Writing this on the last day of this years KOFFIA, it seems like a good time to reflect on the barrage of cinematic goodness that has spread itself along Australia’s East Coast over the last few weeks.
KOFFIA for me also stands as a kind of moment in time reference point for my own life in Australia, when for the 2012 version of the festival I found myself taking on blogging duties, as well as volunteering to help out at the movie screenings. At that point in time I’d only been living in Australia for a few months, having come here after spending over 3 years living in Tokyo, Japan.
There were of course a lot of differences between Tokyo & Sydney. There, I could regularly watch Korean movies on the big screen (even if it meant struggling through the Japanese subtitles), whereas here I hadn’t seen a single one. There I’d regularly meet my friends in Tokyo’s Koreatown, a whole suburb of streets and alleyways jammed full of restaurants and bars which even had its own train station, whereas here my friend took me to a strip the length of a single block on Pitt Street and announced “Welcome to Koreatown!” There I was paying to take Korean lessons that were being taught in Japanese, whereas here I discovered I could take them for free in English! & of course there I’d regularly take the less than 2 hour flight to Seoul on a long weekend and be back in Tokyo 72 hours later with an aching liver, whereas here suddenly Seoul was over 10 hours away and a whole lot more expensive to get to.
It was fair to say that suddenly the land of the morning calm seemed like a long way away, and if you check out Australia’s location on any map of the world, it’s easy to see that that’s because it is. In fact bar the odd Polynesian island nation and New Zealand, there’s not a whole lot which is close to Australia, a fact that looking back now makes me realize I probably spent my first few months living here unknowingly craving the fast paced Asian life I’d been living for the last few years. KOFFIA 2012 came along at just the right time.
Twelve months on, and things are much different. For a start, while last year I found myself single handedly blogging for the festival, this year I was joined by 5 other fellow bloggers, ranging from Korean movie novices to K-pop stalwarts. Together I think it’s safe to say we’ve brought a range of insights to the movies shown which have each offered a unique perspective, whether it be the 100th Korean movie the reviewer's watched, or just the 10th.
For myself, KOFFIA 2013 gives a good opportunity to reflect on my own experiences with Korean film during the last 12 months. I’ve probably crammed in watching around 50 movies I’ve never seen before, from old classics such as ‘The Road to Sampo / 삼포가는 길’ to the latest blockbusters. I organized the Australian premiere of two old-school Korean kung-fu movies to be screened at the KCO’s ‘Cinema on the Park’ weekly movie screening in the form of 'Miss, Please Be Patient / 아가씨 참으세요' & 'Canton Viper / 광동살무사', as well as helping to arrange an interview with the star Hwang Jang-lee. I’ve presented several of my favourite movies to the ‘Cinema on the Park’ audience, including 'A Bittersweet Life / 달콤한 인생', as well as being invited for an interview on ABC Radio as part of their Lunar New Year programming. To top it all off, during the Sydney Film Festival I also had the chance to briefly meet Park Chan-wook! All in all, it’s been an entertaining period of time.
This years KOFFIA definitely seems a bigger, more mature, and more confident beast compared to that of last year, and I’d like to say I feel the same way about myself. (Ok, maybe not the bigger part, I’m trying to lose weight.) The festival relocated from the DENDY cinema in Circular Quay to Event cinema on George Street, a move which successfully brought in bigger crowds and a more livelier vibe, and I myself also made the change from doing the job I was doing at the time of last years festival, to a much more satisfying one by the time this years KOFFIA rolled around. In these fast moving times, it’s easy to feel that a year has past you by in the blink of an eye, so sometimes it’s good to take a moment and look back to realize just how much can be done in that one blink.
No doubt KOFFIA 2014 will be even bigger and better than this years festival, and I’ll be looking forward to whatever opportunities it brings to see Korean film where it deserves to be seen – on the big screen. I ended my look back on last years festival by correctly predicting 'The Thieves / 도둑들' and ‘Nameless Gangster / 범죄와의 전쟁 : 나쁜놈들 전성시대’ would be shown this year, so I’ll take the chance to wish that for next year, we’ll to be able to watch the gritty gangster movie ‘The New World / 신세계’ and Hong Sang-soo’s latest ‘Nobody’s Daughter Haewon / 누구의 딸도 아닌 해원’. Here’s hoping!
By Paul Bramhall