5 Korean Movies to Watch Over Spring Break

Are you one of the many who are about to enter their spring break? Or are you already in it? Regardless, if you’re bored and looking for some entertainment over your break without having to leave the comfort of your own room, check out one or all five of these Korean movies. Whether you’re into romance, comedy, action or looking for all three in one, I’ve got a movie for you!

1. A Millionaire’s First Love

Starring actor Hyun Bin, known for his roles in dramas such as Secret Garden and most recently Hyde, Jekyll and Me, and actress Lee Yeon-hee of East of Eden and Gu Family Book, A Millionaire’s First Love is built around a sorrowful love story. Kang Jae-kyung, played by Hyun Bin, lost both his parents in a terrible car accident when he was younger, which left a hefty scar in his heart and mentality. Jae-kyung’s wealthy grandfather took guardianship of him after the accident and with the typical rich kid syndrome; he grew up to be arrogant and snotty. Jae-kyung was set to inherit his grandfather’s fortune, under the condition that he transferred to a new school in Gangwon Province, to focus on his studies and graduate. Choi Eun-hwan, played by Yeon-hee, is a vivacious and spunky orphan, who attends the same high school that Jae-kyung is sent to.

No matter what Jae-kyung does and where he goes, he always runs into Eun-hwan; not only is she their class president at school but she’s also the cashier at a convenience store that he frequents and she also works at their local gas station and even delivered gas to his broken down car once. Little does Jae-kyung know though, that this isn’t all coincidence but they both actually share a deep past together, a past in which he’s tried extremely hard to block out. Eun-hwan clearly remembers and knows exactly who Jae-kyung is, but he on the other hand doesn’t have a clue as to who she is or as to why she keeps sticking to him like glue. I suppose hanging around him all the time must’ve worked out, because as time passed, they grew closer and they eventually grew to love one another; only for Jae-kyung to discover that Eun-hwan’s days are limited. But what’s a Korean movie without someone being diagnosed with a terminal illness?

What’s going to happen to these two young lovers? And what exactly is their history? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!


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2. A Moment to Remember

A Moment to Remember is based on the Japanese television show, Pure Soul. It follows the unexpected love story of Su-jin, played by actress Son Ye-jin, known for her roles in The Classic and Summer Scent, and a man named Chul-soo, played by actor Jung Woo-sung, known for his roles in Athena: Goddess of War and Padam Padam…The Sound of His and Her Heartbeats. Su-jin and Chul-soo both come from two different worlds; you have Su-jin, this upbeat, bright, always perky and happy girl, who’s lived her entire life doing things her way, and who also happens to be the daughter of a CEO of a construction firm, and Chul-soo, a quiet and reserved guy, who’s an aspiring architect, that works at one of Su-jin’s father’s sites as the construction foreman.

Once she spotted him on her father’s work sight, she knew she had to have him. Due to her outgoing personality, Su-jin wasted no time in trying to court Chul-soo; and Chul-soo didn’t put up too much of a fight either, seeing how he was just as interested in her as she was in him.

Although Su-jin’s father disapproved of their relationship, that didn’t stop them from moving in with one another and eventually getting married. Their love for one another was undeniable and everything in the world seemed perfect, as if nothing could ever go wrong. That is, until Su-jin is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Su-jin is in denial; she is nervous and feels burdened that she’ll eventually forget her beloved husband one day, but with the help and unconditional love from Chul-soo, the two fight through the oncoming obstacles, together.

Did Su-jin end up forgetting Chul-soo? Did they stay together? Everything from their first meeting to the beginning of their relationship was unorthodox and completely unconventional, but if things were meant to be, if it’s true love, then they’ll always fall into their rightful place.

3. 200 Pounds Beauty

Are you tired of those typical sad love stories? If so, here’s a refreshing comedy for you! 200 Pounds Beauty is about an overweight girl, Kang Han-na, played by Kim Ah-joong, who undergoes a number of extreme plastic surgeries to become a pop sensation. Han-na doesn’t want to get the procedures done just so that she can be considered beautiful, but she wants them done so that they can help boost her self-esteem and confidence, so that she can finally live what she deems as a normal life.

In order to live up to her new look and to prevent anyone from finding out who she is, Han-na creates a new identity for herself, she is now a Korean-American from California named Jenny. In an attempt to make Han Sang-jun, played by Joo Jin-moo, fall in love with her, Jenny auditions to be a ghost vocalist for an old rival, Ammy, in order to get close to Sang-jun. To everyone’s surprise, Jenny’s voice resembled one of someone else that they used to know, Han-na, but without anyone detecting that it was in fact her, she was able to score her own record contract and now she would no longer have to live in anyone else’s shadow. With this new identity and body, not only is she a star on the rise and receiving love from the public, but she’s also finally gaining the interest and love of Sang-jun.

