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seoul-searching

‘Seoul Searching’ to Premiere at 2015 Sundance

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Seoul Searching will be premiering much sooner than we thought. The Sundance Institute announced its premieres lineup for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival yesterday, and the indie film was among those listed.

Slated for a 2015 release, Seoul Searching is a romantic teen comedy set in the 1980s. The story is loosely based on director Benson Lee’s experiences at a government summer camp in 1986, which he described as one of the “craziest summers in his life.”

In Seoul Searching, a group of Korean teens are sent to a similar camp in Seoul by their parents to learn what it means to be Korean — a side to them they know little about. The story focuses on three high school boys from the U.S., Mexico and Germany and the three girls they meet. In the process of connecting with one another, they come to experience the most important summer of their lives.

The dynamic and diverse cast stars Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Cha In-pyo, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Kang Byul, Rosalina Leigh, Sue Son, Crystal Kay, Heejun Han, Uatchet Juch and Nekhebet Juch.

You can catch the latest updates on Seoul Searching by following their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

The Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 22-Feb. 1.

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Security Experts Doubt North Korea Hacked Sony

by MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated Press

(AP) — Some cybersecurity experts say it is unlikely North Korea was behind the cyberattack that crippled Sony Pictures’ computers and possibly leaked unreleased movies online.

Speculation has been rampant that the hard-line communist state sponsored last week’s hack in anger over the new Sony movie “The Interview,” in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play television journalists assigned by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“State-sponsored attackers don’t create cool names for themselves like ‘Guardians of Peace’ and promote their activity to the public,” said cybersecurity expert Lucas Zaichkowsky.

He said the details he has seen point instead to hacktivists, who break into computers to make a political point, often one involving the free exchange of information on the Internet. Hacktivists targeted Sony in the past.

“The Interview” comes out on Christmas. Over the summer, North Korea warned that the release of the comedy would be an “act of war that we will never tolerate.” It said the U.S. will face “merciless” retaliation.

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FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell would not comment Tuesday on whether North Korea or another country was behind the attack. The FBI is investigating.

It would be unusual if North Korea was behind the breach, said Darren Hayes, director of cybersecurity at Pace University’s computer science school.

“However, there are numerous hackers for hire” in some of the shadowy corners of the Internet, he said. “If Kim Jong Un has developed his own rank-and-file cyberattack unit, with sophisticated capabilities, then we should be very concerned.”

Sony Pictures hasn’t said how the hackers breached its system. But such attacks often start with “phishing” attempts, a compromised website or a malicious insider, said cybersecurity researcher Craig Young at Tripwire, a security software company that works with such businesses as Visa, Mastercard, Walmart and Starbucks.

Given that the hackers were apparently able to obtain unreleased movies as well as personnel records, Social Security numbers, passport photos, technical documents and other material, Young said it is unlikely they used just a single point of access.

“It’s much more likely that attackers were able to exploit a series of vulnerabilities, misconfigurations and poor network architecture to continuously increase their level of access over time,” he said.

A security expert who was part of the South Korean government’s investigation into March 2013 cyberattacks blamed on North Korea said there is not enough evidence to point the finger at the North for the Sony incident even though there are similarities.

The expert, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized by his employer to speak about the matter, said that when South Korean authorities concluded that Pyongyang was behind the attacks that paralyzed servers at financial institutions and media companies, they had not just malicious computer code but also IP addresses and other evidence.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that some other groups have imitated North Korea’s cyberattacks,” he said.

The increased dependence on cloud technology by nearly all major businesses to store their information has made them more vulnerable, said Carson Sweet, CEO of data-protection firm CloudPassage.

Sony workers last week logged on to see a message on their computer screens that said “Hacked by #GOP,” which may be the initials of a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, according to Variety.

Some unreleased Sony movies such as Still Alice, Annie, Mr. Turner and To Write Love on Her Arms were later distributed online, along with the still-in-theaters Fury, though a direct connection to the hacking hasn’t been confirmed.

Culver City, California-based Sony Pictures said Monday that it is still dealing with the effects of the cyberattack and is working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate.

