10 Films you shouldn’t miss at the London Korean Film Festival

These are ten films you shouldn’t miss at the London Korean Film Festival which is taking place until November 19th, 2021 in London, UK.

– Selected Films –

#AfterMeToo by Kangyu Garam, Lee Somyi, Park Sohyun, Soram | 2021 – 84 minutes

Three years since Korean society was first rocked by the MeToo movement, how much has changed? As the title suggests, #AfterMeToo tackles the activism and resistance that remained after the initial Me Too fever cooled. This anthology documentary ties together four shorts, dealing with the ‘School Me Too’ movement amongst teenagers, the fallout of the Me Too movement in the art world,  confessions surrounding sexual trauma from long ago and its respective healing process, and the sexual self-determination of women.

Each segment has its own distinctive style, presenting the aftermath of Me Too from multiple angles. The coolness of black-and-white photographs, the dramatic gestures of mime-artistry, the direct confrontation of places and memories of hurt, and the ingenious vitality of illustrations inserted into interview testimony—these are all tools in the hunt to continue Me Too, and are all forms of evidence. The format of each segment poses a question about the ‘Me Too Movement’, but also presents a challenge and interrogation of the documentary form through evidence and remnants, memory and recordings. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 11th, 2021 | Thursday | ICA | 6:30 pm


Awoke by Jung Jae-ik, Seo Tae-soo – South Korea | 2020 – 97 minutes

After a car accident, Jaegi (Jo Min-sang) finds himself paralyzed and unable to walk. Given his difficult economic circumstances, he needs to find a job – but this will only be possible with government support, which requires a physical evaluation. After his exam he is shocked to receive a grade 5 rating, usually given to those with only minor disabilities. Disqualified from the support he desperately needs, he embarks on a quest through various bureaucracies to get his rating overturned.

Awoke has its roots in a filmmaking workshop given on Jeju Island for disabled residents. One of the participants, Jung Jae-ik, decided to write a script based partly on his own experiences and other incidents he had heard about in the disabled community. Jung would ultimately go on to co-direct the resulting feature. Eye-opening in many ways, Awoke is well told, expertly acted and has a surprisingly sharp edge. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 9th, 2021 | Tuesday | The Cinema in the Arches | 6:30 pm


Canola by Chang – South Korea | 2016 – 116 minutes

Hong Gyechoon (Youn Yuh-jung) is getting on yet still working as a diver along the black rocky coast of Jeju Island. She dotes upon her grand-daughter Hyeji, left behind by an absconding daughter. Then one day as the two of them walk through the town’s central market, little Hyeji (Lee Seul-bi) disappears. We shift to the story of an 18-something woman fallen in with a bad crowd in the big city. This ‘Hyeji’, a long sought for grand-daughter, will be returned to Jeju Island and the seemingly inexhaustible love of Gyechoon , even as the old woman’s mind is beginning to fade. But some things don’t add up about this prickly new Hyeji (Kim Go-eun).

Perhaps the most rewarding moments in the film are scenes between new-comer Kim Go-eun as older Hyeji and our veteran Youn. The young woman’s painful, subtle journey to self-respect is Kim’s gift to the production. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 6th, 2021 | Saturday | ICA | 6:45 pm


Limecrime by Lee Seung-hwan, Yoo Jae-wook – South Korea | 2020 – 82 minutes

Secondary school  classmates Songju (Lee Minwoo) and Jooyeon(Jang Yoosang) seemingly have nothing in common. Songju is a poor student who is likely to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a car mechanic. Jooyeon is from a wealthy family and excels at school. They have no mutual friends. But both of them share a talent for rapping. After forming an unlikely duo, which they christen Limecrime, they set out in pursuit of their dreams.

Co-directors Lee Seunghwan and Yoo Jaewook actually did perform as a hip-hop duo called Limecrime in secondary school, so there is a strong autobiographical streak to this story. But one of the film’s strengths is that it goes beyond the personal to capture the energy of Korea’s youth hip-hop scene, while also being quite smart about class issues. More than anything, Songju and Jooyeon are convincingly real and complex characters, and the story of their friendship is compelling. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 15th, 2021 | Monday | Genesis Cinema | 6:55 pm


Recalled by Seo You-min – South Korea | 2021 – 99 minutes

After a fall, Soo-jin (Seo Yea-ji) wakes up in hospital with a serious head injury that has left her with no memory of who she is or how she came to be there. As she goes back home with her solicitous husband Ji-hoon (Kim Kang-woo) – whom she also does not remember – to their high-rise apartment, her inability to recall the past is irrationally offset by apparent clairvoyant powers that enable her to see what is about to happen. All of which will lead her gradually to look at her present situation and relations with different, suspicious eyes.

Like a smarter riff on Rowan Joffe’s Before I Go To Sleep (2014), Seo You-min’s amnesia thriller uses deftly handled, superbly unpredictable twists to paint a portrait of a woman lost, traumatised and gas-lit, but on the wild, rocky road to recovery. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 18th, 2021 | Thursday | Genesis Cinema | 6:40 pm


Sewing Sisters by Lee Hyukrae, Kim Jungyoung – South Korea | 2020 – 109 minutes

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, many young women flocked from the countryside to Seoul seeking work in the burgeoning garment industry and at the sewing factories of Pyeonghwa Market. They worked and lived in squalor and were brutally exploited; many suffered from starvation and were unable to access education. They became politicised and started to organise, struggling for the improvement of their lives by forming women’s networks of solidarity, setting up activist labour clubs, as well as literacy and learning classes.

