Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cinema On The Park Review: The Host (Bong Joon-Ho, 2006)

I was excited to watch The Host, having been recommended it on several occasions. It is not only a hugely popular film in Korea, but has been well-received by international audiences. I had the chance to see it at Cinema on the Park last week, playing as part of their 'Birth of the Blockbuster' program.

The Host is a South Korean monster film directed by Boon Joon-ho, following the success of his 2003 crime drama, Memories of Murder. The Host, which became the highest grossing South Korean film of all time and was critically acclaimed - picking up Best Film at the Asian Film Awards – works not just as an original and terrifying creature film, but as a social and political commentary. It introduces an additional biological threat which exposes government incompetence, identifies implications of the American military presence in Korea, and allows political activism to become a part of the drama. It is also a compelling family drama too.

The cause of the mutation of the giant amphibious creature that will later terrorize Seoul is revealed in the film’s opening sequence; the order of an American military pathologist to a reluctant Korean assistant to violate protocol and dump 200 bottles of formaldehyde into the sewer system, which flows into the Han River. A period of time passes, and there are several sightings of a large creature beneath the surface.

We are introduced to the family who will become the primary protagonists for this tale. Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) runs a snack bar with his father, Hee-bong (Byeon Hee-bong), which is set up along the bank of the Han River. It is revealed he has a sister and brother; a skilled national medallist archer, Nam-joo (Bae Doona) and an alcoholic former-activist, Nam-il (Park Hae-il), as well as a young daughter, Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-seong). Each of the characters surprise us in different ways and it is easy to forge an emotional connection to their stories.

When civilians spot the large creature beneath a bridge along the Han River, Park joins the curious crowd who try to bait it. Soon enough, he and his family find themselves in danger when it emerges from the water and runs amok. As an audience, the arrival of the creature is just as much of a shock as it is to the bemused witnesses. People are mauled and killed and in a stunning capture, Hyuk-seo is grabbed by its tentacle and taken back to its lair. 

During the struggle, Park comes into contact with the creature, which is feared to be the host of a deadly virus, and as a result is considered to be an extreme threat to national health. Park has reason to believe his daughter is still alive and he enlists his family to help him escape from the facility and hunt down the creature, placing themselves on the Government wanted list in the process.

For most of the film the visual effects were exceptional and the CGI design of the monster is most interesting, save for the finale where I thought the effects became a little ambitious and weren’t quite pulled off. The beginning – conveying the reasons for the mutation of the monster – was also a bit weak. As original as the primary characters are in The Host I felt like Nam-joo was shortchanged, spending a large part of the film trapped in one of the drains.

That’s about the only obvious weaknesses, because The Host was a lot of fun, with Joon-ho breaking genre conventions and keeping the audience guessing. Though very amusing, mounting tension and genuine stakes are never surrendered for comedy, and there is great energy provided by the score, the innovative photography and the terrific performances. Song Kang-ho was excellent as the seemingly-boneheaded Park, who is revealed to be much smarter than initially suggested, scarred by events in his past and with an unshakeable dedication to finding his daughter. It is very cleverly crafted, effectively developing a supportable band of disparate heroes, and finding ways for them to participate and utilize their unique individual skills.

It is one of the few films that I have seen that has remained compelling for the duration having revealed the creature so early. Some of the best monsters films – Jaws and Alien for example – don’t reveal the monster until after the half way, while there are many that offer brief early glimpses and are obviously trying too hard to keep their monster hidden. Here, blessed with the budget to utilize the monster at his will, Joon-ho has enlisted a stellar creative team to come up with a very unique creature – and one that was utilized in original and inventive ways. Certainly one of my favourite Korean films to date.

My Rating: ★★★★
By Andrew Buckle

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Short Film Comp: $5000 worth of prizes to win!


2012 KOFFIA Short Film Competition

The Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) will return for 2012 in Sydney, Melbourne and for the first time, Brisbane. Three years, Three Cities, Three times the scale! The KOFFIA Short Film Competition will complement the 3rd KOFFIA, an opportunity to showcase the developing talent from our up and coming filmmakers

The competition is open for all Australians who wish to embrace Korea through film or have / are a Korean staff contributing to it. KOFFIA wants you! To submit the best short film as a promising Korean Australian’s and promising young director to ‘wow’ the theatre! 

