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December 16, 2018


Herald Review

‘The Drug King’ has strong acting by Song, but not much more


By Yoon Min-sik The Korea Herald
“The Drug King” is not a flop by any means. On the contrary, it is probably one of the better South Korean films of the year.


But when you have masterful Song Kang-ho as the protagonist, plus the brilliance of Bae Doo-na, Jo Jung-suk, Lee Sung-min and so many other talented actors and let it all go to waste, that just doesn’t cut it.


Woo Min-ho’s upcoming crime drama about a 1970s drug lord is funny, visually impressive and well-acted by the always-dependable Song, but it suffers from a weak story, wasted plot points and a failure to use its great supporting cast.


“The Drug King” (Showbox)

The film starts off in 1970s Busan with Lee Doo-sam -- Song -- a small-timer in a drug-smuggling ring looking to make ends meet for his wife and children, as well as his three sisters. After his boss sells him out and he does time in prison, he decides to expand his activities by extending his trade across the sea to Japan, associating with more dangerous people such as the yakuza.


A life of crime has its perks, and Lee’s parade of bribes earns him various honors, not to mention connections with bigwigs and an affair with well-connected lobbyist Kim Jeong-ah, played by Bae Doo-na. But in the course of these adventures he is chased by hard-nosed prosecutor Kim In-gook -- Jo Jung-suk.


The biggest and most obvious strength of the film is the lead. I’ve rarely seen Song strike out in a movie and “The Drug King” is no exception. He absolutely shines -- sometimes he’s funny, at other times menacing and complicated.


Having said that, the rest of the cast is just wasted. 


If you know anything about Korean cinema, you know that Woo commanded a dream team cast. That’s hard to tell from the film, though.


Bae is a talented actress, but her performance here is just ... dull. Her acting is unbelievably poor for a person who has received so many accolades, although I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt given her past work and the fact that her character was written poorly.


Jo is another actor who can pull off both serious and funny -- but in this film, he is neither. In the “The Face Reader,” for example, the Jo-Song team had the audience rolling over one minute, then in tears the next. How do you make Jo this unimpressive?


Lee Sung-min can carry a whole movie by himself, but here he contributes almost nothing. That’s excusable because he had so little screen time. Even so, Kim So-jin, Lee Hee-joon, Yoon Je-moon and Yoo Jae-myung are all excellent actors who just fade away.


Jo Woo-jin was the brightest spot in this year’s “Default,” but he does not leave much of an impression in “The Drug King.”


The film is visually impressive, though not stunning. The sight of Lee Doo-sam sitting alone behind a flamboyant desk is symbolic of his hollow ambitions. The costumes and scenery effectively convey the empty splendor that is the “drug king’s” empire.


Lee’s desk is reminiscent of the image from “Scarface” from 1983. In fact, the parallels with the Hollywood classic starring the legendary Al Pacino keep popping up so frequently that it’s annoying. Whether this is intentional or not, the imagery, the characters, their lust, their rise and fall feel similar -- and cliche-ish. 


In fact, the movie at one point appears to be galloping toward a “Scarface” ending, and then just bail -- perhaps because the director realized it in the nick of time.


I initially thought “The Drug King” would more closely resemble the 2012 Korean flick “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time,” a black comedy that was blacker and more comedic than this one.


As a black comedy, “The Drug King” is pretty funny thanks to a wonderful performance by Song. His chemistry with Kim So-jin isn’t bad, but it’s not outstanding either. Overall, moments of really good chemistry between actors in this film are few and far between. For the most part, the chemistry is passable at best. 


Relationships between the characters tend to develop off camera, which is why scarcely anyone other than the protagonist gets any substantial character development.


And while we’re talking about waste, many plot points go nowhere too. Lee’s family serves as a plot device, his bad blood with a government official who tortures him and creates an unwanted connection with a gangster doesn’t really pan out, and Kim In-gook’s pursuit of Lee doesn’t add that much drama. 


Perhaps my expectations were too great for the man who directed the poignant “Inside Men,” which looked at the corrupt networks among politicians, media and conglomerates. But while “Inside Men” had wit, powerful subject matter and an iconic line that struck the hearts of Korean moviegoers, its story too was somewhat forced. Its main strengths were great characters and great acting.


Is “The Drug King” that god-awful a movie to deserve so much bashing? Absolutely not. It has some genuinely funny moments, and Song is as brilliant as ever. It is a film that is at least passable.


But it should have been much, much more. When you have a beyond-awesome cast and an interesting (if somewhat overused) premise, this shouldn’t be the best that you can do.


“The Drug King” opens in theaters Dec.19.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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December 17, 2018


Yonhap Interview 

'Drug King' is a throwback to Song Kang-ho's dark side

By Park Boram


SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- Song Kang-ho is arguably the most successful South Korean movie actor working today, having in 2016 become the first actor to achieve the milestone of playing lead roles in films that sold a cumulative total of more than 100 million tickets.


His recent hit movies, like "A Taxi Driver," "The Age of Shadows," "The Attorney" and "Snowpiercer," established his cinematic image as a man of virtue with a humble demeanor.


Song's upcoming film, "Drug King," set for opening on Wednesday, however, is a major turnaround from such images, with him cast in a role that brings out playful and gangsterish elements.


