Programmed by Alex Kong
The turn of the millennium brought with it an explosively creative renaissance of the cinema of South Korea. Spearheaded by a vanguard of auteurs, this reinvention of a long-moribund film industry was met with wild acclaim on the festival circuit. The modus operandi of these filmmakers was to rework a wealth of diverse influences, synthesizing the styles of both international art cinema and commercial B-movies to fashion something completely fresh. The result was a genre-shattering "Korean New Wave," whose formidable imaginative vision and stylistic inventiveness have scarcely been matched.These films also command attention for their piercing views into the national psyche. In late 2016, South Korea was gripped by historically massive protests over the corruption scandal engulfing the now former president. But what these films illuminate is that this feeling of civic dissatisfaction has been roiling beneath the surface since long before. The modern history of South Korea has been marked by a profound sense of disorientation: from the brutal war with the North, to the despotic rule of military juntas, to the dizzyingly rapid pace of industrialization. The societal attitude reflected in these films is one of deep skepticism about the health of a civil society still reeling from these destabilizations. But rather than resigning to fatalism, these films find cause for hope in the continued strength of the people - a message with unsettling relevance for all those who feel themselves to be grappling with an unresponsive and uncaring government careening out of control. This series is co-sponsored by the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies with support from a United States Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center Grant.
(Bong Joon-ho, 2006) · A ragtag family's bond is tested when a terrifying beast is unleashed upon Seoul. With a blend of riotously entertaining spectacle and biting social commentary, Bong uncompromisingly cranks up the tension in this rehabilitation, and culmination, of the blockbuster popcorn flick. The Host is a reminder of the affective power that enabled the monster movie to claim cultural hegemony in the first place, as well as an elevation of the genre to a new peak.
runtime: 119m format: 35mm
(Bong Joon-ho, 2000) · A hapless academic is driven to violence by his quest to silence an incessantly barking dog, embarking on a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the canines of his apartment complex. He's opposed by a good Samaritan with delusions of grandeur (Bae Doona). This pitch-black comedy is the debut feature of Bong, the director of Snowpiercer and The Host, showcasing the exuberance and flair that would go on to win the movement showers of acclaim.
runtime: 110m format: 35mm
(Lee Chang-dong, 1999) · Peppermint Candy opens with the suicide of its embittered protagonist, Yong-Ho. From there, it unspools backwards in time, telling the story both of his life and of South Korea more broadly, in a lament for the perennial tragedy of the individual swept away by the tides of History. At once uniquely Korean and profoundly universal, this shattering portrait of the failures of a society traces the roots of the country's contemporary malaise, comprising the first of Lee's masterpieces.
runtime: 129m format: 35mm
(Jang Joon-hwan, 2003) · A mentally unstable and socially isolated beekeeper, convinced that a high-powered executive is actually an undercover alien plotting to destroy Earth, kidnaps him and tries to extract a confession. In an electrifying display of cinephilia, Jang marshalls a huge array of genres to tell this story - and also, fascinatingly, to complicate it ethically. In equal turns exhilarating and moving, this film never wavers in its deeply humane commitment to its nuanced characters.
runtime: 110m format: 35mm
(Lee Chang-dong, 2002) · The life of a recently jailed, mentally handicapped drifter collides with that of a girl who suffers from severe cerebral palsy. As the two become progressively more entangled, this story of marginalized loners cast off by society builds to an eruptive climax. Lee's challenging Oasis is a sustained, clear-eyed gaze into the murkiest depths of moral complication, searching for the redemptive possibilities that might be found there.
runtime: 133m format: 35mm
(Park Chan-wook, 2005) · The followup to the international smash hit Oldboy extends and deepens its predecessors' explorations of hyper-violent and highly stylized revenge by placing a woman at its center. Geum-Ja has been wrongfully jailed for thirteen years. Upon her release, she sets out to exact penance from all those who contributed to her imprisonment. With Lady Vengeance, Park brings his philosophically inflected "Vengeance Trilogy" to an explosive close.
runtime: 115m format: 35mm
(Kim Jee-woon, 2008) · In 1930s Manchuria, three wild outlaws, whose personalities give this film its name, come into conflict in their pursuit of a precious treasure map. This frenzied revision of the spaghetti western pivots effortlessly between tones and genres, from a gripping thriller in one moment to hilarious slapstick in the next, exemplifying the omnivorous assimilation of cinematic styles; and in smashing them together, creates something entirely its own.
runtime: 130m format: 35mm
(Kim Ki-duk, 2003) · "Rarely has a movie this simple moved me so deeply," raved Roger Ebert. A child being raised as a monk in the picturesque mountains encounters a succession of familiar hardships as he grows older - cruelty, love, heartbreak, and mortality - with the tranquility of nature bearing witness to his struggles. Kim, the movement's enfant terrible, proves his versatility with this elegiac meditation on life's most elemental and universal building blocks.
runtime: 103m format: 35mm
(Bong Joon-ho, 2003) · Veering wildly between madcap comedy and nail-biting suspense, Memories of Murder is based on the true story of an unsolved string of serial killings that took place in provincial Korea during the 1980s. Bong proves himself to be fluent in the conventions of the police procedural; but in his hands, the film transcends the strictures of genre to "construct a desolate portrait of the rents in civil society." Keep an eye out for three of the greatest drop-kicks ever put to film.
runtime: 132m format: DCP
(Lee Chang-dong, 2010) · An elderly woman who's recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's discovers a newfound passion for poetry, at the same time as she grapples with the rape accusations being levelled at her grandson. This avalanche of difficulties pushes her to the very boundaries of intelligible experience. Lee's heartfelt and sophisticated Poetry poses a fascinating question: "can the onset of a person's loss of language also be the beginning of a new state of consciousness?"
runtime: 139m format: 35mm