Two Korean Films in London in Autumn 2016

* Mother and a Guest”
* Take Care of My Cat”

Well, those two in particular, but actually there are several Korean films in London in Autumn 2016.

* Thursday 6 October 2016
London Korean Film Festival 2016 Teaser

* Wednesday 5 to Thursday 13 October 2016 during the 2016 BFI London Film Festival

* Thursday 20 to Sunday 30 October 2016 1st London East Asia Film Festival

* Thursday 3 to Thursday 17 November 2016 London Korean Film Festival 2016, then highlights from the programme will be in Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Belfast

But I particularly want to promote two films.

The first was made in 1961. On Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 of October 2016 the Korean Cultural Centre UK is presenting
Mother and a Guest” – 12A – 1961 – 102 mins – South Korea
Special Presentation from the Korean Cultural Centre UK
A six-year-old girl, Ok-hui lives with her mother and grandmother. People refer to their house as the “Widow House”. When Mr Han, a friend of Ok-hui’s uncle, moves in as a lodger, the dynamics of the house begin to change.

I saw this film five or six years ago at a London Korean Film Festival screening, and loved it. The quotes and links below explain why. It’s a melodrama – think maybe Douglas Sirk – but narrated by a six-year-old girl, and has a wonderful opening credits sequence introducing the characters: the film is worth seeing just for that!

So I’ll be at one – or possibly both! – of these two screenings this week. – news … Adam reviews Mother and a Guest (1961), a classic Shin Sang-ok romance on unspeakable desire between two title roles, featuring the cutest narrator in the history of Korean cinema. …
A detailed and very interesting critique of the film by Adam Hartzell.

User Reviews – A fantastic old Corean melodrama – 4 July 2008 – by refresh daemon (United States)

My Mother and the Houseguest is a remarkable gem by the late director, Shin Sang OK. While it’s a rather conservative tale told in the tradition of Corean melodrama, it’s done with such a high level of polish and points out societal tensions at the dawn of modernization in Corea while telling a touching story about loneliness and impossible love that it’s hard not to consider this film as something beyond the ordinary.

The story centers on the family that resides in the “widows house”, where mother-in-law resides with her late son’s wife and daughter, along with their housemaid, also a widow. Their day to day existence is shaken up by the arrival of a man, friend of the mother’s brother, who takes up residence in their guest room. However, due to the cultural traditions of the time, it was considered unfaithful to the late spouses if widowers and especially widows were to see other people. Throw in some tension with some mistaken identities and conflict between filial loyalty and the passions of one’s heart and you have a potent brew for a classic melodrama.

Narrated by the daughter (clearly a voice-over by an older actress), the picture manages to keep the mother and the houseguest from interacting throughout most of the film while still conveying a surprising amount of attraction between the two, often using the precocious daughter as a bridge. It’s both the impressive feat of subtlety used combined with strong moments of melodrama, seen between the non-interactions between the mother and guest as well as a touching scene between the mother and her mother-in-law that really sell this film.

Combined with some impressive aesthetic choices in shooting, solid performances by the thesps, this film would be notable, but some of the imagery used to convey the contrast between traditional culture and modern culture and the conflict therein is also quite surprising. Using the housemaid and her suitor to contrast with the wealthier mother and her suitor to say something about class, tradition, and the conflicts between the way of the past and the present are quite effective and also, pay attention to the presence of trains, which I suppose you can do in many Corean films.

My Mother and Her Guest is a notable old melodrama, while not opaquely subversive, still manages to say a thing or two about society at the time of its making (1961) and also provides an emotional force of entertainment. I don’t think everyone will find this film as potent as I did, but this was the film I watched many years ago that cemented a then curiosity about Corean film into a love for it. 9/10.

The second, made in 2001 is Take Care of My Cat. I’ll update this when screening dates and times are available, but for now reasons why you should see it.

* A review from 2001 by Darcy Paquet on his excellent website

“Koreans don’t like cats,” says director Jeong Jae-eun. “Cats are fussy, independent, and don’t listen to what you tell them. If they don’t like their home, they simply leave.” For Jeong, an avid cat lover, the animals are also a fitting symbol for the vitality and attitude of Korea’s young women. Take Care of My Cat tells the story of such women (and their cat) with a freshness and originality that places it among the best films of the year.

Take Care of My Cat is the first film directed by a Korean woman to be released in close to three years. Although a large number of women directors are poised to debut in the near future, this is nonetheless an indication of how male voices have continued to dominate Korean cinema. “There have been no movies in the past that have depicted well how young Korean women think, how they play and what they worry about,” says the director. “I hope that this film can give audiences a sense of what young Korean women are like and how beautiful they are.”

