To preface this article, I must openly admit my knowledge of Korean cinema is weak at best. It’s not that I’ve avoided films of Korean origin; rather, their availability was not easy to come by when growing up. Which is why attending this festival, the fourth incarnation thus far, is a great eye opener to the Korean culture. Plus I was able to firmly smash my Korean cinema cherry once and for all.
Saturday night presented a definite ying/yang of stories, with mixed results. First on offer, Miracle In Cell 7, was introduced as being the favourite of the previous two stops (Brisbane and Sydney) of the festival. It’s definitely one of the silliest films on offer. Lee Young-gu (Ryu Seung-ryong) is mentally challenged, his mind stunted at the age of 6 years of development. His daughter, aged 6, worships her father and is not aware of his condition.
One afternoon goes horribly wrong for Young-gu as he seeks to buy a Sailor Moon backpack for his daughter Ye-sung to impress her. He runs into another schoolgirl who leads him to the backpacks but something happens and he becomes imprisoned for her murder. For a film about such a grisly subject as the death of a child, director Lee Hwan-kyung has managed to turn it into one of the happiest, most heart-warming films of recent years. Of note is Kal So-won, the child playing Ye-sung. Her smile and warmth carries the film to a tearful note, even during the perhaps too melancholic scenes. She has a maturity not often scene in child actors, much like Onata Aprile in What Maisie Knew.
Fists of Legend offers a strange subject for a television show: men are invited to the program of the same name to fight MMA fighters as a means of either securing or destroying a legend from their younger days. It opens rather excitingly, fourteen men chasing one man under a bridge for an unknown reason with another riding along a path nearby chasing them. The two roads meet and a brutal fight breaks out between these men and the fourteen others when we’re rudely brought forward to the present and find the protagonist, Deok-kyu, now operating a noodle restaurant. It’s light on business and when a producer from the tv show visits him with the offer to reclaim his past glory, it brings a whole new set of complications into his life.
That’s what the opening seemed to suggest. For a running time of 153 minutes the film ultimately offered very little in the way of exciting plot or interesting characters to be excited for. Given the film is about, well, fighting, Fists of Legend becomes exceedingly duller as the story progresses to the point where the final battle (you knew there was going to be one) is a non-event and means little overall.
It was too bad: if the films had been in opposite order, perhaps the tearful delight of the excellent Miracle In Cell 7 could have washed the bad taste out. That was stunning.
The Korean Film Festival is currently playing in Melbourne until September 11 at ACMI cinemas.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire