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*Apologies for this post being only ready after the first screening took place!*

November may be filled with plenty of Korean cinema already – thanks to the London Korean Film Festival – but there is more film fare still, for the KCCUK‘s Year of 12 Directors is on the programme as well with Song Hae-seong (송해성) being the man of the month.

About the Director

Song Hae-seong (in front of a Japanese film poster for 역도산/Rikidozan, 2004).

There is not much information available about Song Hae-seong (송해성), born in Seoul in 1964, but what I do find reveals that this month’s KCCUK director is somewhat different from the ones we have had the chance to get to know over the past year. First, unlike several of the previous directors – including Jeon Kye-soo (전계수)Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) and Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환) – Song was actually formally trained in film. Although he dropped out of high-school, he enrolled at Hanyang University (한양대학교) with a GED. He was particularly interested in the subject of human violence, which he apparently explored in a number of short films during his college years. After obtaining a B.F.A. in Filmmaking, he then went on to work as an assistant director, including for 수잔브링크의 아리랑 (Sujan Beulingkeuui Alilang/Susanne Brink’s Arirang, South Korea/Sweden, 1991, dir. by Jang Gil-su), 게임의 법칙 (Ge-im-ui beobchig/Rules of the Game, 1994) and 본 투 킬 (Bon Too Kil/Born to Kill, South Korea, 1996) before making his own films.

Second, while we have had a number of directors such as Song Il-gon (송일곤)Lee Hyun-seung (이현승) and  Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) that put women at the heart of their films, Song is the first one to with a distinct interest in portraying males on the screen: 역도산 (Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary, 2004) focuses on the life story of the Japanese-Korean wrestler Momota Mitsuhiro (百田 光浩), better known as Rikidōzan (力道山 in Japanese, 역도산 in Korean), while 파이란 (Pailan/Failan, 2001) sees the transformation of a failed gangster that cares for nothing and no one into a man with feelings.

Beyond this, it is also worth noting that Song likes to work with adaptations – with Pailan he cinematically retells the short story 「ラブ・レター」(Love Letter, published in the collection 「鉄道員」, 1996) by the Japanese writer Jiro Asada, 우리들의 행복한 시간 (Woorideuleui Haengbokhan Sigan/Maundy Thursday aka Our Happy Time, 2006) is based on a Gong Ji-Young’s novel of the same title, while 무적자 (Moojeokja/A Better Tomorrow, 2010) is a remake of the 1986 英雄本色 by Hong Kong director John Woo. The subject matter of these and other Song films is varied, but the director has a penchant for the melodramatic and tragic, happy endings absolutely not guaranteed. Since the very beginning – Song’s largely unnoticed debut with 카라 (Kala/Calla, 1999) – death has featured centrally, with characters having to come to terms with often rather cruel fates.

Whether such situations feature in Song Hae-seong’s two upcoming productions is not clear, as plot details for both are still scarce. According to hancinema.net 고령화가족 (Golyeonghwagajog/Graying Family) and 러브 어페어 (Leobeu Oopeeo/Love Affair) are still scheduled to be completed in 2012, Kobiz however has no listing for either one. Golyeonghwagajog is another adaptation – based on a work by novelist Cheon Myeong-gwan – in which a 48-year old man moves in together with his mother and older brother. They are also soon joined by their sister, who brings along a child. Despite the addition of a young one into the household, the overall the average age of the family is more than 40 years, hence “Graying Family”. Even less information is available about Leobeu Oopeeo, which is listed as a drama “made with the concept of newly questioning the love and life of this generation” (quote). If the classification is accurate, it would be Song’s first venture into television, but given that Koreans love their melos, that’s perhaps not so much of a surprise.

Filmography

  • 카라 (Kala/Calla, 1999)
  • 파이란 (Pailan/Failan, 2001)
  • 역도산 (Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary, 2004)
  • 우리들의 행복한 시간 (Woorideuleui Haengbokhan Sigan/Maundy Thursday aka Our Happy Time, 2006)
  • 무적자 (Moojeokja/A Better Tomorrow, 2010)
  • 러브 어페어 (Leobeu Oopeeo/Love Affair, to be released 2012)
  • 고령화가족 (Golyeonghwagajog/Graying Family, to be released 2012)

Awards and Nomination

  • Grand Bell Award for Best Director at the Blue Dragon Film Awards for Pailan (2001).
  • Lotus Prize for Best Director at the Deauville Asian Film Festival – for Pailan
  • Grand Bell Award for Best Director at the Blue Dragon Film Awards for Rikidozan.

Film screening dates, trailers and short synopses

*For trailers click on the film titles*

November 8th: 역도산 (Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary, 2004)

Momota Mitsuhiro (百田 光浩) aka Rikidōzan becomes a national hero in Japan when he enters the American wrestling-ring in the 1950s – at a time when the shame suffered by the WWII defeat against the US still loomed over the country. That he is in fact Korean-born makes Rikidōzan’s story more complex than one would expect.

November 15th: 우리들의 행복한 시간 (Woorideuleui Haengbokhan Sigan/Maundy Thursday aka Our Happy Time, 2006)

It is the story of a deeply unhappy woman and a deeply unhappy man who both wish to die. While the woman’s suicide attempt fails, the man’s wish is more certain to come true, for he has killed several other people and is now on death row. Both carry profound emotional scars and have long disconnected themselves from the world, but a Catholic nun in the young man’s prison thinks they may have something to say to another.

First told in novel form – written by Gong Ji-Young – it’s a tale that captivated many, leading to Song Hae-seong’s film (2006) as well as a Japanese manga adaptation, 「私たちの幸せな時間」 (Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan/Our Happy Hours, 2007) by Sahara Mizu (aka Yumeka Sumomo).

Cover the Japanese manga adaptation of Gong Ji-Young’s novel.

I don’t know the original novel, I haven’t seen the film, but I have read the manga. It’s absolutely gorgeous but I cried buckets. This is a profoundly sad tale about more than unfortunate circumstances and terrible burdens. Be prepared.

Note: Kang Dong-won! ♥

November 22nd: 파이란 (Pailan/Failan, 2001)

Kang-jae is a gangster, who one day agrees to a contract marriage to a Chinese woman. Though he never meets his fake wife, he receives a letter – a love letter – from her, thanking him for his kindness to marry her and allow her to stay in Korea. Entirely unexpected, these words stir feelings in a man who has never opened his heart to anything.

November 29th: 무적자 (Moojeokja/A Better Tomorrow, 2010) + Q&A with director  – REVIEW

More gangster stuff. As mentioned before, it’s a remake of John Woo’s 1986 英雄本色 (Yīngxióng běnsè/A Better Tomorrow). Moojeokja is about Kim Hyuk, a mobster living the high life in the Busan, South Korea. Though it may look like a good life from the outside, Kim is haunted by his conscience, for he left behind his young brother and mother in North Korea. Problems also arise when Kim Hyuk is betrayed in a meet-up with Thai gangsters and ends up in prison for several years. Upon his release he seeks revenge…

Bonus Bits

There is so little info on Song Hae-seong available that I ended up consulting websites in English, Korean, French and Italian!