FNC 2015: Festival du nouveau cinéma presents North Korean version of The Tale of Chun Hyang

A scene from The Tale of Chun Hyang. The popular Korean folk tale has been told in films and on television many, many times. The Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal is showing a verion made in North Korea in 1980.
A scene from The Tale of Chun Hyang. The popular Korean folk tale has been told in films and on television many, many times. The Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal is showing a version made in North Korea in 1980.

Some of the films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma will go into general release here in Montreal within the next few days weeks or months. But others fall into the “now-or-never” category. Unless you are a cinema scholar or have good connections, chances are you won’t be able to see them again. The Tale of Chun Hyang, being shown just once, on Saturday Oct.10, 2015, is one of these “now-or-never” films.

The Tale of Chun Hyang is a Korean folk tale that has been put on film many, many times. (Two thousand times according to the FNC program!) So far, I’ve only seen the one directed by Im Kwon Taek, in 2000. (Guess I’m a slacker!)

But the version being shown at FNC was made in 1980, in North Korea. While that country makes many films, we can’t see them very often.

Im’s film was visually stunning, so I’m wondering how this North Korean version, directed by Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun will play out.

The Romeo and Juliet story is often invoked when describing The Tale of Chun Hyang to Westerners. It’s only a rough approximation though. (SPOILER: Chun Yang has a much happier ending.) The conflict here is not so much between families as between classes. Many nobles and officials do what they please with the country, its assets and the people lower down on the social scale than they are. And women have the worst deal of all, as happens so often in fairy tales. See The Tale of Chun Hyang with your friends and you could probably have some interesting arty and political discussions afterwards.

Chun Hyang is the beautiful daughter of a woman who became the second wife of an official.
Mongryong, the young, handsome, honest decent son of an official falls in love with her and marries her in secret. Then he has to go away to study for his career advancement and he cannot take Chun Hyang with him. She suffers greatly in his absence. When she refuses to become the mistress of a newly arrived official, she is thrown into prison and threatened with execution, but she values her love and loyalty more than she values her own life. (A topic for further discusion, as well.)

The Tale of Chun Hyang
Directed by: Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun
Screenplay: Kim Sung-Gu, Paek In-Jun
Cast: Kim Yong-Suk, Choe Sun-Gyu, Yong Suk-Kim

In Korean with French subtitles.
Saturday, Oct.10, 2015, 5 p.m
Program #88
Salle Fernand Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 355 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Click to read more about The Tale of Chun Hyang on the FNC web site.

You can buy a ticket online here.

Click to read more about the other North Korean films on the FNC program. The Festival du nouveau cinema runs until Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

Festival des films du monde: It’s Really Kind of You Review

This mysterious woman is one of the two main charcaters in the South Korean film It's Really Kind of You.
This mysterious woman is one of the two main charcaters in the South Korean film It’s Really Kind of You.

It’s Really Kind of You is a Korean drama-thriller-mystery, which I saw at the Festival des films du monde / Montreal World Film Festival.

It’s hard for me to review it because I didn’t like it. On the other hand, I don’t like to be negative, I do enjoy Korean films in general, and I’m well aware that different people have different tastes. So, here goes!

First of all, I was confused because the film did not begin as I expected it to; a murder described in the film’s synopsis only took place once the film was well underway. Presumably, that was a flashback, though it COULD have been a dream, or a figment of one character’s imagination.

The plot is ingenious, but most of the characters range from unpleasant to despicable.

In the opening moments, the main character (played by Ok Ja-yeon, I think) is hitchhiking, in the dark, beside a country road. When a driver does stop for him, he seems so creepy and his manner is so odd, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to give him a ride. He just stares for what seems like a very long time, then makes his request in a flat, robotic tone. He says that he was fishing and that he missed the last train; could the driver take him downtown? Well, I certainly wouldn’t! The actor conveys creepiness extremely well, but the story would be more believable if he could pretend to be charming, or at the very least relatively normal, now and then.

Nonetheless, Creepy Hitchhiking Man gets a ride from a guy who turns out to be a dog-breeder. They chat awkwardly for a while, then they fight and there’s an accident. A dishevelled woman who’s wearing just a slip shows up; she has a bruised face and haunted eyes; she does not speak. She seems traumatized and more than a little strange herself. She might, or might not, be mentally handicapped.

This woman will later be involved in some graphic sex scenes that are disturbing, go on for a long time, often take place at inappropriate times in inappropriate places, and are definitely not “artistic” in any way.

