Which might be why I thought that this song was actually called “A Pretty Good Year” not a “A Very Good Year.” I was trying to come up with some clever title that wasn’t simply “Hi! These are the media texts that got me through 2021…barely.”
Everything has taken on a dulled haze to it. Like Seoul was really foggy a few days ago. Which could have been the fine dust, could have been the weather, but it just seemed to reflect 2021 perfectly. There’s nothing about this year that has gone off without a hitch. Everything seems to have had some kind of aftertaste or leftover on the plate that just. won’t. disappear.
Do I think that will change in 2022? Naw. But many of us will be better equipped to deal with it. Even to manage the morons who can’t seem to fathom that some positive changes have come out of this relentless non-stop blast-beat of tragedy. People have learned how to provide greater access to workplaces, media/entertainment and everyday life-needs (shopping, medical needs, etc). Complain as much as you like about Zoom and washing your vegetables, but the expansion of delivery services, remote learning, working and more have opened doors that many disabled people have been knocking on for years.
Note- it wasn’t hard to provide these things. It was only hard to do because…disabled people? Who? Single parents? Who? The concept that these remote options might disappear “when the pandemic does” is also ridiculous. These were things that should always have been options.
This has certainly been a shitty year in my life. I love Korea. I genuinely do. But my depression has been the worst I have ever experienced. It is hard to be here with only the barest amounts of contact from my friends at home. I am always the oldest person when I meet people (by a solid amount of years) and I am regularly confronted with the statement: WAIT. You have TWO Master’s Degrees? From UCLA? Why are you teaching English to really young children?
Simple: if I want to do what I love (writing about Korean classic cinema, Korean film history, gender in Korean classic films), I have to have a roof over my head, health insurance and food for my cat and, I suppose, myself. 🙂 It’s not easy. I don’t get paid to write like I did when I was in the US. It’s all for free. My day job is stressful and I’m incredibly lonely and isolated everyday. I don’t have the same support system I used to.
I’m never happier than when I’m doing research and writing on Korean cinema. Never.
And I miss doing my podcast so very much.
Like I said- this year has been hell. For so many people. So many friends have died this last year, so many people I know, and so much senseless agony beyond COVID. I can’t even fathom.
But in that time, I watched some really wonderful things. I don’t like lists (AND YES, I KNOW THIS IS BASICALLY A LIST POST, SHUDDUP) but I think everyone should have heads’ up on these things I watched. I loved them.
Please know that this is not everything I watched– Things that I have yet to see that I know I will love and would have made it to this list had I gotten a chance to complete them or watch them yet: –NIGHTMARE ALLEY (GDT) –CHUCKY (Don Mancini) –SUMMER OF SOUL (Questlove)
Things I recommend:
Faves of BIFAN
Nimby, directed by Teemu Nikki Queer, hilarious, mindblowing, AMAZING. Find this and see it.
Death Knot, Directed by Cornelio Sunny Wonderfully terrifying!!!
Do not pass go.Do not collect $200. WATCH THIS LTD SERIES. One of the best things I have seen on TV or in film in years. I am a true crime person but Colman and Thewlis are beyond genius and the structuring and directing of the work as a whole left me with my brains bleeding out of my ears (in a good way). THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT. It’s dark, classy and WOW.
Yeah, I like murder mysteries & crime stuff. But when it’s queer & has solid representation for a range of marginalized characters, it really makes me love it. Well-written & well-done.
TED LASSO. I can’t help it. This show is beyond any mac & cheese/ice cream/blankey show I could ever have dreamed of. There are so many little jokes that I love and it’s just…I wish I didn’t like it so hard but I LOVE IT SO FUCKING HARD. And that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t usually like “feel good” TV. Damn you, Ted. Damn you and your biscuits.
This is not for everyone. It is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC and very disturbing. A lot of footage that had never been released or seen. A lot of survivors talking about what happened. I would not recommend it for any of my Black friends, certainly. But this is one of the most incredibly powerful and important films to come out in 2021.
Yes, this is another doc about Attica and it’s just as heavy. PLEASE WATCH BOTH. THEY ARE V DIFFERENT FILMS!!!!!!!!!!! This one is really interesting from the archival and legal perspective as it also looks at how the woman who “liberated” the films/images and the organizations that sprang up to help the folks after Attica. The prison system is racist and awful. Nothing has changed. And this just reiterates all of it.
The best feature film I saw this year was Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter. I saw some great stuff and had to think a lot about what I saw, but this was the winner. I’m not posting a trailer because I think the trailer tells too much. Just watch the movie.
Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move is wow. Again, no trailer because it should just be seen.
Both this and Card Counter were really my favorite films of 2021. I feel good about that. They are incredible films that offer mindblowing performances from their casts. Soderburgh’s film is more of a heavy-hitter ensemble film-noir piece and the longer I am away from it, the more perfect I realize it is. Also, fucking Bill Duke. Bill effing Duke.
Again, no trailer for this. The less you know about Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho the better. But I have not stopped thinking about this film since I saw it and (much like the Sparks doc) I have been listening to almost only the songs/bands I heard in the film ever since. Matt Smith’s performance is…wow. The less I say about it…the better. When you do see it, please read my friend Marc’s piece about it. It’s GREAT. But ONLY AFTER WATCHING IT. It’s spoiler-ific.
Todd Stephens’ Swan Song UDO KIER FOREVER!!!!!
Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou This film broke me. But I love everything he has ever made. I hope he makes movies forever.
There’s just a few of the NEW films, TV shows, docs, etc that I watched. Just some. I watch things almost every night.
And I got new discs from the Korean Film Archive too this year. Those are beautiful! At any rate this is my 2021 update, over and out. It’s 10:30pm. Time to put something on. Maybe next month I will update with my fave films I watched in 2021 that weren’t films from 2021.
Take care, stay safe, and if you watch any of these because I recommended them…Hey- let me know what you think!
So, here it is. December 24th, 2020. Christmas Eve. I’m finally living in Seoul, I’ve left Paju, it’s a year and change since I left the United States and the entire world is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
I don’t want to dwell on the pandemic too much- after all, this is supposed to be movie talk- but here I am sitting in my apartment, the yacht rock station playing (shuddup, it’s better for writing background music), thinking about friends all over the world. All over the US.
For those of you who know me, you know I’ve loved Korean cinema for well over a decade. Once, I even participated in a Korean Blogathon to get over an intensely bad break-up. FTR, it totally worked! In this last year, my interest in Korean cinema intensified into something more than what it had been. That was sorta to be expected, right? I live here and all. What shook me was how deeply and completely I fell in love with…Classic Korean cinema. This is beyond all other kinds of cinemas I’ve ever studied, watched, consumed. It’s devilishly specific and I cannot get enough of it. I am ridiculously addicted to it and my career/training as an archivist only makes this situation more painful: much of it is no longer available, has deteriorated, or is, in some fashion, lost or unaccessible.
There was a link that people were passing around like popcorn before I left for Korea about the Korean Film Archive and their YouTube channel. While I will pursue a more archives-and access-centered piece on the specific topic of the YouTube Channel itself at a later date, I want y’all to know that EVERY. SINGLE. THING. I recommend to you here I watched on that channel. They have been putting films up there for almost 10 years, I think, and they constantly add new things. If something I recommend is no longer on there, it was likely taken down due to a Blu-ray release or something of that sort. And the BR releases are just amazing 😱
I have been thinking & planning this list for a while. Some bits of it are clipped from personal emails I have sent to people but the rest…is totally new. I’ve had a lot of people asking me for my selections. I will tell you, flat out, every movie here is one I will BACK 100%. These films changed me. LAST VERY IMPORTANT POINT: Know that classic Korean films are long but they are WORTH IT. Do not let their running time deter you from watching them. They are like NOTHING you have ever seen or ever will see again.
And now, without, further ado, my holiday gift to you….
I will be listing some films under directors w/bio info & some just as films. Some I have done a LOT of research into and some I have not. Obvs, you will be able to tell my successes & failures. Be kind. Also, just watch the movies. They’re just omfgsogreat! Also? In Korea, many of these are age-restricted because they are, uh, well…you’ll see. So the links I have here go straight to the YouTube channel where they should play fine. Let me know/leave me a message if you have ANY problems….
김기영/ KIM Ki-Young
I’m going to start with KIM Ki-young. He was nicknamed Mr. Monster. He’s 100% my favorite favorite favorite. Most people call him a cult director or a horror film guy. His most famous film is The Housemaid/하녀 (1960) which has been classified as a noir also but I strongly disagree with that classification as well. As you can tell, he is very difficult to classify which is why he is amazing. He was an independent genre filmmaker during a time when that just didn’t happen & was deeply influenced by playwrights like Ibsen & O’Neill. His shit is off the hook & not simple “cult” or “horror” cinema.
