2012 has been another stellar year for Korean cinema, both commercially and critically. Back in the late nineties and early 2000s there was a new wave of Korean culture heading to the West's shores, spearheaded by the country's film industry. This reached its pinnacle with films such as Oldboy and The Host which attracted a lot of attention to the industry but also created a burden of its own with the world only looking for more of the same.
Since then another new wave of Korean culture has come to the UK and USA, this time not squarely on the shoulders of Korean cinema but also Korean music and TV dramas, particularly in the last few months thanks to talent such as Psy and his song Gangnam Style. With Korean thrillers taking a backseat to period dramas, comedies and art house period, a clearer and deeper understanding of the nation and its people is being seen. The country has also become extremely progressive in its film subject matter with less and less films focusing on violence and more on the real Korea, particularly an emergence of an alternative side, hardly been seen. Throughout 2012 the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK), just off Trafalgar Square, has been helping to spread this understanding with the Year of 12 the Directors where every month the centre spotlights a relatively, unknown to the UK filmmaker, screening their films and giving an opportunity for the audience to meet them personally.
The KCCUK has also collaborated with the British Film Institute and ICA to bring a project two years in the making, the Im Kwon-taek Retrospective which screened throughout October. This illustrious director, who has made 101 films and counting, has had little to no exposure in this country, which is a sad state of affairs. Thanks to the BFI and ICA we have been able to cherry pick a number of the best films of the director and screen them to the UK audience. This cumulates in a live appearance of the award winning filmmaker. As with the 2010 Hong Sangsoo Retrospective, this is preciously the type of exposure to a filmmaker that the KCCUK looks to give.
In 2011 the 6th London Korean Film Festival incorporated the success of K-Pop into the festival with the first performance of the mega group, SHINee. This year the festival is carrying on the trend by dedicating a whole section of K-Pop infused films with a range of melodrama and comedies including Mr Idol, Acoustic, Papa and a screening of I AM: SMTown, a concert documentary showing the blood, sweat and tears that go into the most popular K-Pop groups around. After going on sale at the ICA this screening sold out in a little over an hour.
Though the music section is a major component of this year's programming it is not the only aspect. As always we are screening a wide range of films from sport themed such as Pacemaker and As One, Korea, the latter being the story of the first unified North and South Korean sports team. We are also screening some incredible independent films including the fantastic Jeon Kyu-hwan, Venice award winning film, The Weight and a collection from up and coming filmmakers with a short film selection thanks to our continued partnership with the Korea's Mise-en-Scene Film Festival.
South Korea is one of the few countries to have a booming box office that is dominated by domestic films. This year has seen box office records being broken with each new big release, especially The Thieves and Lee Byung-hun's Masquerade both hitting over the 10 million admissions mark. These films are the London Korean Film Festival's opening and closing films respectively with talent involved being flown over for the events in Leicester Sq.
The highs of the Korean film business seem to be unstoppable whether it's with Kim Ki-duk winning best film at Venice for Pieta or the huge box office returns or with more and more films finding releases in the UK and US. Whatever happens, the Korean Cultural Centre UK and the London Korean Film Festival will always strive to bring the best of Korean cinema and culture to UK audiences. I hope you enjoy this year's festival.
The London Korean Film Festival runs 1st - 10th November in London and tours to Bristol, Bournemouth and Glasgow until the 16th see www.koreanfilm.co.uk