"Over the past ten years, I have often played roles of common people who delve into justice. It wasn't out of my deliberate intention," Song said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency and other media outlets on Monday ahead of the new film's release.


The latest work will put forth other sides of actor Song Kang-ho," he said. "They are close to the characters that I played some 20 years ago (at the start of my cinematic career), including 'Green Fish' or 'No. 3.'"


"Audiences may be delighted to see again what I looked like when I debuted ... and I myself was very excited while filming it because it had a lot of scenes that I couldn't act for a long time," he said.


This image of Song Kang-ho is provided by Showbox, the distributor of "Drug King." (Yonhap)

This image of Song Kang-ho is provided by Showbox, the distributor of "Drug King." (Yonhap)


The film, by director Woo Min-ho, the creator of the 2015 hit film "Inside Men," depicts Song as Lee Doo-sam, a fearless drug lord operating against the backdrop of South Korea's heady industrialization drive in the 1970s.


Starting off as a petty smuggler going between South Korea and Japan, his gut and grit made Lee an enormously rich and influential leader of the biggest drug ring based in the port city of Busan. Allied with the leader of a Japanese yakuza group, he also runs a major drug distribution network in Japan, a story director Woo drew from a group of real-life drug dealing cases in the '70s.


As his drug export business thrived, Lee bribed his way to the top of the drug underworld, greasing the palms of law enforcement officials and buying politicians with bribes.


Lee's gradual descent into drug addiction and his eventual fall are organically intertwined with the political ambience peculiar to the dictatorial period.


"The 1970s was a time of brilliance and dynamism. It was a time when our parents sacrificed their lives for the upbringing of their children, to make them better off than themselves," according to Song. "Lee Doo-sam is also one of them. But he chose illegal means and came to embody social evils. That is how (the drug lord) was born."


It was a big acting challenge, even for the well-rounded veteran actor, to incarnate a drug addict in a country where there are few high-profile criminal cases or cinematic archives on the themes of drug use.


"It was a real challenge to me as an actor to bring to life a world that I have never encountered. How to bring out all the little details of a drug world was really demanding," Song noted.


"As some say that actors and actresses are chronically lonely beings, nobody can help them in front of the camera. They are left wholly alone there," the actor said.


Despite the heavy title of being South Korea's most commercially successful actor, Song tries to free himself of any pressure. "It would be a lie if I say I don't feel any pressure of having to come up with good (box office) performance every time," according to Song.


"But my top priority is showing up with a face that is not obsolete every time I shoot a new film. Regardless of the results, what challenge I come to deal with is the most important thing."



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December 18, 2018


[INTERVIEW] Song Kang-ho's 'hallucinating' acting stands out in 'Drug King'


Actor Song Kang-ho poses prior to an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe in Seoul, Monday. /Courtesy of Show Box


By Park Jin-hai The Korea Times


Award-winning actor Song Kang-ho, who has been acclaimed for his subtle portrayal of ordinary citizens in various films, has bagged the strongest character ever in his career _ a lesser-known Korean drug king.


In his latest crime drama "The Drug King," directed by Woo Min-ho of crime action "Inside Men" (2015), Korea's top grossing R-rated movie of all-time, Song portrays Lee Doo-sam, an ordinary small-time narcotics dealer who becomes an infamous drug lord in Korea during the 1970s.


The R-rated film is based on the real life story of a drug smuggler named Lee Hwang-soon who built his empire in Busan's crime underworld in the '70s. Although drugs are prevalent in many Hollywood films, it is rare for Korean movies to center on the country's drug cartels. 


"Although local audiences might find themselves unfamiliar with the story material, it will leave a strong impression on viewers," said the 51-year-old actor during an interview with the Korea Times in Seoul, Monday. "But it is more than the strong feelings its poster emanates. It is about a person's obsession with money that leads him to his doom. It portrays human desire, obsession and destruction through the dramatic life of Lee. It is not intended to put the country's underground drug trafficking world under the microscope." 


In the 139-minute film, Song shows the dramatic rise and fall of petty smuggler, Lee. After being involved unwittingly in drug deals, Lee was quick to learn about the business and rose to the position of drug lord going between Korea and Japan. Under the authoritarian government of Park Chung-hee, when the country ran the nation-wide Saemaeul campaign to modernize the rural Korean economy and promote exports, the government turns a blind eye to the drug trade. Using connections within the government and bribing officials, Lee manufactures drugs and accrues enormous wealth by exporting them with the "Made in Korea" brand to Japan. But, in the end, he becomes an addict and his insatiable obsession for money leads him to a tragic end. 


He said there were technical difficulties when depicting Lee under the influence of drugs. "There was a lack of Korean films that I could use as references when trying to show Lee's hardcore addiction. The references available for the local drug rings were all written texts, while the film's script just says Lee suffers from a addiction. So I had to work hard, using my imagination to portray Lee's addicted state realistically," said Song. 


"Acting is a lonely job, because after all it is left to the actor to shape the scripted character and bring them to life. But I felt even lonelier shooting this film, with nobody to advise me how to act like a drug addict."