Second Film:Insect Woman 충녀 (1972) this one is KILLER for visuals!! I mean, all his stuff is but…sex and colors and total lunacy…mmmm…. https://youtu.be/Mwh2Z1Q8q9o
Third Film:Woman of Fire ’82 화녀 82 (1982) yes, it’s like the first WOF. Which is kinda like The Housemaid. Yes, he liked this narrative. But I would argue that the repetition of this narrative in different eras, houses, and with different class discussions really works well. https://youtu.be/ssNg3hDGH_o
김수용/ KIM Soo-yong
So this is the second director KIM in my list, but HFS. I just started watching his films the other day and I’m pretty sure that I haven’t recovered. I had watched a few of his films when I first got to Korea, but then I decided to watch a few more and I was in awe. KIM Soo-yong was born in 1929 and he’s still alive, by the way. He has made a lot of commercial films and seems to have played nice throughout all the chaos and censorship that made the Korean film industry not…the most pleasant place to work at all times. More than 100 movies under his belt and, so far, he made a few that were so striking in how they dealt with gender and sexuality. These films are no bullshit films and I am still in awe that they were made in the 60s and 70s and earlier. I’ve never seen anything like these and I hope you watch them.
Second Film:Burning Mountain (1967) Politics, sex, war, desire, masculinity deconstruction…unbelievable film. I still struggle with the fact that this film exists. Does it? https://youtu.be/XMyBmK8enLg
Third Film: Starting Point 시발점 (1969)- it is highly doubtful that anyone other than me will recommend this to you. I was going to put one of Director Kim’s other films that people really adore but this is one that rocked me. Visually spectacular w/a great story, I hope it thrills you like it did me. I was floored. https://youtu.be/s75SVqui3wI
The 80s/early 90s
I’m going to recommend a few different films from the 80s that I think are dynamite and should be seen at all costs. Korean cinema in the 80s was a different monster than the 60s or the 70s and definitely different than the late 90s. MANY of the filmmakers who had been working in the 60s and 70s were still making movies in this period and made stunning work during this period. It’s almost as if the word “flop” didn’t exist in their vocabulary. Or maybe those films got lost? Who the hell knows. Watch these movies, y’all.
Whale Watching 고래사냥 (Bae Chang-ho, 1984)- This is an anti-road road movie loosely about shitty crushes and how it is hard to be young. But that’s a VAST oversimplification. It stars one of my very favorite Korean actors 안성기 Ahn Sung-ki and if you watch a lot of Korean films, you’ll know him cuz he’s been in almost 200 films and started acting when he was a kid. Just watch it. It’s not like any road movie or feel-good youth crap you’re used to. And if you like it, look up the director. He’s fabulous. https://youtu.be/Fl-ns4OVC2g
Our Twisted Hero 우리들의 일그러진 영웅 (Park Jong-won, 1992)- I wanted to include this one because honestly? I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it. The poster for it is the background for my Kakao profile. It’s based on a very well-respected and famous book in Korea that many kids still have to read in school, I believe. When my ex-boyfriend saw my Kakao page, he super freaked out. He was like, “That movie is amazing! How do you know that movie?” Again, I just found it on the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) Classic Film Youtube channel and watched it. It’s definitely got some history in there and it’s not a light film. Josh Ethier, if you’re reading this, I thought of you when I first watched it, so it may be your cuppa. I highly recommend this film but it’s definitely a rough watch. I love it though. God, I love it. FUN FACT: everyone’s favorite Oldboy star Choi Min-sik is in this film as a very young, very good looking teacher! https://youtu.be/De0ZkC1mCxc
The Age of Success 성공시대 (Jang Sun-woo, 1988) – My feelings will actually probably get a little hurt if you watch this film and do not like it or at least have some very strong feelings about it. This film was one of the first films that really wooed me into the Classic Korean Cinema bedroom. After 성공시대, I think I was a goner. Centered on advertising and scheming/slimy sales reps obsessed with power & climbing the ranks, this stars my fave dude, Ahn Sang-ki. If you like Mad Men, American Psycho and watching wonderfully surreal 80s landscapes & perfectly horrible people like I do, THIS IS YOUR FILM. Other thing to think about: this came out one year after Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. https://youtu.be/3DLNGgfbXfo
Ticket 티켓(Im Kwon-taek, 1986)- In general, film history has not been a huge thing here in Korea. And their own film culture has not been platformed in a positive way up until, well, LAST YEAR tbh. So when I tell people I’m obsessed with classic film, they don’t really respond to most of the names I say except one: Im Kwon-taek. He’s been a widely recognized Korean filmmaker and is highly respected on a global scale. He’s made a lot of excellent films. I haven’t seen most of them but those that I have seen I’ve liked. This one? I LOVED. Ticket is a brilliant work that explores the lives of bar hostesses on a very intimate scale. Hostess films are an entire Korean film genre and I am quite taken by them. There is a lot to unpack there. And I think you will find that there is a lot to unpack in this film. Let me know what you think. The actress who plays the bar manager, Kim Ji-mee, is excellent and has done over 300 films (!!). https://youtu.be/N6RH1rEcrQg
I could keep talking about these films, performers, themes and historical points for ages. But my food delivery just arrived and I actually want to watch a movie. So I’m going to give you a few last ones and then feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you liked, hated, etc and I can maybe make another post if I’ve got time.
The Marines Who Never Returned돌아오지 않는 해병 (Lee Man-hee, 1963) – LEE MAN-HEE IS ONE OF THE BEST FILMMAKERS EVER TO HAVE LIVED AND HE DIED TOO EARLY. I said it and I damn well meant it. Everything he did (depressingly not much) was perfection. This war film was released in the US in 1966 under the title Marine Battleground but it got director Lee a best director award at the Grand Bell awards in 1964. Watch this movie. You’ve never seen anything like it. Then buy the Blu-ray of the The Evil Stairs from 1964, one of the best (if not THE best) horror noirs I’ve ever watched in my whole life. Watch everything you can from him. But here’s a taste: https://youtu.be/8rrBUUWRlwc
A Bloodthirsty Killer/A Devilish Homicide 살인마 (Lee Yong-min, 1965) – From the title it sounds like an action film but it’s actually a really great horror revenge film…with lots of cat stuff! Meowwwww! https://youtu.be/rVVtAPh2M9Q
The Body Confession 육체의 고백(Jo Keung-ha, 1964) – Technically this is somewhere between melodrama and hostess film but it defies all that. This film is a massive work and discussion on the damage that the US did to Korea and Korean women. Be forewarned: there is some dialogue that has racial slurs and it’s definitely…wow. I had to really think about it for a while. It’s a very complicated film with complicated characters in a landscape of high trauma. The women in this film are some of the most badass women I’ve ever come across. The madam of the nightclub – you meet her almost right away- is played by Hwang Jung-seun. You might recognize her from Seashore Village and Burning Mountain and I HIGHLY recommend you seek out her performance in the MINDBLOWING & EARTH SHATTERING film, Rainy Days, linked there. Heheheheh. Had to sneak ONE more link in before this final link… https://youtu.be/lO78j-5Tgi8
All right, y’all. I’m gonna go eat. You take care and enjoy these films. Let me know what you think.
Writing calmly about Mattie Do’s The Long Walk is difficult. But sometimes you just have to be honest and shout (digitally) about a damn fine film. In all honesty, what I want to do is grab people by the shoulders like a crazed John Carpenter character and say: have you seen the way to horror? It is Mattie Do! But I’m not that creepy and there’s a pandemic on. I will say to you, reader: Mattie Do is everything I want from a horror filmmaker.
Thanks to LAAPFF for programming this film. While Mattie Do is California-born, she lives and works out of Laos and is Laos’ first (and only) female filmmaker (as of the date of this review). Platforming her work is critical to women in genre-filmmaking and the Laotian cinema world in general. The LAAPFF has featured a litany of incredible films all by, for and about Asian women. Effective on regional and global levels, it is a continual joy and inspiration to watch and write about these films. My great hope is that these films play everywhere, not just in festivals. Everyone should see this work.
I like to know as little about a film as possible before I see it. I call it the “Tabula Rosa approach.” No trailer, no reviews, no reading of descriptions or reviews. Genre & country are usually enough for me and occasionally if someone I know says: YEAH, that was awesome, I listen to them.
All I knew about The Long Walk before watching was that it was Laotian and a horror movie. I am BEYOND glad that was all I knew. Deftly written by Chris Larsen and hauntingly lensed by Matthew Macar, Mattie Do’s direction makes this movie a genuine force to be reckoned with.
I’m going to try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. I don’t want to say too much. Honestly?
JUST SEE THE DAMN MOVIE. IT’S LIKE NOTHING ELSE YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE.
Admittedly, there are some aspects to this movie that make it a subjective hole-in-one for me. So here are a few of my personal sweet spots and why The Long Walk is definitely one of those films that was “made for me” but may not be everyone’s film.
First of all, it has the “told through a kid’s eyes” aspect. I love films like that. Germany: Year Zero (Roberto Rosselini, 1948), Come & See (Elem Klimov, 1985), and Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952) are all films told through the perspective of a child and films that I consider favorites. They are also some of the. Most. Disturbing. Films. Ever. While this film isn’t Klimov-level, it certainly holds its own and the way Mattie Do utilizes the child’s perspective in this film was a good call. Her sensitivity to innocence and betrayal was perfectly balanced, depicting the kind of confusion and discomfort only a child can feel.
