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a hard day still 2

5 Must-See Korean Features at Busan International Film Fest


The 19th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) kicked off last night with a star studded red carpet and the international premiere of the Taiwanese coming-of-age-drama Paradise in Service, directed by Doze Niu. BIFF is Asia’s largest and most prestigious film festival, and this year, it will be screening 312 films from 79 countries, including 98 world premieres, during its 11-day run.

That’s a lot of movies. While it’s impossible to say which feature films are truly the best among the festival’s wide selection, here are five films that caught our attention.

Revivre (Gala Presentation)


Director: Im Kwon-taek

Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Kim Gyu-ri, Kim Ho-jung

Based on a short story by Kim Hoon, Revivre follows the story of a middle-age executive who fantasizes about his younger female colleague as he cares for his wife who has terminal cancer. When the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this year, veteran director Im Kwon-taek said his 102nd film “contemplates the fundamental questions of life, death, and sexuality.”

Im is a celebrated director who received the Best Director Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for his film Chihwaseon (2003). He was an honorary Golden Bear recipient at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2005.

The Liar (World Premiere)

The Liar still 2

Director:  Kim Dong-myung

Cast: Kim Kkobi, Jeon Shin-hwan

The Liar is about a young woman pretending to live a wealthy lifestyle, when in reality, she earns a meager salary as an assistant at a dermatology clinic. She tells realtors that she wishes to move into high-end apartments and boasts to her colleagues about getting ready to marry her rich boyfriend, who is actually a mere car dealer. According to BIFF, the film “exposes psychological illness caused by the negative impacts of capitalism.”

Kim Dong-myung directed her first feature, Batumba in Wonderland in 2008, and in 2011, she was invited to compete at the Vanouver International Film Festival for her film Fatigue.

Han River (Word Premiere)

han river

Director: Lee Moo-young

Cast: Bong Man-dae, Ki Tae-young, Kim Jung-suk, Kim Hee-jung

Making its world premiere at BIFF, Han River tells the story of a Catholic priest who joins the homeless community on the streets after failing to commit suicide. One of the homeless people the priest meets is a transgender man who is on bad terms with his daughter and is grappling with the decision to attend her wedding. Another homeless individual he encounters is a pregnant woman who later decides to become a nun.

Director Lee Moo-young is a well known director, screenwriter, and broadcast professional in the South Korean entertainment industry. He co-wrote several films with director Park Chan Wook, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Joint Security Area.

Timing (World Premiere)


Director: Min Kyung-jo

Cast: Park Ji-yoon, Um Sang-hyun, Shim Kyu-hyunk, Sung Wan-kyung

Based on the popular webtoon by KANG Full, also spelled as Kang Pool, this animated film unfolds the mystery behind a series of suicides at a Seoul high school. A teacher at the school, who can foresee disasters in his dreams, attempts to prevent the mass suicides from occurring with the help of three students, who wield supernatural abilities of manipulating time.

Many of Kang’s comics have been adapted for the screen including APT, BA:BO, Hello Schoolgirl, Pained, The Neighbor, and 26 Years. Meanwhile, director Min Kyung-jo has directed several animated TV series and features. Min’s feature Shimcheong was screened at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, and his short film Audition was showcased at the 15th BIFF.

A Hard Day

a hard day still

Director: Kim Seonghun

Cast: Lee Sunkyun, Cho Jinwoong

Slick action thriller A Hard Day begins with a detective accidentally hitting a man with his car while on his way to his mother’s funeral. He stashes the body in his mother’s coffin, but soon receives a call from an anonymous stalker who claims to have witnessed the detective’s hit-and-run. Instead of asking for money, the stalker demands to know the body’s whereabouts, causing the detective to desperately cover his tracks.

Since its world premiere at Cannes, A Hard Day received an overall positive reception from critics around the world . Variety described the film to have an “elaborately plotted narrative with poise, control and near-faultless technical execution.” According to BIFF, the film is writer-director Kim Seong-hun’s second feature in eight years and “exhibits the result of long-planned, hard work.”

