It was huge! 

 I give this film 3 and a half out of 5 stars. This is how to make a big-budget film correctly.

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35th Seoul Independent Film Festival

8th December 2009

siffClasses are finished and final exams are nearly over!  So what to do?  Well, if you have the chance to be in Seoul at the end of this week, you may want to check out the 35th Seoul Independent Film Festival–or SIFF for short.  There is an amazing collection of movies being screened.  The majority of these are Korean made feature length films, shorts and documentaries.  Opening the festival will be One Night Stand, an omnibus film by directors Jang Hoon (Rough Cut), Min Yong-geun (award-winning short film director), and Lee Yu-rim. 

There will also be a selection of invited independent films from the Philippines subtitled in Korean and the entire filmography of director Zhang Lu from his 2001 short film Eleven to his 2008 film Iri and a 2009 documentary of Lu’s life and works called Of Hospitality by director Woo Hye-kyeong.

One word of caution. If you cannot understand Korean, than check the screening guide carefully.  While many of the films contain English subtitles, there are some notable exceptions like the opening feature and the Philippine movies.  Screenings will be held at Spongehouse and Indiespace from December 10-18.

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Korean Box Office: December 4-6

6th December 2009


Two new films opened to displace 2012 from the number one spot that it has held for the past three weeks. New Moon and Secret took the first and second ranked positions respectively.  KOFIC has now given an official English name to the films I had previously called The Hong Family Business  and Walking the White Night based on articles printed in the Korean Times.  They will now be known as The Descendents of Hong Gil-Dong and White Night.

Next week, an astounding 14 new films will open.  The majority of these are small, indie films that may not play in smaller cities and most of these had already opened in film festivals.


A. Actresses (kr)–d. Lee Jae-yong, starring Yoon Yeo-jeong, Lee Mi-sook

B. Bisang (kr)–d. Park Jeong-hoon, starring Kim Beom, Kim Byeol

C. C+ Zhen Tan (hk)–d. Oxide Pang, starring Aaron Kwok, Kai Chi Liu

D. A Dream Comes True (kr)– d. Jang Yong-woo, starring Cha In-pyo, Kim Hyo-jin

E. I’m In Trouble! (kr)– d. So Sang-min, starring Min Sang-wook, Jeong Ji-yeon

F. In the Valley of Elah (us)–d. Paul Haggis, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron

G. Julie & Julia (us)– d. Nora Ephron, starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

H. Law Abiding Citizen (us)– d. Gary Gray, starring Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx

I. Mai Mai Miracle (jp)–d. Sunao Ktabuchi, starring Mayuko Fukudo, Manami Honjou

J. Men Without Women (kr)– d. Song Jae-yoon, starring Kwak Won-jae, Kim Min-soo

K. Our Fantastic 21st Century (kr)– d. Ryu Hyeong-gi, starring Han Soo-yeon, Lee Hwan

L. Potato Symphany (kr)– d. Jeon Yong-taek, starring Yoo Oh-sang, Lee Gyu-hwe

M. Welcome (fr)– d. Phillipe Lioret, Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi

N. What Is Not Romance? (kr)– d. Park Jae-wook, Hong Eun-ji, Soo Kyeong

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