Bakha satang (Peppermint Candy), 2000
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Country: South Korea
Run Time: 130 minutes
Award: South Korean film industry's Grand Bell Award for best film in 2000
What makes this movie particularly interesting is that it is told in reverse chronological order. It begins with the suicide of the main character, Yong-ho, who is killed by being hit by a train. The backwards story telling portrays key events in Yong-ho’s life that led to his suicide. There are six different flashbacks, each going further back into time. They are all connected by a shot of the train that killed Yong-ho traveling backwards in time, symbolizing the reverse chronology of the movie.
Notably, the events from the protagonist’s life reflect some of the major events in contemporary Korean history, including the student demonstrations of 1980 that lead to the Gwangju massacre, the increasing strength of the military government in the 1980s, and the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.
Overall, this is a beautifully made drama. By the end, the audience cannot help but feel pity for Yong-ho as they understand how truly innocent he was before one traumatic incident took that innocence away.
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My Sassy Girl (2001)
Director: Jae-young Kwak
Run Time: 123 mins
This is a romantic comedy movie directed by Kwak Jae-yong. It was hugely successful in South Korea. It was the highest grossing movie in the country in 2001. In 2008, Hollywood released an American version of the movie by the same name.
This movie is based on the true story of Kim Ho-sik, who originally posted this story online, and it was then adapted into a book and then into the movie. The movie follows the strange relationship of Kyun-woo and the Girl, who is never named in the film. The Girl clearly has the power in the relationship. She routinely punches and kicks Kyun-woo and orders him to do embarrassing things, like walk into her all-girls school and present her with a rose in front of the whole student body. Through the first half of the movie, it seems that Kyun-woo does not want to have any kind of contact with this girl, but when he realizes that he can’t avoid her completely, he, being the subordinate one in the relationship, simply does whatever she asks.
However, overtime the two characters begin to truly care about each other. Without a doubt, this romantic comedy will warm the heart of all audiences. In addition, it is a good way to start discussions about gender roles in relationships in modern-day South Korea since the main comedic factor is that the gender roles are reversed in this movie.
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Dharmaga tongjoguro kan kkadalgun(Why has Bodhidharma Left for the East?), 1989
Director: Yong-kyun Bae
Run time: 135 minutes
Availability: Milestone Films
Hyegok (the elderly abbot) -- Pan-yong Yi
Kibong (Hyegok’s disciple) -- Won-sop Sin
Haejin (the young orphan) -- Hae-jin Hwang
Superior -- Su-myong Ko
Fellow Disciple -- Hae-yong Kim
The movie revolves around the lives of three residents of a Buddhist temple: the elderly abbot who is approaching death, his disciple who is troubled by the fact that he left his blind mother behind in order to seek enlightenment, and a young orphan. The movie portrays the characters as they directly confront the existential issues of loss, death, and suffering.
Beautifully filmed in the remote Korean countryside, the movie involves minimal dialog and the occasional use of footage taken from real life. Some of the episodes in the film involve rich cultural metaphors, such as the young orphan’s search for a lost ox (in Zen temple art, the ox represents a human being’s true nature) .
The making of the film is a story in itself. The entire process of filming, production, and editing was done solely by Yong-kyun Bae, who taught art at a Korean university and the film’s three actors were all amateurs. This is a thoughtful, multilayered film meant to be viewed and discussed on multiple occasions.
Director: Kwon-taek Im
Run Time: 120 minutes
Available from netflix.com and amazon.com
Released in 2000, Chunhyang became a film-festival hit (the film was nominated for a Golden Palm award at Cannes) yet failed to garner significant domestic box-office returns. One of the most notable figures in Korean cinema and by far its most prolific, enduring cinematographer, Im Kwon-taek, directs. He presents a beautiful image of rural 13th century Korea and attempts to adapt a traditional and very lyrical form of performance storytelling, known as Pansori, for cinema. The distinct crescendo and decrescendo of a single narrator’s emotive song, which rises in and flows out through various scenes in the film, supported by the rhythm of a single drummer, creates an exotic ambiance for Western audiences. Critics have suggested that this blurring of Korean and Western forms hindered the success of the movie in national theaters.
One of the few surviving Pansori tales, the traditional Korean folk legend of Chunhyang provides the basic narrative for the film. The story, in which the son of a royal official secretly marries the beautiful daughter of a courtesan, addresses the relationship between the Confucian court and its citizens while providing a conventional representation of the virtuous Korean woman. In addition to beautiful images of rural Korea, much of the film’s appeal can be found in the new form of storytelling that Im Kwon-taek effectively introduces, blending traditional song and modern cinema. The movie can be slow at times, and there are unexpected scenes of violence, nudity and sexuality (the movie is rated R). While Chunhyang may not be appropriate for showing from start to finish in a classroom setting, it does provide an interesting study of life in 13th Century Korea as told through traditional folk-lore.
Shi gan (Time), 2006
Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Run time: 97 minutes
If you’ve seen any of Kim Ki Duk’s other movies (3-Iron; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring) you’ll know what to expect from his latest film, Time: nothing! Like his previous films, this movie also delivers beautiful cinematography, raw emotional power, and suspense. It also features surprisingly comedic moments involving masks, deception, and plastic surgery. Somehow images that would typically be seen as bizarre or grotesque are rendered hauntingly beautiful in the context of the film.