Sony has brought in forensic experts from the Mandiant division of FireEye, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the companies have not yet announced the arrangement.

Mandiant helps companies determine the extent of breaches and repair the damage. It has worked on other high-profile computer break-ins, including the one at Target last year.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, Brandon Bailey in San Francisco and Youkyung Lee in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this story.

Photo courtesy of Ed Araquel / Columbia Pictures

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Refuses to Deny Hacking Sony Pictures

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

New evidence suggests that North Korea may have been behind the cyber-attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The tools the hackers used are very similar to those used to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea was one of the initial suspects in the hacking, which disabled the Sony Pictures computer network and forced employees to work with their cellphones, pen and paper. Before screens went dark, they displayed a red skull and the phrase “Hacked By #GOP,” which reportedly stands for “Guardians of Peace.” A message also threatened to release sensitive data stolen from Sony servers if certain demands were not met.

The threat apparently didn’t include five Sony movies, including Fury and the unreleased Annie, as they were leaked to torrent sites over the weekend. Investigators and Sony executives have assumed the leaks were connected to the attack, although there is no evidence of that yet.

So far, North Korea has refused to deny their involvement in light of what has only been circumstantial evidence. BBC News reported that when asked, a North Korean spokesman for the government replied, “Wait and see.”

If North Korea is indeed behind the attacks, the Verge noted, it would be the first time a Hollywood studio has come under attack from a foreign power.

Investigators believe that Sony’s upcoming movie, The Interview, would explain a connection to North Korea. The comedy film that involves two journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) on a mission for the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). North Korea has not held back in expressing their distaste over the film. Back in June, a Foreign Ministry spokesman promised a “merciless counter-measure” if The Interview becomes released and also denounced the movie as “the most undisguised terrorism.”

The Interview

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” read a statement by Kim Myong-chol, North Korea’s executive director of the Center for North Korea-U.S. Peace. “And let us not forget who killed [John F.] Kennedy—Americans.”

In the statements from the hacking group behind the attacks, the Verge found that one of the recent messages singled out The Interview in a similar manner:

“Our aim is not at the film The Interview as Sony Pictures suggests. But it is widely reported as if our activity is related to The Interview. This shows how dangerous film The Interview is. The Interview is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack. Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with The Interview fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.”

Another portion of the message reads, “We won’t give up this attack unless Sony Pictures collapse to the end.”

theinterview01Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

Since August, Sony had already planned to edit out a few controversial portions of the movie, including a Raiders of the Lost Ark homage where Kim Jong-un’s face melts off in slow motion. They also digitally altered the buttons worn by multiple characters because they “depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor” Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il.

The Interiew is still set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, at least in the U.S. It will not be screened in South Korea, however, as a Seoul-based Sony Pictures official cited concerns of inter-Korean relations.

Photo courtesy of The Verge

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Feeding the Soul in ‘Hungry for Love’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Many people go to New York City to “make it there.” With the sheer number and diversity of New Yorkers, you can also find plenty of unique and delicious places to eat there, too.

The food from the city that never sleeps is central to Hungry for Love, a film looking to gain financial backing via Kickstarter. The story centers around two individuals struggling to make a living: Giovanni works as a pastry delivery driver who dreams of traveling America in a transnational food crawl, and Priscilla is an aspiring writer struggling to publish her first book while saddled in student loan debt.

When the two strangers meet for the first time, they discover a mutual passion for food, which takes them on an epic all-night dining adventure through NYC’s five boroughs. They decide to drop everything for a while as they enjoy and explore cultural neighborhoods, meet unique individuals and eat delicious food. The experience not only brings them closer together, but empowers them when facing their problems head-on.

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Hungry for Love is the first feature film collaboration for writer/director Justin Ambrosino and producer Soojin Chung, both graduates of the American Film Institute (AFI). Ambrosino’s short The 8th Samurai won several awards and qualified for an Academy Award, while Chung has worked on multiple films in South Korea, including Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. She also produced the surreal Escape from Tomorrow, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival to acclaim.

