1996 - 2013

Korean Movie Directors in International Film Festivals

Korean Film Archive

Lee Chang-dong, Hong Sang-soo, Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon, and Moon Byung-gon
<The Wedding Day> (Lee Byung-il, 1956)

In September 2012, Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà (2012) became the first-ever Korean film to take home the Golden Lion, the top honor of the Venice Film Festival. Thus, Kim became the first among his globally acclaimed contemporaries (e.g., Hong Sang-soo, Park Chan-wook, and Bong Joon-ho) to win the top prize at one of the world’s three leading film festivals, the first-ever such feat in the 41 years that Korean films had been competing in the Venice Film Festival.

The first Korean international film festival entry was The Wedding Day by Lee Byung-il (1965), which was submitted to the 7th Berlin International Film Festival. The film won the Special Comedy award at the Asian Film Festival, and it was also screened at the Sydney Film Festival. At the 1961 Berlin International Film Festival, The Stableman (1961) won the Silver Bear, making Kang Dae-jin the very first Korean director to bring home an international film award. Lee Doo-yong’s Pimak (1981) received the Special Jury Award at the Venice Film Festival, and his Spinning the Tales of Cruelty Toward Women (1983) won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

It was in the 1980s that Korean movies and directors started to carve out a place for themselves in the international film festival circuit. Im Kwon-taek was invited to enter Mandala (1981) in the Panorama segment of the 1982 Berlin International Film Festival, thus becoming the first Korean director to receive a formal invitation to compete in an international film festival. Thereafter, Im’s Surrogate Mother (1986), Adada (1987), and Aje Aje Bara Aje (1989) won in the best actress segments at the Montreal World Film Festival and the Moscow International Film Festival, playing a pioneering role in placing Korean cinema on the map.

Im Kwon-taek

Im Kwon-taek became the first Asian director to win the Honorary Golden Bear, the Berlin International Film Festival’s lifetime achievement award.

On receiving the award, Im commented, “It is the greatest honor I have received in my film career; I consider it confirmation of just how far Korean cinema has come on the global stage.” With 99 films under his belt at the time, Korea’s foremost cineaste had been recognized by the world as well. Im is currently working on his 102nd film. In Busan, the Im Kwon-taek Museum opened its doors, the first-ever museum dedicated to the career of a film director still actively working in the field. 

‘Im Kwon-taek x 101; Chung Sung-il’s Fresh New Look at Im Kwon-taek,’ an ongoing special column series on Im Kwon-taek’s works can be found at the Korean Film Archive’s Korean Movie Database (KMDb).

Im Kwon-taek holding his Honorary Golden Bear trophy at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival
 Im Kwon-taek wins the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival

Lee Chang-dong

Until 1987, Lee Chang-dong was a high school Korean literature teacher. He had also been a winner of Sinchun Munye, an annual literary contest aimed at discovering new writers, and was a novelist for about a decade. His foray into film was through his involvement in the screenplay and production work on Park Kwang-su’s To the Starry Island (1993). He co-founded East Film with Myung Kae-nam, Moon Sung-keun, and Yeo Kyun-dong in 1996 and made his directorial debut in 1997 with Green Fish, for which he also wrote the screenplay. The film went on to win Best Screenplay at the Grand Bells Awards and the Dragons and Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Thus, Lee made himself known in Korea and the world at large as a talented up-and-coming director.

Lee Chang-dong described the process by which he became a film director as follows: 

“In retrospect, I think it was fate. I grew up in a small village, but I got into theater thanks to my older brother. I grew very familiar with theater. I also really liked to draw when I was young, but I had to give it up because my family wasn’t well-off. I continued to wander thereafter, but even that process may have been fate.”

Lee’s second film Peppermint Candy (1999) was screened at the Busan International Film Festival as the opening film and invited to the Directors’ Fortnight of the 2000 Cannes International Film Festival.

Oasis (2002), his third film, received the Best Actress and Best Director awards at the Venice International Film Festival, garnering both domestic and international accolades. In 2003, he became the first working director to be appointed Minister of Culture. 

After completing his term as the Minister of Culture, Lee directed Secret Sunshine (2007) and Poetry (2010) and and participated as a producer in A Brand New Life (Ounie Lecomte, 2009), which is based on the director Ounie Lecomte’s personal experiences as a Korean adoptee in France.