The basic plot revolves around a young woman, Sae-Hee, and her relationship with her long-term boyfriend, Ji-Woo. Jealous, possessive of Ji-Woo and fearful that he will leave her, Sae-Hee resorts to drastic measures.
Some of the main themes in the film are love, identity, obsession, and, not surprisingly, the nature of time. Recurring images involve masks, glasses, photos, and a waterfront sculpture park. The film could be read as a social commentary about South Korea and standards of female beauty, or a more philosophical look at the nature of time.
If you like your narratives straightforward, your characters sympathetic or at least understandable and the storyline somewhat predictable, then Time might not be a movie that you would be interested in viewing. But, if you like to be surprised and challenged, can handle a little suspense and possibly queasiness, and like movies whose images linger with you long after you’ve left the movie theater, then this film is worth viewing at least once.
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Wang-ui namja (The King and the Clown)
Director: Junik Lee - 2005
Run time: 119 minutes
See English Review below
2005년 감독 김기덕의 작품 “왕의 남자”는 기존의 단조롭고 전형적인 형식의 역사기술 기법을 피하여 흥미롭고도 대담하고 도발적인 역작(力作)을 창조해냈다.
이 영화는 두 동성연애자인 광대인 장생(남자역할)과 공길(여자역할)의 비극적인 러브스토리이다. 두 광대는 팽팽한 밧줄위에서 걷고 체조를 하면서 외설적인 내용의 연기를 펼쳐보이는데 어느 운명의 날이 다가와, 장생(사회 최하층 출신인 광대)은 공길을 놓고 한 양반의 성적인 추행에 대해 강력하게 반발하며 급기야 한양(현재의 서울)으로 탈출하게 된다.
한양에 당도하자 꽤많은 장생은 공길과 함께 코미디 연기를 펼치는 가장 유명한 대결을 구상한다. 다른 광대출신의 배우들과 협연하여, 이 둘은 궁정에 대한 신랄한 풍자로 점점 더 인기를 얻어간다 . 어느날 궁궐에서 나온 한 신하가 이들의 연기를 훔쳐보다가 이들을 궁궐로 데려가 처벌을 하게된다.
위험을 무릅쓰는 협잡꾼인 장생은 왕으로 하여금 자신들의 연기를 보도록 유도한다. 광대단은 마침내 왕으로부터 고용이 되었고 그들은 자신들의 연기속에 궁정신하들의 정치적 부패를 풍자하기도하고, 더우기, 왕(연산군)에게 얽힌 비극적인 과거사를 적나라하게 묘사한다.
李감독의 왕의 남자는 동성연애자들사랑과 연정을 잘 표현하고 있고 이와 병행하여 정치적인 요소- 비리와 사기의 올가미에 영원히 씌워진 왕정-를 가미한다. 이 영화에서 감우성 (장생)은 정교하고도 천부적인 정상급의 연기를 펼쳐보인다. 정진영(연산군) 또한 부패한 그러나 연전히 프로이드적인 콤플렉스로 가득찬 연산군의 이미지를 부각시키는 동정적인 연기를 잘 소화해내었다. 이 영화는 지난 십년동안 한국에서 제작된 최상급의 창조적인 영화중의 하나로 손꼽힌다.
Director Junik Lee, in his 2005 work King and the Clown, has reinterpreted the genre of Korean historical films, abandoning the dull, sterotypical retelling of history to create a tour de force that is entertaining, irreverent, and provocative.
The film is a tragic love-story involving two gay traveling entertainers, Jangsaeng (who plays a man) and Gonggil (who plays a woman). The duo performs bawdy performances incorporating tightrope walking and gymnastics until a fateful day when Jangsaeng (as an entertainer, a member of the lowest social class) forcefully opposes an aristocrat's sexual advances towards Gonggil, resulting in the duos' exodus to Hanyang (modern-day Seoul).
In the capital, the wiley Jangsaeng immediately sets out to find the most famous competition where the two can display their comedic prowess. Joining with actors from another troupe, the two gradually gain in popularity for their scathing lampoons of the royal court. One day a member of the royal court glimpses the performance, resulting in the troupe being brought in to the royal palace where they are punished.
Jangsaeng, the risk-taking trickster of the tale, manages to convince the king to watch a performance. The troupe is ultimately hired by the king but their lampooning of corruption among court officials, and more importantly, their honest depiction of some dark events in the king's own past, set forth a series of tragic events.
In Lee's film, the portrayal of homosexual love and feeling, in Korean society where gay relations are only now being discussed openly, forms an intriguing parallel with the political element of the story-the royal court which is forever caught up in a network of denial and deceit. The excellent script and directing is coupled with great acting. Wu-seong Gam (Jangsaeng) provides a stellar performance full of subtlety and flair. Jinyeong Jeong (King Yeonsan) is also convincing as a corrupt yet sympathetic character full of Freudian complexity. The movie is a fine example of the high-quality creative films coming out of Korea during the last decade.
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