Monday 3 September 2018

Korean Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reports on A DAY (CHO Sun-ho), LAST CHILD (SHIN Dong-seok) & THE VANISHED (LEE Chang-hee)

Korean films have the reputation of being highly accomplished but it’s hard to establish a profile for an industry where all we see is a few costume films with guys in netting hats, some imposing monster movies like Joon-ho Bong’s The Host or Sang-ho Yeon’s 2016 Busanhaeng/Train to Busan or the odd political movie like Kim Ji-hoon's 2007 dramaMay 18or  Hun Jang’s Taeksi Woonjunsa/A Taxi Driver from last year, which got another showing in this event.

The Korean cinema has never produced a major popular cycle like the U.S. comedies (and the rest) of the twenties, the German Expressionists or the Japanese Samurai dramas echoed in the Hong Kong Kung Fu films or the Italian mythologicals and westerns. The Korean ultra-violence movies, particularly the ones which followed Old Boy, were unappealing and didn’t take hold. 

What we need and what a 9th Korean Film Festival might have been hoped to provide, was a glimpse of the production line efforts that space these. Unfortunately, it ran concurrent with Turkish and Armenian (!) events. Well done ethnics!

I was only able to dip into the selection and found material that was not unlike Australian films - technically accomplished but merely re-cycling the plots and imagery of overseas films in a Korean setting. 

If we hadn’t already seen Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run and Memento,Sun-ho Cho’s Ha-roo/A Day would be quite impressive. As it stands the piece’s accomplishments are undermined by the feeling that we’ve been there before.

Humanitarian doctor Myung-Min Kim is back at Inchon Airport from his overseas do-gooding and phones his daughter (Jo Eun-hyung, The Housemaid) in a pinball parlour. She is giving him a hard time about not doing all the usual dad stuff that her friends brag about to her. On his way, in a car packed with birthday presents to join her, he is held up by a kid choking in the departure lounge, a press reception and a cheery toll collector, only to pull over at a traffic accident to find the daughter has been killed there.

He wakes again on the plane and goes through the same half hour, unable to prevent disaster. Despite reckless attempts to change the pattern, the outcome is always the same. He finds that ambulance man Yo-han Byun is part of the same cycle, the driver’s wife always dying in the crash. The pair (and the film) struggle to work out what is happening. Interacting with the cab driver reveals that he is also trapped in the repeats.

The beginner director manages to work up a fair amount of tension despite the established pattern. Performances are good and there are a couple of spectacular car stunts in the climax to help things out.

The film’s reason why is farfetched - well it would have to be - but does manage to provide some quite touching interaction between the characters.
Last Child
Dong-seok Shin’s 2017 Last Child (can’t find an original language title) did come up with an unfamiliar plot line. Couple Choi Moo-seong and his wife Kim Yeo-jin, who run a local decorating company, are shattered by the death of their son in a drowning accident. “If we don’t let Eunchan go, he’ll never be put to rest.” Seong Yu-bin, the boy, who we are told was saved by the son’s actions, crosses their paths and they attempt to rescue him from his destitution among the street gangs. In uneasy stages their belief in the events which got their child a posthumous bravery award disintegrates. They consider an act of extreme violence to ease their own suffering.

The street detail of Korean small town life, mentoring in wall papering, a suburban home menaced by petty criminals (very daytime TV movie) all struggle and fail to redeem the implausible melodrama.

This one’s major point of appeal is the fact that it is Korean.

The Vanished poster
Chang-hee Lee’s The Vanished is a re-make of  Oriol Paulo’s Spanish 2012 El cuerpo.In the new film we kick off in the morgue of National Institute of Scientific Investigation where the guard is sapped just as he sees the body of glamorous Hee Kim slumped in the corridor.   With her corpse missing, the cops are called and seedy detective Sang-kyung Kim channels Columbo as he heads up the investigation. 

Suspicion falls on husband academic Kang-woo Kim, menaced by his wife’s pre-nup. This guy is shifty but we even get to feel some sympathy for him as he becomes alarmed at the prospect of his rich malignant wife reaching out from a grave she doesn’t occupy and striking down his student mistress.

However, no one is (surprise) what they seem and that line isn’t productive. The outcome is un-involving and the smooth production only occasionally gets attention - as with the dream of the body trailing red bubbles in the cobalt blue water.

It’s always possible that the ones I missed were a whole lot better than the ones I saw. That’s the risk of picking your viewing on the base of starting times, when there’s no better informed basis of selection.

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