Film

Perspective (2018) #TeamAndromeda

I know it has been a helluva long time since I posted on here… no special excuse for this, I have been slacking purely based on the recent hectic schedule I have had but I am currently working to correct my laziness so stay tuned for many posts about my recent goings on!

First off… I MADE A FILM! You can watch it below 😊, and if interested, you can read all about my experience making it underneath!

Let me rewind back to September… my friend stumbled across a Facebook post advertising a 72 hour film festival here in Busan. Participants needed to pay only 10,000 won and follow a certain set of guidelines; films had to be 10 minutes or less, had to include a character called either Edward or Edna Appleby, had to include a wine bottle in some way or another and lastly had to use the dialogue “I’ll make him/her an offer that he/she cannot refuse”. Simple enough guidelines to follow and luckily my friend already had a self-love/self-appreciation concept in mind.

Our team initially met on a Thursday evening, at HQ Gwangan, the bar in Gwangalli geared towards the many expats out here, who is also the host of the 72 hour film festival. We discussed and planned, finalising the concept we had and shaping it in to a short film that would follow all of the guidelines we had whilst still maintaining the core message we wanted to portray. Our story would focus on Edna, a young woman consumed by a toxic relationship. We are first introduced to her, downing a bottle of wine in her apartment, frustrated by the lack of communication from her other half. Then she receives a text message, just one short moment of clarity that sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

The next day, Friday, filming began; we used my apartment and the roof of my building initially. As if there were not already enough time constraints (given the allotted time of 72 hours to shoot and edit a short film), we only had 30 minutes or so to film what we needed to film up on the roof. The dark nights start to appear earlier in September and the sun begins to set rapidly so you can only imagine our haste in getting the shots we needed multiple times to ensure smooth cuts in the editing stage. Once night had well and truly set in, we headed to Output in Seomyeon to film a scene involving our lead actress and a male leech. We did have a problem here; not one of us had a male friend available to strap on their acting shoes at such short notice. Nonetheless we managed to secure a reveler in the club with the offer of a few drinks. We briefed our guy, told him his line of dialogue (“I’ll make you an offer that you can’t refuse”) and got to shooting. Sorted. The scenes we needed to bring together the first half of our film were all done, shot numerous times and ready to be uploaded.

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Team Andromeda outside Output! #BTS

We got started with the editing process on the Saturday afternoon, surrounded by a mass of supplies to keep our energy up. It is unbelievable to see the amount of software readily available to amateur filmmakers on the internet these days. My team managed to secure Wondershare Filmora; a seemingly basic editing application which turned out to be fantastic and exactly what we needed. In between editing (and eating), we had to shoot a few daytime scenes; a couple of cuts that would show our main character going about her daily life, eating with friends, browsing shops as well as general shots of the city. In addition, we also needed some shower scenes; a literal presentation of our girl washing away all the toxic that was in her life and embrace her new self-appreciation. All in all, Saturday was a busy day!

We woke up at 4am on the Sunday having made a plan to meet on Gwangalli beach at 4:30am to be able to film our main character doing yoga whilst the sun rises in front of her; the grand finale where she is finally at peace with herself and content with her life. Again, time was not on our side; the sun rises fairly quickly, and we had a variety of angles we wanted to employ to really capture the beauty of the beach and the peace of mind it gives to people. Nevertheless, we were successful, and I must admit, I was (and still am!) super proud of the shots we managed to get! I feel the Zen element we wanted to illustrate was captured, whether that be due to the location or the yoga, either way I love the beach scenes we used in the final cut. We finished our task at the beach, headed home for a couple more hours kip and then got back to editing. Watching and re-watching our completed 7-minute film over and over before heading back to HQ Gwangan to submit it for the showing later that evening.

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Shooting at Gwangalli beach! #BTS

After the screening, we were awarded a bottle of gin as a prize for using the required line of dialogue in the most creative way. Super thrilling! However, I was, and still am, over the moon to finally have my name listed in the credits of a film, no matter how short it is! That reward, in my eyes, is better than any other prize we could have won because I gotta say, my first experience working on a film was incredibly exciting and fulfilling. My team and I are already planning our second film with an aim to continue making short films together as we are a damn good team! 😊

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Film

A few thoughts about The Host (2006)…

1.) Let me first think about the formaldehyde poured down the drains into the Han River thus creating the monster which wreaks havoc in Seoul. I cannot help but wonder that if The Host were an American film, the formaldehyde would not have been from the home country. Instead it would have come from somewhere else, most likely an Asian country who dumped the chemical in the Pacific Ocean leaving it to travel over to America. However the Korean assistant ordered to dispose of the formaldehyde down the drains was commanded to do so by an American senior. There are constant and purposely obvious connotations behind this film that the Western world unintentionally causes more harm than good.

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Note to all: do not pour formaldehyde down the sink…

2.) The American industry loves a happy ending, or at least a resolution – there is no such thing with this film, at least not anything stereotypical. If they were to be clichéd then Gang Du’s daughter, Hyun Seo, would have survived and father and child would live happily ever after. She would not have lived for so long to only die once being physically rescued by her father who went through so much to bring her back to safety. However for me, the resolution to The Host is Gang Du’s established relationship with Se Joo, who also lost a family member to the monster and who was ultimately saved and cared for by Hyun Seo whilst trapped in the monster’s lair. Although they are not related by blood, there is a real affection shown between the two whilst they eat dinner together in the last scene.

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Hyun Seo before being snatched by the monster!

3.) A gas called ‘Agent Yellow’ is repeatedly referred to and used in The Host and this is highly reminiscent of ‘Agent Orange’, employed by both Britain and America during the Vietnam war. ‘Agent Orange’ caused a lot of physical and mental damage to the citizens of Vietnam; such extensive damage that the effects are still noticeable today. ‘Agent Yellow’ is introduced to this film as a means of killing the monster, however the health of Korea’s population is not considered. It is the perfect example of how governments and the military believe they are doing right by a country when really they are chipping away at whatever positivity still prevails amongst it’s people, whether that be physical goodness or a sense of internal happiness.

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The formidable ‘Agent Yellow’ being administered.

Who knew a monster flick could be so political?! Round of applause to the Korean film industry.

 

 

 

 

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Film, Travel

Seoul Searching!

Last month I was lucky enough to have an extended weekend, thanks in part to BusanJin for celebrating their anniversary on the 21st of May, the day before the nationwide holiday for Buddha’s birthday on the 22nd. Having been in Busan for three months already, I wanted to venture out further and explore a different city and what better place to choose than Seoul! The city that I have adored on screens for numerous years whilst watching copious K dramas based in the capital. I booked a train, reserved a bunk in a hostel and acquired a vast amount of recommendations from co-workers and students alike. My extended weekend in Seoul was going to be epic. Four days spent doing what I love most; visiting filming locations and devouring delicious food, whilst also Gangnam styling outside Coex Mall and partying the night away in Itaewon! Let’s break down the list of cinematic, culinary adventures I pursued last month on my first ever trip to Seoul!

1) GANGNAM STYLE
Absolutely nothing better to start with then the pop culture phenomenon that burst on to the world’s stage six years ago, catapulting Gangnam as a desirable place for me to visit… of course I’m talking about the masterpiece that is Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’! Located at the East Gate of Coex is a monumental bronze-coloured statue dedicated to that song and it’s accompanying dance. Two fists in a crossed position ready and waiting to do the iconic ‘horse riding’ dance move. Naturally I threw some shapes underneath the sculpture and got some snaps to immortalise the moment; to do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam has been a nagging desire in the back of my mind for over half a decade. I spent most of my second year at university sneakily adding the song to pre-lash playlists and then requesting it later on the same night in whichever club I ended up at.

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Gangnam Styleeeeee!

