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November 11, 2010

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November 15, 2010

"Haunters" tops weekend box office chart

Reporter: Heidi Kim heidikim @ Editor: Jessica Kim jesskim @ <Ⓒ 10Asia All rights reserved>10Asia l 10Asia

New Korean film "Haunters," opened on top of the local box office over the weekend, according to the official Korean Box Office Information System (KOBIS) on Monday.

"Haunters," starring actors Ko Soo and Gang Dong-won, led the box office chart from November 12 to 14 with a total 676,641 viewers to gross over five billion won during the three-day period.

The film, about a fight between a man with a supernatural power and another who can resist it, had seen the highest number of advance ticket sales so far this year on the day of its release on November 10.

Following behind was the previous week's winner "The Unjust" which attracted 272,254 viewers during the same period to gross over 2.1, accumulating over 2.17 billion won.

The Hwang Jung-min and Ryoo Seung-bum starrer which tells of widespread corruption within a prosecutors' office had maintained its place atop the chart for two weeks straight.

US film "Unstoppable," which opened last Wednesday, debuted on the box office in third place with 156,817 entrants last weekend, raking in close to 1.2 bilion won.

The action pic starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine is centered on a quest to stop an unmanned runaway train heading toward a city.

Other films that continued to hang on to the top 10 included the US action-packed "Red," local comedy "Bad Couple," 3D animation "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga 'Hoole," another US thriller "Devil, "local suspense film" Midnight FM "and Chinese disaster film" After Shock. "

The newcomer in the chart was "The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya," a Japanese animation which opened in theaters on November 11.

[CHART] Weekend Box Office: November 12-14

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South Korea's box office estimates for the weekend of November 12-14, 2010 [Korean Box Office Information System (KOBIS)]

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November 20, 2010

Blades of Blood (2010) Movie Review

By JAMES MUDGE beyondhollywood.com

Marking the period drama return of award winning “The King and the Clown” director Lee Joon Ik, “Blades of Blood” was one of the most eagerly awaited Korean films of 2010. Based upon the manhwa comic ‘Like the Moon Escaping from the Clouds’ by Park Heung Yong, the film is set during the Joseon era and charts a turbulent time of political upheaval, rebellion and invasion, coming to a head with a clash between swordsmen played by popular veterans Cha Seung Won (“Secret”) and Hwang Jung Min (“A Man Who Was Superman”). Supporting the headliners are younger stars Baek Sung Hyun (“Our School ET”) and Han Ji Hye (“My Boyfriend Is Type-B”), all caught up in a violent and bloody struggle to seize control of the country.

The film in begins in 1591, with Korea facing the threat of a Japanese invasion and being embroiled in internal political squabbling as the Eastern and Western councils face off against each other. Royal descendant Lee Mong Hwak (Cha Seung Won) attempts to unite the country and bring peace and justice with his Grand Alliance, but is branded a traitor by the court. Convinced that his is the only way to save the country, he raises a rebel army and sets out on a single minded crusade to eliminate his enemies and those former comrades who now stand in his way, and to claim the throne for himself. Opposing him is legendary blind swordsman Hwang Jung Hak (Hwang Jung Min), once his friend and ally but who now wishes to bring him to task for his brutal tactics and betrayals. Hwang is joined by Gyeon Ja (Baek Sung Hyun), the young illegitimate son of a nobleman killed by the rebel army, now desperate for revenge, and by Baek Ji (Han Ji Hye), Lee Mong’s lover, who tags along for her own reasons.

Although they are different films in a number of ways, “Blades of Blood” essentially works for the same reasons as “The King and the Clown”. Lee Joon Ik again proves himself to one of the few directors capable of really bringing history to life, and the film stands apart from the average costume blockbuster thanks to his style of grounded, believable storytelling, and a set of highly engaging and atypical characters. The plot itself is multilayered, and though it initially starts off seeming like a fairly straightforward revenge drama, with Hwang Jung and Gyeon Ja teaming up to bring down Lee Mong, it quickly becomes clear that Lee is equally interested in the bigger picture. As such, the film follows Lee Mong and the various political factions vying for power just as much as the vengeance seeking duo, who quite often fade into the background, with it becoming increasingly clear that their quest is superseded by the more important issue of the fate of the nation. Lee does a great job of keeping the story moving in gripping fashion, slowly upping the tension as the threat of Japanese invasion intensifies, and though the film is talky and at times dense, especially for those with no knowledge of Korean history, it is never dry or anything less than fascinating.

