FNC 2017 Review: Claire’s Camera, by Hong Sang-soo

Kim Min-hee, left and Isabelle Huppert on the beach in Cannes, France, in Hong San-soo’s film Claire’s Camera.

Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire) is one of two Hong Sang-soo films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma this year. (The other is The Day After. You can read my review here.)

Claire’s Camera feels like the thinner, lesser effort to me, even though stars Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee do seem to have a genuine rapport.

The film was shot at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and shown at the 2017 edition. So very meta!

Kim Min-hee plays Jeon Man-hee, a sales agent at a Korean film company. Man-hee is astounded when her boss, Nam Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) invites her out for coffee and then fires her in a puzzling, roundabout way. She mentions Min-hee’s good nature and big heart but also accuses her of being dishonest. We have no idea what she’s talking about and clearly Min-hee doesn’t, either. Does the boss think Min-hee has been dipping into the petty cash?

Actually, the problem is love, not money. Though other reviewers have gone into more detail about this, I’ll just say that it would have been more logical for Nam Yang-hye to be angry with Director So Wan-soo (played by Jung Jin-young). He is at the festival to show his film and she is there to promote it and sell its rights. Of course, humans are not always logical and Nam Yang-hye is not in a position to fire Director So, either.

Isabelle Huppert plays the Claire of the title. She is a school teacher on vacation who has come to Cannes for the first time. (Cue laughter from the film audience, since Huppert has been there many times before. More laughter when she tells Director So that French “is a very difficult language to learn.”) The camera of the title is a Polaroid, which makes it easy for Claire to show her photos to others, or to give them away, if she chooses to. She claims, in a New-Agey kind of way, that her subjects won’t be the same after she takes a photo of them. It’s like a cousin of the belief that a photo will steal your soul.

Jung Jin-young, left and Isabelle Huppert in Hong Sang-soo’s film Claires Camera.

As she wanders around the beach and smaller streets of Cannes (no red carpets!) Claire meets and spends time with Man-hee, Nam Yang-hye and Director So, which seems a bit contrived. Claire doesn’t speak Korean; the Koreans don’t speak French, so English will have to do. The results are mildly comical but also genuinely awkward. Ditto for Director So’s remark that “95 % of my mistakes in life were because of alcohol.”

A very large dog sprawls on the sidewalk in several scenes, which gives the characters a chance to make a fuss over him. What a lucky break for Hong Sang-soo! The poor creature seems exhausted and/or bored, though. Or maybe he was too hot? (You can see him in the trailer below, where he is identified as “BoB the café dog.”)

I did not hate Claire’s Camera by any means, I just found it to be a little thin. It’s only fair to say that there are many reviews on the Internet written by people who enjoyed it more than I did. Check them out, too!

Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Isabelle Huppert, Chang Mi-hee, Jung Jin-young
Languages: In Korean, French and English with English subtitles
Length: 69 minutes

Fantasia 2017: Before you see A Taxi Driver, here is some background info about the Gwangju Massacre

Thomas Kretschmann, left, and Song Kang-ho in South Korean film A Taxi Driver.

A Taxi Driver is the closing film of the 2017 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival. It’s a dramatization of chilling, real-life events from South Korea’s tumultuous history.

In May of 1980, Jurgen Hinzpeter, a German reporter, stationed in Tokyo, hears rumours about  government violence against citizens in Gwangju South Korea. News is not getting out because phone lines have been cut and roads into and out of the city are blocked. The country is under martial law; many schools are closed and news reports are censored.

Hinzpeter (played by Thomas Kretschmann) flies to Seoul and hires a taxi driver named Mr. Kim (Song Kang-ho) to drive the 300 km to Gwangju. (In those days, the city’s named was rendered as Kwangju in English.) With advice form local farmers, the two men manage to bypass the barricades and enter the city using tiny back roads.

Once in the city they see a real spirit of solidarity among the citizens, who are hungry for democracy and an end to military rule. Then they see soldiers shooting the protestors, young and old, along with people who try to help the wounded. They capture these events on film while trying to avoid arrest, injuries or their own deaths.

The film’s only screening, today, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, is sold out, but if you are among the lucky people who have a ticket, here are some links to recent articles and ones written at the time, that will give you some background information to the events depicted in the film.