2) BUTTERFINGER PANCAKES
A cheeky visit to Gangnam is also not complete without a hefty meal at Butterfinger Pancakes! It has an American diner feel to it and serves classic Western breakfast dishes. Bacon, eggs, sausages, French toast, waffles, iced coffee and milkshakes to boot, this place is irresistible! I ordered the split plate for myself, a gigantic platter comprising every single breakfast item on the menu with a refillable Americano on the side. The price tag is rather steep at 24,000 won, but considering it was a weekend dedicated to treating myself, I didn’t let that bother me much and looking at the picture below of such delicious food, can you say you wouldn’t do the same?!

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Heart attack on a plate… #yolo

3) SHAKE SHACK
Up next… a recommendation from two of my lovely students: Shake Shack! I have made no secret out of my love for burgers in South Korea; everyone from the teens I teach, to the people I work with on a daily basis, to the security guard at my building knows just how much Emma loves a good burg! Before starting a lesson one day, I mentioned my desire to find the best burger joint in my new home away from home when my students piped up and mentioned Shake Shack. Eager to devour a burger, I added Shake Shack to my to-do list for Seoul and I ventured there one afternoon over the course of my trip. I ordered the double (hell yeahhhh!) ShackBurger with a side of cheese fries and it went down FAR. TOO. WELL! It might even be better than Five Guys… and I cannot believe I just wrote that but it is true! Nice, juicy patties, a good slice of American (plastic) cheese, a few veggies to make it healthy (lol) all stacked in a sweet, soft bun with crinkle chips and a melted, gooey pot of cheese on the side for dipping! What more could the world’s premiere burger queen ask for?!

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A thing of beauty!

4) GYEONGBOKGUNG
Gyeongbok is just one of the five grand palaces built during the Joseon dynasty; it acted as home to the King, the King’s household as well as the government of Joseon. The palace itself is made up of numerous buildings, the biggest being the throne room; a squared structure centred in a walled complex. The level of detail in the design of Gyeongbok is undeniably impressive! Unfortunately the palace suffered during the 20th century and was a target for bombs during the various wars South Korea endured however reconstruction came underway and continues to this day to keep the palace looking as beautifully breath-taking as it did way back when it was a home for the countries ruler.

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The beautiful throne room of Gyeongbok!

I visited the palace wearing Hanbok; traditional Korean clothing made up of two items, a jeogori which covers the shoulders and the arms and a chima, which literally translates to skirt. My Hanbok was white in colour, sometimes looking pink, other times looking lilac, adorned with embellishments of sequins and beads. I felt like a princess and it was the best way to live out my Korean fantasy; strolling an ancient palace’s ground wearing such beautiful clothing. I rented it from Oneday Hanbok, a store located relatively close to the palace for just under 20,000 won; a steal considering I wore the clothing for four hours and was granted free entry in to the palace on the basis that I arrived in traditional Korean clothing!

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Living my Korean fantasy in Hanbok!

5) HONGDAE
Another recommendation from my students was Hongdae, the neighbourhood surrounding Hongik University. I was told the area was extremely popular with the young people of Korea, a suburb filled to the brim with shops, restaurants and bars, ultimately similar to Seomyeon in Busan. I visited the neighbourhood one afternoon and just simply strolled around, marvelling at the busy streets, filled with performers dancing and singing whilst a #MeToo protest took place as well. I would love to go back to Hongdae the next time I visit Seoul to experience the night life there! I’m sure it is fantastic!

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Street art I saw on my Hongdae stroll!

6) ITAEWON
The night life I did experience did not fail me! Itaewon is another neighbourhood in Seoul that is filled to the brim with foreigners and it just so happened to be the place where I rested my head (considering I am indeed a foreigner) every night during my trip. I met up with one of my sister’s friends who has lived and worked in Seoul for the past five years for a wild night out on the Saturday. There is a SICK club in Itaewon called B-One; an eclectic place housing two rooms, one that plays hip hop and R’n’B and another dedicated to EDM! I have never seen myself as a crazy fan of EDM before but after letting my hair down and throwing my dignity out of the imaginary window (imaginary as as the name B-One would suggest, the club is in the basement of a building), I had the BEST night out I have had so far in Korea! Tequila shots were aplenty, dance moves were deliriously created to a raging rhythm and the night ended with me doing a duet of Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’ at a nearby Norae Bang! Y’all already know I’m hitting that place the next time I’m in the capital!

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Grateful for no pictures of me on the old sauce but here is Jordan Falafel, a shop sign I loved in Itaewon considering I’m half Arab!

7) HAN RIVER
I’m about to get all film nerd on you right now but with good reason! The Han River splits the city of Seoul in two; I first ventured over it on the bus from Gangnam to Itaewon (funny story that consists of me getting super lost with a Korean bus driver who could not speak a word of English) but I decided to head there one day to walk along its green banks. The river itself stretches for miles and there is no way I could have walked the distance without it eating up an entire day but nonetheless it was imperative for me to spend at least a few hours there. Why? Because of the cinematic mastery of Bong Joon Ho’s The Host; a monster flick that came out of the Korean industry in 2006. The story starts in a laboratory, a young apprentice, at the behest of his American colleague, pours copious bottles of formaldehyde down a sink, ultimately creating a beast that dwells in the water, occasionally leaving its home to wreak havoc amongst unsuspecting humans who simply want to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day next to the river.

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The monster of the Han looking majestic AF!

I definitely consider The Host to be one of my favourite ever movies; it plays host (cheeky pun) to a few suggestive, political messages which viewers can choose to either accept or ignore, something I have previously written about and will repost as a follow-up to this blog. Therefore, I HAD to visit the Han River, I HAD to walk along its banks in search of a familiar location from the film however after walking for an hour, I decided to rent a bicycle (super cheap at 3,000 won for an hour) and ride myself along underneath various bridges and other structures. Sadly, despite spanning a large amount of the river, I did not come across the exact location where our beloved hero, Park Gang Du, played by Song Kang Ho, works in his caravan selling dried squid and drinks and where ultimately the monster first decides to crash the party, killing numerous people in its wake. However, I did thoroughly enjoy my time at the river, revelling in my imagination, picturing the slimy beast running amok behind me as I cycled.

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Han River viewz

8) NAMSAN TOWER
The K drama obsessive in me comes through with this next one… Namsan Tower or N Seoul Tower has featured in SO many K dramas throughout the years. The first time I learnt of its existence was at university, sat in my room, watching an episode of Boys over Flowers. #bae Gu Jun Pyo arranges a date with Geum Jan Di at that very location; “Saturday, 6pm, Namsan Tower”. Since then it has been a dream of mine to visit the tower and see Lee Min Ho at the top and guess what? I did! Albeit it was a large poster of him but it still counts, okay!

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Hiiiiiii Lee Min Ho!

Regardless the tower is located on top of Namsan, a mountain with extensive views of the city below and rails chock-a-block full of handwritten padlocks. I bought a lock and marker of my very own in the coffee shop halfway up the mountain before jumping in to the cable car for the rest of the ascent. In spite of my love for K dramas, since being in Korea, I have developed a new obsession for hiking and appreciating the views I gain once I reach the top. Although I didn’t technically hike Namsan, I could still very much appreciate the view I had of lit up buildings and streets, vehicles looking like tiny toys, an awesome sky giving the world around me a golden glow and I planned it so that I could watch the sun set over the capital on my last night there.

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Hell yeeeeeah she does!

