korea, places, Travel

Discovering Ulsan!

Ulsan, the seventh-largest metropolitan city in Korea, lying along the Eastern Coast, neighbouring Busan, prides itself on being the country’s industrial powerhouse, home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant and the world’s largest shipyard, both operated by Hyundai as well as the world’s third largest oil refinery, owned by SK Energy.

The facts speak for themselves, painting a picture of Ulsan as an industrious, busy city. However, while that may be extremely true, a recent trip to the coastal city provided me with a different outlook; a city which houses some of nature’s finest work, both of which are free to visit and relatively accessible.

Taehwa River Regional Garden

At a language exchange meetup in Seoul last year, an Ulsanite implored me to visit his hometown making the Ulsan bamboo forest his main selling point. Having never seen bamboo and having always wanted to travel to Japan specifically to wander through a plethora of shoots, the Seoul Ulsanite didn’t need to be super persuasive, I was already sold on the idea and made the bamboo groves in the Taehwa river park my first Ulsan agenda.

Observe my many pictures! My friends and I hung about amongst the shoots for a loooooong time, first wheeling our way through them on the seats of two seater, four wheeler bikes (only 2,000won each for an hour’s jaunt) before heading back once again on foot, snapping a variety of pictures, using a load of filters before realizing the natural look was the best approach.

I loved the variety of colours on display; some shoots were a vivid green, others muddier and there were a few baby ones that were only just transitioning to the traditional green from a golden yellow.

The park has other treasures to enjoy: stepping stones crossing streams, picturesque little corners with European vibes to appreciate, benches made from bamboo to relax on and my ultimate favourite; Ulsan’s very own shout out to the homeland in the guise of a British telephone box!

Daewangam Park

What better way to visualise nature doing its thing than to see waves crashing against jagged rocks? Two of the earth’s elements locked in an eternal battle, or maybe relationship, both magnificent alone and singular but even better combined together.

대왕암 or Daewangam, literally translates to the Great King’s Rock; a vast number of weathered rocks carved by nature and standing 50 or so metres away from the mainland within the vastness of the sea. The rocks are accessible by means of a steel bridge, adorned with LED strip lights, that once illuminated at night time make for an epic sight.

The rocks aren’t the only thing to see at Daewangam; approaching the Great King itself is a 1.1-kilometre-long walk amongst a variety of trees, pine, cherry, camellia, magnolia as well as others included, and right at the start of the walk is a u shape, decked out with a variety of cafes and eateries for visitors to enjoy before or after seeing the park’s namesake.

Additionally, just after the u shape and before the walk to the rocks, to the left and up ahead, is a hiking trail. Take your time doing this, especially when the sun is down from the sky, for it goes up and down and round and round, sometimes over smaller craggy rocks reminiscent of the Great King down by the coast. It makes for an easy hike though, one reminiscent of the Igidae coastal walk in Busan, ultimately leading out on to Ilsan beach.IMG_3091

Honourable mentions:

Bite Me Pizza:

Right on the Ilsan strip, located on a second level, with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the sea, is the Bite Me pizza parlour. Visiting both parks in one day, in a city where buses operate as the only public transport, left us all with growling bellies! The idea of a big old pizza to stuff myself with was far too tempting!

I ordered my classic, pepperoni pizza! The crust was nice and thin, for all who know me well know I despise a thick, bready dough base. The pepperoni was typically spiced, the tomato base rich and not chunky, all topped off with some herby basil – a pretty stellar pizza in my opinion!

One of my friends opted for a Korean twist to their pizza, ordering the Bulgogi one which was superbly fresh tasting, owning to the topping of cherry tomatoes and mixed salad leaves. My other friend went for some spice, selecting the pizza with the chilli pepper warning to the side, and my third friend opted for a pasta dish, a creamy yet tomatoey plate full of flavour!

Bite Me pizza was a well-deserved treat for us all! We devoured our food, paid the relatively cheap bill and headed down to the beach for a little chill before heading to our home for the night to catch some ZzZzZz.

Baeho Hanmaru Apartment:

Lodgings for the evening and what a pleasant place to rest your head! The owner/manager, although speaking limited English, is wonderful and so, so helpful, going above and beyond to accommodate my friends and myself in every which way possible!

The property itself is easily located, a ten-minute walk from the Ilsan beach strip. There is a communal kitchen for guests to use, water and coffee available on tap and each room is well secured with an electronic door lock and well stocked; shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hairdryer, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels to boot. It was a very comfortable night’s sleep after a busy, walk-filled day and at a charge of only 17,000won per person, I cannot recommend Baepo Hanmaru more!

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busan, korea, places, Travel

The many wonders of 삼락생태공원 | Samnak Ecological Park! 🚴🏻‍♀️💨

The great thing about living in Busan is there always being a mountain to climb, a beach strip to walk along or a park to cycle around. A favourite place of mine is Samnak Ecological Park; located in Sasang-gu, you can reach the largest park along the Nak-donggang River by either jumping on line 2 of the subway where you depart at Sasang station exit 3 and walk for 10 minutes or by taking one of the many number of buses that drop you off right outside the park entrance.

The park itself is extremely large; it spans 5 kilometres/3.11 miles of the Nak-donggang River, has built in sports facilities for badminton, baseball, basketball, football and tennis, a convenience store where you can buy a snack and a drink, an extra large swing for both adults and children to enjoy, a bike rental station, various pathways just to take in the scenes of nature as well as secluded, peaceful areas to just sit and chill or even enjoy a picnic, some enclosed under wooden structures, others just open and free to all on the larger grassy patches or land.

It also plays hosts to a variety of flowers throughout the year, displaying each season’s finest foliage. In spring the cherry blossoms make their long-awaited appearance, summer brings with it lotuses and sunflowers, cosmos come when the leaves begin to fall during autumn and lastly winter is not as bare as one would expect, as Samnak displays a large number of reeds, which some may deem bland in comparison to the previously stated flowers, but are still a pretty sight swaying in the wind.

My first visit to Samnak was at the start of summer last year. I got to see the lotus flowers in full bloom! They were stunning! Exotic pink petals splashed across thick green leaves, swaying in a gentle breeze that pushed them ever so softly across they water they called their home. What made the viewing even more remarkable was the lack of crowds; every single flower festival I have thus far attended in Korea has been absolutely heaving, full to the brim with people making the experience that much less enjoyable. Therefore, I found the lotuses all the more charming given I did not have to crane my neck around copious heads.

My most recent trip to Samnak was just over a week ago. The chill around the city has started to lift, spring is indeed on its way and I saw a sunny and surprisingly warm day as the perfect opportunity to head over to Sasang and take in as much of the spacious grounds as possible. As previously stated, the park has a bike rental station available, which is located just to the right-hand side of the main entrance. There are singles, tandems and even sheltered, two-seater, quadricycles. A quick handover of my identification and 3,000 won and I was on my way, cycling around the park for one hour, getting joyously lost amongst the last of winter’s golden reeds that blew ever so elegantly in the wind.

Every time I visit Samnak, the flat openness of the area never fails to surprise me; in fact, I like to view it as potentially the flattest and most open piece of land within the heart of Busan. Whilst I was cycling, weaving my way through the multitude of paths, I could look in any direction and see the park land stretch ahead of me, dotted here and there with trees, with a backdrop of the mountains in the distance. Never once did I feel I had reached an end point or the boundary line. It is such a freeing feeling really; to just continuously move forward, onwards and onwards without the sense of overstepping a limit.

Furthermore the spaciousness is such a contrast to my local neighbourhood of Seomyeon, where the roads are so narrow and long, with buildings piled on top of one another and swarms of people about their day, clogging the non-existent pavements. Ultimately, time spent in Samnak is a welcome escape from the hectic normalities of every day city life and I implore all residents of and visitors to Busan plan to spend some time there for Samnak has something for everyone after all!

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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

The First Day80164aecab47d14a0b13eb190df14237
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

Tender & Witch33443be54313e948488cf070567e6df2
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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food, korea

My first Korean dinner experience!

A week ago I went out for dinner with around 10 other people; I was the only foreigner amongst many South Korean nationals and ordinarily I would find such a situation rather daunting however I had a blast! We headed to a restaurant called Dragon Dream for a seafood extravaganza first; unfortunately I have no idea what the best mode of public transport is to this restaurant as I was driven there in a car however I do know it is super close to the Seomyeon area and therefore you should be able to walk if you live or are staying close to either Seomyeon or Jeonpo subway stations. Anyway back to my experience… Dragon Dream is a restaurant that specialises in seafood and it is built within the walls of a cave. A literal cave. Carved within the walls of a mountain, it used to serve as a World War II Japanese bomb shelter during Japan’s colonisation of Korea. The salty scent of water hits you as soon as you walk through its doors, the place is lit up through the use of strategically placed fairy lights and take heed to mind the floor; although it has a covering, water still seeps through so do not make the same mistake I did and dump your cotton bag on the floor whilst eating to only then discover it sodden wet through!