The tragic life of the young boy (played exquisitely by Por Silatsa) is certainly a story we’ve seen before, but it is in the telling that the dynamism becomes real. Do’s regional specifications and temporal involvements of modernization are what drive this part of the film. What would be a simple dysfunctional family story is transformed into grounded work and distinct circumstances in small town Laotian life.
The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is one of the great new figures in modern horror cinema. Chanthalungsy’s performance is just mind-blowing. I am desperate for more people to watch this film so they meet him (and, selfishly, so we can talk about his narrative!). Rarely has such a calming character led me on such a beautiful and horrific ride. Inspiring empathy, anger, nausea, pity and frustration, this is a fucking horror movie in every sense of the word.
The Long Walkis a meditation on ghosts (personal and supernatural), death (natural and not-so-natural) and concepts of growth and stagnation. The underlying narrative of technology in the Laotian countryside plays a critical role, upping the ante and bringing different kinds of monstrosities to the landscape. This language might not be making it sound sexy, so like- if you need that kind of review or recommendation? Let me reassure you- this is a scary and messed-up film!
Playing with ideas of horror and science fiction with skillful fluidity, The Long Walk will make genre-rule-obsessed viewers uncomfortable as hell.
To those viewers: Concede the fact that fantastic cinema can work within and between genres. Genres are like gender: fluid as fuck and that’s how they SHOULD be. To produce quality art like The Long Walk, you need to be able to be slippery while maintaining suspense, terror, and the right to whip out OMGWTF moments at the right time.
And I live for those shifts when they are done well. This was absolutely an exercise in How To Do It. Every Western filmmaker who tries (and fails) should take some classes from this film. Big ups on this. It wasn’t exploitative, it was smooth, and it kept on rocking the film. That third act. Hot damn. I shouted at my screen: “OH hell no. What????? No way. Shiiiiiit.” On the other hand, my cat then went into the other room. He may not be a fan.
Finally, while the film features men as the protagonists what hit me hard was that their stories were actually entrance points to a larger exploration of women and women’s experiences. Like horror is wont to do, The Long Walk viciously reveals some of the worst parts of humanity. But it does so in a nuanced and complex way. A road trip of masculinity and growth, this movie takes a scalpel to gender issues and power structures, ripping those bodies open like a drunk mortician, allowing us to revel in the pure unadulterated pain, joy and liberation that exudes from that screen.
Part of theLAAPFF, this film can be seen through the Eventlive link here starting on October 15, 2020. It’s only up for a few days so get on it!!! This film is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 15, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 18, 2020 at 11:59pm PT
Leah Borromeo’s Award-winning short film on a 24-hour funeral parlor in Manila and its clientele is not for the weak of heart (or stomach). But every frame is worth it. This short film, initially created for the Al-Jazeera Witness documentary series, is yet another lesson in the almost trite slogan of ACAB but this is on an entirely different and global level.
Mortician is a detailed and heartbreaking examination of Orly, the elderly (yes) mortician whose job it is to take care of some of the most savaged and battered dead bodies of the city. As this documentary unfolds, Borromeo shows Orly’s complex ethics and personal life with great skill, making Mortician of Manila one of the most incredible documentaries I’ve seen in years. Orly is a challenging and complicated character to follow but there’s truly no one like him. Charming and maddening at the same time, this Mortician has to be seen to be believed.
With a sign on the wall reading “Autopsy is Free of Charge,” Orly believes he is doing a service to the painfully poor community that he serves. But this community (and the entirety of the Philippines) has been ruptured and is continually terrorized by current President Rodrigo Duterte and his anti-drug policies. These policies (the Philippine Drug War) actively target the poor, authorize public citizens to kill drug addicts (the government does not see them as human), established death squads, and encouraged police to murder young Filipinos and plant evidence on them to establish “guilt.”
Let’s be clear: this is a very graphic short doc and totally qualifies as a horror movie. But it will leave your heart shattered by the end. The terror of these families who would rather see their children stay in prison for a safer environment is a real thing. Young men in their 20s are shot like animals and left to die in an alley, families just accept this as life and move forward trying to make the next step…if they can afford it. Which they usually cannot. Funerals are a luxury. Orly does what he can but…it’s tough out there. Bodies keep coming and the money isn’t there for anyone.
This is a must-see if you can handle hard-watches. Leah Borromeo is an excellent documentarian. Using Orly’s story as a through-line, heartbreaking social issues, political commentary and graphic imagery are handled with sensitivity and incisiveness. An incredible film.
This film is part of the Juke In The Box package for the LAAPFF, only available to viewers in the United States from September 24, 2020 at 12pm PT to September 30, 2020 at 11:59PT. From October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59 pm PT, this film is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County).
When I moved from Los Angeles in November of 2019, I knew I was going to miss the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival terribly. It was an event that I regularly attended for many years. Whether it was just for one movie or the entire run-of-fest, I could always count on the LAAPFF’s programming for charming, challenging and entertaining content. Year after year, the LAAPFF has consistently kept me engaged in what I love doing most: watching movies. So having this virtual option and the wide access that they have introduced has been very satisfying.
This year, I started out by watching a World Premiere documentary short. I try to know as little about a film going in as possible so all I knew about Akira Boch and Tadashi Nakamura’s Atomic Cafe: The Noisiest Corner In J-town was that it was about Los Angeles and punk rock. Being born and raised in Los Angeles (Hollywood, specifically) and having cut my musical teeth on local punk, this film was definitively unique and dominantly Angeleno.
At one point in the film, an interviewee notes, “From pop stars to kids from East LA, everyone was [at the Atomic Cafe].” That was the punk scene in LA at the time. The ease with which everyone mingled at the Japanese American-owned restaurant named after the atomic bomb was impressive but like…punk AF. Years and years later, patrons of the Cafe still remembered their favorite dishes and relished describing them to the documentarians. But it really wasn’t ever about the food. It was about the space and those that made it happen. And isn’t it always?
Opened in 1946 by the parents of “Atomic Nancy” Sekizawa, the Atomic Cafe established the Sekizawa family in Little Tokyo/J-Town. Nancy’s parents had seen their fair share of suffering but the Cafe’s placement in Los Angeles weaved them into the downtown Japanese American community. The film does a wonderful job of looking at the kind of people the Sekizawas were and the kind of tolerance and acceptance they gave to the misfit punk kids who came to their restaurant (including their daughter who then ran the shop).
I felt wildly awkward because while I knew about the rest of the places mentioned in this piece- Madame Wong’s, The Masque- I knew very little about the Atomic Cafe and even less about Nancy Sekizawa and her family. I wanted to call myself out- LA punk rock cred has been rejected! Hometown privileges revoked! How did I not know the Germs hung out here? This was a place where X used to go? But by the end of the film, when they show where the location was, I realized that I had been to that place a thousand times (not as Atomic, of course) and it brought it home in a really surreal and sad way. I love my city so much and I love punk rock so I definitely teared up a bit. My heart was here for this film.
The Sekizawa family, LA punk, Japanese American history and the cafe are cleverly quilted together in this excellent documentary short. People in the film use the word “magic” repeatedly to describe the restaurant and I don’t think they were wrong. Atomic Cafe: The Noisiest Corner In J-town is a vital story. The images shown examine the history of Los Angeles, music and the Japanese American cultural experience and what it really means to be punk rock.
This film is available to watch online via the LAAPFF through this link here.
Don’t miss it!!!
This film is only available to viewers in the United States from September 24, 2020 at 12pm PT to September 30, 2020 at 11:59PT. From October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59 pm PT, this film is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County).
Friendly Interactions & the Comfort of the BIFAN Community
I generally travel solo. Sometimes other people are too wishy-washy about attending events or committing to things and at some point I just decided that I would make sure that I never missed the things that I wanted to go to. No shade on anyone else, it’s a me thing.
Traipsing around on my own? It’s what I did in LA. But Los Angeles has a melancholic and toxic sense of loneliness, it makes you feel shitty being alone. I thought that I liked being on my own there, watching people and reading alone in bars. But I like the independence I have here in South Korea much more. In LA, everyone is a lone alone. Here, people just happen to go out by themselves. It’s a different feeling.
Meeting new friends at the festival felt great! People-watching in Bucheon is top-tier, lemme tell you. And having dinner and drinks post-films can’t be beat! If it wasn’t for Grace I don’t think I would have had 1/10th as good a time. That girl is a miracle.
I only had one night where things went off the tracks. The night after Grace left I got terribly lost in the pouring rain. I walked around searching for the place we had been hanging out for the last few nights, trying to use Naver maps, photos I took, you name it.
I finally ended up crawling into a bbq restaurant when hunger and the downpour got the best of me and simply huddled over my banchan and meat like a wet rat, dripping and grumpy. I had never experienced rain like that in my life. My umbrella was about as useful as my earrings. But I ordered some beer and soju and started eating kimchi. These three items, by themselves or in some combination, can cure almost any hardship. That is fact.
