Review: Korean Films at TIFF 2012


Hello my lovely readers, my apologies for the incredible lateness of this post. I have been concentrating a lot of my free time working on my novel and this post – and a few others – was delayed because of that. But I’ve finally worked out a writing schedule so I have time for both. I simply never expected the short story I started writing about Love in the Land of Morning Calm to turn into something more.

But I digress…

This year at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) five Korean films played (along with one North Korean film and two documentaries on North Korea). I was able to catch four of the five South Korean films – all of which I would recommend, two of which I absolutely loved. Keep reading for my impressions of the four films (they are in no particular order). I wish I was able to catch all eight but time simply didn’t allow it. T.T

The Thieves (도둑들)

I absolutely loved The Thieves! Really, I can’t say enough about this film. If you get the chance go see it. What is it about, you ask?

Like the title suggests, this is a film about a gang of thieves – or rather it’s about two gangs of thieves – one Korean, one from Hong Kong – brought together for one specific caper against a deadly fence. Lots of subtle (and not-so-subtle) plot twists, backstabbing and rivalry ensues.

This is one film that’s more than just the sum of its parts. The star-studded cast directed by Choi Dong-hun, work together to bring the story and action alive. There’s just as much intrigue as there is action and never a dull moment in this blockbuster film.

As strong as the dialogue and cast are, you don’t even need the sub-titles to love this film. The fantastic locations and action scenes will appeal to even those who don’t enjoy “foreign” films.

And as much as I loved the film – and I did, if you haven’t seen it… go see it now – the highlight of the night was getting my picture taken with the director, Choi Dong-hun afterwards. Sorry about the picture quality – the flash was turned off on my phone.

Myself, The Thieves director Choi Dong-hun, and Jenn at TIFF

Pieta (피에타)

Pieta, by director Kim Ki-duk, is the tale of a violent man who collects moneyfor a loan shark and a mysterious middle-aged woman who suddenly appears in his life claiming to be his mother. It won the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, the first Korean film to do so.

It is a brilliant film but definitely not a film for everyone. It is intensely disturbing, at times even revolting; but also so well acted and written that you can’t stop watching even when you want to. I’m not sure which was most disturbing – the scene where the male character, Jang Mi-sun sexually assaulting the woman claiming to be his mother or the one where he fed her a piece of this thigh.

I’m fairly certain this was the only film I’ve ever watched were people got up and left the theatre. So yeah, definitely not for everyone. That being said, the acting was simply amazing. And so filled with emotion. I can’t say I enjoyed it as it was too disturbing to enjoy but it was also powerful and worth watching.

A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년)

This tale of love, coming-of-age, and loyalty is the polar opposite of the previous film. Sweet, poignant and innocent; it’s a film I can’t wait to see again. Seriously, I think the entire audience fell in love with the werewolf boy – Chul-soo, played by Song Joong-ki. Well, the women at least.

The story is told in two time-frames. One – only a small part of the actual tale – is set in modern-day; while the other – the majority of the film – is set 47 years earlier. The main female character – Suni, played as a girl by Park Bo-young and as an older woman by Li Young-lan – is ill and the family moves to the Korean country-side for her health. There, they meet the werewolf boy and bring him into their home, kind of like a stray dog (which makes even more sense after listening to the director, Jo Sung-hee after the screening). Suni teaches/civilizes him using a dog training manual and everyone’s happy for a time. Unfortunately, there a spoiled brat of a man who wants to marry Suni (did I mention she’s still in high school) and makes loads of trouble.

The film is simply lovely and was a pleasure to watch. But it’s not all lightness and love… like many Korean films, The Werewolf Boy blends genres and there are glimpses of violence and darkness. But ultimately, it’s a feel-good film with a wonderful twist at the end. I laughed, I cried (twice, hard), I fell in love, I wanted to hit some of the characters and I sighed. And as you all know, I love films that make me feel… Go see it, you’ll love it too.