The film also benefits hugely from Lee’s refusal to let younger protagonist Gyeon Ja take centre stage, or to let his relationship with Baek Ji ever blossom into the expected romance. Indeed, the film is almost entirely driven by Hwang Jung and Lee Mong, whose dynamic as former allies who still respect each other despite their paths in life having diverged, is a very powerful one. If anything, Lee Mong is the film’s strongest character, and though having turned to brutal and ruthless methods, he remains sympathetic, or at least understandable, as he cuts a swathe through his enemies. The film is surprisingly even handed and unconventional in this respect, as Lee makes it very clear that the country is indeed in dire straights, seized by chaos and overrun by internal squabbling, and as such in need of a tough leader who is willing to make harsh decisions. Certainly, the two warring councils, and even the King, are portrayed as indecisive and motivated entirely by self interest rather than a desire to serve the nation, and though there is an ambiguous trace of this in Lee Mong as well, his determination and willingness to lay down his life for his beliefs make his actions hard to argue with at times.

The film is bolstered by a set of very strong performances, with Cha Seung Won suitably steely as Lee Mong, though at the same time still betraying a definite humanity, especially during the latter stages. Hwang Jung Min is also excellent as his conflicted nemesis, and although much of his screen time sees him gurning and cackling, he arguably does a far more convincing job in the blind swordsman than others have in the iconic role. Baek Sung Hyun is also impressive, and his relationship with Hwang Jung, most of which involves his being scolded and hit over the head by the older man, gives the film a few very welcome light hearted moments. Although she doesn’t have quite so much to do, with the film generally being a fairly manly affair, Han Ji Hye adds a few extra emotional notes as the tortured woman who loves Lee Mong almost in spite of herself, knowing that things are not likely to end well for them.

Despite its title, the film is not particularly bloody. There is a good amount of sword slinging action, mainly in the form of one on one duels, with a few larger scale battle scenes during the final act, most of which is very well choreographed, if overly laden with the use of slow motion. Lee does seem a little uncomfortable with these scenes, and they lack the same sense of assurance as the film’s human drama, at times feeling as if they don’t quite belong. Still, they are generally exciting, and do help to keep the film moving along at a good pace, and so this really isn’t too much of a criticism, though it will be interesting to see if this is something which Lee develops further upon in his career.

As things stand, “Blades of Blood” is definitely one of the best Korean period costume films of the year, and Lee again shows himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to storytelling and flawed, human characters. Gripping and well acted throughout, the film has more depth and historical detail to lift it beyond the level of popcorn blockbuster, whilst at the same time remaining highly enjoyable and entertaining.

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December 15, 2010

Korean Film – The Unjust | Headed to the Berlin Festival in Feb. 2011

by KOCCA

The Unjust, the recent Korean film of director Ryu Seung Wan, is about entangled relationships between police, prosecutor and sponsor in congested society. These three characters are foes to each other, but are comrades at the same time. In other words, they can live by killing each other, but, in order for them to live all together, they need to help each other out. In this Korean film, everyone tries to hide themselves behind the fake characters that are made by what other people think of them. The ugly truths are all hidden under the unjust deal they make.

There have been serial murder incidents in this Korean film. The police keep failing to arrest the serial killer and ultimately the President declares he will intervene in this incident. After the President’s announcement, the National Police Agency does not want the issue to grow any bigger, and hopes to find a conclusion as soon as possible. Therefore they decide to set up a false criminal. The suitable man at the police for this project is Choi Chul-Ki (Hwang Jung Min), who does not have any connections nor strong background. When this was proposed to him, Chul-ki accepts it for his promised promotion and success. He uses his sponsor Chang Suk-Gu, the president of HaeDong Co., to find a false criminal and with that help, he successfully concludes this enormous event.

On the other hand, the prosecutor JooYang (Ryu Seung Bum) hears that his sponsor Mr. Kim has been arrested by Choi Chul-Ki for his unfair profits. So he starts to investigate Choi Chul-ki secretly and he finds out the truth about the false criminal and relationship with Chang Suk-Gu. Joo Yang proposes Choi Chul-Ki a deal in which Chul-ki leaves Mr. Kim alone then Joo Yang will keep the truth as a secret. Chul-Ki starts to investigate JooYang and finds out about Joo Yang’s unclean relationship with Mr. Kim. It seems like everyone’s trying so hard not to fall from where they belong; and for this, they even use nasty and inappropriate approaches.

In this Korean film, there is no one on the advantageous side. Even the sponsor Chang Suk-Gu, who seemed like he was the weakest among all characters, later gets the evidence that can threat Chul-Min. All they do is make a bad deal so that they don’t really devastate themselves. However society does not let them keep live foul lives. All the truth eventually comes out on the surface and their hard endeavors all become futile.