Secret Sunshine was officially invited to the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Jeon Do-youn, the female lead, won Best Actress and received global media attention. 

Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk, who enjoy international renown status as Korea’s leading directors, are best known for their violent, sexually explicit styles that aim to shock and awe. In contrast, Lee’s films are subtle, delicate, and artistic. This is perhaps attributable to the filmmaker’s literary background. 

Lee Chang-dong, winner of the Best Screenplay Award of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival
Secret Sunshine’s Jeon Do-youn, winner of the Best Actress Award of the 60th Cannes Film Festival in 2007
Secret Sunshine (2007) trailer

Lee Chang-dong sat in as a judge at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and then in 2010, Poetry, his fifth feature film, won Best Screenplay at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.

Poetry is a lyrical piece about a woman in her 60s who turns to poetry to cope with her live-in grandson’s sexual assault case and her own Alzheimer’s.

Yoon Jeong-hee, one of the three most sought-after leading ladies in the 1960s, returned to the silver screen with Poetry after a 16-year hiatus and was nominated for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival.

Poetry (2010) trailer

Hong Sang-soo

A Korean director beloved by Cannes.

Hong Sang-soo is commonly referred to as the “man of Cannes.”

The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), his second work, received the Un Certain Regard Special Mention at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. 

In 2000, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors was invited to the Un Certain Regard segment. Woman is the Future of Man and Tale of Cinema were in competition at the Cannes in 2004 and 2005 respectively, while Like You Know It All was invited to the Directors’ Fortnight, a non-competitive section, of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. 

Then in 2010, Hahaha received the Un Certain Regard top honor, making Hong the third Korean director after Im Kwon-taek and Park Chan-wook to win a Cannes award. Thereafter, The Day He Arrives (2011) and In Another Country (2011) were also invited to the Cannes. More than half of Hong’s films have been invited to the Cannes; so far, Hong is the only Korean director to have achieved this feat. No wonder he is called the “man of Cannes.” 

<The Day a Pig Fell into A Well>(1996) @YouTube

Hong Sang-soo’s directorial debut

As film critics noted, Hong Sang-soo burst onto the film scene from seemingly nowhere. The Day a Pig Fell into A Well (1996) is the only work in Hong’s filmography for which Hong himself did not write the screenplay. The film won the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Dragons and Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Hong Sang-soo is famous for his prolificity.

Since The Day a Pig Fell in a Well (1996), his directorial debut, Hong has directed 15 films. Hong Sang-soo and Park Chan-wook are two of only a handful of directors who can be called true “filmmakers” in Korea where the conditions are such that it is very difficult for directors to have full control of the film production process. However, while Park promotes his cinematic style and vision while striving for commercial success, Hong, apart from When a Pig Fell into a Well, has been making films that he wanted to make.

 Upon seeing a film by Hong, the audience is flustered by its brusqueness and idiosyncrasy. Hong rejects the conventions of genre films. From his interviews, one can see that his films are based on breaking away from conventions and avoiding all that is familiar.

Hahaha won the Prix Un Certain Regard in 2010 Cannes Film Festival 

Every Hong Sang-soo film is comprised of four basic elements -man, woman, bed, and alcohol - and creates a new cinematic language uniquely of its own. It is for this reason that Hong is often compared to Eric Rohmer and Luis Buñuel. 

“So I’ve given birth, and my child (film) has to be put on stage. Some parents would make their child wear pretty clothes, work on their speech, and teach the child how to be cute in order to appeal to the audience. I, on the other hand, tell my child that I want him/her to lead a carefree existence. I tell my child she/he can just play outside and then say whatever she/he feels like once on stage. The audience may prefer the child who speaks well and acts cute. They may look at my child and say, ‘That child is too unprepared. Isn’t it irresponsible of the parent?’ (laughs) But I leave it up to my child. I think that’s the difference.” - From filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s Navercast interview

<Oki's Movie>(2009) 

When asked why the actors’ names show up twice in the closing credits of the fourth story of Oki’s Movie (2009), Hong responded as follows:

“Because after I had edited it, I saw that it was just a couple of minutes shy of being a feature-length film.”

As his response reveals, although people ask for detailed explanations, Hong’s films, as with many cinematic masterpieces, are products of chance and spur-of-the-moment decisions. 

Hong himself said, “A movie is what the viewer makes of it,” and added, “That’s what I would like it be.”