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

This is the story of Ji-gu, played by Seo Young-Joo, a 16-year-old juvenile offender who gets caught committing burglary with a group of other boys while on probation. The only adult in his life is a grandfather who’s dying and the only good thing in his life seems to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he’s sentenced to a year in a juvenile reformatory and when he gets out; his life has been turned upside down. His grandfather has passed away, his girlfriend has changed and a teacher from the juvenile reformatory found his long-lost mother. But she turns out to be as messed up as he is.

While it was a well-acted film with an interesting story, it was also seriously miserable at times. It wasn’t sad in a “I’m going to cry” way but rather in a “wow, his life sucks” way which just made the film depressing. There were some sweet moments but mainly I spent most of the film feeling sorry for Ji-gu. I know I like to feel emotion in my films but I also want to ultimately be left with a happy (or even angry) ending… not one that makes me feel hopeless. Although, if it’s viewed as a social commentary… then it has chops… depressing chops but still there is substance there.

Did you watch any of the Korean films at TIFF? Which did you see? Did you like/dislike them? Anyone see In Another Country? I really wanted to see it too but it didn’t fit into my schedule. T.T


Korea is one country whose quality of filmmaking truly does not get enough credit worldwide. Forget Hollywood and all the cookie cutter films coming out of the assembly line. I’m not even going to get on the topic of remakes or 3D for that matter. Korean cinema is quite striking. At times, off kilter, in comparison to other Asian forms of cinema, but I mean that in a very good way. A Korean film can be dark, violent, poetic, funny, touching, bizarre, genre-bending, etc. But above all these notions, I believe originality stands out at the top.

The Thieves on paper isn’t very original: a crime caper in which a team is formed in hopes of coming out in the end with a large sum of money. However, how the film spans itself out over its 2 hour plus runtime, contains some quite incredible set pieces. The film pays homage to 60s/70s crime films, with its execution standing out for being unique and highly expansive in scope. The acting is all top notch, and you cannot look any further from great Korean actors and actresses than this film. Director Dong-Hoon Choi compiles a high class of performances in what now stands as the highest grossing film in Korea; very impressive. The cast even varies from Korean to Chinese, with some quite hilarious moments of the interplay between the two languages in the film. The two actors that immediately stood out to me from their performances and also being recognizable from past Korean films I have encountered, are Dai-su Oh (Old Boy, The Host, The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and Yun-seok Kim (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea), playing Macau Park and Andrew respectively. Alongside the two actors contains quite the collection of others from the stunningly beautiful Jeon Ji-hyun to Jung-Jae Lee. I loved the character names as well that seemed to have inspirations drawn from all over the place: Pepsi, Popeye, Chewingum, Zampano, etc.


I wouldn’t want to get too deep into the plot of the film, as I would spoil the fun ride that contains many twists, turns and loops. Essentially, a gang of thieves come together to steal a diamond known as the ‘Tear of the Sun’, but what occurs throughout the film is much more interior conflict between the thieves where looking out for yourself becomes more important than the reliance and trust of others. The tension throughout the film is well played out, from the backstory between Popeye, Yenicall, and Macau Park, to the hidden agenda of the Chinese thieves. If you love heist films, you will be highly entertained by his stylized and high-flying piece of cinema that also utilizes the multiple locations from Busan to Macau. You will laugh, you will cry, you will gasp, and most definitely, you will clap once the credits appear.

As the film was flying at a frenetic pace between set pieces and fantastic stunt work, I couldn’t help but compare it to Oceans Eleven and even Mission Impossible. Two franchises containing some of the most memorable heists in American cinema were transposed throughout The Thieves. Even the opening credits were greatly stylized with the actors/actresses names alongside their character titles with some smooth transitions.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the first audience to view the film’s North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (which I can claim as the film I had the most fun experience with) where the director himself made an appearance for a Q and A session following the screening. The immediate question I had in my mind relates to what I mentioned above: the influences drawn from American cinema. Before I could form the question in my mind, someone beat me to the punch. The director mentioned the Oceans and Mission series, as well as The Italian Job and the musical influence from the Western soundtracks of Ennion Morricone (which worked immensely well in the film). Interesting in the fact that heavy influences came from Hollywood itself, yet, The Thieves still stands out as feeling different from what was mentioned. Much respect has to be drawn towards Dong-Hoon Choi and the vast cast for approaching and creating a film that attacks a beaten down genre and adds a flavor of ‘kimchi’ to it.

