One of modern cinema’s most exciting territories is contextualized, although not fully illuminated, in the edifying but coolly intellectual docu, “The Nine Lives of Korean Cinema.” Experienced documaker, and contributor to French film monthly “Positif,” Hubert Niogret takes a talking-heads approach to his subject then leavens the pie with a liberal use of clips. Fest slots are a certainty, though the film is unlikely to convert the uninitiated.
As South Korean cinema is laden with political references, Niogret wisely begins with a history lesson spanning from Japan’s 1905 annexation of the peninsula to today’s divided country. The current crop of celebrated South Korean helmers (Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook, etc.), as well as old-guard icon Im Kwon-taek, talk largely about general industry issues and their career arcs rather than specific films, while one-time North Korean abductee Shin Sang-ok describes what it was like working north of the 38th Parallel.
Many of the filmmakers discuss past censorship and its lingering effects. Interviewees are all directors or actors, with no Korean critics or commentators featured. However, two Western specialists, producer-publicist Pierre Rissient and Variety’s Derek Elley, put in their two cents on the political, historical and artistic constraints on the industry.
Docu’s emphasis is on artier rather than commercial productions, and some internationally known filmmakers (such as Jang Sun-woo) aren’t featured; but within its hour-long running time, pic solidly covers the waterfront. However, non-specialist viewers may be left wondering just what makes South Korean cinema so exhilarating, as its physicality and emotional power, as well as its sheer inventiveness, are not discussed.
Tech credits are fine, and clips showcase the (also not discussed) high technical standards of production.