Seen in Jeonju

Archive for January, 2010

Korean Box Office: January 29-31

31st January 2010


Avatar continued at the top of the national box office and has now been seen by an amazing 11.2+ million people in Korea. However, it shows signs of slipping after 7 weeks at the top as it did not rank first in each province of Korea. Here in North Jeolla, the heat-breaking Harmony landed in the top-ranked position.  However, if I had to make a prediction, I would say that neither of these will be number one next weekend when Uihyeongje opens.


A. Away We Go (us/uk)–d. Sam Mendes, starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph

B. Bobby (us)– d. Emilio Estevez , starring Anthony Hopkins, Lindsay Lohan

C. I Hate Valentne’s Day (us)– d. Nia Vardalos, starring Nia Vardalos, John Cobert

D. Man On A Wire (uk/us)– d. James Marsh, starring Philppe Petit (documentary)

E. Ricky (fr/it)– d. Francois Ozon, starring Alexandra Lamy, Sergi Lopez

F. Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms (den)–d. Thomas Borch Nielsen–Korean dubbed version voiced by Uhm Sang-hyeon, Ko Seong-il

G. Uiheongje (kr)– d. Jang Hoon, starring Song Kang-ho, Kang Do-won

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DVDs releases Feb 3-9

30th January 2010

haeundae dvd

In this coming week, there will be two new DVD releases. The first, pictured above is the 2-disk set of the diaster film Haeundae. The first disk contains the movie with optional commentary by the director and all the principle actors. Much of the second disk in made up the making of the film, especially the CG special effects. It also includes trailers, posters, a gag reel and the making of the film. Finally, a 52 page book is included which includes comments by all director, cast and filming crew. I do not have any information on it yet, but I suspect that the book is Korean language only.  The film, however, has English subtitles.  Haeundae will be availible for sale on February 4 with a suggested retail price of 27,500 KRW.

fortune salonFortune Salon will be released for sale on February 3. This is also a two-disk set which includes the subtitled film with commentary by the director Kim Jin-yeong and cast member Kim Hee-won.  The second disk contains deleated scenes, a section called ‘fortune family’, a photo session for the poster, recording of the music and the trailers. Suggested retail price is 23,500 KRW. 

This is the first time I am writing about new DVD releases. I believe this is something I will continue to do each weekend to let you know what is coming in the week ahead.

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Sorum (2001)

29th January 2010

sorumRecovered post: Originally posted March 28, 2009–Sorum is a movie I have been wanting to see for a long time. I do not know why I missed it when it was released in theaters back in August of 2001 but the dvd has been out of print until recently when it was re-issued. I had high expectations when I sat down to view the movie and, for the most part, I was not disappointed. The story is interesting, each of the small cast of characters is engrossing, and the atmosphere eerie. Not eerie enough to justify the title ‘Sorum’ which in English means ‘goosebumps’ but eerie enough to keep me in suspense. The movie is described as a thriller/horror film but the actual horror elements are minimal. Barring the re-animated hamster (which is itself a questionable event as the only witness to it is completely insane) and in any case is not especially horrifying) and the grieving Eun-soo’s dream discussions with her dead boyfriend there is little to indicated any supernatural activity save for the ramblings of a failed author with an overactive imagination. Instead, the movie should be thought of as a mystery/thriller. The viewer is not handed the answers to anything and is instead expected to work everything out for themselves.  However, I expect that this movie has not been more popular because there are no clear answers and the very sudden ending that leaves even more questions than when we began.

The movie begins with taxi driver Yong-hyeon moving into room 504 of a run down apartment. To call the place a dump is the understatement of the decade. It is nearly unliveable and filled with junk that the stingy owner has stored in there. The room has mismatched wallpaper and an odd scorch mark in the center of the ceiling. None of this is disturbing to Yong-hyeon as he settles in. He does not believe in ghosts although his neighbors tell him of a death that occurred in his room. But that may be because Yong-hyeon is more than a little strange himself. This makes him fit right in with the rest of the residents of the building. These include Seon-yeong, a young wife who endures endless, savage beatings by her husband and is full of grief for her lost child. She does not take care of her appearance and appears to be barely fuctioning at all even as she works at her overnight job at a Seven 11. 

