Monday, September 3, 2012

Looking Back: Reflections on Sydney’s KOFFIA 2012

It’s already been almost a week since this years Sydney KOFFIA wrapped up with the closing ceremony on Tuesday evening.  It’s been strange finishing my normal job and realizing I can just stroll home, as opposed to the routine I’d developed of heroically running through the city at 5:00pm while ripping my shirt & tie off, in the style of Clark Kent turning into Superman, to reveal the KOFFIA t-shirt underneath.  The questions of if I’d be allocated to ticketing, ushering, information desk, or various other tasks that being a KOFFEE involved, have now been replaced with the more mundane ones, such as Dominos or Pizza Hut, Starbucks or Gloria Jeans?  Like most things in life, there’re no easy answers.

The 7 days that the Korean Film Festival spanned created many great memories, no doubt not only for the people that worked there, but for the audiences that got to enjoy the movies as well, so I thought I’d share some of my own that definitely won’t be forgotten.  After working at the opening night, I found myself back in the thick of things on Friday for the Korean Cult Cinema Double Header, which consisted of ‘King of Pigs / 돼지의 왕’ & ‘OldBoy / 올드보이’.  To help people get into the spirit of things there was a Gangster Dress Up Contest, and when it comes to gangster style (forget about Gangnam Style!) nobody does it quite like the Koreans.

I decided to aim for Ha Jung-woo’s look in the 1980’s based movie ‘Nameless Gangster / 범죄와의 전쟁’.  Whether I succeeded or not is definitely open to debate, but thanks to Inky bringing along a stash of her fathers 1970’s ties from Korea, along with some equally retro shades and a makeup collection consisting of fake blood and draw on facial hair, I think I didn’t do too badly.  Soon the lobby area of Dendy Cinema was filled with a collection of people wearing blood covered plasters, darkened shades, and some very distinctive gangster threads, there was even an extendable sword thrown into the mix somewhere.  Ironically it was these same people that had to entice the passing general public to come in and enjoy some blood splattered Korean cinematic goodness - the moral of the story?  If you see someone walking towards you in the street looking bloodied, beat up, and possibly carrying a sword, don’t run away, they might just want to invite you to a film festival.

As the night wrapped up and the crowd ushered in to follow Choi Min-sik on his 5 day journey of revenge, I made my way to the bathroom to take off my gangster gear, due to having an appointment to meet up with some friends in the city.  I stood in front of the mirror for a moment, taking in the fake tattoo, the retro tie, the drawn on beard, and I thought to myself, “Hey, this actually looks pretty cool, I’ll go and meet my friends like this!” After all, who doesn’t want to be a gangster for the night?  I grabbed my jacket and strolled out of the bathroom, ready to swagger through the city and look good doing it.  About 5 seconds later I turned around and went back in, actually no it really wasn’t a good idea at all, what was I thinking?

The weekend was crammed full of movies, ranging over every genre, and with it, people from all walks of life came to enjoy them.  There was also the Short Film Competition that I reported on in a previous blog, and after it finished I noticed the special guest judge Kang Hyeong-cheol, director of ‘Scandal Makers / 과속스캔들’ and ‘Sunny / 써니’, roaming around the lobby. This was, of course, the perfect opportunity to grab a photo with him, and it appeared he was already engaged in a conversation with what was obviously another fan of his work, and who I hoped would be a good photographer.  I put on my best ‘casual walk’, and made my approach.  Jumping in the middle of other peoples conversations is never good, especially when it’s just for a photo, so I didn’t want to disturb them while they where talking.  However I became aware that all I was doing was awkwardly lingering next to them like some kind of stalker, so I quickly made the decision that I’d either just have to ask, or walk away, casually if possible.

Thankfully I decided to politely interject and asked the female fan he was talking with if she’d mind taking a photo of him & I together, to which she graciously agreed.  It turns out she was a good photographer, and figuring that one good deed deserves another, I asked her if she’d like me to take a photo of them together as well.  She gave me a strange look and declined my offer, oh well I guess not everyone cares about having a photo with a famous director.  Skip forward to the festivals final night on Tuesday, and before the screening of ‘Sunny’ starts a couple of special guests where introduced onto the stage, one of course was Hyeong-cheol, and the other was Anna Lee, producer of both of his movies to date, and also the woman I asked if she’d like a photo with the director.  How embarrassing.

