With Korean cinema making a comeback in the last few years (since its heyday of the 60s), it is great to see The London Korean Film Festival return successfully for its 6th year. The aim of the festival is to showcase the true quality of Korean film, to educate about the troubles Korea faces and how these issues have inspired culturally and socially relevant films, as well as showcasing its lighter hearted side with comedy and family films.
The two films I caught this year were Dachimawa Lee and Arahan – both films from director Seung-wan Ryoo. Like most of his films they were relatively lighthearted considering the subject material and while Ryoo writes absorbing comedy, he never loses his eye for great action scenes.
…the festival showcases the true nature and quality of Korean film.
Dachimawa Lee, which began life as a short film in 2000, is a comedy with an air of Inspector Clouseau and Austin Powers. The film follows a secret agent who must track down and recover a stolen Golden Buddha which contains the names of Korean secret agents and is in the hands of the Japanese.
It is interesting to see how comedy is handled across different cultures – as we British seem to think so highly of our comedic ability. With a vast amount of Western inspiration Ryoo has created a very putative comedy formula, simply presented in a different fashion. I wasn’t exactly falling out of my seat laughing and I did find the jokes thin on the ground, however a lot of the comedy timing and delivery is lost in subtitles and translation.
… the fighting scenes are exceptional…
Arahan follows a kind hearted and honest cop Sang-hwan, who after being injured while pursuing a thief finds himself being nursed back to health by the Six Masters of Tao, who believe him to have exceptional ‘Qi’ (spiritual energy of the universe). The film follows Sang-hwan as he learns how to effectively use his Qi while the evil seventh master of Tao is accidentally released from his imprisonment and must be stopped.
…the export of Korean films abroad will continue to flourish…
Some of the fighting scenes are exceptional and the whole film is beautifully shot, making the film look big budget even though it was not. The running time was lengthy (just under two hours) and I felt streamlining the narrative would have given the film more of a natural flow.
Both films have opened my eyes to Korean cinema in a very positive way and I can only imagine the export of Korean films abroad will continue to flourish as it has over the past few years.
Images courtesy of Dachimawa Lee & Arahan