Another important character is Eun-soo who is mourning the death of her whom we learn perished in a fire. She is also barely clinging to reality as her nights are haunted by dreams of her dead lover, Kwang-tae who predicted something bad would happen to him if he stayed in his apartment. She is jealous of relationship forming between Yong-hyeon and Seon-yeong as it takes time away from the time she can spend with her best friend who was her only shelter from her nights of terror. We also learn that she had been pregnant at the time her lover died but what happened after that is left unspoken although she is definitely childless. Then there is Mr. Lee who had formly owned a publishing company. After it went under, his wife left him taking his kids and he has been struggling to write a great horror novel based on events in the apartments past ever since. However, there is some suspicion cast as to how he got the idea for the novel…

What I found very interesting was the fact that many characters important to the plot are people we never meet. The missing Min-jeong, the lost son of Seon-yeong, the long absent parents of Yong-hwan and the dead Kwang-tae. The viewer will often find him/herself asking “Did so-and-so kill so-and so?”  This is a question that can be asked at least seven times by my calculations (eight if you include the hamster). Do not expect answers from the movie though. All the answers must come from your own suppositions. There are only two deaths we are sure of the cause and one of these happened years ago as part of one character’s drunken confession.

If you are going to watch this movie, I suggest you do so with a friend. Not because it is too frightening to watch alone, but because it is the kind of movie that is fun to talk about after the credits roll. Comparing notes and working through the plot points with my friends raised many interesting theories that I would love to discuss here but I do not want to give away too much of the story.  The only thing I can say is track down the DVD and watch this film. The sudden ending may leave some feeling unfulfilled, but I found it fodder for long discussions and the perfect end for a film filled with questions.

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Director Kim Seong-soo

27th January 2010

kim seong-sooKim Seong-soo, the youngest of five children, was born in Seoul on June 19, 1961.  He attended Sejong University and majored in English but his passion for movies was ignited after joining a movie club at school where he befriended director Yoo Ha, who had re-enrolled in school, and director Ahn Pan-seok.  Viewing Yooo Hyeon-mok’s film The Aimless Bullet, he is quoted as saying that ‘there has never been a movie like this’ and claims that was the inspiration behind him enrolling at Dongguk University’s graduate program for film. However, he didn’t finish the program. Instead he jumped at the chance to join director Park Kwang-soo’s team in writing and filming The Black Republic (1990) and The Berlin Report (1991).  He also assisted on the screenplay for Lee Hyeon-seung’s film The Blue In You (1992).

The first film he directed was a 1993 short film called Bimyeong City. After its release, he continued to help other directors with their screenplays while preparing his first feature length film, Run Away which opened in 1995.  However, it was his second film, Beat, that caught the attention of the nation.  Opening a year earlier than Shiri, Beat is an early indication of the changes that were taking place in Korean film-making and it remains a favorite to this day.

Kim followed up this film with City of the Rising Sun and the epic film Musa (sometimes listed as The Warriors).  In 2003, Kim directed and produced Please Teach Me English and in 2006 he produced The Restless.  Kim Seong-soo should not be confused with another director by the same name born in 1938 and still active in the film industry today.

Below is an interview I had translated several years ago at the time of the release of Please Teach Me English.  It was conducted and written by Lee Ji-hoon and Joo Seong-cheol and appeared in the magazine Film2.0 on November 16, 2003. The original article in Korean can be viewed here:


I couldn’t help noticing that you have a picture of Che Guevara hanging on the wall.

Oh, I’ve admired him for a long time. Wasn’t he great? (laughs) His life was amazing. He was a romantic and, as I get older, I feel that he had some kind of spark in him. He’s not a bad looking guy either. You know, you can’t get a picture like that just anywhere. I bought it while I was in Italy at a communist bazaar.  They open it once a year like a kind of village festival. I’ve seen many pictures of Che Guevara but I never found one that I really liked until I bought this one. I only paid about W10,00 for it.

Che Guevara’s image of the romantic revolutionary seems related to the image of some of the characters in your movies.

That could be. I was brought up in a time when people would get excited watching movies where the hero from the National Independence Army would come riding over the hill to save the downtrodden.  There has been that feeling of heroism in my movies.

I have heard that you like romantic comedies.

