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Hyun Jin Cho on The London Korean Film Festival 2017

Hyun Jin Cho is the film curator at the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK). The KCCUK organises a diverse set of film programmes throughout the year including Korean Film Nights, a free weekly screening at the centre, and the annual London Korean Film Festival showcasing a broad spectrum of Korean cinema, both past and present.

Autumn in the capital is always a busy time for film enthusiasts, with the London Film Festival in October, as well as several other national film festivals across the season. The London Korean Film Festival is back this year for its 12th outing, a week earlier than usual, opening on 26 October and running until 8 November in London, and then visiting 5 cities around the UK until 19 November.

Our programme features 60 titles with several UK and International Premieres. Once again, we celebrate the diversity of Korean cinema through nine distinct strands, including our special focus on Korean noir, the most talked-about contemporary hits (Cinema Now), works that highlight women's perspectives (Women’s Voices), rediscovered classic films, bold documentaries whose influence reaches beyond the screen (Documentary), and contemporary artists’ moving image works (Artist Video). 

We understand ‘Korean noir' as a style of filmmaking which adapts and reinvents the canons of film noir within the context of Korean society. After doing our own detective work to locate the prints and find the rights holders, we are proud of having programmed some of the key titles spanning from 1964 to 2017, each reflecting the particular traditions of Korean cinema.

Black Hair

The programme includes two classic masterpieces, Black Hair by Lee Man-hee and The Last Witness by Lee Doo-yong, both of which have been recently restored by the Korean Film Archive. The Last Witness, presented at last year’s Busan International Film Festival and the Berlinale this year is an acute work of social realism, and has also received critical acclaim for its masterful treatment of crime/noir genre conventions. Other notable titles by distinctive directors are Nowhere to Hide by Lee Myung-se, Kilimanjaro by Oh Seung-uk, Green Fish by Lee Chang-dong, Die Bad by Ryoo Seung-wan, and A Bittersweet Life by Kim Jee-woon. We are also presenting a few new titles which are due to be released in the UK this year, including New World by Park Hoon-jung, and The Merciless by Byun Sung-hyun. Additionally we are excited to organise a Forum on Korean noir with the prominent noir scholar Eddie Muller (Founder and President of The Film Noir Foundation) and film critic Huh Moonyung (Programme Director of the Busan Film Center), as well as directors Lee Doo-yong and Oh Seung-uk (The Shameless 2016).

For Women’s Voices, we are working with the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival and feminist film activist, Sophie Mayer, after the warmly received special focus on women’s cinema last year, in which both played a key role. For this strand, we are presenting one feature film, one documentary and three shorts, all of which carefully posit a feminist point of view within contemporary South Korean politics. Kangyu Garam’s documentary Candle Wave Feminists is most timely, offering a rarely talked-about feminist insight into the historical 2016-2017 candlelight protests. The screening of this film will be presented by grassroots documentary filmmakers/activists Ifama and Treasa O’Brien. Jamsil, Lee Wanmin’s first feature film, is a dreamlike portrait of female friendship in which the past and present become intertwined.


Our Documentary strand is programmed in collaboration with Matthew Barrington and Ricardo Matos Cabo from Essay Film Festival. This year we have chosen to focus on the film work of Pinks, a feminist collective based in Seoul. Pinks aims to practice resistance against social inequality and the suppression of human rights, particularly amongst sexual minorities. Alongside their activist work, they make documentary films in order to bring together socially marginalised groups, to foster solidarity and to document protest. Two films which highlight their commitment: Two Doors and its sequel The Remnants. Two Doors (2012) investigates into the ‘Yongsan Tragedy’ and makes a compelling piece of evidence against state-sponsored violence. The Remnants (2016) focuses on the personal accounts of the five victims who were accused of legal violations stemming from the Yongsan Tragedy. We are excited to welcome Lee Hyuk-sang to London to engage in a conversation with Dr Melissa Butcher, discussing more about Pinks’ work as well as the tradition of political activism and documentary filmmaking in Korea and the UK.

While I’ve focused here on the main cultural strands of our programme, those looking for the visceral thrills of South Korea’s thriving blockbuster scene will not walk away disappointed. The likes of Park Chan wook (The Handmaiden) and Bong Joon-ho (Okja) are now well known in the UK cinema scene, but there’s a wealth of new talent to explore within our strand Cinema Now. Kang Yun-sung’s The Outlaws (aka Crime City) is currently topping the local box office in Korea (and beating the competition from the Hollywood smash, Kingsman: The Golden Circle!) and Cho Ui-seok’s slick action-thriller Master, featuring star actor Lee Byung-hun, was a major hit earlier in the year. LGBT youth drama In Between Seasons and Come, Together, a family drama which explores the cost of Korea’s competition driven society, both add vital new voices to this colourful strand. With 60 films to choose from over the coming weeks the 12th London Korean Film festival has something for everyone!

A Dream of Iron