- Anthony Spataro


If you are a fan of monster movies, you must be familiar with the story of the original Godzilla (1954): nuclear experiments wake up the usually peaceful creature, and in return, the creature turns the city of Tokyo into ruins. Given the historical context of Japan in the 50s, it is safe to say that the true “bad guys” in Godzilla are those who conduct nuclear experiments. Godzilla marked the beginning of a long chain of many monster movies to follow this generic formula, addressing concerns over our potentially uncontrollable and dangerous technologies. 

In 2000, the U.S. military in Seoul poured harmful chemicals into the Han River. The beginning of The Host, which is a clear reference to this incident, reveals the origin of the monster. The main storyline of The Host focuses on an ordinary family, whose peaceful lives are violently disrupted by a mysterious monster that emerges from the Han River. Park Gang-du, who runs a snack bar, witnesses his own daughter being abducted by the monster. Since he receives a phone call from his daughter, though, he is certain. Together with his father, his brother, a former student movement activist, and his sister, a national medalist archer, Gang-du swears to save his daughter. However, the family must first try to avoid the indifferent government officials, who insist on quarantining the family because they might be infected with the monster’s deadly contagious virus.

In addition to Bong Joon-ho’s (Memories of Murder) obvious environmentalist statements, The Host also gives a satirical depiction of contemporary South Korean society and the corrupted bureaucratic system. Bong is especially good at telling a story with details and props. After the outbreak of the contagious virus, a group of people, all wearing masks, are waiting at the traffic light, on a rainy day. One person coughs, takes off his mask and spits in a pond near the sidewalk. In the mean time, it just so happens that a car comes by and splashes water onto people. The quiet crowd suddenly bursts into shouts and cries for fear, because everyone is afraid of the “contaminated” water. This nicely arranged scene certainly reminds one of the SARS epidemic in 2003. 

Alongside its dark humors and political satires, The Host is also emotionally charged. While the protagonists bond through attachment and love, the government officials in this film are characterized by the lack of any sincere emotion or sympathy. Due to this antithesis, when Gang-du’s father tries to bribe the police with the money that Gang-du saves for his daughter (basically a can of quarters and dimes), the juxtaposition of love corruption is exceptionally powerful. 

The Host still appears to be an enjoyable monster movie: its unexpected twists and turns will make your heart beat faster. The Host is more than just a monster movie, however, because its rich references of social and political problems make you think beyond the movie itself. Once again, Bong Joon-ho manages to combine a witty commercial blockbuster with artistic expressions. 


Wanna see The Host FOR FREE? It is coming to the big screen soon! Toronto Korean Film Festival will hold a free outdoor screening of The Host at the DANO Spring Festival on June 1 (Christie Pits Park). The screening will take place in the evening (10pm). For more information, please see our Facebook page and official website. 


TKFF Interview: Director Jaewoo Park/ TIFF Student (by ehi0614)


Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF) - Interview with Mingu Kim (after AKSFF) (by TorontoKoreanfilm)


For those of you still skeptical about Spike Lee’s upcoming remake of “Oldboy,” here’s something that should assure you a bit: original director Park Chan-wook gave the movie his blessing.

At the junket for “Men in Black 3”, leading man Josh Brolin was asked for his thoughts on “Oldboy.” He admitted that it makes him “nervous,” but he wouldn’t have signed on board with without the South Korean director’s stamp of approval.

"I love ‘Oldboy’ and I’m close with Chan-wook Park and I emailed him a couple months ago, just asking for his blessing to do this movie because if he had said ‘No,’ I wouldn’t have done it," Brolin said. "But I really respect his movie and we’ll make a little different movie and this whole idea of a more Hollywood version of it? Whatever. We’re just going to make a different version but have respect to the initial story and premise. I’m looking forward to it, man. I’m talking about it nervously right now because it makes me nervous."