Probably everyone who claims to like movies, enjoys romantic comedies. I am like anyone else and I like a wide variety of films.  I had thought about making a romantic comedy before.  I wanted to debut with Dr Bong.  If I had succeeded at that time, no one would be asking me why I am making a comedy now. (laughs)

But aren’t most of your movies along the lines of action and adventure like Beat, City Of The Rising Sun and Musa?

Oh, of course.  People tell me that I am a director who makes these macho-action movies, especially as I started to get settled down in Chungmuro.  But I feel defensive when I hear that.  To tell the truth, I think I have typecast myself as an action movie director.  It is partly because I love the movies of Chang Cheh and Bruce Lee.  When I was young, I enjoyed watching westerns and war movies in the theaters or on tv. And I just remembered…when I was in college, I joined a movie club. I was asked to write down a list of my ten favorite movies.  I put Bruce Lee’s  Fists Of Fury at the top of my list and everyone made fun of me. (laughs)  It was the mid-80’s and everyone was analyzing the films of people like Sergio Eisenstein or Jean-Luc Godard.  Anyway, since finishing school, I don’t watch many action movies. And films like Fists Of Fury don’t appeal to me like they did when I was younger. I have asked myself many times how I am different now from when I was younger and was able to get interested in those movies. I’ve come to conclusion that I just have different tastes now.  These days, I get introduced as the director who makes movies describing a tough, male-driven society, but I don’t really agree with that assessment. Of course, my movies may seem that way, but that’s not necessarily how it is.

I remember that people seemed a little shocked when they heard that Kim Seong-soo was going to make Please Teach Me English. Is what you just said the reason why you planned a new romantic comedy?

I have no idea why people were shocked (laughs).  The thought of me doing a romantic comedy must have seemed alien to them. I have no idea why. (laughs). I sometimes get this rebellious feeling when I hear about what people expect from me.  I will soon be in my mid-40’s and, having already started my own company, I feel like I shouldn’t be holding still.  I have set up a new office.  Of course, it’s not a venture business, but I am feeling in the need of some adventure at this time (laughs).  The reason I made Please Teach Me English was because I liked the scenario. I especially liked the role that was given to Lee Na-yeong.

It is a fact that this is the first movie you made where the main character is a woman and many people doubted you would be able to understand a female character or be able to depict her well.

I’ve heard that a million times.  It is true that I don’t know much about women. I have never been in their minds or been able to look deeply into their psyche.  I was brought up at a time when it wasn’t really a man’s place to know or care what makes women tick.  For example, in Jang Hyun-su’s Rules Of The Game, there is a scene on the rooftop scene between Park Jung-hoon and Lee Kyeong-yeong.  When I watch a scene like that where two men are talking, I completely understand the corresponding emotions. Maybe not everyone can understand the feeling, but I do. (laughs). Anyway, I can understand everything about men and their emotions, but I wasn’t sure about making a film that depicts a female character. However, this script was too good to pass up.  The character of Yeong-ju is sweet and charming in the scenario.  I thought I could handle that movie because the director’s job is to simply change the written scenario into a series of images.

A director’s job is to change a scenario into a series of images?

Isn’t it?  That’s what a director does.  There might be some directors who are able to show the audience more than what can be seen on the screen, but I’m not at that level yet.  I’ve been trying to work on that.  Anyway, in Please Teach Me English, I tried to make it more of a character-driven movie without using too many special effects.  I have found that most good romantic-comedies focus on the characters without special camera tricks. Rather than making this film realistic, I tried to make it like a cartoon.

When you make films in a genre other than action, don’t you find it difficult to find a balance between your old style and the style you want people to see?

I didn’t realize that I had my own style.  The reason I became known for a certain style is because I have wanted to try various techniques in my works, not because I am stylistic.  I am still a young director and I believe it is my job to try various things and see how they appear on the screen.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that well. (laughs).  But with Please Teach Me English, I didn’t worry about that. I wanted to follow the scenario as closely as possible.  I did have one thought regarding my style of directing. Because most of the films I have made were action movies, I had no time to discuss a scene with the actor before filming. Musa is an example.  It was really difficult to get all those horses standing where they should be standing or trying to capture the wind which would only be blowing perfectly for just a second.  But when the time was right, I would yell, “Alright! Let’s go! Woo-sung, move forward now!” Then he would walk forward a bit and say, “But what am I supposed to do?” (laugh)  I wouldn’t even tell the actors what to do in certain scenes.  Then I would say. “What? You mean I didn’t tell you? Alright, don’t worry about it. Just move forward and turn your face once to look back as you walk across.”  That’s how I would do it. It left something to be desired because it was just using the image of the actors instead of extracting quality from them.  Other directors have a chat with the actors before the scenes.  I really envied that technique. (laughs)  So I decided to talk a lot with the actors this time.