I proceeded to sit there shaking my head and laughing at myself. I looked at my wet dress, my flattened hair, my miserable state. The fact that my ass was stuck to the rubber stool and made a noise every time I moved because…WET. It was fucking hilarious. I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool. But I considered this: after the films I had seen that day, did I genuinely care about water? To hell with monsoon season. There was meat, beer, alcohol. I was finally out of the pour. It was a phenomenal night. It doesn’t get better than that.
It has been argued that one of the more unique properties of film as an art form is in its modality; how it functions. In particular, it is the experience of moving image exhibition that sets it apart. The projection of time-based media in a theatrical space shifts the identity of individuals from being separate to communal. When the lights go down, that collection of perfect strangers transmogrifies into The Audience. Anyone who’s been to a movie has felt it. You lose yourself into the sea of spectatorship in that theater and it is glorious! It is why theaters are still important. That magic doesn’t happen at home with Netflix.
For those who go to film festivals like BIFAN, it is an experience that, whether each person is aware of it or not, becomes a central part of the Festival Journey and is instantly heightened. Seeing a film, a viewer is part of The Audience for the duration of that singular work. However, should that same viewer attend a film festival, they become part of something much larger- a community. You become Community Audience. More specifically, you are Festival Audience. You see familiar faces at screenings. Volunteers and staff recognize you and wave, you nod at others you have seen sitting near you…you have shed your skin and are no longer The (singular) Audience, you are Festival Audience.
I felt this hard at BIFAN and I kept thinking: yes, this is why I am here. This is absolutely why I moved to Korea. These people- this community of film lovers- these humans who come to this festival and are so joyful about cinema- that is what I have been searching for.
I felt so welcomed. It was remarkable. One of the BIFAN programmers- Jongsuk Thomas Nam- was so kind to me and invited me to two online events and while I certainly felt awkward and a little fangirlish, I still felt like I belonged. I sang Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu at the BIFAN zoom karaoke with a cadre of folks I had never met. While it certainly would have been better if I had been back at my hotel to sing, I just went ahead and did it sitting at the restaurant I was at (don’t worry it was outside). Soju…helped.
I got a chance to meet Pierce Conran which was great! We had some absolutely fabulous conversations about mutual friends (Hi Doug!), underappreciated UK noir, Westerns and cinema in general. I was just thrilled to get to nerd out. Again- this reinforced that I was in the right place.
Seeing him around the fest and checking in on movie opinions also made me feel right at home- it’s something I love doing, whether or not a friend or colleague and I agree on a film. Seeing a buddy in between screenings and doing the “what did you think? What did you like? What are seeing next?”- is one of my favorite parts of festival-ing. It made me miss Phil Blankenship and Jackie Greed. I always used to do that “check-in” when I saw them at AFI Film Fest.
While I did spend the bulk of BIFAN on my own, these interactions were so joyful and really highlighted how special the Korean film community is and made me even more grateful to have moved here and been able to experience this festival. I experienced no pretension, no weird looks, no looking-down-the-nose simply because I am passionate about my love for cinema and expressive about it. I felt so happy. BIFAN really made me feel at home.
Then More Movies Happened….
Day Three: Sunday July 12, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: Blink (Han Ka-ram, 2020) – Korea Queen of Black Magic (Kimo Stamboel, 2019) – Indonesia Pelican Blood (Katrin Gebbe, 2019) – Germany
This was a HELLOVA day. I don’t even know where to start. While Blink had no subtitles, I was able to understand it with the basic Korean that I do know and the rich cinema vocabulary that I possess. I wish I could convey that to the filmmaker and actors since I could even reflect on the performances and the manner in which they engaged with the genre (Science Fiction) and its representation of gender and power structures. It was part of a special aspect of BIFAN called SF8, which is an anthology SciFi series from 8 different directors. Normally I’m not a SciFi person- I’m painfully picky about anything in that area- but Blink was incredible. It hit the right chords for me in the strong woman category, the unusually creative homage to Terminator (but not a rip-off! SO GREAT!!!!) and detective stories (I’m a straight-up sucker for a good head-strong detective, especially a woman detective). From that I went right into Queen of Black Magic which was A. Great. Horror. Movie. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. But if you hate bugs, that movie is not for you! I may return to this and write about it again because it is a remake of an earlier 1981 film which I need to watch. There were frames of that film in the end credits and I was so enthralled by that. As a film preservationist, it did my heart good to see that and I was genuinely giddy at the way this was just such great horror. But like…I should have known it would be fun and utterly watchable. The name for fun and utterly watchable was right next to the writing credit: Joko Anwar. Here’s the trailer but SERIOUSLY. IF BUGS SQUICK YOU- DO NOT WATCH THIS.
But Sunday’s movie that made me rethink my eyeballs was a German film by a first-time feature filmmaker named Katrin Gebbe. This film, Pelican Blood, ended up winning the Best of Bucheon Award (and deservedly so). I’ve never seen another movie like it. I thought I knew where it was going and then there was a FULL ON NO-HOLDS-BARRED WTF MOMENT where I exclaimed through my face-mask into the theater: “OH. OK. That just happened then.” I didn’t mean to. But it happened. And it wasn’t like in other films where I’ve wanted to talk back to the screen for…reasons. The power of this film triggered some kind of feeling in me that set my vocal chords going and by the time the words formed on my lips I couldn’t stop and then there we were. But Pelican Blood is a film that takes no prisoners and doesn’t give a fuck about you. It’s a film that gives zero fucks, in fact. It’s a naked, raw, terrifyingly brilliant piece of film making that looks at motherhood, childhood, darkness, mental health and all kinds of human pain in a truly extraordinary manner. I LOVED IT. I feel weird about wanting to see again because it made me so uncomfortable but it’s such an addictive film to watch. I cannot believe a film like that even exists and I can’t wait to see what this woman makes next.
Day Four: Monday July 13, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: A Witness Out of the Blue (Andrew Fung, 2019) – Hong Kong Bloody Daisy (Xu Xiangyun, 2019) – China The Hand (Choi Yun-ho, 2020) – Korea
I love Hong Kong action films. And I love Louis Koo. Might not be everybody’s thing but hey- I’m not a fan of peanut butter and most people are so…to each their own, right? Bottom line: A Witness Out of the Blue didn’t have to work hard to please me. But I don’t want to damage the film’s credibility either. It’s a truly funny and enjoyable movie! You can’t tell by the trailer (which makes the film look like a Very Serious Action Movie) but within the folds of this action-packed Hong Kong heist genre pic you will meet a detective who runs a cat shelter, a parrot who is the only witness to the major crime, and a more than generous helping of quirky side-characters and their background stories. If you’re as familiar with Hong Kong and Asian Action Cinema as I am, then you know this to be one of the most delicious aspects of these films. I adored A Witness Out of the Blue and hope you will as well.
Few films I’ve seen in recent years have made me want to just turn on my heel and go RIGHT BACK into the theater and re-watch the same film, but Bloody Daisy was a film I instantly wanted to watch again. Alternating between scenes of pure drama, action and suspense, this film pays homage to some of the best crime film genres that exist. While the chronology of the picture goes from 1999 to modern day, the life changes, relationship fluctuations and character developments make this a highly charged and multi-layered thriller. The grim nihilism of Hong Kong action films of the 80s and 90s, American film noir and the 70s anti-hero buddy cop films were paid beautiful homage in Bloody Daisy. While I am not certain that the writer/director intended this reading, it is what I received from the film, why I loved it so much and a major reason why I would rewatch it. Aside from the fact that it just rules.
My only criticism (and it almost threw the film for me in certain respects): there is a rather uncomfortable tag during the end credits that has a big thank you to all the policemen working in China, giving all their time and their lives. I find this difficult for me to gauge. It’s very heavy-handed. Therefore, it being China in 2020, I feel a little awkward at this credit sequence message. The feeling towards police globally is not exactly positive and for good reason. On the other hand, Bloody Daisy, an incredible movie ABOUT is not a film about bad cops. HOWEVER the end credit praise was a little off-color for me and didn’t service the film well. I just wondered if he was asked to put that on in order to get the film made or…I have no idea. I don’t want to make any assumptions. It’s uncomfortable.
After Bloody Daisy I went and saw The Hand which was a really fun independent Korean horror short film about a hand that comes out of this guy’s toilet and starts killing people. It was super funny in a Evil Dead kind of way. I stayed for the Q&A which (as with the others I went to) was wonderful, even if I didn’t understand the majority of what was said.
Day Five: Tuesday July 14, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: Sheep Without a Shepard (Sam Quah, 2019) – China Impetigore (Joko Anwar, 2019) – Indonesia
So Tuesday was another strong day. I mean, hell. They were all strong days. Who am I kidding? There were some films that I loved and some films I only liked, but I enjoyed every single film I saw and I cannot believe what a good time I had at BIFAN.
So let me give you these trailers. If you are bothered by horror, do not watch the second one. Also, neither is TOO spoilery but if you think you will see these films (Impetigore is about to be available for streaming on Shudder) I would advise NOT watching the trailer and just going in blind:
So Sheep Without a Shepard knocked my socks off. Enough so that it’s probably going to get its own individual post since it’s a remake of another film and I want to watch that film and do a compare/contrast. As those who know me are aware, I have done a lot of work in adaptations and remakes and that is an interest for me. In my research on Sheep Without a Shepard, I found that the originating material was actually an Indian movie made in 2013. So, that post will come! Bottom line, this film won the Audience Award at BIFAN so…it’s a well-loved film and should be seen.