The Korean film well criticizes the brutal side of this modern society. Although the Korean film runs a little long, it is not boring since there is great casting. Both main and minor characters were played by famous actors: Hwang Jung-Min, Ryu Seung-Bum, Yoo Hae-Jin. It is a great movie to check out since it’s headed to the Berlin International Film Festival next February.

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January 2, 2011

Soompi.com shows Hallyu where to go

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldm.com) koreaherald.com

Soompi.com is the world’s biggest English-language online community dedicated to Korean pop culture. It boasts some 1.4 million visitors daily. More importantly, 90 percent of its members are non-Koreans.

The website is widely regarded as a promising social network venture that has secured a solid user base on the strength of Korean cultural content. Softbank of Japan has already invested in Soompi.com and other investors are lining up amid the outlook that the website will emerge as a key gateway to Asian pop culture for English-speaking audiences.

Soompi.com CEO Joyce Kim, who lives in San Francisco, said in an interview that Hallyu is still in the early stages of growth internationally and the website would help foster its development online as “the central online activity hub for all fans of Hallyu and Asian pop.”

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Joyce Kim

As for Hallyu, Kim noted that the near absence of a legitimate distribution of Korean pop content is a serious problem that is often neglected by Koreans.

The following are excerpts from the e-mail interview with Kim.

Korea Herald: How did Soompi.com start, and how did you get involved in the site?

Joyce Kim: Soompi was started by my co-founder Susan Kang in 1998 as her own personal website dedicated to her interest in Korean dramas and music. During the initial first few years, Susan would scan Korean entertainment magazine articles, translate them into English and post them on the site. Slowly, a community began to grow around the site and Susan soon had people volunteering to help with the site. As the first Hallyu wave began to grow, the site also began to grow. Soon, there were hundreds of thousands of visitors each month.

I met Susan because she is the older sister of my best friend from law school. We initially started to work together on Soompi in 2006 when the site growth was really taking off which meant server expenses were also taking off. I was helping Susan set up the advertising system on the site and eventually we decided to officially create a company and work on Soompi together. At first, we both kept our full-time jobs (Susan as a coder and me as a lawyer) and worked on Soompi during our nights and weekends. But by the end of 2008, the site was so active that it was obvious that the site needed more support. We made the decision to leave our jobs in 2009 and work on Soompi full-time.

KH: If you define Soompi.com, what is it?

Kim: Soompi is an online fan community for Hallyu. Soompi’s greatest strength lies in our members. Ninety-nine percent of the content on Soompi is user-generated content so our members are the ones who find the information to share and discuss. They spend a great deal of time online answering each other’s questions. No amount of money or marketing can create the organic community that sites like Soompi have.

KH: Who are Soompi members?

Kim: Soompi members are mostly young Americans of many different backgrounds (Asian, Caucasian, black and Latino) followed by people in their teens and 20s in South East Asia (Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, etc). They are typically very fashionable and up on the latest trends since they follow entertainment so closely. When they come to Soompi, they are often looking for the latest news about Hallyu and to meet other passionate fans. Hallyu fans love to work together to do events and share their love for their idols.

KH: What aspect of Hallyu appeals to Soompi members?

Kim: Soompi members love the celebrities ― their personalities, their visuals, their songs ― all of it. In fact, many of our members (90 percent of whom are not Korean) have started to learn Korean to better understand the music and dramas. Hallyu has definitely started to grow beyond its typical Asian boundaries. I think we will see Hallyu spread to the U.S., Latin America and Europe in 2011. However, for Hallyu to be truly successful abroad, Korean entertainment companies need to better understand international fans better ― this is important for creating new fans and reaching out to new markets.

KH: What can Korean websites and firms interested in Hallyu learn from Soompi?

Kim: I would say two differences between Soompi and Korean sites are 1) we really take into consideration the community’s desires when we build new products ― meaning oftentimes we look at community feedback first when thinking about new features and 2) we push out features before they are 100 percent perfect ― sometimes it means it has bugs, but it also means we can get our full community reaction quickly and fix or change things as needed.

For entertainment firms working in the Hallyu industry, it is important to make the music and drama content easily available for international fans. People in Korea do not realize how hard it is for international fans to buy the music and dramas legally ― there are not good options available. If entertainment firms made their content for easily available for international purchase, then more international fans would buy the content. But at the moment, we cannot even easily register on Korean websites.

KH: To create new and successful services based on social network service, what should and shouldn’t Korean venture startups do?

Kim: I see many Korean startups that are testing or half-heartedly targeting the global market. The decision whether to go global should be made early as it significantly impacts the kind of team that needs to be built and the product. If you are building an SNS service targeting the international market, then you should create your team abroad.

