Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Korean Film Festival - Barrie Pattison concludes his report on the 2022 offering


Editor's note: This is the second piece to appear about this year's Korean Film Festival in Australia. The event took place in Sydney from 18-23 August. It is screening in Canberra from 1-3 September, Melbourne from 1-5 September and Brisbane from 8-11 September. Visit the KOFFIA website for details and bookings BY CLICKING HERE  Barrie's earlier post can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE. Needless to say the opinions expressed are those of the author.

************************

Yong-sun Jo’s Gonggisarin/Toxic/Air Murder is derived from an actual incident in the spring of 2011, where Koreans, mainly women, began falling victim to a mystery lung disease. Losing his wife and finding his son struck down, Trauma Center Doctor Kim Sang-kyung (Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder) joins the scientific detective work which traces the problem to a disinfectant used in home humidifiers. 

Rather than accept culpability, the villainous corporation responsible starts buying off experts and class action members. They plan to rebrand their accumulated stock. Looks like the doctor has taken the bribe of a costly transplant for his child, arousing the indignation of fellow victims. However, the film has a twist ending - of course.

 


This one is aimed at the Erin Brockovich audience, though it lacks the conviction of its model. Polished production values aren’t really a help.

 

The event also mustered a romcom, Eun-ji Jo’s Perhaps Love/Not on My Lips, neither plausibly romantic or funny as it struggles to be both edgy and wide appealing.

 

Academic Seung-ryong Ryu (Seoul Station) hasn't managed a book in seven years and he’s been caught making it with his ex-wife by their son, Yoo-Bin Sung. Publisher Kim Hee-won is talking legal action. To complicate matters, Mu jin-sung,  a boy in Seung’s literature class, has a crush on him and the draft of the kid’s novel was picked up by the publisher and taken to be Seung’s new work in progress. A writing collaboration, while the student keeps on coming on, seems the only solution.

 

Meanwhile, Yoo-Bin Sung has become involved with lively young married woman Yoo-Young Lee, who is the only one to register in all this. It works out with location shooting in Lithuania.  

 

Smooth production and yet another sex film without nudity. A Hollywood remake seems unlikely.

 

Dangsin-eolgul-apese/In Front of Your Face is the 26th feature from director, producer, writer, musician, cinematographer & film editor Hong Sang-soo, who is often compared to Woody Allen (Interiors maybe) because he makes modest, vaguely autobiographical films often featuring movie director characters.

 

Really he’s doing what Yasujiro Ozu was supposed to and, in my opinion, never managed - involve his audience with small scale, intimate character family studies.

 

In Front of Your Face is about a mature actress (Lee Hye-yeong) who returns to Seoul after years living in the US, where her career dwindled to running a Washington bottle shop. Reuniting with her sister (Yunhee Cho), their meeting reveals how far they have lost touch with each other’s lives.  After a walk in the park, they have a spicy broth snack at the sister’s favorite cafe, though our heroine has an afternoon lunch appointment. They visit the nephew’s cake shop and he catches up with them and makes his aunt a present of a leather wallet. She is touched.


 

With a little time to spare before her meeting, Lee Hye-yeong checks out the house where she used to live, with its now overgrown garden, and is welcomed by the young woman who now operates it as a clothing store.

 

The appointment proves to be with director Kwon Hae-hyo who was mesmerised by the honesty of a scene in one of her nineties movies and wants to work with her (and sleep with her). As they get through a stack of Chinese wine bottles (his assistant is standing by to drive him) he outlines a project that will take a year to prepare but she makes a revelation which colours everything we have seen. 


Kwon is moved and proposes instead a short film which they will make traveling together. The next morning when Lee Hye-yeong wakes in the shade cloth window room where we first saw her, he ‘phones in to cancel the plan and that’s the film.

 

It holds attention without action, mixing trivial and important events without emphasis. Most scenes are covered in a single run of the camera with the only image variation coming from panning or zooming. The park conversation where the sisters describe a disused rail bridge doesn't show it till the end of the scene that it’s a transition shot and, where there is a cutaway to the cafe sign in the dialogue with Kwon (again as a time-lapse), this disrupts the rhythm of the piece surprisingly. 

 

I’m hooked and would like to see more of the director’s work.

    

Best of what I watched in the event was another contemplative piece, Su-won Shin’s Omaju/Hommage.