Now on to Impetigore. The first thing you should know is that if you get the streaming channel Shudder or have the ability to rent it FROM a Shudder-connected platform, this face-melting film will be available to stream from July 23rd onwards according to what I have read here. So the question is…should you? Well, if you like horror films, there is only one answer:
So let’s not disappoint Varla, shall we? But in all seriousness, Impetigore fucking rules. You know when you’re watching a movie and you’re so deeply involved with it that you absolutely forget that you’re watching a movie? YEAH. SO Impetigore. That was my experience. Now, I can’t say that this will happen for male viewers. This is probably one of the strongest horror films I have ever seen with women as protagonists and central figures. I could probably talk about how much I loved this film for hours based on the dynamism of the women characters and the involvement of puppetry alone but…there is just so. much. to. love. about. this. film. I cannot wait to watch it again when it comes out on Shudder. Sure, you can certainly see the influence of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more but it’s what Joko Anwar did with the idea of homage that I loved. He translated it into creative intent and unique synthesis not simply repetition.
Day Six: Wednesday July 15, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: Fallen (Lee Jung-sub, 2020) – Korea Mrs. Noisy (Amano Chihiro, 2019) – Japan Taro the Fool (Tatsushi Omori, 2019) – Japan The Interviewees (Hwang Seungjae, 2020) – Korea
So I could definitely feel the Film Festival Fatigue by Wednesday. But I kept going. Because HELLO. MOVIES TO WATCH.
I started out with Fallen which Grace had told me about. There was a lot to like about it. But it was a little bit messy. Things I quite enjoyed: the smart way that it mixed the idea of a woman writer, true crime and women’s issues that are very specific to Korea. Fallen examines media exploitation of women, molka, Korean society and its response to queerness, bullying and suicide. It loses the path when it starts to go too deep into the Science Fiction realm. It seemed to be trying to handle too many genres at once which disappointed me because the visuals were strong, the performances great and any 3 or 4 of the things the film had would have worked together but not all 5-6. It just couldn’t hold up under all the multi-genre pressure. Worth watching but just difficult to work with at points.
I loved Mrs Noisy. Ootaka Yoko’s performance alone is extraordinary. It’s hard to talk about the film without saying too much but I definitely have some thoughts. I will try to keep this as vague as possible!
While I may have found myself disappointed with what I saw as a traditional return to domestic values in the third act I don’t believe the film can be chalked up to simple recuperation in that manner. The relationships and discussions are far too complex for it to be that easy.
This sensitive and funny women-centered film examines deeply flawed people and critiques modern parenthood in unique ways. While traditional family values are certainly present, they are not overbearing enough to disregard a film as worthwhile as this. Don’t miss it.
So Taro the Fool. Wow. I’m not a fan of Harmony Korine or Tod Solondz. I just can’t watch their work. And Lars von Trier…well, I like a few of his films but not many. When I got out of Taro the Fool I thought I completely hated it. I thought it was in the Solondz/Korine school of cinema masochism that drives me absolutely insane. And I still think it might be.
BUT DAMN. I couldn’t get that film out of my head for two days. I just kept. Thinking. About. It. I could not stop thinking about it. There are only a few films that I’ve ever had that experience with: Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996), Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971), Germany: Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1948) and Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985).
I am in no way suggesting that Taro the Fool holds a candle to those films; it doesn’t. Whatever Taro the Fool shares with these other films has no name. Taro the Fool wears discomfort and weirdness as a garment, traverses shock, swims through sadness, visits melancholy and returns to revel in awkwardness and anxiety. Sometimes I like films that have all those elements! But used in this fashion…I still can’t decide! The lady in front of me couldn’t hang. She straight-up walked out at the scene that reminded me a bit of Alejandro Jodorowsky (who I adore). I get that. But she missed some heartbreaking monologues that made me think: I don’t know if I like this film, but this scene is some of the most amazing film making and most intense shit I’ve ever seen. I fucking love it. So…Taro is incredibly challenging. I’m still in the “unsure” category. But I sure appreciate it and thank BIFAN for having given me the opportunity to have experienced whatever it was!
My last film of the night was The Interviewees. There was a lot to like about this film since it is clearly based on actual interviews done with people talking about real-life situations in and around employment, happiness, life, death and other day-to-day existential matters and that non-fiction element makes it interesting. But it also weighs down the fact that it is a SciFi film. Much like Fallen, I think this film might have been trying to do too much and maybe couldn’t decide where it was going. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the performances, the structure and the “twist.”
Day Seven: Thursday July 16, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: The Kind-Hearted Man (Yamanouchi Daisuke, 2019) – Japan
I ended the festival with a bit of pink film from Japan. It’s definitely not for everyone so I would advise you look into pink film and decide if that is something that you would be interested in before watching this title. That said, it’s a pretty fun horror film with great scares and SFX make up. So some creepy old dude sex scenes, some kinda hot guy sex scenes, some scenes where I was like: “I don’t know if women’s bodies can actually do tha…oh, um, I guess they can. Learn something new everyday,” and some pretty awesome ghost shit. I’m not going to complain ONE BIT about ending my BIFAN on that note. It was fun as hell!
After the film ended, I went to get some food and joined a bunch of folks for the Zoom online reception. Again, I felt so honored just to be there. People from ALL OVER THE WORLD were on this zoom call. People who are usually at BIFAN. People who were talking about how much they love the festival, the community, how sad they are they had to miss it but they’ll be here next year. Listening to everyone’s updates from Europe, South America, Taiwan…It was truly an incredible experience. My friend Ivy from LA was on the call too (she was one of the only people I knew on the Zoom Karaoke) and it was really nice to see her.
I’ve gone to a lot of after-parties, tons of receptions in my life. I grew up in the industry, on film and TV sets. It’s not that filmmaking or filmmakers in particular make me feel all geeky it’s just that I have a lot of respect for people like the group that were on this closing night zoom call. It was so obvious that it was a huge international collection of human beings who create genre work and REALLY LOVE THE CINEMA and that awed me. I just love people who love the movies and these people love the movies. BIFAN seems to bring those people out and…how magical is that?
I closed my evening at this small restaurant where I got a chance to meet a few of the volunteers who had been smiling and waving at me throughout the festival. I seemed to go into their particular theaters more often than others. Sometimes that just happens during a festival- you end up watching movies in only house 3 and 10 for two days!
Talking to these young women was so much fun. First of all, it was a really good chance for me to actually speak Korean (I rarely get a chance to speak Korean where I work and live- it’s basically all foreigners/English speakers). And I didn’t do as badly as I thought! I only used Papago when I needed to say really MAJOR things and for a word here and there. Also numbers. I am awful at the number system. Both native and sino-Korean. Don’t judge.
Festivals could not happen without volunteers. And these folks basically don’t even get to see most of the movies! So they were on their way out and I asked them to sit (they weren’t sure at first) and then they did. They asked what movies I preferred (I told them), then we just talked about Korea and why I’m here, how much I love it and random other things. It was one of the best parts of the festival. I loved being on the Zooms with the people who made the films for BIFAN. I loved Zoom Karaoke. I loved seeing the Q&As and I loved the movies. But I really really really loved talking to these three women who worked so hard to make sure that everyone stayed safe, healthy and happy at the festival.
That was a tough job. I watched. If you think being a volunteer at a film festival is hard…trying adding the additional aspects of temperature taking for each film, bracelets, ID form filling out, and monitoring all that information when guests go into the theater. I was so proud just to be able to thank them and talk about movies and have some laughs with them on my last night in town. It was the best way to end my first, and certainly not my last, BIFAN.
And thank you again to everyone who made this festival possible, from festival director and staff to programmers, jury members and other attendees. It was a dream come true. I am still floating 6 feet above the ground in happiness from this experience. BIFAN has made me the most ecstatic film nerd in the north of South Korea. Until next year film friends….
Yep. The title is about as Dad Joke and pun-tastic as you can get. But to be honest, it describes my feelings towards the film festival I recently spent a week at perfectly. While it has been a few years since I have devoted any time to serious fan culture studies (it has changed significantly since I was focusing my attention in that area of study) I will stand behind the basic definition of being a fan being an “ardent admirer or enthusiast” of a given subject/topic/area of the world. Especially since I am highly allergic to the newer term the kids are saying “I Stan xxxx thing.” That refers to a toxic state of fandom which…is not my jam. And my experience at BIFAN? Totally a fan experience and not at all a Stan experience.
It’s hard to say what I love most about going to film festivals. I’ve been going for so long and they’ve become such a part of me that it’s difficult to pick out just one aspect.
I have been blessed to have spent many years enjoying films at TCMFF (Turner Classic Movie Film Festival), AFI Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, OUTFEST, LA Asian Pacific Film Fest, Beyond Fest and more. These became as much part of my life as holidays or family events. In some instances, perhaps even more solid and reliable.