Ammy is certain that something fishy is going on with the disappearance of Han-na and with the new and sudden arrival of Jenny. In order for her revival in the industry, Ammy tries everything to seek Han-na out. Sang-jun had already turned his back on her, so she was desperate more than ever. Those around Jenny also begin to question the identity of this mysterious woman who appeared before them, with the eventual discovery that Jenny is Kang Han-na the entire time.

What was Sang-jun’s reaction to finding out that he’s been lied to by Han-na? And whom was he actually falling for, Han-na or Jenny?

4. Spellbound

I’m a big Son Ye-jin and Lee Min-ki fan, so when I found out they filmed a movie together, I knew it was a must watch. Spellbound is a horror romantic comedy, based around a street, turned big time, magician, Ma Jo-goo, played by Lee Min-ki, and Kang Yeo-ri, played by Son Ye-jin, who has the unfortunate ability of seeing ghosts. These ghosts continuously seek out Yeo-ri in order to receive closure, and until she helps resolve the issue for them, they’ll always hang around her. Due to this, she’s unable to have a social life and isolates herself from the outside world because she’s scared those around her will be harmed. This includes only having phone calls with her best friend in which she hasn’t seen in ten years.

Her quiet life takes a surprising turn when she encounters Jo-goo. He is completely unaware of the crazy occurrences that go on in her life, but insists on making her be a part of his big magic show. Although she’s a part of the staff and is constantly around other people, she wants nothing to do with them once her shift is over. After declining to go out for many company dinners, Jo-goo finally drags her out for a drinking session and discovers her (drunken) and unique personality. The more he see’s her, the more he’s intrigued by her; he wants to know everything about her but Yeo-ri is terrified of letting anyone get close to her, since it might put them in danger. As their feelings blossom for one another, Jo-goo discovers the difficult and lonely world that Yeo-ri’s been living in, and wants to be there to protect her, although the thought of being followed by these ghosts terrifies him out of his wits.

Do you think Jo-goo will stick around long enough to help Yeo-ri chase these bad guys out of her life, or will he be chased out before he gets the chance to even come close enough?


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5. Secretly, Greatly

Over the last couple of years, there’s been a number of films based around North Korean spies, but Secretly, Greatly is probably the most light hearted out of all of them. The film is an action packed comedy and drama, starring Kim Soo-hyun who plays Lieutenant Won Ryu-hwan, which is his North Korean alias but his new identity in South Korea is Bang Dong-gu. He’s dubbed as the top agent in North Korea with a full set of skills; he’s fluent in 5 different languages and has a remarkable ability of reading people. He’s disguised as a village idiot while in South Korea. Park Ki-woong plays Rhee Hae-rang/Kim Min-su, son of a high ranking North Korean official, who’s in the south as a singer wannabe and Lee Hyun-woo plays the role of Rhee Hae-jin, the youngest North Korean secret agent in history, who is disguised as a south Korean high school student.

The three are sent to South Korea in hopes of unifying Korea. They’re set to acculturate the small town, quiet lifestyle in South Korea, while awaiting their orders from the North. One of them waited months, while another has been waiting years to receive any orders. Due to the extensive wait period, these spies gradually start to get used to their life as ordinary neighbors in their small towns. Dong-gu grew very fond of the grandmother that he works for; he even had a crush on a neighboring girl. Dong-gu and the other agents are aware that there are others like them in South Korea, but there hasn’t been a reason for them to meet or bump heads.

One day, Dong-gu, Min-su and Hae-jin are assigned the secret and great mission that they’ve been eagerly awaiting. This is it, this is what they’ve been waiting for, it was right in front of them; until a sudden change in events, the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, put a halt on the long awaited mission. The North is promised financial aid from the South, under the condition that they’re given the names, location and rank of the North Korean spies that are active in the South; the North must turn in their spies in order to reap the benefits. To prevent their spies from falling into enemy hands, the North orders that Dong-gu, Min-su and Hae-jin abort their mission and take their own lives before the government gets to them. Coming from the North, it’s instilled in these spies to forever be loyal to their one and only leader and country, therefore, they must do whatever it takes to protect their beloved country.

Will these agents heed their new orders or will they turn their backs on those who have turned their backs on them?

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m usually drawn to the love orientated and sappy it took us so long to finally be together but unfortunately one of us is going to die Korean movies (and dramas). Although I’m fully aware that I’ll get emotional and probably cry in all the scenes, I still watch them anyway! I’m not crazy with gruesome scenes so I tend to stay away from the intense action movies. Most of the time, the ones I watch have very predictable synopses and I’m usually able to uncover the ending a fourth of the way into the film, and if I like it, I’ll continue watching it and if it becomes too much then I’ll stop. Is this the same for you?

Have you already seen these movies? If not, what are you waiting for?! Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Live Action ‘Mulan’ Dream Cast, K-Pop Style

Disney’s Mulan is going to be remade as a live action film, which means that actors of Asian descent will get their chance to shine.
Who better to partake in the film than K-pop stars? While that’s highly unlikely, there are a few Korean stars that we think would be realistically good choices and should definitely be considered for the starring roles in Mulan.