 

It parallels the misfortunes of dumpy Lee Jeong-eun (Parasite’s housekeeper and the voice of Okja) as her marriage, her health and her movie director career all disintegrate. While super hero blockbusters draw crowds, Lee’s new film is playing to empty theatres. Our heroine’s teenage son turned her work off when watching with friends and her producer partner is giving up. Husband Hae-hyo Kwon, doing much the same characterhe does in In Front of Your Face, rolls home drunk and shows no sympathy, so Lee decides to separate, which consists of taking a rack of her clothes into the next room.

 


Her situation and the film’s comment are made more obvious as a young producer offers the job of restoring the battered and fragmentary 1962 Yeopansa A Woman Judge, made by Hong Eun-won, possibly Korea’s first woman movie director, (the actual restoration is on YouTube). The sixties film’s subject matter creates a further comparison as a study of a pioneer female figure in the Korean legal system. 

 

This schematic is not allowed to dominate, with the detail of the film recovery work becoming more involving - the expert dubbing actor shown picking up synchronisation with lip movements as the shot on screen runs, following missing footage to a derelict cinema which once premiered Ben Hur but now does porn, with light coming in through a hole in the roof and passing traffic throws reflections on the screen through the open doors, or the meeting with the original continuity girl in, her house in the field of feather grass where she produces a black Eiki in remarkably good running order to unveil the secret of the recovered censor cut.

 

Nicely played and handled Hommage shows a welcome light touch with its message.

 

Simultaneous with the festival, there was a multiplex release of Han Jae-rim’s Bisang seoneon/Emergency Declaration. You could walk between the two events.

 

Here Song Kang-ho, the most recognisable face of Korean cinema (Parasite, A Taxi Driver, Snowpiercer), plays a veteran Police Detective who has just seen his wife off for a flight to Hawaii when he’s called to the discovery of a body which proves to be the victim of a disgruntled researcher become bio-terrorist. While investigating, Song discovers that the suspect has actually boarded flight no. KI501 out of Incheon, of course the one his wife took. At the airport, former pilot Lee Byung-hung (Joint Security Area), now afflicted with fear-of-flying but accompanying his young eczema afflicted daughter, has a brush with a weird fellow passenger.

 


Sure enough, panic spreads in the air as the passengers and crew are struck down, while back on the ground Song heavies the crazy’s scientist industrialist former employer and Transport Minister Jeon Do-yeon marshals a counterterrorism task force. Destination countries threaten to shoot down the plane rather than risk them spreading contagion - distant runway shots and fuel shortage as they approach the last accessible airport, calling in their emergency declaration. The montage of black framed I-Phone images of passengers making their last calls from the descending plane is the film’s one resonant passage.

 

Yes it’s The High & the Mighty re-tooled for a contemporary audience. 

 

The film seems to have had some success but it really is too formulaic (though they do pull a switch with the Song Kang-ho plot). It looks like money was spent on it. Performances and production are polished, with touches like the pattern of light through the windows moving as the flight changes direction but there are more of those toy plane in the air shots which undermine these films. The festival’s small productions were a better investment of my time.

 

When it was over, the Korean Film Festival was more interesting for its possibly misleading glimpse of  (South) Korean film-making and the country it projects. This was not unlike Australian product where the technical resources are in place but what they are used for suggests a society with no significant voice of its own, leaving it only intermittently able to command audience attention. I was struck by the contrast with the Kazakh films I saw a couple of years back, all asserting the attention their emerging society rated. Those recalled the mind opening discovery of the world from its movies which marked my first experience of film festivals, now a long time ago.

 

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes further restoration work on LA REGLE DU JEU (Jean Renoir, France, 1939)


If you buy this and begin to watch, do not expect to see anything as remotely beautiful as a Warner Archive 4K scan and restoration of a Black and White 1939 movie.

