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BIFF opens Korean indie films up to international audiences

Small Korean films shine light on Korean life

BUSAN -- Huge blockbuster hits keep churning out of Korean cinema in recent years, and all the while Korea’s indie film scene keeps on producing quality films exploring aspects of Korean life on a smaller budget, if no less a smaller scale.

This year’s Busan International Film Fest, running Oct. 6-15, presents 301 films from 69 countries, maintaining its position as Asia’s largest. In addition to international cinema and local blockbusters, the spotlight will also shine on lesser-known directors in the Korean Cinema Today Vision section, with all 11 featured films marking their world premieres at the fest.

Sure to resonate with Korea’s twenty- and thirtysomethings is Kim Eui-gon’s “Second Winter,” following a young married couple struggling to find their place.

In the dead of winter in a small, run-down apartment with a boiler that works only intermittently, external pressures bear hard on the couple. Societal expectations hit husband Hyun-ho especially hard. Having quit his company job to act onstage, where he can “feel alive,” he’s also pulled to provide so they can “live like normal people.”

Wife Jung-hee, meanwhile, is denied a full-time permanent position in her field, told that at 29 and married, she’d soon leave the company to give birth -- despite her own plans. As her husband’s drama unfolds, she asserts herself as not just a supporting character in his story, but an equal partner who can support him and his dream. 

Kim Eui-gon’s “Second Winter” (BIFF)
Kim Eui-gon’s “Second Winter” (BIFF)

Not the typical story of inspiration, “Second Winter” ruminates on the virtue of following one’s dreams versus trying to be “normal.”

Across the spectrum in many regards is Min Je-hong’s “The Noises,” shot in black and white in an unabashed art-house style.

The film opens with a long shot of a depressed Jun-ho at the edge of his rooftop, then moves to his bedroom, where a fixed noose hangs and he prepares to take his own life. Fortunately, it seems, beautiful 21-year-old Scarlet knocks on the door.

The camera lingers on shots of her cigarette-holding gloved hand, curling smoke and the noose framed between the two, not minding the pretentiousness. As Scarlet’s ulterior motive is eventually revealed following a series of fantastical events, the film pokes into the depths of Jun-ho’s loneliness and feelings of futility.

A true standout is Shin Dong-il’s “Come, Together,” featuring a couple and their daughter just as the characters separately face crises of identity in a competitive Korean society that leads them to get dirty. 

Min Je-hong’s “The Noises” (BIFF)
Min Je-hong’s “The Noises” (BIFF)

Husband Bum-goo is dismissed with a gold lighter from his job of 18 years by an unscrupulous boss, as wife Mi-young -- a self-described “credit delinquent who sells credit cards for a living” -- ignores certain rules to compete against rival Eun-jeong. Meanwhile, daughter Han-na nervously watches the 17 spots ahead of her on the Korea University waiting list tick down, as she spends time with her more free-spirited friend Yu-gyeong, eventually questioning what kind of life she really wants to lead.

Largely feeling familiar, “Come, Together” offers the audience perspective into modern life in Korea, though with some twists and turns. With depth in both characters and plot, the complex and emotional family drama is well-paced and tempered with humor throughout, however dark it turns.

For information on venues and a full timetable of the Busan International Film Festival, visit www.biff.kr.

By Kevin Lee Selzer (klselzer@heraldcorp.com)
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