Aside from studying Korean as part of my degree at university, I've also been taking regular Korean classes at the Korean Cultural Centre in London. Having completed our term one exams, our final class of the term involved an outing to the cinema....
In addition to running Korean classes, the Korean Cultural Centre, aka the KCC, also runs various other events including weekly screenings of Korean films including a monthly Q&A session with directors of the films and this month, they've been screening a selection of films by director Park Kwangsu.
|KCC Director Won Yonggi with Director Park Kwangsu|
To introduce the director, Park Kwang-su is not particularly well known but is a person whose influence of the development of Korean cinema is indisputable. He founded the Seoul Film Group in the 1980s which was linked to many of the student pro-democracy protests at the time and he then went on the contribute to the establishment of the Busan Film Festival and also the Busan Film Commission. In between all of this, he created his own body of work, mostly defined by the politics of the 70s-80s, which made him a role model for the many young Korean film directors who have followed in his path.
His works, which have frequently been described as 'socially controversial', all have a common theme of struggles for democracy, freedom of expression and anti-corruption - central topics in the politics of the 1970-80s, a time in Korea that was defined by the censorship and control experienced by the people at the hands of dictatorial rule.
Now, sorry to disappoint those who saw the title (which, yes, I know, could be slightly misinterpreted!). To clarify, 'Meet Mr Daddy', or '눈부신 날에' in Korean, is in fact the title of Director Park Kwang-Su's wonderful film which I had the honour of going to see last night at the Apollo Theatre in London. Meet Mr Daddy, released in 2007, was Director Park's first step outside the genre of socially / politically controversial film and in my view, it was thoroughly brilliant.
Jong-Du (Park Shin-yang) is a selfish, lowlife conman and gangster, living in an old trailer on a junkyard. When in jail for yet another conviction, a social worker (Ye Ji-won) appears informing him that he has a daughter. Not exactly parenting material, he initially refuses to have anything to do with the child... only accepting her when money enters the equation. As he slowly opens his heart to her, he finds out she has serious illness....
|Signed by the director himself!! ^^|
While, in true Korean film style, it does get quite graphic (in a violent sense) in some of the gang scenes, it's nothing that could put you off the film and really is only a small amount (none of which is present in the trailer~)
Watch the trailer here:
I have to admit, I was totally won over by the acting of little Joon, played by actress Seo Shin-Ae, who stole the show in this film. The quality of her acting, especially considering her age, was phenomenal and there were quite a few teary-eyed faces when the lights came up after the showing!
I really would recommend watching this film. It's not intellectually challenging nor is it fast paced or exciting but it is smart and funny and at times, heart-breakingly emotive as well.
After the film had ended, we had an opportunity to meet the director and ask him questions regarding his work. I had gone with a few questions, prepared in Korean of course, stored on my phone - only for my phone to run out of battery half way through the showing. (Yes - I've learnt my lesson!)
Thankfully, I still remembered the most of them!
I asked him "how did the media censorship in the 70s/80s affect the production of some of your earlier films and your work in general?" To which he replied that it had had a great impact, vastly limiting where and when and what he could film. He mentioned that in one of his earlier films, they'd wanted to shoot a scene featuring a billboard showing a foreign model on it but this was banned until the 1990s. Apparently, while they were filming (with the 'illegal' billboard), the police had arrived and told them to stop and take it down. The rest of the scenes for that set were shot pretty much without a script as they quickly tried to finish the shots they needed before the billboard was forcibly taken down. He said "I told the actors to just do what felt natural and go with it, we didn't have time otherwise".
When I asked whether working in film at that time had caused him any difficulty personally, he replied "Well of course, I received lots of threats but I was a director. I dealt with it. At that time, you didn't enter film unless you were prepared to make a stand".
I also asked him what inspired him to suddenly move away from the social / political theme that had been running through all of his pieces up to now. In response, he joked "I'd run out of politically/ socially controversial things to cover" before going on to say that there were many more directors trying to move into the genre and he wanted to try something new, saying "there are lots of things you can make a film about, I want to find some new things".
When asked what his inspiration was for 'Meet Mr. Daddy', he replied "I didn't have any. It was my investor's idea and he came to me. I wanted to try something new so we went from there".
Having had the opportunity to meet with him and talk with him, I can't help but feel that he's a fantastic person and he must be a great director to work with. He's extremely humble regarding his very talented work and I hope he receives more appreciation for the films he has made. He is a film maker worthy of rediscovery and I urge you to go and watch some of his work.
For anyone interested, there are still 9 months left of film magic at the KCC with a different director's films being shown each month. There are screenings weekly at the KCC with a final showing at the end of every month at the Apollo Cinema in Picadilly featuring a Q&A session with the Director.
Coming next month : Director Song Il-gon