It’s difficult to say more without going into spoiler territory. The film could have ended much earlier than it did and still have been quite creepily effective. I’m sorry not to be more specific about the actors the credits went by very quickly and I incorrectly assumed that I could find out later who played which role. The Montreal screening is a world premiere, so there isn’t much info about the film out there.

When the film was over, an audience member asked me: “Did that make any sense to you?” I told him that it did (more or less) make sense to me, but I did not like it.

BTW: An Internet search tells me that hitchhiking is not too common in South Korea. This film won’t do anything to make it more popular, that’s for sure!

It’s Really Kind of You, from South Korea, in Korean with English subtitles, 90 minutes

Director : So Jae-ick
Screenwriter : Pak Me-hyun
Cinematographer : Cho Choul-ho
Editor : Chol Hyun-sook
Cast : Ok Ja-yeon, Bae Tae-won, Choi Dae-hoon, Do Young-cha, Kim Young- hwan, Baeg Ae-gyeong, Kang In-chul
Music : Lee Jae-sin
Film production and Sales : Prod.: So Jae-ick, So-Film, #310-402, Shindo braenew 11, Yonghyun-dong, Uijeongby-si, Kyungki-do (Corée du Sud). tél.: +82 (10) 6221 07 53, jaeick10,hanmail.net.

It’s Really Kind of You will be shown on Wednesday, Sept, 2, 2015, at 6:30, in Theatre 12 of the Cinéma Quartier Latin, 350 Emery St., in Montreal. (Metro Berri-UQAM)

Fantasia 2015 Review: Korean police thriller A Hard Day

Homicide detective Ko (Lee Sun-kyun) is startled by the unexpected sounds coming from his mother's coffin, in the Korean film A Hard Day.
Homicide detective Ko (Lee Sun-kyun) is startled by the unexpected sounds coming from his mother’s coffin, in the Korean film A Hard Day.

As a policeman, Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun) ought to know that talking on the phone while driving is unwise. But the calls keep coming. His sister wants to know why he bolted from the funeral-home visitation for their mother, and when is he coming back, anyway? His very young daughter wants cake.

Meanwhile, his fellow (crooked) cops want to know if he will make it back to the station house before the guys from Internal Affairs get there. There are incriminating items in his locked desk.

Ko is really flustered, and the road is dark. He almost hits a dog. Before he recovers from that scare, he hits something else – a man this time. And that man is now dead. In a panic, he throws the body in the trunk. He does not notice the surveillance camera on a nearby post. He does not get to the office before Internal Affairs.

Ko and his fellow officers, including his chief, have been accepting bribes, and now Internal Affairs has proof. That’s bad enough, but now Ko is getting calls on his office phone and his cellphone, from someone who seems to know way too much about his unfortunate accident. And that someone wants to know where the body is.

In the Korean film A Hard Day, Detective Ko gets call after call - his phone won't stop ringing,
In the Korean film A Hard Day, Detective Ko gets call after call – his phone won’t stop ringing,

A Hard Day? You’d better believe it! The film’s title is very well chosen. Ko might not seem like a sympathetic figure at first, but he’s an angel compared to his monstrous mystery caller.

While Ko is often tongue-tied when it comes to explaining himself, he is quite wily and inventive. He won’t be giving up without a fight.
A Hard Day is full of twists, turns, high tension and dark humour. It was a big hit at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2014, and has won eight awards in South Korea alone. I enjoyed reading reviews from Cannes so much that I wrote a blog post back then, expressing hope that the film would come to Montreal as soon as possible. I didn’t realize that it would take more than one year.

A HARD DAY
Directed by Kim Seong-hun, with Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Shin Jung-geun, Jung Man-sik.
Monday, July 20, 2015, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W
Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

See Ode to My Father, free at Dollar Cinema, courtesy of the Korean Embassy to Canada

Scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.
Scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.

On Sunday, July 19, the Dollar Cinema in Montreal will show the Korean film Ode to My Father (국제시장 in Korean and also known as International Market, and Gukje Market in English) at 7 p.m.

Admission is free, thanks to the Korean Embassy to Canada, in Ottawa.

The film is the fictional story of Deok-su, and the time frame is the 1950s to 1980s. Locations include Hungnam, North Korea, Busan, South Korea, Germany and Vietnam. The hardships and poverty endured by Deok-su and his family are representative of things that many Koreans experienced during those difficult years. The film was probably a revelation for many younger Koreans and for foreigners, too.

German scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.
German scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.

