Category Archives: London Korean Film Festival

London Korean Film Festival 2018: Old Love – Review

by Frankie Harlow

We all have those people that we have loved and lost over the years. Maybe you have fallen out, moved away or just lost contact with each other. I have someone who I was very close to throughout all of secondary school, who I lost contact with over the course of university. Every now and again I still think of them, maybe when I am doing something that was once a shared interest, and wonder what it would be like to see them again and talk about where we have ended up in life. Not meet in the ephemeral world of the internet and social media but meet in the cold light of day. What would I tell them and what would I edit to cast myself in the best light to them (and to myself)?

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Old Love, by Park Kiyong, follows Yoonhee and Jungsoo, a middle aged couple who dated 30 odd years ago and meet again by chance in the smoking area of Incheon Airport. Yoonhee is returning from Canada, where she now lives, to see her family and Jungsoo is dropping his daughter off to fly to Australia for school. They decide to meet up over the Lunar New Year holiday to catch up on what direction their lives have taken since they last saw each other. Over the course of the movie, the cracks in their facades start to show and reveal all the truths hiding behind the half truths they have been telling each other. The film builds the question of can you ever go back to a place, to a relationship or to a person and, even if you could, would you want to.
Park Kiyong has a history of making films that look at the complex relationships between men and women and how we all sometimes want to escape the lives that we don’t always feel like we have chosen but that have been coerced into by the world around us. Motel Cactus and Camels, his first two films, both look at this theme and Old Love feels like him coming back to old stomping grounds but with a new perspective due to growing older and reflecting on his own life.

Yoo Jungah and Kim Taehoon bring great sympathy to the two characters playing them as the real world flawed people that they are meant to be. At the Q and A after the screening, Park Kiyong mentioned that they did not have a script going into the filming of this. Instead they had the overarching storyline mapped out and he and the actors would meet in a cafe for an hour before filming each day and discuss what was being filmed that day and what was needed from each of the characters. This seems to work in the films favour, giving it a naturalistic tone that is matched by the cinematography. The lighting is subtle and natural to the different locations used in the film. There is very little soundtrack other than ambient sound which works well in a film that really feels like you are watching a documentary of someone’s everyday life.

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The period of filming was when the protests were going on in Korea against the then President who was facing calls to be impeached due to corruption charges. Though this was clearly not planned when the film was being planned, it fits in well with the feel of the film. There is a beautiful scene where Yoonhee is watching the protest and then standing amid the flow of people. There seems to be a great echo of the world turning around her and change happening while she is maybe trying to turn the clock back and go back to her past. It also truly shows the feeling that she then articulates later where she is both a guest in the country she now lives in and the country she was born in.

If I am honest this was not my favourite of all the films I saw at the LKFF and I am unlikely to run out in a mad bid to watch it again. There is however a beautiful stillness to this film with some stunning shots of the couple when they go into the mountains to visit a town they visited when they were younger. It also paints an honest picture on how time changes everything and how we lose the dreams of our youth and can find ourself in places we never meant to be, unsure how to get out of there.

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London Korean Film Festival 2018: This Charming Girl – Review

There is something to be said for films that focus on everyday life. There are no large explosions, dance numbers or gun fights. The couple might not end up together at the end, the protagonist doesn’t always win and life will continue on in the same way that it does for all of us. But, watching a film that focuses in on the minutea of an everyday life and the secret personal lives of its characters can sometimes be more suspenseful than any blockbuster. Waiting for the big reveal or the event that will somehow turn everything on its head, we come to the slow realisation that that is not going to happen and yet we cannot look away from the mirror that it holds up to our own lives.

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This Charming Girl is one such film. Released in 2004 by Lee Yoon-ki as his directorial debut, it is the first of his 7 films that focus on the everyday lives of their central characters. This Charming Girl follows the life of Jeong-hae, a twenty something postal worker whose life is filled with the monotonous repetition of the same tasks and an isolation that she seems to have chosen for herself. One day she rescues a kitten and, from this one small action, ripples are sent out into the rest of her life, seemingly making her question the course that her life is taking. Through her memories, that are shown to us as they surface in her mind, we see the events that have brought her to this moment and how they have shaped how she interacts with the world.

