London Korean Film Festival 2016

lkff-2016

It is time to set aside those unwritten LFF reviews as the LKFF is here! The London Korean Film Festival has returned from the capital and runs until 17th November with a season of classic and contemporary Korean cinema. This year’s festival has a special focus on films that explore the lives of Korean women as told through the lenses of female directors as reflected in Thursday’s opening gala screening of Lee Kyoung-mi’s new thriller The Truth Beneath. The festival closes in London with Hong Sang-soo’s latest Yourself and Yours after which the festival goes on tour to Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Belfast from 18th – 27th November.

The festival features a wide range of Korean films and gives a rare opportunity to see films that might not make it back to the big screen in the UK. See the official website for more info or read on to find out what I have seen so far.

The Truth Beneath

the-truth-beneath-1

In Lee Kyoung-mi’s second feature the wife (Son Ye-jin) of an aspiring politician finds her life upended when her teenage daughter goes missing at the start of the national election campaign. While her husband (Kim Joo-hyuk) remains focussed on his political ambitions she instead picks up where the police investigation has failed and delves into the second life her daughter was leading.

With clever cinematic devices and an unflinching eye Lee Kyoung-mi explores both the story of a young girl’s struggle to find acceptance and friendship alongside a grieving mother’s struggle to get to know her daughter when she is no longer around. The film’s twists created loud gasps from the audience and the tense narrative had us gripped from start to finish. The lead performance by Son Ye-jin was powerfully understated and complex. A powerful opening to the festival and a strong statement to show this year’s commitment to showing the life of Korean women on-screen.

Our Love Story

our-love-story-2

Another female director Lee Hyun-ju tackles a different kind of female relationship in Our Love Story as she explores the beginnings of a romance between a female student and an older young woman (Lee Sang-hee and Ryu Sun-young). The film is much more understated than the thriller above as it focusses on emotional nuance above flashy plot twists.

The romance between the two lovers is handled with great care and sensitivity. Free from the male gaze Our Love Story is capable of including sex between two women without including a full panoramic view of entwined naked forms à la Blue is the Warmest Colour or The Handmaiden. Instead we have a more restrained, tender, and authentic romance on-screen as part of a sweet and emotionally complex romantic drama.

I really do recommend you seek out a screening, a trailer of highlights is below, and if anyone has a spare ticket to the closing gala please let me know; it has already sold out!

Shorts on Tap – Life Thru a Lens

Shorts on Tap

You might remember that sometime towards the end of 2013 I attended and acted as a judge at a short film evening hosted by Shorts on Tap. They are hosting another evening of short films (as they do every month) tomorrow in East London.

Why should you care? Because it is always a great night of watching short films from new talent with optional mingling for those of a social nature.

Why should you care this month in particular? Shorts of Tap have teamed up with London Documentary Network to show 7 short documentary films. AND they are supporting HOPE International Development Agency (UK) who I tried to organise some fundraising screenings for earlier in the month.

If you are free tomorrow (30th June) and can get to Cafe 1001 on Brick Lane by 7pm then please do come along. Entry is just £5 so you will have plenty of money left over to donate to HOPE.

To whet your appetite watch the trailer for one of the shorts, Planet Gong, below. I have seen the full documentary before and can heartily recommend watching.

Planet Gong Documentary Trailer from Ian Habgood on Vimeo.

Singin’ in the Rain Charity Screenings

Singin in the Rain

Stop what you’re doing and buy a ticket to one of three Singin’ in the Rain screenings happening across England this month; in Greenwich, Birmingham, and York.

Why do this? Because Singin’ in the Rain is an amazing film filled with laughs, songs, and dance routines worthy of recreating in a rain storm with less aplomb and a greater risk of a cold.

The other reason to buy a ticket is that you will not only be enjoying a true piece of cinema history on the big screen but will be supporting HOPE International Development Agency (UK) as they raise money for water projects in Ethiopia. HOPE is working with villagers in remote communities to provide access to clean water but need to raise funds to cover materials and transportation.

