Nominations for Best Film and Best Director (fiction films)
The seven works that have been nominated for Best Film represent a wide diversity in subject matter and style. If they share something in common, it is a fascination with characters who are dealing with inner and outer turmoil. People reveal their true personalities when confronted with extreme or unexpected situations, and the following films all contain fascinating, complex characters who are filled with surprises.
Click on the image to read about each film.
Dir. LEE Don-gu, 103min Fatal is a film that opens and closes with disturbing acts of violence. In between, we see two vulnerable, suffering people who unexpectedly start to draw close to each other. Shot on a miniscule budget, this debut feature by actor-turned-director Lee Don-gu often throbs with emotion. Its two central characters are both well written and memorably played by new actors Nam Yeon-woo and Yang Jo-a.
Dir. SHIN Yeon-sh, 140min The Russian Novel is a film about writers. It’s hard to capture the spirit of literature in a film, but this work vividly captures the ambitions, insecurities, talents and illusions of several characters engaged in the art of writing. Director Shin Yeon-shick has created a rich ensemble of characters, and assembled a talented cast to play them. But there is also a hypnotic quality to the rhythms of his editing.
Dir. SHIN Su-won, 107min Pluto is not the first film to depict the crushing competition that exists among students at many Korean high schools. Yet in many ways, the film feels unique in its sensibility. The main character, played by David Lee, undergoes a transformation after transferring to the school and learning some of the dark secrets of its top students.
Dir. Yeon Sang-ho, 100min The second feature film by one of Korea’s best-known animators Yeon Sang-ho is set in a rural village and centers around an evangelical church. When an abusive, highly disliked member of the community discovers that the church leader is actually a con artist, nobody wants to believe his warnings. The Fake has to be one of the darkest, most depressing Korean movies ever made, but it is also a highly ambitious story with complex, fascinating characters.
Dir. Um Tae-hwa, 98min Ingtoogi: The Battle of Internet Trolls is structured around a very clear central conflict. In the first scene, an internet gamer gets beat up in person by his online rival, and he spends the rest of the film seeking revenge. But this film is more of a character study than a revenge story. Even as the plot seems to turn in circles and go nowhere, we discover more and more interesting details about the unusual central characters.
Dir. Jang Kun-jae, 65min A young married couple worry about money, ponder the future and try to decide whether or not to have a baby. Director Jang Kun-jae shot this film in his own apartment over a period of 22 days. During that time the cast and crew lived together, developing the characters and storyline through conversations with the director. Sleepless Night is both naturalistic and convincing, but also structured in interesting ways.
Dir. O Muel, 108min This low-budget feature left a strong impression when it was released in theaters last March. For one, it is a particularly heartbreaking depiction of the widespread killing of civilians during the 4.3 Jeju Uprising of 1948. Aesthetically it is also unique in Korean cinema, with its strikingly composed black-and-white imagery. Shot in Jeju dialect with a great ensemble cast, and directed by Jeju native O Muel.
Nominations for Best Documentary
The style and subject matter of contemporary Korean documentaries have diversified in recent years, and a quick look through this year’s seven nominees for best documentary confirms this fact. Many critics would argue that Korean documentaries are in the midst of a highly creative period. They are also in the process of trying to build an audience for themselves, and although it is an uphill battle, progress is being made.
Dir. Lee Chang-jae, 104min The most commercially successful Korean documentary of 2013 examines the lives, thoughts and concerns of novices and elders at a training center for Buddhist nuns. Director Lee Chang-jae, who previously examined Korean shamanism in the documentary Between (2006), managed to receive permission to shoot in this otherwise highly restricted space. In the course of the film he approaches his topic with great sensitivity, and raises many interesting questions.
Dir. Kim Seong-hee, 93min The life and career of Korea’s first major fashion designer, now in her mid-80s, is filled with drama. Debut director Kim Seong-hee focuses on several crossroads in Noh’s life, from her divorce at a young age to the sweeping changes she introduced into Korea’s fashion scene. In both archival footage and in new interviews, Nora Noh presents a striking image of a woman who, through her dedication and vision, ultimately changed Korea.
Dir. Jeong Jae-eun, 106min City: Hall can be seen as a companion piece, but not a sequel, to director Jeong Jae-eun’s fascinating previous work Talking Architect (2012). Whereas the latter explored the meaning and utility of architecture in contemporary Korean society, City: Hall looks in depth at the commissioning, design and construction of Seoul’s new City Hall.
Dir. Im Heung-soon, 93min Visual artist Im Heung-soon presents an elegaic portrait of Jeju Island, its people, and distant but still painful memories of the 4.3 Jeju Uprising. The interviews with elderly residents, set alongside strikingly composed images of nature, give viewers a sense of history being present in every corner of the landscape.
Dir. Lee Ho-jae, 105min At the start, this must have seemed like a very bad idea for a documentary. Four young university graduates decide to spend a year in Europe, with only their filmmaking skills to support themselves. But what seemed like certain failure turned into unexpected success of a kind. A modest word-of-mouth hit that seems to capture well the spirit of younger generation Koreans, and the challenges they face.
Dir. Kang Seok-pil, 95min Korean independent documentaries’ roots are in activist filmmaking, and Forest Dancing provides an example of how such activist documentaries have evolved in the present day. The film depicts a bitter struggle between residents of the area, who have formed a unique community around the mountain, and the city officials and business interests who want to develop it.
Dir. Zhang Lu, 96min Director Zhang Lu then expanded it to feature-length for a separate theatrical release. The film begins by asking a number of migrant workers living in Korea to describe some of their recent dreams. With striking cinematography, the film also presents the landscapes in which they live, which differs from that experienced by most Koreans.