While many Koreans will take the opportunity to travel during the upcoming lunar New Year holiday (Feb. 18-20) otherwise known as “Seollal,” it remains a very busy period for the multiplexes where studios will try and capitalize on potential extra ticket revenue. As a result, hits such as “Miss Granny” and “Frozen” found a strong footing during this time last year and went on to accumulate significant tallies: 8.6 million and 10.2 million admissions, respectively.
This year there’s a mix of local and non-Korean fare both mainstream and more independent cinema, which in theory, should mean there is something for everyone.
Nostalgia and Korean cinema is not a new trend as seen with the success of “Sunny” (2011) and “Architecture 101” (2012), but going back in time appears to be tangible theme in current Korean films. “Ode to My Father,” “Gangnam Blues” and “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant” are examples of this trend, and so it is unsurprising that “C’est si bon” also embraces this retro fever.
Again spanning several decades (much like “Ode to My Father”), it also jumps into a different continent (this time, it’s North America in the ‘90s) but most of the film takes place in Korea in the 1960s.
Directed by Kim Hyun-seok (“Cyrano Agency”), it’s set within the C’est si bon music hall based on the famous folk duo Twin Folio comprised of two men in their 20s (Yoon Hyung-joo and Song Chang-sik) played by Kang Ha-neul Jo Bok-rae, respectively. But the film adds an extra character into the mix called Oh Geun-tae (Jung Woo) who forms a relationship with Jae-young (Han Hyo-joo) that becomes the main narrative thread of the film.
The film starts off on a strong note and the film’s rich soundtrack and visuals should help attract viewers. But the decision to add a further time frame where it shifts to the ‘90s with different actors playing the same characters — Kim Yoon-suk plays an older Oh Geun-tae and Kim Hee-ae acts as Jae-young – it proves to be too much of a shift making the film uneven.
“C’est si bon” was released on Feb. 5 and topped the box office on its opening weekend (Feb 6-8) though with an unimpressive 534,637 admissions. Its performance during the holiday season will be dependent on the all-important word-of-mouth.
For those who would rather watch a period film with a bit of wit, “Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island” and sequel to “Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Widow” released back in 2011 is perhaps an appealing prospect. Again directed by Kim Sok-yun and starring Kim Myung-min alongside Oh Dal-soo, it’s essentially a period action-comedy that for the most part doesn’t itself too seriously.
This time round taking place in 1795, detective Kim Min (Kim Myung-min) and his sidekick Seo Pil (Oh Dal-su) are back investigating when counterfeit silver is being slipped into circulation and soon discovers when corpses of village girls wash up ashore, it’s related to the crime ring behind the fake silver.
It does include many of the ingredients that made the 2011 film successful amassing 4.7 million admissions, which bodes well once it hits screens on Feb. 11, but whether audiences still have an appetite for such a film remains to be seen.
Turning to non-Korean films, Disney’s “Big Hero 6” is set to continue to attract the families, but those after something rather unique, outlandish and certainly not tailored for the kids, the British spy feature “Kingsman: The Secret Service” could be quite enticing for some.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn and based on comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, it’s a stylish and smart film about a secret spy organization located in England.
Veteran agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sees promise in a teenager called Eggsy (Taron Egerton) whose father saved the lives of Harry and other agents years earlier. After getting into a spot of bother with the police, Harry comes to the rescue, and Eggsy soon becomes his protege; and begins training along with a number of well-to-do candidates who ridicule him for his apparent lack of higher education.
Meanwhile megalomaniac billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) is planning on causing global destruction using SIM cards that makes people uncontrollably violent. It’s therefore not long before Eggsy is putting his training into practice.
Also released on Feb. 11, it’s a bit of a wild card as its quintessentially British and rather unique, but it should be celebrated for its irreverence and eccentric character that cleverly undermines the classist nature of some British spy films, i.e. James Bond.
Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) may be compelled to see “The Imitation Game” that goes on release here Feb. 17 where he plays Alan Turing who along with a group of cryptographers managed to crack the codes of the enigma machine during World War II. Nominated for eight academy awards but with Harvey Weinstein pushing what is an “Oscar-friendly” film, this is hardly unexpected.
Also showing in cinemas during the lunar New Year holiday is the widely acclaimed film “Ida” directed by Pawel Pawlikowski about a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland that as well as receiving an academy award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it also bagged a nomination for its striking cinematography.
Turning to more local independent cinema, “A Matter of Interpretation” that impressed a number of critics following its premiere at the Busan International Film Festival hit screens on Feb. 12. Directed by Lee Kwang-kuk (“Romance Joe”) and starring Yu Jun-sang, it’s a whimsical and intelligent feature about a detective who can interpret dreams.
By Jason Bechervaise
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