For details of each screening and to buy tickets click on the links below:

The Electric Cinema (Birmingham) on 16 Jun 2015 at 20:00

Singin’ In The Rain at City Screen (York) on 20 Jun 2015 at 12:00

Singin’ In The Rain at Greenwich Picturehouse on 24 Jun 2015 at 21:00

Love Hotel – Film Review

Love Hotel

When first asked to watch a film about a Japanese love hotel I will admit that a lot of conclusions were jumped to. The idea of a hotel where you check-in without seeing the receptionist’s face and hire a room by the hour conjured up all manner of sordid imagery in my head. My assumption was that this sort of hotel would be a hotbed (pun intended) for illicit affairs and all manner of kinky goings on. What this documentary by Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda demonstrates is that while these hotels aren’t totally innocent establishments the activities within are varied and often incredibly touching.

Certain aspects of Japanese culture is revealed through the events at the Angel Love Hotel in Osaka Japan. In an overcrowded country where space and privacy is at a premium the love hotel offers a welcome escape from everyday life. An escape away from judgement where people can truly be themselves and where secrets can be shared.

For such a secret and intimate escape the film-makers have gained a surprising level of access to not only the inner working of the hotel and its staff but to the customers as well. In a completely uncensored fashion the film takes us inside the bedrooms with their occupants and allows us to witness first-hand what takes place inside. At first this feels intrusive and an invasion of the privacy they are so desperately seeking but before long I found myself drawn in and captivated by the intimate moments within.

These intimate moments do include what you might have first imagined. One man is splashing out on his first dominatrix experience and finally finding the sexual gratification he was looking for. Meanwhile a single woman is using the hotel to conduct an affair with a married man. These carry with them a certain amount of fascination but what really intrigues are the more tender moments happening elsewhere. An elderly pair of former lovers meet weekly to take tea, waltz, and reminisce, an old man thinks back on his mistreatment of women and writes a love letter to his neighbour, and a gay couple pop out from the law firm they both work for to find a space to be alone together. With these stories the film stops feeling just sexually intimate and moves on to offer the audience emotional intimacy. When someone enters the love hotel the audience steps inside their head as they let their defenses fall down.

One couple in particular won me over. They have been married for some time and seemingly are regular visitors to the hotel. Inside their room we see them as playful and obviously still in love. It is only when the cameras follow them to their lives outside and to their home does the contrast between their relationship in the real world and in love hotel world become clear. While in the hotel they talk openly and play with each other back home everything feels much colder and less open. The power of escape offered by the hotel is laid bare and its importance to certain Japanese citizens is clear. As the hotel’s manager says himself, “it’s not just for sex. You can do that at home.”

Love Hotel is a documentary that lets its subjects speak for themselves and offers no commentary of judgement. It truly surprised me and challenged by preconceptions of what this type of hotel was used for and what it has to offer Japanese culture. Love Hotel is incredibly sweet, intimate, and unfiltered. I only wish it had been longer.

DocHouse host the UK premiere of Love Hotel at the ICA this Wednesday 17th September complete with a Q&A with directors Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda. For more information and to buy tickets visit the DocHouse website.

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House 2014

Summer Screen at Somerset House 2014

It’s that time of year again where I say “It’s that time of year again” (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) and encourage you all to take your film viewing outside this summer to sit/lie in the courtyard of Somerset House and watch one of the films that Film4 have selected.

It’s been a few years since I made the trip down to watch a film under the stars but thoroughly enjoyed myself when I did. You can read about my experience and the vital tips I learned along the way in my Somerset House Survival Guide. SPOILER ALERT: Food, layers, and a cushion are essentials.

Tickets go on sale this Friday 16th May from the Somerset House website and the full line-up for this tenth anniversary year of screenings can be found below.

Two Days, One Night
Thursday 7th August 2014

Rosemary’s Baby
Friday 8th August 2014

A Fistful of Dollars / Mad Max 2
Saturday 9th August 2014

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Sunday 10th August 2014

Sense and Sensibility
Monday 11th August 2014

Annie Hall
Tuesday 12th August 2014

20,000 Days on Earth
Wednesday 13th August 2014

The Great Beauty
Thursday 14th August 2014

Hairspray / Spring Breakers
Friday 15th August 2014

Ghostbusters / Big Trouble in Little China
Saturday 16th August 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums
Sunday 17th August 2014

The 400 Blows
Monday 18th August 2014

Tenth Anniversary Screening
Tuesday 19th August 2014

What We Do in the Shadows
Wednesday 20th August 2014

There are too many to choose from, I might just have to move in.