KH: What was the purpose of your latest visit to Seoul, and what did you feel when you were in Seoul?

Kim: I visit Seoul at least once a year to meet with Korean entertainment companies and Korean Internet startups. On the entertainment front, there is strong interest in online and social media strategy from the entertainment companies. This is one of the big growth opportunities for Hallyu. But I think Korean entertainment companies will need to hire people with international Internet experience to really open that opportunity.

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January 5, 2011

56_IFB_logo.gifOfficial Website 61st Berlinale

Trio of Korean Movies announced for Berlinale Panorama

by KOCCA

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The 61st Berlin International Film Festival (Feb. 10-20, 2011) has announced 24 of the 50 films to be presented in its Panorama section. All the films in the selection are screening as either world or European premieres.

Included in the titles announced are three films from Korea:

* “The Unjust” by Seung-wan Ryoo, with Jung-min Hwang, Seung-bum Ryoo, Hae-jin Yoo

* “Ashamed” by Soo-hyun Kim, with Hyo-jin Kim, Kkobbi Kim

* “Dance Town” by Kyu-hwan Jeon, with Mir-an Ra, Seong-tae Oh

According to the Berlinale, the films in the Panorama section “provide lively insight into the creations of world cinema during the so-called post-crisis era.”

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February 7, 2011

Nine S. Korean movies invited to Berlin film festival

Source: brk@yna.co.kr english.yonhapnews.co.kr

SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- Nine South Korean movies will be screened at the upcoming Berlin International Film Festival to kick off on Thursday, with "Come Rain Come Shine" invited to the competitive section, industry officials said.

The romantic drama directed by Lee Yoon-ki is competing for the prestigious Golden Bear Award for the best film, along with 15 other films that include American female director Miranda July's "The Future" and "The Turin Horse" by Bela Tarr from Hungary, according to the event's Web site.

"Come Rain Come Shine" is about a couple on the verge of getting divorced and the husband's psychological change within a span of about five hours. The movie is set to be released locally on March 3.

Co-directed by Park Chan-wook and his brother Chan-kyong, "Night Fishing (Paranmanjang)," a flick shot completely on an iPhone, has been nominated for the short movies section, along with "Pu-Seo-Jin Bam" by Yang Hyo-joo.

"Chenggyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron" by Park Kyung-kun and "Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist and Engagement" by Kim Sun will both be screened during the German festival's official Forum section.

Kim Soo-hyun's "Ashamed," Jeon Kyu-hwan's "Dance Town" and Ryoo Seung-wan's "The Unjust" have made the list for the event's Panorama division.

The 61st Berlin International Film Festival, one of the largest in Europe, will run Feb. 10-20 with acclaimed Italian actress and director Isabella Rossellini tapped as the president of the jury.

South Korean movie "Samaria," directed by Kim Ki-duk, won the award for Best Director at the 54th Berlinale in 2004.

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February 18, 2011

Hwang Jun-min, Uhm Jung-hwa cast in new film

Reporter: Heidi Kim heidikim @ Editor: Jessica Kim jesskim @ <Ⓒ 10Asia All rights reserved> l news.nate.com

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Actor Hwang Jung-min (left) and actress Uhm Jung-hwa

Actor Hwang Jung-min and actress Uhm Jung-hwa have been cast in a new film, revealed the film's producer and promoter JK Film on Friday.

According to a press release by JK Film today, Hwang and Uhm will co-star in "Dancing Queen" (tentative title), about the wife of a candidate for Seoul's mayor training to become a singer without telling her husband.

Uhm will play the wife who transforms from an ordinary housewife into a dancing queen and Hwang, the husband who too goes through gradual changes to become a true politician.

The film, set to crank in around April, is aiming for a premiere around the latter half of this year.

Hwang, 40, debuted in 1994 with the musical "Line 1" and has since starred in many renowned films including "You're My Sunshine," (2005) "Bloody Tie," (2006) "A Man Who Was Superman" ( 2008), "Like The Moon Escaping From The Clouds," (2010 "and" The Unjust "(2010) as well as TV series" The Accidental Couple "(2009) and many musicals.

Uhm, 41, made her debut in 1992 starring in film "We Must Go To Apgujung-Dong On Windy Days," and has since appeared as the main leads in films such as "Marriage Is A Crazy Thing," (2002) "Singles "(2003)," Haeundae, "(2009) and" Bestseller, "(2010) alongside TV series" A Tropical Night in December, "" Get a Knife, Su Jeong "(2007) and" The Man Who Can't Get Married, "(2009).

She is also a singer who has released a total of nine regular albums and several single albums from 1993 to 2008.