Perhaps this is why Hong’s films are interesting despite being idiosyncratic. 

As is well-known, Hong Sang-soo hands out the final script to the actors on the day of the shoot.

Along the same vein, The Day He Arrives (2011) had not been planned to be a black-and-white movie; the decision was made on the first day of the shoot.

He only has a loose storyline or just the cast picked out and then gets to work once the shoot goes underway. That is why one finds the same actors - e.g., Kim Sang-kyung, Yoo Ji-tae, Jeong Yu-mi, and Moon So-ri - in so many of his works.

Hong says his films start from stories and characters he comes across in his everyday life.

That is why filmmakers and novelists are recurring characters in their works.

The Day He Arrives (2011)

In Another Country (2011) received a lot of international media attention for its star, Isabelle Huppert, winner of the best actress awards in all three of the top international film festivals. The movie was officially invited to compete in the 65th Cannes Film Festival, making it Hong’s 8th Cannes entry.

Romantic relationships always appear in Hong’s films, but Hong has never depicted the love between two singles. Hong once said in an interview that he would one day like to make a film about a love story between a single man and woman. His latest film Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2012), however, is about the love affair between a college student, Haewon, and a married man with a child. Alas, the viewers will have to continue to wait if they want to see Hong’s take on love between two unmarried people.

Kim Ki-duk 

In Korea, Kim Ki-duk was seen as a film industry renegade and outsider whose works were criticized at home but lauded abroad.

It was only when Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) won Best Picture at the Grand Bells Awards that Kim finally received domestic recognition. Italian film critic Andrea Bellavita said that one cannot but have a critical view of Kim Ki-duk’s works without knowledge of his childhood and background.

Kim grew up in a poor, uneducated, Christian family. His father was a disabled veteran and his mother was visually impaired. Unlike his fellow directors, Kim was raised in an environment wherein access to education was very limited. He joined the Marine Corps at the age of 20 and served for five years. Upon completing his service, he spent two years at a Christian volunteer organization for the visually impaired. That is why the military and religion play important roles in his films. In 1990, he took his savings and went to Paris to become an artist. His sojourn in Paris lasted three years. 

<Crocodile> (1996)

Upon returning to Korea in 1993, Kim began writing screenplays and won the grand prize for creative excellence from the Korea Scenario Writers Association for The Artist and the Executioner. In the following year, his screenplay Double Exposure came in third place in the best screenplay contest organized by the Korean Film Council, and in 1995, he won the grand prize from the same Korea Film Council contest with Jaywalking . With Crocodile (1996), he made his first appearance as a director at the inaugural Busan International Film Festival. 

 “Crocodile is a film in which realism and fantasy come together and misalign. It is also a film in which melodrama and the narrative of salvation come together and misalign. One can see the director’s ambition to elevate the key to the open-ended, irony-inducing structure as well as confusion itself to an aesthetic level. . . . That is the uniqueness and strength of Kim Ki-duk’s film.” 

– from ‘Kim Ki-duk’s Crocodile,’ Secular Film, Secular Criticism (Kang, 2010).

At the Berlin International Film Festival in 2004, Kim Kiduk won Best Director for Samaria, a film about a high school girl who prostitutes herself. In the following year, he received the Best Director Award at the 61st Venice Film Festival for 3-Iron, managing to win the best director awards at two of the three leading international film festivals back-to-back.

In 2006, Kim found himself in hot water for his disparaging comment about Korean moviegoers at the premiere of Time and for an extreme statement he made during his appearance on MBC’s 100-Minute Debate. He went on to declare that he would no longer release his films in Korea in protest of the deplorable conditions under which low-budget films were made. 

<Samaria>(2003)

Dream (2008) garnered a lot of attention due to its two leads, Japanese movie star Joe Odagiri and top Korean actress Lee Na-young. When the film was released, however, it received an icy reception from the audience and critics alike.

Also, Lee Na-young, the female lead, almost died while shooting the scene in which her character hangs herself.

Nonetheless, the film is impressive, underscoring the two stars’ fine acting skills and Kim’s unique style.

Arirang (2011) is an autobiographical documentary chronicling Kim Kiduk’s life in a remote mountain after his cinematic ambitions led to a terrible accident during the shooting of Dream (2008) and after the departure of his trusted assistant to a large film production company. 

