The London Korean Film Festival

Posted on November 15, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

10 minutes


A while back I wrote about the Japanese soft power on the world, but within the last decade, the world has witnessed how South Korea managed to conquer the world through technology, design, cosmetics (including surgeries) and pop culture in a relatively short period of time. The transformation is staggering because South Korea was never seen as 'cool' in the region; Japan was the trendsetter for decades, then one day it lost its crown... It shows what determination and investments could do to a nation that needed an image fix.

Not only Korean soap operas are hugely popular in Asia (and surprisingly, in Cuba), Korean cinema has also been gaining international acclaim and respect since the late 1990s. And this year at the 9th The London Korean Film Festival, it is the biggest yet (you can tell by the thick brochure) showcasing 55 films including a special focus on one of the most well-known and controversial director Kim Ki-Duk.

I only picked three films due to my schedule, but hopefully, I can watch more on DVD in the future. The first film I saw was "10 minutes", directed by Lee Yong-seung about a hard-working university student's nightmare-ish internship at a government office. For those who have worked as an intern or junior staff in an Asian office environment would certainly resonate with the character. The film reveals the Korean/Asian working culture which is not often depicted in Asian films, but at times I found myself feeling frustrated by the main character's behaviour. The film is engaging, but I feel that it lacks surprises, and the opening ending is unnecessary because my empathy for the character is not strong enough, so this ending is more of an anticlimax for me.



The second docufilm "Manshin: Ten thousand spirits" is directed by artist and documentary maker Park Chan-kyong, the younger brother of the famous director Park Chan-Wook (famous for Oldboy). It is a part documentary and part biopic of Korea's 'Important Intangible Cultural Property' - Kim Geum-hwa, a National Shaman.

I knew nothing about Korean shamanism before I saw the film; it was fascinating to witness the rituals and see how this tradition has survived and evolved over decades. However, the film is essentially about one woman, the strong-willed and slightly mischievous shaman and her adventurous and dangerous life. The film is visually enticing and very well-edited; the character is played by three actresses, but the shaman also appears in the film along with some rare archival footage. But the film is also about Korea's history and culture, and at the Q & A after the screening, the director commented that he wanted young Korean people to be interested in the traditional culture again. However, he didn't want to make 'judgements' on this tradition, so the film invites the audience to judge for themselves. This is a colourful and compelling film, but most importantly, it is a story about courage, survival and human nature.



The last film "Bitter, Sweet, Seoul" is the world's first crowd sourced documentary sponsored by the Seoul government and helmed by brothers Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong (using the name PARKing CHANce). With over 11,852 submissions from the public, the directors eventually used 154 clips and edited down to an hour.

The documentary is about Seoul, and if you have been to Seoul you would know that this large metropolis has many sides to it. The title suggests that although Seoul is often depicted as a modern, high-tech and wealthy city, it also has its darker side and a bitter history. The film doesn't try to sugarcoat the city, it includes archival footage of past historical events, as well as interviews of tourists, expats and locals. It is extremely hard to create an 'authentic' portrait of a city in a promotional film, so finding a balance and being objective is very important.

At the Q & A after the screening, director Park Chan-kyong revealed the challenges they had to overcome in editing the vast amount of material (and I am not surprised). But I think the hard work has paid off and the directors have done a brilliant job in capturing the different faces of the city and the people who make this city special.

The film is also available to watch via Youtube:




This post was posted in London, Films & documentaries and was tagged with London, Film festival, Korean films