Jury Award 1st: $2,000 cash prize
Jury Award 2nd: $1,000 cash prize
Jury Award 3rd: $500 cash prize
NIDA Best Actor Award: 2 day weekend course (RRP $260)
NIDA Best Actress Award: 2 day weekend course (RRP $260)
Metro Screen Audience Award: TBC

The KOFFIA Short Film Competition screening and awards ceremony will take place on the 25th of August, 2012 during KOFFIA’s run at Dendy Opera Quays Cinema. We hope to see you at the festival watching your own little masterpiece on the big screen! 

To participate in the competition for the screening and prizes for the Korean Cultural Office’s KOFFIA Short Film Competition supported bMetro Screen, the University of Sydney Faculty of Arts and NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art), an applicant must complete and submit the application form along with their film in DVD or HD file format to the Korean Cultural Office before 6pm, July 24th, 2012

You can download the 2012 application form, and entry requirements on the KOFFIA Short Film Comp page. With thousands of dollars in cash prizes and the chance to meet talented industry professionals and academics on the jury, it's time to get filming!

Enquiries: submissions@koffia.com.au

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cinema on the Park Review: J.S.A. Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2000)

Another review from our Cinema on the Park bloggers, this time Sam McCosh takes a look at Park Chan-wook's seminal classic JSA. You can also read Andy Buckle's thoughts on the film here. Send us your opinion on JSA if you managed to see it at KOFFIA2011, COTP2012 or in the comfort of your home thanks to Madman Entertainment. Email to: cinema@koreanculture.org.au

Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSAmarks the birth of the modern Korean blockbuster. It quickly became the highest-grossing film in Korea at the time, achieving over one million admissions in only 15 days. It was screened as part of the "Birth of the Blockbuster" month at Cinema on the Park, which is showcasing 4 fantastic films. I am especially looking forward to seeing The Host for the first time on Thursday 24th May. 

We were privileged to have Russell Edwards from Variety as the guest speaker once again, and he introduced the film by telling us a story about his experience seeing the film in a "concrete block" Korean cinema without subtitles. Even without the subtitles he knew the film was something special and enjoyed it very much. It certainly would of helped that than the first 20 minutes of the film contains a lot of dialogue in English.

JSA is very much a film of two stories. In the first story we see Major Sophie E. Jean (Yeong-ae Lee), a Swiss investigator of Korean ancestry who is travels from Switzerland to the highly sensitive demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to lead the investigation into a confusing incident which left 2 North Korean soldiers dead, and 1 South Korean solider (Sgt Lee Soo-hyeok, played by Byung-hun Lee) badly injured. The North Korean claims the Sgt Lee crossed over the demilitarized zone and murdered their soldiers, while South Korea claims that Sgt Lee was kidnapped by the North and killed the soldiers while he was escaping. Tensions between the two nations are high, and as Major Sophie delves deeper into the incident, it is clear that something more than a "border squirmish" happened.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cinema on the Park Review: Shiri (Kang je-gyu, 1999)

Our blogging team took on the opportunity to check out some Blockbusters at Cinema on the Park in May, beginning with the one that started it all off, Shiri. Read Andrew's thoughts below. Agree, Disagree? Let us know.

I watched Shiri as part of the 'Birth of the Blockbuster' program at Cinema on the Park, held at the Korean Cultural Office. Extensive coverage of Korean film in Australia can be found at the KOFFIA Blog.

Shiri is a 1999 South Korean action film written and directed by Kang Je-gyu. With a distinctive 80’s action aesthetic – and the score played a large part in building the 80’s tone - which was either an intentional look, or a result of the filmmaker’s ambitions limited by the budget, Shiri certainly has its influences. Having said that, at the time Shiri was the highest funded Korean film in existence. I imagine setting the climax in a packed football stadium would have taken a large slice. An energetic storytelling style, strong performances from a who’s who of Korean cinema, and a couple of impressive (and violent) action sequences overcome the holes and loose ends in the plot, and the occasions where the audience’s intelligence is not respected, and make Shiri not only a significant film in Korean cinema, but the birth of the ‘Blockbuster’ in Korea.