Ambrosino and Chung spoke to KoreAm via email about their crowdfunding effort for Hungry for Love, as well as how food has shaped their own lives and careers. You can view their Kickstarter page here.

How did the idea for the film and story come about? What drew both of you to the story?

Soojin Chung: I came to America from South Korea in 2006 and gained about 20 pounds while living in LA. Two years ago, I went back to South Korea for the post-production of my previous film Escape From Tomorrow and reconnected with my old friends and colleagues. But shortly after the happy reunion, over Korean BBQ, they started to recommend diets, blind dates and dying my gray hair. Suddenly, I was looked at differently. Korean people were shocked and genuinely concerned about my weight, age and my single status.

Altogether, I became an un-ideal woman, and that’s when I realized how I am categorized in Korean society and what that feels like. Even when I went to the Dongdaemoon market to buy some clothes, people gave me a quick, cold look and yelled, “We don’t carry your size!” even though I am a size “medium” in America.

When I came back, I told Justin about how miserable I was feeling. He related it to his own family and their stories. In fact, had Justin always wanted to make a heartwarming love story with non-traditional romantic leads. I thought that was a story worth telling so we can understand the opposite side of the issue, especially with the overwhelming amount of beauty and fitness advertisements.

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Justin Ambrosino: I remember being a child and holding my mother’s hand while we walked and some older kids would make fun of her, calling her a derogatory name because of her weight. She didn’t say anything, only held my hand tighter as we quickly walked away. I was young and confused but I could sense that she was hurt by it.

As I grew older, I began to feel her feelings, especially when we’d watch movies together, and the issue of weight would come up in some scene. When it was handled in a comedic way that made fun of it she would feel bad or uncomfortable, but when done in a more empathetic way, she might smile or even laugh herself! I knew I’d like to see her happy about it but I couldn’t figure out what to do to make that possible.

For me, I thought nothing of her weight—I cannot see her any other way but beautiful because I know her heart is in the right place. To me that is true beauty. And when I became a filmmaker, I finally found a way to do something about it—make Hungry for Love.

Who are Giovanni and Priscilla? What was the inspiration for the characters?

JA: Well, they are not your typical romantic movie leads, that’s for sure! Too many scripts put together a “smoking hot babe” and a “chiseled hunk” and we watch the drama ensue, but personally I cannot relate to those characters. Almost everybody I know feels like they are struggling to get to where they want to be. Giovanni and Priscilla are the same. They’re just regular people, good people, who also deserve a happy ending, too. So, when writing the script, I was thinking about the people I know in my life—my family and my friends. Each character is a reflection of someone close to me.

SC: I believe there is a little of everyone in Giovanni and Priscilla. For example, after sustaining an injury while I was working on a Korean film set, I came to the U.S. to restart my career. Making that transition, I had my fair share of ups and downs like everybody else, and sometimes I just needed to let it all go, to restore my strength. And that is where Giovanni and Priscilla are at in their lives. After having a bad day, they just want to enjoy themselves instead of feeling depressed. And who knows? Maybe they can find hope and confidence, or even their soul mate, who doesn’t judge them!

If you could, tell us a little about the journey the characters go on. How do they ultimately come to realize who they truly are?

JA: Giovanni and Priscilla face their own set of internal struggles. Giovanni is a shy man with hopes and dreams but lacks the courage to pursue them. The world is too intimidating for him and therefore he is content with what little he has.

Priscilla on the other hand is a force to be reckoned with. She is determined to pursue her dreams but lacks a certain positive outlook on life to achieve them. Basically, she lets the obstacles in her way get her down. Eventually, Giovanni finds the courage he never knew he had and Priscilla learns to take life day by day and be happy with what she has.

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Food is so prevalent in the media and popular culture. How can food play a role in an intimate relationship?

JA: In the particular case of Giovanni and Priscilla, food is what brings them together. They are both used to eating alone. While Priscilla might be comfortable with it because she’s a bit more independent, for Giovanni it is the worst part of his day. He loves food but he hates eating alone, so eating with company is the ultimate definition of happiness for him.

