The 16th London Korean Film Festival

The London Korean Film Festival returns for its sixteenth edition on November 4th. Let’s see what they have to offer this year.

After Bong Joon-ho won the Academy Award for Parasite, Korean cinema was facing the biggest surge in interest from international audiences in a long time. It was a perfect time for distributors, production houses and film festivals to promote the wider range of films that Korea has – and is – putting out. That it happened right when every cinema was closing was a bit of bad luck. To the credit of events like the London Korean Film Festival, they still pushed ahead and released a mostly online version of their 15th year. Now, a year later, cinemas are back and while the hype surrounding Parasite has died, a new contender has entered: Netflix’s Squid Game is the only thing anyone is talking about. Just in time for this year’s LKFF. So for those of you who are coming here from that show: welcome! Here’s what will be screening.

 Once again, the movies are split into several strands, as well as an opening and closing gala. On November 4, the festival will officially open with the action blockbuster Escape from Mogadishu. Set during the 1991 Somalian Civil War, the film sees the staff of the South Korean embassy become trapped, and try to survive as the war rages around them.

The first strand of note is a celebration to beloved veteran actor Youn Yuh-Jung, who recently nabbed herself a few awards for her role in Minari. Featured here are Kim Ki-young’s Woman of Fire (November 5), which was Youn’s first ever starring role. As the second film in Kim’s Housemaid trilogy, it’s fitting also that the strand also features the 2010 remake, also starring Youn, The Housemaid (November 17). Other films in the strand include the dramas A Good Lawyer’s Wife (November 16), Canola (November 6), and The Bacchus Lady (November 6). If non-fiction is more your thing, but you still want to celebrate her work, the imaginatively-titled tribute documentary Documentary Youn Yuh-Jung (November 8) might be exactly what you need.

The LKFF’s Cinema Now strand has always been a favourite of mine, and features some of Korea’s best films from the last 12 months. First up is Hong Seong-eun’s Aloners (November 5), which explores themes of angst and loneliness as a loner’s life is thrown into disarray when a neighbour is found dead. The Book of Fish (November 7), a black-and-white historical film about the Joseon=era scholar Jeong Yak-jeon who, after being exiled to an island, trades his knowledge in Confucianism with a fisherman in order to write an epic book about the sea. Spring Song (November 10) shows that you write what you know, as singer-songwriter-actor-director Yu Jun-sang plays a singer who heads off to Japan with his band to shoot a music video with almost no planning. Collectors (November 13) is my kind of movie: a crime caper in which a group of thieves led by Lee Je Hoon (who was in The Phantom Detective, so he knows his stuff) attempt to steal a priceless artefact. Moving back into drama, Hong Sangsoo’s In Front of Your Face (November 13, a drama which seems an ageing actress looking to revitalise her movie career. IMDb’s very weird synopsis promises thunder and rainfall. Penultimately, we have Shades of the Heart (November 13), about a writer returning to Seoul after a divorce, and Josée (November 14), a romantic drama, are both from director Kim Jong-kwan and are bound to make a thought-provoking and pensive double bill. Lastly there’s the dark crime thriller (a genre Korea has proven to be excellent in time and again) Recalled (November 18), in which a woman suffers and injury and gains clairvoyant powers.

Four movies will be screened as part of the Indie Talent strand, in which up-and-coming directors get a chance to shine. First up is the semi-autobiographical Limecrime (November 15), which sees directors Lee Seunghwan and Yoo Jaewook explore Korea’s hip-hop scene. This strand allows these new creators to talk about the struggles of everyday life sometimes missed in bigger budget productions. The other three are perfect examples of this: LGBT romantic comedy Made on the Rooftop (November 14) chronicles the ups and downs of a relationship between two men, while Rolling (November 16) looks like life during the pandemic (I know, but it’s good!) for a young shopkeeper, and Awoke (November 9) takes a microscope at Korea’s handling of disabled people.

As usual there is the Women’s Voices strand, which is a bit smaller this year featuring only two films. The first is Snowball (November 7), about three teenage girls who plan to run away from home, and the way their actions change their relationships. After Me Too (November 11) is a documentary broken into four shorter films which looks at the way the #MeToo movement has affected Korean society.

Both films in the Documentary strand featured here share a theme of labour issues, social change through activism and having sister in their title. The first is Sewing Sisters (November 11), in which a group of former sewing factory workers reunite, and discuss the unions and protests they held against the appalling working conditions they were made to work under. The second is Sister J (November 16), about factory worker Lim Jaechun who is fired from his decades-long factory job and takes a stand through art and activism.

Lastly I’ll look at Animation and the Short Films collections. The former has but a single film this year: Climbing (November 18), a CGI movie about a professional climber who discovers she is pregnant just before competing in the World Championships. The movie uses its medium to its full potential, giving us a story and providing insight that traditional film wouldn’t. I don’t normally go into much detail with the Mise-en-scène short film screenings, as I like to go in blind, as I think you should too. Both sets of shorts are on the 12th, though, and will be worth checking out.

The festival’s Closing Gala is on November 19, and tickets are probably selling out as I type this. I’m excited for it, that’s for certain, as it will be the UK Premiere of Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness, a movie I know nothing about but I see features Choi Min-sik. Initially intended to be a remake of the 1997 German film Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Heaven is a road-trip movie with crime caper and action elements, and if that’s not enough to get you to see it then nothing will.

If you want to read even more words today, you can find out more about each film on the London Korean Film Festival’s website, where you can also buy tickets. Go do that now, and tell them I sent you. That’ll put me in their good books.

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