Hua Mulan

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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of ‘Tazza: The Hidden Card’

Sex and money are the what the gamblers are betting with in Tazza: The Hidden Card, sometimes known as Tazza 2 starring BIGBANG’s T.O.P (under his legal name, Choi Seung Hyun,) Shin Se Kyung, Kawk Do Won, Honey Lee. The movie is a sequel to 2006’s Tazza: The High Rollers.

In anticipation of the movie’s premiere on DramaFever on March 28, some of KultScene’s staff watched the film.

Basic spoilers to follow. However, I will aim not to ruin the film’s subtleties that make it worth while.

The Good

Korea’s hwatu card game may be unknown to people outside of Asia, but Tazza:The Hidden Card is a gambling film to rival the 1998 Matt Damon and Edward Norton film Rounders. Both films utilize cinematic noir elements, such as dark lighting and the crime and sex elements, and are essentially sports films- the protagonist wins, suffers, then comes out on top after a high stakes card game. Read more

‘The Technicians’ Is Korea’s Answer To Hollywood Heist Films

[Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers]

After riding high on the success of The Heirs, Kim Woo Bin is back with the action-packed heist movie The Technicians… Or more like came back in December of last year when it was originally released in Korea, but only made its way to DramaFever (they have the exclusive rights to it) on March 7th, giving us all Hallyu enthusiasts even more reasons to stay in on a weekend.

The Technicians, also referred to as The Con Artists on some websites, is a suspense-lite film about the revenge seeking hustler Ji Hyeok (Woo Bin) and his partners-in-crime Koo In (Ko Chang Seok) and the superb hacker Jong Bae (Lee Hyun Woo, the second male lead on To the Beautiful You) collaborating on a major heist with President Jo (Kim Young Chul), an even greater crook, and his gang.

kim woo bin the technicians korean film movie

via Lotte Entertainment


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This film comes out of director Kim Hong Seon’s mind, who also brought us the drama Liar Game and the film The Traffickers, for which he won the Rookie Director Award at the Cheong-ryong Movie Awards in 2012.

With this in mind, we know that the man does suspense well. But as mentioned before, suspense wasn’t really what drove The Technicians’s plot. Sure, watching Ji Hyeok try to open the safe at the diamond store while the cops lurked outside or as the cop car circled in on them while emptying the safe at Incheon Customs was tense, but we have all seen these scenes done time and time again before.

And that’s how the whole movie turned out; I felt as if I had watched it before, I knew what was coming. It was basically Ocean’s Eleven adorned with combat scenes here and there we’ve seen in other action thrillers. More than it’s own unique movie, The Technicians felt like the Korean version remake of a well-known film. It had it’s own flavor, since Hollywood and Korean films are different, yet nevertheless underwhelming.

I did, however, enjoy the backstory. Or more like the idea of the backstory, since the writers glossed over it to make the action portions the main attractions. I get how blockbusters work, I really do, but how am I supposed to believe that Ji Hyeok’s affection for his mentor is what drives his vengeful agenda if we get one scene out of the story and the random fact that he’s an orphan? And what about the rest of the gang, were they only greddy hustlers out for the money or did they also have a story? We never learn anything about anyone with the exception of Ji Hyeok, making everyone else accessories to Ji Hyeok’s story. Most of the characters in The Technicians are one dimensional; vague and without depth — the same as the plot.


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However, one thing that I did appreciate about the film and another reason it made it similar to Ocean’s Eleven was the whole heist-within-a-heist factor. Even if viewers have seen the technique in other movies, the elaborateness of the actual heist and how it’s all explained at the end, realizing you were fooled together with the bad guys is appreciated. I mean, am I alone when I say my heart stopped for a second when Ji Hyeok jumps into the ocean? But that may have been due to my bias towards Kim Woo Bin, which leads me to…

kim woo bin the technicians shower scene gif movie review

via bobolun @ Tumblr

… A much appreciated little gem. Thank you Mr. Kim Hong Seon for thinking of us fangirls.

At the end of the day, The Technicians is an entertaining movie you would watch on tv as you’re flipping through the channels, or in this case while waiting for your drama’s next episode to be released, but not the type to go to a theatre and spend $12 on. Kim Woo Bin is the utter star of the film: he’s the protagonist, the story is about and revolves around his character, who is the mastermind of it all, and he actually delivered the least over-the-top performance. So if you’re a Kim Woo Bin fan, I recommend The Technicians, if not, it’s better to have it as backup.

the technicians movie film korean review kim woo bin gif

via irrational-obsessions @ Tumblr

DramaFever is currently streaming The Technicians for premium members. Check out the trailer here:

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The Incoherence of Bong Joon Ho

Film school was crucial to the formation of the Korean New Wave and the type of film that came out of it. It developed a new mindset for later Korean filmmakers, one which was more progressive and innovative than earlier filmmakers. So, in the midst of examining this era of cinema in Korea, I think it might be interesting to take a short look at some of the work that came out of university. To do this, I’m going to look at director Bong Joon Ho’s (The Host, Snowpiercer) graduate film from the Korean Academy of Film Arts, Incoherence.