Song returns to the big screen, one and a half years since "A Taxi Driver," where he took on the role of an ordinary taxi driver who came to be involved in the events of the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980. With his many projects including "The Host" (2006), "The Attorney" (2013) "A Taxi Driver" (2017), Song appeared as an ordinary father, a good-willed lawyer and a taxi driver who stands up for what's right. 


"Over the past ten years I've happened to bag roles playing many seemingly ordinary characters who stand for justice. But in my new film, audiences might be reminded of my earlier acting seen in, say, 'Memories of Murder.' Viewers might find it amusing I think," he added. 


Song tried hard to show his character's inner turmoil, "Since the film doesn't lean on the confrontation between good and evil characters carrying the story, I thought the depth of acting performance matters. So I tried hard to depict Lee's internal pains and skewed obsession entangled within and to show how they change the person," he said. 


Song said he particularly likes the film's unconventional ending. "The film doesn't follow the familiar structure of giving catharsis to viewers. Instead, it ends by questioning viewers if the evil seed for one's destruction has gone for good. It doesn't have the typical closing the box ending. I hope movie fans will also find the director's unconventional ending fresh."



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December 20, 2018


When a good guy goes bad: In “The Drug King,” Song Kang-ho plays a smuggler who becomes a kingpin


Source: INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily




While there have been several Korean films over the years that indirectly deal with drugs, like the 2006 noir action title “Bloody Tie” - a story about a drug dealer and a hard-nosed cop trying to arrest him - the topic remains a taboo theme to feature at the center of a major production. 


The recently-released “The Drug King,” however, is a rare Korean title with a plot that openly touches on the topic.


Set in the southern port city of Busan in the 1970s, the crime drama revolves around Lee Doo-sam (Song Kang-ho), a petty smuggler who barely makes ends meet to feed his wife, a piano teacher, and two children. But after he starts smuggling drugs by chance, Lee follows his instinct and ultimately builds an underground criminal empire, becoming a drug kingpin. The film is inspired by the notorious real-life figure. 


“‘The Drug King’ tells the life story of a man who used to be naive and simple, but is later destroyed by his own ambition and greed after getting a taste of wealth and authority,” said Song during an interview held in central Seoul on Monday. “Drug issues are deeply rooted in countries like Mexico or the United States. Korea, however, is a drug-free nation, and therefore, was difficult [for me] to play the role.


“I did not refer to any previous movies or videos to play Doo-sam because the character has his own unique background story that leads him to behave in certain ways,” Song added. 


Directed by Woo Min-ho of the acclaimed crime film “Inside Men” (2015), the movie co-stars Bae Doo-na as a lobbyist who guides Doo-sam into the upper echelons of the drug trade and Cho Jung-seok as an ambitious and hard-nosed prosecutor chasing after Doo-sam. Kim Dae-myung plays Doo-sam’s younger cousin with whom he has a strong bond. 


Things in the movie start to pick up when Doo-sam’s boss sells him out. After he serves time in prison, he gradually starts to expand his smuggling activities across the sea to Japan, giving him helpful yet dangerous connections to bigwigs. 



Song Kang-ho, center, plays a drug kingpin in “The Drug King,” which is set in Busan in the 1970s. [SHOWBOX]

To Song - who is best known for his working class roles like the one he played in last year’s


“A Taxi Driver” and 2013’s “The Attorney” - pulling off a villainous character like Doo-sam was a new challenge.


“Over my more than two decades as an actor, I have landed a number of roles representing justice. But building this kind of resume was not intentional,” said Song. “So [though Doo-sam may seem quite villainous], I hope the audience will welcome this character because it shows different aspects of my acting capabilities.”


Song added, “I didn’t choose ‘The Drug King’ to show off an unseen part of me. I was simply interested in a story that delves into a man who goes through joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure in life, and ultimately gets destroyed by his own crooked ambition. I was interested in how Doo-sam gradually turns into a beast to survive in a chaotic world.”


When asked whether he shares any similarities with his character, the actor firmly said, “I aim to make good movies for audiences. But I neither chase after money, nor authority.”


The time period is a crucial part of Doo-sam’s character, according to Song.


“Korea had dynamic moments in the ‘70s. During that time, many parents sacrificed themselves in the hopes of providing better lives for their children. I guess Doo-sam was one of those parents.”


One of the most interesting parts about this film to Song was its ending. 


“The ending of this movie is quite different from most films. I think it may get a divided response from audiences, but I respect director Woo Min-ho’s choice in how the film finishes.”


Song added, “The film’s ending suggests that even though Doo-sam may see an end [to his wealth and reputation], there is a possibility of another Lee Doo-sam, meaning the existence of this kind of social evil could continue to persist.” 


Even for an experienced actor with such strong ticket power, leading a big budget movie that cost more than 15 billion won ($8.9 million) to make is a huge responsibility.


“I can’t say that I’m free from the pressure of the film’s box office performance, but I try not to feel or think about it too much.”


That doesn’t mean he does not have career goals.


“The biggest goal is to give audiences new movies and avoid becoming lazy.” Song added,


“Instead of being an actor who can sell more than 10 million tickets, I would like to be described as a refreshing actor who works to surprise viewers.” 


Released on Wednesday, “The Drug King” is rated 18 and above.


BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]

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December 22, 2018

HanCinema's Film Review: "Drug King"


By William Schwartz HanCinema.net




Archival footage explains how the Japanese discovered meth, and decided to use it during World War II to make their soldiers sharp for the war effort. This predictably resulted in a lot of veterans becoming drug addicts in the decades after the war, and facing local crackdowns, Japanese crime lords turned to suppliers in South Korea to pick up the slack. So it is that in the seventies bumbling fishmonger dad Doo-sam (played by Song Kang-ho) tries to get in on the action.


A lot of drug lord genre movies make being a drug lord look really cool. Tragic endings where the protagonist pointlessly dies at the end doesn't make anything he does up until that point look any less cool. Doo-sam, by contrast, always looks like a giant dork. His main redeeming quality is excessive stubbornness. Doo-sam will face a near-death experience one day and come back the next eager as ever to become a major player in the international drug trade.


Doo-sam's inevitable success is largely a result of attrition. Somehow or other he always manages to survive encounters with people who are willing and able to kill him, either by acting as subservient and pathetic as possible or choosing to back the right team in a bare knuckle brawl where every warm body counts. The best such scene is a wild, winding sequence through a major Japanese hotel, where cheerful nineteenth century orchestra music is an amusing contrast to grown men clumsily stabbing each other in narrow hallways.




Most of the background music just seems like whatever Doo-sam thinks will make him seem like a smart cultured man. In reality he just has a limited reference pool. There's classical music for the epic scenes, popular Korean music for lighter moments and whatever American LPs happen to be lying around for when everyone's doing a hit and wants to feel, like, deep, man. The tunes are almost never actually appropriate for the situation, especially if you're listening to the lyrics, and Doo-sam is exactly the kind of guy who doesn't.


Even Doo-sam's own comeuppance is more a matter of willpower than it is actual failure. Prosecutor In-goo (played by Jo Jung-suk) is shown to be a man of above average competence, but only just barely. Doo-sam is able to successfully outwit In-goo mostly by just following basic advice from his colleagues in the narcotics industry. He stops doing so because...well, look at this way. Doo-sam is a dreamer. Even when his dreams come true, Doo-sam just comes up with more elaborate dreams, shooting up as necessary in order to more effectively hallucinate them.


The fundamentally rude joke at play here is that, contrary to popular belief, people seriously involved in the drug trade are not necessarily all that smart. Nearly every character in the movie gets sucker punched at some point because they are really bad at accurately gauging imminent danger. Our hero ends up spending a lot of time at a pig farm, just because it smells bad. "Drug King" is not a noble or glamorous story- so don't go in expecting one.



Review by William Schwartz


"Drug King" is directed by Woo Min-ho, and features Song Kang-ho, Jo Jung-suk, Bae Doona, Kim So-jin and Kim Dae-myung.

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January 1, 2019 happy-new-year-2.gif


'Parasite' headlines Korean cinema in 2019


Actor Song Kang-ho is seen in Bong Joon-ho's new film "Parasite." / Courtesy of CJ Entertainment


By Jason Bechervaise The Korea Times


Last year it was Lee Chang-dong's "Burning" that stood out. He certainly didn't disappoint. In 2019 it is Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" that holds the most promise in terms of the Korean films set to hit screens over the next twelve months. 


In truth, this year it's looking a bit lighter than usual, perhaps reflecting two concerns for the industry: a string of high-profile films such as Kim Jee-woon's "Illang: The Wolf Brigade" flopped in 2018, while working regulations to limit the amount of hours crews can work is set to increase budgets. 


That being said, there is still much to look forward to. Indeed, in 2018 there were encouraging signs in the form of mid-budget features such as "Little Forest" and "On Your Wedding Day" that succeeded in pulling in the crowds. Some of the best Korean films have been produced on such budgets making this a healthy development for the industry.




Quite possibly premiering in Cannes in May with a local release soon to follow, there is much to anticipate with a new Bong Joon-ho film. But this new feature is notable because it will mark his return to Korean language films; his last Korean film that was not an international co-production was "Mother" in 2009. 


Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong and Jang Hye-jin, it follows two families who are markedly different yet also alike. Shot around the country including Jeonju where a set was built for the film, comparisons are already being made to Kim Ki-young's 1960 classic "The Housemaid" that centres on a family. 


Much like Lee Chang-dong, Bong is incapable of making a bad film. Expect this to feature in top 10 lists at the end of 2019.


'Hit-and-Run Squad'


Released in time for the Lunar New Year season, Han Jun-hee's action-thriller looks promising. Han who brought us the thrilling "Coin Locker Girl" brings together Kong Hyo-jin ("Door Lock") and Ryoo Joon-yeol ("Believer"). The pair work together on a hit-and-run squad to bring down a former formula one racing driver who has become a businessman. 


'Beasts that Cling to the Straw'


Featuring a host of names including Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung and Youn Yuh-jung, it's the casting that makes this one to look out for. Directed by Kim Yong-hoon, the mystery-thriller is an adaptation of Sone Keisuke's novel of the same name. It follows a number of characters as they find themselves in challenging circumstances. 




Also starring Jeon Do-yeon is the first commercial film to deal with the 2014 tragic Sewol ferry sinking. The actress will play a woman who is coming to terms with the death of her son who was on board the ship, while Sul Kyung-gu will star as the boy's father. The drama will mark the feature debut of Lee Jong-eun who has worked under Lee Chang-dong on "Secret Sunshine" and "Poetry." 




