Now entering its 13th year, the annual New York Korean Film Festival remains unparalleled in its mission to collate an eclectic assortment of films that collectively capture the singular eccentricity of Korean cinema. From existential rom-coms to brooding neo-noirs, buddy cop movies minus the buddies to cubicle slashers, the films of the NYKFF are nothing short of audacious.
For the first time, the NYKFF is partnering with the Museum of the Moving Image, which will host all of the screenings on one of the city’s finest towering screens. The festival runs from November 6-11.
“Office,” directed by Hong Won-chan
A midlevel office drone (Bae Seong-woo) goes a little mad one night and mashes his wife and son to death with a hammer. He returns to work, haunting the office like a sinister apparition, but all of his coworkers cover up for him, telling the police nothing but praise. In his feature debut, which is the festival’s opening night film, Won-chan erects a seedy, secretive world of red tail lights, gleaming windows, ubiquitous smart phones and milk-mired diner coffee.
As much a lacerating satire on the politics of Korean office minutiae as it is a gory horror film, “Office” has an assuredness and discernible vision that makes up for the sometimes jarring switches between tones, and Go Ah-Sung (“Snowpiercer”) is aces as the young intern who’s yet to assimilate fully into office life. While some of the subtext may be lost on non-Korean moviegoers, the film’s humor, and visceral impact, surely won’t.
“Confession,” directed by Lee Do-yun
Three boyhood friends break into their middle school to steal their diplomas, then embark on a sojourn into the snowy woods, where they take off their clothes in the frigid cold and snap pictures of each other suffering, as boyhood friends are wont to do. But one of the friends loses his balances and falls down a snowy mountain side. Years later, the now-grown friends (Lee Kwang-soo, Ji Sung, Ju Ji-hoon) lead very different lives: One is a businessman, one a firefighter, and the one who fell is a laborer. The men harbor the corrosive secret, which threatens to eat through their friendship and their lives.
Do-yun composes his shots in odd ways, clipping off the tops of his characters’ heads — but his spacial awareness, and the metaphorical scalping of his framing, lend the film an air of impending ruin, of childhood friends who can’t outrun their past.
“The Shameless,” directed by Oh Seung-uk
Fifteen years after his film debut “Kilimanjaro,” Oh Seung-uk pulls off an impressive feat with this stylish, brooding romantic noir. It’s slick without being glossy, brooding but not gloomy, and the editing is sharp. A cop (Kim Nam-gil) is handed a standard paperwork-processing murder case, but soon slips into a downward-slanting warren of lies and deceit — you, know, typical noir stuff. He meets a bar maid (Jeon Do-yeon), who, despite the Sisyphean struggles of her life, manages to exhume old emotions from the weary-eyed cop.
Jeon is terrific, giving an amour-fou kind of turn; she appears purged of the will to live, her face tugged down by the passage of time, yet she somehow harbors the possibility of hope in a world saturated with menace and decay.
“The Beauty Inside,” directed by Baik (Baek Jong-yeol)
Culling the fantastical weepie plot from Drake Doremus’ series of shorts of the same name, Baik’s feature debut depicts a man (Kim Dae-myung) who, after sneaking out of a young woman’s apartment post-coitus, finds himself suddenly oscillating between bodies; his consciousness slips into the bodies of 21 different people of varying ages, genders, and nationalities every time he falls asleep. He falls in love with a woman (Han Hyo-joo), and tries to make things work despite his unusual predicament.
Sweet without becoming saccharine, the film shows how Korean cinema even turns the typical rom-com on its head. Baik, who had previously worked exclusively in commercials, has a lot of fun with the material.
“Veteran,” directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
Whereas most of the films in the NYKFF are efforts from younger, up-and-coming filmmakers, “Veteran” is the work of a, well, veteran. The 41-year-old Ryoo Seung-wan, who has over 20 movies on his directorial resume, helms this action-comedy about a intransigent cop (Hwang Jung-min) who is, contra every other movie cop, not a brooding, angry wreck of a man. He’s still one of those loose-canon types, but he’s a smiling loose canon. (Hwang is one of the most versatile actors working in Korea today.) Instead of a plot-driven mystery, “Veteran” is an acerbic, often goofy vivisection of masculine belligerence, as well as a clash between classes. The barrage of witty banter (hopefully you can read subtitles very quickly) is endlessly entertaining.
Tickets for this year’s festival are available online.