Hancinema recently posted an article on Korea’s 2011 Most Disappointing Top 3 Films, which apparently are 만추 (Manchu/ Late Autumn)오늘 (O-neulA Reason to Live) and 카운트다운 (Ka-woon-teu-da-woon/ Countdown). I have praised 만추 (Manchu/ Late Autumn) here, so you will know that I would disagree with such an observation, but ‘disappointing’ in this case does not refer to the films’ quality but their success at the box office. Indeed, the article notes that these were productions that were “just as strong in quality and lingering imagery” as Korea’s top-grossing films of the year (Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon; Sunny; Detective K; The Crucible and Punch currently hold the top 5 spots), yet “came and went without any sound”.

Korea’s Top 10 Films at the 2011 Box Office

“[C]ame and went with without any sound” is a bit misleading, however. Certainly for 만추 (Manchu/ Late Autumn) the critical reception was generally positive and it did win awards (perhaps less than predicted), with Tang Wei scoring several best actress wins for her character portrayal of Anna. Still, it is a little sad that a wonderful film like 만추 (Manchu/ Late Autumn) – the only one of these ‘disappointing top 3’ that I am in a position to judge as I have not (yet) seen 오늘 (O-neul/ A Reason to Live) or 카운트다운 (Ka-woon-teu-da-woon/ Countdown) – resonated so little with viewers.

Fortunately, I do not watch films on the basis of the number of tickets sold, in fact, I don’t think I have ever used that as a criterion. If I had, I would have never ended up watching any Korean/non-Western films at all. What I do look for is a synopsis that grabs me, a trailer that entices me. Directors or actors whose work I have previously liked are also strong motivators, and I scan reviews, especially by critics, like Slate’s Dana Stevens, who seem to share my cinematic tastes. A quick check of the Rotten Tomatoes metre is typically part of the ‘selection process’, although, regrettably, neither Stevens nor Rotten Tomatoes dabble much in non-Western cinema. And then there are award wins, which can be indicative of excellent films – some more so than others (I have greater faith in Cannes, the LFF, Sundance and other, more ‘artsy’, indie-friendly as well international festivals than the Academy Awards). Not just wins, award nominations as well as film festival programmes are good starting points for adding to potential-to-watch-item lists too, as long as one remembers that there are also plenty of outstanding films that are never nominated or don’t travel the festival circuit as persistently as others. In other words: these are criteria to identify worthwhile productions, but not necessarily exclude any. Personal recommendations? Unless I specifically know that friends and/or acquaintances are on the same cinematic wavelength, I tend to ignore them. Which is also why I would rather go to the cinema by myself than desperately trying to find someone to join me. Cinema is very personal – and that’s fine by me.

Bonus link: Bittersweet Life: Korean cinema’s secret popularity in the UK.