Warner would have made a scan of an original nitrate neg, and access to a multitude of other elements - interpositive, fine grains etc - which enable, simply perfection.
Neither the original neg, nor any first generation element of Renoir’s 1939 La Règle du Jeu has survived. The most recent restoration which is presented here had to be scrounged from much later elements and we are left with a less than perfect composite.
Putting on this new 4K UHD delivers a series of shocks. Never before has the exact quality of the surviving elements been so nakedly on display. What you are seeing, thanks to the optimum resolution and quality of the UHD format is as close to 35mm projection as possible. It is in effect the same. Then you begin to notice how much
“darker” is the image, after the last Blu-rays. And that’s where this new disc really takes off. Sharpness is variable, as it must be and always was given the appalling condition of the elements. But composition and depth are here in spades. HDR has been applied with great skill to extract every last grain of grayscale, shadow detail and degrees of light as they can exist in the 35mm format.
Whether you think this exercise is worth it or not is a quandary. I vote yes, but others may not. Criterion/Janus is one of the stakeholders in this 4K release and when/if they choose to release this in 4K is yet to be seen. The French disc from ESC label only carries a short extra, with none of the plenitude of supplements on the older Criterion (and BFI) Blu's.

Monday, 29 August 2022

Korean Film Festival - Barrie Pattison gives an extensive once over - Part One


Editor's Note: This event took place in Sydney from 18-23 August. It is screening in Canberra from 1-3 September, Melbourne from 1-5 September and Brisbane from 8-11 September. Visit the KOFFIA website for details and bookings BY CLICKING HERE

****************************

Well the national film events are back. We’ve had the traditionally profitable French and Scandi presentations with an Italian season coming up. There’s even a Lebanese week running in a couple of theatres with a personal appearance of Zouad Doueiri. None of this activity will help if you’re an admirer of Philippino or Kazakh cinema and I would guess that we’re not going to score another Russian Resurrection event for some time. However, we were just offered a (South) Korean Film Week. 

 

It ran quite smoothly with all the films turning up as advertised. No retrospective included but they did manage a nicely printed souvenir booklet laying out the material in screening order. I thought they were slacking with such limited English language credits but the on-screen copies only translated that same information. At four films for thirty dollars concession, the prices were approachable.

 

Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s prize winning Broker sold out but I did get to see director Yoon Joe-kuen fronting a screening of his popular Yu-che-i-tal-ja/Spritwalker.This proved to be another go-round for the formula of Somewhere in the Night,Total Recall or the Liam Neeson Unknown. Throw in a bit of The Hidden and a lot of Christopher Nolan or you could reference the 2018 Korean TV series Byuti Insaide/Beauty Inside.



 

Spiritwalker kicks off with a dazed Yoon Kye-sang, with a bullet wound, staggering out of a crashed van to face hobo witness Ji-hwan Park. It all gets to be pretty hard to follow as the lead tries to find someone who is (yet again) himself and his spirit migrates among his criminal associates every twelve hours, with lady friend Ji-Yeon Lim trying to take down his new personae with a Glock, while the organisation’s multi-million revolutionary drug deal goes down.

 

Director Yoon’s most interesting observation was that the way they covered the action was to film each scene twice, once using the lead and once his shifted shape actor and manipulating the result in editing The stunt team from Squid Game put in a lot of work on the action material and the piece looked good.

 


It had the edge on the event’s other crime pieces. Kyu-maan Lee’s Dòng Máu Ðac Cânh/The Policeman's Lineage which wasn’t all that easy to comprehend either. In a dim (literally) return to the world of Infernal Affairs, young second generation cop Choi Wo-sik is recruited by I.A, after a customs inspector is killed in an action run by a secret organisation within the force. Turns out his target Cho Jin-woong is an old associate of his police officer dad - predictable divided loyalties.

 

It’s all too familiar. Even the most interesting element, the history of an under-financed force, without petrol to put into their cars, setting up their own operations to generate a “slush fund” and bank roll their needs, is the basis of the Brazilian Tropa da elite.

 


Cheon Meyong-kwan’s  Ddeu-geo-un pi: di o-ri-ji-neol/Hot Blooded has a few atmospheric passages, like the raucous greeting from the young gangster's hoon mates as he is released from prison or the opening with Woo Jung’s launch arriving at Busan's Kuam port for a waterfront open air lunch with the Dons, a scene like those in Justin de Marseilles or Borsalino.

 

Now no longer a young man, career criminal Woo is mainly occupied by stopping warfare breaking out among the factions of the largely forgotten area, once a thriving vice center under the wartime Japanese but now reduced to a few hotels, brothels and slot arcades. The threat of new mayhem has him exposing a master plan which strikes down the few people he cares about.

 

Strong cast and production don’t carry it. This all played better in the Godfather and Beat Takeshi movies.