The film opens with an extended montage introducing us to a highly skilled female soldier, Lee Bang-hee, completing a strenuous (and brutal) training regime as part of a North Korean military unit. In short, these agents learn to kill by killing their classmates. As the behest of the commander, Park Mu-young (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy), Lee Bang-hee is sent into South Korea as a sniper and assassinates key South Korean government agents.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

'Remember O Goddess: FILM NOIR, ADVENTURE & LOVE'

To celebrate it being just 111 days till KOFFIA2012, we decided to announce 1 film in our selection. Raelene Loong blogs about the project below, which has been making news world-wide due to the interesting campaign behind it. Oh and in case you didn't hear, we have announced our dates for 2012. KOFFIA will take place in SYDNEY: Aug 22-28, MELBOURNE: Sept 8-12 and BRISBANE: Sept 27-30, mark it in your diary!

A few weeks ago I'd seen this Kickstarter campaign floating around the Korean film Twitter community. The campaign is for a film called Remember O Goddess: FILM NOIR, ADVENTURE & LOVE directed and written by Yoon Jung Lee. The film exists as a 25 minute short film, but Yoon Jung has started this Kickstarter campaign to turn it into a full feature length film.

A man reports the disappearance of himself at a police station. He has lost his memory, and only remembers waking up alone in an empty apartment. Struggling to find the clues as to who he might be, he meets a girl at a convenience store who seems to know him. She becomes his only hope in finding his identity, but disappears when he returns to ask her. The film is an eclectic combination of (as noted in the title) film noir, adventure and love, and it reminds me of Rian Johnson's Brick - great film, I recommend you to see it if you haven't already. If you have, well, then there is all the more reason to check our Remember O Goddess!

Actor Kim Jung-tae plays the film's lead character in his first indie feature film. Kim previously starred in Dream High 2, Miss Ripley, Siu (Teuksubon) and He's On Duty (BangaBanga) which closed the first year of Cinema On The Park screenings. Alongside Kim is up and coming Korean model A-ra Choi in her acting debut.

The crew comprises of a mix of experienced filmmakers. Director and writer Yoon Jung Lee has made many short films as well as produced experimental works that have been introduced at various galleries and museums. Yoon has also worked with some big name directors including Kim Ji-woon, having been the script supervisor for his film The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Producer Jung Youn has produced many award-winning films including Good Night, Sorry and Thanks, as well as Teamwork, which screened at the 2nd Korean Film Festival in Australia last year. The rest of the crew includes cinematographer U Young Chang (Teamwork, Good Night, The Villains) and editor Sae Kyoung Moon, who edited Mother which opened the 1st Korean Film Festival in Australia in 2010.

Jung Woo-sung, who worked with Yoon Jung Lee is quite the looker.
He also thinks you should support Remember O Goddess.

For those who do not know, Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. The way it works is you are rewarded for 'backing' the project with funds, and the project must reach its goal in order to receive the money. It's a great way to support small or independent projects like Yoon Jung's film, and to get involved!

The campaign has just six days left to accumulate its target $30,000, which will be put towards the production of the feature length version of the film. It is currently short of just under $4000 and needs all the support it can get in order to be fully funded. I encourage you to watch the above Kickstarter campaign video for Remember O Goddess and please help to fund the project. I personally think it will be a great film (watch the 25 minute short version, it's great), and am one of many who would like to see this feature film come to reality.

I'm a backer. Are you?

Spread the word, share it within your friends, family, within your circles and get involved!

Help back the project by visiting this link to the film's Kickstarter campaign page.

By Raelene Loong

The short film version of "Remember O Goddess" will have its Australian premiere as part of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia. It will screen in our Shorts on the Park program, a special selection of international shorts that screens for free, so make sure to come along and check it out. 
"I'm so excited to have the Australian premiere of REMEMBER O GODDESS at Korean Film Festival In Australia. I'm looking forward to hearing feedback from audiences in Australia. At this moment, we're raising funds to expand the short REMEMBER O GODDESS to a feature-length film via Kickstarter platform. Hopefully you'll check out the campaign page and consider backing us." - Yoon Jung Lee, Director
Also if you want to help fund the feature film please do so, wouldn't it be great to one day see the feature at a future KOFFIA? Well you can help make it happen but kickstarting it today!