On Monday I had the night off, so armed with a bunch of complimentary tickets I decided to try and boost my popularity by offering to bring my friends to watch ‘The Frontline / 고지전’ for free. Yes even on my night off, I still went there, but my reasoning was I should see at least one movie as a member of the audience, and I’d heard this one had received some good reviews.  Of course I also offered to write my own review for the blog, so with that my motivation was sealed.  Sadly what I didn’t check was its epic 2 hour 15 minutes runtime, and with an 8:30pm start, I eventually found myself sitting in front of my computer to write out a review at 12:00am. Tuesday was going to be painful, but it was all worth it!

Tuesday itself came around in the blink of an eye, had it really been a week already? The closing ceremony looked like it had as many people as the opening one, with the Dendy Cinemas lobby and interior quickly filling up, the Olympics had nothing on us.  I got put on Audience Award duty, which involves handing out the slips of paper to each member of the audience as they’re going in to watch the movie, so that they have the opportunity to win a Samsung Galaxy.  It was while I in the middle of doing this that I got to experience another first, when a young lady, upon noticing my name on my Media tag, said to me, “You’re the guy who writes the blog aren’t you, I really enjoy it!”  I’d rehearsed this scenario in my head many times over the years – an attractive female approaches me and tells me they enjoy my writing, I play it very cool, and proceed to ask them what they enjoyed, how they found it in the first place, maybe ask them out for a coffee.  Very smooth.

However reality never really matches imagination, and instead of playing it cool I found myself acting like a 10-year-old boy who’s just been told by the teacher they have a crush on that their assignment was really good.  Seemingly unable to say anything other than repeating “Thank you!” over and over again, I eventually composed myself enough to string a cohesive sentence together, by which time I noticed she was slowly backing away from me.  What was wrong, I hadn’t eaten any onions or garlic, and definitely remember spraying anti-perspirant that morning, and then it hit me.  She was here to see the movie, and I’d kept her outside rambling off 1000 thank yous while she could be inside getting a good seat to enjoy the final film of the festival.  Sonia if you’re reading this I hope you got a good seat, and if not, please come to Cinema on the Park at the Korean Cultural Office on November 8th when I’ll be introducing the movie ‘Miss Please Be Patient / 아가씨 참으세요’, and I promise you a front row seat.  You might be the only person there, but it’s still a front row seat.

The end of Tuesday also heralded the end of the festival in Sydney, and despite being sleep deprived from the previous day, I found myself feeling very awake just from feeding off the great atmosphere that comes from such an event.  I already miss the many people & moments that the festival created, such as when I was in the office one day and my boss paused to look at me before saying with a touch of surprise, “Paul, are you wearing a green t-shirt under your white shirt!?”.  I’m sure we’ll no doubt all see each other again, and if anything next year should have an even more amazing lineup than this time, with movies like ‘Nameless Gangster /범죄와의 전쟁’, ‘The Thieves / 도둑들’ and ‘Doomsday Book /인류멸망보고서’ already making 2012 a great year for Korean cinema. But until then, see you around!


  1. Hahaha really enjoyed reading this! you're a champion Paul!

  2. Thanks David, great job to everyone who was involved! I wanted to write one about the after-party as well...but having difficulty remembering it...

  3. Hope Sonia comes to Cinema On The Park that week ;)

  4. Paul,
    I've loved reading about your experience. This has been a blast for me. The perspective has been great and quite humorous. I'll be looking forward to more of the same when November gets here.

    If you're reading this, cut him some slack. The guy's aces. Just give him a minute to collect his wits (he does have some, I promise).

  5. It's been great reading about the experience of someone so closely involved in the successful execution of a film festival in Australia. The behind-the-scenes and personal run down is highly informative...I hope to encourage UNSW students to get involved with the festival next year!