Film Series Preview: Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today


With the global virality of Korean rapper Psy’s song and music video “Gangnam Style” and his increasing guest spots on U.S. television shows (Ellen, The Today Show), the dubbed “Korean New Wave” enters a different stage. The globalisation of Korean cultural production—dominated by the forms of popular music, television dramas, and films—seems only to have shifted into a more intensified gear, with music at the forefront following . But let us not shortchange contemporary Korean cinema. Back in June of this year, a rather historic moment occurred when Lee Byeong-heon and Ahn Seong-gi became the first Korean actors to cast their hand- and footprints at the famed Grauman’s Chinese theatre, alongside the likes of Hollywood stars, as part of the first annual Look East Film Festival. More recently, Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà (2012) was awarded The Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, chalking up another high-profile mark of recognition for Kim in particular and Korean filmmaking in general.

Such a context for the third edition of the film series “Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today,” which begins this Wednesday the 19th at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, arguably makes it much more poignant for Korean cinema. From 19th-30th September, the series, co-organised by MoMA’s Laurence Kurdish and The Korea Society’s Yuni Yoonjung Cho, will screen eleven feature films released during the past year, while two works by Shin Sang-ok will kick off the series on Wednesday evening.

The eleven films to be presented constitute a substantial range of themes and genres, from both established filmmakers and first-timers alike. The first round of screenings includes the two thrillers Helpless (2012, Byeon Yeong-joo) and Blind (2011, Ahn Sang-hoon). Most significantly, the series forgoes a line-up of blockbuster films in favour of showcasing Korean independent filmmaking that more often than not addresses marginalised characters and spaces and migrations, from the likes of Jeon Soo-il with Pink (2012) and Jeon Kyu-hwan with Varanasi (2011), as well as the feature film debuts of several filmmakers with Mirage (2011, Yang Jung-ho), Jesus Hospital (2012, Lee Sang-cheol), Stateless Things (2012, Kim Kyung-mook), and the 3D film A Fish (2012, Park Hong-min).

No stranger to independent filmmaking, marginality, and migration are the latest works by two former assistants to Kim Ki-duk, Poongsan (2011) by Juhn Jai-hong and Fire in Hell (2012) by Lee Sang-woo.

With the exception of one title, each film has double screenings, which is a further incentive to not miss this series. But perhaps the sole film that has only one screening is precisely the one not to miss at any cost: Hong Sang-soo’s latest work, In Another Country (2012), which stars the marvelous French actress Isabelle Huppert.

Rowena Santos Aquino

Senior Film Critic. Recently obtained my doctoral degree in Cinema and Media studies at UCLA. Linguaphile and cinephile, and therefore multingual in my cinephilia. Asian cinemas, Spanish language filmmaking, Middle Eastern cinemas, and documentary film.