Han Suk-kyu and Choi Min-sik reunite in Hur Jin-ho's period drama about Korea's most revered monarch King Sejong, and the renowned scientist and inventor Jang Yeong-sil. Han will play the King, while Choi has been cast as Jang. The pair played leading roles in the seminal action-thriller "Shiri" (1999) that ushered in the local blockbuster era. Famous for his melodramas, Hur Jin-ho also collaborated with Han Suk-kyu on his iconic film "Christmas in August." The director will be hoping to repeat the success of his period film "The Last Princess" that was a commercial hit in 2016. 




Another period film also centered on King Sejong to be released in 2019 is Cho Chul-hyun's feature debut. Featuring Song Kang-ho and Park Hae-il, the film follows the King (Song) and the monk who assisted him (Park). King Sejong is famous for having created Hangul, the Korean writing system. Cho has produced a number of films including many of Lee Joon-ik's features, while he also co-wrote Lee's "The Throne" ― also starring Song Kang-ho. 


'Find Me'


In her first role in a feature since Park Chan-wook's "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" Lee Young-ae's return to the big screen is bound to attract attention. The actress plays the mother of a boy with cognitive impairment who goes missing and she goes looking for him. The film marks the feature debut of Kim Seung-woo. 


'Chiefs of Namsan'


Although Woo Min-ho's "Drug King" was a disappointment, his next political thriller about the former Korean Central Intelligence Agency Chief Kim Jae-gyu who assassinated former President Park Chung-hee in 1979 sounds intriguing. With Lee Byung-hun playing the lead role as Kim Gyu-pyung (based on Kim Jae-kyu), it is perhaps more in line with his hit "Inside Men" than his more recent film that failed to fully integrate the turbulent 1970s backdrop. Given the story, comparisons to Im Sang-soo's "The President's Last Bang" are inevitable. 


Other films 


There are also a host of other films set to greet audiences this year. Kim Joo-hwan who made the immensely entertaining "Midnight Runners" is helming the action film "The Divine Fury" starring Park Seo-joon. Kwon Oh-kwang ("Collective Invention) will bring us "Tazza 3," Jang Jae-hyun ("The Priests") returns to Catholicism in "Sabaha," Won Sin-yeon ("The Suspect") is set to provide much spectacle in the period action film "Battle," while Kwak Kyung-taek and Kim Tae-hoon are partnering up for the Korean War film "The Battle of Jangsari" that will star Hollywood actress Megan Fox. 


Jason Bechervaise is professor of entertainment and arts management at Korea Soongsil Cyber University.

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January 8, 2019


End-Of-Year Peak Season Scores 
Box Office Results of Korean Films Released in December over the Last 5 Years


by HWANG Hee-yun / KOFIC




December is one of the most profitable periods for Korean films, along with summer. Blockbusters with huge production costs flood the market and reap large box office takes on par with their impressive budgets. The period that saw the all-time biggest commercial successes is indeed December. One only need look at a list of the Korean commercial hits of the last five years that were released in December to get a sense of how crucial this period can be. The Attorney (2013), Ode to My Father (2014) and Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) all managed to get some legs and were still running in the following month, selling over 10 million tickets. In that respect, this year’s slate of December releases, namely The Drug King (Dec. 19), Swing Kids (Dec. 19) and Take Point (Dec. 26), was eagerly anticipated by moviegoers. Add to that the fact that the first two marked the return of SONG Kang-ho and HA Jung-woo, two of the most bankable actors, while the third one was the latest from Sunny (2011) director KANG Hyoung-chul. However, now that the December peak season is behind us and the figures are in, it appears these three movies have performed rather poor. Released a week earlier than Take Point (2018), The Drug King (2018) welcomed 1.86 million viewers while Swing Kids (2018) took in 1.43 million admissions. Take Point, which opened on December 26, also had a rough time as it only sold 1.6 million tickets. Considering that all three movies had production budgets of over KRW 14 billion (USD 12.5 million), this is seen as a major disappointment by people within and outside of the film industry. Because of this box office slump, it was the first time since 2011 that the December admission figures for Korean movies were way behind those for foreign films.

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th_note1.gif Related excerpt from full article at soompi mainsite 


January 27, 2019


Epic Korean Blockbusters To Enjoy On Cold Winter Evenings


Source: Soompi by hgordon


There’s something about winter evenings that makes them perfect for the thrill of epic blockbuster movies: you’re in need of some excitement on your TV to chase away the winter cold. Luckily, Korean cinema has countless films that will quench your thirst for large-scale action and drama. We’re talking spectacular explosions, stylish sword fights, secret missions, and adventures of legendary proportions. So grab a comfy seat and some popcorn, and let one of these epic Korean blockbusters take you on a journey you won’t soon forget!


“The Good, The Bad, The Weird”

Korea’s take on the spaghetti Western, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” is a rollicking spectacle from start to finish. A bounty hunter, a hitman, and a wacky thief all vie for the same treasure map in the middle of the desolate desert of Manchuria. Absurdities abound as The Good (Jung Woo Sung), The Bad (Lee Byung Hun), and The Weird (Song Kang Ho) hunt each other through wild chases, extravagant explosions, and classic Western shootouts, all the while being pursued by the Japanese Imperial Army and some Manchurian bandits. Nothing is off the table in this riotous film, and you’ll love every minute of it.



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Related SKH-movie excerpt only, full interview at KOFIC


January 28, 2019 


Interview: CHO Tae-hee, Movie Makeup Artist
“One day, I would like to open a museum on movie makeup”

by SONG Soon-jin KOFIC




The film technicians who contribute to increase the production value of movies, whether it is in locations or production design, music or sound effects, constitute valuable assets to a national film industry. CHO Tae-hee, who has just opened an exhibition that presents his work in some of Korea’s foremost period drama films (Masquerade, 2012; The Fatal Encounter, 2014; The Throne, 2015; Anarchist from the Colony, 2017; The Fortress, 2017; Monstrum, 2018), stands as one of the most important of such assets. The exhibition “Facial Creation in Movies”, which bears the subtitle “Makeup Artist CHO Tae-hee – An Extensive archive of makeup in Korean film”, has been welcoming visitors in the Ara Art Center (www.araart.co.kr) in Jongno District, Seoul from December 29, 2018, and will continue to do so until April 23. The displays are filled with information that are sure to foster interest in the enigmatic world of movie makeup, but also in Korean period drama films to a larger extent.


The exhibition is centered on Masquerade, The Fatal Encounter, The Throne, The Fortress and The Great Battle (2018). Are we to assume that these are your major titles?
They are all titles I’m attached to. After Masquerade, many people in the industry started looking for me. For that reason, this film is very important to me. The Fatal Encounter is one of the opportunities I was offered thanks to Masquerade was. It was the film with which HYUN Bin made his comeback after he was discharged from military service, so the stakes were high for both of us. I have a lot of memories of that period and the deep affection we shared. I still have regular contact with some actors, like LEE Byung-hun, HYUN Bin, SONG Kang-ho, ZO In-sung, PARK Hae-il, since they all made their first period drama with me. In that regard, too, all these films mean a lot to me.


Source: movieface_korea


Newspaper articles on the 'Screen Drawing Make-up' exhibition (The Korea Times, The Hankyoreh, MBN Star interview)


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February 1, 2019

Celebrating Burning | 10 Great South Korean Thrillers


By Andrew Carroll  HeadStuff

We here at Headstuff loved new release Burning, a strange blend of social drama and Hitchcockian mystery. In fact, it could be an early contender for best film of 2019. That said, it is only the latest entry in a series of stellar South Korean thrillers. With their enhanced grittiness, more morally ambiguous characters and a willingness to push boundaries, they leave American counterparts in the dust.


To mark Burning’s release, Headstuff editors Andrew Carroll and Stephen Porzio have outlined the South Korean movies cinephiles need to see. Read below to see what made the list.


Shiri (1999) – Dir Kang Je-gyu
A great entry point for Western audiences, Shiri was South Korea’s first attempt at crafting a blockbuster to rival Hollywood and other Asian cinema following an economic boom in the country. It centres on a South Korean agent on the trail of an elusive North Korean female assassin who has resurfaced and is seeking to get her hands on a new experimental bomb capable of destroying cities.

Fans of John Woo will get a kick out of Shiri’s hyper-kinetic action and spy intrigue. However, its the exciting twists, moments of dark comedy and exploration of paranoia surrounding reunification with North Korea which feel distinct to the country. Also, watch out for great supporting turns from future leading men Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, The Host and Thirst) and Choi Min-Sik (I Saw the Devil, Oldboy), the latter akin to a South Korean Gary Oldman. Stephen Porzio

Memories of Murder (2003) – Dir Bong Joon-ho
Far more original and distinct than Shiri is Memories of Murder, based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders in history. Set over 17 years, it follows an older less formal local cop, Parl (Kang-ho), and a young idealistic officer, Seo (Kim Sang-kyung), from Seoul as they attempt to find a killer who targets his victims when it rains.

While the rural setting looks gorgeous and Joon-ho stages not only some thrilling action but terrifying scenes of the killer stalking his victims – often hiding above them in trees – what stands out about Memories of Murder is its story. The viewer really gets a sense of the effect these killings have on the local community. It’s as if the violence has upset the natural order, with both the locals and police’s fear and interest in the case leading to more chaos.

Without sanding off any rough edges, Memories of Murder is also a very moral film, criticising the desperate police’s torturing of suspects for information. Each act of violence comes back to bite the cops in some way as the movie progresses. Meanwhile, its heartbreaking to watch the youthful confidence of Seo disintegrate, growing wearier until he finally snaps in the climactic scene.

Fans of David Fincher’s Zodiac should watch this great video essay comparing it to Memories of Murder. Stephen Porzio

The Host (2006) – Dir Bong Joon-ho
No, not the Saoirse Ronan film. Yes, the film about the mutant fish monster that attacks Seoul. By the end of its run in 2006 The Host was the most successful South Korean movie ever made up to that point.

Coming off of Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho has had a run of success making films about the country’s and the world’s downtrodden with Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017). Yet, The Host is his most personal and probably best work. Ostensibly a creature-feature horror film, it’s surprisingly tender and a lot funnier than it should be.

In 2000, American army doctors pour gone-off formaldehyde down a drain. In 2006, a mutated fish emerges from a river and swallows Park Gang-du’s (Kang-ho again) daughter (Go Ah-sung). What follows is a comedy of errors rescue mission by the bumbling Park, his nagging father, overachieving sister and alcoholic brother.

The Host has a lot to say about America’s effect on South Korea but it also indicts uncaring politicians and inept protesters. Plus, the flopping, ungainly creature is a sight to behold and ranks as one of the most original monsters in the modern cinematic landscape. Andrew Carroll

Thirst (2009) – Dir Park Chan-wook
Vampires don’t have much of a reputation anymore. You can probably thank Twilight for that but if Thirst doesn’t put some respect back on the vampire name I don’t know what will.

Dedicated but doubtful Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Kang-ho yet again!) takes part in an experimental medical trial to find a cure for a deadly virus. After receiving a blood transfusion he finds himself cured and in possession of extraordinary powers and a thirst for blood. Not only that but he’s also attracted to his childhood friend’s wife. Nothing’s ever simple especially as Sang-hyun’s condition worsens.

Thirst might be a horror film but it’s also a film about forbidden, illegal love. It’s a love triangle story much like but also very different from Burning. Directed by Korean master Park Chan-wook – who by this point had already made his much loved Vengeance trilogy [Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005)] – the film is noticeably different from his earlier work. It’s an oddity that despite all the bloodletting is quite a sweet film that slowly curdles into sourness.

Relationships are difficult especially when you’re a member of the living dead and Chan-wook makes sure to examine this from every angle. A domestic spat, for instance, turns dramatic as the bickering couple clear rooftops in a single bound. Vampire movies may be well and truly staked but you can always resurrect Thirst if you need a reminder of how good they once were. Andrew Carroll

The Man From Nowhere (2010) – Dir Lee Jeong-beom



South Korean movies, especially genre movies as this list shows, are often brutal affairs. Maybe it’s their unpredictable northern neighbour. Maybe it’s centuries of upheaval and foreign invasion. Whatever it is it’s leant itself to one of the most brutal, harrowing and uncompromising national cinemas in the world. The Man From Nowhere is no exception with its tale of former government assassin Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) and his race to rescue his young neighbour So-Mi (Kim Sae-ron) from Korean-Vietnamese organ harvesters.

Won Bin is the most selective Korean actor working right now with only five films throughout his entire career. The Man From Nowhere was his most recent and that came out in 2010. Still the film’s physically demanding and fatally efficient action alongside its viciously nihilistic story would encourage anyone to take a break from acting. The final fight scene sees Tae-sik knife fight seven goons. Mostly shot in closeups, it is both a bloody grudge match and a lesson in major blood vessel placement. I would say that South Korean revenge movies don’t get more disturbing than this but that’s just not true. Andrew Carroll


I Saw the Devil (2010) – Dir Kim Jee-woon



Speaking of disturbing and bloody, this action horror thriller may be the most disturbing and bloody movie ever! When a serial killer (Choi Min-sik – playing the character like he is pure id) brutally murders the pregnant wife of an National Intelligence Service Agent (Lee Byung-hun, G.I. Joe), the latter goes rogue to track him down.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Wanting him to suffer as his wife did, he beats the murderer half to death and implants within him a tracker before setting him free. The goal: so that any time the killer thinks he is safe, the agent will be on call again to give his bones a fresh break. Needless to say, all does not go according to plan.

One could laud tons of praise on the direction which manages to casually chuck into the film insane action set pieces on top of its already gripping cat and mouse thriller – beats which would be the centrepiece of your typical Hollywood movie. The result: a film which feels like Seven meets John Wick.

However, that’s not what I Saw the Devil is truly about. Like Memories of Murder, it’s character and idea driven. People throw around phrases like ‘violence begets violence’ or the Nietzsche quote: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster.” When I hear them, the first thing that springs to mind is I Saw the Devil. Stephen Porzio


Train to Busan (2016) – Dir Yeon Sang-ho



Reinvention seems to come so easily to South Korean cinema. Whether it’s vampires in Thirst, a two-and-a-half hour slow boiler like Burning or zombies in Train to Busan, the country seems to know just how to tweak the formula. Train to Busan is not especially violent or gory nor does it generate any new characters out of the stock of pre-existing zombie movie sketches. Instead it mobilises pre-existing tropes for the whole film.

After a zombie outbreak in Seoul banker Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his young daughter board a train to Busan. Unbeknownst to them and their fellow archetypes, I mean passengers, an infected girl is also on board. Much like the speeding bullet it’s set on the movie never slows down. Yet, even at moments such as the station attack or train switches director Yeon Sang-ho keeps things human. Characters instantly become favourites through their actions. Working class everyman Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) bulldozes through zombies. Brave highschool lovers fight it out to the end. Seok-woo might be an richard simmons in the world of finance but when his daughter’s in danger he’s a different man.

Train to Busan is one of this decade’s best zombie movies even if that phrase means very little these days. Andrew Carroll


The Handmaiden (2016) – Dir Park Chan-wook



Queer romance doesn’t come more complex than this. Inspired by the British novel Fingersmith. Park Chan-wook adapts a tale of con artistry turned into female rebellion powered by layered, defiant performances from its two leads. A conman under the moniker Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) hires pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) as a maid for the Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). Hoping that Sook-hee will convince Hideko to marry him things instead begin to turn against the Count as the two women fall for each other and the Lady’s perverted Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong) enters the fray.

Complex as the plot is, The Handmaiden never strays far from its core conceit which is – like Chan-wook’s previous movie Thirst – the trials and tribulations of forbidden love. No matter how many pornographic tales Lady Hideko is forced to read to her uncle nor how desperately the Count tries to insinuate himself in between Sook-hee and Hideko, The Handmaiden always comes back to its two leads. It’s in their long looks and stolen glances as well as the over-the-top love scenes the film makes its mark.

The Handmaiden is Romeo and Juliet only Romeo’s a conniving thief and Juliet is an impassive vixen that crushes men in her white gloved hands.


The Wailing (2016) – Dir Na Hong-jin



Na Hong-jin is one of the most promising figures in South Korean cinema, having broken onto the scene with 2008’s The Chaser, centring on an ex-detective turned pimp whose forced to go back to his old ways when his girls begin to go missing. He followed this up in 2010 with The Yellow Sea, a grander more uneven tale of gangsters and immigrants, with flashes of utter brilliance.

However, The Wailing is his best work to date, a thrilling over two and a half hour genre mash up which really puts into perspective how bad Cowboys vs Aliens and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies truly are. Set in a little village in the mountains of South Korea – resembling True Detective’s depiction of Louisiana – a series of random gruesome murders take place. The only element common to the crimes is that the killers all share a strange rash. Could the murders be linked to the Japanese stranger who has newly arrived in the village?

Beginning as a crime thriller before adding zombies, demonic possessions and more into the mix, The Wailing strength comes from how mysterious it is. While many American mash-ups literally spoil the twist in their title, one never gets a sense of where Hong-jin’s thriller is going. It continually dishes out rich symbolism and intriguing details – never spelling out anything clearly for audiences. It helps too the whole film is seen through the eyes of an ordinary joe police officer, adding an off-kilter mundanity to proceedings – leading everything to feel even more visceral. Stephen Porzio


The Villainess (2017) – Dir Jeong Byeong-Gil



I was a little harsh when I reviewed The Villainess for HeadStuff back in 2017. But with hindsight and a greater appreciation for Korean cinema I see it’s value. Essentially The Man From Nowhere with a female lead and a healthy dose of melodrama, it follows Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), a former assassin turned South Korean intelligence agent trying to protect her child and fellow agent lover Jung Hyun-soo (Sung Joon) from the truth. Although The Villainess isn’t cut from the taboo breaking mould of Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho it’s influence is still felt worldwide.

The thriller is not as cleanly shot as it could be which works to both its advantage and disadvantage. The action scenes from the opening first person POV assault to the bus set climax are exhilarating. It feels like a found footage action movie just not like Hardcore Henry thankfully.

The romantic interlude between Sook-hee and Hyun-soo adds a bit of levity and a lot of pathos as the thriller barrels towards its end game. Without The Villainess we wouldn’t have the shot in the John Wick 3 trailer that seems to hint at a sword fight on motorbikes. Not many people in the West may have seen The Villainess but those that did took notice. Andrew Carroll



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February 14, 2019


SONG Kang-ho and PARK Hae-il Wrap Period Drama
THE THRONE Scribe Moves Up to Director’s Chair


by Pierce Conran KOFIC




The upcoming period drama Naratmalssami (Korean title), which sees stars SONG Kang-ho and PARK Hae-il reunite on the big screen, completed production on January 31. The project makes the feature directing debut of The Throne (2015) scribe CHO Chul-hyun.


The period drama will see SONG play the famed King Sejong, the fourth King of Joseon Dynasty, who is best known as the inventor of the Korean writing system Hangeul. The film will follow the monarch as he invents the revolutionary system with the help of a monk (played by PARK), whose contribution has fallen by the wayside in many historical records.


SONG was on screens as recently as December as the title character of WOO Min-ho’s period crime drama The Drug King (2018) and will be back before audiences among the cast of BONG Joon-ho’s upcoming film Parasite later this year. PARK Hae-il was last seen in ZHANG Lu’s Ode to the Goose (2018), one of the gala presentations at last year’s Busan International Film Festival last October. Meanwhile, the actors have had several memorable meetings on screen in the past, in BONG Joon-ho’s works Memories Of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006).


The main financier and distributor behind Naratmalssami is Megabox Plus M, which had specialized in mid-budget films until last year’s Chuseok holiday period, when it released its first big-budget film FENGSHUI (2018), another period drama. Their latest tentpole, which chronicles the tireless efforts of the people behind Korea’s most prized cultural asset, is expected to find its way to theaters this summer.

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Source: PIerce Conran


Here's the poster for Bong Joon-ho's PARASITE! Film is out next month in Korea and many expect to see it in next month's #Cannes2019 lineup. Stars Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-sik and Park So-dam. #기생충



And here's the first trailer for PARASITE, in which a gleefully over the top narrator introduces Bong Joon-ho's 'new family tragicomedy'. I am stupendously excited. 



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