'Today Korean filmmakers are aware of the fact that the reality they live in can be more attractive and tragic than films' (Han Jun-hee)

Grand Dames and Young Hopes

At the very beginning of Coin Locker Girl, the feature film debut by Han Jun-hee, rthe neck of his heroine is stroked by a knife whose blade is still wet from the blood of the previous murder.  During the entire film, the story balances on the edge of a knife, evoking the spirit of the mean mother from Bong Joon-ho’s master piece film (Mother), who is here incarnated in the character of the mean queen of Chinatown in Incheon. She is the main lawn shark in town and called by everyone Mother. Mother is portrayed by the queen of Korean film and its great dame Kim Hye-soo. Her protégé, who was left as a baby in a locker on the subway and who became part of her bizarre gangster family, is portrayed by the Korean rising star Kim Go-eun. In this dark, bloody and stylized piece Han tells the story of survival and it becomes the full-blooded noir that it should be and that shows the ugly side of the (Korean) society. The film had its international premiere during the Cannes off program “Critics’ Week” and the author said in an interview with Charles Tesson, the program’s art director: “Today Korean filmmakers are aware of the fact that the reality they live in can be more attractive and tragic than films.”

The film was produced by the company CJ Entertainment, which has become sort of a friendly ghost of the Korean Weeks in Tuškanac. This year’s Week is dominated by the great dames of Korean film and its new hopes among actors. Dame Jeon Do-yeon, famous as Lee Chang-dong’s muse, won the Golden Palm in Cannes in 2007 for her role in his excellent film Secret Sunshine. In the melancholy and utterly sensual film The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-uk, she portrays an old bar maid who operates in a sleazy club 'Maca', located in the same place (Incheon) where Han’s Mama is working. Thus, we are on the same familiar terrain of noir, in the company of corrupted cops, dirty corporate businessmen and fatal dames, in which gestures are more important than action. The relationship of the policeman and his dame, whom he uses as bait in his investigation of a man charged with murder, evokes a similar tense chemistry to that between Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve in Dirty Money (Un Flic, 1972) by Jean-Pierre Melville. Even though this film can be regarded as a variation of the author’s previous film Kilimanjaro, in which he also worked with Jeon, it is a pure synthesis of one genre that the author treats with utter passion and commitment (the scene in which his heroine pawns her earrings to pay off her debts).

In his film One Way Trip Choi Jeong-yeol brings together four young actors on the rise, who together resemble a boy band (among them Ryu Jun-yeol, star of the popular teen TV series 'Reply 1988' and the film 'Socialphobia', which was shown in last year’s program of New Korean Film, stands out). They can only exist in a group and their trip to the coast takes a wrong turn when they notice a man molesting a woman on the seaside path. At that moment the rhetoric of a classis teen film turns into something much more serious and darker as they strive to prove their innocence (a mother cares more about what other people will say at church). This is the author’s debut film and it is part of CJ’s platform 'Butterfly Project' that promotes new authors.

Unlike the debutant Choi, veteran Kwak Jae-young has become quite the hit-maker. After his rom-com super-success My Sassy Girl, he continued his career in China (Meet Miss Anxiety). This year he returned to Korea to direct an unusual film for him – a thriller in which he evokes the director Nolan and plays with the motif of time in an energetic narrative puzzle. It is a story about the entangled destinies of a detective and a music teacher who suffered from severe injuries in two different years - (1982 and 2014), after which they begin to enter each other’s lives through dreams. Collective Invention is even more bizarre as it evokes Abrahamson’s Frank, as well as Magritte (the title of the film alludes to his famous surrealist canvas of a woman with a torso of a fish on a beach). While in the former the musician Michael Fassbender hides behind a huge mask made of laminated paper, in this one we follow a man with the head of a fish. It is a mad-cap mix of farce, allegory and a detective story in which the author spares nobody – not the media and Korean government, nor the pharmaceutical corporations, religion or capitalism itself. (Dragan Rubeša)