The next day came and it was time for me to go back to Busan… honourable mention here: I had booked a ticket on the KTX, the bullet train that takes you from Seoul to the south-east of the country in two and a half hours and also technically a filming location for Train to Busan! If you haven’t yet watched this film then I implore you to do so (it’s readily available on Netflix after all…) as it is undoubtedly the best zombie thriller I have watched thus far! What better way to reinvent an overdone and tired genre than to set it on a moving train. After getting on the train and seating myself in my carriage, I marvelled at the fact that the train looked exactly the same as the one I saw Seok Woo, Sang Hwa and Yong Guk fight their way through, bashing in the skulls of zombies as they did. Of course I snapped a pictures and cut and pasted a zombified train worker on the floor before the carriage filled up…

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I find myself too funny…

So there it is… my trip to Seoul was most satisfying and certainly pleased my soul and love for all things food and film! I cannot wait to go back in a couple of months’ time and enjoy more of the city’s delights! Have you ever been to Seoul? Is there anything different you can recommend to me? Let me know in the comments! 😊

 

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Film, korea

Busan International Short Film Festival!

The Busan Cinema Center located in Centum City, Busan opened its door on 29th September 2011; since then it has hosted both the Busan International Film Festival and the Busan International Short Film Festival. The building itself is a unique, eclectic, architectural marvel, housing a myriad of escalators that take you to the numerous indoor screening rooms, as well as a covered outdoor theatre, where you can not only sit and enjoy whatever is currently being shown on the screen but also appreciate the impressive LED light display clad in to the cantilever roof (approved as the largest by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013).

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Busan Cinema Center!

I ventured over to the Cinema Center for the first time to experience the BISFF (Busan International Short Film Festival) at the end of last month; a friend and I purchased tickets to catch three short Korean films (Korean Competition 6 – with English subtitles) for only 6,000 won (roughly 4 quid) each, which in comparison to the tenner you’re charged back home just for one feature length film is quite the steal! Before the shorts kicked off, we sniffed around the various food vans (burgers, shrimp, noodles, there was everything!) before settling on some Belgian fries (Belgian Frittes) smothered in a garlicky mayo with mango yoghurt smoothies to wash those carbs down!

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#yum

Now anyone who knows me may not fully understand my obsession with the Korean film industry but they damn well know that obsession started back in 2012 and has been unwavering ever since! Oldboy, Memories of Murder, I saw the Devil, The Chaser… I have seen all of the weirdest, goriest Korean thrillers and loved each and every one of them. My viewership expands furthermore in to the rom-com realm where Jeon Ji-Hyun is undoubtedly Queen of Comedy in my eyes after her performances in both My Sassy Girl and Windstruck… But enough about the feature lengths, lets delve in to the shorts…

A Border Line4a73feffe64183c8604d5fcc34b7e23e
This short focused on Namhee, a young, struggling actress who moves to Cheorwon, in Gangwon-do to teach an art class; we first see her dragging a suitcase along a residential street before entering a building to request a room for the night. She stays alone and practices building the mirrored toy she will be teaching to the young children. The next couple of days aren’t so great for Namhee; neither finding permanent accommodation nor working with the children goes well and she seems to be at a loss until she receives a call from an acquaintance in Busan informing her of an acting class she can enroll on. Namhee is excited and commits to the acting class verbally on the phone, making plans to leave on the next bus to Busan. Unfortunately her intentions are thwarted by a dodgy bus schedule whereby buses do not hang around until their departure time but instead ‘leave either five minutes before or five minutes after’ meaning Namhee has missed the bus to Busan. She was so close to, some may say on the border line of getting to Busan however her plans came tumbling down around her. Understandably distraught and frustrated, Namhee sits at the bus station for some time before once again dragging her suitcase around Cheorwon looking for a place to stay. The next day comes and so does a fresh start for Namhee… she explores the local area, embarking on a boat ride that had been previously recommended by a work colleague, seemingly accepting and coming to terms with where she is and what she is doing.

Pros: beautifully shot, great acting

Cons: whilst I appreciated the simplicity of the storyline, it seemed a little bland in comparison to the eccentricities I am now so accustomed to seeing in Korean cinema

Overall rating: 4/5

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My favourite out of the three shorts, this film deals with an issue I believe to be far too prevalent amongst the 20-30 year olds of the world today. The idea that you could always make your life better, always achieve more, leading you to compare your situation to those around you only to admire the supposed greatness of your peers compared to the evident flaws present in every aspect of your life. I blame the vast part of this issue on social media; the filtered lives people are exposed to each and every day, the perfect holiday snaps that took roughly 50 photographs to achieve, the delicious looking meal you fawn over but at the same time leave to get cold just to capture it and let some randomers on the internet know what you ate for brunch. Ironically, no matter how much I criticize these practices, it does not change the fact that I too have wasted a fair amount of my time trying to flaunt a heavily edited picture on Instagram just for the likes.

But anyway… back to the film! The First Day starts as it ends; a shot of a young woman staring out of a window. Her name is Jooyeon and on that first day she wakes up with stomach pain whilst her landlady pounds on her apartment door, demanding the late payment of rent. We follow Jooyeon as she goes about her day, we see her on a bicycle, at work, delivering drinks around a neighbourhood. Her last stop is the important one: she parks up her bike, she steps off with a drink in hand ready to deliver when she becomes distracted by footsteps. Jooyeon peeks around the corner and sees a young woman, her very own doppelganger with a twist. Her doppelganger is dressed beautifully, her hair is perfectly styled; she is speaking to her boyfriend on the phone, flirting away, twirling a strand of hair before entering a nearby gate. Despite their appearances, she is everything Jooyeon is not and everything Jooyeon aspires to be. Over the course of the next few days, Jooyeon does the same routine; wakes up, goes to work and admires her glamorous doppelganger from afar before trying to emulate her later at home either by fishing out similar yet shabby clothes or by dabbling with new make-up techniques. One day, in a state of desperation, Jooyeon even steals clothing from a local store, running full pelt whilst a sales assistant chases her down the road. She does all of this because she admires her doppelganger so much, she wants to be her, feel how she supposedly feels, live her life. Sadly for Jooyeon, all is not as it seems; she finally plucks up the courage to face her doppelganger only to realise the same woman she so greatly admires is the same woman who bangs on her door demanding payment. They engage in a brief stand off before the landlady freaks and runs away from Jooyeon, who closely follows, chasing her doppelganger to the end of the street. The landlady turns and confronts Jooyeon, asking her what she wants, and we are left with Jooyeon simply staring at her doppelganger, knowing full well what it is she desires. The next morning Jooyeon awakens, her stomach pain seemingly gone, her room looking tidier, she stands and walks over to the open window and at that moment the truth behind her stomach ache is revealed by the patch of red left on her mattress.

Pros: Fantastic acting: Ki Do-young superbly flaunted her ability to portray two completely different characters in one short. Also I liked the parallel drawn between the emotional suffering of our protagonist and the physical discomfort caused by the menstruation cycle. It was an interesting connection; the emotional instability of females in the days leading up to their ‘time of the month’ and how they become a lot more emotional and hyper aware of everything that is wrong with their lives.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

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This short involves the lives of many people who all work within the same company however it specifically focuses on Haehwa, and her relationship with her colleague, Sungjoon. The pair frequently engage in some seriously rough sexual encounters, meetings that occur after work hours and are maintained a secret until it is revealed Sungjoon is engaged to be married to a different work colleague. Haehwa is understandably distraught; she cannot fathom why Sungjoon has not chosen her to be his bride and to make matters worse, she now regularly sees Sungjoon and his fiancée together around the office. The upset Haehwa feels leads her down an unstable path where she starts to self-destruct; her emotions running so high that she ends up stealing a pregnant colleague’s ultrasound photograph, before faking it as her own in a confrontation with Sungjoon, only to be labelled a liar and a thief. Initially, as a viewer, you cannot help but sympathise with Haehwa; she has been used and abused by Sungjoon however the latter half of the film unravels spectacularly to reveal Haehwa’s obsessive secret. Indeed, she is a thief, regularly stealing prized possessions, normally a piece of jewelry, from her colleagues at work. There is a nail-biting scene depicting Haehwa almost caught in the act of stealing a unique, Italian bracelet out of her co-workers drawer whilst they are all out at lunch. Your heart pumps along with Haehwa’s during the initial confrontation and the events that unravel afterwards only to share her sense of relief when she manages to slip away from the situation remarkably unscathed aside from the patch of red left on her trousers. Haehwa later visits Sungjoon’s office; she rifles through his desk drawers, happening across a picture of him cozying up to a different girl, picturing herself in the same love-fueled circumstance. Ultimately however, despite her imagination running away from her, Haehwa has come to Sungjoon’s office for one reason and one reason only: good, old-fashioned revenge. She violently vomits in to his desk drawer, but what we see coming from her lips is not what you would expect, instead it is copious amount of jewelry, the very items Haehwa has been coveting from her colleagues for quite some time. On and on, she vomits, disposing of her secretive habit of taking that which is not hers and her love for Sungjoon all in one go.

