Seen in Jeonju

Archive for August, 2010

DVD (and Blue Ray) releases: August 15-21

14th August 2010

Two recent Korean films are being released on DVD this week and a 2006 movie is getting the Blue Ray treatment.

my dear desperado

My Dear Desperado (2 discs) — director: Kim Gwang-shik, starring: Park Joong-hoon, Jeong Yoo-mi  The story of a strong, educated but defensive young woman unable to find a job in these tough economic times, her neighbor, a small-time hood unable to fight anymore and their rocky relationship.  Subtitles: English & Korean/ Rating: Ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running time: 100 minutes/ Special Features: Optional commentary by Park Joong-hoon, Jeong Yoo-mi, Park Woo-sang, Jeong In-ki, production presentation, making, gallery, trailer/ Recommended price: 23,000 KRW/ Available: August 18

dirty carnival

Dirty Carnival (Blue Ray)– director: Yoo Ha, starring Jo In-seong, Nam Goong-min, Choi Ho-jin, Lee Bo-yeong.  This is one of the ‘must-see’ movies of 2006.  The dvd was released years ago and is readily available. I strongly recommend watching it. Now, if you have a Blue Ray player, it is available for your collection. Subtitles: English & Korean/ Rating: ages 18+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/ Special features: Optional commentary by Yoo Ha and producer Choi Seon-joong or alternately by Jo In-seong, Lee Bo-yeong and Jin Gu–other extras include making, fight stunts & choreography and too many others to mention/ Recommended price: 33,000 KRW/ Available: August 19

korea 1Korea 1%-(1 disc)-Director Jo Myeong-nam, starring Im Won-hee, Son Byeong-ho, Lee Ah-yi, Kim Min-gi.  When this was released in theaters a close friend of mine called and said that I had to watch the movie because it was the story of his military days when he trained as a special marine. The 1% in the title refers to ‘elite’ as only a select few can make the cut. I have yet to see the film and I learned that my friend hadn’t either. It did not get particularly good reviews. Subtitles: English & Korean/ Rating: Ages 12+/ Format: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen/ Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital/ Special Features: Making, Music Video, Trailer, optional commentary by assistant director Lee Se-yeong, Son Byeong-ho, Lee Ah-yi and Kim Min-gi/ Running Time: 103 minutes/  Recommended price: 22,000 KRW/ Available: August 19

Posted in DVDs: New Releases | Comments Off

Military Train (1938)

13th August 2010

military trainThis coming semester, I will have a class on Korean Film History. One of the first movies that the students will see is The Military Train made in 1938. It was the first of the pro-Japanese government sponsored films. Co-produced by Seong-bong and Toho Studios, the film is much less of a propaganda films than what would follow. In fact, the pro-government message of support the war and be loyal to Japan is only inserted rather hamfistedly at the end.  There are some sublter messages being passed along, but one has to be a little bit familar with the actors and director to see them.

The Military Train is not so much about a locomotive or even its driver Jeom-yong. Rather it is about his sister, Ye-shim and her lover Won-jin. Ye-shim has been working to help her brother, sending him to school which allowed him to get the presitgious job of driving the troop transport trains from Korea to the front lines in China. . Unfortunately, she had been working as a kisaeng or, as the subtitles state, a geisha. Her madam has spent her own money training Ye-shim and now holds Ye-shim accountable for the enormous sum of 2,000 KRW.  These days, that is about the price of a cup of ice coffee but at the time it was a large amount of money. A client has offered to pay that price for Ye-shim and the young woman is now in danger of being sold.

Naturally, her finace Won-jin is upset by this turn of events, but he has no way to come up with the money, at least until a spy for the (unamed in this film) Korean Independence Army overhears that Won-jin is Jeom-yong’s roommate and he has access to the military secrets and troop time tables. The spy promises to pay the entire amount of Ye-shim’s debt if Won-jin steals the secrets from his future brother-in-law and deliver them to him. Sick with worry for his true love, Won-jin readily agrees although he is clearly distressed and later guilt-ridden over the betrayal of his friend. When Jeon-yong eventually finds out, he is horrified that Won-jin would not only deceive him, but endanger the ‘peace of Asia’. Jeom-yong had been warned by his chief that if anything should happen to the military train, it could cause a skirmish like the Lugou Bridge Incident ( reference that sent me to Wikipedia where it is listed as The Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

This was the only film made by director Seo Kwang-je, a former actor and film critic. Seo originally started in film when he won a contest supported by the Chosun Film Art Association that selected twenty people for a free one year film course. After completing the course, Seo acted in just two films before becoming a film critic and theorist for KAPF, the Korean Artist Proletarian Federation. He later gave up his political leanings after going to Japan to work in 1932. When he returned to Korea, he was very pro-Japanese. I do not know what the motives were behind his change, but it did allow him to keep working.