Lee Yoon-ki deals with his subject matter with a subtlety and deftness that you would not expect from a debut. His use of camera movement, positioning and length of shot gives an immediacy to the film that means, as a viewer, you cannot hide behind the detachment that you can sometimes feel towards film. Music is used sparingly and the silence heightens the actions of the lead by removing any distraction that can be provided by music and puts all the focus on the actions and words of the actors. It also adds to this feeling of being in the film as all of the soundtrack is the sounds that the characters would hear and is not an added layer providing cues of how you are to react to what you are seeing. Kim Ji-soo is mesmerising as Jeong-hae, playing her with a stillness and nuance that stops you from turning away from her throughout what is very nearly a one person show.

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While I had been aware of the movement to digital filming and the fact that now filming on film stock is worthy of mention, I had never really considered the effect that this had had on the actual viewing experience of a film. As soon as the film began, I was aware of the small scratches and dust particles that you get when projecting using film. Though the fact that I was aware of this might make it sound like it was distracting, it wasn’t. It added an organic layer of reality that would have been lost if it was a digital presentation. I know that this obviously wasn’t a consideration when it was filmed, but watching it now in the age of HD and hyper realism, there was something comforting and more realistic in its flaws that leant itself to the story more than if it was perfect.

It was a cold and rainy afternoon when I went into the cinema and it was a cold and rainy evening when I left. I did not leave the cinema ebullient or needing to find someone immediatly to discuss the film. I left, ignoring the weather, considering what I had just watched and contemplating on my own life decisions. It was a film that made me want to reflect and I look forward to watching the rest of the director’s catalogue, hoping to find at least a fraction of the awareness and focus that I saw in this film.

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London Korean Film Festival 2018: The Poet and the Boy – Review

by Frankie Harlow

I will start this by saying that I am queer. It is not my defining feature and I am not the person to befriend if you are looking for someone to be your GBF but it is a part of who I am and how I view the world. I love seeing LGBT+ stories told in film and TV, as long as they avoid a list of tropes that I am slowly compiling but that is an article for another day.  I am also currently rather obsessed with Asian cinema. So when I heard that there was a film showing at the London Korean Film Festival that had a central gay story line, it was fair to say that I was mildly excited to see it.

The Poet and The Boy by Kim Yang-hee did not disappoint. It is a stunning piece of cinema that handled its subject matter with sensitivity and a lack of judgement on the actions of the protagonists.

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The story follows Hyeon Taekji, played beautifully by Yang Ik-june, a struggling poet living on Jeju island. He clearly has a great love of the natural beauty surrounding him and the shots that overlap the island scenery with his poetry are stunning. However, as he is told at the writers group that he attends, he hasn’t suffered in love and is lacking true depth to his writing. His marriage to his wife lacks passion on his part and she is slowly consumed by her desire to have a child. Much of the comedy in the beginning of the film comes from their relationship and the hurdles they encounter in the attempt to reproduce. One day to cheer him up, the wife buys him donuts from the new american style donut shop that has opened opposite them. He develops an addiction to them and spends all his time in the shop where he becomes enamoured of Seyeun, the younger man who works there. What follows is a beautiful examination of love and what we will do and sacrifice for those that we love.

The blossoming relationship between the two men is reflected in Taekji’s maturing poetry and the disintegration of his marriage. Jeon Hye-jin and Jung Ga-ram turn in amazing supporting roles as the wife and the boy, with the varying relationships between the three characters being played with great depth and honesty. It may not give you the hollywood ending that we sometimes crave in cinema as a release from the everyday but it retains an emotional honesty throughout that is refreshing in an age where you so often end up questioning why people do the things that they do.

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The performances of all three central characters are rounded and treated with affection and a lack of judgement from the director that allows you to build your own responses to them without being spoon fed them. The examination of love and how it changes you and makes you sacrifice yourself to support the other persons happiness is done with the care and sensitivity that it deserves. The use of poetry and the imagery of Jeju adds to the experience without being a distraction or crutch to the narrative.

As I said before, I went in wanting to love this movie. I left loving it and feeling more happy with the world than I had in awhile. I could not recommend this film enough and it has joined that list of films that I have that I demand other people watch, if only so that they can share my emotions.

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