Pros: loved, loved, loved the revenge element! Revenge is a topic Korean cinema handles and portrays so well and Tender & Witch did not disappoint in that aspect. Furthermore, in the same way as The First Day, Tender & Witch draws a comparison between feminine suffering and the menstrual cycle; an interesting theme for a male director such as Jeon Dook-wan to focus on and made even more fascinating given his later statement to delve in to such emotions in his future work.

Cons: some scenes were a little confusing… at one point we saw Haehwa strangling Sungjoon in his car, eventually killing him, but then a few minutes later we saw Sungjoon alive and well walking around their shared workplace whilst Haehwa looks on from a distance. It turns out she dreamt their interaction where she murdered him; I cannot help but feel the difference between dream and reality could have been handled a little better, just to make it a little more obvious that Sungjoon has not been strangled and left for dead in a parking lot.

Overall rating: 4/5

So there goes my not so very brief synopses of the three shorts I saw at the BISFF! I went in to the festival with expectations and they were certainly met. My time spent there has only made me even more excited to attend the Busan International Film Festival later this year!

Have you ever been to the BISFF? Or the Busan International Film Festival? Do you enjoy Korean cinema too? What is your favourite Korean film?

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Film, Travel

Cherry blossoms in South Korea!

Pretty pink petals, dark tree bark, a festival to celebrate their arrival… cherry blossoms are a big deal in Asia. Here in Korea, they symbolise purity and they are made all the more special due to their short time in full bloom, forcing humans to stop their busy lives and just appreciate nature at its finest. But they haven’t always been viewed so sweetly; they are also integral to a desperately sad part of Korean history, the Japanese occupation which spanned thirty or so years before the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII. Korea, Japan and more recently, China, all stake a claim to the origin of the cherry blossom tree however this post will not delve in to that debate. It will primarily focus on my experiences with the blossoms in Korea; something I thoroughly looked forward to and enjoyed.

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Blossoms at my girls school!

The Jinhae Gunghanje festival (진해궁한제) is an annual event held in the small district of Jinhae, located in Changwon city, at the beginning of April. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival every year with the desire to view the abundant cherry blossoms, snap an Insta worthy photo and to revel in the official start of spring. This year, the festival was held from 1st April – 10th April so I headed to Jinhae to become a cherry blossom viewer on the first day of the festival. Living in Busan, Changwon lies just to the west and therefore getting to Jinhae was super easy; a 1 hour coach trip, costing only 5,100\ from Sasang station. I caught an early coach with friends on the 1st April with my camera at the ready… Our first Jinhae stop: Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge (여좌천 로망스 다리).
I’m not 100% sure which bridge is the actual Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge as there are numerous bridges in a row that cross over the Yeojwacheon stream however I am certain this place is absolutely stunning! The cherry blossom trees line either side of the stream, their branches hanging low and swaying in a gentle breeze over a shallow body of water. I walked the length of the stream before venturing down to stroll along the cobbled bank. Despite the mass of people surrounding me, I felt at peace amongst the blossoms and the water; I could have stayed there for hours just appreciating the scenery around me.

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Loveleh Yeojwacheon!

Our next stop in Jinhae was Gyeonghwa (경화역 봊쏯길); a now closed railway station labelled Cherry Blossom Road due to the abundance of trees planted there. The Korean government have left an old Korail train in situ on the tracks to make photos appear more authentic as back when the station was still in operation, carriages used to whoosh past the trees, enabling petals to fall elegantly and allowing visitors to snap beautiful photographs. The old train itself reminded me of the one used by Seok-woo, his daughter and Seong-Kyeong at the end of Train to Busan when they make one last, desperate attempt to flee an onslaught of zombies and I was tempted to pose just like our hero against the rails before he transforms in to the undead however I ditched the idea due to the crowds of people at Gyeonghwa. The queue to take a photo by the train consisted of roughly 50 people alone! People were milling here, there and everywhere over the tracks and around the food stalls that had been erected especially for the festival! Gyeonghwa was pretty but too busy for me.

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Just a handful of the people queuing to take a picture in front of the Korail carriage!

The following week at work, I showed my co-workers some of the snaps I had taken in Jinhae and the first question the majority of them asked me was: “was it very busy?”, to which I answered: “yes!” to a chorus of: “ahhh!”. One co-worker was then kind enough to suggest a more unique, less touristy cherry blossom viewing experience; a hike up Hwanglyeongsan (황령사) to witness awesome views before a descent down Busan’s very own Cherry Blossom Walkway. Ever since being in Korea, I had been keen to start exploring the numerous mountains dotted around the city so I jumped at the chance to get my first hike under my belt and made arrangements with a friend to accomplish Hwanglyeongsan the following Saturday.
The climb itself is pretty easy; the toughest part is the steep stretch on the residential streets before reaching the actual trails. All in all it took roughly two hours to reach the summit and that is including one brief toilet break and numerous extended photo op stops. The view at the top is quite simply exquisite; an expansive sight stretching from east to west, covering numerous Busan neighbourhoods, the sea in the distance, whilst also including various sky scrapers and bridges such as the Diamond Bridge/Gwangandaegyo (관간대교). My friend and I spent some time trying to decipher the different areas to no avail before just sitting and appreciating what lay before our eyes.

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The epic view from the top of Hwanglyeongsan!

To reach the Cherry Blossom Walkway, we had to descend Hwanglyeongsan in the opposite direction of our ascent; it was a 15 minute amble through some shrubbery and across some boulders with another spectacular view. The walkway itself is just an ordinary road that serves as a path for people and vehicles alike however during the first two weeks of April, much like Yeojwacheon stream, the road plays host to a bounty of cherry blossom trees lined up on either side, pink petals and almost black branches framing the concrete beautifully. Yet what made this unique compared to Yeojwacheon was the absence of other people. Sure, a few cars passed by, stopping now and then to snap a photo or two but there were no crowds, no buzz, no craziness; it was just me, my friend and Mother Nature doing her thing. We stayed on the walkway for well over an hour, venturing back and forth before finally watching the sun set through the branches whilst we made our way down the winding path.

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Sunset n blossoms!

Have you had the opportunity to view cherry blossoms in Asia? Share your experience down below in the comments! 🙂

 

 

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Film, Travel

Plane to Busan!

It has been a month and a day since I jumped on a plane in Manchester and moved half way across the world to Busan and what a blast I have had so far! After dreaming of living and working in South Korea for more than five years, I am SO happy to say I have not been disappointed once yet! Busan is everything I could have ever dreamt of and more; the sounds blasting around the streets, the sights of mountains in the near distance, the smells of barbecued meat and the narrow side streets that make me feel as though I have just stepped right in to the chase scenes from Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser… and that is just my local area, Seomyeon. Let’s delve in further and I will tell you all about the things I have enjoyed most thus far…

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Views for days!