The film tells the story of five women who are just beginning their lives after graduating from high school. Each of the women face different challenges, be it family or money, but they are united in their need to try new things and to be taken seriously. The plot traces several stories at once, but highlights the conflicts its protagonists face both among themselves and with a society that largely overlooks them.

One of the most exciting aspects of this film is the new talent it highlights. This is the first feature film by director Jeong Jae-eun, following a string of award-winning short films. This movie will hopefully be only the start of a long and interesting career. Many of the actors in the film are rising stars as well, particularly Bae Doona (poised perhaps to break out into a major star in 2002) and Lee Yo-won.

This movie seems to get on the inside of what it is like to be young. From its ultra-cool soundtrack to its clever use of text messaging, the film is filled with memorable details that remain long in the viewer’s memory. (Darcy Paquet)

* From a now defunct UK website … Jeong Jae-Eun’s latest film The Aggressives looks very interesting. I am not really familiar with it, but her film, Take Care of My Cat is one of the finest film’s to emerge out of Korea. Her ability and courage to tackle feminist issues in a society dominated by men is inspiring. …

* My memory (but I could be wrong: November.2016 will be the first time I have seen it for several years) is that it easily passes the Bechdel Test: I think most of the young women’s conversations are not about men.

* One of the leading roles is played by my second favourite living actor Bae Doo-na. And I’m not alone in being very impressed by her: Top Tens – 2002 – Adam Hartzell

5. Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001) … And Take Care of My Cat is what we need more of, that is, quality tales of girls coming of age that aren’t filtered, (or should I say “focused”), through the hormones of boys. The sisters are sure doing it for themselves, and with a (Ms.) vengeance.

4. Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong Joon-ho, 2000) — I finally went and bought myself a Region Free DVD player this year. No longer can The Man tell me what I can see. And no longer can The Man keep such gems as this lovely taboo tale of chases on foot, dreams dressed in yellow hoods, and stories of Boiler Kim. I’m still racing around the apartment complex with Lee Sung-jae and Bae Doona accompanied by the jazzy chaos of the soundtrack. This film is well deserving of all the accolades I read when I joined the Board two years ago. And Bae, who will show up one more time on this list, is now officially one of my favorite Korean actresses.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Yes – also never miss a chance to see Barking Dogs Never Bite.

A low-ranking university lecturer (Lee Sung-jae), strained by the pressures of money and his wife’s pregnancy, snaps one night at the incessant barking of a neighbor’s puppy. After seizing the dog and exacting a cruel revenge, he nonetheless fails to secure the peace and quiet he so desires. Meanwhile, an employee at the apartment office (Bae Doo-na) receives a notice from a young girl about her missing dog…

Barking Dogs Never Bite Barking Dogs Never Bite is hard to characterize: part comedy and part cruel social satire, the film is spiced with scenes and characters which seem unique to the cinema of Korea, or perhaps any country. The film neither looks nor feels like an art film, and yet on closer viewing, the aesthetic it creates is both complex and extremely well-executed.

Part of what makes this film stand out is its characterization. The women characters, for one, contrast sharply with the naive, pretty image that dominates Korean film. Our male lead arouses both sympathy and horror in turn, leaving the viewer unsure of whether to identify with him. Characters like the janitor, with his penchant for Korean dog soup, also leave an unforgettable impression.

My favorite part of this film, though, are the small details scattered throughout: an erratic jazz soundtrack; the predominance of the color yellow; rolling pears; abrupt cuts to airplanes or imaginary cheering crowds; a dispute resolved by a roll of toilet paper; and the hauntingly-narrated tale of “Boiler Kim.”

The strength of this, Bong Joon-ho’s debut feature, was foreshadowed in 1995 by his amazing short film Incoherence, in which a series of professors are caught in shameful acts unbecoming of their status. Incidentally, here too we see a searing indictment of academia, where rampant drinking parties predominate, and bribery remains the only path to a promotion.

Every time I watch this movie I’m impressed more and more. With so many films made all over the world, it’s become rare to find a work that feels like it’s writing its own rules. Nowhere to Hide (1999) was one such film, with its wild visuals and stripped narrative. In a much more subtle way, Barking Dogs Never Bite may stake a similar claim. (Darcy Paquet)

Wikipedia has some information on its alternative title: “… The film’s original Korean title is a satirical take on A Dog of Flanders, a European pet story that is very popular in parts of East Asia. …”

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