After a three-year hiatus, Kim won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard segment of the Cannes Film Festival for this autobiographical documentary. The award must have meant a lot to him given the doubts he was having about filmmaking and the sense of extreme loneliness he must have been experiencing. The award was also validation from the only remaining of the world’s top-three film festivals in which he had not won anything. 

<Pieta>(2012)

Kim, who had always stuck with low-budget, non-mainstream films, won the Golden Lion, the highest honor, at the 69th Venice International Film Festival for Pieta (2012). The film also received the Young Critics Award in Venice the day before the Golden Lion win was announced. It was a momentous occasion for the Korean film industry given that it was the first time a Korean film had been given the top honor at any of the world’s three leading international film festivals.

After Pieta (2012)’s win, the so-called Pietà Act was proposed, calling for greater diversity in the films screened at Korean theaters, and there have been talks of founding a theater devoted to cinematic diversity and other efforts at getting theaters to show low-budget art films. 

Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook is dubbed Korea’s Quentin Tarantino and the master of B movies. He gained international fame when his film Old Boy won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The film was highly praised by Quentin Tarantino, the president of the jury.

He was a movie nut during his school years. He worked in production in the 1980s, left, and worked in the planning department of a film production company. Major conglomerates made forays into the movie industry in the early 1990s, and that was also when Park made his directorial debut with The Moon is What the Sun Dreams of (1992). It was a commercial flop, however. For the five years that followed, Park worked as a movie critic. While there have been movie critics who have gone on to make films, it was very unusual that a director had become a critic. 

“His bizarre artistic ambition is to make films about the spectacle of destruction and survive commercially.…

The key is the black humor in the inordinate amount of destructive energy captured on screen and the impassive gaze of the camera that takes it all in. The core of Park Chan-wook’s creativity is in capturing the absurdities of reality, and this is manifested in the plot of his films as the absence of causality.”

- Kim Young-jin, On Seven Filmmakers of Korea (Buon Books, 2008) 

Joint Security Area (2000) showcases an exceptionally well-crafted approach with popular appeal on a subject that had been long taboo in South Korea, undoing the existing biases against Park.

The film was invited to compete in the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival and won the highest honor at the Deauville Asian Film Festival and the New Director's Showcase Special Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival. It also catapulted actor Lee Byung-hun into super stardom. 

<Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance> (2002)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), which highlights Park Chan-wook’s penchant for and talent in B movies, was met with great enthusiasm from filmmakers and critics.

The film is a tale about two desperate men consumed by the desire for vengeance and the first of The Vengeance Trilogy.

Park has been very outspoken about his fondness for B movies, which he says can be attributed in large part to the influence of director Lee Hoon. 

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was a critical success, but its box office performance was lackluster. In contrast, Old Boy not only defied expectations and was a commercial success, but it also went on to win the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Thereafter, Park came to be known in Korea as a filmmaker with both commercial and artistic credibility.

There was chatter that Steven Spielberg and Will Smith would be doing a Hollywood remake of Old Boy, but Spike Lee ultimately ended up in the director’s chair.

Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copely, and Elizabeth Olsen will be playing Choi Minsik, Yoo Jitae, and Kang Hyejeong’s characters respectively.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) attracted a lot of media attention for its leading lady Lee Young-ae, one of Korea’s foremost actresses. The film, along with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy, comprises Park’s Vengeance Trilogy. If Old Boy has parallels to the myth of Oedipus, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is reminiscent of Medea.

There was much hype over Lee Young-ae, who shed her long-held popular image characterized by innocence and sweetness. Her line, “Why don't you worry about yourself?,” was a major hit and was featured in countless parodies.

Park Chan-wook, winner of the Jury Prize of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival Image from the official website of the Cannes International Film Festival

Park was recognized once again by Cannes with Thirst (2009), which won the Jury Prize in 2009. It was his second Cannes win, the first being Old Boy. Not one but two of his films had been invited to compete in the world-renown Cannes Film Festival, and both won. This served to firmly position Park as an influential filmmaker both domestically and globally.

Thirst spins the tale of a priest who turns into a vampire and falls in love with his friend’s wife. The film showcases a provocative storyline and a never-before-seen vampire character. Although the protagonist is a vampire, Thirst is indifferent to the rules of vampire movies. The film underscores Park’s B movie sensibilities, his superb storytelling skills, and his distinctive expectation-defying twists and turns.