THE FOOD

The love story between Emma and food is one for the ages and is perhaps greater than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the food in Busan has only made that love blossom and has taken it to a whole new level! Here’s my fave foods so far:

• Korean Fried Chicken is hella good; so far I have had it more times than I care to admit to myself but I’m just gunna say carpe diem and go with it! It has been worth it. It is suuuuuper crispy and so so tender! You can get some in a red sauce that is called Yangnyeom; it is spicy, it is sweet, it is sticky, it is delicious! I’ve had it with friends, a beer and a side of pickled radish and we were all the happiest we have ever been. I’m pretty sure I will be besties with the workers in my local Thunder Chicken in no time and I am more than okay with that!
• Korean BBQ: I left Manchester so certain no BBQ could match that of the one and only Abbers… I hate to say it but the barbecued food I have had out here so far registers at a close second place. Korean BBQ is so different from that which I’m used to. You grill the meat yourself in the centre of your table and it comes with lettuce leaves for you to wrap the juicy meat in with a lil bit of ssamjang! My co-workers recommended a restaurant called Maschandeul to me, the Dongnae branch, telling me they serve the best samgyeopsal (pork neck BBQ) in Busan so I headed there one Friday with my sister and daaaaaamn that place is amazing! I’ll definitely become a regular there enjoying their super succulent pork BBQ. I have also tried eel BBQ which again was so tasty but a little bit freaky considering the eel was extremely fresh and therefore their tails danced around a little when you initially threw them on the grill!
• Bungeoppang, little fish shaped pastries stuffed with red bean paste! I have to admit… I was a little sceptical about these before trying. I mean they are fish shaped and they are stuffed with something I have never tried before… but during my first week at my apartment I ventured over to the Korean grocery store close to my building and there was a little stand selling bungeoppang just opposite so I decided to give them a whirl. 2 lil fishy pastries for 1,000KRW which is hella cheap and my god, they are so damn good! Crunchy pastry, smooth, sweet filling: a warming snack on a chilly evening! Sadly my bungeoppang lady has disappeared off the face of the earth; either she has closed up shop or she has moved to a new location and I am a little devastated!

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Samgyeopsal heaven!

NORAEBANG

Or just Korean karaoke rooms…

Usually back home a chilled night out means either grabbing food at a local restaurant or enjoying a few cocktails in a NQ bar but a chilled night here in Busan equates to one thing: singing your heart out to Aerosmith in a room with mates and a few glasses of somaek (a mixture of beer and soju)! I cannot speak for those who have had to suffer my seriously awful singing voice but I have certainly enjoyed the times I have spent screaming “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” in to a microphone. Also “Mmmbop”, “YMCA” and “5,6,7,8” by Steps (which by the way should totally come with a warning stating you must be able to sing extremely fast before attempting this song – I was losing my breath). Noraebang is such a laugh! It brings me right back to childhood, the days I spent in my room with a karaoke machine singing “Barbie Girl” or something equally lame. I am 100% sure it will become the thing I do when I want to do something fun but not splurge a whole load of money on a crazy night out!

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With Leenz singing a song for our Patty Jo! ❤

VR GAMES

Or virtual reality games for those not yet in touch with the modern world…

My co-workers invited me out with them one evening to just chill and spend time together away from work. We went for some food first and then headed in to the heart of Seomyeon for some fun. We started off with some shooting practice: a toy gun you aim and fire at targets to earn points, and if you reach a certain amount of points, you get to choose a little cuddly keyring. I slayed the game and bagged myself a smiley poo emoji keyring! Side note: anyone who says the smiley poo isn’t the best emoji around is either lying to themselves or has some serious issues! After the shooting practice, we headed to VR Playce: an awesome little second floor centre with different rooms where you enter your virtual reality! We got more shooting in during the first game, killing goblins before they attack a fortress with a bow and arrow. We played this for about 45 minutes, killing three quarters of the time we had paid for before deciding to switch it up and go for something different. The next game we played involved an elevator taking you up to the top of a building where a plank awaits you with a cake at the end! This game is certainly not the one for those who have a fear of heights! Luckily I’m good in that department and I managed to tip-toe my way towards the cake, picking it up in one piece, staggering back a little before plummeting to the ground below! Super crazy game but a lot of fun! We finished off our time at VR Playce with a bit of skiing: I have never taken on some slopes in real life but I was a pretty good skier in my virtual reality!

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Nice lil pic of smiley bae as unfortunately I have none of my VR experience!

So as you can tell my first 29 days in Busan have been food and fun filled! I cannot wait to spend another year or so here getting to know the ins and outs of Korean life, food, modern culture, history and everything else! I’ll keep you all posted!

Have you ever been to Busan? Is there anything you have done or tried in South Korea that you can recommend? Let me know in the comments! 😊

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The heart of Seomyeon!

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Film, Travel

Emma Jones’s Diary

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to the capital city of my country, London! 36 hours of film location exploring, phenomenal food and a whole load of fun. I have been to London numerous times and always forget just how much I bloody love Britain’s capital city! Such a vibrant, unique, colourful city! I set off from Manchester Piccadilly with my mum on the 4th of Feb at 3:30pm; just over two hours later, we arrived at Euston train station, updated our Oyster cards and jumped on the tube to check in to the Hub by Premier Inn based near St. James Park in Westminster. Two nights at this budget hotel cost us £143 altogether; such a steal for such a central location in London town considering my previous trips have had me fork out over £150 for two nights in pub hotels in both Greenwich and Acton. The room was extremely comfortable; it had a bed, a tv, one chair and a good-sized wet room… what more do you need?! We dumped our bags and headed out for some scran. I had heard about a burger joint called Honest Burgers in Soho so we took a stroll down Horses Guard Road, crossed the Mall and headed for an epic burger dinner. While walking we passed Piccadilly Circus; an iconic location home to the big advertisement screens seen in numerous films, Bend it like Beckham and Bridget Jones’s Diary, to name a couple! The restaurant itself is pretty small, probably seats about 20-30 people at one time but if it is busy, they take your number and call you when your table is ready, instead of having you queue. Luckily for us it wasn’t all full up so we were seated immediately. My mum ordered the chicken burger, a nice healthy option in comparison to the other sandwiches on the menu. I went for the special; a beast of a burger called the Disco Bistro! A massive beef patty garnished with pink onions and a pineapple, bacon jam; the perfect tangy, sweet companion!

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The exterior of Honest Burgers – Soho!

We planned to visit the South Korean embassy (the main reason for our trip to London) to sort out my visa for my impending year-long trip to Busan so we knew we would have an early start the next morning, so after being fed and watered, we headed back to our hotel for a good nights kip. After doing what needed to be done visa-wise the next day, it was time to explore! We had a fulfilling brekkie at a lovely, little place called the English Rose cafe & tea shop located in Westminster, a short walk away from Victoria Station. The cafe had a wonderful atmosphere, quaint decor, including an artificially lit fireplace, hanging teapots on display and a cute, little dresser with the blue and white China plates I’m sure most people have encountered in either their own kitchen or the home of a friend, and the food was delicious and reasonably priced!

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The interior of the English Rose cafe & tea room!

We spent the early afternoon in Camden, first wandering through the clothes market on the high street, before heading over to Camden Lock. Now if you have ever visited Afflecks Palace in Manchester and appreciated its unique character then you will LOVE Camden Lock! This place is full of little stalls, independent traders selling one-of-a-kind pieces. I spent a long time marvelling over artwork by a guy called Jeff Michalik (www.killerbunny.co.uk); he does prints of iconic characters from various films. I ended up purchasing nine different prints for £20; I got six Disney princesses (#disneyobsessed), one of Jason Voorhees, one of the sorting hat from Harry Potter and last but not least, one of the insanely cute droid, BB8! I cannot wait to frame them all and have them on display in my Busan accommodation; they will provide awesome splashes of colour on what I imagine will be bare, white walls! We strolled through the market stalls, admiring the products on offer; jewellery, cushions, bags, scarfs and other pieces of artwork before stopping at the Camden Market Photo Booth and failing at getting some pictures. We finished off our time at Camden Lock with some dutch pancakes smothered in melted nutella and chopped strawberries with hot drinks, a chai latte for me and a hot choccy for mum – all of which came to a tenner!

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The very open minded entrance to Camden Lock!

We hopped back on the tube and headed over to the Embankment stop; it was time to walk along the River Thames and spot the locations used in Love Actually and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The first location we tracked down was the benches at Gabriel’s Wharf. This location was used in Love Actually; it played host to the scene where Daniel (Liam Neeson) sits with his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster) to give him some love advice in regards to his seemingly unrequited crush on Joanna. These two characters and the storyline they share have always been my favourite part of Love Actually; I love the innocence of Sam and his feelings for his classmate and Daniel comes across as the sweetest father figure! I actually sat on the exact same bench patiently awaiting the arrival of Liam in the hopes he would give me some good life advice! Needless to say, he never arrived but a girl can still dream! We walked along the south bank a little further and stumbled across the scene where Mark (Andrew Lincoln), embarrassed by the fact his love for his best mate’s wife has just been revealed in the most awkward way possible, walks whilst gliding his hand across the stone wall between walkway and water. Naturally I reenacted his exact movements to the bemusement of my mum.

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Where are you, Liam Neeson?!

Even further along the south bank is Millennium Bridge, which any half decent Potter nerd will know is the bridge the villainous, evil Death Eaters destroy whilst covered with unknowing Muggles making their way to work at the beginning of the sixth Harry Potter film! It’s unique metal and persplex design isn’t exactly hard to recognise. I took it as the perfect opportunity to whip out the sorting hat print by Jeff Michalik I had bought earlier and take a snap! The best thing about strolling around London in search of filming locations is that you can just happen across them; you do not need to part with money in order to appreciate the structures, sites and scenes you see emblazoned on the big screen. There are sooooo many other locations I would love to visit, free of charge, in London that have been used in various films. St. Lukes Mews in Notting Hill is also featured in Love Actually, Borough Market which is used in Bridget Jones’s Diary and loads others but sadly I just did not have enough time on this particular trip but I’m sure I’ll be able to tick them off next time I visit London!

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Millennium Bridge featuring Jeff Michalik’s sorting hat print!

After our filming location expedition, we headed over to Mod in Leicester Square for a bite to eat. Mod is an awesome pizza place! They have various pizzas on the menu to choose from which you can personalise or you can choose to make one from scratch. All pizzas, regardless of add-ons or how many toppings you decide to make your own, cost only £7.87! The bases are thin and crispy, proper Italian style and there are endless sauce and topping options to choose from. I went for a garlic rub base, mozzarella and asiago cheese, pepperoni and spicy sausage, black olives with both a balsamic fig glaze and a pesto drizzle! So damn tasty!! For dessert we went to Bubblewrap Waffle in China town and shared a light and soft waffle cone, drizzled with white chocolate sauce and chopped strawberries.

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My personalised pizza at Mod!

With full bellies, it was time for our evening activity, the Jack the Ripper walking tour provided by Discovery Tours & Events. We had booked our tickets for a tenner each in advance online and we had to meet our tour guide at exit 4 of Aldgate East tube station, an easy ten minute journey on the District Line from Embankment. We checked in with our tour guide, Angie, and headed out with a sizeable group of about 25 people, for our two hour long walk around Whitechapel and Spitalfields, learning about the grizzly, gruesome murders committed by the famous, unknown assailant, Jack the Ripper. I can’t speak for my mum but I found this tour immensely interesting and unforgivably creepy with Angie only adding to the eeriness by handing out various photographs of the Ripper’s victims whilst describing their grotesque murders by deepening her voice and hitting the wooden doors of buildings dotted around the neighbourhoods we were roaming. Furthermore the tour has made me want to watch the first series of Whitechapel for the millionth time; a three part series which unravels the mystery of Jack the Ripper with a copycat killer committing similar crimes in the same locations. For anyone who hasn’t seen this show, watch it! It is available on Netflix and spawned three additional series, the second of which focuses on the Kray twins.

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The location in Mitre Square where the body of the fourth Ripper victim, Catherine Eddowes, was found…

London is an epic city, it has something for everyone and I am sure as hell going to be visiting it more often when I return home after my time abroad! Is there any other filming locations you know of, that are free of charge, in the city of London? Are there any other walking tours you can recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

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Film, korea

Film of the month: The Chaser (2008)

Ahhhh January: a month of both bitterly cold weather and feelings after the joys of the festive season have come to an end. The time when everyone tries their very best to hold on to the near impossible resolutions they decided to make after swigging a glass (bottle) or two of prosecco on New Year’s Eve. It is time for me to come through on one of my resolutions: the new, monthly ‘Emma’s film of the month’ posts on ATWW8P! Considering it is the first post in this series and also considering January happens to host my birthday, I decided to go for one of my all-time favourites this month.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to The Chaser (2008)…

Na Hong-jin; I salute you.

The Chaser is a fast-paced, exhilarating, infuriating, somewhat humorous, extremely sad piece of filmmaking which will stay with you for a very long time.

Kim Yoon-seuk plays Jong-ho, a detective turned pimp, whose girls keep vanishing. Ha Jung-woo plays Young-min, the man responsible for their disappearances. The first ten minutes of the film are fairly slow, showing Jong-ho go about his day to day activities, sending his prostitutes off to clients, annoyed that two of his most expensive girls have gone missing, most likely sold off to another pimp. After ordering Mi-jin to go service a client, he notices this client is the man who requested the two missing girls. After this realisation, Jong-ho is determined to thwart the man who he believes is selling his girls, throwing a whole lot of punching and kicking action into the film. The initial chase between Jong-ho and Young-min pumped my body with so much adrenaline that I was eager to run along with them. The events leading up to this chase are equally thrilling, being so excruciating to watch yet so fantastically conveyed that I found it very difficult to turn away and deservedly grimace; a juxtaposition of Young-min carrying out his sadistic torture on Mi-jin whilst Jong-ho sits in his car a few streets away desperately dialling Mi-jin’s number to no avail. What happens then on is a multi-dimensional narrative going from a “shit thrower” hurling faeces at the mayer of Seoul, to an inefficient police force, to a quest to find Mi-jin before she is killed and to convict Young-min of twelve murders, of which he has confessed too, without providing the police with a smidgen of evidence.

 

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A screenshot of the most exhilarating chase scene!

 

Two things really struck me about The Chaser. The first was the ever prevailing battle between good and bad. The second was the symbolism of the rain.

A film would not be the same if it did not adhere to the standard protagonist versus antagonist narrative. However Na’s protagonist is not 100% good; Jong-ho is a man with flaws, so many that he turned in his police badge and became a pimp. Nevertheless in contrast Young-min is totally bad, he is the epitome of evil, illustrated through the lack of a solid motive, with only the possibility of impotency alluded to numerously but never confirmed. Sure, this can be frustrating but toss that aside and you are left with a deeply dark entity, completely unmoved by and not remorseful of the crimes he has committed. Put these two men together and Jong-ho’s wrongdoings seem minimal, forgivable and he is ultimately the good guy viewers crave as he puts everything he has into finding and saving Mi-jin.