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February 20, 2011

Uhm Jung-hwa turns Dancing Queen for the big screen

Via TV Report by javabeans dramabeans.com

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Sometimes movie descriptions are woefully bland and don’t do the project justice, and sometimes they’re delightfully vivid from the first sentence. It’s the latter case for Dancing Queen, the new movie starring pop queen Uhm Jung-hwa and Hwang Jung-min: The wife of a candidate for Seoul mayor becomes a dance singer without her husband’s knowledge, leading to hijinks.

I can see it already, particularly with this spot-on casting. Hwang (Accidental Couple) is so good at playing honest, lovable types that it’ll be a hoot to see him dealing with an errant wife once he finds out what she’s been up to. His character is a poor lawyer who becomes candidate for mayor of Seoul and starts to develop into a serious politician.

Uhm (The Man Who Can’t Marry) plays a woman who had given up her dream and lived as an ordinary housewife, until one day she takes up the challenge of becoming a dance singer, keeping it a secret from her husband. (“Dance singer” means a pop singer who is known more for her performing and dancing than her singing, like Uhm herself, or Lee Hyori.) She’s got an elegance that works as politician’s wife, but she’s also got the pop diva background to pull off the singing and dancing with flair. She ain’t Korea’s answer to Madonna for nothin’.

Dancing Queen is produced by JK Films and directed by Lee Seok-hoon of My Two-Faced Girlfriend. It aims to begin shooting in April in order to release later this year.

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February 2, 2011

What's New: 2010 and 2011

From Darcy Paquet at koreanfilm.org

Last fall my family and I spent three months in the US, to let our kids spend some meaningful time in an English-speaking environment. It's the longest I've been away from Seoul since I first moved there in 1997, and it felt strange to be missing so many new releases. I'm now almost caught up. Although there are a few more films that I hoped to watch before compiling my 2010 top ten list (Rolling Home with a Bull and Enlightenment Film, among others), I think it's time to cut bait:

1. Poetry, dir. Lee Chang-dong

2. Oki's Movie, dir. Hong Sang-soo

3. Bedeviled, dir. Jang Cheol-soo

4. The Unjust, dir. Ryoo Seung-wan

5. Eighteen, dir. Jang Geon-jae

6. HaHaHa, dir. Hong Sang-soo

7. I Saw the Devil, dir. Kim Jee-woon

8. Passerby #3, dir. Shin Su-won

9. The Yellow Sea, dir. Na Hong-jin

10. Secret Reunion, dir. Jang Hun

I saw Poetry twice during its release, and was just captivated by it. It's a rich film that devotes deep, serious attention to how it presents its characters and the situations they face. The story itself is moving, but I also found Lee's devotion to the "ethics" of his film to be moving. I think few directors put so much thought into their works.

There were two films from Hong Sang-soo this year, and I think it says something about your personality as a critic whether you prefer HaHaHa or Oki's Movie. I'm planning to teach HaHaHa in my Korean cinema class this spring, and I'm guessing that the film will grow on me with multiple viewings, but in Oki's Movie I really felt that Hong was asking more questions and pushing into new territory. People who know me well will say that my fondness for Jeong Yu-mi tipped the scales, but I think that's only part of it.

Bedeviled was in some ways the most exciting film of the year for me, because it's a first time director and it caught me by surprise. One of my favorite bloody gory movies ever. The Unjust was also a very pleasant surprise, in that director Ryoo showed that he can take a screenplay written by someone else and really put life into it (most directors can't).

Among smaller-scale independent works, the one that really stuck with me (unexpectedly) was Eighteen, a story about teenagers that won the top prize at the 2009 Vancouver Film Festival. Both in terms of narrative and imagery, director Jang Geon-jae is able to leave a big impression with very little. Passerby #3 has a fascinating character at its center (a married woman with a teenage son, trying to make her debut as a film director), and it gives you a funny and heartbreaking perspective on how the film industry really works.

Finally, three big-budget films: I Saw the Devil, The Yellow Sea, and Secret Reunion. The first one I'll continue to try defending against its detractors, though in the end it may simply boil down to whether you go with it, or you don't. I agree that it probably didn't need to go quite as far as it did, but I still find it very impressive. The Yellow Sea I'm slotting in at #9, but apparently the director is preparing an international version that will be considerably tighter (the excessive running time was one of its bigger problems). It may be that a significantly more impressive film emerges later this year. And finally, Secret Reunion really impressed me on first viewing with its mix of bouncy dialogue and suspense, though I realized on second viewing (in Udine) that much of its humor is lost in translation.

Just to clarify, this top 10 list is for films that got their official release last year. There were a couple that I saw at festivals last year (particularly The Journals of Musan) that I expect to place high on the 2011 list.

