09 20 Oct '24

Focus on South Korean Cinema: a bunch of new and classic features

Heaven To The Land of Happiness still 1
News 31 Aug 2022
South-Korean cinema is more popular and critically acclaimed than ever, which is why the 49th edition of Film Fest Gent has opted for a 'Focus on South Korean Cinema', including new and classic features from the peninsula. Award-winning director Im Sang-soo will present his latest film - Heaven: To the Land of Happiness - in person. As previously announced, the festival will welcome composers Cho Young-wuk and Lee Byeong-woo on 20 October for the film music concert Korean Composers, also highlighting the music of Jung Jae-il.

While the Oscar win for Bong Joon-ho's Parasite might have come as a surprise, South Korean cinema has long been one of the world's most interesting. And certainly since the remarkable 21st-century resurgence of the peninsula's film industry. The popularity, but also the quality and subversiveness of South Korean cinema is the perfect argument for Film Fest Gent to turn its spotlights towards the country's new and established film talent.

Focus on South Korean cinema

The festival is devoting two sections within its film programme to South Korean cinema. Mixing both debuting and seasoned talent, the section 'Focus on South Korean Cinema' includes two new films by the ever-productive director Hong Sang-soo, one of the driving forces of modern Korean cinema. In The Novelist's Film he again celebrates quotidian life (full of art, drinking and interesting happenstance meetings), depicting a female novelist who suffers from writer's block and instead decides to make a film. Equally minimalist and charming, Walk Up feels like another melancholic entry in Hong's visual diary. Here, a middle-aged director and his daughter are taken on a tour through a building, floor by floor, by its owner.

The Novelist's Film still
The Novelist's Film

Celebrated filmmaker Im Sang-soo and exciting talents such as July Jung and Park Song-yeol are presenting their films in person. Im Sang-soo's latest - Heaven: To the Land of Happiness - is a witty buddy film, characterised by the director's usual confident storytelling and the presence of lead actors Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder). Next Sohee, July Jung's sophomore feature, is an emphatic and critical look into the grip capitalism holds on the Korean education system, while also boasting an incredible performance by newcomer Kim Si-eun. The pitfalls of capitalism are also mercilessly exposed in Hot in Day, Cold at Night about a twenty-something couple desperately trying to make ends meet. Real-life couple and all-round filmmaking talents Park Song-yeol and Won Hyangra practically made this film on their own with almost no budget.

The unique and often daring genre cinema of South Korea is represented by Park Sye-young's imaginative debut The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra. Dreamlike and unconventional, the film traces the journey of a vengeful fungus on a mattress.

Heaven To The Land of Happiness still 2
Heaven: To the Land of Happiness


Underlining the resurgence of Korean cinema in the 21st century, the retrospective presented in the section 'Classics' and curated by Patrick Duynslaegher consists of films released in the last 22 years, including recognised and less recognised masterpieces. There is one exception, however. Korean classic The Housemaid (1960) by Kim Ki-young, a claustrophobic morality tale, features in the section because of its immense influence on future generations, including Bong Joon-ho who took the film as an inspiration for his worldwide hit Parasite. Of course, Bong Joon-ho is an influential figure himself and thus his monster movie The Host (2006) is one of the selected classics.

Further featuring in the retrospective is an incredible mix of styles and stories from idiosyncratic directors. With the biopic Painted Fire (2002), Im Kwon-taek - the most productive Korean director - won the award for Best Director at the Cannes film festival. His 98th(!) film traces the life of the 19th-century painter Jang Seung-up (played by Choi Min-sik). Woman is the Future of Man (2004) is the third film by Hong Sang-soo at this year's festival. An early-days Hong Sang-soo, this capricious melodrama tells the story of two old school friends who decide to visit an ex-girlfriend. With his first full-length feature, The Chaser (2008), director Na Hong-jin orchestrated an incredible tense duel between a pimp and a serial killer, while Yeon Sang-ho's feature debut - The King of Pigs (2011) - explores teen violence, bullying and class inequality in South Korea. Yeon Sang-ho went on to direct Train to Busan (2016) a few years later. Medical thriller Madonna (2015) by Shin Su-won, who likes to combine social critique with genre elements, follows a nurse trying to protect a comatose patient in a private hospital. Lee Chang-dong's Burning (2018) needs no introduction. This superbly constructed slow-burner proved to be one of the most masterful Korean films of recent years and is in the selection for everyone to (re)discover.

Curator Patrick Duynslaegher will dive into the history and richness of Korean cinema in an essay in a special booklet (in Dutch) devoted to the 'Classics: Focus on South Korean Cinema' section, as well as on the Film Fest Gent website with longreads about the filmmakers. You can order your copy on our website.

Still The Housemaid
The Housemaid

Korean Composers Concert
No Film Fest Gent without a spectacular film music concert. On 20 October, the festival will be serving up a musical trip to South Korea with the Korean Composers Concert, a concert entirely devoted to the best that Korean music for screen has to offer. Brussels Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro Dirk Brossé, will perform music by Cho Young-wuk (Oldboy, The Handmaiden), the go-to composer of Park Chan-wook, and Lee Byeong-woo who worked with Bong Joon-ho on Mother and The Host. Both composers will be present at the concert. The music of Jung Jae-il will also have its place at the Korean Composers Concert. His scores for cultural phenomena Parasite and Squid Game - amongst others - will be performed live.

Tickets for the film music concert Korean Composers are now available on www.filmfestival.be and www.worldsoundtrackawards.com.

Sonmat x FFG
Film Fest Gent and cultural platform Sonmat work together to let festival visitors indulge in the Korean food philosophy 'sonmat' (literally 'hand taste'). On Sunday 16 October, there will be a double bill of films, alongside Sonmat's culinary activities in De Vooruit. More info will be available soon. In collaboration with VIERNULVIER.

Tickets for all films will be available from 22 September onwards.

The Focus on South Korean Cinema is supported by the Korean Cultural Center (Brussels).



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