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March 2 - May 9, 2005

Visions from the South: Korean Cinema 1960-2005

Drawing examples from horror films that allegorize the disintegration of masculinity and patriarchy in the 1960s, emotional exploitations of human relationships in the 1980s, and brutally painful portraits of degraded intellectuals in the 1990s, this film series presents a compelling cross-section of an increasingly vital national cinema that has recently spurred retrospectives in major film festivals and venues across the world including Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Smithsonian (Washington D.C.), and Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York).

Program notes adapted from the Korean Film Festival DC, the Post-Colonial Classics of Korean Cinema Film Festival at UC Irvine and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

This series was curated by Gina Kim and is co-presented with the Film and Video Center at University of California, Irvine. Special thanks to Korea Foundation, Korean Consulate General in Boston, Asiana Airlines, Korean Cultural Services in Los Angeles, Korean Cultural Services in New York, Korea Institute, Korean Film Council, Korean Film Archive and Kyung Hyun Kim.


March 2 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Aimless Bullet (Obalt’an)

Directed by Yu Hyun-mok
South Korea, 1960, b/w, 110 min.
With Mu-ryong Choi, Jin Kyu Kin, Jeong-suk Moon
Korean with English subtitles

Director Yu Hyun-mok deliberately avoided the lure of melodrama despite its popularity during the 1950s and 1960s in favor of realist themes and literary subjects. Set in the years following the Korean War, the film dramatizes post-war anxiety and pessimism by focusing on a North Korean family relocated to the South that cannot make ends meet. One of the sons tries to succeed by pushing the boundaries of the law while his sister prostitutes herself for American GIs. Recalling the visual style of both German Expressionism and Italian Neorealism, the film finds great strength in its honest representation of life in post-colonial Seoul.

Director Im Kwon-taek in Person
March 4 (Friday) 7 pm
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Chunhyang

Directed by Im Kwon-taek
South Korea, 2002, color, 117 min.
With With Min-sik Choi, Sung-kee Ahn, Ho-jeong Yu
Korean with English subtitles

One of the most ravishing films in recent years, Im Kwon-taek's great triumph is both soul-satisfying and deliriously fun. Set in the 18th century, this romantic epic traces the passionate, outlawed love between Chunhyang, the beautiful daughter of a former courtesan, and Mongryong, the haughty (and equally beautiful) son of the provincial governor. When Mongryong is sent away to finish his studies, he unwittingly leaves his lover vulnerable to the sadistic designs of the district's new governor, a man for whom every woman is prey. Thrillingly narrated by a pansori singer, with great guttural whoops and an emotional register to rival that of Maria Callas, Chunhyang finds a master director working at the top of his form in a film that exalts a Korean theatrical tradition even as it vividly recalls the more modest legacy of the Hollywood musical.

Chihwaseon

Directed by Im Kwon-taek
South Korea, 2000, color, 120 min.
With With Hyo-jeong Lee, Seung-woo Cho, Sung-nyu Kim
Korean with English subtitles

Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Director award, Chihwaseon is a vivid portrait of the turbulent life and times of Korea’s greatest artist. As remarkably embodied by Choi Min-sik, the temperamental, passionate brush master Jang Seung-up paints with a martial artist’s fervor while indulging a rock star’s single-minded lust for life. Amidst the tumult and destruction of nineteenth century Korea, “Ohwon,” as he comes to be called, fights to escape both the rigid artistic boundaries and the social fetters that would deny his low-born, unschooled genius. Im Kwon-taek elegantly portrays both the near apocalyptic upheaval of turn-of-the-century Korea and the intimate interior battle between Ohwon's creative and libidinous desires.

March 7 (Monday) 7 pm

Sopyonje

Directed by Im Kwon-taek
South Korea, 1993, color, 112 min.
With Myung-gon Kim, Jung-hae Oh, Kyu-chul Kim
Korean with English subtitles

With a modest budget, this film generated the biggest box office receipts in the history of Korean cinema, reaffirming Im Kwon-taek’s commercial and artistic reputation. Yu-bong leads a family troupe of traveling musicians who pursue the traditional music of pansori despite its waning popularity in contemporary society. When his son also decides to leave the family tradition behind in favor of Western music, Yu is pushed to commit a sin that is both unforgivable and unforgettable. Sopyonje explores the director’s trademark themes such as the humanist discourse, the search for national identity and the tensions between modernity and tradition.

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March 14 (Monday) 7 pm

Chilsu and Mansu

Directed by Park Kwang-su
South Korea, 1988, color, 109 min.
With Sung-kee Ahn, Chong-ok Bae, Joong-Hoon Park
Korean with English subtitles

Chilsu is a gifted painter from a modest background who dreams about moving to the United States to join up with his sister. In the meantime, he works as an assistant to Mansu, whose business is painting ads for billboards. Mansu would also like to go abroad, but his father's political past prevents him from getting a visa. As tensions mount in their lives, the two men climb to the top of the large building on which they've been working and shout out their feelings about life and society drawing the attention of a crowd of onlookers and local authorities. An extraordinarily impressive debut for Park Kwang-su, Chilsu and Mansu caught the spirit of frustration and rebelliousness felt by the young after the beginning of the re-democratization of South Korea. His two leads have an appealing everydayness to them, which makes the escalating confrontation with the police seem so ultimately and tragically unnecessary.

