A THIRST FOR KOREAN FILM

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By Aaron Rourke

 

Having recently immersed myself at the sixth Korean Film Festival in Australia (or KOFFIA, whose one week, 20 film season concluded on September 10), this annual event understandably brought up feelings of cinematic bliss, but also a certain sense of frustration. That niggling sensation had nothing to do with the selection of dramas, comedies, and thrillers on display, but with the simple fact that once the festival is over, it suddenly becomes very hard to recommend – or even talk about – the memorable titles, as many of them are unlikely to appear on local DVD store shelves.

Asian cinema, especially drama and comedy, still seems to have a hard time cracking the Australian market. Although distributors such as Madman Entertainment, Rialto, Pinnacle, and Vendetta do offer viewers a select taste from this region, there is still so much quality product not seeing the light of day here. As each film festival passes by, where world-class movies garner a single screening, one then has to begin the nervous search, hoping that the gems and legitimate surprises you’ve seen will receive an English-friendly DVD release somewhere around the globe. I, along with a large number of film-buffs, continually wonder how much better our finances would be if our increasingly long list of must-see movies actually came out on home soil.

How many movie-goers knew that the new film by Choi Dong-hoon (The Thieves/Tazza: The High Rollers / The Big Swindle/ Woo-chi), the immensely enjoyable period actioner Assassination, opened in select Melbourne cinemas on August 27? Smart, genuinely engaging commercial blockbusters are in short supply these days, so it’s a pity that a much wider audience weren’t aware of this stylish, exciting, and funny feature, crafted by a director who understands the fine balance between true individual vision and mainstream success. Thankfully on this occasion, Madman Entertainment will be releasing Assassination on DVD and Blu-Ray at the end of the year.

A clear-cut example of the “Why hasn’t this been released?” debate is A Hard Day, by first-time director Kim Seong-hun. An ingenious, edge-of-the-seat thriller – that also has a perfectly-timed sense of humour – this South Korean effort, which played at Cannes in May 2014 and was greeted with much acclaim, proved a standout at last year’s Melbourne Film Festival. The session I attended was sold-out, and the audience loved every minute of it, so when I was leaving the Hoyts theatre there was no doubt in my mind that A Hard Day would arrive here on DVD. Nearly fifteen months later, fans are still waiting. The demand for this hit film was so strong that KOFFIA screened it again this year.

KOFFIA 2015 had a consistently strong line-up, with plenty to recommend: How To Steal A Dog (a complete charmer); the violent, very stylish The Divine Move; Gangnam Blues (one of the year’s best, from the director of A Dirty Carnival, which is available on DVD); the outstanding, heartbreaking drama Han Gong-ju; the off-beat romantic comedy My Ordinary Love Story; the thoughtful and unusual animated omnibus Clearer Than You Think; The Face Reader, a first-rate period drama from Han Jae-rim, who gave us the equally impressive The Rules Of Dating and The Show Must Go On; A Matter Of Interpretation, another original take on the romantic comedy/drama; the spaghetti western-inspired Kundo: Age Of The Rampant; the perfectly cast My Dictator, helmed by the director of the wonderful Castaway On The Moon; the more traditional rom-com Love Forecast (the two leads are terrific); the eye-poppingly mounted The Admiral: Roaring Currents (though unfortunately it was the truncated version released by Madman on DVD); Cart, a highly relevant drama centring on the ever-changing workplace; and The Target, a brutal but superior remake of the French film Point Blank.

The closing night feature, Madonna, was a stunner and left the large crowd emotionally bruised and exhausted. Directed by Shin Su-won, whose previous film was the well-received classroom thriller Pluto, this dark, confronting drama is simply on another level altogether. Along with Han Gong-ju and A Girl At My Door, Madonna is one of the best films to come our way in the last ten years. Dealing with a number of social issues, Su-won primarily sets her focus on the treatment of women in South Korea, and though the star may be Seo Yeong-hee (from the intense Bedevilled, available on DVD), the film belongs to newcomer Kwon So-hyun, who is absolutely astonishing as the tormented title character.

A sad, frequently crushing experience, Madonna is an important film that needs to be seen. So I am pleading to local distributers – please, pick up this challenging and substantial work of art. Something as great as this should not be ignored.

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