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).

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