Hwang Jung-min plays Deok-su; Kim Yunjin plays his wife, and Oh Dal-su provides some comic relief. Ode to My Father is directed by Yoon Je-kyun.

The Dollar Cinema: 6900 Décarie Square
Across from the Namur Metro, or via bus lines 17, 160, 161, and 166.

Scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.
Scene from the Korean film Ode To My Father, also known as International Market.

2015 Fantasia Film Festival will show 12 feature films from South Korea

Go Soo, left, and Han Suk-kyu in the Korean film The Royal Tailor, one of 12 feature flms from South Korea being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The Royal Tailor is a period film with beautiful costumes and court intrigue.
Go Soo, left, and Han Suk-kyu in the Korean film The Royal Tailor, one of 12 feature flms from South Korea being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The Royal Tailor is a period film with beautiful costumes and court intrigue.

The Fantasia International Film Festival (July 14- August 4, 2015) is showing 12 feature films from South Korea this year. Two of them, A Hard Day and Socialphobia, will be shown twice, the rest get one screening only. There are two animated films, Crimson Whale and On the White Planet, palace politics in The Royal Tailor, larger world politics in Assassination, tragedy at sea in Haemoo, gangsters and real estate in Gangnam Blues, gangsters and gambling in Tazza: The Hidden Card. A man is manipulated into playing a deadly game in Big Match. Read below for more information about the films. To see more photos from these films, check out a post I wrote for the Korea-Canada blog.

South Korean films at The Fantasia International Film Festival, by date:

Thursday, July 16, 21:30: OFFICE
Saturday, July 18, 14:15: CRIMSON WHALE
Monday, July 20, 17:15: A HARD DAY
Monday, July 20, 21:40 GANGNAM BLUES
Wednesday, July 22, 17:15: THE ROYAL TAILOR

Friday, July 24, 16:00 ON THE WHITE PLANET
Sunday, July 26, 11:45 TAZZA: THE HIDDEN CARD
Monday, July 27, 21:50 HAEMOO
Wednesday, July 29, 18:45: BIG MATCH
Saturday, August 1, 21:45: SOCIALPHOBIA

Monday, August 3, 12:30: A HARD DAY
Tuesday, August 4, 12:30: SOCIALPHOBIA
Tuesday, August 4, 18:36: ASSASSINATION

South Korean films at The Fantasia International Film Festival are listed below, in alphabetical order, with plot details, stars, directors and dates and theatres. Click on a film’s title for more information; that will take you its page on the Fantasia web site.

ASSASSINATION
A political thriller set in 1933, when Korea was under Japanese occupation. Directed by Choi Dong-hoon, with Gianna Jun, Lee Jung-jae, Ha Jung-woo, Oh Dal-soo, Cho Jin-woong.
Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, at 18:35, Concordia Hall Theatre

BIG MATCH
Lee Jeong-jae plays a mixed-martial artist suspected of murder in this thriller-action-comedy directed by Choi Ho. Other stars include Shin Ha-kyun, singer BoA, Lee Seong-min, Kim Eui-sung.
Wednesday, July 29, at 18:45, Concordia Hall Theatre

CRIMSON WHALE
Science-fantasy set in a devastated future, directed by Park Hye-mi, with voices from Lee Ji-sook, Kim Sung-in, Lee Young-gi, Kim Ji-hyung
Saturday, July 18, 14:15, J.A. de Sève Theatre

GANGNAM BLUES
Set in the 1970s when the now ritzy neighbourhood was just farmland and violent and unscrupulous types with dreams of riches made a killing, in more ways than one. Directed by Yoo Ha, with Lee Min-ho, Kim Rae-won, Jung Jin-young, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Seol-hyun
Monday, July 20, 2015, 21:40, Concordia Hall Theatre

HAEMOO (SEA FOG)
Greed and fear lead to horrific events at sea. Haemoo is based on a real-life tragedy. Directed by: Shim Sung-bo, with Kim Yun-seok, Park Yu-chun, Han Ye-ri, Moon Sung-keun, Kim Sang-ho.
Monday, July 27, 21:50, Concordia Hall Theatre

A HARD DAY
A crooked cop with lots to hide gets calls from someone who knows way too much about his illegal activities. Directed by Kim Seong-hun, with Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Shin Jung-geun, Jung Man-sik.
Monday, July 20, 2015, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre
Monday, Aug. 3 • 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre

OFFICE
A murderer is on the loose in an office building. Directed by Hong Won-chan, with Ko A-sung, Park Sung-woong, Bae Seong-woo, Kim Eui-sung, Ryu Hyun-kyung.
Thursday, July 16, 21:30, Concordia Hall Theatre

ON THE WHITE PLANET
“A brooding existential nightmare unfolding within a densely detailed landscape of surreal biological monstrosity, animator Hur Bum-wook’s award-winning debut feature is an intense and troubling tale of violence and vulnerability, hope and despair. Canadian premiere.” Directed by Hur Bum-wook, voices from Hong Bum-ki, Cho Min-su, Seo Yoon-sun, Son Chong-hwan.
Friday, July 24, 16:00, J.A. de Sève Theatre

THE ROYAL TAILOR
Beautiful costumes and palace intrigue in a period drama.
Directed by Lee Won-suk, with Han Seok-kyu, Ko Soo, Park Shin-hye, Yoo Yeon-seok, Ma Dong-seok.
Wednesday, July 22, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre

SOCIALPHOBIA
“Social media has scary consequences for two police-tech students and an Internet troll in this masterfully executed first feature film by Hong Seok-jae. Filled with stunning twists and keenly constructed characters . . Winner of the NETPAC and DGK Awards at the Busan Film Festival.” Directed by Hong Seok-jae, with Byun Yo-han, Lee Ju-seung.
Saturday, August 1, 21:45, J.A. de Sève Theatre
Tuesday, August 4, 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre

TAZZA: THE HIDDEN CARD
The violent, dirty double-crossing world of gambling. Sequel to Tazza: The High Rollers, with Kim Yun-seok as the baddest of the many bad guys and Choi Seung-hyun, (T.O.P. of boy band Big Bang) as the sort-of hero.
Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, with Choi Seung-hyun, Shin Sae-kyeong, Yoo Hae-jin, Kwak Do-won, Kim Yun-seok
Sunday, July 26, 11:45, Concordia Hall Theatre

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

The Hall Theatre is in the Hall Building of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

The J.A. de Sève Theatre is in the J.W. McConnell Building of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart) puts more emphasis on comedy than romance

Joo Won in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).
Joo Won in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).

The main characters in Catch Me (Steal My Heart) are Lee Ho-tae, and Yoon Jin-sook.
Lee is a smug police profiler, who sweeps into rooms and immediately starts pontificating. We see snippets of his dramatic lectures, when he tells his fellow cops that crimials are heartless monsters. His boss seems to appreciate him, as do his immediate co-workers, though there’s a rivalry happening with some other cops in the division. Lee is full of himself, for sure, but he isn’t evil, and since he’s played by the incredibly charming Joo Won, how could anyone possibly dislike him? Seriously. I dare you to even try it! (More about Joo Won later.) Those who are already fans might like to know that he sings a bit in this film, too.

Lee and his men have been trying to catch a serial killer for ages. Mere seconds before they move in to arrest him, their suspect is knocked over, not once, but twice (!) in a hit-and-run accident. (He survives, BTW.) Lee is mightily annoyed by this. His professional pride is hurt, and his boss teases him that the accident makes the unknown driver the real hero, instead of Lee, even though vehicular-almost-homicide is usually frowned upon.

Lee vows to find the driver, and his search leads him to the rather fancy home of Yoon Jin-sook. When her beauty-treatment mask falls off, he realizes that she’s the former girlfriend he has not seen in 10 years. Surprisingly, she does not resist arrest; she’s quite willing to go to the police station with him. They get into his car, he starts to drive there. . . but between one thing and another, they do not go to the station, he does not turn her over to his colleagues. (The police HQ looks really familiar to me. I’m wondering it that’s because it appears in many films, or did I possibly walk by it when I was in Seoul?)

Lee gives Yoon Jin-sook (remarkably chaste) shelter in his apartment while he tries to figure out what to do next. (Yoon Jin-sook is played by Kim Ah-joong, who is probably most famous for her role in 200 Pounds Beauty. In that film she plays a talented backup singer who embarks on a severe diet/fitness regimen and has lots and lots of plastic surgery to impress some guy. . .or to prove that he’s a shallow hypocrite. Possibly both? It’s been a few years since I saw it. Kim Ah-joong was also in the TV dramas Punch, Sign and The Accidental Couple.)