Incoherence is actually a series of short films about three respectable men who make bad choices, and the consequences of those choices. Made in 1994 when Bong was only 25 years old, Incoherence shows many traits that Bong would go on to use in his future career. Black humour, clashing tones, and slower moments all come up in each episode and are fundamental to Bong’s cinema. Luckily the whole project is on Youtube so let’s get going with episode 1, Cockroach.

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Cockroach follows a university professor who after leaving a copy of Penthouse in plain sight on his desk, sends a young female student of his to fetch some other papers on his desk. When he realises what he has done he rushes dramatically to stop her.

There is undoubtedly a simple style being used here, it’s evident that it is an early film of Bong’s. That does not mean it is not as interesting however, as the simplicity of this film is what makes it work. The slow, meditative opening lulls us into an easy feeling and we expect a film that reflects this. This is immediately contrasted with the odd image of this respectable looking man reading a porn magazine. The tone is again heightened when he has to run to his office. His sprint is shot in slow motion to make it seem more dramatic than it really is. This showcases the type of fun Bong likes to have with audiences’ expectations when it comes to the apparent tone of a scene.

Episode two is called Up The Alleys and is about a jogger who steals milk from a porch daily, but one day gives some to a newspaper boy who gets caught by the owner of the house. The newspaper boy then chases the jogger through the maze like alleys of the small village in a comically slow fashion as he still has to deliver his papers.

Up The Alleys has a similar comic feeling to Cockroach but this time we see the consequences of the protagonists actions laid out before us in an orderly way. The paperboy first gets scolded by the old lady so he gets angry and wants to get revenge on the jogger. This causes the jogger himself to have a hard time running away from a spritely young boy. The old lady too loses out because she cancels her newspaper subscription due to a misunderstanding. Lastly the jogger is also shown to also feel the consequences because of his actions in the epilogue of the film.

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The third episode, The Night Of Pain, shows a drunken suit-wearing man and his desperate search for a toilet in the middle of the night. When he finally finds a way to relieve himself despite the resistance of a security guard, the man decides to take revenge on the guard for treating him like a commoner. He shouts at the guard “Do you know who I am?”

The humour works best in this episode and it’s down to the great acting from the lead. He stumbles, mumbles, and shouts his way through a drunken stupor with glee, not holding back in favour of subtlety. The photography is also more varied as Bong uses a shot of pipes as the opener and brings the same shot back once the symbolic nature of it is known to us. Like in the other two episodes Bong lingers on some shots longer than most short films would, allowing us more time with the characters. It helps us better understand their nights and days of pain.

Like I said before, these three episodes come together in an epilogue which cannot be embedded so you can watch it here.

In the epilogue we see a television show about the moral crisis in Korean society. The guests discussing this are the three protagonists from the previous episodes. The professor is a social psychology teacher, the jogger is editor-in-chief of the Daily Chosun and the drunk man is a public prosecutor. Each of them talk about their disdain for the current state of Korean society and its loose morals.

They each hilariously comment negatively about the very wrong doings they committed themselves. The professor says there is too much sex and violence in today’s media and declares happily that the Korean version of Penthouse was banned. The public prosecutor talks of how minor violations like jaywalking and public urination are a problem. The editor just repeats that the problem starts with education and the home life in between taking drinks of milk. The camera then cuts back to reveal the paperboy who was set up by the editor, going about his daily life. It then shows the other two characters involved in episodes 1 and 3 doing the same as the televisions play in the background. These final shots showing that these important, respectable men have really no idea what life is like for the average person. They are themselves the moral crisis of Korea.

Incoherence is a great introduction to the career of Bong Joon Ho. Not only is it an interesting work in itself, it also maps out many details that show up in his later films, in which these details are executed even better than they are here. It also provides a good look at a student film, which is where many of the big players in the new wave cut their filmmaking teeth. The vast improvement from this to his later work is apparent and gives us an insight into how a director grows.

I’m going to take a closer look into the career of Bong in the coming weeks as he certainly warrants it, and he is my favourite of the lot. But first let me know what you think of Incoherence and if there is anything you’d like to know with regards to the Korean New Wave.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Park Chan Wook: A Career in Revenge

When Park Chan Wook was a young boy, his local priest told him he would make a good clergyman. Park thought it was because of his manner, or maybe the priest thought he didn’t like girls. Whatever the reason the priest had, this idea represents an interesting lens in which to look at the career of Park Chan Wook. Korean films have become known worldwide for being brutally violent and disturbing, and this is mostly down to the cinema of Park. Not the type of films you’d expect from a possible clergyman, but don’t think religion plays no part here; his films are infused with forbidden desires, retribution and family.