BIFF will close on Oct. 11 with the world premiere of the Hong Kong noir Gangster Pay Day directed by Lee Po Cheung.

Photos via BIFF


Star Trek 3 to Film in Seoul


Star Trek 3, which is slated for 2016, will be filming in Seoul, according to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

On Sept. 29, Park spoke with Hollywood producers during the last leg of his U.S. tour in hopes of attracting more studios to film in Seoul, reported Korean media outlet TV Report. Apparently, he succeeded in wooing Hollywood.

“Today I met with Jeffrey Chernov, producer of Star Trek 3, at the Paramount Pictures Studio and agreed to film a portion of the upcoming movie in Seoul,” Park said in his Facebook post.

Seoul has been gaining popularity as a prime filming location with its appearance in the upcoming film Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is expected to be released next year.

“The shooting of Avengers 2 was a great opportunity for local filmmakers and producers to learn about Hollywood’s filmmaking system on top of promoting Seoul at the same time,” the Seoul Metropolitan Government told the Korea Herald.

Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, the forthcoming sci-fi drama series Sense8 will also film around Cheonggyecheon, a stream that runs through downtown Seoul, later this year. Korean actress Bae Doo-na, who’s known for roles in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Cloud Atlas, is reported to star in the series.

In addition to meeting Hollywood producers, Mayor Park also visited the Los Angeles’ emergency operations center to survey the city’s disaster plans in hopes of improving Seoul’s emergency preparedness.

Featured photo courtesy of Cinema 10

Ki Hong Lee - Maze Runner

Ki Hong Lee Makes His Feature Debut With ‘The Maze Runner’


For Ki Hong Lee, it all started at camp. The Korean American actor first flexed his acting muscles while performing a skit at a church retreat.

“I just had so much fun with it,” says Lee. “I knew from that moment on, in the back of my mind, that I really wanted to give acting a shot.”

Lee, who was born in Korea and lived shortly in New Zealand before moving to Southern California (“That’s why I don’t have a New Zealand accent, unfortunately”), is a firm believer in doing what you love and never giving up. This mantra carried him through his first years of acting.

“I just went all in and started training and doing everything I could,” says Lee. “I did as much theater as I could, and I read every play that I could get my hands on.”

With the constant support of his parents, whom he calls his “biggest fans,” Lee gradually built his resume with a slew of small acting gigs, including playing a busboy in a Modern Family episode, a main character lead on ABC Family’s Nine Lives of Chloe King and various love-entangled roles in rom-com shorts by YouTube channel WongFu Productions. Already, the actor in his early 20s can count his stints of acting at camp retreats a thing of the past.

And when Lee found himself pitching tents and making s’mores over a campfire again, it was while bonding with castmates on the set for upcoming action thriller The Maze Runner.

The highly anticipated film, which hits theaters Sept. 19, marks Lee’s debut on the big screen. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society, the film (based on the best-selling, eponymous book by James Dashner) centers around a group of boys who end up trapped in an open expanse called The Glade. Surrounded by high stonewalls, the space is enclosed by a dangerous maze that changes its pattern every night—it’s virtually impossible to escape.

“I play this character who is the head leader of the maze runners, the group of boys who are selected to run the maze and figure out a way out,” explains Lee of his character, Minho.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.07.21 AMA scene from ‘The Maze Runner’

He is focused on one goal: to help his friends survive and find a way out. Lee definitely breathes life into Minho, not only taking on the character’s personality, but also committing to almost every physical feat described in the novel.

“It was definitely an artistic challenge and a physical challenge every day… but we were so passionate about the project, you know? We had stunt doubles, but we never used them, Dylan and I. When we were running in the maze, that’s us running,” says Lee, referring to his co-star, Dylan O’Brien. “When Dylan was tired, I tried to push him, and when I was tired, he’ll push me. We kept each other accountable.”

