London Korean Film Festival 2021 Preview: How time flies! It’s that time again, for the highly-anticipated London Korean Film Festival, and incredibly the 16th year it’s been going. In that time it’s evolved from a word-of-mouth, secret joy for cinephiles into a powerhouse programme which reaches the parts other festivals only dream of – and is now the biggest Korean showcase outside Korea itself. Korea couldn’t be hotter right now, what with the success of Parasite, Minari, and even Squid Game, so this is your chance to further explore its breadth and quality in vision, directorial creativity and acting prowess. In other ‘personal’ news, I’ve realised it’s also the 11th LKFF I’ve attended (and yes, I’ve got all the tote bags to prove it!)
Obviously, like most festivals last year, LKFF 2020 took place almost entirely online – so it’s a bold move to make it entirely in-person for 2021. But even if you’re not able to come to the capital, we’ll mark your card on the best ones to look out for in this preview and in our comprehensive review at the end of the entire festival. If you can come, though, it’s a treat to savour, starting with the opening gala – Ryoo Seung-wan’s political drama, the huge hit, Escape from Mogadishu, on 4th November and ending a fortnight later with closing gala – Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness on 19th November. Rather neatly, Im’s latest not only features Oldboy star Choi Min-sik, plus Park Hae-il from The Host, but also the remarkable Youn Yuh-jung (above) in her fourth collaboration with the director. And the Special Focus section this year is entirely devoted to Youn (who recently won an Oscar for Minari). So you can not only see her screen debut in Kim Ki-young’s remake of his own classic, The Housemaid, here called Woman Of Fire (1970), but trace her progress leading up to Im’s version of, yes, The Housemaid (2010). There’s also one of my favourite Youn turns in The Bacchus Lady (2016) where she plays an ageing prostitute with a past, plus Canola (also 2016) and another Im collaboration, A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003)… and I’m really looking forward to the documentary on her brilliant career, Youn Yuh-Jung & Ladies of The Forest.
The most popular section – outside the set-piece bookends and the special focus strand – is always Cinema Now, which showcases the very biggest new box-office hits, with many getting their UK Premiere. So apart from Aloners, which is Hong Sung-eun’s debut as director, we get another from festival favourite and hugely influential Hong Sangsoo, in the shape of In Front Of Your Face. Those who love the epic scale and outstanding millinery of Korean historical dramas can warm their hands at the prospect of Lee Joon-ik’s The Book Of Fish. Add in another smash, crime caper Collectors (above), plus two from Kim Jong-kwan, Josée and Shades of the Heart, and Seo You-min’s Recalled and you have some rich pickings.
Those who love indie films can spot the new kids on the block right here. There’s inevitably a pandemic-set drama, Rolling, (top pic) plus an in-depth look at how the disabled are treated in Awoke, alongside some teenage hip-hop in the autobiographical Limecrime, and gay romance in Made On The Rooftop. The strand with female filmmakers has now (thankfully) spread across the festival, but look out for Lee Woo-jung’s Snowball and the After Me Too documentary. Two more documentaries look unmissable – Sewing Sisters reuniting young, exploited factory workers, and Sister J on a middle-aged worker, consigned to the scrapheap after three decades, and trying to fight back. Loads of innovative shorts are on show (again a good place to spot emerging talent) and, finally, something genuinely ‘outside the box’ to check out comes in the animation feature Climbing (above), from director Kim Hye-mi. It’s 3D and deals with fear of failure when climbing ace Choi finds she’s pregnant before the World Championship… but then leaps into another genre when Choi gets messages from… yes, another version of herself!
Blimey. Cannot wait.
More info and booking here: koreanfilm.co.uk (November 4th to 19th 2021)