JIFF = Jeonju International Film Festival
The 12th JIFF was the very first film festival that I ever attended. I went to a couple of screenings during the past SXSW film festivals in previous years, but that was because I always got a free VIP Venue badge for working at the Cactus Cafe during my college years.
I’m a total film newbie – by reviews of films is like a 3rd grade YMCA basketball player trying to rate the NBA. I mean, even a 3rd grader will know a great play when he sees one, but a 3rd grader will not appreciate the beauty of the staggered baseline screen with a misdirection curl to free up Richard Jefferson for an open 15 footer in the Spurs’ offense. So some of the films that I might rate horribly, could be the Spurs of the film world – really fundamentally sound, really solid in all aspects and amazing if you know the intricacies, but can be considered boring to the average/below average fan.
I thought the festival was easily accessible, they had an army of very energetic, well-mannered and helpful teenage to college-aged volunteers in yellow JIFF jackets or black JIFF shirts, directing traffic, helping out an info desks, at ticket booths and basically anywhere and everywhere near a venue. I just got unlucky with one that didn’t quite direct me correctly to the Jeonju Megabox parking garage, causing me to miss my screening for “Secrets, Objects”.
City of Jeonju:
It was my first time in Jeonju, didn’t go with any expectations really, and once I got there, it fit into the mold of a regional city here in Korea. I think “quaint” is a word that describes the downtown area of Jeonju pretty well. It has a very 80’s feel and maybe I say it’s quaint because it reminded me of the Seoul that I briefly grew up in during the 80’s. That’s exactly what it feels like, an early 80’s Seoul. No real tall buildings – I think the Megabox building was one of the tallest in the DT area and i think it was maybe 8 stories…, small side streets and alley ways with a lot of hole-in-the-wall establishments. Although nearer to the movie venues, more modern shops, restaurants, clothing stores and pubs exist.
My interactions were limited to the JIFF staff, the few staff/owner of the restaurants I visited and the guy drinking Makgeolli 막걸리 at the table next to me at 옛날 막걸리집 near the CGV theater. The restaurant staff/service was so-so. I did go towards the end of the week-long festival, so the staff could’ve been a little worn out of all the out-of-towners coming in. Service also moves at a significantly slower pace than Seoul… but I think that’s just BIG CITY living VS. small city type of thing. It probably didn’t help that I went to 욕쟁이할머니집 type of restaurants. So what is a 욕쟁이할머니집 (yok-jang-ee-hal-muh-nee-jip)?
Literally translated, it means “the house/restaurant belonging to a foul-mouthed grandma.” So do you understand now?
Basically, it’s kind of like the restaurant chain “Dicks” in the US, they have one on the Riverwalk in San Antonio (at least they did when I was there). It’s where the wait staff is mean and grumpy on purpose because the patrons kind of get a kick out of that. In Korea, it’s usually the old ladies that own or run these small restaurants. Some examples of their rude behavior:
1. not using the honorific words and conjugations to the customers.
2. Telling you to go get stuff by yourself when you ask for more side dishes.
3. Taking little jabs at you.
4. Basically acting like your lovable grumpy Aunt.
They most likely do this because they are tired of sucking up to customers in their old or older age. Some of them can be really cool though. There’s a great 갈매기살 (seagull beef strips = because the meat is cut into a shape of an “M” and Koreans say it looks like shape of a seagull flying) restaurant with great 파김치 by 이수 Station run by a 욕쟁이 “이모” (aunt) because I don’t think she’s quite at the grandma age. I’m getting off on a tangent here, but this restaurant is one that I know that displays all the charms of these places.
Anyways, I’ll give the Jeonju people a B+ for their service and friendliness.
“Los Angeles Plays Itself” – Thom Anderson (current professor at California Institute of the Arts and this film won the Best Documentary Award at the Vancouver Film Festival in 2003).
A film that looks into how the city of Los Angeles has been portrayed by the filming world from the beginning to about the mid 90’s.
Prof. Anderson was gracious enough to answer two of my questions from a newbie like me during the Q&A – The biggest take-away from the film (which he prepared from a bunch of lecture material) – It’s important to have a sense of PLACE. The PLACE of the movie can be as important as the plot or character.
Most ready for the Korean movie-going audience:
Short story about a man who wakes up from a one night stand without remembering anything, then finds out that the girl he slept with is a high school student. But through the character development, you see that the high school girl portrays more adult characteristics than the grown up man, but she still manages to keep a bit of her “immaturity” and innocence or naivete.
The English title of this movie is mistranslated in my opinion. It should have been “Underage” or “Jail-bait”. But the actress who portrayed the high school girl was excellent, especially in the scene where she eats a bowl of Jjamppong 짬뽕 – a spicy seafood noodle soup, typical of the very popular Sino-Korean restaurants. She made it look so good that I had a bowl of jjamppong as soon as I got out of the screening. That’s REALLY good acting – when you can control what I’m going to eat after watching your movie.