Back to the plot: When he returns to work, Lee is asked why he hasn’t brought the driver in yet; he also sees surveillance footage that suggests Yoon Jin-sook has committed other crimes – she is a suspect in a series of big-time art thefts. (Strange that she is so clumsy behind the wheel, in the kitchen and when handling Lee’s expensive action figures – dolls by another name! – yet she can be so light-fingered with precious vases, etc. Well, that’s comedy for you. Nobody slips on any banana peels in this film, though a few scenes come quite close.)

Joo Won, left, and Kim Ah-joong examine "love locks" in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).
Joo Won, left, and Kim Ah-joong examine “love locks” in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).

Back at Lee’s apartment, the two get reacquainted, and, through flashbacks, we learn, among other things, how they met, why Yoon did not show up for their 100-days-of-being-a-couple anniversary date (fans of Korean films and K-dramas will understand the importance of the 100-day-anniversary) and why Lee, an art student, decided to become a police officer. Most of these flashbacks are funny. Not all of them, though.

Awww! Are they cute or what? Joo Won, left, and Kim Ah-joong in a flashback scene in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).
Awww! Are they cute or what? Joo Won, left, and Kim Ah-joong in a flashback scene in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart).

So, a few more words about actor Joo Won. He has lots of fans, all over the world and all over the Internet. He was in many popular TV dramas, including Cantabile Tomorrow, Good Doctor, 7th Grade Civil Servant, Bridal Mask, Ojakgyo Family, and King of Baking, Kim Takgu.

While watching the first few minutes of Catch Me I was reminded of my fave, Kang Dong-won. It’s far from a “separated at birth” situation, and the similarity is easier to see when his face is in motion (especially his eyes) as opposed to frozen in a photo. When I Googled Joo Won I realized that this resemblance was a popular discussion topic, and that I had even read about it before. I just hadn’t remembered Joo Won’s name since I hadn’t seen any of his work yet.

In most of his scenes in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart),  actor Joo Won wears casual clothes or a nice suit, but here he wears the police uniform of his charcacter Lee Ho-tae. I can imagine all his fan girls saying "Oppa! Arrest me now!"
In most of his scenes in the Korean romantic comedy Catch Me (Steal My Heart), actor Joo Won wears casual clothes or a nice suit, but here he wears the police uniform of his charcacter Lee Ho-tae. I can imagine all his fan girls saying “Oppa! Arrest me now!”

https://www.facebook.com/events/374012026140914/
As for the film in general, if you Google Catch Me (Steal My Heart) you can easily find some negative reviews. And I’ll grant you, the plot is pretty feeble (though no worse than many others) but the film is still good for many hearty laughs, especially if you watch it with a group. I saw it at a free public screening, presented by Ciné-Asie, at MAI on Jeanne-Mance St. The audience included males, females, young, old, Asian and non-Asian and everybody there seemed to be having a very good time.

The evening got off to a great start with several wonderful tunes from singer Griot, and guitarist Yellow Beats. While they played together on this occasion, they also have separate musical identities. The songs they played reminded me of the K-indie music I heard in cafés during my South Korean vacation. That was no accident, apparently they worked closely with the Ciné-Asie staff to choose just the right tunes to share with us. Their efforts were rewarded with very enthusisatic applause. I certainly hope to see and hear them again.

While the date has not been chosen yet, Ciné-Asie will probably show the very popular South Korean historical costume drama The Face Reader in August. Song Kang-ho (송강호) plays the face reader of the title, Kim Nae-kyeong, a man who can “read” a face the way others read a book. He sees through any kind of fakery to a person’s true character (clever, stupid, honest, corrupt, humble or haughty) and, by extrapolation, predict his/her future actions. Because of this talent, Kim finds himself in the middle of dangerous court intrigue.

You might know Song Kang-ho from his work in Snowpiercer, The Attorney, Secret Reunion, The Show Must Go On, The Host, Memories of Murder, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Joint Security Area, The Foul King, Shiri, The Quiet Family. And that’s just a sampling, not his entire output! (Note to self: Write reviews for some of those films. Share links to reviews that I wrote a long time ago for the Montreal Gazette.)

Consider “liking” Ciné Asie’s Montreal Monthly Asian Film Screening (MAFS) Facebook page so you’ll be notified when a date is chosen for The Face Reader. The room has a limited seating capacity, so people will be asked to RSVP via email. (Sadly, the “monthly” part of the page’s name is no longer valid. But we can always hope for a change in the future, right?)
BTW: Ciné-Asie also organizes the AmérAsia Montreal Asian Film Festival (www.amerasiafestival.com), Korean Film Festival in Canada (www.koreanfilm.ca).