Thursday, February 21, 2013

Korean movies come to BAMcinématek this weekend -- briefly but buoyantly, as usual

Lovers of films from South Korea (and when we say Korean film, South is what we mean) should be lining up this weekend, February 22-24, as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in partnership with CJ Entertainment, presents BAMcinématek's 11th annual New York Korean Film Festival.

Why are these recent Korean movies (and by that, I mean over roughly the past decade) so damn good? That's a question TrustMovies asks himself periodically, usually after seeing a bunch of 'em in a row -- whether at a festival such as this, or via Netfix streaming (which offers a wonderfully diverse number of recent Korean movies), or when a film opens theatrically (as with last week's The Berlin Fileshown above).

The answer is tri-part: Most Korean movies are simply made so well that, from a commercial standpoint, they're aces (they've got all the trimmings down pat: cinematography, lighting, design -- not to mention acting, writing and direction -- and they are put together with style to spare); they manage to include -- even the most mainstream of these movies -- subjects that take in politics, economics, sociology, history, and the way we're all living now; and finally, their filmmakers seem to excel in every genre -- from rom-coms (Cyrano Agency) to ultra-dark thrillers (No Mercyshown above), war movies (The Front Line or My Way) to historical epics (Masquerade, shown in this fest), monster movies (The Host, Chawz) to gorgeously appointed, soap-opera sleaze (that tasty remake of The Housemaid, shown below) and beyond.

What about art films? Well, I've left out that category in the paragraph above, mostly because every film I see come out of Korea appears to be in some way an "art film." Lord knows, they are made artfully enough, with that special combination of the unique and the juicy to engage most moviegoers. And they have such energy! (For one of the supreme examples of a movie that is original, while mashing up several genres to make you laugh, gasp and finally cry, I would recommend you rent, from Netflix or Greencine, a film called Save the Green Planet. A decade old now, there has still never been anything quite like this one.)

So what's on tap in this year's New York Korean fest? Eight films, including one US premiere and three NY premieres, the latter including the Kim Ki-duk’s controversial Venice prizewinner Pieta (above, which opens the fest) to Deranged, the uber-scary thriller (that closes it, below). You can see the entire schedule by clicking here -- then click on each individual movie to learn more and/or buy tickets.

The two films I've been able to screen early could not be more dissimilar -- except in their quality and entertainment value. I recommend both of them highly. (If I have time I'll watch and cover the other two screeners I received and report on them here.)

Deranged, a terrific title (and one that, given how descrip-tive it is, has not been much used in movie-land) is one of those epidemic movies (think last year's Contagion, but about ten times better), in which what is going on, when revealed, is yucky as hell but a lot more fun. The film moves like a house afire, never leting up, and the family we grow closest to during the proceedings proves surprising in several ways.

Once again, as with so many Korean films, we're in the land of sleaze, though exactly where that sleaze is coming from we don't learn for quite some time. Here are politicians, police, media, the medical establishment, drug companies, and a bunch of everyday people (below) who are suddenly doing some very weird stuff.

Water figures into things, from the drought going on across the country to the need for liquid once the plague's effects come into play. The movie works as a satisfying thriller, a science-gone-bonkers warning, and yet another testament to the unbelievable power of greed. Deranged screens once only at BAMcinématek, this Sunday, February 24, at 7pm. Click here for tickets.

At the other end of the Korean spectrum lies the gorgeous historical spectacle and box-office bonanza (in its home country) Masquerade, which tells a sort-of-based-on-fact tale, with a lot of help from Mark Twain's Prince & the Pauper. In it, a low-level actor/magician
/entertainer who bears a striking resemblance to the current emperor (and make use of this in his "show") is recruited to replace the more prestigious guy, when an assassination attempt looks likely. Complication ensue, but they are tweaked just enough to avoid out-and-out cliche, which proves awfully entertaining (this is a skill that so many Korean movie-makers seem to have up their sleeves).

The film, directed by Choo Chang-min (this is the first of his I've seen), offers all the pomp and splendor of royalty, the necessary political and social underpinnings, and... romance! Really, what more do you want in a historical pot-boiler?  Starring Lee Byung-hun -- the utterly gorgeous leading man from Three Extremes; The Good, The Bad, The Weird; I Saw the Devil and those dumb-fun G.I. Joe movies -- and a cast of ace actors who know just what to do, the film ignites repeatedly, and offers, humor, history, love and tears in about equal measure (the penultimate scene involving the "pauper" and the real King's bodyguard is simply wonderful). Once you've seen it, you'll understand why it's one of the box-office record-breakers in Korean film history.

General Information you might need:
Tickets: General Admission: $13
BAM Cinema Club Members: $8,
BAM Cinema Club Movie Moguls: Free
Seniors & Students (25 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu): $9
Bargain matinees (Mon—Thu before 5pm & Fri—Sun before 3pm no holidays): $9
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, BAM Rose Cinemas, and BAMcafé are located in the Peter Jay Sharp building at
30 Lafayette Avenue (between St Felix Street and Ashland Place) in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. BAM
Harvey Theater is located two blocks from the main building at 651 Fulton Street (between Ashland and Rockwell
Places). Both locations house Greenlight Bookstore at BAM kiosks. BAM Fisher, located at 321 Ashland Place, is the
newest addition to the BAM campus and houses the Judith and Alan Fishman Space and Rita K. Hillman Studio.
BAM Rose Cinemas is Brooklyn’s only movie house dedicated to first-run independent and foreign film and repertory
programming. BAMcafé, operated by Great Performances, is open for dining prior to BAM Howard Gilman Opera
House evening performances. BAMcafé also features an eclectic mix of spoken word and live music for BAMcafé
Live on select Friday and Saturday nights with a special BAMcafé Live menu available starting at 8pm.
Subway: 2, 3, 4, 5, Q, B to Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center (2, 3, 4, 5 to Nevins St for Harvey Theater)
D, N, R to Pacific Street; G to Fulton Street; C to Lafayette Avenue
Train: Long Island Railroad to Atlantic Terminal – Barclays Center
Bus: B25, B26, B41, B45, B52, B63, B67 all stop within three blocks of BAM
Car: Commercial parking lots are located adjacent to BAM
For ticket and BAMbus information, call BAM Ticket Services at 718.636.4100, or visit

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