A quick note on the coming year... there won't be many films by big established festival directors in 2011, except for another work (of course! -- I love his frenetic pace of recent years) by Hong Sang-soo. Expect some really high-profile films from Korean directors in 2012 instead. As for this site, I'm happy to report that I have found a group of very helpful volunteers in Seoul who will meet with me regularly and help to restore some parts of the site that have fallen by the wayside. With some luck, Koreanfilm.org will be in much better shape at the end of the year, compared to the beginning.

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th_logo_deauville.pngOfficial Website deauville.org

March 10, 2011

Six Korean films invited to Deauville Asian Film Festival in France

Reporter: Lucia Hong luciahong @ Editor: Jessica Kim jesskim @ <Ⓒ 10Asia All rights reserved>

deuville13.jpg

Official website of the 13th annual Deauville Asian Film Festival

Six Korean films have been invited to the 13th annual Deauville Asian Film Festival this month.

The official website of the Deauville Asian Film Festival announced today that Korean film "The Journals of Musan," helmed by director Park Jung-bum, will be in competition against nine other movies while five other Korean films will be screened as the fest.

The first Deauville Asian Film Festival took place in March 1999 as a showcase for the diversity and variety of cinematic production throughout Asia. The idea of the festival first came about after Professor Alain Patel thought of embracing Asian cinema.

The Deauville Asian Film Festival kicked off on March 9 this year and will run till the end of the weekend.

A total of six Korean pictures will be presented in the following categories:

◆ Competition

- "The Journals of Musan," starring Park Jung-bum / directed by Park Jung-bum

◆ Action Asia

- "Blades of Blood," starring Cha Seung-won, Hwang Jung-min / directed by Lee Joon-ik

◆ Panorama

- "HaHaHa," starring Kim Sang-kyung, Yu Jun-sang, Moon So-ri / directed by Hong Sang-soo

- "I Saw the Devil," starring Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik / directed by Kim Jee-woon

- "Night Fishing," starring Oh Gwang-rok / directed by Park Chan-wook, Park Chang-kyong

- "Oki's Movie," starring Lee Sun-kyun, Jung Yu-mi / directed by Hong Sang-soo

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March 14, 2011

Icon of Korean theater celebrates 20th anniversary

By Park Min-young (claire@heraldm.com) koreaherald.com

Commemorative performance ‘Hakchon Repertoire’ turns fans nostalgic

Veteran actor Kim Yun-seok, who mesmerized cinephiles with his impressive role as a fraudulent gambler in the movie “Tazza,” was at the entrance of Hakchon Blue Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul, on Friday evening, checking names and handing out tickets.

A PR official standing next to him handed a ticket and wanted to confirm if a story will be coming out or not.

“Someone canceled at the last minute so we were able to get one seat for you. You aren’t here just to watch the show, are you? You are going to write a story, right? ... Just asking, because there are some journalists who still ask for tickets anyway,” she said.

It would have been an offensive remark if it had been any other show. But it could be tolerated for “Hakchon Repertoire: from Line 1 to Gochujang Tteokboki,” a sold-out show.

The show is to commemorate the 20th birthday of Hakchon Theater, which falls on Tuesday. Established in March 15, 1991 by the theater’s director, president and scriptwriter Kim Min-gi, Hakchon has been, arguably, playing the role as the incubator of Korean theater during the past two decades.

Kim, an iconic singer of the legendary song “Morning Dew,” which was widely sung as a battle hymn among millions of pro-democracy protesters across the country in the 1970s and 1980s, is one without which Korea’s theatrical history cannot be discussed. Kim Min-gi speaks at the press conference in Daehangno, central Seoul, last month. (Yonhap News)

A total of around 300 actors and musicians have been with Hakchon in the earlier stages of their careers. Many star actors and actresses who are now seen more often on movies and TV shows debuted at the theater, including Hwang Jung-min, Seol Gyung-gu, Cho Seung-woo, rocker Yoon Do-hyun, and jazz singer Nah Youn-sun.

Wearing matching T-shirts, familiar faces were spotted on and off the stage on Friday evening. Many of the once-Hakchon-crew had promised to play a role in the commemorative show or at least pay a meaningful visit, like Kim Yun-seok did, during the show’s 10-day run.

“This girl was conceived while I was performing ‘Gaeddongi’ right here in 1995. 16 years have passed by and now I am singing with her, right here on the same stage,” said folk singer/actor Lee Jeong-yeol, introducing his daughter Lee Ji-min after singing a duet piece from “Gaeddongi” with her. His 16-year-old daughter inherited his talent; she has been playing main roles in children’s musicals since she was 10 years old.