Besides the genre, there are other differences between Please Teach Me English and your other films.  Your other movies all deal with these do-or-die situations and the instinctive reactions and explosive violence that came with them.  In Please Teach Me English, these situations don’t exist.  Were you comfortable with such a big change?

I felt comfortable with it because I like both styles.  When I’m in a singing room, I sing trote and then something for Sechs Kies.  The film Musa uses all things related to action and heroism.  But the work was just too much for me to manage. But even though there were many difficulties, I never once lost my temper or considered giving up.  I usually just dive headlong into my business. There was just one time near the end when we were filming the final battle when I thought to myself, “This is going to be tough.”  After finishing Musa, I briefly thought about making a film about the Korean War, but I decided that I needed a little time before beginning such a huge project.  A few days later, producer Jo Min-hwan, who had just set up Nabi Pictures, showed me Please Teach Me English which was one of the many scenarios he had in the works.   Looking back on it, I don’t think I had any specific kind of movie in mind. I was just looking to try something different.  I think I chose this scenario because I wanted change.

Are you happy with the finished product?

Who on earth is ever satisfied with his own work? (laughs) I do have one regret though, that I didn’t go into the characters a little deeper.  I should have examined and fleshed out Yeong-ju and Mun-su a little more.

Despite the title of the movie being about English, the movie focuses much more on the romantic comedy aspect than on the English theme. Maybe you could have included more episodes based on learning English to make it even more entertaining.

At first, I wanted to include more parts on learning English. But in the planning stage, others pointed out that the Korean audience would not appreciate the movie being filled with English. I agree now that it was a good idea to take it out. Viewers don’t like when English is used too much.  For instance, say that my foreign friends and I are sitting here.  While I am looking away or doing something else for a minute, they talk among themselves and laugh about something someone said. What should I do then? Look at my friends and ask, “What’s going on? What did I miss?” No. I would just pretend to be on my way to the bathroom.  It would embarrass me to ask what was going on especially if they explained it to me and I still couldn’t understand.  In a similar way, viewers are uncomfortable with movies which are full of English that they can’t completely understand. So we took most of the English parts out of the movie in the early stages.

Another thing I have to ask about is Mun-su’s adopted sister.  It seems to me that many recent Korean comedies discuss family issues.

I grew up in Itaewon so I have seen the kind of meetings that my movie describes. But these days are somewhat different than it was in the past.  Before, if a child who was adopted by an American met his or her parents, they would just sit together and sob.  But nowadays, people think that it is ‘cool’ to have a child living overseas. I have never thought that overseas adoptions were foolish or tragic.  In the movie, Yeong-ju is a woman living in a fantasy world so I tried to balance her character by making Mun-su more grounded in reality.  But by doing that, Mun-su became the one who would be discussing the adoption situation. Once we got into shooting the scene, I realized that Mun-su’s character would find meeting his adopted sister very emotional and everyone would be left sobbing.  That is not how I wanted to end the movie so it concludes with the romance of Yeong-ju and Mun-su.

Many directors of commercial films not only want to make movies that the audience can enjoy, but they want to give the stories a little deeper meaning and take the audience a little further. Is that what you were trying to do?

I don’t want to take the audience any further than they want to go. I want to make films that match the viewers tastes and expectations.  That has been my policy since I debuted as a director with Run Away.  I have always thought that people would find a movie fun if I found it fun.  I am no higher than any other movie-goer. I do try to do something new each time as I believe that viewers want to see new things.

I heard that this movie was selected as the first movie produced by Nabi Pictures because it was a safe choice economically.

It wasn’t that. We were considering other movies besides this one. Right now we are making My Mother The MermaidDirector Park Heung-shik was preparing a movie for us and new director Jo Dong-ho was planning to make a science fiction movie set in the Gobi Desert. However Park wasn’t able to obtain the copyright of the original Japanese animation that his movie would be based on and Jo also ran into trouble.  I had been thinking about producing a big film with a budget of W500 million, but decided it would be much to big a financial burden.  For practice, I instead planned an omnibus of three short stories.  But the investment process didn’t go as well as I thought.  I was only able to gather W100 million.  I was depressed about that.  I thought that it would be best to give that money to the youngest of my director friends.  So I invested in one film.  I want to gather more money and produce two more movies.  Anyway, the next movie that came my way was Please Teach Me English.  I didn’t try to be especially careful with it or anything just because it was the first movie of Nabi Pictures.

