Having put his filmmaking career on hold to become a festival director and member of the Korean Film Commission, director Kim Hong-Joon ("Jungle Story") has nevertheless found time to work on a series of highly personal sketches documenting his own lifelong relationship to the cinema.
Having put his filmmaking career on hold to become a festival director and member of the Korean Film Commission, director Kim Hong-Joon (“Jungle Story”) has nevertheless found time to work on a series of highly personal sketches documenting his own lifelong relationship to the cinema. Though not originally intended for public broadcast, the first four of these episodes (ranging in length from 11 to 18 minutes) have now been packaged as an hour-long program entitled “My Korean Cinema,” which was presented as a special screening in Vancouver and seems sure to become a choice festival item over the coming season.
Kim considers “My Korean Cinema” an ongoing project, and plans to add an unspecified number of new installments. On the basis of this highly pleasurable first batch, one hopes Kim will hold to that promise.
First episode, “My Chungmoro,” offers Kim’s honeyed remembrance of the 2 kilometer road in Seoul that, from the 1950s to the 1980s, formed the beating heart of the Korean film industry. (It was, in fact, where Kim himself first came to work as an assistant director for the legendary Im Kwon-Tek.)
The second and perhaps most moving episode, “For March of Fools,” recalls a favorite film of Kim’s adolescence, and how he only later learned it had been heavily censored by government officials due to its perceived subversive content.
Next up is the thoroughly disarming “Smoking Women,” in which Kim uses vintage film excerpts from an array of Korean genre movies (mostly from the 1950s and ’60s) to illustrate his thesis that “when men smoke on screen, it is ordinary; when women smoke, it’s an incident.”
Finally, there is “Kino 99,” an elegy of sorts for the glossy Korean film magazine that suspended publication indefinitely just prior to what would have been its centennial issue. In this highly amusing segment, a slightly befuddled Kim travels to the Kino offices in a last-ditch effort to obtain copies of all 99 issues.
On one level, “My Korean Cinema” suggests the beginnings of an important curatorial project; one of its goals is to make a host of great, but little-seen films live again by intoning their names and highlighting choice scenes. But unlike the exhaustive, all-encompassing tours of national cinemas presented by Martin Scorsese, Kim’s film feels private and deeply eccentric, like a diary flung open for all to see.
Kim understands viewers like movies that affect them in uniquely personal ways so they feel the movies were made exclusively for them, and it is that understanding that makes “My Korean Cinema” so resonant and so valuable.