Brolin said the movie makes him so nervous that just hearing someone mention its title makes his stomach turn. That being said, he’s pretty excited to make it. Brolin confirmed the casting of Sharlto Copley as the movie’s villain and Elizabeth Olsen as its female lead. He also teased that some fan-favorite scenes would make it into the American take on the story.

When asked if the infamous hammer fight scene would be in the new version of “Oldboy,” Brolin responded, “Yes. And it’s a hammer and knife and all that stuff. And then will we keep the octopus, will we keep the other stuff? There’s some changes but I think it’s really good. It still makes me throw down the script half way through. Whoa.”

Even though they’ll be playing enemies on the big screen, Brolin shared that he and Copley have already started their relationship off on the right foot.

"He just wrote me an e-mail and was like, ‘Look, I’ve got to get this out of the way. Dude, ‘Goonies’ is my favorite film of all time,’ which I thought was really sweet," Brolin said during the junket. "And now I’m going to make 20 years of your life miserable."

"Oldboy" is slated to start filming in October. The film follows a man (Brolin) who is kidnapped and held in a private prison for 15 years before being released and contacted by the man who imprisoned him (Copley). He then goes on a quest of vengeance to find out the reason for his imprisonment and seek revenge on the people who ruined his life.


After premiering at Busan, THE KING OF PIGS will be at Cannes! Korean animation is finally taking steps in developing content, quality, and also with international recognition.

Watch the trailer here:

June Kim, TKFF


Here’s an article from The Hollywood Reporter (

The King of Pigs: Film Review

9:44 PM PST 12/7/2011 by Maggie Lee

Ugly, pitiless, and mightily provocative in its representation of human debasement, this satire on class inequality burns like acid.

BUSAN, South Korea – A shocking tale of teen violence that’s as allegorical in its animalistic imagery as Lord of the Flies and Shohei Imamura’s works, The King of Pigs announces the arrival of a raw, dark, adult-oriented genre of independent animation in Korea that has hitherto only made as shorts. So far, Japanese manga and film arguably cornered the market on school bullying, but Yeun Sang-ho’s screenplay-direction stands out by situating it within the particulars of Korean society. Ugly, pitiless, and mightily provocative in its representation of human debasement, his satire on class inequality burns like acid.

Naked and unflinching from the get-go, the establishing shot of The King of Pigs is of a female body stabbed to death, in an apartment waiting for repossession, while the protagonist Hwang Kyung-min (Oh Jung-se) has a shower after killing his wife. We then meet his middle-school classmate Jung Jong-suk (Breathless director Yang Ik-june), a writer/newspaper columnist, whose reaction to a dressing down by his editor is to beat his wife to a pulp.A bright festival career should be followed by ancillary specializing in animation, plus potential for crossover to Asian genre territory.

Hwang calls Jung up for a reunion after 15 years of mutual silence. As the two losers reminisce about their school days, one is transported back to an environment of even more oppressive hierarchy and Neanderthal brutality. The pupils fall into two groups: dogs, meaning those from privileged families and pigs who are the downtrodden underclass. Pigs exist only be abused and humiliated by dogs, whose tyranny is fully condoned by the teachers.

The arrival of transfer student Kim Chul (Kim Hye-na) completely disturbs the status quo. Not a docile pig bred to be butchered, but a wild boar that will not tolerate being fenced in, he believes in fighting fire with fire. Like the delirious interim following a peasant uprising to dethrone the ruling class, Hwang (Park Hee-von)’s and Jung (Kim Kkobbi Flowerain)’s lot can hold their heads high for the first time.

The level of violence and gore is on a par with what genre buffs are used to seeing in Korean action or revenge films. In fact, it is even more graphic and stylized in animated format. However, it is not an artistic exercise. Pain is represented as something very real, enough to make one wince. The method Kim uses to train Jung and Hwang to fight back is a seriously disturbing stomach-turner but it also effectively demonstrates how cruelty, especially picking on someone or “something” weaker, dehumanizes one in the process. 

The King of Pigs captures many subtle class gradations in Korean society and shows how it corrupts human interaction. Interestingly, the one act of bullying that really breaks Jung’s spirit is not physical but mental, and springs from his ignorance about brand name fashion.

