London Korean Film Festival 2019 Preview: Helen M Jerome marks your card
As the temperature drops outside, it’s high time we all headed indoors to watch some of the best movies on offer, thanks to the annual treat known as the London Korean Film Festival… and as it also goes on the road outside the capital straight after, do keep your eyes peeled… There literally is something for everyone on offer.
If you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy its delights in previous years, you’ll also know that what makes the LKFF 2019 so exciting is that many of the directors and other talents come along to the screenings and frank Q&A sessions. Your other reason is to mark the centenary of Korean cinema. So, below I’ll mark your card. So make sure you’re free in November 1-14 if you’re in London, and 18-24 November for various other lucky UK cities and venues: Edinburgh Film House, Watershed Cinema Bristol, Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre, Glasgow Film Theatre, Manchester HOME, and Nottingham Broadway Cinema.
Opening Gala film is The Seashore Village, a black and white classic from 1965, when Korean film started flexing its muscles and dipped into literary adaptation (aka ‘munye’) with this version of a 1953 novel – followed by a bonus Q&A with its veteran director Kim Soo-yong (who’s made over 100 movies). The whole London experience is topped off by the closing gala, Scattered Night, which is a divorce drama with a twist, again followed by a Q&A with one of its directors, Kim Sol.
Anyone with a passion for the breadth, depth, audacity and sheer variety of 21st Century Korean Cinema will want to dip into the Cinema Now strand, which showcases the best releases from the past 12 months. I’ll be lining up for Idol, in which Lee Su-jin dips into the noir genre – and the frankly OTT-looking Extreme Job, set in a Chicken Shop undercover operation, with director Lee Byeong-heon chatting after. I can be a bit allergic to the charms of Hong Sangsoo, but I’m ‘generously’ giving him another chance with Grass, which feels like it contains many of the same characters and narrative devices he always employs. But fingers crossed, I’m going to be seduced this time. With Resistance, the mood is more sombre, and director Joe Min-ho covers the imprisonment of non-violent protesters exactly a century ago, by focusing on one female freedom fighter.
Birthday, from one of the key figures behind the gems Secret Sunshine and Poetry, Lee Jong-un, sounds utterly unmissable. If, like me, you love a good thriller, you’ll be rushing to see Height Of The Wave, from director Park Jung-Bum, with small town corruption and dark secrets aplenty, and already the Special Jury prize winner at Locarno. Looks like you won’t go wrong in this strand…
Marking the Century of Korean Cinema, there’s obviously a huge pool of movies to choose from, spanning several decades of realism, genre classics and fresh takes on old stories. Can’t see ’em all, but recommend dipping in. I’m starting with 1961’s Aimless Bullet, a dark story about a man trying to halt his family’s slide. From the 1980s, I’m going for Ticket (from the iconic Im Kwon-taek), The Man With Three Coffins (Lee Jang-ho’s post-Korean War ‘journey’ film), The Age Of Success (a bit ‘Wall Street’) and A Pillar Of Mist (Park Chul-soo’s award-winner). Into the 1990s, and if you saw the extraordinary Burning last year, you’ll want to catch an earlier film from Lee Chang-dong, Peppermint Candy. There’s more robust, issue-driven fare in Park Kwang-su’s A Single Spark, and catnip for romantics in The Contact.
There are numerous shorts, animations and an artist video strand, plus a few meaty documentaries. And the Hidden Figures section at the Barbican boasts the work of Ha Gil-jong, including his first feature, 1972’s stark The Pollen Of Flowers.
Celebrating first-time filmmakers – and they’re all UK Premieres, with two also International Premieres – the Women’s Voices section strengthens every year and this time offers several delights: A Bedsore is about a subject we’re all facing – care of our elders; A Boy And Sungreen sees a boy search for his father; Youngju sees a girl step up to care for her brother when their parents are killed, and Yukiko looks at a family living in the shadow of war.
See you there!
Check out the London Korean Film Festival website!