“It has been years since I have been here, but singing like this on stage, it feels like I’ve comeback only after a week or so,” said Lee, the father.

The commemorative performance started off with a 90-minute condensed version of “Line 1,” the theater’s representative rock musical. It set a landmark in Korea’s theater history by completing 4,000 runs until it ended in 2008. It portrays the joys and sorrows of Seoulites, featuring various characters and events one comes across living in the city.

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Hwang Jung-min (front) and Cho Seung-woo (right) perform in the 3,000th performance of “Line 1” in 2006. (Hakchon Theater)

Maintaining the same story line, the play was revised several times since its premiere on May 14, 1994, to better reflect current issues of the time like the severe financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997 and 1998 or the 2002 World Cup.

Hakchon recently announced it will be donating the major stage sets, props, posters and photos of the musical to Seoul Metropolitan City, following the request from the Seoul Museum of History. The articles will be on display for a month in September and will be registered in the modern and contemporary Seoul heritage list.

Though the originally 160-minute show was cut to nearly half that for the commemorative performance, nobody complained. It was not a surprise, as only two or three among the audience raised their hands when actress/film director Bang Eun-jin asked them, in the middle of the performance, if there was anyone who have never seen “Line 1” before. The theater was surely packed with Hakchon fans there to cherish the memories.

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A scene from “Line 1” during its first run in 1994. (Hakchon Theater)

“This part is really funny! The four grandmas are really funny!” a woman excitedly whispered to her friend when ‘four grandmas’ wobbled on to the stage. It was obvious that most audience knew every scene by heart.

The crowd especially roared with laughter when actor Jang Hyun-seong appeared on stage for “Line 1” as a clamorous salesman who crisscrosses subway trains. Jang rapped in ultimate speed and danced ridiculously ― a side of him that is now hard to see in his relatively serious characters seen on TV and movies.

After the intermission, bits from other musicals like “Blood Brothers,” “Good Morning School,” “Gaeddongi,” “Pink Soldier,” and “DoDo” and five children’s plays including “We Are Friends,” and “Gochujang Tteokboki” were staged.

Children’s play is what the company has been putting emphasis on since 2004.

“I’ve recently counted, and starting from ‘Line 1’ which premiered in 1994 to the most recent ‘Gochujang Tteokboki,’ Hakchon has put 12 different shows on stage. After the 4,000th show of ‘Line 1’ in 2008, I have focused on children’s plays. It has been crazy; I have been running nonstop until now. I am going to take some time to get organized and get a fresh start this year. The new start will still be on children’s play” said director Kim at a recent press conference.

“Hakchon Repertoire: from Line 1 to Gochujang Tteokboki” runs through March 20 at Hakchon Blue Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul. Admission is 50,000 won. The original Hakchon theater was renamed Hakchon Blue in 1996 when a second Hakchon Theater, named Hakchon Green, opened only a few blocks away.

Also to commemorate the 20th birthday, concert “Roh Young-sim’s Small Recital” will run from March 22 to 30. The concert by Roh, a well-known singer, pianist and composer, was held at the theater from 1991 to 1994. The members of C’est si bon, like Cho Young-nam, Han Dae-soo and Lee Jang-hee will also make an appearance on the final day of the concert.

For more information, call (02) 763-8233 or visit www.hakchon.co.kr.

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March 18, 2011

4 KBS programs to compete at Houston International Film Festival

Reporter: Lucia Hong luciahong @ Editor: Jessica Kim jesskim @ <Ⓒ 10Asia All rights reserved> news.nate.com

A total of four programs by major public network KBS have made it into the final list of the 44th annual Houston International Film Festival, according to the broadcaster on Friday.

"The Slave Hunters" and "The Accidental Couple" will compete under the drama series category, film "Don't Cry For Me Sudan" for best documentary and drama special "Son of Man" for the top spot under the TV movie / drama segment.

"The Slave Hunters," a 24-part mini-series which aired in the early half of last year, tells about slave hunter Dae-gil who makes a living by tracking down runaway slaves. The drama was named the best drama series at the 2010 Asian TV Awards last year.

"The Accidental Couple," starring Hwang Jung-min and Kim Ah-joong, is about a postman and a top actress who begins their relationship with a marriage contract that lasts for six months.

"Don't Cry For Me Sudan," starring Lee Tae-suk, tells the life story of Father John Lee who worked in the small village of Tonj in Sudan.

"Son of Man" is a story about love and redemption of a man who begins working as a police and faces the realities of life.

Founded in 1961, the Houston International Film Festival is one of the three original film fests in North America after San Francisco and New York. It is the only film fest that does not accept movies from major studios.

This year the film fest will take place starting April 8 till 17 at the Marriot Westchase Houston Hotel.