Most Refreshing Portrayal of Reality
A film about a single middle-aged woman with a teenage daughter. Her daughter is at an age where she only cares about her boyfriend and the mother is left in her loneliness and mundane life to satiate her longing for love. She reminisces about her brief romantic or what she fantasizes as a romantic encounter with a younger co-worker during a company picnic and revisits the lake park where the picnic took place. It was refreshing to see an honest portrayal of the female sexual desire and love in a country where showing such wants is culturally oppressed and taboo.
The Valiant Attempt – Nice Try Award
“RPG – Metanoia” (3D) – Directed by Luis C. Suarez
A very cute animation from the Philippines that brings up memories of the early days of Pixar. The plot is a story that many people, especially in the computer crazed/addicted Asian region can relate to. A hugely popular MMORPG game has taken over the minds of thousands of people around the world playing the game through the spread of a computer virus. It’s up to a group of young kids who play this game to go and get rid of the problem.
I thought the animation was very well done and the 3D was commendable, although I don’t know if it really truly added anything more to the movie (i’m on the anti-3D side, unless you are gonna make something like “Avatar”). The story development took a little too long and the movie as a whole ran about 40 minutes too long. Everything could’ve been taken care of a resolved with shorter sequences. But it was a very good try and I enjoyed it for the most part.
Most Pleasantly Surprised to See It Award
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (3D) – Directed by Werner Herzog
My first introduction to Werner Herzog’s work was during my recent documentary shoot in Antarctica. During one of the down times, I watched Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World” and was very impressed with his work.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams was a last minute pick because the movie I wanted to see was sold out. I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard Herzog’s voice during the opening scene.
The documentary is based on the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in southern France – the cave which was discovered in 1994 and has the world’s oldest and most pristine cave paintings, dating back some 30,000 years. Now, i said I’m anti-3D, but there were moments in this film where 3D really enhanced the viewing experience and the story telling. It really helped to portray the sheer beauty and awe of the cave system itself and then the BOOM! emotional shocking moment when the paintings on the cave walls were shown.
I always enjoy Herzog’s philosophical twists that he puts on at the end of his documentary as well. The whole juxtaposition of the albino crocodiles to human beings… if you don’t know what I’m talking about, even more reason for you to go this film.
WTH was THAT Award
“Rivers and My Father” – Li Luo
Okay, I was completely lost during this movie. It was a very disjointed film, didn’t make sense, didn’t have a flow, sequences were too long and I could literally doze off for 2-3 minutes and wake up and not have missed anything.
The director was inspired by a life memoir his dad wrote at the age of 60 and wanted to capture the memories of his grandfather, his father and his at the age of 7. Like I said, I’m a complete newbie to this thing, but this thing was just bad in my book. But then again, it could be me calling a 30,000 bottle of wine tasteless because I really can’t tell the difference between a merlot and a shiraz.
If I did take away one thing from this film, maybe some stories and memories are best kept on paper and in the head, passed down through the word of mouth rather than on film.
The most curious thing about this film is that at the end of it, the director’s dad gives a review of the film and emails the director, who is his son, a list of things that was unclear or needed to be corrected, which corresponded a lot of my list if I had made one. But the director didn’t correct any of it and really doesn’t explain, just simply showing the questionable sequences again.
He did have a Q&A session after the screening but I had to bail out early because I had to drive up to Seoul and it was already 10PM.
Now here are some movies I really wanted to see but couldn’t because the screenings were all sold out or didn’t have time for (and one because I couldn’t find the bat-cave like parking garage hidden amongst the chaos):
“Inside Job” – Directed by Charles Ferguson – unlike in the US, this one was never released in the theaters here in Korea.
“Essential Killing” – Directed by Polish director, Jerzy Skolimowski.
“Exit through the Gift Shop” – Directed by the anonymous street artist Banksy.
“Anyang, Paradise City” (다시 태어나고 싶어요, 안양에) – Directed by Park Chan-kyong (brother of Park Chan-wook – recently getting headlines for shooting a feature film on an iPhone) – Wanted to see this one because Anyang is literally 5 minutes from where I live.
“The True Taste Show”(트루맛쇼) – Directed by Kim Jae-hwan – a documentary showing the truth about all those “restaurant TV shows” on Korean television where a TV crew goes to some famous restaurant in a neighborhood and interviews a bunch of guests talking with their mouth full and giving the typical two thumbs up. I believe the director used to be a PD for one of the BIG 3 broadcast stations in Korea (MBC, KBS, SBS) and produced one of those programs.
“Tomorrow’s Joe” – Directed by Sori Fumihiko
“Secrets, Objects” (사물의 비밀) – Directed by Lee Young-mi, and also produced by a very good friend and colleague of mine, Nemo Kim of KBS World, EBS Morning Special and NHK World.