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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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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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, 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!

samgyeopsal

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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