Coming at the tail-end of Austin's SXSW Film Festival, New York's Korean American Film Festival is kicking off its fifth annual event for those more interested in the next Bong Joon-ho or Lee Chang-dong. Here's a few mini reviews of a couple films selected for the event, which is going on now until March 20th. Be sure to check out the KAFFNY website for the latest information on screenings, events, etc.
Slow-witted Hyung Gu is the epitome the timeless phrase "ignorance is bliss," though when he accidentally stumbles upon the true nature of his "delivery" job, he finds himself in a tangled mess he can't ignore. While boating unmarked packages to a small isle for Japanese man Toru to smuggle into his country, the two discover not only drugs but a sedated, kidnapped daughter of a company rival. Together they high-tail it back to Toru's and attempt a search for the girl's father, who will give them a hefty chunk of change if she's returned to him. The boss, however, gets wind of things and isn't too pleased with his employees taking matters into their own hands.
Helmer Young Nam Kim's style is still in its infancy, favoring long takes and typical Korean multi-toned scenes, but without the masterful touch that makes either work brilliantly. The two leads -- played by Ha Jung-woo ("Like You Know It All") and Satoshi Tsumabuki ("Tokyo!") -- are great together, which is a good thing considering Kim uses the genre plot only to focus on their burgeoning companionship. In that sense it's less "Memories of a Murder" and more "Cold Weather," though not without some rough patches. Still, in the end everything is wrapped up decently with a believable moment of redemption, hitting an emotional level that not many films can do nowadays. [B]
"Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women"
Nobody ever said war brought the best out of any society, but it's easy to forget specific atrocities -- which makes it that much easier for countries to sweep them under the rug. During World War II, the Japanese military took "comfort women," which were young virgins of (and possibly not limited to) Dutch, British, and Korean descent to provide sexual relief to soldiers. Dutch and British women were immediately compensated after the war, but the Koreans were not -- and here, decades later, the now-elderly women talk about their disturbing past and the country's reluctance to admit to wrong-doing.
The crudely preserved nature of the film stock gives it a distinct aura, feeling like a once-buried relic. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson frames interviews with the women who tell all -- one mentioning she was even forced to eat human flesh -- but also speaks to professors, historians, and former soldiers who all deny their confessions. Of course the subject is already enraging, but the director refuses to settle there and goes the extra mile, moving her camera from interviewee to other objects/people in single, uninterrupted shots. Useless b-roll it isn't, as the way she uses it suggests something deeper. A woman cutting fruit or a group of Japanese men walking down the street during an ex-soldier's interview is given increased importance in this aesthetic choice, leading to even more questions. Why are people silenced? What makes us human and what distracts us from our morals? None are answered, which makes things even more chilling. Kim-Gibson proves you can make an affecting, important documentary without the attention-seeking antics of a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. This is one that can't be forgotten. [A]
This experimental piece, clocking in at a solid hour, analyzes water flow from a mountain, to a city, and finally to the sea. Every static shot is single frame photography, with moving waters and skies manipulated in post to an interesting, stop-motion/time-lapse effect. The sound design is also of peculiar note, sometimes singling out a sole mosquito or a revving motorcycle. It goes without saying that this avant-garde piece requires a bit of patience, but the composition is hard to pull away from at a certain point and the dissonant closing is startling and worth all of the work before it. Maybe it's not the most profound video essay, but maybe it's not supposed to be. Maybe it only exists to make a process that nobody seems to care about be completely moving, and truthfully, it's an experience that's tough to shake. [B+]