 

The best picture of the restaurant’s cave interior I could get!

 

The servers at Dragon Dream laid out the side dishes first; I tried caviar (not bad!) and also a dried jujube (similar texture and taste to a date in my opinion) for the first time as well as digging in to the expected side dishes of pickled veggies and seaweed. The group ordered three massive plates of seafood (including fish, mussels, crab, prawns, octopus) mixed with bean sprouts, other veggies and a whole load of a typically Korean yummy and spicy red sauce. It was delicious! We washed it down with copious amounts of alcohol; soju and beer mixed together to make somaek! I actually learnt a new Korean custom (or courtesy) during this meal: as a sign of respect you should not drink before the oldest person at the table has. Unfortunately, me being me and therefore at times a raging alcoholic, I took a sip of my somaek without knowing this information! ☹ But I was assured that it was fine considering I was foreign and therefore didn’t know this unwritten rule beforehand. Needless to say, I will definitely not be making the same mistake again! Once we had devoured the majority of the food on the plates, noodles were brought out and added to the remaining sauce and veggies. It was all mixed together and we dug in once more! I also knocked back one, two or three glasses of soju which was a great accompaniment!

 

Fewd, glorious fewd!

 

After our meal at Dragon Dream, we walked out in to the mild evening air. I thought perhaps it was home time or maybe a few of us would head to a coffee shop for a drink however I was so wrong. Another Korean custom I learnt that night… it is perfectly normal to go to a different restaurant for a second round of food and alcohol! Apparently some groups even head to a third restaurant for a final round! So off we went, around the corner to a savoury pancake place. 범일빈대퍽 (roughly translated to Beomilbindaepeog) specialises in Korean pancakes; a type of food wholly different from the pancakes I am so used to tucking in to on pancake day back home. Korean pancakes are savoury; they are made using various different vegetables and a batter mainly consisting of flour and water (and maybe other ingredients dependent on which veggies you use) and you fry them until they are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Before that evening, I had tried kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) in Manchester and a few weeks earlier had eaten pajeon (spring onion pancake – food to be eaten on a rainy day!) and both were extremely tasty. But this place was next level; the pajeon came with seafood and we each had a tiny little bowl of soy sauce to dip the pancake in for added flavour. We all added a little dash of vinegar and a sprinkle of chilli powder to our soy sauce just to enhance it that little bit more.

 

Jeonnies

 

We had makgeolli with our jeons; the oldest Korean alcoholic beverage, makgeolli is a milky, creamy off-white, sparkling rice wine which when mixed with cider (or Sprite/7-Up to other Westerners) is a treat! I was pre-warned by the group that makgeolli has the potential to gift you a bad hangover in the morning but I could not get enough of the stuff! I was overjoyed every time I saw my bowl being refilled, brimming to the very top with that sweet, bubbly mixture of rice wine and cider! Another thing to mention here; the more someone fills your glass, the more they like you! Also if you ever visit Korea and dine out with Koreans, do make sure you serve their drinks for them. This is another polite courtesy and illustrates your respect for the people you are with.

 

Ma makgeolli! ❤

 

With a super full tummy and a merrier-than-normal mood, I left the pancake restaurant with the group; most people headed home by walking to the nearest subway station however myself and a few others decided to head to Starbucks for a late-night coffee before turning in. Given the time of year and the emergence of the season of spring, there has currently been a heavy emphasis on the cherry blossom theme here in South Korea, with coffee being no exception. Starbucks has an assortment of cherry blossom inspired beverages including a cherry blossom Frappuccino and a cherry blossom latte. I went for the Frap; it was pink and brown, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of sweet, cherry flavoured candies! Super cute, super sweet and super appropriate given the time of year!

 

Cherry blossom inspired drinks at Starbucks!

 

So, there you have a break down of my very first ever true Korean dining experience… the shorter version: food, food and more food! I can’t wait to enjoy a couple more evenings out like this during my time in Busan!

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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, 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.

Your Name

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.

vengeance trilogy

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.

infernal-affairs-departed

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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