On the other hand, for Priscilla, eating is a necessary habit. She doesn’t think about what she is eating, but through the experience of eating with Giovanni, she begins to appreciate food in a different way and therefore begins to enjoy life a bit more. So, by sharing time and eating at a dinner table, they each give something to the other they never had before.

How did the restaurants featured in the movie make the cut? Do they have a personal connection to either of you?

SC: In the script, Justin wrote in restaurants he loves whether he has a personal connection to them or not. Even though we’ve been going around to many places, ultimately we have not casted the restaurants yet because we would like the audiences to join us in that process. We would like to make an online campaign to choose the restaurants that will be in the movie. It is going to be fun to hear everyone’s opinion… so I encourage your readers to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and be apart of the experience! Of course, I am thrilled to have the chance to introduce some unique Korean restaurants too!

What do you notice about the different cuisines among the five boroughs? Do they point to a larger culture that is representative of each area?

JA: Imagine you are looking at Earth from outer space. Now smash that globe, and shove it into a tiny set of islands along the Hudson River. That is New York City. It’s a microcosm of the world. You can find every kind of cuisine here. And it can get more specific than your average city. While other cities might have a famous Caribbean restaurant, in one part of the NYC, known as Flatbush, Brooklyn, you can find many Caribbean restaurants, only they are called Haitian, Jamaican, Bajan and other specific Caribbean country’s cuisine.

SC: From a non-New Yorker’s perspective, I found it very interesting that every borough and every town within every borough, and every block within every town, is culturally diverse! Like in Queens, you can walk around and see nothing but Greek food with Greek signage, then turn the corner and see nothing but Korean food and signage! It’s like the city changes with one turn of the head. But in the end, it’s all New York City!

Justin, how do you think food and restaurant culture has changed, particularly in New York? What has remained the same?

JA: There is a bittersweet scene in the script where the characters are going to an Argentinean restaurant where Giovanni has great memories of eating at as a kid, but when they arrive they find out it will be closing for good the very next day. They have a “last supper” of sorts and share a moment with the chef who has mixed feelings himself about what’s happening.

You see, this is a story I hear all the time in New York. Every day a new landmark restaurant is closing. Whether it is the raising of rents, the owners retiring or the competition winning, it’s really hard to pinpoint the answer to the change, but this is NYC, change is inevitable.

With the influx of new restaurants offering farm-to-table, organic cuisines, with locally sourced ingredients, the older restaurants are put into a dilemma: change their menu and offend their regulars or stick with their menu but get passed over by new residents. I think the most successful restaurants are the ones that were originally farm-to-table, always using locally sourced ingredients and that changed their menus frequently–they stayed fresh with each generation.

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Soojin, how much of an impact has food had in your life? Does this film have any personal touch for you as well?

SC: Growing up, I was never interested in food. I was an unusual kid because I didn’t ask for candy, chocolate, ice cream or hamburgers like the other children. But since I met Justin, eight years ago, I found another side of myself that I never knew existed.

When we worked on our first film at AFI together, Justin invited the crew to his tiny apartment for our first production meeting (where we were supposed to discuss all the details of making the film). But when I arrived, Justin was sweating, frying fresh shrimp, making dough from scratch—he was cooking up a feast! Then, as we ate, all everyone discussed was food and wine. It was definitely a delicious dinner, made with love and care, but after three hours of talking and eating, I wondered when the production meeting would begin! But everybody seemed to have no problem, and as the only Asian in our group, I took it as cultural differences. But along the way, I was slowly became a foodie myself and here I am.

What’s the approximate timetable for the movie?

Hungry For Love was selected for the IFP Project Forum 2013. Ever since then, we have been pitching to financiers and film industry people. Luckily, we’ve drawn positive attention, and we are running a Kickstarter Campaign supported by Sundance, IFP (Independent Film Project), Film Independent and Filmmaker Magazine.

Crowdfunding has become the opening gate to making independent films and to prove to the investors there is an audience for each film. The success of our campaign will surely convince our potential financiers and lead to us raising the complete budget. We are aiming to shoot our movie in April 2015 and delivering the final film by September 2015 so we can begin our festival run in 2016. But all this will not be possible unless we succeed our Kickstarter campaign, so it’s really up to your readers and all the people out there to make our dreams come true!

