Korea tries to climb the high bar it set for itself last year

The success enjoyed on the festival circuit by South Korean cinema in 2004 will be tough to match this time around.

It all started last February when Kim Ki-duk won the director prize at Berlin for “Samaritan Girl.” He then followed that up several months later in Venice with a helmer trophy for his “3-Iron.”

And at Cannes, Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” took home the Grand Prix, missing the top prize by one vote to Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Hong Sang-soo’s “Woman Is the Future of Man” was also nominated for the Palme d’ Or.

“Last year, Korean films won an award at Berlin, Cannes and Venice, so we cannot really hope for a better year this year,” says Jung Hyun-chang, manager of European festivals for the Korean Film Council (Kofic).

Still, despite a corporate-like nervousness about year-over-year growth, Jung is excited about his local industry’s prospects at Cannes 2005, where Korea is represented by seven films in the main strands this year.

Leading Korea’s way to Cannes this time around is Hong’s high-concept romancer “Conte De Cinema” (aka “A Tale of Cinema”), which once again puts him in the thick of the festival competition.

Korean film denizens also have high hopes for “A Bittersweet Life,” helmer Kim Jee-woon’s noirish gangster-themed follow-up to his equally dark “A Tale of Two Sisters.” It will be presented in the out-of-competition midnight screenings.

For his part, Kim will have his latest film, the geriatric-love themed “The Bow,” screen in Un Certain Regard.

Lim Sang-woo’s controversial assassination thriller, “The President’s Last Bang,” will screen in Directors Fortnight alongside Ryu Seung-wan’s boxing-themed “Crying Fist.”

Chang Lu’s pan-Asian romancer “Grain in Ear” is the sole Critics Week entrant. And short film “Walk on a Little More,” by Shim Min-Young, will show in Cinefondation.

In the Cannes market, MK Pictures will have “Wet Dreams 2,” a raunchy “American Pie”-style laffer, and Lim Tai-hyung’s more substantive “Hello, Goodbye Little Brother.” The latter is notable because its $1.9 million budget was raised through an online campaign seeking private investment.

In addition to “The Bow,” Cineclick Asia is screening three new titles. Fresh from its Berlin Forum debut is the experimental “Forgotten Child: Shin Sung-il Is Lost,” which critics have deemed an impressive satirical debut for helmer Shin Jane. And “The Red Shoes” by Kim Yong-gyun is a horror tale based on the titular Hans Christian Andersen fable.

Cineclick will also be touting Jang Sun-woo’s “A Thousand Plateaux,” a Mongolia-set epic that’s already been sold to Lucky Red for Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Cinema Service’s Eric Kim says the company’s offerings will differ little from its European Film Market outing — save for a few name changes.

Choe Equan’s horror pic about a girl who can hear the voices of the dead — previously titled “Whisper” — will now be known as “Voice.” And the latest pic from Jung Ji-woo (“Happy End”) is no longer operating under the working title “Close to You.”

Cinema Service will also be debuting “Clean Cut” by Jang Jin (“Something Special”). The film plays as a TV-news murder investigation and stars Shin Ha-kyun (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”).

Helmer Kim Dong-bin, an Asian horror pioneer who helmed the Korean remake of “The Ring,” comes to Cannes with his latest scarer, “Red Eye.” The film is repped by Mirovision, which also is promoting Ym Phil-sung’s “Antarctic Journal,” the story of a jinxed Antarctic expedition.

To celebrate what it hopes will be another big year on the festival circuit, Kofic — which can be found at Stand 16 in the Palais — will be hosting a Korean film night May 17.

The film body is also bringing over Kwak Yong-gin, director general at the Korean Cultural Ministry, who will be taking meetings with buyers and filmmakers. He will be in town to talk to the Centre National de la Cinematographie about a co-production agreement between France and South Korea. Other members of the Korean Cultural Ministry will be visiting the Kofic stand.

Korea’s sales companies do not always sit together in the Palais, but Kofic will have a full list of attendees and their whereabouts.

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