The camaraderie that developed between Lee and his co-stars happened overnight. “It was bromance from day one,” confesses Lee, who says that the natural chemistry helped to translate the story credibly from paper to screen. “These characters have been in this place called the Glade for three, four, five years, so in order to get that kind of fluidity between characters, you need to spend time with your co-stars. But thankfully it kind of happened organically, it wasn’t forced at all.”

Lee says it was especially gratifying, as an Asian American actor, to get to play such a strong role in a major feature film. “We have this Asian character who is one of the leaders,” he says. “I really liked that it was different from any other role that I’ve crossed.”

Notably, the character of Minho was based on author Dashner’s real-life relative of the same name.

“I thank God mostly for that guy,” says Lee, laughing. “Without him being involved in James Dashner’s life, this would not have happened. It’s crazy how some of these things work out, and I’m just thankful for this opportunity to bring this character to life.”

‘The Maze Runner’ premieres in theaters today. 

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


SKorean Smartphone Film Festival Features Eclectic Entries


In a world of YouTube and viral videos, smartphone footage is found aplenty online. But among the masses, there are those who push the boundaries of what stories can be filmed with a smartphone camera, and when it’s done correctly, the results can be quite interesting.

South Korea’s fourth Olleh International Smartphone Film Festival announced this year’s eight winners earlier this week, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The awards went to short films that were created exclusively on mobile devices.

It’s a fitting contest for a country that has 80 percent of its population using smartphones. A jury of Korean filmmakers handed out the awards this year to a diverse group of films and contestants, ranging from elementary school students to a 73-year-old man representing 43 countries. Nearly 1,000 films were submitted, marking a 30 percent increase from last year’s submissions.

In the 10-minute category, Kim Tae-yung’s Artificial Intelligence and Sylvain Certain’s Cercle Vicieux took the $8,000 cash prize and smart device. Yoo Su-jin’s The Prayer and Sathapranavan Sathasivam’s God is Dead took the top honors for the one minute category.

Artificial Intelligence:

The Future of Tongue:

Four special prizes of $3,000 and a smart device were given to filmmakers from Korea. You can view the rest of the winning films at the festival’s website.


Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn To Make Directorial Debut with ‘Mall’

Joe Hahn has directed more than 30 music videos for Linkin Park, along with a number of other projects, so turning his skills over to film probably was a pretty natural transition.

The Linkin Park musician will be making his directorial film debut with Mall, based on Eric Bogosian’s 2001 novel. The story follows five dissatisfied suburbanites who find themselves in a shopping mall when a man begins firing at people. The incident not only radically changes his life, but also those of the others who are forced to deal with the life-threatening situation.

“It’s about the cycle of self-destruction,” Hahn explained to Mashable. “I find it refreshing to see this kind of point-of-view in contrast to today’s society that interacts digitally.

“The thing with life through devices, Internet and apps is that people are self-editing themselves. They are picking the best selfies and showing how cool they are, very one-sided. … When I read this script, it felt real and refreshing to show how ugly people can be, as they hide their inner beasts after cracking their facades.”

Mall will receive a North American theatrical release on Oct. 17, according to New Noise Magazine. The film will be distributed via Paragon Pictures. The movie stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Gina Gershon and Cameron Monaghan.

Hahn hosted an exclusive screening of the film, plus a question-and-answer session, during the 5th annual Nerd HQ event at Petco Park in San Diego. The video for the Q&A is below.

Image via Mashable


VIDEO: Full Trailer for ‘Dear White People,’ Co-starring Actress Naomi Ko


Dear White People has been garnering buzz ever since it sold out all of its screenings at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and with the release of the first full trailer, we can get a taste of what festival goers were raving about. Director Justin Simien’s satire, which is due in theaters on Oct. 17, follows four black students who attend Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white school.