This was met with opposition by the industry and the government, and sometimes faced resistance from the existing male-dominated labour unions. The contribution of women to the birth of democratic trade unionism in the 1970s is still insufficiently acknowledged, despite the decisive political changes it brought to Korean society. Sewing Sisters honours this history, bringing together some of the women protagonists of this struggle to reminisce candidly about those years, sharing their memories about the difficulties, but also great achievements, they experienced through photographs, documents, and manifestos, as well as the slogans and songs they chanted. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 11th, 2021 | Thursday | Bertha DocHouse | 6:20 pm


Snowball by Lee Woo-jung – South Korea | 2021 – 109 minutes

In 1993 Daejeon, home of Expo ‘93, eighteen-year-olds Kang-yi (Bang Min-a), Ah-ram (Shim Dal-gi) and So-young (Han Sung-min) are inseparable. Kang-yi, who always looks to her friends’ reactions first; Ah-ram, who’ll pick up anything she finds on the street; and So-young, whose strong exterior hides an anxious core. The girls always talk of escaping to ‘somewhere else, somewhere unknown’. Whether at home or at school, they feel as if they don’t belong. ‘How can I explain that my warm bed is so comfortable that sometimes I feel scared,’ confesses Kang-yi. The three run away from home and create their own micro universe, united by their friendship. But in breaking away from the day-to-day, the girls suddenly feel as if they no longer know one another. Cracks begin to appear in their romantic illusions of friendship.

Delicately layered across the film are the unclear and uneven feelings of dissatisfaction and discomfort, fear and insecurity, and the humidity and stickiness of summer’s nights. Having already demonstrated an unrivalled skill in the telling of coming-of-age stories in her earlier short films, Director Lee Woo-jung’s first feature length is bursting with just as much intense emotion. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 7th, 2021 | Sunday | ICA | 4:30 pm


The Bacchus Lady by E J-Yong – South Korea | 2016 – 110 minutes

Seoul’s main east-west avenue Jongno goes past the parklands around the Jongmyo Shrine, one devoted to the country’s past kings. In the park old men gather to chat and play paduk, and some poor old women troll for customers. So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) is one of them. She totes a bag with Marlboros and the energy drink Bacchus, camouflage for the trade in sex she offers to her elderly patrons. Despite her basic decency and kindness, or rather precisely because of them, So-young’s life will take an even darker turn.

E J-yong had featured Youn in his witty mockumentary Actresses (2009). Here he gives his good friend the most somber role of her long and varied career. Youn could have chewed scenery, played it for shock and tears. Instead So-young emerges as a down-to-earth participant-observer witnessing the lack of welfare support and basic dignity afforded to many of Korea’s older citizens. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 6th, 2021 | Saturday | Picturehouse central | 9:00 pm


The Book of Fish by Lee Joon-ik – South Korea | 2021 – 120 minutes

Exiled to Black Mountain Island for his revolutionary ideas, scholar Chung Yak-jeon (Sul Kyung-gu, a regular from the films of Lee Chang-dong) forms a close, reciprocal bond with local young fisherman Chang-dae (Byun Yo-han), with whom he collaborates on an encyclopaedic, apparently apolitical book about the island’s marine life. The interactions between these two very different men offer a dialectic about divisions (of class, gender, religion and politics) during the early nineteenth century from which modern Korea would be forged, even as the island, at first an undesirable backwater ‘boondocks’, is soon revealed, under the wise influence of its new resident, to be a social utopia, and a model mini-state.

In this mostly monochrome epic drama, Lee Joon-ik (director of Sunny, 2008; The Throne, 2015; Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet, 2016) brings a beautiful, often bawdy collision of high ideals and harsh realities. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 7th, 2021 | Sunday | Picturehouse Central | 6:00 pm


The Housemaid by Im Sang-soo – South Korea | 2010 – 106 minutes

Byeong-sik (Youn Yuh-jung) is the calm, controlled centre within a family of self-indulgent chaebol billionaires. Formerly a nanny, she maintains her role as veteran housemaid and cook with stealthy politeness. She hires in extra help in the form of young, pretty Eun-yi (Jeon Do-youn); she will double as nanny to little girl Nami. While the husband of the family awaits his very pregnant wife’s delivery of their twins, he uses his reptilian charm to seduce Eun-yi. She does not put up much of a fight. Eun-yi’s own pregnancy sets the wheels in motion for a final tragedy.

In picking Kim Ki-young’s 1960 classic The Housemaid for a remake, Im Sang-soo faced a huge challenge. He wisely gave one of Kim’s favourite actors, Youn Yuh-jung, the key role of Byeong-sik while casting star Jeon Do-youn as Eun-yi. There is some irony in the fact that in his critical attack on the ultra-rich, Im was able to deploy a luxury of cinematic tools Kim Ki-young could never have imagined. (LKFF 2021)

Screening Date:
November 17th, 2021 | Wednesday | Genesis Cinema | 6:10 pm


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