You’re thinking about becoming a producer?  You have a long history of directing films, why would you be attracted to producing?

I am not looking to become a producer as a career but as a producer who continues to work in the fields.  I used to think that a movie would be mine if I directed it. But working on Musa made me think differently.  I worked closely with producer Jo Min-hwan while making that film.  I saw more of him than I did my wife.  While we were working on Musa, I realized that it wasn’t my movie.  It was Jo Min-hwan’s.  I came to realize that it was the producer who actually made the film and with that in mind, I thought that producing a movie would be fun. Also, these young directors today are great.  If it is possible, I hope to help them by investing in their films. When I think about Nabi Pictures, I think it would be ideal if Jo Min-hwan handled the financial and investment end of the business and I should manage the creative parts.  In that way, the system would balance out.

So in the past, you felt that it was the director who makes a movie, but now you realize that a movie is produced through a joint effort.

I haven’t thought that a movie belongs to a director for a long time.  When I went to Cannes the first time, I was so excited. I felt that all my dreams had come true.  I had just gone for pleasure, but I put my arm around Spike Lee’s shoulder and the whole wonderful movie world was there before me.  After some time, I went a second time. A friend of mine in France asked me to help his business.  I went there to do marketing.  I looked around and I was shocked.  I thought a movie came about from a director’s creativity, but that is not the way it is.  I realized that a movie’s life comes about from the people who invest in films. I felt that in the movie industry, being the director is a very small part.  That made me think more about the system of making films.  I am not saying that is how it has to be but it is what the current situation is.

As an experienced director, do you also think about helping newcomers?

I never though about that before!  But I think…. I think that I should be responsible for my own work so I don’t make trouble for other people. If I decide to help new directors, it will not out of any sense of duty.

How has your attitude towards movies changed as you’ve gotten older?


Is that a difficult question? (laughs)

It’s just that I have been thinking about that very question myself recently, especially after completing Musa. When I was young, I thought that movies were my life. But I have changed. How am I different now? I wish I could answer that, but I’m not sure I know. (laughs)  I still don’t know myself very well.

Are you worried about losing some of your audience since your film will be released on the same day as Matrix 3?

When I thought about the release date, I only took other Korean films into consideration. Movie-goers these days enjoy local films more than Hollywood movies. I thought that Untold Scandal and Once Upon A Time A Battlefield would offer strong competition. After looking at their scenarios, I thought that The Greatest Expectation, Spring Breeze, Oh, Brothers and Oldboy would be good too.  There was no possible date I could pick that would avoid being released on the same day as one of these.  It is not useful to have Korean films compete against each other.  I thought that I would rather go up against Matrix 3. Matrix 3 is more of a man’s film while Please Teach Me English is more likely to attract female viewers. I thought about the target audience when I chose the date.  If I am asked, “Why are you competing against Matrix 3?” I will say, “Why not? Isn’t it great?” (laugh) We were scheduled to open on November 5 and Matrix 3 was originally slated for November 7, but then it got pushed up two days to the 5th.  There was nothing we could do about it.

Do we get to see a new Kim Seong-soo film soon?  Will it be a new genre or will you be going back to your old style?

I might try a different genre.  I don’t only make action movies or romantic comedies. I’m not like that. But I might return to my former style. It was fun to make a romantic comedy but it’s hard for me to get used to filming this way. It’s too easy (laugh) I miss the hardships filming in the Gobi Desert.  I feel like doing a movie like Musa again.  I just needed a rest.  After the success of Musa, people started asking about a <Musa 2>, but it wasn’t possible at that time.  Now I would be open to the idea of making a film like that.  I am up to the possibility of making any kind of movie.

