The Korean Film Archive has presented a ton of great Korean cinema from the past. It’s a fantastic way to see the evolution of Korean cinema, as well as a chance to see some North Korean movies. I think it’s an amazing initiative and it’s given me lots of moments of real enjoyment.
Now I just noticed their Im Kwon-Taek collection. Im Kwon-Taek got me into Korean movies before Korea became a centre of outstanding actioners and thrillers. Im Kwon-Taek. I watched Sopyonje with my wife soon after we got serious, and it really opened my eyes. Now, this is an incredibly depressing movie that I have a hard time revisiting. It is a fantastic artistic achievement, and for me embodies han, a kind of shared sadness among Korean society and a term I’ve always translated as deep, cultural melancholy. It is a masterpiece, but it hits very hard. I would strongly suggest watching it when you are in the mood. It looks at the death of a very specific, traditional art form in Korea, and the dysfunction that can affect a family when a parent values the art more than his own children. This is a really amazing film, but it left me very emotionally drained and saddened.
But right now I’m going to recommend Festival. It’s got Ahn Sung-Gi, one of favourite actors, and everytime I watch it I get very nostalgic for my life in Korea. It’s not the plot, it’s the places and the activities that remind me of my time there. Just fair warning, this is a slow, careful drama that relies on Ahn’s charisma and naturalistic acting to draw you in. If you like drama – especially indie drama – this will be a great intro Korea cinema. The story looks at a successful author who returns to his hometown to attend his mother’s funeral.
This is also about art and dysfunctional family relationships, but it doesn’t crush one’s heart the way Sopyonje does. It’s also a chance to be introduced to Ahn Sung-Gi early in his amazing career. I really with Two Cops was available (which pairs Ahn Sung-Gi with Park Jung-Hoon, who is another favourite of mine), but Festival is a fantastic film and well worth your time, especially if you want to get a sense of Korean culture in the modern world. It’s set in a time long past – Korea has changed as dramatically from 1996 to 2016 as it did from 1976 to 1996 – but this really depicts Korea as I remember it.
You can find the Korean Film Archive here.
You can find the Korean Film Archive on Youtube here.
The Im Kwon-Taek collection can be found here.
Sopyonje can be viewed here.
Festival can be viewed here.