The ending turns the tables on whatever previous impression the audience has developed about the three boys. It reveals a misanthropic, nihilistic view of the world. Yet in spite of the fact that the protagonists don’t elicit much sympathy, the protagonists’ family problems as well as their fragile alliance are still affecting in their poignancy.

Technically adept and highly cinematic in its storytelling, the $150,000 production proves that it is still possible to produce quality animation with a modest budget. Sketched in stark, masculine strokes on a somber, dusky color palette, the human figures are made to look distorted and beastlike. It is as if their malice and misery have seeped into their facial features and are refracted as a snarl, a burrowed eyebrow or clenched teeth.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival
Production companies: KT&G Sangsangmadang presents King of Pigs Production Committee, co-produced with Studio Dadashow

Sales: Indiestory Inc.
Voice Cast: Yang Ik-june, Oh Jung-se, Kim Hye-na, Kim Kkobbi Flowerain, Park Hee-von.
Director-writer-editor: Yeun Sang-ho
Producer: Cho Young-kag 
Editor: Lee Yeun-jeong
Music: Eom Been
No rating, 97minutes.


The Koreans know her from SHIRI, North America knows her from the TV series Lost.  She’s the face that represents South Korea and now she’s going to Cannes…! I’m proud to say that she’s the international face of South Korea.

Her upcoming film (currently in production), THE NEIGHBORS is a mystery thriller about a young girl’s murder and a study of her neighbors. It will explore each neighbor as a possible killer in a hope to find the real murderer. It also stars KIM Se-Ron from THE MAN FROM NOWHERE who’s proven herself to be a good actress. Really looking forward to the release of this film.

June Kim, TKFF 


Kim Yun-jin, a Korean actress based in the United States who is best known for her role on “Lost,” will walk down the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16. Kim has been invited to the 65th annual film festival by the event’s sponsor, L’Oreal Paris. 

The cosmetics brand, which has sponsored the international festival for the past 15 years, said on Monday that Kim will act as a Korean representative of the brand and take part in special events alongside other models and actresses.

During the festival, L’Oreal’s “Beauty Artistry Team” will dress and groom international stars present for the film screenings. Kim will be on of the team’s subjects and will be primped by experts in makeup, hair, skin, nails and fashion.

Eva Longoria, Milla Jovovich, Jane Fonda, Gong Li and Fan Bing Bing have also been invited by the cosmetics giant.

This year will be Kim’s first time in Cannes, and she said she is very much looking forward to the festivities on the French Riviera.

By Carla Sunwoo


Who’s Hot - 토론토한국영화제 홍기택 총감독 (by ArirangKoreaTV)


This film is set at a time that wasn’t much explored in Korean cinema, but is an important historical period for changeover in the government. It was a time of mayhem, due to social upheaval, but also a new beginning for Korea a chance to become more global as international relationships started to form. This part of the history I wasn’t too familiar with, and it was a refreshing subject for me.

However, the film tried to put too many elements into it, making it feel like a cheap buffet.

Specifically, the first 30 minutes or so drove me away from wanting to watch more of the film. Not only was the pace of the plot too fast, but it also seemed to have an unfitting thread of events and genres that were not significant to the plot and did not necessarily drive the plot forward. Particularly the train scene with the male protagonist I found to be too ambitious; it looked like a bootleg version of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD with the sole aim of trying to produce action.

The fast pace of this film perhaps was best used towards the ending, where it doesn't take too long for the male protagonist (played by Jinmo JU) to get shot. At least the film doesn't apply the usual Korean tendency to drag on sadness and drama.

Also, non-Korean actors were not convincing, in both their acting and their representation of the nationality they’re presumably from. This made it difficult for me to become fully absorbed in the story.

After a while, however, the film finally began to move at an even pace, through deepening the characters and plot. For a film that gave away everything in the beginning (all plans for the murder), it did significantly well, without that build-up of anticipation. Costumes and mise-en-scene are probably what held my interest and kept me watching until the end.

June Kim

link to trailer and film description: