Film festival looks at the birth year of Korean cinema: 1996

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Film festival looks at the birth year of Korean cinema: 1996

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Koreans have been making films for over half a century, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the world noticed. And notice it did: Suddenly, programmers for major international film festivals around the world were talking about this new thing, “Korean cinema.”
Domestic film critics say the “new wave” of Korean cinema started that year, as more directors began to seek a new and unusual aesthetic for their films, pushing subjects and styles beyond the bounds of popular taste.
The year is therefore convenient focal point for the film festival “Korean Cinema 1996: Ten Years of Memory,” which runs at Seoul Art Cinema through March 26.
The festival’s organizers certainly had a rich array of daring, breakthrough material to choose from. The screenings include the debut films of three directors, each of whom took radical approaches to filmmaking: “Three Friends,” by Lim Sun-rye, explores Korean masculinity through the lives of three young soulless men who have a hard time adjusting to the social system. “The Day a Pig Fell into the Well,” by Hong Sang-su, was a heavy approach to arthouse filmmaking; the director later made “Woman is the Future of Man” and “Turning Gate.”
“The Gingko Bed” by Kang Je-gyu, was a box-office smash, foreshadowing his later big-budget films, such as “Taegukki.”
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But the year was not only for new faces on the cinematic scene; veteran Korean directors also made playful departures from the usual styles.
Lee Myeong-se’s “Their Last Love Affair” used artful cinematography to look into an intense romance between a couple in an extra-marital relationship. “Love Story,” by Bae Chang-ho, played with the boundary of reality and fiction, with Bae and his wife as the two leading actors. “Jungle Story” was an insightful film by Kim Hong-jun about underground rock musicians; “Festival,” by Im Kwon-taek, used new angles to depict traditional funerals in Korea, digging into the “Korean-ness” of its subject.
And if that’s not enough to make 1996 an epiphenal year in Korean cinema, take a look at the “cult” films that also emerged at the time.
Park Hyun-su’s “The Real Man,” a dark comedy, tells the story of a timid car salesman who decides to run away with his boss’s sports convertible. “Ambigious Man (Mijiwang)” is a social parody that depicts an outrageous wedding between a young playboy and the daughter of a wealthy couple.
Short films also became an accepted genre for starting directors.
“A Bit Bitter (Saenggang),” by Jeong Ji-woo, was a critical work and a prelude to his later films that explored the complexity of the female mentality, such as in “Close to You.”
Park Chan-ok’s “To Be (Itda)”, an episode in which a young woman is sexually harassed on the subway, led to an edgy drama in 2002, “Jealousy is My Middle Name.” Min Gyu-dong’s “Herstory,” a cult film among young cinephiles, is the prelude to “Memento Mori,” the director’s debut feature, a horror film about love between young girls.


by Park Soo-mee

The festival runs through March 26 at Seoul Art Cinema. The screenings will be followed by a series of forums and Q&A sessions with the directors after the screenings. To see screenings with English subtitles, check out www.cinematheque.seoul.kr. For more information, call (02) 741-9782.
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