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Extremely Good Luck (1975)

25th January 2010

extremely good luckShim Woo-seob was a prolific director who debuted in 1959 and continued to make films up to 1983.  In that twenty-four year period, he made a total of 76 films.  With such an impressive number of movies, you might think that his name would come up occassionally in film circles along with his contemporaries like Shin Sang-ok, Im Kwon-taek or Kim Ki-yeong however he remains virtually unknown.  The reason is because the vast majority of his films were comedies. In fact, he was known as the master of the comic film during the 60s and 70s often working with the biggest names in comedy at the time including Ku Bong-seo and Kim Hee-gab. His better known films include Daughter-in-Laws from 8 Provinces (1970) which is one of the numerous ‘Paldo’ movies, and The Male Housemaid (1968).  He also directed The Male Beautician (1968) reviewed earlier on this site.  The vast majority of his films have no deep meaning. They were meant as pure turn-off-your-brain-and-just-watch entertainment.  Extremely Good Luck, like some other Korean comedies of the early 70s, has a very Disney-esque feeling to them. During my childhood in the 70s, Disney studios has moved a little away from cartoons for awhile and was making ‘live-action’ films such as the Apple Dumpling Gang or the North Avenue Irregulars.  While watching Extremely Good Luck, I kept picturing Dick Van Dyke in the role of Sam-ryong.  Van Dyke would have excelled at a role like this and his comic timing and delivery was exactly what this movie needed to make it better.  As this is not on DVD and there is probably a zero percent chance that it ever will be, I will talk a little bit about the plot. 

Sam-ryong (played by Bae Sam-ryong) is a kind-hearted but rather simple man. However, he is also extremely poor. While he may not seem to need much money for himself, his hardworking girlfriend who has been supporting him is now in finacial trouble. Seeing that he has little choice, Sam-ryong decides to become a thief.

Unfortunately, Sam-ryong’s kindness and good-manners work against him in this profession. Before burglarizing any house, he announces his intention loudly to give people a chance to say that they don’t want to be robbed.  His first venture proves successful as the drunken owner of the house gives Sam-ryong the combination to the safe and allows him to take as much as he needs. His next attempts are far less successful. In one of them, he is continually interupted in trying find money to steal by bill collectors at the door. The considerate robber pays each out of his own pocket. He also has to do some errands for the house owner who calls and mistakes him for one of her servants. She arrives home before he can make off with any valuables. In another situation, while casing homes, Sam-ryong thwarts a more ruthless thief played by Lee Ki-dong.  Ki-dong offers to split the loot with him but the honest Sam-ryong cannot accept stolen property and his cries of ‘Thief’ quickly drive Ki-dong away.

Ki-dong becomes a rival of Sam-ryong and the two encounter each other at almost every robbery with the latter coming out on top. Sam-ryong never actually steals anything else though. He winds up returning a briefcase he found containing some important documents but talks the reward money down as he doesn’t need the full amount that was being offered. And while breaking into another house, he manages to stop a murder plot from being carried out. Both of these situations demonstrate his honesty and sense of responsibilty and make for a happy end to the film.

The film is mildly entertaining, suffering a bit with the passing of more than three decades. However, its biggest problem lies in the execution and timing of the sight gags. Something that his funny once is dragged out until it wears out its welcome. This is especially true in the tiger rug scene where a tiger skin falls on the stunned Sam-ryong and he crawls around the house terrifying people. The first person he encounters screams and faints dead away. So does the second. And the third. And the fourth and fifth.  It was funny once. I was willing to let it slide the second time. But five times were too many.

Although it was not a great movie and a little on the childish side, I would be willing to see more by this director.  I wish there were more interest in older films where someone could put together a Shim Woo-seob or a Ku Bong-seo DVD boxset and people would be interested in buying it. But with the lack of interest and current state of the DVD market, I do not think that will be happening soon.

Posted in 1970s, Review | Comments Off

Korean Box Office: January 22-24

24th January 2010


Avatar joined a very exclusive club over the weekend.  It became one of just six movies to earn over 10 million viewers in Korean theaters. The other films are Taegukgi, Shilmido, The King and the Clown, The Host and Haeundae.   Attack the Gas Station 2 landed in the second tier position, but I think it was just a curiostity factor that drew people in (like me).  It is not one that I will be recommending to anyone… This  week’s new releases are listed below.