 

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The merging of the protagonist and antagonist; a symbol of both the good and bad sides of the narrative evident in the poster!

 

The Chaser is crammed with despair and in my eyes, the rain symbolises this perfectly. It rains when Mi-jin’s seven year old daughter bawls after learning of her mother’s fate. It rains whilst Jong-ho stands in a blood stained room listening to a voicemail from Mi-jin crying and begging for release. It rains when the police find numerous bodies in Young-min’s front garden after initially dismissing the claim as false. It rains when Jong-ho walks towards the hospital seeing the mayor with a clean face questioning the lack of reporters there to inquire about his health, despite what has unfolded with the discovery of a serial killer. To me the rain is the perfect addition to an already emotional and tragic narrative; it highlights and reinforces the despair that all the characters, aside from Young-min, feel.

 

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Mi-jin awaiting her cruel fate…

 

Ultimately The Chaser is fantastic, especially considering it is Na Hong-jin’s debut. With the addition of The Yellow Sea (2010), it paves the way for a very promising future for those like myself who greatly admire this man and his masterpieces.

It is a definite must see.

Have you seen The Chaser? Or any of Na Hong-jin’s other creations? Are there any similar films you can think of that might interest me? Let me know in the comments!

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Film, Travel

Emma Gaudí Barcelona

So I turned 26 at the beginning of the year, and instead of ringing in my birthday with my close friends by partying in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I decided to book myself a mini trip to Europe. Barcelona was numero uno on my destination list; I had never been to Spain before whilst scores of people I know have told me how fantastic Barcelona is, with tonnes of beautiful landmarks to explore and various different eateries to try. In addition I was fully aware that the city and its sites had been used as locations for a couple of films on my to-watch list; Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the film adaptation of Bernd Eichinger’s novel about a young man obsessed with bottling the natural scent of a woman, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. So I booked a cheap flight with RyanAir, found some lodgings in the Mediterranean Youth Hostel for 20 euro a night and set out on my adventure at 4am on the 3rd of January!

DAY ONE

My first stop was the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau; a hospital designed by the Catalan modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner with the poor in mind. The front facing façade of the administration building, the part you see when walking up Avenue de Gaudí, has two outstretched wings, symbolic of an embrace, welcoming the sick and needy to a place of care and compassion. I purchased a ticket (under 10 euro), sorted an audio guide and took a stroll through the complex, in awe of the incredibly thoughtful architecture. The pavilions behind the administration building are so cleverly designed to look like a house from the front but stretch back further than you realise to accommodate more patients. Additionally each pavilion is a modernist creation, both internally and externally splashed with colour and interesting shapes; green window frames, yellow roof tiles following the curve of a dome, with mosaic art lining the walls and ceilings.

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One of the many wards of the hospital!

That evening I decided to go to an extremely popular seafood chain of restaurants, La Paradeta. The closest one to me was about a 20 minute walk away, and owing to its internet popularity, I thought I was being clever by setting off 40 minutes before it was due to open at 8pm. I arrived and there was already a queue of about 20-30 people waiting… so much for my plan! Nonetheless this restaurant is awesome! You walk in the doors and are greeted by a variety of seafood on display, freshly caught and cleaned, for you to choose from. I chose fried calamari and grilled cuttlefish, with a massive salad on the side, small bread rolls and mayonnaise. I also ordered a big pint of beer and a bottle of water just to wash it all down. The whole meal came to under 28 euro; a steal in my opinion considering the quality and freshness of the food!

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The seafood display that greets you at La Paradeta!

After gorging on seafood, I headed over to the Gothic Quarter to a little gin haven called Rubí that I had read about online. This bar has SO many unique flavoured gins; strawberry mint, liquorice, balsamic, chocolate. I settled on the lemongrass and Jamaican pepper gin and the bartender made me a G&T and a coconut mojito which only cost me 12 euro! Ridiculously cheap price for two double strength cocktails! Both were divine; the pepper in the G&T almost overpowered the dryness of the drink and gave it a nice kick while the mojito had just the perfect amount of coconutty flavour. I loved this bar! It was in a kind of off the grid location and with only myself, the bartender and a small group on the opposite side of the room, it wasn’t too busy and had a nice, chilled vibe.

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The artisan gins at Rubí!

DAY TWO

I decided to dedicate the second day of my trip to exploring the locations used in the two films I mentioned earlier. A very helpful guy on reception at the hostel told me about Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, a small town square used in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. This location is the place where Jean-Baptiste Grenouille commits his first murder. It comes across as creepy in the film; the scene portrays a young woman, pitting yellow plums whilst Grenouille and his sensational smelling power lurks behind her, sniffing her scent. He ends up killing her accidentally by covering her mouth to stifle her screams once she discovers him behind her. Certainly not very romantic but the square itself couldn’t be more opposite! I ventured to this quaint little site three times over the span of the day; in the afternoon it was host to the hustle and bustle of the city, various tourists and families milling about however in the evening, it was much more serene. A guy sat by the fountain strumming his guitar, singing a soft melody and couples wandered about hand in hand.

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Plaça de Sant Felip Neri

I spent the rest of the day marvelling at Antoni Gaudí’s famous works, two locations featured briefly in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; La Sagrada Família and Park Güell. Honestly the scenes where these landmarks appeared were the best moments in the film! The rest of it was rather dull and the characters were far too irritating. First I went to La Sagrada Família; a church so magnificent you have to see it to believe it. The external façades tell different stories; one shows the nativity, whilst the opposite side depicts the twelve stages of the cross, statues so intricately carved and detailed. My favourite has to be the statue of Jesus, shrouded in a cloak, with a complete look of despair and agony etched across his stone face. The interior is even more phenomenal; columns built up like trees in order to connect heaven and earth, beautiful stained glass windows, cooler tones on the east where the sun rises and warmer tones on the west where it sets and icon crests adorning four columns to represent the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you ever visit La Sagrada Família, I recommend purchasing the 25 euro audio tour ticket; it is interesting to walk around the basilica and learn about why Gaudí designed it the way he did. I cannot wait to return there upon its estimated completion in 2026!

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The tree-like columns inLa Sagrada Família!

After a quick, delicious bite of hummus with fried lamb, fetteh al-makdous and pitta bread in Reem Al Bawadi, an Arabic restaurant, I hopped on the bus to Park Güell. This park is lovely if you want to escape the business of the city to just enjoy a cool, quiet stroll but the main attraction is undoubtedly the monumental zone; Gaudí’s colourful mosaic balcony that provides you with a fantastic view of the two pavilions at the park’s entrance, the city of Barcelona itself and the Mediterranean sea in the distance. Such an epic experience just to sit on the smooth, tiled terrace and enjoy the scenery! Park Güell and Gaudí’s modernist architecture are a must-see if you ever go to Barcelona! I must say though that it would definitely be worth booking in advance for both La Sagrada Família and Park Güell as they both host an extraordinary number of visitors daily and you wouldn’t want to be disappointed if you don’t get the chance to see either!

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The monumental view at Park Güell!

In the evening, I wandered back over to the Gothic Quarter and visited a little tapas bar called La Alcoba Azul recommended by my cousin. This restaurant is quite small and gets extremely busy! However the staff were lovely; they gave me a complimentary tomato tuna dish served on toasted bread as an appetiser for the potato tapas and the melted cheese served with lashings of blueberry jam and bread that I ordered. I cannot say I am an expert on tapas but I will admit this restaurant’s food was to die for; the portion sizes were good, the flavours were uniquely delicious and the price of the food (about 15 euro) was extremely decent!

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Tapas at La Alcoba Azul!

