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With May nearly upon us, it’s time for an introduction of Jeon Kye-soo (전계수), the KCCUK’s K-director of the month.

NOTE: This post has been updated (10-05-2012) as the one of the films planned for May 10th has been added to the May 24th screening (due to refurbishment of the KCCUK I believe). The screening of A Perfect Day (no further information is available on this film, but I presume it is a short) seems to have been cancelled.

Jeon Kye-soo (sometimes also ‘Gye-soo’ in Romanised form) was born in 1972 in South Korea and is relatively new to filmmaking. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Sogang University. Inspired by Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s 1991 Delicatessen to become a director, Jeon initially worked in the theatre, both in the production of plays as well as in script writing. His entry into cinema then came with 삼거리 극장 (Samgeori Geukjang/Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater) in 2006, a so-described ‘comedy musical horror’, clearly reflecting Jeon’s ties to the stage. Jeon’s filmography is short. It currently consists of three feature length films and one short, with Jeon having dabbled in a little bit of everything: musical, drama and romance.

With so few years in the filmmaking business there is still rather little to be said about Jeon and only limited information available on him. What he has created thus far has shown promise and earned some laurels (he won the Baeksang Award for Best New Director for Samgeori Geukjang as well as the Baeksang Award for Best Screenplay for the more recent Love Fiction), but he is still only in the early stages of his career. With Jeon’s complete set of works to be screened at the KCCUK in May, it will be a chance to discover a director that will hopefully intrigue in sufficient manner for us to keep watching the future trajectories of his filmmaking.

Film screening dates, trailers and short synopses:

  • May 10th: 삼거리 극장 (Samgeori Geukjang/Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater, 2006) – In the search for her grandmother, So-dan ends up at a cinema, where she soon starts working and meets four ghosts that were once part of a theatre group. With comedy, music and horror all thrown into one surreal mix, Samgeori Geukjang only succeeded moderately at the Korean box office and was not received warmly by all critics either. However, over time, it gained name & fame as a cult film, and has been likened to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the works of Tim Burton.

Musical horror cult comedy: Jeon’s debut film.

  • UPDATED! – May 24th (Double bill): “If You Were Me” segment from 시선 1318 (Siseon 1318 – 2008) and 뭘 또 그렇게까지 (Wol Ddo Geureonggeggaji/Lost and Found, 2010)

    Part 1: “If You Were Me” is a short that is part of the omnibus drama Siseon 1318 featuring works by five directors (Bang Eun-jin, Lee Hyeon-seung, Yoon Seon-ho and Kim Tae-yong being the other filmmakers involved in the project). Produced by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, five stories aim to “capture the magic and complexities of being a teenager”. Jeon’s contribution, “If You Were Me”, sometimes also known as “U and Me” (note: I was unable to determine the Korean titles for either of these, but I’m assuming the latter is the more literal translation of the original), tackles the topic of having no control over one’s life as an underage person. So-young, an untypical, weight-lifting girl, and Cheol-ssu, an overly shy boy about to be sent abroad by his mother, are forced into futures that others are mapping out for them. The film uses minimal dialogue and long takes, “captur[ing] subtle sentiments” as the young actors “unleash their emotions through fleeting glances”. (All quotes: via hancinema.net).

    Siseon 1318 screened as the closing film of the 2008 Jeonju International Film Festival before being released in Korean cinemas. Further information on the project is supposed to be available on the website of the National Human Rights Commission – I wasn’t able to find it, but it’s still an interesting site to explore.

    Part 2: 뭘 또 그렇게까지 (Wol Ddo Geureonggeggaji/Lost and Found, 2010) – Wol Ddo Geureonggeggaji is apparently a retake of a Hong Sang-soo film, but I wasn’t able to confirm this. The story is as follows: a female college student hopes to sleep with a painter as she is convinced it will fill her with creative inspiration. The painter, despite having doubts, gives in to the sexual temptation. The basic premise and relationship are cliché, but apparently there’s a fresh take on it all.

    Not to be confused with Jeong Jeong-hwa’s Lost & Found, which shares the English title but not the Korean one (달콤한 거짓말/Dalkomhan Geojitmal, literally Sweet, Sweet Lies, 2008).

  • May 31st: 러브픽션 (Leobeu piksyeon/Love Fiction, 2011) + Q&A with director – Trailer 1 (1:10 min) and Trailer 2 (1:31 min). Suffering from writer’s block for several years already, Joo-wol meets Hee-jin at a book fair in Germany. He falls in love and, back in Seoul, takes her out on a date. Using Hee-jin as his muse and finding out as much as possible about her, he is able to start writing again. However, the discoveries he makes about his new girlfriend and her past are everything but ordinary and simple (keywords: ‘countless ex-lovers’, ‘thick armpit hair’). Scripted first in 2007 (with actor Ha Jung-woo on board from the start), the production of the film was cancelled in 2009, only to be picked up again in 2011 as Jeon struggled to find parties willing to fund the romantic comedy – Love Fiction was deemed too unconventional and not suited for general audiences. The project eventually came off the ground with the help of producer Eom Yong-hwun, who apparently sold his apartment to launch the production company Samgeori Pictures and fund Jeon’s film. Fortunately, the gamble paid off: in the first quarter of 2012, 1.7 million tickets were sold in Korea, Love Fiction coming in at No. 8 of the Top 10 list of films watched.The film has been called the ‘Korean’ 500 Days of Summer and the ‘male’ version of The Diary of Bridget Jones. That doesn’t get me inspired, so I’ll just ignore these comparisons for now.

Bonus Bits:

    • Interview with Jeon Kye-soo on Love Fiction.
    • Jeon worked in the production department of Kwon Chil-in’s 싱글즈 (Singgeuljeu/Singles, South Korea, 2003).
    • The English poster for Love Fiction (a Korean version of this poster also exists):