Four Korean films to be screened at Cannes festival

May 12, 2015
Directed by Hong Won-chan starring Ko Ah-sung, "Office"is his feature debut. (Courtesy of Little Big Pictures)

Directed by Hong Won-chan starring Ko Ah-sung, “Office”is his feature debut.
(Courtesy of Little Big Pictures)

By Jason Bechervaise

Few would deny that the Cannes Film Festival is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals attracting some of the most talented filmmakers the world has to offer.

Situated on the French Riviera, it’s also a significant event for showcasing the latest in Korean cinema. Its history speaks for itself. Im Kwon-taek became the first Korean filmmaker to win Best Director for “Chihwaseon” in 2002.

Park Chan-wook rose to international stardom after he bagged the Grand Prix for “Oldboy” in 2004, which became a pivotal moment for Korean cinema on the world stage.

Kim Jee-woon further established his reputation as one of Korea’s leading filmmakers after “A Bittersweet life” was screened out of competition in 2005. Bong Joon-ho also made his mark there when the “The Host” premiered in Directors’ Fortnight in 2006 ahead of its local release where it broke box office records. “Mother” was also widely praised in Cannes in 2009 when it screened in Un Certain Regard. ]

Jeon Do-yeon also made history in 2007 becoming the first Korean to bring home the Best Actress award for her role in “Secret Sunshine” directed by Lee Chang-dong. Lee returned in 2010 with “Poetry” where he won Best Screenplay.

Other filmmakers to have benefited from Cannes exposure include Hong Sang-soo and Kim Ki-duk (both have won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar for their films “Hahaha” and “Arirang,” respectively) along with Na Hong-jin, Im Sang-soo and more.

In short, it’s become and continues to be a hugely significant festival in aiding Korean filmmakers find an audience overseas. This is also attributed to the fact that each year critics, journalists, festival programmers, buyers, exhibitors and more attend the festival making it an important event, not just for filmmakers, but also for local distributors and sales companies.

Looking at this year, which kicks off on May 13, there are no Korean films in competition, which may disappoint those in the local industry. The last time there was a Korean feature in the competition was in 2012 when Hong Sang-soo’s “In Another Country” and Im Sang-soo’s “The Taste of Money” were invited.

However, in the other strands of the Cannes official program, there are four Korean films screening at the festival this year compared to last year’s three (“The Target,” “A Girl At My Door” and “A Hard Day”), which is no small achievement. Indeed, in 2013 no Korean features were invited to Cannes though Moon Byoung-gon’s “Safe” won the short film Palme d’Or.

In Un Certain Regard where July Jung’s “A Girl at My Door” premiered last year, Shin Su-won’s “Madonna” and Oh Seung-uk’s “The Shameless” will have their world premieres.

Much like “A Girl At My Door,” “Madonna” is directed by a female Korean filmmaker and focuses on two female leads. It follows a care assistant (played by Seo Young-hee) who’s been asked to find a comatose patient’s next-of-kin in order to obtain consent for an organ donation to keep the chairman of a hospital alive at the request of his son. In so doing, she begins to look into her troubled past.

Shin, a former middle-school teacher, has been making a tangible impression as one of Korea’s leading female directors. She returns to Cannes after winning the Canal+ Award for her short film “Circle Line” in 2012. Her second feature “Pluto” explores the competitive nature of the Korean education system and was well-received at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in 2012.

“The Shameless” marks the return for director Oh Seung-uk who hasn’t made a film since his debut feature “Kilimanjaro” in 2000 that few have seen despite being held in high regard. He was also a prominent screenwriter in the ‘90s; credits include “Christmas in August” and he also collaborated with New Wave filmmaker Park Kwang-su and the renowned auteur Lee Chang-dong.

His new film is being labeled as a “hardboiled romance” that stars Jeon Do-yeon playing a bar hostess in love with a man who is the main suspect in a murder investigation. A detective played by Kim Nam-gil (“The Pirates”) then seeks to get closer to her as he tries to catch her boyfriend. The film hits local screens on April 27.

Screening in Critics’ Week is “Coin Locker Girl” otherwise known as “Chinatown” (Korean title) referring to the area in Incheon where the film is based.

This noir thriller is directed by Han Jun-hee ― his first film ― and stars two female leads: Kim Hye-soo (“The Thieves) and Kim Go-eun (“A Muse”). The former plays a gang leader known to those around her as “Mother.” The latter is one of her minions who’s been raised by the “Mother” after being left in a coin locker. But as she begins to see the outside world her loyalties begin to shift.

So far the film has been moderately successful having attracted over 1.2 million local viewers despite its R-rating.

Finally “Office” got a surprise invitation into the Midnight Screenings section. Directed by Hong Won-chan, it’s his first film but he has worked with Na Hong-jin on “The Chaser” and “The Yellow Sea” as a scriptwriter. The film stars Go Ah-sung (“Snowpiercer”) as an office intern who becomes a person of interest in a murder investigation after one of her colleagues suddenly kills his family and disappears. Park Sung-woong (‘The Shameless”), Bae Seong-woo (“Bedevilled”) also co-star in the film.

With four potentially compelling Korean films at this year’s festival, the 68th edition that runs from May 13- 24 promises to be another opportunity for Korean films and their respective directors to shine on the global stage.