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Friday, 13 May 2016

Tony Rayns on his selection of Korean indies for the 2016 Sydney Film Festival (Part One)

Tony Rayns
Korean cinema exploded into life almost overnight after South Korea moved from military to civilian government in 1993. Previously taboo topics were tackled as Korean cinema became more sophisticated and cosmopolitan – in a word, more modern – and such exceptional talents as Lee Changdong, Bong Joonho and Kim Jeewoon became known around the world. That initial burst of creativity has inevitably calmed since the mid-1990s, but the last two decades have seen the rise of an extraordinary new generation of independent directors determined to crack open what they see as the faultlines in Korean society.  This mini-survey of the work of five such directors spans a wide range of styles, from terrifying black comedy to disturbing conceptual mystery, from essayistic investigative journalism to challenging play with film language. 

These five films are amongst the most exciting and innovative to come down the pike in recent years.

Independent filmmaking is no less marginalised in Korea than in any comparable country. It’s hard for indie directors to find finance and get distribution, and they rarely have the resources to pay for promotion and foreign sales. And oppositional voices have an even harder time of it, since South Korea’s current ultra-right-wing government is actively hostile to the idea of supporting dissenting art: old habits die hard. But young artists who are bent on criticising aspects of the society around them are infinitely resourceful. Zhang Lu, the Chinese-Korean novelist-turned-filmmaker, enlisted three top stars of Korean cinema to help him persuade a mainstream company to finance a frankly non-mainstream feature. Park Hongmin, a debuting Korean filmmaker, not only begged and borrowed the money to make an accomplished feature but also invented his own, home-made 3-D system to shoot it. Some of the achievements in this program seem almost miraculous.

“When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake!” The old hippie slogan from the 1960s seems deliciously relevant to these unconventional films. No-one imagines that itch-scratching Korean indie films will bring the apparatus of the state crashing down, but the very existence of these films – and others like them – proves that Korean democratic debate is alive and well, despite the country’s lurch to the right. Only two of our selections go head-to-head with political issues as such;  the other three deal with the dangers of out-of-control testosterone, the social plight of political and sexual vagrants and the building of new languages to combat forgetfulness and dementia. All five, however, set out to challenge comfortable middle-class conformity in thought and behaviour. It’s a valid and necessary aim, and we’re lucky to have filmmakers with the backbone to undertake it.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL INFO. - Tony will be giving a Special Presentation after the screening of A Fish in The Hub at the Sydney Town Hall at 8.00 pm. (15 June).                                    
The Festival intro says:Korean cinema exploded into life after the arrival of civilian government in 1993. As the commercial mainstream has calmed, indie filmmakers have stepped up to scratch the itches in Korean society: political scandals, social injustices, sexual deviances, re-examined traditions. It makes for great, provocative cinema!

The talk will include extracts from other key Korean films of the day and is FREE.

Tony Rayns is a London-based filmmaker, critic and festival programmer with a special interest in East Asian cinemas. His latest book is a study of the film In the Mood For Love

To book click on the link  here KOREA ON THE VERGE - Social faultlines in Korean cinema 

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