Indie films explore potent socio-political issues in October.
As the Korean film industry has become increasingly more Hollywood-esque in nature, production values have soared while the often damning social critiques that captured international interest and sparked the cinematic component of the Korean wave have waned. Luckily independent filmmakers have picked up the baton in exploring sensitive socio-political and historical controversies, the products of which invariably feature on the film festival circuit but rarely receive a national release. October 2016 is different, however, as three strikingly different and quite controversial indie films are due to hit multiplexes – elderly prostitution is examined in The Bacchus Lady, the ideological divide between North and South Korea is debated in The Net, and accusations of false spy charges and illegal imprisonment are the concern of documentary Spy Nation. This October, visit cinemas to join the debate.
The Bacchus Lady
Release date: October 6
Directed by: E J Yong
Starring: Yoon Yeo-jeong, Jeon Moo-seong, Yoon Kye-sang
Distributed by: CGV Arthouse
Now in her 60s, So-yeong seriously struggles to make ends meet. Desperate, she resorts to becoming a “bacchus lady” – a woman in her twilight years who approaches men with an energy drink before offering to sell sex. So-yeong earns a popular reputation, until one day a client asks her to assist him with a difficult request.
When the BBC reported on elderly prostitution in Seoul back in June 2014, the story quickly went viral, focusing international attention on the economic hardship faced by the older generation. Director E J Yong has boldly taken on the subject and explores the difficulties plaguing Korean senior citizens, with their efforts to cope in the face of adversity forming the more controversial elements of the film.
The Bacchus Lady premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year to critical praise, and will also be screening at the Busan International Film Festival with English subtitles.
Did you know?: Actress Yoon Yeo-jeong is one of the most prolific performers in the history of K-cinema, with a career spanning 40 years. Debuting in cinemas in 1971 with Woman of Fire, she has often sought to play empowered characters that go against traditionally-held notions of female roles of the time, typically shocking audiences with her actions and outspoken demeanor.
Release date: October 6
Directed by: Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Ryu Seung-beom, Lee Won-geun, Kim Yeong-min
Distributed by: TBA
When a North Korean fisherman accidentally damages his boat, he is left with little choice but to drift into South Korean waters. Upon capture by a patrol, he is interrogated using shocking methods, and comparing his situation to his experiences in the North, comes to understand that the image of a nation can be far-removed from reality.
Director Kim Ki-duk has fully earned his reputation for exploring the darker aspects of Korean society and unabashed masculinity, and has even delved into North and South Korean comparisons before as the writer/producer of Poongsan (2011). This time, however, his approach appears to be quite different as he explores issues related to interrogation, and features commercial actor Ryoo Seung-beom in the lead role. Kim’s films always court controversy and certainly give audiences plenty to debate.
Did you know?: Director Kim Ki-duk was due to start the biggest film of his career entitled Who is God? in China later this year, but his application for a working visa was bizarrely rejected. It’s still unknown what will happen with the project, although it may go ahead with a different director at the helm.
Release date: October 13
Directed by: Choi Seung-ho
Starring: Choi Seung-ho
Distributed by: TBA
Journalist-turned-filmmaker Choi Seung-ho examines the strange case of Yu Woo-seong, a man on trial for being a spy due a “confession” made by his sister. Although recently laid off as a reporter due to other controversial issues, Choi picks up Yu’s case and in doing so uncovers a web of manipulation and false evidence that the mainstream media have ignored.
Director Choi joins the ever-growing list of journalists – many of whom were laid off in highly controversial circumstances – who become directors and continue their work in documentary form. Spy Nation is an incredibly brave documentary that challenges the upper echelons of government on espionage cases literally dating back decades, as well as bemoaning the lack of awareness in contemporary Korean culture. It’s a highly provocative debut, in particular the final credits in which the names of those affected are listed.
Did you know?: Spy Nation premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival earlier this year, with tickets for the event extremely hard to come by as they sold out so quickly. At the premiere, director Choi Seung-ho fielded an array of questions from the audience, revealing shocking statistics not included in the film.
Film fans – remember to check the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) website regularly for updates on English subtitled screenings of Korean films occurring in Seoul.
Story by: Simon McEnteggart
Photos by: Hancinema