So now I’m sitting here in the north of South Korea, recovering from my very first film festival in my new adopted home. And wow. I’m just going to say it straight up: the 24th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) 부전국제판타스틱영화제was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. It was a film festival that felt like it was made for me. Every single film I watched felt like it was designed with me as audience. That was such a new and joyful experience!
Getting to the Festival…
There were some obstacles of course. The most obvious one is that BIFAN is the first festival I have ever had to travel for. Having been born and raised in Hollywood, California, every film festival I attended previous to this had come to me. So I got used to sleeping in my own bed, knowing the weather, being comfortable in the environment, etc. That was not the case here.
So off I went to Bucheon and my lovely friend Tyler agreed to watch my temperamental cat. Arriving in Bucheon, I had a few surprises because I’m still really getting to know Korea. The hotel that I thought was close? It was 20 minutes away and it was…not exactly a hotel. It was more of a motel. As in a love motel. But they were awfully nice at the front desk and it was basically clean even though it was the most uncomfortable bed. But hey…no one goes there for the beds. And I wasn’t there that much. I was mostly at the CGV seeing movies and then eating great food! So it was not a big deal at all. Honestly, I laughed and think it’s pretty funny. Also? Who doesn’t love a good adventure while traveling?
OK, fair. Most people don’t. But I’m flexible. I mean, weird shit happens all the time here and if you can’t roll with it, you’re going to be really unhappy. Even though a lot of things that I could never have imagined in my most creative imagination have happened since I moved here in November, 2019 (I mean, pandemic?!?!) I never want to live anywhere else.
So, I found my hotel, got situated and got prepared for what I knew was going to be a different kind of week and festival.
Festivaling in the Time of Pandemic
First off, yes. So let’s talk about That Thing. That Pandemic Thing: COVID-19. Being in South Korea I absolutely know how lucky I am. Every day I acknowledge my privilege and my heart aches for my friends, family and colleagues in the US. I feel guilty a lot. But there’s not much I can do. So that’s where my dumb broken brain is at.
As for BIFAN, the presence of a global pandemic (even as well-managed as it is in South Korea) changed everything about the festival: The people who ran and figured out BIFAN this year took immense care and consideration with the strict medical precautions. I felt completely safe and comfortable there. People in white jumpsuits went into the theaters in between screenings to sterilize the theaters before audiences could enter, temperatures for each audience member were actively taken and observed for every film, people were spaced out in seats so well for social distancing! Everyone stayed masked while watching the films and volunteers reminded those who dipped their masks for a brief moment or two to please remember to keep their masks on. By the end of the festival I was a total pro at figuring out how to drink a soda or a cold coffee drink with my mask on.
A lot goes into a film festival (especially an international film festival) to make it happen. So how the hell are you supposed to make it go when the world is on fire?!?!? Up until BIFAN, most big events and festivals have just been cancelling here in South Korea. It just didn’t seem manageable or like a controllable process.
Like Sundance, Telluride and the rest of the festival circuit, BIFAN usually hosts big parties, international guests for juries and Q&As…the event is an EVENT. But the BIFAN staff knew this was impossible this year. Even if Korea could host some dinners, it was impossible for filmmakers and guests from other countries to join simply due to quarantines and the economic burden that this would have put them under. The savvy part of a very well planned festival was the recognition that, while this year would have a loss of the crazy in-person celebrations, there was still the possibility to make the festival HAPPEN. THAT part WAS possible.
BIFAN put an extreme amount of work into their festival that platforms extreme works. They made it a hybrid festival- partially online, partially in-person. They still had the industry meetings, the filmmaker school support forums, and all the other the non-exhibition events that I generally don’t participate in that they have every year. I WAS ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY. These are never events that I attend. I don’t want to make films, I just want to watch and write about them. However, as a film archivist and preservationist I believe strongly in matters of access and the kinds of access that the BIFAN team made happen for film professionals at BIFAN was UNPARALLELED. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was groundbreaking in a way that it can be used in the future for other situations and BIFAN is on the cutting edge in this way.
The hard work that BIFAN put into making sure there was going to be zero infections at the festival was obvious and something that I felt very confident in. As a researcher, I had put a lot of time looking into the lengths the staff were going to in order to make the 24th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) 부전국제판타스틱영화제 safe and not only was I not disappointed but I was impressed!
Here in South Korea we haven’t had any COVID infections stemming from movie theaters audiences. People have continued to go to the movies and that is not where sicknesses seem to come from. While audience attendance has gone down and some theaters have closed temporarily and/or limited the number of daily screenings, the infection clusters that have popped up recently have generally been traced to external influence, people acting irresponsibly (no masks, large/excessive gatherings of people ) or strict medical precautions not being taken to ensure safety.
I was prepared for BIFAN to be a different kind of festival due to the COVID issues but I was not ready for it to maintain fun and fabulourom the first film to the last film, everything went smoothly. Usually at film festivals I’m used to a few bumps on that first day (and there may have been one or two) but with the added stressors of COVID-19, BIFAN and the staff and volunteers really went above and beyond in a way that I’ve never seen before. When they write about people in South Korea coming together around this pandemic…they’re not kidding. But it was also BIFAN and the BIFAN community that made it happen. Incredible work.
Let’s Watch Some Movies!
Day One: Friday July 10, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: A Girl Missing (Koji Fukada, 2019) – Japan Dancing Mary ダンシング (Hiroyuki Tanaka/ SABU, 2019) – Japan Gundala (Joko Anwar, 2019) – Indonesia The Sunshine Family (Kim Tai-sik, 2019) – Korea/Phillipines
Friday I watched 4 movies and one Q&A. It was pure joy to be back in the theaters again, with other people, shuffling into the seats, putting bags and belongings down, getting settled in to enjoy. I have to say that it was a little rough for me to have chosen a slow burn thriller as my first choice of the day, but WOW!!!! I was NOT SORRY. As a woman and a media scholar this film truly knocked me off my feet and I did not see any of it coming.
A Girl Missing よこがお (Koji Fukada, 2019) was not the movie I thought it was going to be and I am so grateful. It was better and more complex on a multitude of levels. A quietly important film, A Girl Missing is extremely relevant to current perspectives of women and deftly handles societal notions of guilt/blame, and the omnipresent media’s exploitative trend of “anything for a story.” If I go into too much detail, it will ruin it. In fact, I feel like I’ve already given too much away. Yes, it moves slowly at first. But once it gets going, it’s an internally screaming rampage that cannot be stopped, a train that is off the tracks and all you can do is watch in agony as the narrative just builds to its conclusion. Really an exquisite film.
The next film I went into was Dancing Mary ダンシング (Hiroyuki Tanaka/ SABU, 2019). I was a little underwhelmed by the title of the film but you can’t always tell a book by its cover, right? And I was in heaven! This film was DEFINITELY my jam. Here is the trailer but it doesn’t even begin to cover 1/10th of 1/10th of what is in the film.
What I enjoyed so much was the social commentary and the character building and the genuine humor. I love Japanese dark comedies that are smart and well-made and this one is in that realm. Playing around in the Yakuza, ghost-story, punk rock and road-trip genres, it’s really an original work that only come from Japan. Every review has called it a cult film but I just want to call it a movie that filled me with pleasure and hit all my sweet spots.
So BIFAN was a game changer for me. I had some idea that it would be, but not like this. My next film was Gundala by a filmmaker, Joko Anwar. I’m going to leave the trailer here and let it speak for itself. What I do want to say for Gundala though is that it is extremely strong in its casting and social commentary and the action scenes are KILLER. The villain absolutely RULES and the tension is just *chef’s kiss*! Definitely watch it!
My final film of the day was a Filipino-Korean co-production called The Sunshine Family (Kim Tai-sik, 2019) based off of a Japanese film from 1992 called The Hit-and-Run Family. While I have not seen the original source material (I will- the story is too good to not see where it was born), this transnational interpretation was hilarious, heart-breaking and ultimately uniquely tender and satisfying. Sure it’s a comedy, but Sunshine Family still manages to platform deep discussions about marital relationships, queerness, mental health and healthy parenting in between scenes of shutting out nosy neighbors trying to keep a…terrible secret.
As I watched, I kept thinking about my dear friend Ferrin. I think he would have really loved it and I really did miss sitting next to someone I love watching a movie that I was falling in love with. It is one of the great tragedies of COVID that this is not a possibility at the moment. When I fall in love with a film (as I do, time and time again) I always enjoy having a “partner in crime” to experience it with me. But at least I knew that there were other people in the theater with me enjoying the film and I could hear them loving the same things I did. That is such a critical part of the film experience. Sunshine Family was also the first Q&A that I went to and while I didn’t understand very much of it (my Korean is not very good), I stayed for the whole thing and I did understand a lot of it and it was so lovely to see these actors in person, in masks, in person.
