* This post is written by Chloe Hwang for the Korean Cultural Service in New York.
“So come on down, light a cigarette, crack your knuckles and get ready to have a soju bottle broken over your head while you take six blasts of Korean thrillers right in the face.” – NYAFF 2011
Many of us enjoy a chill down the back on summer nights. Bloodcurdling, thrilling, shuddering, and creepy movies are what we need to fight off the smothering heat. And just at the right time of the year, the 10th New York Asian Film Festival presented such Korean films at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Under the theme of ‘Sea of Revenge: New Korean Thrillers,’ 11 films gave New Yorkers long awaited goose bumps.
In the middle of the festival was a Korean film, <Haunters> by Kim Min-Suk. Considering that its director and actors were not in attendance and it was less advertised than others, such as Na Hong-Jin’s <The Chaser> and <Yellow Sea>, I was expecting to spot many vacant seats. Yet a part of me was hoping to find the theater filled with Asian fans of Kang Dong-Won and Ko Soo.
The reality? The complete opposite. The majority of the crowd consisted of non-Asians. Quite frankly, I had to recheck whether I was at the right place. July 9th, 9:30PM, Walter Reade Theater. It was indeed the last of the two <Haunters> screenings, and the theater was almost a full house. The odd scene made me wonder, ‘What made these people come to watch <Haunters>?’
“I am quite a fan of Asian movies and animations, but it’s my first time watching a Korean film.”
New Yorkers love watching Asian films. They say that watching foreign movies with subtitles is a sensational experience they crave once in a while. Most of them were influenced by their Asian friends who introduced them to the Asian cinema. Yet, the Asian films they talked about were primarily Japanese animations and Chinese action movies. Of the 10 individuals interviewed, 8 of them said it was their first time screening a Korean film. In fact, many of them were even unaware of the unwavering popularity of the two main actors in the film.
“Suspense, action, satire and comedy… It got everything in it.”
One mentioned how he liked the unique representation of immigrant workers in the movie. Kyu-Nam’s workplace, ‘Utopia,’ sketches the ideal world where a minority gets employed and foreigners mingle with one another. Many viewers were able to see beyond the surface of the movie and realize that it is not just about two extraordinary men fighting to kill each other for their own good. Instead, viewers were able to see the satire in which the grief and the dark side of minorities were comically relieved. The two foreigners in the movie, Kang Dong-Won with a prosthetic leg and ‘different’ eyes, and Kyu-Nam (Ko Soo) in the lowest social ladder are noticeably different, but they interact with each other throughout the movie. Another viewer commented on the man’s mind-controlling ability, and that it showed the invisible powers of the current society unconsciously manipulating the minds of minorities.
“One thing I didn’t like about it? The last 30 seconds.”
Is the movie about the struggle between an average man against the extraordinary? The director replies ‘No’ by adding the last 30 seconds in the ending. Many acclaimed <Haunters> as a great movie overall, but their opinions regarding the ending was controversial. Some tried to understand it from the director’s point of view, while others said it was simply ‘unnecessary.’ Such controversy did not just happen amongst Korean viewers; it was the same for non-Asians as well.
“Asian films are provocative and cutting-edge, but not always easy to understand.”
<Haunters> was a cat-and-mouse game between Kyu-Nam and the man, but with much deeper implications. The man with the eyes and without a name. Born different from others, attempted to be killed by his parents, playing with little dolls and figures of the city. His hair growing whiter as he continues to fight Kyu-Nam. Kyu-Nam’s finger moving before his abilities are activated… And so much more. When we start to pay a close attention to the movie, we begin to spot every minute detail that makes <Haunters> so special.
New Yorkers were especially impressed by the satire. Perhaps the multicultural environment portrayed by the ‘Utopia’ of <Haunters> played a role in attracting New Yorkers. The fans of the movie were also greatly inspired by the use of savvy computer graphics and special effects in the movie. They also found the strong storyline and vivid characterization very refreshing.
Based on such positive responses from viewers, it is undeniable that the <Haunters> was a success in stimulating the New Yorkers. So when it comes down to the last question, “Are you willing to watch another Korean film in the future?” it was not too surprising to hear a definite “Yes.”