An article in today’s New York Times says: “With the Korean news media muzzled by martial law, only the handful of foreign correspondents present could publish reports on what was happening in Gwangju. . .Mr. Hinzpeter was one of the few foreign correspondents to document the carnage, and his footage was seen around the globe.”

“Mr. Hinzpeter, who died last year at 78, has long been celebrated in South Korea for his part in exposing Mr. Chun’s atrocities. A memorial to the journalist stands in Gwangju. . . Behind a hospital, ‘relatives and friends showed me their loved ones, opening many of the coffins that had been placed in rows,’ Mr. Hinzpeter wrote. ‘Never in my life, even filming in Vietnam, had I seen anything like this.’ “

A New York Times article from May 20, 1980 bears the headline “New Repression in South Korea.”

Gwangju is about 300 km from Seoul. These days, one can drive there in about 3 hours and 15 minutes.

This article from The Hankyoreh calls the massacre Korea’s Tiananmen, referring to the 1989 massacre of students in Beijing, China. Lee Gang-jun lost his twin brother Lee Gang-su. “When he asked a forensic pathologist to determine the cause of death in 1997, just before the body was moved from a cemetery in Gwangju’s Mangwol neighborhood to the May 18th National Cemetery, it was because he wanted the truth to come out. ‘My brother’s skull was caved in, and even the specialists couldn’t figure out what the marks were caused by,’ (Lee) said. Gang-jun believes that his brother died during torture at the Sangmudae military base. After his death, soldiers shot him to create the impression that he died from a bullet would instead of complications suffered during torture.”

This article from ThoughtCo. says “Troops shot dead twenty girls at Gwangju’s Central High School. Ambulance and cab drivers who tried to take the wounded to hospitals were shot. One hundred students who sheltered in the Catholic Center were slaughtered. Captured high school and university students had their hands tied behind them with barbed wire; many were then summarily executed.”

An article in The Korea Observer includes quotes from Na Byung-un, who was there in Gwangju. “In those days, South Korea’s GDP per capita was just under $4,000 per person, or less than one-sixth than that of the United States, according to World Bank data. As a country with few natural resources recovered from Japanese colonization, it struggled to find its footing politically, economically, and socially. This was especially true in Gwangju, a city nestled in the one of the poorest regions of South Korea, agricultural South Jeolla Province. ‘People were very, very poor, and they led miserable lives.’ Na recalls. ‘They didn’t even have one dollar.’ “

“According to Na, there was a rumor that those who criticized the government would be kidnapped and murdered in secret. . . .Na recounts, “People had been uprising and protesting against dictatorship continuously under Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. They put innocent people into prison and oppressed the masses by force of arms. So people all rose up. . . All Gwangju citizens were involved in the protests, because all of us were together as one. Everyone thought we had to stand against injustice,’ says Na. ‘Even the police were on our side. They changed into normal clothes at night and joined us.’ “

Tim Shorrock of The Nation has reported extensively on Korea. In this article he says that the Korean troops who injured and killed civilians were “sent with the approval of the U.S. commander of the US-Korea Joint Command, Gen. John Wickham.”

“That decision, made at the highest levels of the US government, forever stained the relationship between the United States and the South. For the people of Gwangju, many of whom believed that the US military would side with the forces of democracy, it was a deep betrayal that they’ve never forgotten. And once the rest of Korea knew the truth about the rebellion and understood that the United States had helped throttle it, anti-American sentiment spread like wildfire.”

(U.S. president Jimmy) “Carter decided that the Gwangju uprising—despite the US knowledge that it had been sparked by the slaughter of unarmed civilian protesters—had to be crushed militarily. Five days after the meeting, South Korea’s crack 9th Army Division rolled into the city and killed the remaining rebels holed up in the provincial capital building.”

Shorrock’s article contains links to many, many others.

A Taxi Driver is distributed by Well Go USA. Perhaps it will return to Montreal for a general run in the future.

Fantasia 2017 Review: The Senior Class

Jung-woo and Ju-hee are art students in the animated Korean film The Senior Class. (Lee Joo-seung provides the voice of Jung-wwo and Kang Jin-ah plays Ju-hee.)

When I’m watching a horror movie, I often want to yell: “Don’t go in the basement!” While watching The Senior Class I was pulled into the story enough that I wanted to shout: “Don’t do that; don’t say that; don’t go there!”

