Over the past year, Korean pop culture went mainstream in the west. Kim-Jee Woon – of A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil – directed an Schwarzenegger action movie. Spike Lee unexpectedly remade Chan-wook Park’s modern cult classic Oldboy. And Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ earwormed its way into our hearts… and then quickly back out again.
The Korean Film Festival, now in its fourth year, brings a new selection of films that could be the next cross-cultural smash. It opens with A Werewolf Boy: a supernatural tale of heartfelt romance, goofy comedy, and golden-hued nostalgia. Documentary 9 Muses of Star Empire explores the vaguely apocalyptic world of Korean pop music through a year in the life of an all-girl group.
The Thieves – described as ‘Korea’s Ocean’s 11’ – casts stars of Korean and Chinese cinema as criminals attempting an impossible diamond heist. At first it’s so breezy its heroes seem more likely to burst into song than action, but soon alliances shift, safes are cracked, and gravity’s ignored for a skyscraper-dangling, heart-in-your-mouth fight sequence.
While there’s more action available in The Berlin File and Nameless Gangster, the festival also has the Melbourne premiere of Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta. Kim’s perhaps best known for the spiritual drama Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, but Pieta returns to the sadism of his earlier works. A young enforcer cripples the poor so insurance can pay their debts – but when a woman appears claiming to be his mother, the movie transforms from yet another gangster film into a stark, shocking parable about vengeance, forgiveness, mothers and sons.