Stoker (2013) is the only Park Chan-wook film for which Park himself did not write the screenplay. It is also his English-language debut.

Jodie Foster and Carey Mulligan were initially said to star, but ultimately Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska were cast as the two female leads.

The film was produced by Ridley Scott and the now late Tony Scott; written by Wentworth Miller, the star of the TV series Prison Break; and scored by Clint Mansell, who did the music for Black Swan. Park joined forces once again with camera director Jung Junghoon, who had also worked on Old Boy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Thirst.

Filled with allusions and symbolism, Stoker begins with the arrival of a mysterious uncle after the protagonist’s father dies in a car accident, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. 

Park Chan-wook and the stars of Stoker

Park Chan-wook described his films as follows: “While the characters in my films have clear goals, what they face once they reach their goals is a confounding situation. My films render the confusion and dilemma the characters experience.”

- Kim Youngj-in, On Seven Filmmakers of Korea (Buon Books, 2008) 

<Stoker> (2013) trailer

Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho made his directorial debut with Barking Dogs Never Bite in 2000.  It did not do very well at the box office. His second film, based on a true story about serial murders in Hwaseong, was released three years later. Memories of Murder (2003) was a runaway commercial hit that served to familiarize critics and moviegoers with Bong Joon-ho. 

The Host (2006), Bong’s third film, has been the highest grossing homegrown film in Korea to date, providing a glimpse into the potential for success of Korean-style blockbuster movies.

While he has not yet won any awards from Europe’s top three film festivals, Tokyo! (2007), an anthology film by Bong and world-renowned filmmakers Leos Carax and Michel Gondry, was invited to the Un Certain Regard segment of the 61st Cannes Film Festival. Then in 2009, Mother was invited as a non-competing entry to the Cannes and garnered a lot of attention. In effect, Bong is a Korean director whose cinematic career would be worth keeping an eye on.

“I don’t like fashionable shots or anything that’s chichi whether it’s the camera angle or the actor.”

- From Lee Dong-jin’s Boomerang Interview: The Secrets of That Film (Yedam, 2009). 

Storyboard for Bong’s directorial debut Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Bong Joon-ho is famous for drawing detailed storyboards. A lifetime fan of comic books and a talented amateur comic book artist, Bong used to be propositioned by his classmates to draw them comics for money. He says he really enjoys drawing storyboards as it makes him feel like he has become a comic book artist. 

Upon its release in the summer of 2006, The Host drew in more than 5 million viewers by the ninth day and 10 million by the 21st day. With the final box office record standing at 13.01 million viewers, it is the highest grossing Korean film ever. Distribution rights were snapped up by American and Chinese distributors, and in the U.S., The Host went on a 5-month running, raking in over 2 million dollars.

The Host was named Best Film at the 1st Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong. In Korea, The Host won Best Film at the Korea Film Awards, Best Film at the Blue Dragon Film Awards, and Best Director at the Grand Bells Awards. The film was also invited to enter the Un Certain Regard segment of the Cannes Film Festival.

The Host may seem like a monster flick at first glance, but it does not follow the conventional practices of the genre. This is a distinctive characteristic of Bong’s films. In his previous film, Memories of Murder (2003), Bong plays with and upsets the standards of the murder mystery genre. Bong has stated in many interviews that he likes to do away with the rules and stereotypes of film genres.

It took Bong half a year to plan the final three-minute sequence in which Hae-ja administers acupuncture on her thigh and then joins the other dancing ladies on the bus. In order to make all the characters appear as a single lump by the horizontally penetrating sun, the shoot had to be completed within 20-30 minutes around dusk on a highway stretching north to south. The movement of the vehicle, favorable weather conditions, and background music all came together perfectly to maximize both the tragedy and beauty of the closing scene.

Mother was invited as a non-competing title to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, garnering much attention. It is the darkest of Bong Joon-ho’s films and a mystery thriller like Memories of Murder. The hottest talking point was Bong’s decision to cast Won Bin, known for his good looks, for the role of the intellectually challenged son. The film was written for and dedicated to actress Kim Hae-ja, dubbed “Korea’s mother” for her countless portrayals of a doting mother.

In all his previous works, Bong has included direct commentary about the problems in Korean society, but Mother focuses solely on the tale of a mother and son.