A. Bobby (us)– d. Emilio Estevez, starring Anthony Hopkins, Lindsey Lohen

B. Did You Hear About the Morgans? (us)– d. Marc Lawrence, starring Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker

C. Eden of the East (jp)– d. Kenji Kamiyama– animation

D. Harmony (kr)– d. Kang Dae-gyu, starring Kim Yoo-jin, No Moon-hee

E. How To Be (uk)– d. Olivia Irving, starring Robbert Pattison, Rebbeca Pidgeon

F. Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi War (kr) — d. Baek Dong-hoon, starring Kim Jeong-eun, Jin Gu

G. Le Petit Nicolas (fr)– Laurent Tirard, starring Maxime Godart, Kad Merad

H. September Issue (us)– d. R.J. Cutler, starring Anna Wintour, Sienna Miller

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Hyperbole of Youth (1956)

21st January 2010

hyperbola of youthOriginally posted November 28, 2008–Director Han Hyeong-mo’s Hyperbole of Youth launched an era of Korean comedies in the mid to late 50’s and solidified the careers of of several important stars includign the lead players Hwang Hae and Yang Hoon. However, although it is classified as a comedy, this film is actually more of a social drama with comedic elements.  It is the story of starving Myeong-bo and overweight Bu-nam.  Their names already clue us in to the fact that this is a form of social morality play as Bu-nam has the meaning of ‘wealthy man’ and Myeong-bo means ‘rare treasure’. The characters of the two men fit their names perfectly. Myeong-bo lives his life in poverty, but he never complains as he struggles to take care of his elderly mother and younger sister as best he can.  On the other hand, Bu-nam is from an extremely wealthy family and used to the finest things money can buy. However, even though he is certainly spoiled, Bu-nam is not depicted as evil because of his wealth. Rather he is shown to be rather clueless as to how the rest of the world lives.  His ignorance is ended on the day that he visits the office of Doctor Kim with a distended stomach. His problem? Overeating and not enough exercise. While he is there, Myeong-bo visits the doctor as well with a case of exhaustion and malnutrition. As the two men know each other from their college days, the doctor suggests a simple solution–they should switch lifestyles for two weeks. Myeong-bo is to go live in Bu-nam’s house while Bu-nam will live in Myeong-bo’s shack in a shanty town overlooking Seoul.

While the expected humerous elements occur as each one tries to adjust to their new way of life and relate to the other’s family, these elements are muted and do not drag the movie down to slapstick. In fact, the situation is handled with surprising sensitivity. Poverty in movies is often glorified as a kind of purity while rich people are often depicted as selfish at best and outright evil at worst. Here, even the most snobbish of Bu-nam’s family is actually quite kind and his parents accept Myeong-bo without question. Meanwhile, Myeong-bo’s mother does not judge Bu-nam. She merely expresses concern that he will not find her house as comfortable as he is used to.

The plot flows along rather predictably but it is nonetheless enjoyable. The acting is quite good but that is to be expected. Hwang Hae (Myeong-bo) would go on to become a mainstay in Korean films for the next two decades .  Yang Hoon (Bu-nam) would team up with Yang Seok-cheon (Dr. Kim) for their next dozen films and their fat/skinny relationship would have them be like the Laurel and Hardy of Korean cinema.

Perhaps though, the most unexpected and enjoyable part of this movie occurs right at the beginning with the appearance of the Kim Sisters as The Singing Nurses. Their harmony and nonsense song makes them sound exactly like their inspiration, the Andrew Sisters.

Before this film, Han Hyeong-mo directed the excellent Hand of Fate (1954) and his next project following Hyerbole of Youth was the famous Madame Freedom (1956). He has fifteen other films to his credit, but these three are definitely his best. They are also all available on DVD and I would recommend seeking them out if you have an interest in early Korean movies.

Posted in 1950s, Review | 2 Comments »


21st January 2010

dvd orderAs I mentioned earlier in the week, I was recently forced to find a new supplier of DVD to feed my addiction after Madmad closed its e-doors as of January 11th.  A brief search led me to DVDKorea ( where I was very impressed with the selection.  They had many things I had been looking for such as Looking for Bruce Lee and the remaining two films of the Dokgotak series. They also had many films that I formerly owned on VHS but had not yet replaced such as Quiet Family and Phantom Submarine.  All in all, I clicked about a hundred titles to place them on reserve and from that list ordered 26 titles. 