Seo cast Wang Pyeong as Jeom-yong and Sasaki Nobuko as his lover Sooni. There is no mention of the two being different nationalities. It was, after all, the government’s wish to convince the people that Koreans and Japanese were one and that the intergration of Chosun and Japan was going smoothly. The two also represent progress and the future. Jeom-yong drives the train, a clears symbol of industrialization and growth even as it is a machine of war. Sooni works as a waitress on a passenger train and wears modern clothes and even high heels showing an openness to modernization. Ye-shim, on the other hand represents the past. She is in an antiquated profession and severely in debt. Although she was the means of Jeom-yong’s success, he has been forced to leave her behind to move forward to the future. Won-jik is shown as weak. He follows the strongest mind and makes his decisions based on his heart which eventually leads him to his decision to betray and, later in the film, into an even more drastic decision.

The film has some lighting issues and their is about a two-minute span where the screen is totally black. I think they may be due to the original film being damaged although the audio remains intact. I do not know what my students will think about it–especially when they have to write a paper contrasting the depiction of 1930s life in Korea between this film and a recent film set in the same time period like Radio Dayz or Modern Boy.  It is very different style of film from what they are used to– the era of silent movies had just ended but is still evident in some of the acting and shots– but at just an hour long, it is a good introduction to early Korean cinema.

Posted in Review, pre-1950 | 1 Comment »

Korean Box Office: August 6-8

8th August 2010


The Man From Nowhere, the official international title of Ajeoshi, squeaked by Inception and took the first rank spot which was vacated by Salt, now in the third tier.  But the shuffling of the box office was not the big news this weekend. A far more interesting story is the battle over I Saw The Devil.

It has been a while that censorship has so visibly raised its ugly head. It is true that The Butcher, a film that played at the Pucheon International Fantastic Film festival last year, was denied a release in Korea but no one really cared about that. It was an unknown slaher film with unknown actors. However, I Saw The Devil is a big-budget thriller directed by one of the more respected film directors and starring Korea’s two biggest actors–Lee Byeong-heon and Choi Min-shik.  The film was given a rating that effectively prevents it from opening in Korea. The production company had already spent a fortune on advertising and reserving theaters and they are refusing to give up the release date coming this week. Will the film open? We will know soon…

Censorship is nothing new to Korean theater, but it is something I thought was almost at an end. It was a common practice at the dawn of the age of Korean cinema, for the Japanese Colonial Government to review and censor films. Usually, this was done for political reasons and eventually, by the late 1930s, the government had completely taken control of the industry as a propaganda tool. However, they also censored for moral reasons. The Bloody Horse (1928) was a film based on the true story of an incest case. Censors took one look at it and chopped off more than 1000 feet of film. It was later denied a release and is now lost. The 60s thru 80s were infamous for the amount of censorship the government imposed on film. The Aimless Bullet (1961) was yanked from theaters after opening for its criticism of society and the government following the millitary coup thought it was too dangerous.  From that point, the government put the film industry in a stranglehold that nearly killed it by the 70s. Director Yoo Hyeon-mok faced fines and jail time for his ‘flouting’ of obsenity laws in Empty Dreams (1965) because it appeared the lead actress bared her back. She didn’t–she was wearing a nude-colored cloth. But it looked like she was nude and that was enough to offend the moral sensibilities of the censors. More recently films like Lies (1999) and Too Young To Die (2002) faced similar struggles–Lies failed, Too Young to Die managed to open–a sign of the changing times under a civilian government. What are we supposed to think now that the government is once again trying to protect our moral sensibilities? Don’t worry, I am sure the conservatives of President Lee’s government will tell us what we can think….

Anyway…now that I’ve got that off my chest… the films being released this week are listed below.


1. Descent 2 (uk)– d. Jon Harris, starring Shauna MacDonald, Douglas Hodge

2. El Sistema (de/fr)–d. Maria Stodfmeier, starring Paul Smaczny <documentary>

3. Experiment (us)– d. Paul Scheuring, starring Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker

4. Gloomy Sunday (jp)– d. Masato Harada, starring Yuko Oshima, Ryuhei Matsuda

5. I Saw the Devil (kr)–d. Kim Ji-woon, starring Lee Byeong-heon, Choi Min-shik

6. Limits of Control (us)– d. Jim Jarmusch, starring Isaach DeBankole, John Hurt

7. Nanny McPhee 2 (us)– d. Susanna White, starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal

8. Ocean World 3D (uk)– Jean-Jacques Mantell <documentary>

9. Possession of David Reilly (uk)– d. Steve Isles, starring Giles Anderson, Francesca Fowler <opening as Paranormal Possession in Korea>

