Devilish thrillers and deeply observed dramas.
Insofar as anything that frequently revels in shocking feats of retribution can be described as a “darling,” Korean cinema has been the darling of the international festival circuit for the better part of a decade. Most notably, Park Chan-wook became a cult icon when his revenge opus Oldboy was awarded the Grand Prix by Quentin Tarantino’s Cannes jury in 2004, and compatriots Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon have since emerged as similarly gifted genre stylists. Selections by all three directors will feature in the inaugural Toronto Korean Film Festival, as part of a lineup the reads like a best-of list of South Korea’s recent cinematic exports.
Thanks chiefly to Park, the country has earned a reputation for turning out devilish thrillers, but in Lee Chang-dong it also boasts one of the world’s foremost craftsmen of delicately observed, deeply human melodramas. Secret Sunshine (June 22, 7 p.m.), which explores questions of faith, grief, and the search for grace, is actually the director’s most devastating, but is certainly worth its pride of place as TKFF’s opening night selection. Kim Ki-duk’s breathtaking Buddhist meditation, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (June 28, 7 p.m.), is also easy to recommend for those interested in expanding their appreciation of Korean cinema beyond frenetic genre fare.
Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with frenetic genre fare, especially when the films in question are as accomplished as TKFF’s selections. A Tale of Two Sisters, Kim Jee-woon’s K-horror blockbuster, screens on June 23 at 9 p.m., while the latter thirds of Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (6 p.m.) and Oldboy (9 p.m.), will close the festival on July 1. Our highest recommendation, however, is reserved for Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant Mother, which screens at 9 p.m. on June 29. Blending Hitchcockian suspense with Bong’s singular, subversive sensibility, and a bravura performance from veteran actress Kim Hye-ja, murder mysteries don’t get much better.