The Senior Class is not a horror movie, strictly speaking, though many people behave horribly. It was written by Yeon Sang-ho, who wrote The King of Pigs, The Fake, Seoul Station and Train to Busan, evidence enough that Yeon knows plenty about bad behaviour. (Hong Deok-pyo directed the film, and he came to Fantasia to present it to us and to take questions after the screening.)

The story is set in a class of art students in their final year of university. The students all have anxiety over final projects, the evaluation of their year’s work and a coming exhibition of that work.

The main characters are the quiet, slightly nerdy Jung-woo, his loudmouth, jerky friend Dong-hwa and pretty Ju-hee, who concentrates on her work and is rather quiet herself. Some classmates assume she’s a snob because of that. The female students talk about her behind her back, but they put on friendly faces  when they want to know where she bought her handbag.

Jung-woo has had a crush on Ju-hee for a long time. Maybe it’s more like an obsession. She appears as a delicate, ethereal angel in an online cartoon he works on regularly, while he portrays himself as a scrawny, caring, sensitive merman. (Really!) In many belief systems, angels protect us, but this angel seemingly needs the protection of Jung-woo’s alter-ego. In real life, Jung-woo can barely say hello to Ju-hee.

Jung-woo and Ju-hee get to know each other better when he discovers something about her and she begs him to keep it to himself. He agrees to do that, but can he keep his mouth shut? And since he made this discovery while doing an errand for Dong-hwa, it’s quite possible that Dong-hwa will find out, too. We’ve got some tension, now!

In the animated Korean film The Senior Class, Jung-woo, centre, is quite literally stuck in the middle of a dispute between his jerky friend Dong-hwa, left, and the young woman on the right, who was seduced and then rejected by Dong-hwa.

The Senior Class is distressing to watch, because there is so much meanness and betrayal in it. There’s also some “cutting off your nose to spite your face” behaviour, that makes no sense, logically, but people do act illogically all the time.

Though The Senior Class lacks the physical violence seen in the other films written by Yeon Sang-ho, it is like them in that it exposes a rampant hypocrisy that is hardly unique to Korean society. Gossip is harmful, but hypocrisy is so much worse.

I haven’t included a link to the trailer because I think it gives away too much of the story, but you can find it on the Fantasia web site, if you want to. (Link is below.)

Director Hong Deok-pyo will attend the screening and answer questions after. I’m sorry that I did not ask one myself. A certain character reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. I wonder if that was an intentional thing, or just my imagination? I’ll try to find out before he leaves! (The last time I thought I saw something in a Korean film, it WAS all in my head!

At the Q&A for The Senior Class: Fantasia International Film Festival programmer Rupert Bottenberg, translator Noeul Kang, and director Hong Deok-pyo.

The Senior Class, in Korean with English subtitles, 82 minutes long.
Directed by: Hong Deok-pyo
Written by: Yeon Sang-ho
(Voice) cast: Lee Ju-seung, Kang Jin-ah, Jeong Yeong-gi
Company: Contents Panda

The Senior Class will be shown Monday, July 17, 5:10 pm, Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs until Aug. 2, 2017.

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

FNC 2016: Review of Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours

Lee You-young, centre, as Minjung, with two of her drinking buddies, in the Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours.
Lee You-young, centre, as Minjung, with two of her drinking buddies, in the Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours.

Yourself and Yours, the latest film from Korean director Hong Sang-soo, looks at relationships in a way that’s insightful and hilarious. (Well, I thought it was hilarious.) I guess someone who has recently broken up with a significant other might feel differently.

After hearing gossip from a friend, Youngsoo (Kim Joo-hyuck) accuses his girlfriend Minjung (Lee You-young) of drinking with other men. Quite apart from the jealousy angle, he is upset because she had promised him to cut way back on her drinking.

An offended Minjung denies the accusations and suggests “taking a break.” Self-righteous Youngsoo replies (approximately) “You’re in the wrong and you’re upset with ME?”

Later, Youngsoo regrets his behaviour; he misses Minjung and when he can’t reach her, he fears that “taking a break” is her way of saying “break up.”

Youngsoo starts moping around pathetically. He tells his friends how much he loves Minjung, how special she is, that others don’t understand her, etc. All this might come from genuine love and regret, though I suspect it comes from loneliness or a feeling of having lost control of this situation, and his life in general. Who knows, really? Seeing her had  probably become a habit for him, as well, and habits are notoriously hard to break.