March 21 (Monday) 6:30 pm
Director in Person

Repatriation

Directed by Kim Dong-won
North Korea/South Korea, 2003, color, 149 min.
Korean with English subtitles

In the spring of 1992 documentary filmmaker Dong-won Kim met Cho Chang-son and Kim Seak-hyoung, two North Koreans arrested by South Korean authorities years before. Convicted of spying for the North, they were incarcerated and spent thirty years as political prisoners. These men, and many others like them, underwent conversion schemes in prison that involved torture: those who renounced their communist beliefs were released from prison early. The others, known as "the unconverted," served their full terms. None could return home to the North, however, until the turn of this century, when tensions between North and South eased significantly. Director Dong-won Kim followed these men for ten years, documenting how they survived — both physically and psychologically — the dehumanizing time spent in prison, and their quest, once released, to finally go home.

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April 4 (Monday) 7 pm

Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (O! Suj ng)

Directed by Hong Sang-soo
South Korea, 2000, b/w, 126 min.
With Myeong-gu Han, Jeong Ho-Bong, Lee Hwang-Ui
Korean with English subtitles

Director Hong Sang-soo's trademark dry wit and powerful visual style are on full display in this sly head game of a movie. Divided into two parts, it follows an awkward relationship among a filmmaker, his friend, and a beautiful woman. The first half presents the story, and the second half retells it with significant details altered in mysterious ways. Recalling the elliptical, modernist works of Alain Resnais, the film, which draws its title from a Marcel Duchamp piece titled “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,” provides a bold yet humorous reflection on memory and perspective.

April 11 (Monday) 7 pm

Oasis

Directed by Lee Chang-dong
South Korea, 2002, color, 133 min.
With Kyung-gu Sol, So-ri Moon, Nae-sang Ahn
Korean with English subtitles

After serving a prison term for a crime that was committed by his brother, Jong-Du seeks out the family of the man he was convicted of killing in a hit-and-run accident. Even though he is shunned by the victim’s family, Jong Du becomes intrigued by the man’s daughter, a young woman afflicted with cerebral palsy. After a number of secret encounters and outings, the couple fall in love and are confronted by the harsh reality of a discriminating society. Still, their love continues to grow until a surprise visit by her brother. Director Lee Chang-dong offers a poignant yet realistic portrait of love against the odds.

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April 18 (Monday) 6:30 pm
Director in Person

Untold Scandal

Directed by E J-Yong
South Korea, 2003, color, 124 min.
With Mi-suk Lee, Do-yeon Jeon, Yong-jun Bae
Korean with English subtitles

Based on the novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," Untold Scandal is set in aristocratic 18th-century Korea at the end of the Chosun Dynasty. The irresistible temptress Lady Cho (Lee Mi-Suk) asks her cad of a younger cousin, Jo-won (Bae Yong-Jun), to deflower the innocent young Soh-ok (Lee So-Yeon), who is to become her husband's concubine. But his attentions soon shift to the graceful and aloof Lady Sook (Jeon Do-Yeaon) who lives according to her convictions as a Catholic. Jo-won becomes obsessed with seducing this chaste woman who has remained celibate for nine years since her husband's death. However, it proves to be more difficult than he expected when Chosun's notorious playboy sets out to conquer the most virtuous woman in the land.

April 25 (Monday) 7 pm

Camel(s)

Directed by Park Ki-yong
South Korea, 2002, b/w, 91 min.
With Dae-yeon Lee, Myeong-shin Park
Korean with English subtitles

With its perfectly composed takes and nuanced acting performances, Camel(s) offers a moving account of a weekend affair in a coastal town between an undertaker and a pharmacist. Director Park Ki-yong's style lies somewhere between documentary and voyeuristic, as his calmly observant camera slowly reveals the details of the couple's lives through subtle gestures and bits of conversation. The result is simply hypnotic.

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May 2 (Monday) 7 pm

A Tale of Two Sisters

Directed by Kim Ji-woon
South Korea, 2003, color, 115 min.
With Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim
Korean with English subtitles

As countless Asian psychological horror films find their way to the American multiplexes as Hollywood remakes, this screening marks a opportunity to see a true original. When two little girls are sent to live with their wicked stepmother in the country, strange events occur. Director Kim Ji-woon spends most of his film focused on the quiet, stately rhythms of family life before making an audacious, surrealist turn. Jung-ah Yum gives a manic performance as the stepmother on par with Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.

May 9 (Monday) 7 pm

JSA (aka Joint Security Area)

Directed by Park Chan-wook
South Korea, 2000, color, 110 min.
With Yeong-ae Lee, Byung-hun Lee, Kang-ho Song
Korean and English with English subtitles

JSA is a film of bizarre proportions: the biggest budget film to come out of Korea and the most commercially successful, yet an intimate, character-driven drama. The film telescopes the psychic damage wrought by the entire Cold War into the lives of five small people. A mystery wrapped in a conundrum, the movie starts with a present-day incident on the border that leaves a group of both North and South Korean soldiers either wounded or dead and opens up a door into the past. Alternately tragic and hilarious, this larger-than-life film finds a strong human element to examine the conflicted nature of modern Korean identity.

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