Hauntings, hoardings, and hospitals
Story by: Gil Coombe / Photos courtesy of HanCinema
Almost four months into the year, and Korea has already found its first homegrown box office hit with Confidential Assignment (the USD 55 million or so it has made at the time of writing would be enough to have placed the North Korean spy action-comedy fourth on the 2016 charts), Kim Min-hee won Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival for On the Beach at Night Alone (previewed here last issue), and news has come out that Netflix is planning a Korean theatrical release in late June for Okja, Bong Joon-ho’s much anticipated follow-up to Snowpiercer. Hopefully riding on the wave of all these good tidings are the following three April releases: one horror-mystery, one sturdy big-budget star vehicle, and one melancholic ghost story.
House of the Disappeared
Director: Lim Dae-Woong
Starring: Kim Yunjin, Taec-yeon, Jo Jae-yun
Distributor: Little Big Pictures
Release: April 6, 2017
With spring in the air, and summer soon to arrive, we can expect to see the number of Korean horror films appearing in the local multiplexes to increase, given the Korean tradition of programming movies that will give you the chills as the country swelters. So consider House of the Disappeared something of an advanced guard in this respect.
Kim Yunjin, taking a break from Mistresses to return to Korean theaters with her first big-screen film since the smash hit Ode to my Father, plays Mi-hee, a wife and mother who has been incarcerated for 25 years for the murder of her husband (Jo Jae-yun) and who is still haunted by the disappearance of her son. Upon her release she finds herself back in the house where it all happened and, with the help of a priest who believes she is innocent (played by 2PM’s rapper Taec-yeon, for whom this is only his second movie after the ensemble Marriage Blue), she confronts the malevolent spirits that may have been responsible for it all.
Directed by Lee Dae-woong (To Sir With Love) and written by Jang Jae-hyun (who directed The Priests, which made good coin back in 2015), the plot and the trailer share a remarkable resemblance to the Venezuelan smash hit The House at the End of Time, suggesting that it is a remake of sorts, though this does not seem to have been mentioned in the press surrounding the film. Regardless of its origins, hopefully this is better than Kim Yunjin’s last foray into Korean thriller territory The Neighbors, which was one of the worst Korean movies I have seen. She certainly has the talent to pull off the aging make-up look, so here’s hoping she has the support of a decent script and some well-lensed scares, and that the first major scarefest of 2017 does the job expected of it.
Director: Park In-Je
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Kwak Do-won, Shim Eun-kyung, Moon So-ri
Released: April 26, 2017
Recent big-budget Korean political/legal movies with big star turns are in a bit of a slump at the moment; Master was a crashing bore, mired in tired conversations about bank accounts and pyramid schemes and forgetting to include a plot that made a lick of sense, while Asura: City of Madness squandered a rare non-somnolent performance by Jung Woo-sung, and a wonderful lesson in scenery-chewing by Hwang Jung-min and Kwak Do-won, with its descent into ridiculously over-the-top violence. Hopefully The Mayor is able to turn it around and provide something worth savoring.
Certainly, it helps that it is headlined by (in this writer’s opinion) Korea’s best actor, Choi Min-sik, who plays Byun Jong-goo, two-term mayor of Seoul angling for his third. Choi’s masterpiece is still Oldboy, but he was his commanding self in his last outing, the melancholic and underrated The Tiger, and so he is sure to anchor the picture on a scene-by-scene basis. The aforementioned Kwak Do-won also makes an appearance here, looking to maintain the momentum that has seen him land a number of high profile roles in recent years (including his deft balancing act between clownishness and anguish in The Wailing) as the mayor’s advisor. Also, look out for the always welcome Moon So-ri (Oasis, A Good Lawyer’s Wife), who has been somewhat wasted in recent years in a series of bit parts, as a political reporter covering the election.
The trailer doesn’t give much away; the movie appears to be mainly concerned with the campaign trail itself, with the mayor finding both adulation and anger as he travels around Seoul, but it would be surprising, giving the current political climate, if it doesn’t take a hard look at the backroom deals that fuel Korean politics. Director Park In-je’s only other film is the conspiracy-minded journalism thriller Moby Dick from back in 2011, so it will be interesting to see how he handles his return to the director’s chair and the charisma of Korea’s one true movie star.
Director: Lee Yoon-ki
Starring: Kim Nam-gil, Chun Woo-hee, Lim Hwa-young, Jung Soon-won
Distributor: Opus Pictures, CGV Arthouse
Released: April 5, 2017
Lee Yoon-ki, who started his directorial career in a rush with four films in his first five years (his debut, This Charming Girl remains a high-water mark for Korean independent film-making) has slowed a little since then, with One Day only his third film in eight years, following last year’s indifferently received A Man and a Woman. Specializing in low-key slices of life (often with a touch of romance), Lee’s latest seems to be a minor departure, marrying his typical interest in strong female characters a little adrift in their lives with, well, ghosts.
The always excellent Chun Woo-hee (The Wailing, Han Gong-Ju) plays Mi-so, the apparition in question who pops up unexpectedly at her own hospital bedside to see herself in a vegetative state and scares the hell out of Gang-soo (Kim Nam-gil, hopefully turning the shouting down a bit after Pandora), an insurance examiner assigned to her case. Gang-soo is a victim of sorts too, desperately trying to bounce back from the death of his wife. Time will tell whether being the only person to be able to see Mi-so, and being tasked with helping her achieve her last wish, will pull him out of his despair.
It sounds a little predictable, and the trailer does nothing to dispel this suspicion, with its mix of golden-hour lensing, comic bumbling with invisible ghosts, and totally inevitable tears. But Lee is the reason to see this; if he can recreate the genuine emotion of his debut, then this could be a pleasant piece of counter-programming to the big-budget action and historical dramas coming down the pipeline later this year.
Film fans – remember to check the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) website regularly for updates on English subtitled screenings occurring in Seoul.
Also, don’t forget to support the independent cinemas around Seoul:
KU Cinematrap: http://www.kucinetrap.kr
Seoul Art Cinema: http://www.cinematheque.seoul.kr
CGV Arthouse: http://www.cgv.co.kr/arthouse
Emu Artspace: http://emuartspace.com/