Sunday, 24 April 2011


Director Lee Hae-yeong’s “Festival - 2010” is a cauldron of sexual taboos stirred lightly without enough heat. Similar to his previous film “Like a Virgin”, Lee brings us zany and colourful themes of sexual “deviance” wrapped in a palatable and well-casted comedy.

The film follows four relationships each containing some form of sexual perversion or taboo. A town festival is upon them that is aimed at promoting “safety and happiness” which, according to the town’s police chef, is achieved by discouraging and halting irregular behaviour. However a “coming out” of sexual misfits whose urges, secrets, and perversions overrun the festivals idealised theme with comical consequences.

Police officer Jang-bae (Sin Ha-gyoon) is Korean machismo incarnate. His bloated ego centres on his well-endowed manhood and the confidence he expels as a result is very over-the-top. His phallic-centric and fragile reality gets challenged by both his girlfriend’s (Eom Ji-won as Ji-soo) sexual dissatisfaction and his partner’s more impressive member. Jang-bae’s journey to humility is paired with some comical flashes into his clearly insecure subconscious. He anxiously imagines his liberal girlfriend riding a massive member and a neighing horse flashes on screen when he glimpses his partner’s impressive package in the restroom.

Shim Hye-jin plays Soon-sim, a Hanbok shop owner/closet freak who’s S&M fantasies come alive when she decides to embrace her dark sexual desires. Donning a Hanbok (Korean traditional dress) for the majority of the film, she embodies the conservative and traditional values of Korean women. Her curiosity is spark when so discovers a massive whip in the back of a handyman’s (Gi-bong played by Seong Dong-il) store across from her own. She proceeds to set up engagements with him and the two are soon playing out there fantasies in his shady backroom, and they are indeed bizarre and hilarious.

The other two stories involve Soom-sim’s high school daughter Ja-hye (Baek Jin-hee) and her teacher Kwang-rok (Oh Dal-soo). Ja-hye is infatuated with the fish cake vendor Sang-doo (Ryoo Seung-beom), who dismisses her overt sexual advances in favour of his extremely life-like mannequin “girlfriend”, whom he keeps well-dressed and hidden in his house. Kwang-rok, in an attempt to revitalise his married life, finds himself wearing ladies lingerie and thoroughly enjoying it.

The characters’ paths frequently cross and there is always a chuckle to be had as parties are either awkwardly exposed as sexual deviants or wearing social masks to conceal their perversions. One scene involves Soom-sim and Kwang-rok in a parent-teacher meeting. As they sit and discuss Ja-hye’s strange and erratic behaviour at school we see Soom-sim’s dominatrix boots and Kwang-rok’s protruding lingerie under the table.

“Festival” is piece of Queer Cinema in the sense that it is a story of “coming out”, self-expression as well as personal acceptance. Sexual identity and openingly diverting from social norms is the name of the game here. However one might find that the satisfaction you feel from the film's resolution is unbalanced and even artificially presented, but there is still a lot to be said for its progressive themes and overall delivery. There are instances in the film that needed to be tackled or pushed further and others where more subtlety was needed (especially with the film's final imagery).  Lee Hae-yeong might have struggled with this balancing act but it is a highly entertaining film nonetheless.  

-Christopher J. Wheeler

Please feel free to comment on this review. Discussions are welcomed!


Lim Woo-seong’s debut film “Vegetarian” had to compete at the Korean box office with the likes of “Secret Reunion” and the recorded breaking “Avatar” early last year. This low-budget psychological drama only managed a mere 3,145 admissions but scored an invitation to be screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

“Vegetarian” is based on a short story of the same name by Han-kang. A young married woman (Chae Min-seo as Yeong-hye) is plagued by dreams that result in a sudden obsession with becoming a vegetarian. Her husband soon divorces her and her well-being is left to her sister (Kim Yeo-jin as Ji-hye) and stepbrother (Kim Hyun-sung playing the struggling artist Min-ho).

Yeong-hye’s veganism is just the starting point as she drifts further from reality, ultimately believing that she is becoming a tree and requires only sunlight and water to exist. Her sister’s concern is central to the story and she soon discovers that sending Min-ho to convince Yeong-hye to come live with them was a devastating mistake.

Ji-hye’s husband is a struggling video artist who invites Yeong-hye to be the subject of his latest work. In which he paints her nude body with flowers and allows her to embrace her personal sense of transformation. His choice to do so has a profound effect on him and soon he cannot hold back on his own physical attraction to her. Ironically, in one of the scenes Min-ho brings in another man (Chae min-seo’s actual brother-in-law) to join Yeong-hye in his perverse and liberating video project. The man refuses and leaves when Min-ho requests that they have sex.

The film shines in a number of areas while falling short in others. I decided to watch this film purely out of interest and, while I don’t regret it, I found it to have some major narrative flaws. There seemed to be almost an entire lack of a climax and as such I left felling unsatisfied and wanting. The film’s story lacks closure and it is roughly spliced without offering reasons or appropriate cause.

That being said what I could appreciate is the film’s efforts in creating a structural and thematic divide between a subjective and an objective understanding of this woman’s experiences. Ji-hye deeply cares for sister’s well-being but her inability to accept her sister’s decision and actions ultimately compounds Yeong-hye’s distress. Conversely, Min-ho engages Yeong-hye on a much more personal and accepting level. He acknowledges her feelings of transition and paints her with the world she most feels part of and, in doing so, demonstrates a phenomenological understanding of her as the subject of her own experiences as well as of his art.