A student of philosophy at Sogang University in Seoul, Park got his start in the movie business by running a film society at his university and writing film criticism. He decided to pursue filmmaking only after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo; the influence of that director’s career is evident on Park’s. And after getting some spots on films as an assistant director, Park had to continue being a critic to pay the bills. This helped him build a library of film knowledge that would help his later career. His first two films as director were so tiny that they made little splash commercially or critically. It wasn’t until Joint Security Area (J.S.A), which I covered last week, where he was first recognized for his work.

J.S.A was the catalyst for starting the new wave and turning it into what we know it as today. It opened up new opportunities for all Korean filmmakers in terms of getting more interesting independent films made. It also opened up more contentious issues within Korean society in mainstream cinema. When we look at J.S.A in the context of Park’s filmography, it sticks out however. Its narrative is relatively straightforward by his standards and doesn’t grapple with surreality. This should not downplay its status as a great film and one that is incredibly important to Korean cinema. Its success also allowed Park to create the types of films he really wanted to.

This is when in 2002 Park started the group of films he was most known for, the Vengeance trilogy. The first installment Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is about a deaf mute man (Shin Ha Kyun) who decides to kidnap the daughter of the boss who laid him off (Song Kang Ho) in order to get ransom money to help his sick sister. It has an interesting narrative structure which changes focus as the characters change themselves. We start with Shin Ha Kyun’s story and it gradually moves onto Song Kang Ho’s. With Mr. Vengeance and the Vengeance trilogy as a whole, Park Chan Wook shows a dark, unflinching side of humanity. Each film and each character has a different type of revenge they want to commit, and each of them is dealt with in the same way by the end of their story: they all lose their humanity.

How Park portrays this in his characters is interesting too. Our sympathy or lack thereof seems to be in constant flux with the characters. Revenge is quite an evocative emotion so we feel for those wronged and hope they achieve their goal. Yet, as the film moves forward, their actions become more tainted as they try to cover up the mess they made. Park feels for these characters despite the mistakes they make. He sees them as human and wants to see their dark side laid out. He is searching for human nature through the medium of revenge. Why revenge though?

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Historically, revenge stories become popular or current in times of unrest. The context of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 is important to the prominence of revenge in Park’s films. Revenge stories are seen as ways of getting back at those who caused the damage. When the people lose trust in the government, police etc they fantasize about revenge and in this time in Korea, the people were not happy. This raises the question of morality though and shows why our relationships with the characters are always changing. For Park morality is the most important subject. He says:

Revenge is an instrument for raising questions about morality. The idea is that the hero and the audience are involved in a moral dilemma in which every choice is bad. – Haaretz

The brutality Park is known for also shows up in Mr. Vengeance. Each tragedy that befalls a character is extremely violent and seems to get more vicious each time. There are torture scenes, stabbings, drownings and Tarantino-esque blood spraying. The problem here is whether or not this violence is a visual representation of morality or indulgent showing off. Of all Park’s films Mr. Vengeance walks the closest line between these two. Each act of violence is beautifully shot in a way that suggests great thought was put into them and that it’s more than just cool violence. This technique can also make the violence seem like it was included for its own sake. Park explains that he shoots theses scenes in a beautiful way because no one would want to watch such repulsive acts if shown in an ugly way. When shown in a beautiful way we have to deal with the irony of the situation which makes us think about our own attitudes to violence in media.

Violence plays a huge part in Park’s cinema and is what garnered him most of his attention along with his next film from 2003, Oldboy. Not since Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo was a revenge story so well crafted. Awarded the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and championed by Quentin Tarantino, Oldboy became the first Korean film to gain any success in the United States. It follows Oh Dae Soo (Choi Min Sik) on his path to revenge after being inexplicably kidnapped by an unknown party for no reason. He is released fifteen years later and immediately begins the search for his captor.

Oh’s search takes many twists along the way but remains clear and relevant throughout. This is what makes a film with a large twist, Oldboy has one of the most famous of them all, really work. If the story moves in consistent ways and yet can still shock us, even on rewatches, then you know the twist works. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but the twist is foreshadowed very slightly in a few scenes that you won’t notice until you watch it for a second time. This attention to detail elevates Oldboy above other films with twists that seem to take place just for the sake of it.

Over the course of these changes in the story, the humanity of the main character Oh Dae Soo is laid bare before us. He is man full of rage, hell bent on finding and destroying his captors. However once out he realises that his ordeal might not be over. What follows is a series of events chronicling the physical and mental downfall of Oh. By the end of the film we see a completely broken man, devoid of humanity and willing to go to any lengths to achieve his goal.

