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KAFFNY Review Round-Up 2: ‘Centre Forward,’ ‘Red Chapel,’ ‘Sai-I-Gu,’ ‘Wet Sand’

KAFFNY Review Round-Up 2: 'Centre Forward,' 'Red Chapel,' 'Sai-I-Gu,' 'Wet Sand'

Following our first round-up, here are a few more flicks showcased in New York’s Korean American Film Festival which ends March 20th. Stay tuned for more coverage, including reviews of “Should’ve Kissed” by Cinefondation-residency alum Jinoh Park and “Make Yourself At Home” by student Academy Award-winning director Soopum Sohn. Also on the horizon is an interview with filmmakers Dai Sil Kim-Gibson and “Killer of Sheep” helmer Charles Burnett.

Centre Forward
Produced in North Korea, “Centre Forward” is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to come out of a military dictatorship. Complete with wistful music seemingly ripped from a Hollywood Golden Age pic and actors handling the material as if it was a B-Horror movie, Pak Chong Song’s ode to fútbol and the Republic is an educational insight into the closed-off country. After losing a few games, a Coach puts his team through rigorous training, much to the exhaustion and displeasure of certain players. However, the benched screw-up In Son benefits most from these rigorous trainings and teaches everyone a swift lesson: hard work and love for your country pays off.

Propaganda speeches and songs are spat accordingly (the latter in particular sounding like elementary school songs: whether that’s a critique against us or them is up to you), which is initially humorous but more unnerving as the movie progresses. All things considered, it’s got some exciting camera movements and framing, with to-die-for exterior black and white cinematography. Soccer fans will also be delighted with the games presented in the story. However, the most poignant fact about the film is the fact that it was made in 1978 but looks like something that was made back in the 1950s. That speaks volumes. [B-]

Red Chapel
Doubled billed with “Centre Forward,” this doc concerns a Danish comedy troupe infiltrating North Korea under the pretense of a cultural exchange. The trio, consisting of director Mads Brügger and Korean-adoptees Simon and Jacob, aim to put on one of their wacky stage shows but instead find themselves the victim of intervention by the authorities, with the piece becoming less and less theirs and more a pro-North Korea propaganda film. However, this just so happens to line up with their critical aim, so it all makes for a better movie.

Or does it? Narrated by Brügger with complete honesty, the documentary sometimes feels like it’s picking on people who may not even understand how bad they have it — it doesn’t portray them as human beings or even as tragic figures, but as dolts who should know better. Performer Jacob is wheelchair-bound and spastic, he’s also the yin to the director’s yang. His heart of gold prevents him from being too cruel, even when confronted by a society who would kill anyone with a handicap at birth. One of the most uncomfortable instances is when Mads eggs on a native guide, asking to see “more of Jacob’s kind.” The Korean doesn’t understand what he means, and before he can drill it home, Jacob interjects and changes his statement entirely. Brügger’s attitude belongs in a different movie entirely — one where he can criticize the top leaders face-to-face and portray their wrongdoings with brutal satire. Jacob can see the human in anyone, he acts only in compassion and will forgive all even if they don’t know it – a better, smarter, respectful flick would center on him, but instead we have a condescending bully as our main character. Yes he has good points to make, but no matter how self-reflective the director is in his narration, what he’s doing is sour and mean-spirited. Maybe he should take a lesson or two from Jacob. [C+]

Dai Sil Kim-Gibson and Charles Burnett‘s first examination of the 1992 LA riots focuses strictly on Korean-American women, those who lost businesses and family members in the demonstrations. Amongst footage of smoking buildings and ruined shops, the women to talk freely, eliciting very raw emotions which sometimes lead to frustration and racism. Some critics have wrongfully chided the director for including the interviews that nose-dive into prejudice, but in doing so they completely miss the point and wish to ignore something that is very real, regardless of its ugliness. Kim-Gibson don’t roll like that. [B+]

Wet Sand
A decade later (and almost as a retaliation to “Sai-I-Gu’s” attackers), Kim-Gibson returns to LA, doubling the length of her previous effort and opening the interview chair to all genders and races. Enlarging the conversation opens up more cans of worms, with topics ranging from law enforcement neglec to the media depiction of the riots. It’s a tough juggling act but she manages to do each topic perfect justice without sacrificing her ability to present things as complex as they are, refusing to water down subjects and provide simple answers.

One of the most impressive sequences focuses on a court case concerning the murder of an African teen by a Korean shop owner, for which the media shapes a backstory. Featuring a racist cashier assuming the teen was stealing due to her color, viewers saw the attack as a hate crime. However, the entire security tape — available to the jury and not the folks at home — reveals the teen had reached across the counter and attacked the woman first. But we, along with the talking head who follows, must wonder if deadly force against non-deadly force should be let off so easily. In that sense, were the media entirely wrong in their depiction? There’s no easy answer, only a debate begging to be opened as soon as possible — before another riot occurs. [A-]

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