Friday, 13 November 2015

10th London Korean Film Festival

I don't really spend my days moving between film festivals -- appealing as that idea sometimes seems -- but the ones I favour do follow upon one another. Last year was the first time we sampled this ambitious celebration of Korean cinema, which travels the world. The organisers managed to schedule some 40 films in 13 days at venues across London with various strands focussing on the work of one or two actors and one or two directors, along with recent popular hits and some classics revisited. This last strand is of particular interest, since I for one know virtually nothing about Korean cinema before it smashed into world art-house consciousness in the '80s, offering us an endless string of memorable and often quirky crime, fantasy, and historical movies.

"Miss Granny" (2014) was a surprise hit at the Korean box office and is something of a heart-warming fancy. Mal-soon is a tetchy 74-year old who lives with her workaholic son's family, where she is just about tolerated by her daughter-in-law and her grandson. When she overhears their discussing whether the time has come to park her in an old folks' home, she fears the worst. Visiting a photo studio called 'Forever Young', she decides that she had best pose now for her funeral portrait while she still can. She doesn't believe the compliments of the flattering photographer who tells her that he can make her look fifty years younger, but on leaving the studio she finds to her horror that she is indeed now the spitting image of her 24-year old self.

Afraid to go home, she is at a loose end. Her family can't understand why she has vanished. Only the elderly beau who takes her in recognises something of his would-be sweetheart in the woman's manner. She may have a young person's body and face, but she has retained her somewhat uncouth granny personality and way of talking; he tries fruitlessly to match her youthfulness by changing his lifestyle and manner of dress for trendier ones.. She manages to connect with her grandson who fancies becoming a rock-star, and with her help as a singer, his group get their first breaks. Even her neglectful son begins to recognise her when he finds some pictures of himself as a baby in his mother's arms. Life is now more fun than it has ever been, but she discovers that should she bleed, the surrounding skin starts to show the signs of aging. The crunch comes when her injured grandson needs a transfusion and only she shares his rare blood group. Here come the spoilers...the decision to save her grandson is a no-brainer and in her own skin she is reunited with her now loving family, the pop group find the fame they crave with another singer, and her motorcycle-riding beau has found his own way to the 'Forever Young' photo shop. All rather sweet...

The actress playing the young Mal-soon (Shim Eun-kyung) also pops up in our second choice "Masquerade" (2012). The idea for this historical drama came from a missing fifteen days in the annals of the Joseon Dynasty many moons ago. The somewhat arrogant and petulant king fears an attack on his life and instructs his Chief Secretary to find a 'ringer' to sleep in his quarters each night. Both the king and his doppelganger, a lowly acrobat, are played by one of the most popular Korean actors Lee Byung-Hun. I have commented previously on this handsome devil, whom I have called the Korean Alain Delon, and I've noticed him in "Bittersweet Life" (2005), "The Good, the Bad and the Weird" (2008), and "I Saw the Devil" (2010). He also, for what it's worth, can be seen in some Hollywood junk like this year's "Terminator Genisys". However he outdoes himself in this film where he creates two very distinct and compelling personalities.

When the king is in fact poisoned and taken away to recuperate, the acrobat who knows nothing of royal etiquette is pushed into impersonating the king in his absence. At first he is impressed by his new finery and delicate food (although he is astounded by the court's fond obsession with his bowel movements!), but as he becomes more involved in the affairs of state, he soon becomes more empathetic to the needs of his 'subjects', who are being milked by greedy aristocrats and landowners. The changes in his personality are noted by the previously ignored Queen, the now largely rejected concubines, and by those court officials with the most to lose. The overriding questions are can the recovering king allow this impostor to live and will the ruse be discovered before his return. I won't answer these questions here, but would encourage you to find the answers yourself by seeking out this very successful movie.

Our final choice which we'll be viewing tomorrow is "A Swordsman in the Twilight" from 1967, one of the aforementioned classics, and purportedly a martial arts masterpiece. Whether I review this next week or am tempted by upcoming distractions remains to be seen...
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