 

I’ve already covered Sang-yong Lee’s Ma Dong-seok/Don Lee vehicle Beomjoidosi 2/ The Roundup on its theatrical run. Lee offers a winning mix of Charles Bronson and Sammo Hung. In its home market, the film was Korea’s biggest hit since Covid and taking its Beast Cop hero to Vietnam brings a little novelty to the formula crime action.



Seung-wan Ryu’s Mogadisyu/Escape from Mogadishu proved more entertaining than the crime pieces and has a hint of substance in its historical background.

 

This presentable (filmed in Morocco) historico-action spectacle kicks off with Kim (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea) Yoon-seok’s South Korean Consular Delegation struggling to get to the long awaited appointment, bringing gifts for Somalian President Barré, prised out of customs guys who only acknowledge passports that have bank notes inside them. It’s 1991 and they are after the country’s support in their struggle to be recognised for the Korean seat in the U.N. Their time slot has however been taken by the scornful North Korean delegation.

 

Meanwhile, the streets are filling with rioting supporters of the opposition rebels. A menacing, gap tooth police officer heavies the embassy where they shelter and they face (best invention) giggling boy soldiers with assault weapons who prove to want to play at war, with only the ambassador’s own child understanding and faking dead for their game. 

 

When the main rebel force arrives, the diplomats and their families find themselves dependent on half a dozen government troops paid to maintain their security. The North Koreans have lost their base and the two Korean delegations find they have to merge to survive. Their guards consider this an increase in their piecework and quit. After a prayer meeting of which the Buddhist secretary takes a dim view and punch up between the security officers, they make separate trips to the Egyptian and Italian Embassies which are still regarded favorably. The Italians manage to find places for them on a relief plane, with the Northern delegation passed off as defectors, though their families all have children retained in Pyongyang as leverage to prevent them switching allegiances.

 

Action climax offers the Mercedes motorcade, armored with a layer of books and sandbags, making a dash for the airport past checkpoints with troops who open fire. One pursuer with a machine gun mounted on a ute makes a vicious sustained pursuit. This is the film’s most memorable element, vigorously handled in the best action movie manner, though the low body count destroys impact built by impressive staging and sound. 

 

The excitement that the chase has generated is sustained on landing where the South Koreans have to obscure the fact that their new associates are merging with the other passengers to avoid the Southern government escort waiting to claim them as defectors. 

 

The political stuff is only passable but the action material, if implausible, is rousing and comes supported by the film's superior production values. Can't help noticing that this film's murderous simple-minded blacks are a good match for the ones in Wolf Warrior 2. Asian films tend not to be all that good on race.


(Part Two of this report will be published tomorrow).

Thursday, 25 August 2022

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - A National Table to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series

 

World Art Film Directors 1960-2020

Countries/

Regions

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s-2000s

2010s

Total

USA

7

22

17

32

31

109

UK

6

5

6

11

21

49

Other (*1)

0

9

8

10

15

42

TOTAL

13         8%

36      31%

31      24%

53      27%

67      30%

200    25%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

France

20

13

14

22

16

85

Italy

14

6

4

4

6

34

Germany

6

7

3

5

9

30

Scandinavia (*2)

7

2

9

5

9

32

Other Western Europe (*3)

5

11

3

9

17

45

TOTAL

52      34%

39      35%

33      26%

45     23%

57      26%

226    28%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Europe (*4)

37

11

5

15

20

88

USSR/Russia

11

2

8

3

3

27

TOTAL

48      33%

 13     11%

13      10%

18         9%

23      11%

115    14%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan

14

2

5

7

1

29

China

1

0

7

6

7

21

India

5

6

9

4

8

32

Other Asia (*5)

0

9

13

16

21

59

TOTAL

20      13%

17      14%

34      27%

33      17%

37    17%

141    17%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle East (*6)

2

5           2%

3       3%

22      11%

12     5%

44        5%

Latin America (*7)

16      11%

3           3%

5       4%

10        6%

20      8%

54        7%

Africa (*8)

1           1%

5           4%

8       7%

12        6%

7       3%

33        4%

GRAND TOTALS

152      100%

118      100%

127      100%

193      100%

223      100%

813     100%


The 90s and 00s have been combined as marking the two decade transition to digitisation.

 

1  Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland

2  Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland

3  Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Portugal, 

4  Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, 

5  Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Nepal

6  Iran, Turkey, Kurdistan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia

7  Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico

8  Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Chad, Mali, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea-Bisseau,  South Africa