The London Korean Film Festival

My first cinematic encounter with the New Korean Wave in London came in the Covent Garden Odeon a little over three years ago. This coincided with the then inaugural launch (more accurately the BETA-testing period) of the official London Korean Film Festival 2006, alternatively titled “Korea Film 06” (to retrieve the original brand name, since abandoned). It was very much a localised event, admittedly in tone low-key but organised with enthusiasm and ambition at a time when the Curzon cinemas were still screening Park Chan-wook’s third “vengeance” entry, the then titled Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Film4 was at the time about to unroll its “Brilliant Korea” season on television which introduced viewers, from the novice to the passionate evangelical, to the populist works of Kong Su-chang (R-Point, 2004), Kang Je-gyu (Brotherhood; Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo, 2004), Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters; Janghwa Hongryeon, 2003), and of course Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, 2003; Lady Vengeance; Chinjeolhan geumpjassi, 2005).

My only selection from the programme was Jang Jin’s Baksu-chiltae deonara (2005), a mystery/satire which the festival promoted using the English title Murder, Take One but which screened with The Big Scene . At the time I complained about the general lack of support for the festival. Though it was supported by maintenance marketing in the Evening Standard and the tickets were free (as any Londoner will tell you this goes down very well in the city; free festival tickets are almost unheard of today), one left with the impression that Korea Film 06 was a mere recapitulation of the 4-day movie event (sponsored by branches of the Korean communications corporation C.J.) originally housed in the Prince Charles and Soho during the 4th London Korean Festival. On reflection it is apparent that Korea Film 06 was a clear exercise in market orientation, but it disappointed me that seemingly so few filmgoers and enthusiasts actually attended. Which leads me neatly to the crux of today’s post.

It pleases me considerably that the L.K.F.F. is now a spirited commercial enterprise. Held predominantly in the more intimate screening rooms of the Barbican Centre, the festival reaped a veritable whirlwind in the Autumn of 2008 (arguably the event’s banner year), when—under the stewardship of the Korean Cultural Centre (and no doubt buoyed by the triumph of entertaining Park Chan-wook himself in 2007 for the exhibition of his Vengeance follow-up, I’m a Cyborg But That’s Ok)—its organisers secured the high-profile guest appearances of Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byeong-heon. The programme also featured some eminent works of contemporary Korean cinema from director Lee Chang-dong, including the slightly masochistic Secret Sunshine (Milyang, 2007), Peppermint Candy (Bakha satang, 1999), and Oasis (2002). In addition, the committee benefited from the input of resident lecturer Julian Stringer.

For 2009, with retrospectives running in parallel at the B.F.I. Southbank, the L.K.F.F. extended the terms of its remit: engaging kiddies with an Animation Day; extolling the virtues of arguably Korea’s most important filmmaker, Yu Hyun-mok, in a richly archival retrospective; showcasing an extended cut of Park Chan-wook’s latest, Thirst (Bakjwi, 2009), for the opening gala this coming Thursday; highlighting a handful of offbeat, so-called “independents” from Jang Kun-jae, Kim So-yong and Jeon Soo-il; and receiving relatively new talent in the form of star/director Yang Ik-june, whose heavily publicised debut feature, Breathless (Ddongpari, 2008), this year garnered much critical attention on the international festivals circuit. Stringer is on the committee again and joined by Daniel Martin, who has presented in the past on the marketing techniques and cultural reception of contemporary Korean films in the U.K. There are a number of films I’ll be attending—in fact, the festival is to all intents and purposes already underway; last night I attended a screening of Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant Memories of Murderat the B.F.I., a real favourite of mine and a treat to catch finally on the big screen with an audience. It’s come a long way from its humble, four-day, twelve-film beginnings. Good on you L.K.F.F.

3 November, 2009


The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

This summer I saw Park Chan-wook's 'Thirst' and if it is any indication of the level of brilliance one is to expect from the Korean cinema then sign me up as a fan. The man is really talented and is film a joy.
Great post, thanks for sharing.
All the very best.

Ian said...

Oh wow - well, if this was your introduction to K-cinema I kinda envy you! I agree, Thirst was good fun. It's probably more useful as a barometer for measuring how terrifically indulgent Park can be; the "cinema," by comparison, is more well behaved. Thank god. :-) On that score I can't remember what my first Korean film was. Ok, I can, but it's just too embarrassing to drop the name. So I'm not going to. :-p

Cheers Simone. The best to you, as well. :-)

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