There are several scenes of Minjung, or someone who looks just like Minjung, drinking with other men. When they first speak to her, they claim to know her from some other occasion. Some of them are rather agressive in their insistence that they know her; it verges on creepy. She says that she never saw them before, but does agree to drink with them now.

Minjung seems more humourous and interesting to know than Youngsoo is. Her daring, if slightly rude habit of telling men exactly what she thinks of them is not something we see too often in Korean films; it’s still a patriarchal place.

It’s likely that many of these scenes, maybe all of them, only take place in Youngsoo’s unsettled dreams or waking imagination. That would be consistent with Hong Sang-soo’s style, but I have other reasons for thinking so, too. Sharing those reasons might constitute “spoilers,” though, so I’ll keep them to myself for now.

You could have lots of fun dissecting those scenes, and the film in general, with friends after the film, maybe over a meal at a Korean restaurant. Have some soju! Sadly, you aren’t likely to find the milky alcoholic beverage ( 막걸리 makgeolli, makkoli, makgeoli, etc.) in Montreal restaurants. That’s the stuff that the characters in Yourself and Yours drink from metal bowls, when they’re not having beer or soju.

A little laugh of recognition for people who follow Korean pop culture: At some point, Minjung talks about her “ideal type.” In interviews, Korean singers and actors are always being asked about their ideal type. They usually name other singers and actors and then their fans have fun discussing these choices on the Internet.

I’d read several enthusiastic reviews before seeing Yourself and Yours, and assumed that I would enjoy it, but It actually surpassed my expectations. For those who have heard of Hong Sang-soo, but haven’t seen his work yet, Yourself and Yours would be an excellent place to start. His Montreal fans have probably bought their tickets already.


Yourself and Yours, directed by Hong Sang-soo, with Kim Joo-hyuck, Lee You-young, Kim Eui-sung.

At the 2016 Festival du nouveau cinéma,
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016
Program #284 15:00
Cinéma Impérial
1430 Bleury

Fantasia 2016 Review: Seoul Station

Arriving soon on a track near you - zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
Arriving soon on a track near you – zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Want some social commentary with your zombies? Anyone who’s seen Yeon Sang-ho’s earlier, animated films The King of Pigs and The Fake would be expecting as much.

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the live-action feature Train to Busan. (Zombies are notably slow-moving, so I guess that’s why they need a train!) Both films are on the menu at the Fantasia International Film Festival and both feature hungry zombies.

Before those zombies show their scary faces we see how quickly bystanders lose their sympathy for a sick, elderly man when they realize that he’s “just a homeless.”

I’m willing to bet that “a homeless” is not sloppy subtitling, but a way to indicate that the more fortunate citizens see the man in question as just a smelly problem, and not a fellow human being. He is defined by his status alone, and has no other identity for them. His work, back when he still had some, would have helped to make Korea the successful country that it is today, and since military service is compulsory for all able-bodied men, he served his country that way, too. Now he’s just one of the many people, mostly men, who spend their days hanging around Seoul station, where the train and subway lines meet, and sleep there at night.

Despite being in the same predicament, there’s no unity among the station dwellers – they only seem to care about people who come from the same part of the city or the country that they do. In this, they are just like the more prosperous citizens, who like to deal with people from their own home towns, from their universities, etc.

The old guy is slow-moving, weak and sweaty. It is obviously a hot day, but maybe he’s suffering from something more than the heat? His younger friend struggles mightily to get help for him, but nobody cares. When the friend can’t find the old guy where he left him, he searches all over until he discovers that the old guy has become Zombie No. 1. (Or is that Zombie 0?)

At the same time, runaway Hae-sun and her boyfriend Ki-woong are way behind on their rent and facing eviction. Rather than look for a job himself, he’s hanging out at an Internet café, playing games and creating an online escort ad so he can pimp out Hae-sun. She says she’s not having any of that and stomps off. As a newly homeless person, she might have to join the others at Seoul station. There aren’t enough shelters to meet the need, so the authorities let the homeless sleep in the station if they stay quiet.

Hae-sun’s tough-guy father sees the ad, tracks down Ki-woong and they try to find his “little girl” while keeping one step ahead of the zombies.