Day Two: Saturday July 11, 2020 The films that I watched this day were: Guilt By Design (Lai Siu Kwan, Sze Pak Lam and Yongtai Liu, 2019)- Hong Kong Signal 100 (Lisa Takeba, 2020) – Japan
I was really taken by Guilt By Design. It’s a very Hitchcockian courtroom thriller with a great deal of action and nifty turns and twists that you may/may not see coming. While I live/eat/ sleep/breathe true crime stories, mysteries, and anything with a tense narrative involving a puzzle to be solved, I am generally the one person who can never see “it” coming. It’s not that I’m stupid, but I’m usually so wrapped up in the story and so tied to the characters (I’m 100% the ideal reader/watcher/audience of any media) and story that I can’t take that step back that my friends can. I really try- and I tried so hard to figure things out in this film! But I was still surprised at the end and so excited (like a little kid at a theme park) when the finale hit. It always pleases me when I don’t get it and the film just goes crazy. I had so much fun watching this!
Signal 100. Holy fucking shit. This went far beyond what I thought it was going to be. There’s almost no words that I can use to describe it. It’s definitely in the Battle Royale-Japanese kids/violence against each other in high school-genre, but it’s like…take that to 11. I loved the polarity of images that occurred between the pre-recorded intro to the film by the woman-director from Japan and then the film itself. While I didn’t understand what she said, she was young, beautiful, pregnant and smiling and Signal 100 was probably the most violent and gory films I saw at BIFAN. Did I like it? OH HELL YES. That movie was fucking great. Here’s a teensy trailer taste…
And with that, I end part 1 of the “I’m a Fan of BIFAN Chronicles.” Please return to this same place for details on Sunday through Thursday!
I don’t generally make lists (I don’t believe in them) but I’m going to half blame Daniel Waters & his excellent cinema-personship for my desire to list the things I saw this year (I read his list today & was like….yeah, there’s some shit I want people to know about) and the fact that I’m getting old & I forget titles of things & such.
Warning: you will definitely see a pattern to much of the content here. I like Korean film and TV. A LOT. Like, not just as a hobby, but like…9/10 things I watch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are Korean. There’s many many many reasons for this: I love the actors, the political intrigue plots, the corruption angles, the action sequences and the absurd number of serial killers or extremely violent murderous villains with amazing hair and immaculate taste in clothing that are existing in Seoul at any given point in the Korean movie environment.
That said, these are the films I watched this year that blew my mind or just made me super happy to be sitting in a darkened theater with other folks. Or, in some cases, home with my cats.
Please note that this is a mix of new and older films. But all were new-to-me.
성난황소Unstoppable (English title) / Angry Bull (literal title) – dir. Kim Min-Ho, 2018
Ma Dong-seok is one of my favorite actors ever & the villain in this- Kim Sung-oh is mindblowing. That burgundy suit he wears is 80,000 shades of YESSSSSSS. Also the action in this one was just superb. Flimsy narrative but if you just go: “Cool. Revenge story. Lots of action & badassery” this is great!
꼬방동네 사람들People in the Slum / People of Kkobang Neighborhood– dir. Bae Chang-ho, 1982
The Korean Film Archive did a hellova job restoring this classic working class drama and it’s worth watching just to see that gorgeous work alone. But the film itself is also great. Mind you, it definitely gets dramatic– like OH GURL THAT MUSIC SWELL dramatic- but I loved this film. And the lead actress Kim Bo-yeon 김보연 is excellent. It’s available to watch here on YouTube for free. thanks to the Korean Film Archive. Also, this article is really great & talks a bit about Bae Chang-ho who was nicknamed the “Steven Spielberg of Korea.”
Amateurs (Amatörer) – dir. Gabriela Pichler, 2018
This very queer, very funny, very touching comedy made my AFIFest sooooo great this year. I’m a huge fan of movies about adolescent girls saying “fuck you, I’m going DIY you stupid adults” and this is that movie. I died of laughter, I cried a looot and I would see it many more times. There are at least 5 languages spoken in this film- Swedish, Tamil, Arabic, German and English. It is about filmmaking, classism, capitalism and tiny backwater towns with a lotta bureaucratic outdated ways. It is loving and punk as fuck.
Pig (Khook) – dir. Mani Haghighi, 2018
This movie is so funny my sides hurt from laughing. A serial killer is on the loose picking off film directors in the local Tehrani film scene one by one. It’s all at once a satire, a parody of filmmaking as an industry and creative pursuit and ridiculously self-aware. The main character has some amazing rock t-shirts that he wears throughout and the film is just a blast. Want to rewatch many times.
마의 계단 The Devil’s Staircase – dir. Lee Man-hee, 1964
It’s safe to say that this is one of my new favorite film noir/thrillers that has ever been made. If you know me, that’s saying a GREAT DEAL. I will now profess my new addiction to Lee Man-hee and his work, completely setting the groundwork in Korean cinema for the thrillers and horror work that everyone loves today. This film actually scared me at one point! Goddamn Exorcist does nothing to my fear tendrils.If you love Diabolique by Clouzot (1955), this film is just as terrifying in its paranoia and intensity. Again, for those interested, it is available to watch here for free thanks to the marvelous Korean Film Archive.
Cam – dir. Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, 2018
This film is tits-out incredible. Having been connected with the sex worker world for most of my teen and adult life, I have watched it change drastically based on technology. While those things evolved, the misogyny and judgey-ness stayed exactly the fucking same. For Goldhaber & Mazzei to make this brutally brilliant and powerful film that stands alone as a great thriller/horror film but also functions as critical analysis of agency and identity in an online sexual universe. HFS. I’m alllllllllllllll in. This was my kind of movie. I cannot wait to see what they do next. Tickets already bought & paid for.
화녀 Woman of Fire- dir. Kim Ki-young, 1971
I worship at the film cans of Kim Ki-young. That’s why 2 of his films are on this list. For reference, popular modern Korean directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook both call this legendary director a huge influence on their work.
화녀 is a seriously dark and disturbing work. It’s erotic and powerful and troubling and visually fucking stunning. This film’s objective is to make you feel unsafe. Domestic bliss, familial calm, any home/hearth bullshit is tossed out the window to make room for psychosexual violence, lust and manipulation. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Oh- and it’s also available for free here thanks to the Korean Film Archive! Have a stiff drink or some ice cream on hand. You might need it.
Akasha – dir. Hajooj Kuka, 2018
It may sound odd, but this is an incredible feminist rom-com about a small community set in the Sudan, against the backdrop of the Sudanese Civil War (which is a huge part of the narrative). If that sounds weird and crazy, it is. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film with the humor, feel and joy of 1930s screwball comedy (sans the overwhelming whiteness) that this almost put me into cardiac arrest at how divine it was. Find it. See it. Everything about this film is just amazing.
저는 영화를보고 있어요 Default / National Bankruptcy Day dir. Choi Kook-hee, 2018
Full transparency, I’m a nut for Kim Hye-soo. She’s a hellova actress. And Yoo Ah-in has been one of my main dudes since I watched him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Y’all loved in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning this year. You know you did (I did too, FTR). This is a pretty amazing film especially if you are not entirely well-acquainted with the HFS RAGING disaster that was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Kim Hye-soo plays a financial analyst at the Bank of Korea who is beyond aware of the damages that the IMF will do and has to combat the Very Male industry that she’s in. The film doesn’t shy away from the overt sexism that businesswomen have to face in powerful positions. It’s infuriating and depressing but she is brilliant in this role.
The Night Comes for Us – dir. Timo Tjahjanto, 2018
This Indonesian blood ballet is so exceptionally choreographed and violently HELL YES that I can’t even think about how much I loved it without grinning and wanting to watch it again with other people.
Hold The Dark – dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2018
It is extremely rare that the litany of horrors that indigenous communities have to handle on a day to day basis make appearances in what we might consider mainstream-esque (or at least a Netflix-sponsored) thriller. Hold the Dark is a difficult film to completely parse. I need to watch it again, for sure. But the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it certainly made me think: yeah, this is something I valued highly. The darknesses that this film explores are various: dying children, the inability of white folx to respect indigenous cultures and their rights, animal behavior, and more. Jeffrey Wright is incredible. And I stand by the statement I tweeted after I watched this: HTD is a Christmas movie.
이어도Iodo – dir. Kim Ki-Young, 1977
Out of all the films I watched this year (Mandy included) this is the one that really blew my fucking mind. For all intents and purposes, it is a murder mystery and a genre film done by Kim Ki-young. The extremely pithy Wikipedia synopsis reads: “When a man from an island ruled by women disappears, the man suspected of killing him investigates his past.” But that’s like saying “yeah, people die during wars” or “Having the flu makes you feel crappy.” 이어도 is like if Ken Russell and Alejandro Jodorowsky were Korean, got REALLY HIGH and REALLY FEMINIST and were like: “Let’s make our version of The Wickerman, include prerequisite themes of sex, power, gender and erotics, and make a commentary on the erasure of shamanic culture in Korea.” Sound good? HAHHHHHHAHAHAHAH. It’s fucking mindbending and hot.
I love it when US films go strange places but honestly? We just don’t have the history to do it this well. Our history is racism, colonialism and fucked up power structures. Kim Ki-Young is the goddamn master of mindfuckery in cinema and I love it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. It used to be available on the amazing Korean Film Archive’s website but sadly it is no longer there. I would advise that you somehow find and watch this amazing film though.