Each part of this film plays a part in making a statement about the destruction of humanity. The extreme violence, which apart from the twist is what the film is best known for, is not exploitative or overly stylized. It shows a man punishing and being punished within a context of revenge. Oh eats a live octopus because he wants to feel its life force after being captive so long. He slowly tortures one of his captors by pulling out his teeth because he wants him to suffer like he made Oh suffer. The violence even comments on the audience’s humanity in the scene where a line is seen from Oh’s hammer to the head of one of his captors right before Oh hits him but the hit isn’t shown. Park makes the audience anticipate seeing this act of violence but pulls out right at the last moment making us realise we just wanted to see a man’s head get smashed in by a hammer.

I could write a whole essay just on Oldboy (I might just do that sometime) from the surrealistic aspects to the immaculate production design to the Freudian relationships but for now we’re going to move on. After Oldboy the Vengeance trilogy came to an end with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance in 2005. Lady Vengeance is about Lee Geum Ja who was wrongly imprisoned for kidnapping and murdering a child. The story starts as she is released and starts her path of revenge on the real killer. The film takes its time telling her back story as we learn she is a kind hearted woman who got caught up with someone bad and suffered greatly for it. Once she got out of prison though she would no longer be so kind hearted as she comes after the man who condemned her not just for herself but for all women.

Korean New Wave cinema is known for its wildly changing tones. Films can go from a dramatic to comedic scene in one edit. Sometimes even within the same scene the tone is changed seemingly out of nowhere which can be masterful or jarring depending on the filmmaking. It creates a feeling quite different to what western audiences are used to so can be hard to take seriously. When these tones are accepted however, they can show us that some scenes or ideas walk a tight line between tragedy and comedy even if generically a heartbreaking scene. Of Park’s films Lady Vengeance has the best use of this and maybe of all Korean cinema.

[Spoiler Alert: I can’t explain this without spoiling a part of the end so if you haven’t already, stop reading and go watch Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (it’s on Netflix)]

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Towards the end of the film Geum Ja has captured the real kidnapper and is holding him captive in an abandoned school. She reveals that he has kidnapped and murdered many other children since that time. So she gathers the parents of all the children he killed and offers them a part in her revenge. What follows is one of the most affecting and devastating scenes in cinema history as Geum Ja shows the parents videos that the man took of him torturing their children. We only hear the sound from the videos but we see the parents crying, screaming and fainting.

The scene that immediately follows this one is the parents having a discussion on how best they should make him suffer. While it sounds grim it is quite a comedic and surreal scenario and Park does not shy away from portraying it thusly. The differing opinions of the parents play like a regular enough argument and there are lots of funny moments that come out of it. Even when discussing what weapons they use, one of the parents asks another why they aren’t picking a weapon and he proceeds to take out an axe which he brought with him from home. This is quite a silly moment in a dark situation and is played perfectly more in favour of the comedy than the drama.

[Spoiler ends]

Lady Vengeance marks the end of Park Chan Wook’s Vengeance trilogy but many of the techniques and styles he used stayed with him. He immediately moved on to his next project with 2006’s I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK, a romantic comedy set in a mental institute. Despite the setting Cyborg is a much lighter affair than Park’s previous films as he conceived it as something his young daughter could watch at the time. It does not suffer because of this though as it is an interesting insight into mental health while being quirky and fun. It also does not however make a joke of mental health but uses comedy to take it more seriously like the subversive casting of K-Pop superstar Rain as one of the patients. With Cyborg, Park successfully moved away from the brutal dark stories that he became known for without losing any of the gravitas they contained.

For his next film though, Park returned to the darkness. Thirst, winner of the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, is about a priest (Song Kang Ho) who after subjecting himself to a disease in order to help find a cure, becomes a vampire. With his new found vampirism he has lots of new abilities and feelings. Most of all his desire to be with a woman is heightened to the point where he can’t stop himself, despite the lashings he gives himself. Thirst is about these emotions, desire and passion, and the hold they have on us as humans. The priest’s thirst for desire grows and eventually causes him to push away those closest to him.

This film, like the Vengeance trilogy has big narrative and tonal changes throughout. Thirst however, suffers from a lack of clarity where they shone brightest when clashing. Towards the end especially, the motive of the characters becomes unclear, leaving us confused and bored.

It still has some great scenes which sizzle with the energy of any Park and some of his most brutal scenes ever. A great highlight of it though is a much more simple scene. In it the main female character’s family is playing mahjong with the priest and conversing. Park’s way of shooting this type of scene is another thing that sets him apart from his contemporaries. As they talk the camera moves between them capturing reactions and bringing in new characters seamlessly. It weaves between them planting a shot which seems like a standard of shot of someone talking in the background but becomes a reaction shot or a reverse shot of someone else talking without moving. When a character has a large reaction the camera makes a large movement to accompany it. This type of cinematography breathes life into a typically dull scene and represents a greater attention to detail which is always evident in Park’s films.

