Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Series continues through December 4
Under elected presidents Kim Young-sam (1993-98) and Kim Dae-jung (1998–2003), freedom in South Korea flourished as military rule ended. Nowhere was that more evident than in movie theaters; while North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il was trying to create his own propaganda film industry in North Korea, such South Korean auteurs as Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sang-soo, and Park Chan-wook began making genre-redefining works that quickly gained international attention. The Film Society of Lincoln Center pays tribute to this artistic revolution in “Relentless Invention: New Korean Cinema, 1996–2003,” a twelve-day, twenty-one-film salute continuing at the Walter Reade Theater through December 4. Below is a look at four of the selections; the festival also includes Bong Joon-ho’s debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Hong Sang-soo’s The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, Kim Sang-jin’s Attack the Gas Station, and Jeong Jae-eun’s Take Care of My Cat, among others.
JOINT SECURITY AREA (Park Chan-wook, 2000)
Thursday, November 28, 7:00
Park Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area takes place at the DMZ Joint Security Area known as Panmunjeom, the dividing line between North and South Korea and where soldiers from each country actually face one another directly. Major Sophie Jean of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (Lee Young-Ae) has arrived to investigate the violent murder of two North Korean officers but discovers during her inquiry that key facts are missing involving South Korean hero Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok’s (Lee Byung-hun) relationship to injured North Korean Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho). Told in a series of flashbacks, the gripping story deals with duty, honor, courage, and brotherhood — as well as the absurdity that war and politics inject into individual behavior and common human decency. As always, Song Kang-ho’s (The Host, Thirst) big, round face dominates the screen, his hulking figure at the center of the controversy.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (SALINUI CHUEOK) (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)
Thursday, November 28, 2:00
Sunday, December 2, 7:00
Monday, December 3, 1:15
In 2006, South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho burst onto the international cinematic landscape with the sleeper hit The Host, a modern-day monster movie with a lot of heart. He followed that up with the touching segment “Shaking Tokyo” in the compilation film Tokyo!, and Mother, the futuristic thriller Snowpiercer, and Okja, about an extraordinary pig. Inspired by actual events, Bong’s second film, 2003’s Memories of Murder, is a psychological thriller set in a rural South Korean town. With a serial killer on the loose, Seoul sends experienced inspector Suh (Kim Sang-kyung) to help with the case, which is being bungled by local detectives Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roe-ha), who consistently tamper with evidence, bring in the wrong suspects, and torture them in both brutal and ridiculously funny ways. But as the frustration level builds and more victims are found, even Suh starts considering throwing away the book and doing whatever is necessary to catch the killer. Bong’s first major success, earning multiple awards at film festivals around the world, Memories of Murder is a well-paced police procedural that contains just enough surprises to overcome a few too many genre clichés. The film is beautifully shot by Kim Hyung-gu, from wide-open landscapes to a busy, crowded factory. But the film is dominated by Song’s unforgettable face, a physical and emotional wonder whether he’s goofing around with a prisoner or dead-set on catching a criminal.
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook, 2002)
Saturday, December 1, 6:00
Tuesday, December 4, 4:00
Park Chan-wook kicked off his revenge trilogy with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (even though the second film, Oldboy, was the first one released in the States), a creepy, quirky tale that lays low for quite a while before busting loose with a massive splattering of the old ultra-violence. After deaf-mute Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) fails miserably in a desperate, ridiculous attempt to get his dying sister (Lim Ji-eun) a kidney, the recently laid-off Ryu is convinced by his anarchist girlfriend, Youngmin (Bae Doo-na), to kidnap the four-year-old daughter (Han Bo-bae) of Park (Song Kang-ho), the man who owned the factory that kicked him out. But when the plan goes awry, both Ryu and Park become obsessed with avenging their torn-apart lives. Although the first half of the film is too slow and heads off in too many directions, the second half brings everything together, chock full of the kind of violence promised by the title.
OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Tuesday, December 4, 9:00
The second in director Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy (in between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the 2005 New York Film Festival selection Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), Oldboy is a twisted, perverse psychological thriller that won the Grand Prix de Jury at Cannes, among many other international awards. Choi Min-sik (Chihwaseon) stars as Oh Dae-su, a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years — but he doesn’t know why, or by whom. When he is finally released, his search for the truth becomes part of a conspiracy game, as he can seemingly trust no one. As he gets closer to finding everything out, the gore and terror continue to increase. Choi is outstanding as the wild-haired Dae-su in Park’s awesome rampage of a film, which is not for the faint of heart.