The Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) celebrates ten years this year, powered by the Cultural Office, the festival is a wonderful initiative to showcase not only great films, but promote Korean culture as a whole. With exciting special guests and a Bong Joon-ho retrospective in store, the festival shows no signs of slowing down. Taking place in Sydney (22-31 Aug), Canberra (22-25 Aug), Brisbane (5-8 Sept) and Melbourne (5-12 Sept), the Festival’s program features a whopping 22 films.
The program includes: Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival Prize, Parasite is a satire on income inequality by renowned director Bong Joon-ho. Widely regarded as 2019’s best film Parasite is a dark comedy-drama that will have audiences glued to their seats. Check out our review here.
Action; A fully-fledged blockbuster, Take Point is the second mainstream film for star Ha Jung-woo (The Handmaiden) and centred on a CIA-backed plot to abduct North Korea’s supreme leader. The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is an action thriller in which a South Korean gang lord teams up with a cocky young cop to find a killer, check out our favourable review here. Extreme Job is a Korean comedy in the tradition of Police Academy. The film follows inept narcotics police who buy the failing restaurant they are using to stake out a drug lord, only to make it a roaring success. Extreme Job is South Korea’s highest grossing box office film of all time. Money is a high-octane tale of insider trading and market manipulation. If you liked the 80’s classic Wall Street, this is for you.
True stories; based on the true story of a general in the 1990s who must win the trust of North Korea’s leaders and assess its nuclear weapons programme, The Spy Gone North, is a cold war story of espionage, find our review for it here. Another true story, The Great Battle (also reviewed), is a historical film about the siege of Ansi Fortress and the epic eighty-eight day battle that Yang Man-chun and his Goguryeo troops fought against 500,000 invading Tang dynasty men. A Resistance looks at actual events that took place when Korea was under the rule of Japan and a young girl’s resistance to her oppressors as she joins in the Korean independence movement. Finally, in terms of period-films Mal-Mo-E: The Secret Mission is set in Seoul during the 1940s, during Japanese occupation of Korea. After being fired from his job, a father tries to steal a man’s bag to pay for his son’s overdue school fees but fails. Later, he goes to a job interview only to find that the representative there is the man he tried to steal from.
Comedy and horror; From the studio behind the cult hit Train to Busan, Rampant is a period zombie thriller set in ancient Korea; Rampant sees the zombie genre meet political corruption in the Joseon dynasty, however it does not quite work as our review attests. Another Zombie film, this time with a comedic twist is The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale. The film takes place in a hillbilly filled rural countryside where the villagers there have little to zero knowledge on what is happening far beyond the mountains. What is happening is a zombie outbreak and when the wandering undead finally make it to town, hilarity ensues. The zombie trope is not dead yet, and the film manages to do something fresh with it still, check our review for the details. In the oddball comedy, Loser’s Adventure, a high school wrestling team has one final match to prove their worth after the school principal threatens to cancel the sport. The Dude in Me is a feel good body swapping flick where a career criminal and son of a mob boss switches bodies with a bullied 17 year old boy.
Underdog is the only animation in the Festival’s line up this year and follows a dog whose life is turned upside when he’s abandoned by his owners. He joins a pack of street dogs on a journey north in search of a rumoured dog paradise.
Drama; Innocent Witness is a deft and sensitive look at understanding mental disorder when a lawyer defending a housemaid accused of murdering her elderly employer wrestles with whether to put an autistic teenager on the witness stand. Birthday is the first South Korean film to explore the tragic sinking of the MV Sewol Ferry, and follows a mother as she struggles to get past her crushing grief after having lost her son in the tragic accident. The genre-fusing Swing Kids is a Korean War musical retelling of the musical Roh Ki-soo. Starring charismatic K-pop star Do Kyung-soo, the story follows an American G.I. who finds kinship with a group of Asian misfits in a POW camp. In our review Pierce calls it a “tap dancing mircle”.
The directorial debut of veteran actor Kim Yoon-seok, Another Child depicts the struggle of two teenage girls caught in the cross-fire of their parent’s dysfunctional affair. Another year, another Hong Sang-soo with Hotel by the River, a poignant, mellow and melancholic film. Inseparable Bros looks at the 20 year strong bond between two disabled men who grew up in a care home together. One of the men has incredible physical strength but the mental age of a 5 year old, the other is intelligent by paralysed from the neck down. Their sibling like relationship is threatened after a person claiming to be one of the men’s mother brings bad news.
Documentary; Ongals, the Korean word for a baby’s babble, are a four man, non-verbal comedy group famous in Korean. This touching documentary follows the group as they try to break into the US market. The journey to the big stage isn’t easy with a founding member battling cancer and a rookie recruit struggling to adapt to the team. Granny Poetry Club is a heart-warming documentary that centres on a group of grannies from a rural Korean town. Having grown up during the Japanese colonisation when the usage and education of the Korean language was banned, these women get a new lease on life when a Korean school opens, sparking a fire in their hearts to become literate.
2019 KOFFIA screening dates and locations: Sydney: August 22 – 31 | Dendy Opera Quays Canberra: August 22 – 25 | Palace Electric Cinema Brisbane: September 5 – 8 | Elizabeth Picture Theatre Melbourne: September 5 – 12 | Capitol Theatre