The police and the military are called out, but they’re worse than useless because they haven’t got a clue about who’s really dangerous and who needs their protection. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Montrealers can see Seoul Station at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The film’s live-action sequel Train to Busan, will be shown at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, also at the Hall Theatre.
The first Fantasia screening, on Thursday, July 21, was sold out.

Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, with the voices of Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung and Lee Joon, is 92 minutes long, in Korean with English subtitles.

Fantasia 2016 Review: The Bacchus Lady (죽여주는 여자)

So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) takes her friends on a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone in this scene from the Korean film The Bacchus Lady.
So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) takes her friends on a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone in this scene from the Korean film The Bacchus Lady.

Bacchus is a Korean drink, originally sold as a general health tonic, but now marketed as an energy drink much like Red Bull or Guru.

So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) the 65-year-old Bacchus Lady of the title, sells the drink to men who gather in Seoul’s parks. If they want sexual services, too, she takes them to a by-the-hour hotel close by. Many of her customers are long-time regulars, friends, really, and want conversation and a cuddle more than sex.

So-young does this work out of economic necessity. There’s no social safety net for her. She doesn’t have a family to help her, she doesn’t have a state pension, nor a company pension. (While she had been a prostitute before, on a U.S. army base, she had also worked in a factory.) The job market is tough for everyone, of all ages, and it seems that the only other work she could get is picking up cardboard for recycling. One woman who is seen doing that work looks very old and very frail. In a better world she would be at home drinking tea with her feet up.

So-young’s life is really hard, but she carries on, as she always has done. The friendship of her landlady and one of the neighbours helps; they are the closest thing she has to family. They share laughs, drinks and some happy times. Her customers seem less resilient, even though they are better off financially. One could assume that these widowers were pampered by their wives all their lives; now they are bored, lonely and don’t know how to look after themselves. In past times, these men could expect to live out their days in the home of their eldest sons, but things have changed and parents and grandparents are no longer given the respect and deference they once had. The children and grandchildren move to other cities, even other countries, to further their careers and they leave their elders behind, seemingly without a thought.

When some of these men can no longer bear to live in this new world, they ask So-young to help them leave it, and this begins another chapter in her life.

The film also looks at other marginalized people in a way that seems relatively natural and uncontrived. So-young’s landlady is a transgender woman and her neighbour is a guy with a prosthetic leg. So-young gives shelter to a young boy who’s half-Filipino, half Korean. Through her efforts to help him, we learn that mixed-race children face discrimination in Korea and their non-Korean mothers are often exploited and unaware of their rights.
The Bacchus Lady is fiction but it is based on reality. Reaction to the film will vary from viewer to viewer but I see it as an excellent argument for better social services and an unconditional basic income for everyone. Basic Income Canada Network and Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) are two websites with articles about that concept.

The Bacchus Lady (죽여주는 여자)
Written and directed by E J-yong
Cast: Youn Yuh-jung, Chon Moo-song, Yoon Kye-sang, An A-zu, Choi Hyun-jun

In Korean with English subtitles, 110 minutes long.

Montrealers can see The Bacchus Lady on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 7:25 p.m., at the J.A. De Seve Theatre of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Visit the Fantasia International Film Festival web site for more information.

Fantasia 2016 Review: The Wailing

Poster for the Korean horror film The Wailing.
Poster for the Korean horror film The Wailing.

“An old stranger appears in a peaceful rural village, but no one knows when or why. As mysterious rumours begin to spread about this man, the villagers drop dead one by one. They grotesquely kill each other for inexplicable reasons. The village is swept by turmoil and the stranger is subjected to suspicion.”
– Synopsis from the press kit for The Wailing.

Dread, murder, unexplainable events, irrational behaviour, gossip, rumours, nightmares, fear of the other, a large, fierce dog, big, black crows and mesmerizing rituals. That’s what you get in Korean horror film The Wailing (aka Goksung, 곡성).

I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read the rave reviews from the Cannes Film Festival. It did not disappoint! (The Cannes critics liked director Na Hong-jin’s earlier films The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, too.)

The Wailing is set in the beautiful, misty mountains of rural Korea, where people still live in old-fashioned homes with tile roofs. It looks like the kind of place where nothing much happens from one decade to the next.

