Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Masters of Korean Thrillers and their Art of Ruining Your Mental Sanity

The epal of all epals, I was there at the conference about Korean Cinema- among journalists, illustrious movie critics, and eminent local writers. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Nervous because I’m being an epal among “special” people. What if somebody asks me about my line of work and why I’m there? I thought, “I’ll justify my presence with my blog!”, though I can’t even consider myself a blogger. But anyway, they said it was open to everybody and it wasn’t for the selected few.

It was a very interesting encounter, hearing movie directors Bong Joon-ho and Lee Gyu-man speak their minds out. They were literally a stone’s throw away from me. Among the panel of guests were Margherita Chiti of Sacher Film and controversial Italian movie director Ruggero Deodato.

Up-close shot of Bong Joon-ho
This year, the Florence Korea Film Festival was featuring Korean thrillers, one of the genres responsible for the renaissance of South Korea’s movie industry and its international success.

The recent predominance of such genre in Korean cinema is due particularly to the realities and relevance they possess. Most of the films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Lee Gyu-man’s Return (other title is Wide Awake) were based on true incidents that happened in South Korean. Thrillers are very real and that is fundamental.



Bong Joon-ho said that he was a big fan of thrillers. When he said one time that he would make thriller movies, many people tried to discourage him saying that drama and love stories sell. And people wanted to see something positive.


Obviously, he did what he wanted to do. And he gets all his stories from real events. Thrillers are real and that is fundamental. According to Lee, thrillers have gained importance in Korean cinema because they are capable of involving the viewers in the story and transmit thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

For Bong, making thrillers is his noble purpose and task in fighting crimes in Korea and reviving unsolved cases. He said that the media always see these incidents as products to sell but they never consider the human aspect of such cases- the people who are suffering and are left behind asking for justice. For him, he uses these stories for his movie and this is one way of helping these people get justice for their lost loved ones by re-igniting attention to these unsolved cases.  

One reason why Korean thriller is gaining momentum in the international scene is that investors are smart enough to spend enough money for thriller movie projects. Here in Italy, thrillers don’t sell that much. Margherita Chiti of Sacher Film said that thrillers don’t sell much in Italy because 90% of distribution is composed of comedy films and American films. And in my opinion, the trash ones. In the Philippines it’s the same. No, it’s worse. Try watching Hating Kapatid and you’ll realize that you watched a 120-minute advertisement. Unfortunately, in the Philippines and Italy, investors spend so much on idiosyncrasies.  

Another factor to Korea’s success is the reasonable censorship system. It seems to me that they have intelligent people who handle the censorship system effectively and reasonably.  Ruggero Deodato, one of the maestri of Italian cinema, commented that in Italy if a film is not a pure comedy or pure thriller, it’s hard to sell. And censure makes it harder. Obviously, you won’t find common sense in anything at all when idiots are the ones who are screening the movies.

Korean thrillers can’t be categorized with others under the same category because they are like a genre of their own. Korean directors experiment quite a lot in mixing different genres in one thriller, sometimes contaminating it with humour, one of the many particular thinks that the critics appreciated in Bong Joon-ho’s movies such as The Host, Mother and Memories of Murder.

But despite the humour, you can’t ignore the fact of its crude veracity. And that is the main reason why they can mess up with your mind.

After seeing several thriller movies, I would find myself getting nervous while walking down the street alone at night, fearing that some psychopath would come out and drag me somewhere in the deepest recesses of this small city and chop me into pieces. There were times that I would call my sister, checking her location and if she’s okay. She would usually ignore me and brush me off. There were times that I would check if the windows are closed, if the door is properly closed and locked. And at night, before I get in the car, I would look around checking if the coast is clear and check in the backseat if it’s empty.

Yes, these movies are so good they damaged my mind, big time. Sigh.

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