This technique is also used in Park’s next film, Stoker, which was his first foray into English language cinema and working with American studios. I’m going to save discussion of Stoker for another time as it will be part of a wider piece about Park Chan Wook, Bong Joon Ho and Kim Ji Woon’s work in America. Before that we must have a look at the careers of the other two in order to better understand their work in an American context.

So Park Chan Wook, the boy who would be a priest, made some of the most brutally violent and controversial films in modern times. Not exactly what you might expect. Park’s films can then be seen as not only a look into the dark side of humanity but into the dark side of himself too. An examination of the dark side of a polite, happy Catholic upbringing and he brings along an audience with him to shock them, make them laugh and cry, and help them consider their own dark sides.

What do you of Park Chan Wook’s films? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Introduction to the Korean New Wave of Cinema

Since it’s the new year, those of us at KultScene will be branching out into other areas of contemporary Korean culture other than, but not forgetting about, K-pop. To start, this I am beginning a new series on modern Korean cinema. Despite being the second wave of Korean film, we will style it the New Wave of modern Korean cinema. Over the coming weeks, I am going to look at different areas of Korean cinema, which will include spotlights on a few prominent directors, exploring the themes of Korean cinema, and Korean cinema’s experiences in Hollywood. We will start off nice and slow, with a short introduction as to what I would term the Korean New Wave. So, I will outline how the wave started and its main players.

This new wave is generally considered to have started in 1997 and ended in 2005 when the films became more mainstream but the quality and influence has remained to this day.

What happened in 1997 to spark such a wave of creativity? Well, lots of things. Of course, it wasn’t just 1997, but South Korean film had been experiencing a lot of changes in the 80s as well, it just wasn’t as momentous. For instance, a revision was made in the Motion Pictures Act in 1987, which allowed foreign film companies to work in Korea. The benefits of these new possible deals were not felt straight away due to Korea’s conservative nature. Ever since the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee introduced strict censorship policies, and the Korean film industry had to abide by them. So, an anti-American movement essentially prevented Korean cinema from expanding its horizons to include foreign films.

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As Korea transition from dictatorships to true democracy, Korean filmmakers began to fight back. 1990 to 1996 is generally considered the first new wave of Korean cinema. The directors of this age made it possible for the directors we are going to look at, to make what they wanted without restriction. Park Kwang-su, Jang Sun-woo, Chung Ji-young, Lee Myung-se, and many others looked at historical events and ideas that were taboo under the dictatorship and reinterpreted these issues in a modern context. This allowed Korean audiences the chance to rethink what they knew about their country.

To the starry island

As the film industry grew in the 1990’s, so did democracy. In Korea this meant that more liberal values were introduced into Korean society. The good times did not last too long, as the first wave came to an end at the same time as the Asian financial crisis in 1997. These changes were a big influence on the next wave, which properly began in 1999.

The Korean government and chaebols (conglomerates) were greatly affected by the Asian financial crisis and the Korean people suffered for it too. In these seemingly constant difficult times for Korea, a stirring of the creative people in the country was inevitable. Times of confusion and strive tend to create melting pots of disillusioned young people who are waiting to strike back in interesting and biting ways. Through film, the people of Korea created something truly original and specific.

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With the increased liberalization of Korea, trips overseas for students were also now more common. Students could now move more freely to study abroad, and the average person had had more opportunities to travel. Young students were particularly drawn to America with its diverse culture. Filmmakers went to study in America and learned new ways of not only approaching cinema but life as well. For an example Lee Soo Man travelled to America and when he came back he created SM Entertainment. These budding filmmakers saw violence and sex in America and returned to strict family values in Korea. This meeting of cultures between the East and the West would go on to become a big part of the new wave’s cinema. Wild tonal shifts are now known as a distinct feature of Korean cinema because of it. It can also explain the moral pushing work of directors like Kim Ki Duk.

Shiri

Our wave begins, strangely enough, with a blockbuster from 1999 called Shiri written and directed by Kang Je Gyu. Shiri was the first of its kind in Korea and, despite the turbulent financial times, it got a huge budget. It was no mere blockbuster though, but was the first major release to address the North/South divide of Korea in a way outside of traditional propaganda. It attempted to show North Koreans in a more realistic way rather than just negative which was very progressive at the time. Not only did it challenge contemporary Korean issues, the blockbuster effects led to Shiri becoming the most lucrative film in Korean history, beating even Titanic. This economic and critical success paved the way for more daring and diverse Korean cinema, and more blockbuster-style films.

Although his film was a major part of the wave, another Kang Je Gyu went on to make only two more films between then and now and both were commercially but not culturally successful. Those who benefited from his success however, benefitted greatly. Hot off the heels of Kang’s film about North Korea, Park Chan Wook released his third feature Joint Security Area (J.S.A) about the same subject in 2000. His take was much less conventional and focused more on the inherent strangeness of soldiers standing on a physical line that borders two countries every minute of every day. It was a strong debut, and marked Park as a director to watch. And he certainly was, as he became one of the leading voices of the Korean new wave of cinema. His film Oldboy was the first Korean film to really crossover to the West and gain acclaim, even winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film two films also introduced actors Lee Byung Hun and Song Kang Ho as leading men.