On the plus side, the order arrived within twenty-four after I sent payment.  But there was a large drawback.  Only 23 titles  were in the box which lacked an invoice.  Missing were the films Gosu from 1997 which I know very little about, a three-disk box set featuring the films of director Min Byeong-hoon (Flight of the Bee, Let’s Not Cry and Pruning the Grapevine) and Korean Short Animated Films vol.2.  Checking the website, they do state those films have not yet been sent, so I guess I can expect them eventually.

I think I was spoiled with the quality of service I had experienced while a customer of Madmad.  If films were going to take longer to send, it was always posted right on the order site.  If a movie or two were going to be late, they would send an email to inform me.  An invoice was always included with my orders and in most cases a freebee was included (which was how I acquired movies like Oh! Brothers and the Hi Dharma series).

I guess will wait and see how long it takes them to complete more order before I decide whether or not to continue using this company.  I may have to shop around a little more…

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Lifting King Kong (2009)

20th January 2010

lifting king kongIn the summer of 2009, Take Off opened and quickly proved itself to beone of the surprises of the season. That film, about Olympic ski-jumping, followed not too far behind Forever the Moment which dramatized the true story of the Korean Olympic women’s handball team… But during the course of the summer, a second movie based on an Olympic team was released–Lifting King Kong (which was erroneously called Bronze Medalist by the Korean Times).  It is the story of the coach who trained the athletes of Korea’s Olympic women’s weightlifting team. But this film was far less successful than either of the other’s previously mentioned.

One of the reasons for this may be the sport itself. Handball can be exciting and ski-junmping is breathtaking. Weightlifting is a static in comparison. It is truely difficult to thrill to someone lifting a barbell.  I think the director realized this and spent much more time on the training process and the relationship between the young athletes and their trainer, 1988 bronze medal winner Lee Ji-bong.

However, the movie differs from Take Off in another aspect. It lacks the humor that was injected into Take Off’s story and what humor there is seems extremely forced. Without that added touch, Lifting King Kong comes off a little weepy. Each of the students has a burden to bear and their coach is chock full of problems guarenteed to tug at the heartstrings–perhaps too much.

Yes, I had tears in my eyes several times during the film, so the movie successful if that was its purpose. However it fails in a key area.  It lacks any sort of tension. In other Korean sports films, (Champion, Superstar Mr. Gam in addition to the ones mentioned at thebeginning of this review), I knew the end of the movie before it started because they are based on well-known events.  Yet somehow these films managed to generate suspense. But that was not the case with Lifting King Kong which, although is also based on an actual event, I did not know how would end.

While Lifting King Kong is not a bad film, it is not the best the genre has to offer.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Korean Box Office: January 15-17

17th January 2010


It is nice to be back in Korea, but there have been a few changes while I was gone. Most shocking to me was the fact that the internet dvd company I shopped at had closed its doors as of January 11th. The brief message on their website indicated that it was for ‘personal reasons’. Now the website has completely disappeared and with it has gone Cineseoul.  I hope the latter is a temporary situation as it had an extensive database which I used regularly. Cineseoul was linked to Madmad, the dvd company, and you could find a film and then click it to order.  It may be that Cineseoul is now looking for another company to make the same arrangement–it would be a shame to lose that site–but as of now, Cineseoul is offline.  I found a new website to shop for movies and placed a (too) large order this morning.  I will post my impressions about the new site I’m using after I receive the order…  <<Edit:  Cineseoul is back online. Glad to see that it was only temporary!>>

Below is what is opening this week in Korean theaters.  Of particular interest to me in the new Attack the Gas Station.  It will be interesting to see the differences between the first and the sequel with so much time seperating


A. Attack the Gas Station 2 (kr)– d. Kim Sang-jin, starring Ji Hyeon-woo, Jo Han-seon

B.  Bodyguards and Assassins (hk)– d. Teddy Chan, starring Donny Yen, Nicholas Tse

C. Ex (it)–d. Fausto Brizzi, starring Christian Capotondi, Malik Zidi

D. Joomoonjin (kr)– d. Ha Myeong-joong, starring Kim Ki-beom, Hwang Bo-ra

E. 500 Days of Summer (us)– d. Marc Webb, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ooey Deschanel

F. Nice Shorts (kr)– d. Kim Yeong-geun, Kim Ye-yeong, starring Lee Da-in, Jo Yeong-jin

G. Princess and the Frog (us)– d. Ron Clemnts, starring Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard

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