If it’s time for this blog to wake from its summer hibernation it can only mean that festival season will soon be upon us. Ahead of the London Korean Film Festival kicking off in November they held a teaser screening of Zhang Lü’s Ode to the Goose earlier this week and I dutifully tagged along for a dose of Korean cinema and in the hope of a glimpse of LKFF stalwart Tony Rayns.
The viewer arrives late to Ode to the Goose as the film starts where traditionally the second act would be found. So begins two hours of subtle humour, careful character-driven plotting, and a frisky approach to structure that always left me one step behind. With a pace closer to Hong Sang-soo than Park Chan-wook, and a film that shows its title card after more than an hour has passed, Lü demands your patience and attention.
In the coastal town of Gunsan Yoon-young (Park Hae-il) has taken Song-hyun (Moon So-ri) away for a trip of ambiguous intent. Looking for a place to spend the night they are directed towards a guesthouse that requires “luck” to gain admittance. Luck must be on their side as they are allowed to stay; the guesthouse’s only residents beside the nameless innkeeper (Jung Jin-young) and his recluse autistic daughter (Park So-dam).
With little to do to fill their time Yoon-young and Song-hyun struggle to define their relationship, either for themselves or the audience, all the while tentatively taking romantic steps towards to the pair of introverts who are their hosts. As events unfold plenty of soju and makgeolli, lines are crossed, and timelines become confused.
With Ode to the Goose Zhang Lü has created a puzzle box of a film; one that requires dexterity and concentration to solve. This doesn’t make the film a chore to watch however, far from it. Lü is playful enough to make the film both ambitious in structure and good fun to watch. While he plays with themes of memory, identity, and relationships he utilises the charms of his leading duo keep everything grounded, relatable, and enjoyable.
Consider my interest in this year’s London Korean Film Festival successfully piqued.
The programme for this year’s festival will be launched on September 16th at Regent Street Cinema alongside a screening of Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels. Tickets are available for just £7 so we have no excuse not to go.
It is time to set aside those unwritten LFF reviews as the LKFF is here! The London Korean Film Festival has returned from the capital and runs until 17th November with a season of classic and contemporary Korean cinema. This year’s festival has a special focus on films that explore the lives of Korean women as told through the lenses of female directors as reflected in Thursday’s opening gala screening of Lee Kyoung-mi’s new thriller The Truth Beneath. The festival closes in London with Hong Sang-soo’s latest Yourself and Yours after which the festival goes on tour to Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Belfast from 18th – 27th November.
The festival features a wide range of Korean films and gives a rare opportunity to see films that might not make it back to the big screen in the UK. See the official website for more info or read on to find out what I have seen so far.
The Truth Beneath
In Lee Kyoung-mi’s second feature the wife (Son Ye-jin) of an aspiring politician finds her life upended when her teenage daughter goes missing at the start of the national election campaign. While her husband (Kim Joo-hyuk) remains focussed on his political ambitions she instead picks up where the police investigation has failed and delves into the second life her daughter was leading.
With clever cinematic devices and an unflinching eye Lee Kyoung-mi explores both the story of a young girl’s struggle to find acceptance and friendship alongside a grieving mother’s struggle to get to know her daughter when she is no longer around. The film’s twists created loud gasps from the audience and the tense narrative had us gripped from start to finish. The lead performance by Son Ye-jin was powerfully understated and complex. A powerful opening to the festival and a strong statement to show this year’s commitment to showing the life of Korean women on-screen.
Another female director Lee Hyun-ju tackles a different kind of female relationship in Our Love Story as she explores the beginnings of a romance between a female student and an older young woman (Lee Sang-hee and Ryu Sun-young). The film is much more understated than the thriller above as it focusses on emotional nuance above flashy plot twists.
The romance between the two lovers is handled with great care and sensitivity. Free from the male gaze Our Love Story is capable of including sex between two women without including a full panoramic view of entwined naked forms à la Blue is the Warmest Colour or The Handmaiden. Instead we have a more restrained, tender, and authentic romance on-screen as part of a sweet and emotionally complex romantic drama.
I really do recommend you seek out a screening, a trailer of highlights is below, and if anyone has a spare ticket to the closing gala please let me know; it has already sold out!