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Images courtesy of Soojin Chung & Justin Ambrosino

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The 12th New York Korean Film Festival Opens at BAM

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The 12th New York Korean Film Festival (NYKFF) will showcase record-breaking blockbusters and critically acclaimed indie films created by some of South Korea’s most celebrated filmmakers from Thursday, Nov. 20 through Sunday, Nov. 23.

Co-presented by Subway CinemaBAMcinématek and the Korea Society, NYKFF will screen seven feature films at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn. In addition, DramaFever will stream two additional films, The Fateful Encounter and M, on its website as an extension of the festival. All films are in the Korean language with English subtitles.

Here are the descriptions for this year’s NYKFF films:

Gyeongju (U.S. Premiere)

Director: Zhang Lu

Cast: Park Hae-il, Shin Mina, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Tae-hoon, Shin So-yul, Baek Hyun-jin, Ryoo Seung-wan

Screening: Thursday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Opening the festival on Thursday is Director Zhang Lu’s offbeat romantic comedy Gyeongju. The film follows a Peking University professor as he embarks on an impulsive trip to the Korean city of Gyeonju in search of an erotic painting he had seen years ago on the wall of a teahouse. When he arrives at the teahouse, he fails to find the picture and soon befriends the beautiful, mysterious proprietress.

Lu will appear in person for a Q&A session following the screening.


The Attorney

Director: Yang Woo-seok

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Young-ae, Oh Dal-su, Kwak Do-won, Siwan

Screening: Friday, Nov. 21 at 7:00 p.m.

Based on the real-life events of human rights activist and former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, The Attorney is a court-room drama set in the early 1980s and follows a greedy tax attorney as he takes on the country’s National Security Law by defending a student activist, who was arrested without warrant and tortured by government interrogators.

The film was the most controversial box office hit to be released in 2013 and quickly became the eighth best-selling Korean film of all time.


A Hard Day

Director: Kim Seong-hun

Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Jeong Man-sik, Shin Jung-keun, Kim Dong-young, Joo Suk-tae

Screening: Friday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 p.m.

Slick police thriller A Hard Day begins with a detective accidentally running over a stranger with his car while on his way to his mother’s funeral. After hastily stashing the body in his mother’s coffin, the detective receives a call from an anonymous stalker who claims to have witnessed his 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.


The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Director: Kim Han-min

Cast: Choi Min-sik, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Cho Jin-woong, Jin Goo, Lee Jung-hyun

Screening: Saturday, Nov. 22 at 6:45 p.m.

Arguably the biggest Korean blockbuster to hit South Korean theaters this year, The Admiral: Roaring Currents depicts the 1597 Battle of Myeongryang and tells the tale of Korea’s most celebrated historical hero, Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who attempts to defend his nation against a formidable Japanese fleet with only 12 battleships at his command.


Man on Heels

Director: Jang Jin

Cast: Cha Seung-won, Oh Jeong-se, Esom, Ko Kyeong-pyo, Ahn Kil-kang, Lee Eon-jeong

Screening: Saturday, Nov. 22 at 9:30 p.m.

Marking the return of Jang Jin, one of Korea’s most inventive writer-directors, Man on Heels is a film noir that follows the story of a cold-blooded homicide detective, who desperately wants to become a woman. However, when the detective decides to move forward with undergoing a sex change operation, his plans get derailed by a gang that is determined to take its revenge against him.


The Pirates 

Director: Lee Suk-hoon

Cast: Kim Nam-gil, Son Ye-jin, Yu Hae-jin, Lee Kyoung-young, Kim Tae-woo

Screening: Sunday, Nov. 23 at 4:45 p.m.

Channeling Hollywood’s Pirates of the Carribbeans, Lee Suk-hoon’s swashbuckling period comedy, The Pirates, is set during the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty and follows rival parties of pirates and bandits as they clash to hunt down a gray whale that has swallowed a royal seal. The film features an A-list ensemble cast, including Son Ye-jin as a female pirate captain and Kim Nam-gil as a mountain bandit.