Posted in Box Office | 2 Comments »

Ghost (2010)

8th August 2010

img392It used to be that theaters in Korea would be teaming with films of ghosts and ghouls each summer. The belief was that being scared helps to keep you cool. This tradition has been slowly disappearing however and this summer there are only a handful of ghost stories. The spirits of the night seem to have been replaced by ‘blockbusters’ and childrens’ movies. Has the horror genre been bled dry?  Last year, the excellent film Possessed offered hope that the genre was still alive and well, but it has not been followed up with anything memorable. In the third week of August, Pyega (possibly to be entitled The Abandoned House) will open. It is one of the ’shaky cam’ style of horror films like The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. While I liked the first three on that list, I hated Paranormal Activity so I am not sure what I will think of Pyega. There seems to be more action that Korea’s other documentary style/handicam horror Mokdugi Video which I said at one point lacked the hysterics of the Blair Witch Project–Judging from the trailer, I think Pyega has put the hysterics back in…  However, there was another horror film this year simply entitled Ghost. And if I were to judge solely on this film, I would have to say that the genre is well and truely dead.  Simply put, Ghost is not a good movie.

Technically, Ghost is actually three movies linked together by a short intro and closing seen directed by Kimjo Kwang-soo.  A name I recognized, I was hoping that Kimjo Kwang-soo would bring something different to the omnibus. One of Korea’s few openly gay filmmakers, Kimjo has recently had some success with his movies Just Friends? and Boy Meets Boy as well as having experience working with horror films such as when he assisted with the 2005  film The Red Shoes. But his experience and unique viewpoint were wasted here. The sexually ambiguous fortune teller might have been interesting, but he is overshadowed by ridiculous special effects–floating tarot cards– that draw attention away from him (much like the singing Cupid did to the stars of Boy Meets Boy). It also did not seem to mesh with the other segments of Ghost despite the fact that Kimjo’s opening and closing are supposed to draw them together. The girls are remarkably nonplussed by the floating cards and magically appearing fortune teller whereas they will scream at the drop of the hat for the rest of the movie.

That last statement is not an exaggeration. The first story of the omnibus is chock full of false scares. The girls screech and squeal at falling hats, cats, brooms and plastic bags. Rustling paper, closing doors and playing the piano are enough to send them into flights of panic. This segment is called The Beckoning Hand and it was directed by Jo Eun-kyeong who directed a 15 minute short horror film called They Live By Night in 2007. Miss Jo seems to have crammed every horror convention she could think of into this movie, even when they made no sense. Why, for example, was the entire basement of the abandoned school building draped in plastic? The only answer I can think of is that it is spooky and makes it difficult to see what could be lurking in doorways. I think someone thought that it was also spooky to have the music and background sounds blaring over the dialogue. It was very hard to hear what the actress were saying most of the time. Director Jo tried hard to come up with a reason for her ghost to be on a vengeful killing spree–wiping out her former friends one by one. However, there is no logical reason for the ghosts actions-even considering that ghosts don’t have to be logical. She had no one to blame for her accidental death except herself ..and maybe the kitten. Actually, had she been haunting the kitten, it would have been more interesting.

The next story could have benefited from a haunted kitten as well. I Have a Soulmate is an ultimately forgettable tale by Hong Dong-myeong who, up until now has only directed short films. The film is filled with uninteresting, unlikable characters. Of the two heroines, I am not sure whom we are supposed to identify with. Is it the clingy, pregnant one who is amazingly cheerful considering she is a high school student who will have a baby in just a couple of months? She has managed to keep the fact a secret for the entire school term but seems to think that she can have the baby in an unused storeroom in the school that she and her friend have set up as a semi-apartment. She is not very bright.  Her ’friend’ gets more screen time so I think she is actually the main character. However, not only does she betray her best friend, she is also directly responsible for letting the father of her friend’s baby die. Yes, he was a terrible man. But, not deserving of death especially as he begged her to save him before he dies and she easily could have done so. She is just lucky that men in these movies do not usually come back as vengeful spirits.

Or do they? The last story has an interesting male ghost of a seriel killer hunting down the ghost of his last victim. Directed by Yeo Myeong-joon, this is the most interesting of the three tales of the omnibus. His is the only part of Ghost that I would watch again. After experiencing some terrifying (and, in comparison to the rest of the film, extremely interesting) phenomena on the subway, Cheol-min skiddishly walks to school. It doesn’t take long to realize that he is like the boy in Sixth Sense but older. I was fine with that until my thoughts made the connection with Ghost Whisperer..and my heart sank a little. But while the Ghost Whisperer parallel is undeniable, this part of the movie remained good–mostly because it did not take itself too seriously. It was fun to watch as the boy, the grandson of a shaman, as he tried to stop the ghost of a killer –and the teacher he possessed– with the help of a timid girl ghost and a classmate who can’t see what he is fighting. Director Yeo previously made the feature length film The Code of the Duel  in 2006 and the 40-minute featurette The Righteous Battle–both of which I am now interested in seeing.