A string of gruesome murders disrupts the tranquility and we watch as policeman Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) tries to figure out if and how they could be connected. While a newspaper headline blames the disorienting effects of poisonous wild mushrooms for the first murders, Jong-gu wonders if some kind of virus might be going around? (The presumed perpetrators all had horrible rashes.)

There's a lot of rain in The Wailing; it increases the feeling of dread.
There’s a lot of rain in The Wailing; it increases the feeling of dread.

Then there’s gossip about a strange Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who lives in the forest. Some people are convinced that he’s evil, and responsible for the deaths, directly or indirectly. Supposedly he’s been seen wandering in the woods, half naked, chomping on dead animals. One woman says he’s a ghost, feeding on the spirits of the living. Any stranger could come under suspicion in an isolated community, but Japan’s earlier occupation of Korea would further complicate the way the locals view this interloper. Whoever or whatever he might be, a visit to his dwelling proves that he’s not just your everyday recluse.

Policeman Jeon Jong-gu is neither the suave, super cop of some films, nor the corrupt, crooked one of others, rather he’s an Everyman type; pudgy, and a bit of a doofus. After he gets a pre-dawn call to investigate the first murder scene he lets his wife and mother-in-law talk him into eating breakfast first – a few minutes more or less won’t make any difference to the dead, right? His boss and the other cops are not impressed when he finally shows up. Slacker!

Jong-gu seems rather indifferent to his wife (then again, this is not a romantic comedy) but he dotes on his cute young daughter, Hyojin (Kim Hwan-hee). Then she develops a rash too, and starts acting so much out of character that possession seems like a real possibility. When Jong-gu looks at her school notebook, it’s full of strange scribblings and scary drawings. (Have you seen The Babadook?) It also looks like it’s been mauled by a creature with long, sharp claws.

A mudang (shaman) is called in. The shaman is played by Hwang Jung-min and he’s great. I’ve seen shamanic rituals in many other Korean films but the ones here are exceptional, especially the second, longer, night-time one. (I read an article online that some people on the film set thought Hwang really was possessed.)

Hwang Jung-min plays a mudang, or shaman in the Korean film The Wailing.
Hwang Jung-min plays a mudang, or shaman in the Korean film The Wailing.

The Wailing is NOT one of those films where the villain confesses everything, or some expert explains it all before the credits roll. If you go with friends you could have some very interesting post-film discussions about what really happened, who was good and who was evil. The Internet is full of contradictory theories, with some people essentially saying “I’m right because I’m Korean!”

If you read those theories, bear in mind that director Na Hong-jin told the Korea Times: “I mulled over the ending and decided I had to leave it open.”

A final note: Sadly, we Montrealers don’t get to see many Korean films outside of film festivals. If you like the sound of The Wailing try to see it at Fantasia because it will be more impressive there, on a big screen, with a great sound system and the famous, enthusisatic Fantasia audience. Furthermore, some scenes take place at night or in murky interiors – you’ll be able to see them much better in the cinema.

The film is 156 minutes long, but doesn’t feel like it.

The Wailing
Director: Na Hong-Jin
Writer: Na Hong-Jin
Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, Kim Hwan-hee, Chun Woo-hee
In Korean with English subtitles, 156 minutes long, showing at the Fantasia International Fim Festival Monday, July 18, 2016 at 9:35 p.m., in the hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal.

RIDM Review: My Love, Don’t Cross That River

Kang Gye-yeol, left, is 89 and her husband, Jo Byeong-man is 98. They ust might be the cutest couple you have ever seen. You can see them in the Korean documentary film My Love, Don't Cross That River
Kang Gye-yeol, left, is 89 and her husband, Jo Byeong-man is 98. They just might be the cutest couple you have ever seen. You can see them in the Korean documentary film My Love, Don’t Cross That River

My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a portrait of a marriage. Jo Byeong-man is 98 and Kang Gye-yeol and is 89. They have been together for 75 years. Pretty amazing, right?

Director Jin Mo-young records their lives for 15 months, as they discuss their past, clean up around their rural home, prepare meals and take walks. They are slow walks, to be sure, but they can still move, and in one scene Jo Byeong-man carries an impressively large load of firewood on his back.

Many of their walks are taken hand in hand and that’s how they fall asleep each night, too. They are always seen in traditional Korean clothes, usually in matching colours – bright, beautiful colours. Were they on their best sartorial behaviour for the full 15 months, or is that just the way they like to dress? I’m going to assume the latter.