Futureless Things (North American Premiere)

Director: Kim Kyung-mook

Cast: Kim Su-hyeon, Yoo Yeong, Jeong Hye-in, Gong Myeong, Shin Jae-ha

Screening: Sunday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Closing the festival is Futureless Things, an episodic comedy of manners that takes place within the span of 24 hours at a convenience store and gives an intimate glimpse into the intertwined lives of part-timers, college dropouts, North Korean defectors, and social outcasts who occupy the shop.

Director: Lee Myung-se

Cast: Kang Dong-won, Kong Hyo-jin, Lee Yeon-hee

Screening: Streamed online on DramaFever (Nov. 20-23)

M, which premiered at the 2007 Busan International Film Festival, is a visually riveting and expressionistic drama that follows a young novelist, who suffers from writer’s block and insomnia. As the writer falls into a nervous breakdown, he becomes haunted by what appears to be memories of his first love. Filled with dream sequences and hallucinations, M is the closest spectators will ever come to dreaming with their eyes open.

The Fatal Encounter

Director: Lee Jae-kyoo

Cast: Hyun Bin, Jeong Jae-young, Jo Jeong-seok, Jo Jae-hyeon, Han Ji-min

Screening: Streamed online on DramaFever (Nov. 20-23)

Marking Hallyu star Hyun Bin’s first film after being discharged from his military service, The Fatal Encounter follows an elaborate plot to assassinate King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. Based on a real-life assassination attempt on Jeonjo in 1777, the period film depicts the 24 hours that leads up to the said event and is packed with betrayals and shocking twists.

To learn more about NYKFF or to purchase tickets for a film, visit the BAMcinématek website. Below is a run-down of the festival’s schedule. 

BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Thursday,  November 20
7:30 pm  Gyeongju
With Q&A with Director Zhang Lu

Friday, November 21
7:00 pm  The Attorney
9:30 pm A Hard Day

Saturday, November 22
7:00 p.m. The Admiral: Roaring Currents
9:30 p.m. Man on High Heels

Sunday, November 23
5:30 p.m. The Pirates 
8:00 p.m. Futureless Things

 

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San Diego Asian Film Festival ‘Remembers Queer Korea’

by JAMES S. KIM

Gay South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo and his partner, Kim Seung-hwan, made headlines in the media last year when they held a public wedding ceremony and attempted to register as a married couple in Seoul. It was hailed as a “trailblazing” act in a society where same-sex unions aren’t recognized, while traditional values and religious conservatism keep a tight lid on any LGBT discourse.

It was certainly a bold move in modern Korea, but it definitely wasn’t the first time LGBT issues came up in Korean history and popular culture, according to Todd Henry, an assistant professor and acting director of the Program in Transnational Korean Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“As someone who is studying history, I just have to say to myself, maybe this is just a media play, that newspapers want publicity,” Henry told KoreAm. “But in terms of historical background and [record], why is it that South Korean society wants to forget that it has a tradition of same-sex people who try to dignify their relationships through matrimony?”

Researchers in South Korea and the United States, including Henry have traced LGBT and queer themes through Korean history, but they’ve never been able to gather in one place—until this past weekend. The Pacific Arts Movement, in partnership with UCSD, held a landmark retrospective on the subject this past weekend at the 15th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival. Titled “Remembering Queer Korea,” the program featured screenings at the UCSD campus for six South Korean films, a video exhibition featuring an all-female musical troupe and a three-day academic symposium.

“The program represents our interest in giving context to Asian cinema and Asian cultures,” said Brian Hu, the artistic director for the festival, “that there is a history to the kind of independent production and self-represenation going on in Korea and elsewhere.

“When we think of seeing no limits, we also want to inspire audiences to see beyond the limits of the present, in addition to seeing beyond heteronormativity, especially as it has shaped discourses of the nation and globally in Korea,” Hu continued, speaking on the theme of the festival, “See No Limits.”