There were plenty of other films-
도둑들 The Thieves – dir. Choi Dong-hoon, 2012
Wild Search – dir. Ringo Lam, 1989
Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama, 2018
Shoplifters – dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2018
버닝 Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018
오아시스 Oasis – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2002 (Yes, I like this film. No it doesn’t make me a monster. In fact, this is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful films I watched this year).
Sorry to Bother You – dir. Boots Riley, 2018
Skyscraper – dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018
The Ranger – dir. Jenn Wexler, 2018
And so many more.
These are the movies I can’t get out of my head and make me glad that I do what I do (watch & appreciate cinema & its interaction with human life and politics and whatnot).
I hope that maybe you’ll check out one or more of these. If you do, let me know what you think!
I saw a 35mm print of Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) at the Egyptian Theater tonight with Spike Lee in attendance and it was probably one of the best film experiences I have ever had in my film life.
He is, hands-down, one of the greatest film makers that has ever existed. While I am prone to hyperbole in general, this statement is not one of my “OMG ARIEL DRAMA statements.”
The first time I saw this movie I was so embarrassed because there was nudity in it and I was watching it with my parents. On the other hand, that scene? It was one of the first times I felt any kind of erotic feelings in my body. I was also 11 years old. It is the scene where Spike Lee worships Rosie Perez’ naked body with ice. It is scorched into my brain forever and I am forever grateful to Ernest Dickerson & Lee for providing me with images of a man blessing a woman’s body, a mother’s body, for existing.
The film is loud, in charge. It’s punk fucking rock. I cried throughout the entire film.
It’s 2018 and we have seen the deaths of so many young black men and NO ONE HAS LEARNED ANYFUCKINGTHING. Did no one see this film?
What is it that allowed Sal to sit there, in silence, while his goddamn son Pino chased Smiley off right afterthey had a very explicit conversation about why Sal wanted the restaurant to stay in the neighborhood? Racism. By saying or doing nothing, you say and do EVERYTHING. That one scene is the key for me.
This film is more emotionally viable to me that Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1940), as much as I have a Welles-obsession and have since I was a baby film girl. I rocked myself back and forth in my chair and memories of the LA Riots came rushing back to me like a broken faucet as I saw this film again on a big screen as a 40-year-old woman.
Spike’s Q&A was incredible. Short answers when needed, lengthy ones when necessary. A very potent look when the subject of goddamn Driving Miss Daisycame up (and rightfully so). His exposition on the power of cinema to drive real fucking change hit me HARD, especially as a moving image archivist. He spoke of his documentary Four Little Girls(Spike Lee, 1997), its place in the National Film Registry and how it had actually catalyzed the reopening of that court case, allowing the investigation into what happened. This is what we strive for as archivists and preservationists: ACTION. CHANGE. MOTHERFUCKING JUSTICE.
I saw things in this film I had never seen before- when I was a young girl, I thought the firemen were trying to put out the fire at Sal’s Pizzeria. Now? I saw these same images as those I recognize from Civil Rights footage/stills of firehoses being used against POC. This is a painful film, painfully powerful, painfully important.
I cannot possibly do justice to everything I am thinking tonight about my experience or everything I heard, from Spike, from the film, from my own heart.
I am also incredibly grateful to have stayed for the 35mm of Crooklyn(Spike Lee, 1994) because WOW.
Anyways, I am detailing this at 5am because I have nowhere to write this but here. I am not getting paid to write anywhere or anything like that but I really needed to document this experience. I wish you all could’ve been there with me. I wanted to hold your hand.
It looks like a site that previously only provided TV shows in Korean (OnDemandKorea) is stepping up to the plate, advertising one of the more popular shows in recent years, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon 힘쎈여자 도봉순 as “coming soon with English subtitles” along with other programs. So it’s clear that other streaming sites know that what AT&T called a “niche audience” and cast off like yesterday’s trash is worthy of attention. Which brings me to today’s topic: the devastating news of the loss of yet another streaming site owned by WarnerMedia and their corporate parent, AT&T- FilmStruck.
If you think that this page looks similar to the one DramaFever had, you’re right. The biggest difference is that FilmStruck is giving their members a good month’s notice instead of, oh, like 24 hours. So if you’re a FilmStruck-er, go and watch a shitload of movies RIGHT NOW. Or at least catalog your watch list and take advantage of the amazing ORIGINALcontent that they created.
So let’s say for the sake of argument that you never had FilmStruck. Or that it didn’t work for you on your platform of choice. Or you didn’t don’t care for classic/arthouse cinema. And the same with DramaFever and its offerings of Asian cinema and television. OK, totally your choice. That said, the way these channels were removed and why they were removed and the carelessness and thoughtlessness behind the process is unforgivable. We need to start examining the way these larger corporations are eating up smaller media-providing organizations because, in my mind, destroying them is just a “quick fix” so they don’t get accused of becoming a monopoly. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the destruction of channels like DramaFever and FilmStruck solidifies their monopolistic practices.
I just keep thinking about the Paramount Decree of 1948 and how that stopped the Hollywood Studio System from having total control over the films that were being shown and (equally as important, especially to the topic at hand) HOW THEY WERE BEING SHOWN. Block booking became illegal and many of the exhibition practices that the major Hollywood Studios were forcing on theaters all over the country were shown to be discriminatory towards independent theaters and were, essentially, bullying tactics. This case…it’s still important. I feel like it’s useful here because I think AT&T is not-so-subtly removing independent media from viewer accessibility and establishing a dangerous monopolistic precedent only to jockey for first place with another corporate entity.
As I documented in my previous article, AT&T is looking to compete with Netflix. They are the parent company of WarnerMedia who, in turn, owns the streaming sites that have been dropped: Boomerang (a cartoon network) [EDIT: I read that Boomerang was going to be one of the losses in at *least* two different publications when DramaFever was axed- as of today, 10/26/2018, I could no longer find confirmation of that channel’s removal so this is an inaccuracy on my part- apologies!-AS], DramaFever (Asian television), and now FilmStruck (Classic/Arthouse Film). AT&T is chomping at the bit for what I see as “a bigger boat.” They want to create a Mega-Monster Streaming Channel with HBO at the helm (sorta as the selling point), and within the Monster Belly it will contain all the bobs and bits that have been swallowed up from the sites that they have killed in the building process.
As a media archivist I know that one of the trickiest things in our business is licensing.Full transparency, these are only my thoughts and my musings so I haven’t done deep research on who has the streaming licenses for the films on FilmStruck but I know that there may be multiple bodies since the film content came from Warner Archive, Criterion and TCM. That said, I also know that Criterion still has content available to stream on Kanopy (a library-based media streaming site) so they may have multiple streaming licenses going (or they may have an educational license for that one?). My point with the licensing? Who has the contracts and for how long? Does AT&T own the streaming rights? Are they going to sit on those materials until they create their Monster Channel and then have a Special Classics/Arthouse section? That’s what they promised the DramaFever community.
The people in the DramaFever community have already moved on. We don’t wait for some über channel. We will find our TV shows and our community where ever and however we can. More importantly, we don’t like being treated like second-class citizens. We watch media that is high in emotion and it’s traditionally considered “trash media” since Western society is uncomfortable with the raw display of emotion. So…we’re a “niche” market.
With FilmStruck, I hope that there can be an equal bounce back. What I would like to see happen is for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu to jump in. They could easily do it. Classic films, arthouse cinema, this community is analogous to the one I align myself with in the Korean Drama world. There are films that are high in emotion or extreme in some way- costume, language, make-up. Geez- no one talks like Katherine Hepburn anymore, amirite? And musicals? But FilmStruck has a MUCH higher draw than the dramas that I watch, and I will readily admit that.
The interesting thing about FilmStruck is that, unlike DramaFever, many (certainly not all) of the materials that are being streamed are available on DVD or Blu-ray which (of course) then begins the conversation (as usual) about viewers being “so glad” that they kept their physical media. I’ve seen the word “hoarding” being used a decent amount which…always makes me a little queasy but if that is how you want to refer to your media library, hey- who am I to stop you?
Obviously, this whole situation brings up ideas of access and economics and such. Streaming is far more economical (and thus accessible) for people who are on a lower budget which is more common in this not-so-awesome landscape right now. So it is something to keep in mind.
As an archivist, I will certainly advocate physical media 100%. But we need to look at all sides of streaming and accessibility and what digital might provide and who/what audiences it might welcome. Additionally, if AT&T is going to put all of this content behind an expensive cable paywall…that certainly doesn’t allow for the kind of openness that FilmStruck was known for.
There is a great danger in not speaking up when these corporations swallow us whole. We simply don’t know what parts will be left. If they are holding the licenses to these films and we have to wait…which ones will they come back with? How long will we have to wait? Can we access only partof the package? I HAVE QUESTIONS.
To all of my wonderful friends and colleagues who have put so much work and love and goodness into FilmStruck: you are why we watch. You are why we will always watch.
I love you from the bottom of my sprocketed reel heart.