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What to see at the Korean Film Festival in Australia

From historical murder mysteries to modern-day romances, KOFFIA’s stuffed program is packed with winners

Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell

For the uninitiated, the arrival of Bong Joon-ho’s deliriously twisted take on upstairs-downstairs rivalry, Parasite, was a revelation. Funny and terrifying in equal measure, it also works as a sharp social satire on a class war playing out within one very fancy home. A highlight of the 2019 Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA), it went on to gangbusters at the local box office and took over Hollywood too, securing no fewer than four Oscars, including Best Picture, adding to a haul that embraced both a Golden Globe and the Palme d’Or.

But the truth is Korean cinema (and twisted TV shows like Squid Game) has been on fire for decades, with this legion of new fans joining an army of devotees. And what better way to get across the must-sees than by charging headlong into this year’s exciting KOFFIA line-up?

The Melbourne showcase opens with the soaring historical epic The Night Owl, blending fact with fiction to conjure up a gripping crime thriller with a dash of Game of Thrones’ political intrigue. Filmmaker An Tae-jin spins a gripping yarn set in 17th-century Joseon, the last dynastic rule of Korea, positing what really caused the suspicious death of real-life Crown Prince Sohyeon (Kim Sung-cheol). Let’s just say he did not die of ‘malaria’, with The Night Owl having fun by creating a partially blind acupuncturist (Ryu Jun-yeol) who can see clearly after dark. Witnessing the truth, he must race against time to prove it as malevolent forces move against him.  

If you prefer your power battles served from a contemporary perspective, director Lee Won-tae’s The Devil’s Deal stars The Handmaiden actor Cho Jin-Woong as an aspiring politician who turns to the dark side when his nascent career is blocked, saddling him with crippling debts. Just FYI, selling state secrets to the mob isn’t the smoothest way to secure your future, but hey, where’s the drama otherwise? And there’s more mystery to be had with Confession, in which model-turned-actor So Ji-sub depicts an IT industry big wig framed for the murder of his secret affair in a locked hotel room. But is he innocent or not, and what’s the deal with his hotshot defence attorney (Lost star Kim Yun-jin)?

Bowing at the Cannes Film Festival, A Girl at My Door director writer/director July Jung’s sophomore feature Next Sohee is a social realist detective drama exposing the grinding reality of call centre work and featuring stirring performances from co-stars Bae Doona (The Host) and Kim Si-eun.

Vengeance addicts will want to mainline the action thriller Remember, which casts Lee Sung-min (who also pops up in The Devil’s Deal) as an octogenarian whose memory is slowly being stolen by Alzheimer’s who sneakily enlists the aid of Nam Joo-hyuk’s 20-year-old cook to wreak revenge on figures from his troubled past during Japan’s annexation of Korea from 1910-1945. Or you can jump back in time with period with JK Youn’s rabble-rousing musical drama Hero, depicting the struggle for freedom during that fraught period in Korea’s history.

If you’re after something a little lighter, why not soak up the Sex and the City vibes of rom-com Nothing Serious, in which a hapless-in-love sex columnist played by Sense8 actor Son Sukku dives into online dating and crosses paths with Burning star Jun Jong-seo? If Christmas movies are more your vibe, swing into the Sliding Doors action of Switch, in which an egotistic movie star (Kwon Sang-woo) gets less than he bargained for when an unintended wish comes true and he instead lives a regular life with his first love (Fates and Furies star Lee Min-Jung). Or go all in with dark humour as director Park Gyu Tae’s 6/45 takes us across the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea as soldiers from either side chase down a winning lottery ticket caught in the breeze.

Running from September 7 until September 11 at ACMI, you can delve into the full program here, and rest assured, whichever KOFFIA film you opt for will be a winning ticket.


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