KoreAm earlier wrote about Korean American actress Naomi Ko, who makes her film debut in Dear White People as Sungmi, an art major with a lip ring who lives at a traditionally black residence hall, and hangs out with mostly African American students. Though Ko’s role is small, the film’s contemporary exploration of the nuances of racial identity on a college campus will no doubt resonate with Asian American audiences—as it did for the actress.

Dear White People really hit home, in the sense of what it’s like to be a minority in such a white world,” Ko told KoreAm last winter. “You may have a particular theme where somebody wants to touch one of the African American character’s hair. I feel like it’s very easy to switch that out and say, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ It’s a question that I’m asked many times, even though I was born in Minnesota.”

The plot follows activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), as she is unexpectedly elected the head of the black residence hall. When the college announces plans to diversify the hall, Samantha takes to the airwaves, using the campus radio show she hosts, called “Dear White People,” to protest the decision. She delivers biting PSAs such as, “Dear white people, please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?” and “Dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism.”

The drama comes to a head when the college’s influential humor magazine hosts its annual Halloween party with a very ill-conceived theme: “Unleash your inner Negro,” which throws napalm onto an already unstable campus environment.

The film also stars Tyler James Williams, Brandon P. Bell, Dennis Haysbert and Teyonah Parris.

Film still by Ashley Beireis Nguyen

Sewol Documentary

Sewol Ferry Disaster To Be Made Into A Film


A private committee in South Korea is raising funds for a documentary on the Sewol ferry disaster, according to Yonhap News. Director Im Jong-tae announced plans to release A Goose’s Dream on the first anniversary of the disaster, which would be April 16 next year.

The committee plans to raise 400 million won (approximately $393,000) through crowdfunding until Oct. 10. Around 300 million won will go towards production costs, and another 100 million won to advertising.

Im told the Korea Times that the two-hour film will delve into a variety of topics, from what actually happened during the sinking to the ongoing rescue efforts, as well as corruption in South Korean society as a whole. Im said film would also be a tribute to the victims.

The title of the documentary refers to a song performed by Lee Bo-mi, a student at Danwon High School who was one of the 293 people who died in the accident. She apparently had aspirations to become a singer. You can listen to a segment of Lee practicing the song below.

The Sewol sank off South Korea’s southwest coast on April 16 earlier this year, leaving 293 dead, many of them high school students who were on a field trip to Jeju Island. As of last Friday, 11 people remain missing as rescue efforts continue.

For more information on A Goose’s Dream, you can stay up-to-date with the film’s Facebook and Daum pages.

Image via Facebook

Wong Fu

YouTube Superpower Wong Fu Productions To Make A Movie


For more than a decade, short-film-producing sensation Wong Fu Productions has made fans laugh and click “share,” raking in more than 2 million YouTube subscribers.

Now, they’re working on their biggest project yet.

Founders Wesley Chan, Ted Fu and Philip Wang announced their plans for their first feature film earlier this year, and after blasting past their initial goal of $200,000 on indiegogo, the principal cast was released last week.

“Our story takes place in a world where all relationship activity is documented and monitored by the Department of Emotional Integrity (DEI),” reads a description on the Wong Fu website. “Much like a credit score is given to represent financial responsibility, a relationship score is given to keep individuals accountable for the relationship activity and choices. The score is public for all to see, and affects various aspects of daily life.

In the film we follow two couples who are experiencing different challenges in their relationships. Seth and Haley are two high schoolers who are registering their relationship for the first time, and Ben and Sara, a former couple in their mid twenties who must meet again to settle an old report.

Through these two stories we are going to explore how love changes over time, and how to believe in your heart again after it’s been hurt.”

Aaron Yoo

Brittany Ishibashi

Brandon Soo Hoo

Victoria Park

Chris Riedell

Randall Park

Joanna Sotomura

Ki Hong Lee

Images via Wong Fu Productions