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March 21, 2011

10 Korean films invited to Hong Kong film fest

Reporter: Lucia Hong luciahong @ Editor: Jessica Kim jesskim @ <Ⓒ 10Asia All rights reserved>

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Official website of the Hong Kong International Film Festival

Ten Korean films have been invited the 35th annual Hong Kong International Film Festival, which kicked off in Hong Kong over the weekend.

The official website of the Hong Kong International Film Festival announced that Korean film "Dance Town," helmed by director Jeon Kyu-hwan and starring Ra Mir-an and Oh Seong-tae, will compete at the fest against other international releases.

Meanwhile, nine Korean films including "Oki's Movie," "Come Rain, Come Shine," "The Man from Nowhere," "The Unjust," "Anti Gas Skin," "Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist and Engagement," "Bleak Night ," "The Journals of Musan" and "I Saw the Devil" will be screened during the event.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival is a platform for filmmakers, professionals and filmgoers from all over the world to launch and experience new work in the industry. Attendees at the festival will be able to take part in seminars, conferences, exhibitions and parties revolving the film community.

The event is also a premiere platform to launch films into the Greater China region and the Asian market. The festival kicked off on March 20 and will last till May 4.

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March 21, 2011

The Unjust: Film Review

by Maggie Lee hollywoodreporter.com

A breathlessly-paced thriller that swings a mighty blow against state and corporate corruption in Korea.

A crime thriller that pits an errant, bellicose cop against a miscreant, maniacally ambitious prosecutor, "The Unjust," achieves a happy marriage between commercial savvy and artistic integrity in its hard-hitting depiction of Seoul as a city of corruption.

A crime thriller that pits an errant, bellicose cop against a miscreant, maniacally ambitious prosecutor, The Unjust, achieves a happy marriage between commercial savvy and artistic integrity in its hard-hitting depiction of Seoul as a city of corruption. Social realism rarely sits comfortably with technical razzle-dazzle, punchy storytelling and larger-than-life star performances, but Ryoo Seung-wan pulls it off with direction that balances cool cynicism with seething moral outrage.

According to Ryoo, the plot is partly derived from several recent government scandals. The shocking examples of social injustice on display probably touched a raw nerve among local audiences, bringing him $18.7 million’s worth of ticket revenue. Asian genre fans familiar with Ryoo’s repertoire of macho action films (Crying Fist, City of Violence) may need time to adjust to the way he turns his emphasis from physical combat to a war of wills.

The catalyst in The Unjust is an unsolved series of schoolgirl murders that is rocking police credibility. The police’s crisis management proves that citizens’ mistrust is totally justified – Captain Choi Cheol-gi (Hwang Jung-min) is put in charge and told to find a fall-guy for them to stage a media stunt. Choi enlists the help of Mafioso-cum-property-magnet Jang Seok-gu (Yoo Hae-jin). By doing so, Choi becomes Jang’s pawn in his land-bidding wars against another corporate shark Kim (whom Choi put behind bars sometime ago). This triggers the hostility of Kim’s protégé prosecutor Joo Yang (the director’s brother Ryoo Seung-bum), who retaliates with unscrupulous tactics.

The film evinces a deep irony: while the initial crime continues to elude closure at the end, everyone else, especially defenders and enforcers of law behave like pathological criminals. Arguably Korea’s most masculine action director, who excelled in shooting boxing, gang fights and martial arts, Ryoo turns The Unjust into his vehicle for a most scathing rebuke of machismo. In his predominantly male world tempers are almost always on boiling point, fueling the narrative’s nervous tension like a volcano in perpetual eruption.

What sets this apart from other Korean thrillers exposing corruption like the Public Enemy series is the anti-heroic and gritty nature of the action. There is not a single mano-a-mano fought as a test of strength or honor – just a cycle of violence whereby everyone takes it out on whoever’s lower down the pecking order.

The tough personalities and fiery clash between the lead roles maintain a grip on the audience till the end. They are matched not only in intelligence, but in egoism, selfishness and ruthlessness. Choi’s increased desperation to cover his tracks makes him a tragic anti-hero. He is neatly foiled by Joo, who is so ready to be bad as long as it advances his career. But ultimately, Choi and Joo are engulfed by the greater rivalry between judiciary and police departments. The three leading men turn in flaming performances. Ryoo trumps them by giving unthinkable gradations in vileness.

Like a recklessly speeding car, the narrative pacing barely allows the audience to take in screenplay’s intricate plotting, which neatly unravels cause and effect. Technical credits, especially cinematography, are excellent -- dynamic swooping shots and tight handheld camerawork exaggerates spatial contrasts to symbolize class inequality.

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