DAY THREE

I spent my third full day of my trip away from the city, taking a train to Montserrat; a lovely little village with a monastery based on the side of a mountain. Sounds daunting having to travel away from the city alone but it could not be easier to get to Montserrat! I made my way from the hostel towards Plaça Espanya to catch the R5 train heading to Manresa. Make sure you look for the orange R5 sign in the square for the right entrance underground to the trains; don’t be fooled in to thinking you can take any of the stairways marked with a red M down! The return train ticket cost me roughly 20 euro and it included a return cable car trip up the mountain to the village. I jumped on the 10:36am train and about an hour later, I was in a cable car, gliding my way up to heaven on earth. Nothing compares to the experience of walking out of that little yellow cab and seeing the landscape that surrounds Montserrat in all its glory! That view cannot be beaten and the tranquillity of Montserrat as a whole only improves its quality!

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Mother Earth

I wandered around Montserrat for about four or five hours in total before heading back to the R5 train bound for Barcelona to pack and prepare myself for the journey home. That evening I decided to stay local to the hostel, walking the short distance to the Arc de Triomf, snapping a few photos and FaceTiming my mum there. I’d say the arch is a definite tourist hotspot! Crowds of people surround it so I would take extra caution when there; guard your possessions and do not let anything out of your sight at any point. I was told numerous times, by various different people, to take extra care of my bag out and about in Barcelona but I did feel particularly vulnerable at the arch. Luckily for me there was a burger joint called La Foga nearby so after admiring the arch for about half an hour or so, I went for a massive delicious burger, held together by a breadstick with loaded nachos on the side! The perfect meal to wrap up such an epic adventure!

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Burger porn at La Foga!

Have you ever been to Barcelona? Is there somewhere I didn’t visit that I should have done? Let me know in the comments!

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Film, korea

Why I LOVE the Asian film industries!

Films are brilliant; they provide each and every one of us with the chance to escape the ordinary and live vicariously through the lives of characters plastered across a giant screen. We get to enjoy numerous films daily which showcase different scenarios for us to not only observe but also imagine ourselves in. On Monday we can be a Marvel superhero saving New York City from a villainous Alien force. On Tuesday we can choose to be one half of the perfect couple; both of whom are extremely attractive, have successful careers, beautiful abodes, etcetera. On Wednesday we can be the lovable, animal sidekick of a Disney princess, setting out on an amazing adventure either on land or across the open sea. On and on our week goes until we get to the weekend and decide to watch a horror film and spend the night tossing and turning, all too afraid of being visited by a creepy, long-haired ghost girl or a demon disguised as a nun. The Western industries, primarily Hollywood, produce and develop films with extreme escapism in mind; they want people to believe in the characters they create. They want us to admire their backgrounds, their stories, their ambitions in the hope that we too will experience something similar. I grew up watching and revelling in the productions of the Western industries, unaware of the growing competition on the other side of the world.

CHINA

I first stumbled across the Chinese film industry while studying my bachelors at university; there was a transnational media module which introduced me to early 2000 wuxia dramas, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. These three films, in addition to many more, are quite simply stunning. The cinematography, the costumes, the martial artistry; everything is visually beautiful. Kudos to the American studios, Sony Pictures Classics and Miramax Pictures, who distributed them for bringing such incredible cinema to Western audiences but massive congratulations to the Chinese film industry for creating something so beautiful in the first place!

House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers – just look at that symmetry!

JAPAN

I could not write about the Asian film industries without mentioning the anime genre, a style the Japanese industry naturally excels in. From the world-renowned sci-fi hit Akira to the more recently released Your Name, Japanese anime films are one of a kind. The animation is next level; it is sublime. I was in awe watching Your Name, excited to see the next beautifully drawn landscape, mesmerised by the comet breaking in the sky, elegantly falling towards the doomed Itomori. Even if the story doesn’t compel you, it is impossible to deny the impressive quality of the animation that brings it to life.

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Your Name – absolutely stunning animation!

SOUTH KOREA

But now on to the reason for this post… the Korean film industry!

My cousin first told me about Oldboy back in 2012 after a brief discussion about how much we both admire the Asian films we had seen so far. He recommended Park Chan-wook’s revenge thriller to me and heralded it as ‘one of the greatest films he has ever seen’. So I decided to have a film night at uni and watched it with a few friends and it certainly did not disappoint. The story is so unique, so original and the performances of the cast complement it perfectly; you can taste Lee Woo-jin’s bittersweet desire for unyielding revenge throughout the entire 120 minute running time and can resonate with Oh Dae-su’s misery and denial in the closing few minutes, watching his face crumple as the ultimate realisation dawns. The superiority of Oldboy as a revenge thriller in comparison to other films within the same genre encouraged me to branch out and explore the Korean industry further. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, Chaser, I Saw the Devil, Memories of Murder, The Yellow Sea and so many other magnificent Korean thrillers have been added to my watched list and none have failed me thus far.

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Park Chan-wook’s fantastic Vengeance Trilogy!

So what is it that I love so much about the Korean film industry? Remember earlier when I said the Western industries provide their audiences with extreme escapism? The Asian industries, specifically Korean films, play host to extreme realism. Sure the storylines are out there; they are incestuous, gruesome and sometimes downright crazy but they inform the viewers that everything doesn’t always work out in the protagonists favour. Korean revenge thrillers are determined to tell their viewers a fantastic story whilst maintaining a fairly realistic element. The guy doesn’t always get the girl, the bad character doesn’t always get their well-deserved comeuppance and everyone doesn’t always live happily ever after. Kim Soo-hyun, the protagonist in I Saw the Devil, particularly comes to mind here because even after completing his revenge mission against Jang Kyung-chul, the man who kidnapped and murdered his pregnant fiancé, he still does not feel complete; he walks away from his final act eventually breaking down in to a flurry of tears, the realisation that he has become a monster whilst in pursuit of another monster hitting him, as the rain pounds down around him.

I Saw the Devil

If you do not feel this man’s pain then you do not have a heart…

Other Asian industries also practice extreme realism. For example, Infernal Affairs, a film which came out of Hong Kong in 2002, tells a double-sided cat and mouse tale; a police officer, Chan Wing Yan, working undercover to infiltrate a triad whilst a second officer, Lau Kin Ming, masks his real identity as a member of the same gang. Sound familiar? Hollywood remade Infernal Affairs with Martin Scorsese at the helm; The Departed was released in 2006 with a star studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Vera Farmiga and Mark Whalberg amongst others. The difference between the original and the remake however perfectly illustrates the difference between extreme realism and extreme escapism. Both good cops, Chan Wing Yan and Billy Costigan, die unexpectedly during the climaxes, however Lau Kin Ming and Colin Sullivan suffer different fates. Infernal Affairs has Lau ultimately get away with all of the bad deeds he has committed whereas The Departed shows Sullivan being shot and killed by another cop, Sean Dignam; a character who does not have a counterpart in the original. Dignam was added to The Departed to give the audiences what they want, he provided the necessary resolution for the narrative by killing the bad guy.

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Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed

Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love The Departed, it is a great film and I cheer along with others when Sullivan gets what is coming to him! But sometimes Western remakes can be a real flop; Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of Oldboy, was in my opinion, terrible. I did not connect well with the characters and I felt there was really no need to take an already messed up storyline to the next level. You’d understand what I mean if you have seen both the original and the remake – I don’t want to delve too far in to what happens due to the fear of ruining the surprise for those who haven’t yet seen either. Ultimately some remakes work, some do not; I cannot deny my mixed feelings when I read Your Name is to be remade by Paramount Pictures and J.J. Abrams. I just hope they do the story justice and can produce such epic animation like the original!

What do you think about the Asian film industries? Do you prefer Western escapism or revel in the realism of Eastern productions? Let me know your thoughts and any other films you think I may be interested in watching down in the comments!

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