While you’ll hear the occasional comment like “people get old, you can’t do anything about it,” they are remarkably upbeat. They’re playful, too, like children, newlyweds, or the cute little puppies that arrive in the fullness of time (after the pastor’s dog pay a visit to their own pooch.)

Jo presents his wife with a little bouquet of flowers and she accepts them happily, rubbing them on her face and his. They throw autumn leave at each other, sample the seasons first snowfall (then play with that, too).

After all these years, he still appreciates her cooking: “He’s never said it isn’t good. . .he eats a lot and then says ‘what a great meal.’ ” Actually, Kang Gye-yeol seems to have more energy (or patience) for food preparation than I do!

Children and grandchildren come to visit, bring gifts and pay their respects on New Year’s Day and Kang Gye-yeol’s birthday. Presumably they live far away, because we don’t see them much, apart from those days. I was uncomfortable watching a nasty fight between two siblings; it’s a harsh contrast to the warm affection that the two love birds share and it leaves them in tears.

Even at the beginning of the film, Jo Byeong-man coughs frequently and things just get worse as time goes on. Sometimes his cough keeps him awake at night. When they take their walks he has to stop more often to rest. Do you see where this is going? Kang Gye-yeol asks her husband to hang on a little longer, but at the same time, she starts burning some of his beautiful, colourful clothes so that he will have things to wear in the afterlife.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River was a big hit at the Korean box office, outselling many U.S. hits in the first weeks it was in cinemas. So far it is Korea’s most popular homegrown documentary. (Old Partner, about a man his ox and his wife, pretty much in that order, holds the No. 2 spot. The AmerAsia Film Festival showed Old Partner in Montreal in 2011. Read my review Old Partner for the Montreal Gazette here. )

My Love, Don’t Cross That River
Directed by Jin Mo-young
Country : South Korea
Year : 2014
Language : Korean
Subtitles : French, English
Runtime : 86 min
Production : Kyungsoo Han
Cinematography : Moyoung Jin
Editing : Zinsik Hyun
Sound : Minu Jung
Contact: Maëlle Guenegues
Cat & Docs

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, 4:15
Cinéma Du Parc 1, 3575 Park

FNC 2015 Review: Coin Locker Girl

Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.
Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.

The South Korean film Coin Locker Girl plunges us into a cruel and deadly world. It might not stand up to scrutiny, so don’t think about it too much, just go along for the ride.

The coin locker girl of the title was abandoned in an Incheon coin locker shortly after her birth. She is not taken to the police, or a hospital, as you might expect, she is informally adopted by some homeless people. Is this an act of kindness or does her presence make begging a little easier? We never find out. Her story only really begins for us when a crooked cop scoops her up, stuffs her in a suitcase and delivers her to “Mom,” the tough boss of Ma Enterprises, in Chinatown. Someone remarks prophetically that no good will come of this.

The little girl had been named Il-young after the number of the locker she was found in; in Sino-Korean il is one and yeong (or young) is zero. Talk about not having an identity of your own.

As a child, Il-young begs on the subway with other young children who live with Mom. (We don’t learn their back story.) By the time she reaches her teens, she is a very tough, somewhat androgynous young woman (played by Kim Go-Eun), who collects debts for Mom. Woe betide the self-styled tough guy who does not take Il-young seriously and treat her with respect. She is quite handy with fists, feet, knives or ashtrays.

Continue reading “FNC 2015 Review: Coin Locker Girl”

FNC 2015: Film festival offers 8 films made in the two Koreas


A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.
A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

The Korean peninsula is in the spotlight as the Festival du nouveau cinéma shows three films made by South Koreans, four made by North Koreans and one documentary shot (mostly) in North Korea by a British company with an American subject (Dennis Rodman) and an Irish narrator.

In alphabetical order, the three South Korean films are Coin Locker Girl, directed by Han Jun-He), The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-Uk, and Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang Soo. You can read synopses of these South Korean films on the FNC web site.
The North Korean films are A Bellflower, The Flower Girl A Schoolgirl’s Diary, and The Tale Of Chun Hyang. Read synopses of the four North Korean films here.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman's Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Finally, the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, gives us an inside view of the several visits the controversial former basketball made to North Korea. Read more about it here. 

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015 in several theatres in downtown Montreal. Consult the FNC web site for schedules, synopses and to buy tickets.