However, it was not enough to save Ghost. Released in June 2010, Ghost is not yet on DVD. I do not know if or when it will get a release. I don’t care. I won’t be buying it. Really. ….. Unless it is really cheap.  Then I might buy it ..but I won’t watch it right away. This is not a film I recommend.

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DVD Releases: August 8-14

8th August 2010

brilliant legacyThere is only one new Korean DVD being released this week–the SBS tv drama Brilliant Legacy. This romantic tale aired from April to July 2009 and proved to be extremely popular among female viewers thanks primarily to the presence of singer Lee Seung-gi who took the lead role. An excellent ballad singer, Lee owes much of his fame to his television roles starting with the comedy 1 Night 2 Days which served to propel him into the public eye. He is now a regular on many shows and, if you watch any five tv advertisements in Korea, then you have probably seen him. Brilliant Legacy also starred Han Hyo-joo (Postman to Heaven), Moon Chae-won (Our School’s ET) and Bae Soo-bin (Ghost).  The following are the dvd details–  Number of Discs: 10 (episodes 1-28)/ Subtitles: English/ Rating: Ages 15+/ Format: 4:3 Full Screen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0/ Region Code: 3/ Special Features: Actors best 5 scenes, Making, Kiss Scenes, Filming the Final Episode, NGs/ Recommended Price: 99,000 KRW/ Available: August 12

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Index of 1971: 106-120

7th August 2010

Here are the next 15 films produced in Korea in 1971. Click the thumbnail to see the full-sized image or access the plates through the tab at the top of the page marked Movies of the 70s where they are listed by director.

1971-106, 1971-107. 1971-108, 1971-109, 1971-110, 1971-111, 1971-112, 1971-113, 1971-114, 1971-115, 1971-116, 1971-117, 1971-118, 1971-119, 1971-120

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Korean Box Office: July 30-August 1

2nd August 2010


Salt was the number one movie in Korea this weekend although Inception gave it quite a run for its money, just barely missing the top spot and landing at number two. Media hailed Death Bell 2 as a success despite its box office take being barely a third of the number one film. That is because horror movies do not traditionally do well in Korea–especially recently–and opening at number 4 was seen as an excellent showing. I am happy to report that Pagwedwen Sanai was finally assigned an international name last week, Man of Vendetta, but it slipped out of the top ten this weekend and came in at number 12, just behind Ajeoshi which was given a test run on 10 screens nationally. Ajeoshi— which reminds me of the 1994 French film Leon every time I see the trailer–officially opens this Thursday along with the films listed below.


1. Ajeoshi (kr)–d. Lee Jeong-beom, starring Won Bin, Kim Sae-rom

2. Blackout (us)– d. Rigoberto Castaneda, starring Amber Tamblyn, Aiden Gillen <opening in Korea as Elevator>

3. I Give My First Love To You (jp)–d. Takehiko Shinjo starring Masaki Okada, Mao Inoue

4. Step Up 3D (us)– d. Jon Chu, starring Sharni Winson, Rick Malambri

5. Toy Story 3 (us)– d. Lee Unkrich, voiced by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

6. Two Eyes Staring (nd)– d. Elbert Van Strien, starring Isabelle Stokkel, Charlotte Arnoldy <opening as simply Two Eyes in Korea>

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DVD Releases: August 1-7

1st August 2010

long visit

Two Korean movies are being released as DVDs this week. The first is the mother-daughter drama starring Kim Hye-sook and Park Ji-hee entitled A Long Visit and directed by Yoo Seong-yeob. Number of discs: 1/ Subtitles: Korean & English/ Rating: Ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 108 minutes/ Special Features: Making, Poster Shoot, Music Video, Trailer/ Recommended Price: 25,000 KRW/ Available: August 4, 2010.

Blades of Blood is an action film starring Cha Seung-won, Hwang Jeong-min, Han Ji-jye and Baek Seung-hyeon. Optional commentary by the actors and director Lee Joon-ik is available on the first disc.  Number of discs: 2/ Subtitles: Korean & English/ Rating: Ages 15+/ Format: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen/ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/ Running Time: 111 minutes/ Special Features: Pre-production and planning, Making, Characters, Action Choreography, Music Video, Discussion with Audience, Trailers and more/ Recommended Price: 25,300 KRW/ Available: August 5, 2010.   Also, there are a limited number of DVDs that will include folding fans as pictured as an inset above. (The inset in the above photo is NOT to scale). The fan is listed as being 24cm at its tallest point.

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