Official poster of the Berlin International Film Festival

Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut, was a large-scale undertaking with a production budget of around 40 million dollars. Director Park Chan-wook was the executive producer of this film adaptation of the French sci-fi comic book series Le Transperceneige. The cast includes Song Kangho, Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Jamie Bell.

“What I want to show is not sheer scale or the fact that I cast foreign actors. What I want to show is a proper rendering of the sensibilities generated by a train traveling across frozen land or by its story, of human beings in their most wretched, desperate state.”

 “I want to give Snowpiercer a physical and analog feel. It wouldn’t work unless it seems as though we built an actual train and shot the film in the freezing cold of Antarctica or the Arctic,” said Bong in an interview. One’s interest can only be piqued for the film’s release.

<Snowpiercer> (2013) trailer

Kim Jee-woon

Kim Jee-woon, who made his directorial debut in 1998 with The Quiet Family, boasts a filmography showcasing a wide spectrum of genres, from black comedy and film noir to action, horror, and western.

Among his contemporaries, Kim has dabbled at the most diverse range of genres. He is also a filmmaker who enjoys both critical and popular acclaim.

He gained domestic renown with his debut feature and The Foul King (2000), and he started building a reputation for himself internationally with the horror film A Tale of Two Sisters (2002). A Bittersweet Life (2005) made a strong impression, with Lee Byung-hun playing the lead. The Korean-style western The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008) starring Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun, and Song Kang-ho has been Kim’s biggest commercial and critical success. I Saw the Devil (2010) caused quite a stir as it was the first ever commercial feature to receive a “Restricted” rating. 

Kim Jeewoon’s directorial debut The Quiet Family

The Last Stand (2013), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is Kim’s first English-language film. Expectations ran high for the film along with Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut, Stoker, which had been in production and set for release in Hollywood around the same time.

Posters for Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters 
Hollywood remake The Uninvited 

The horror film A Tale of Two Sisters (2002) is a fresh and mesmerizing take on the Korean traditional folktale about two sisters, Jang-hwa and Hong-nyeon. It was touted as a work of both horror and artistic sophistication and was a huge box office hit. A Tale of Two Sisters was also successful internationally, with Hollywood buying the rights to remake the film. With its superb mise-en-scène and film score, A Tale of Two Sisters brings Kim Jee-woon’s distinctive style to the fore.

After its release, Kim’s The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008) was hailed for pioneering a new film genre, the Korean-style western. Kim, however, revealed in an interview that the film was made purely for entertainment purposes and nothing else. The scene in which Jung Woo-sung, wielding a long rifle, is traveling at full speed across an expansive plain on horseback, is famous for having been the most dangerous to shoot. To capture the speed and movement, the camera director himself rode with the actors and shot the scene on horseback. It highlights the director’s intention of creating an ultra fast-paced film that the audience can sit back and thoroughly enjoy.

Moon Byung-gon

Unlike in previous years, no feature-length Korean films had been invited to compete at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Korea was thus pleasantly surprised when Moon Byung-gon was awarded the top honor in the short film category.

It only took 13 minutes for this young 30-year-old director to make a name for himself in the global film industry. His graduation project Finis Operis had already gotten him to the Cannes when it was invited to the International Critics' Week Short section in 2011. It goes without saying that Moon is undoubtedly a talented filmmaker who was deserving of the 2013 accolade.

Given the difficult conditions and small budget, Moon reduced the number of cuts and focused on sound effects. This, however, ended up heightening the sense of suspense of his short thriller.

The repetitive sequence and sound effects that are played out in a confined space has a hypnotic effect, drawing the viewers deep into the film. The final scene, which closes with the female protagonist’s scream, brings the suspense that had been building up throughout to a crescendo. His previous work also showcases Moon’s uncanny ability to draw in the audience within a short running time of merely 10 or so minutes. 

Moon’s short films all start out with the mundane and peaceful routines of everyday life, with the emotional progression shooting up to an extreme climax within the last few minutes. Spoken lines are kept to a bare minimum, delivering only the most essential information. 

In interviews, Moon has consistently said he would like to make a feature-length light romance. Moon is a rising global talent whose cinematic career will surely be a delight to follow.

Credits: Story

Curator — Shim Seul-ki, Korean Film Archive
Publisher — Yoo Sungkwan, Korean Film Archive
English translation — Free Film Communications

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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