I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but up until three months ago, the only Korean films and dramas I’d seen were 녹색 의자 (Green Chair), 미녀는 괴로워 (200 Pound Beauty) and 소울메이트 (Soulmate). I’d been given a grip of dramas by the good folks at MBC but I’d dutifully passed them along to my own soulmate’s mom, who’s a raging Korean drama addict.
I remember when 쉬리 (Shiri) first opened in 1999, ushering in a new era of popular Korean films like 공동경비구역 (JSA), 엽기적인 그녀 (My Sassy Girl), 조폭 마누라 (My Wife is a Gangster), 장화, 홍련 (A Tale of Two Sisters), 태극기 휘날리며 (Taegukgi) and many more. But I think that, whilst those films were big sellers here at Amoeba, and the Korean Wave was crashing all around us, I was a bit suspicious of the hype. I assumed it might be uncritical band-wagon jumping, exoticism or a combination of both. After none other than Bill Paxton said to the mezzanine staff of 올드보이 (Oldboy), “They're [Koreans] kicking our ass over there!” and then asked for some tasteful, Korean soft-core, he inadvertently confirmed the suspicions in my quick-to-write-off mind. But all along I knew I wasn’t being fair, so I asked a co-worker if he’d seen any Korean films, he said “No – I already watch Japanese films,” which, far from dissuading me, actually confirmed that writing off Korean film was one more example of the chauvinism so often directed toward Korean culture, especially by Sinophiles and Nipponophiles.
As a contrarian, champion of the underdog, advocate of fairness and generally curious person, I decided to stop sitting on the sidelines and to expose myself to some Korean films. In the process I found a rich, healthy and diverse cinema with a lot of examples of great filmmaking. Though I learned that 박찬욱 (Park Chan-Wook) doesn’t do that much for me, 봉준호 (Bong Joon-Ho), on the other hand (whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to at a screening of his amazing excellent film 마더 (Mother)), has quickly become one of my all-time favorites.
Actors 배두나 (Bae Doona) and 송강호 (Song Kang Ho) are always highly enjoyable, even in films that are less so. Next up for me is well-known director 김기덕 (Kim Ki-Duk), who wrote 영화는 영화다 (Rough Cut), which I also loved when it screened at the Japan Korea Festival in Little Tokyo.
It was there, at the JACCC, that two girls told me about The Korean Cinematheque and the upcoming Korean Film Festival of Los Angeles (KOFFLA). One of them said it was like the Korean Oscars (hopefully minus the excruciating boredom); she told me to come and implored me to spread the word.
KOFFLA is the biggest Korean film festival in the US, which makes sense, since LA is home to more Koreans than any city in the world after Seoul. It’s organized by the aforementioned Korean Cinematheque and sponsored by the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles (KCCLA), Korean Film Council (KOFIC), and the Korea Tourism Organization. KOFFLA will showcase over seventy Korean and Korean-American features and shorts which are judged by a jury of Korean industry figures and prominent figures in the Korean community. Korean film fans will want me to mention that Chan-Wook Park is on the advisory board. See you there.
Please check out the official site if you’re interested!