“Vegetarian” is an interesting film, albeit a flawed one. Lim Woo-seong’s has a great understanding of mood and composition but his grasp on narrative in this film was shaky and deterred from the overall impact of this film. I am excited to see what he can produce in his future films.
-Christopher J. Wheeler

Please feel free to comment on this review. Discussions are welcomed!


Saturday, 16 April 2011

Korean Weekend Box Office (2011.04.08~2011.04.10)

Korean Weekend Box Office (2011.04.08~2011.04.10)

Kim Jin-yeong’s “Clash of the Families” is still strongly at number one with a bulky 452,196 admissions for the week. This Korean comedy about a family feud has a monopoly right now on ticket sales, with its closest rival 356,092 tickets behind.

Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” floats into second this week. A troubled young girl gets institutionalised by her abusive stepfather and has to dive into a fantasy world as a means to overcome/escape her tormenting reality. The Indian smash hit “My Name is Khan” jumps four places to settle at number three. “Late Blossom” continues it success at four with 1,386,410 total admissions.

“Last Night” is a new entry into this week’s list; this drama stars Keira Knightley, Guillaume Canet, Eva Mendes, and Sam Worthington. ”Last Night” is the story of a married couple that spend a night apart and are tempted by past lovers and current infatuations. Guillem Morales’ twisted thriller “Julia’s Eyes” falls three spots with just 49,713 tickets keeping it alive. The critically acclaimed “The King Speech” slips five places to secure its position at number seven.

“Paul” is an outrageous comedy starring the hilarious British actor Simon Pegg. He and his friend take a road trip to the notorious Area 51 in the U.S. They encounter an atypical grey alien by the name of Paul and decide to help him on his journey. Heo In-moo’s “My Black Mini Dress” drops to number nine with just 16,214 admissions and in last place is the Hollywood blockbuster “World Invasion” with a hard and fast 1,300,722 total admissions so far.

Korean Weekend Box Office (2011.04.01~2011.04.03)

Korean Weekend Box Office (2011.04.01~2011.04.03)

“Clash of the Families” is at number one this week; this is Kim Jin-yeong’s third major feature as a director. The film stars Song Sae-byeok (“The Servant”) and Lee Si-yeong (from the popular 2008 drama “Boys Over Flowers”) in a modern Korean take on the classic story of “Romeo and Juliet”. The film has dominated ticket sales with an impressive 686,547 admissions thus far.

“The King’s Speech” remains near the top with 98,344 tickets sold, but with “Clash of the Families” having almost caught up to the big Oscar winner in terms of total ticket sales, it is unlikely the film will see the top spot again. The Spanish thriller “Julia’s Eyes” comes in third, attracting 89,382 viewers to the theatres. It’s the story of a woman trying to track down her twin sister’s killer; the problem is she is slowly losing her sight. “Late Blossom” has to be the most successfully stubborn film of the year at number four. Released halfway through February, “Late Blossom” has still managed to sell 84,075 tickets this week.

With 59,698 admissions and a total of 275,055, “World Invasion” takes number 5. This big budget blockbuster is still getting attention in Korea but its best days are probably behind it. Heo In-moo’s “My Black Mini Dress” is the third Korean film in this week’s list with 49,607 admissions. Karan Johar’s “My Name is Khan” brings a bit of Bollywood to Korean cinemas at number seven. The film made $6,356,688 when it opened in India and the ripples of that huge success are being felt in this week’s chart.

“Little Fockers” is the third film in the “Meet the Parents” comedy trilogy. It boasts a number of big Hollywood actors and actresses including Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Jessica Alba, and Barbra Steisand. Released late last year in the States, “Vanishing on 7th Street” finally makes it way onto the Korean circuit. This post-apocalyptic horror film stars Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo. Hanging on at number ten is “Black Swan” with 19,752 admissions, which brings the films total number of tickets sold in Korea to 1,597,841.

Passerby #3

Shin Su-won’s “Passerby #3” claimed the Best Asian-Middle Eastern Film Award at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival in 2010. This fantastical/musical drama is packed with laughs in a touching story of a dream-chasing mother and her son.

Park Hyun-young (as Kim Ji-wan) is our mother in crisis. Having quite her teaching job to pursue a career in filmmaking, she now finds herself battling the harsh and unforgiving reality of breaking into the industry. Her family is feeling the strain of her efforts and her son (the subtly comical Baek So-myeong as Si-yeong) has become ambivalent towards her chances of success. In one of the early scenes, Si-yeong and Ji-wan are sitting on the couch as we are whisked away into a hilarious musical trans lead by Si-yeong on the guitar.

This is one of the first indicators of the film's eclectic tone. "Passerby #3" continues to dabble in the fantasy realm without fully submerging itself. There is a reoccurring visual motif, for example, of ants that continue to haunt Ji-wan as she struggles to make good on her dreams. Early in the film Si-yeong asks her mother how to handle the ant problem they have at their apartment, with scotch tape emerging as the best solution. Because Ji-wan has neglected her role as mother/house keeper, the ants she hallucinates are the manifestation of her sense of failure in these roles.

The fantasy elements embedded in “Passerby #3” are not alone. In fact, “Passerby #3” is splattered with a combination of generic flavours that might create a little dissonance in terms of the expectations you might have going into the film. I found that I had to continually examine or realign my thoughts on a scene to place it in the bigger picture. That being said, all the elements in contention here were never over-blown, and they all mesh well within Shin Su-won’s first major film.

-Christopher J. Wheeler

Please feel free to comment on this review. Discussions are welcomed!