The six films, in particular, evoke the “remembering” among different genres. Dramas like The Pollen of Flowers (1972) and Sabangji (1988) were released into a repressive environment during the presidential dictatorship period. Other films, like the drama Broken Branches (1996), which dealt with the subject of homosexuality and family, were released at a time when South Korea was experiencing a wave of social changes.

Broken-Branches-2-770x433Broken Branches (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Sabangji-2-770x433Sabangji (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Henry was a graduate student in South Korea in the 1990s, and became involved in some of the movements taking hold. Human rights and student organizations, as well as film festivals, were leading the discourse, particularly in LGBT topics.

“I was very curious to know the deeper roots and origins of the kind of phenomena I was witnessing in the 1990s,” Henry said. “It occurred to me that it probably wasn’t the first time that a film dealing with LGBT issues was screening, nor was it probably the first time that two people of the same sex were seeking to get married or falling in love with one another.”

“Remembering Queer Korea” came from that curiosity and eventually took tangible form once Henry took up his position at UCSD in 2009. After Henry met the members of the Pacific Arts Movement (then called San Diego Asian Film Foundation), the project began taking shape.

“The idea was that filmmakers were doing a lot of the same kind of work that academic historians were: doing interviews, writing their own narratives of modern Korea,” said Hu, now in his fourth year with the festival. “Meanwhile, there are queer images from the 1970s and ‘90s in Korean cinema that serve as an archive of a similar counter-history. So we put together a slate of films that allow history, curiosity, cinema and memory to speak to each other in creative and provocative ways.”

On the academic side, Henry said there was a “scattered discourse” of “scattered people” working on LGBT topics in South Korea, which is why the symposium over the weekend was so special. Nearly a dozen researchers from South Korea and the U.S. led a three-day discussion on LGBT themes in modern Korean history, from the early 20th century and into the present.

Henry said the goal is to publish a book with the other researchers that would challenge what people may think about same-sex marriage in South Korea. The book would also aim to provide an overview of how queerness has appeared in modern Korean history and how we might rethink that history from this new perspective.

“In Korea [same-sex marriage] is seen as something relatively new,” he explained, “as in it just happened in the past 10-15 years, or it’s simply an import from the United States or Europe–that is to say, foreign and not indigenous to Korea.

“My work aims to debunk that national myth by showing that throughout the post-1945 period, discussion and debate about women who, although not officially and legally marrying one another, were nonetheless unofficially and symbolically marrying one another was a very frequent and important part of South Korea’s low-brow popular culture.”

Yeosung gukgeuk, a traditional form of all-female musical theater, was also popular in Korean pop culture during the 1950s. It’s the subject of artist siren eun young jung’s project “(Off)Stage / Masterclass,” her latest exhibition in exploring gender roles in traditional Korean performances. Siren spent years studying the possibility of yeosung gukgeuk translating to the modern feminist perspective and through the subversiveness of gender politics, according to Blouin Art Info.

The documentary The Girl Princes (2012), which also screened at the festival, chronicles the short-lived rise and brisk fall of yeosung gukgeuk and follows many of the former performers today as they reminisced on their careers and legacies. During their heyday, Hu writes, the stars were idolized by fans to the point of even stalking and suicide. The women were able to explore a much broader range of emotions and experiences than what was socially acceptable in the 1950s as they formed strong sisterhoods, while some even found love.

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The Girl Princes (Photo courtesy of Indie Plus)

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“Art brings another medium through which we try to remember the past and which has resonance in the present,” Henry said. “It’s interesting to me that in contemporary Korea, you have a female director [Kim Hye-jung] who makes Girl Princes, [and] you have siren’s art piece, which is also about the same topic. … In Korea, you have various individuals who are also writing academic papers about the same all-female theatrical group.

“I think what’s really changed in the present is that since the 1990s, the public discourse is not only dominated by outsiders who are gazing at queer things, or using them for their own exploitive or sexploitive purposes. Instead, filmmakers, authors, and speakers who represent a queer way of life, or certain kinds of queer identity have become increasingly active in representing their own interests, and on their own terms.”

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5 Must-See Korean Features at Busan International Film Fest

by REERA YOO

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

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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

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Star Trek 3 to Film in Seoul

by REERA YOO

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

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