JSA

Alongside Park, two directors in particular led the wave, Kim Ji Woon and Bong Joon Ho. They both released films before Park, Kim in 1998 and Bong in earlier 2000, but didn’t find their hit until after the critical landscape changed due to J.S.A. Between the three of them, they released a staggering amount of incredible films and their influence goes further than just Korea. They have all also recently released their first English language films based in America. Our look at the new wave will feature primarily, but won’t be confined to, these three directors and will continue in the coming weeks with a more in depth look at each of their careers.

Do you like the Korean New Wave? Is there anything you would like to see covered in this series? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

South Korea’s Portrayal of North Korea Isn’t A Comedy So Stop Laughing at ‘The Interview’

James Franco and Seth Rogen think that North Korea is a joke, based on the trailers for The Interview. But South Korea doesn’t really think the same way.

North Korea may be a crazy country that allegedly hacked Sony because of a single movie, but South Korea thinks of North Korea less as the deranged cousin that it doesn’t want to see as much as a long-lost sibling. Sometimes  North and South Korea are portrayed as lovers, sometimes as mortal enemies; it just depends on what movie or show you’re watching.

Hot on the heels of one of the biggest entertainment industry hacks in history, the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview is all people seem to be able to talk about. And the fact that it is a comedy movie about assassinating the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, emphasizes how Hollywood thinks that North Korea is a big joke.

“The Interview” via Tumblr

But to South Korea, North Korea is anything but a joke and this can be seen in the variety of ways that North Korea is portrayed in a variety of South Korean films and television shows.

[Spoilers ahead.]

Shiri (1998)

The first film Korean blockbuster, Shiri (also known as Swiri) had it all; explosives, spies, romance, North Korean-South Korean reunification… Yes, Shiri was the first Korean film to really address the fact that North Korea, while depicted as a military state with countless deadly spies, is South Korea’s twin state. The two countries have been divided since the 1940’s and the politicians in the film were meeting to figure out a potential path to reuniting the two halves of the whole. Shiri humanized North Korea in a way that had never been seen in South Korean film.

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The movie ends with many deaths and a tragic love story between North and South Korean operatives. But the main point of the movie is that they are simply Korean, it doesn’t matter what side of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone that separates the Koreas) someone lives on. So too, does the shiri fish swims in both North Korean and South Korean waters, but doesn’t know where one country’s waters begin and the others ends.

King 2 Hearts (2012)

A drama in a what-if world where South Korea retained its monarchy after the Korean War, but the countries are still divided. So many different impossible things were going on during this television show that it seems unlikely that anything real was truly represented. But the tensions between North and South Korea, where sometimes the two countries are on the brink of war and other times working together to help the people of both nations, were accurately portrayed.

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The idea of North Korea and South Korea being lovers who are separated by outside factors has become a sort of anthropological narrative in South Korea. King 2 Hearts is just one example of a situation where the two lovers, Lee Seung Gi and Ha Ji Won, are stand in for the tempestuous relationship of the country. Unlike Shiri where the lovers were unable to be together due to the differences, King 2 Hearts represents a more hopeful view for the future of the two Koreas.

Secretly, Greatly (2013)

This film takes a different take on the story and instead of showing the relationship between the two countries and the politicians who trying to bring about reunification like the previous examples, Secretly, Greatly shows North Korean spies falling in love with South Korea. The sleeper agents spend several years integrating into South Korean life in order to save their families from torture in North Korea, and after going to South Korea they see what it’s like to be average parts of society. Secretly, Greatly depicts North Korea as a ruthless country that is willing to kill its own elite operatives rather than risk losing those very same spies, and demands everything from its people without giving much back.

The film shows the idea that many South Koreans have of North Korea: it is an evil place that doesn’t care about its people. Secretly, Greatly is itself a comedy, but a dark comedy that is tragic. The leaders of the country are not people to mock, but instead people to be afraid of. It’s a very different take on North Korea than Shiri and King 2 Hearts, but that is because North Korea takes on so many roles as the rival nation to South Korea.

There are countless other Korean portrayals of North Korea: Iris, Doctor Stranger, Joint Security Area, and Taegukgi are just some of the more popular portrayals of North Korea by South Koreans. Many of these, the ones listed and the ones discussed in this article in depth are dramatic, some are comedic, and many are both. But none have evoked the wrath of North Korea by minimizing and mocking the threat that is very real to South Korea.

North Korea is portrayed many ways: lover, potential ally, enemy, etc. But South Korean filmmakers do not mock North Korea as openly as Hollywood’s The Interview, because such a complicated matter does not warrant complete disregard.

 

What do you think about South Korea’s portrayal of its relationship with North Korea in film and dramaS? Share your comments in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.