Having attended London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) for the last four years, I’ve always known that this fest is one fun and fascinating event. But it wasn’t until the Korean Cinema Forum 2012 that I realised how seriously significant it is to the wider K-film industry.
Hosting the forum was a panel comprising K-media royalty Tony Rayns (Film critic, Translator and Festival Programmer), Dongjin Oh (Chairman- Jecheon International Music & Film Festival), Youngjin Kim (Lecturer- MyongJi University), Chan-il Jeon (Programmer- Busan International Film Festival), Jegy Ra (Journalist- Hankook Ilbo), Hae-ry Kim (Journalist- Cine 21) and Dr. Choi Jin-hee (Lecturer- Kings College London). The panel gave honest first-hand accounts of their experiences, and engaged in thought-provoking discussions that allowed me and the other attendees to see the festival (and Korean film in general) in a new light.
Tony Rayns introduced the forum with the point that US cinema dominates the world, and is the only readily accepted global film industry. Only a small percentage of internationally successful films are not from the US, and films made in languages that are not widely spoken, such as Korean, have relatively miniscule appeal to foreign audiences. With this in mind, it doesn’t seem surprising that there has historically been a disparity between the reception of Korean films within the Korean market and abroad.
Youngjin Kim observed that Korean film is less prescribed than American film. K-movies tend to contain in-jokes, localised elements, twists, sad endings, unexpected scenarios and unlikeable / less-than-perfect characters. All of these features strike a chord with Korean audiences but are unwelcome and alien components to those bred on Hollywood movies.
Another feature becoming increasingly common in K-films is the large-scale action sequence. The inclusion of this is used either in homage to, or as a parody of, movies from the west that have touched the Korean public. Again, these scenes are often misunderstood as unnecessary or vulgar by foreign viewers.
However, there has been a recent shift in the perception of Korean film from foreign audiences, as well as a rise in global commercial successes. The panel proposed that this has come as a direct result of film festivals across the globe, which have injected an energy boost for the industry, provided an interactive platform for audiences, and sparked interest and popularity in Korean film not to mention Korea itself.
Using LKFF as an example, we can see more than a few ways in which this has been achieved. Firstly, the programme has become incredibly diverse. There is a consideration for all film tastes and preferences. Events now transcend straightforward film screenings; there are actor / director Q&As, musical performances (Shinee appeared in 2011), and even cinema forums!
Rather than limiting audiences to the Korean Cultural Centre, films at the 2012 festival were screened across five London locations including mainstream Odeon cinemas and more arthouse settings like the ICA. The ever-growing fest has also expanded to various venues in Bristol, Bournemouth and Glasgow. Additionally, LKFF is reasonably priced; indeed many scheduled events are completely free of charge.
Furthermore, it’s well-advertised, well-documented, well-attended and well-endorsed from both London and Korea sides. 2012 celeb attendees included Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Park Ji Sung; along with numerous actors and directors from films screened, including Kim Yoon-Suk and Lee Byunghun
With credentials like this, it’s no wonder that LKFF has the power to bring otherwise “easily forgotten” or “easily ignored” films to the public’s attention. Worlds away from Hollywood, both King of Pigs (Yeun Sang-Ho, 2011) and Sleepless Night (Jang Kun-Jae, 2012) were unexpected successes.
The panel described how in turn, this “film festival effect” has brought a new focus to the Korean film industry itself. Films are now being made with the goal of being able to speak to an international audience. Art-house films focus on foreign themes; attract keen, ardent film-goers; are most likely to be shown at international film festivals and are very easily distributed. There is therefore a new emphasis on this genre, and a surge in the production of this kind of film, with the goal of screening at Cannes, Venice or Berlin in mind.
Conversely, the panel also proposed that the spectacle and sensation of watching a film at a festival is enough to almost guarantee its success. They unanimously agreed that the LKFF opening movie The Thieves (Choi Dong-Hun, 2012) is not a good (in fact, is a boring) film. It has, however, attracted a huge global audience at festivals, including a sell-out at LKFF from which it received extremely positive reviews.
On another note, they also recognised that the film that closed the festival, Masquerade (Chang-Min Choo, 2012), follows the recent trend of period dramas, and fits the aesthetic model for global commercial success as carved by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000).
The cinema forum was a unique evening that in many ways reflected the ethos and value of LKFF: interactive, interesting, informative AND important. No doubt the fest will come back bigger, better and even more intriguing next time around.