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Korean Films Making a Splash at Cannes

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on May 16, 2016

Cannes Film Festival is one of the most exciting film events in the year.  I had the pleasure of being able to go to Cannes in the past, and the atmosphere and environment is full of excitement.  

What I love about Cannes is that the film selection is really innovative, films that push the boundaries in some way and make you think.  

Korean Dramas have a huge fan-following worldwide.  Korea actually has a long history of producing films, starting with silent films in the 20s until the action-packed crowd-pleasers that we see today.  When you look at Korean cinema and television dramas today, they have some of the highest quality productions, from the cameras they use to the quality of the acting to the post-production and special effects. 

While Korean Dramas on TV have to adhere to a strict rating system that limits their expression, films don't have the same boundaries.  As such, you can see movies that push the line shockingly far.  

This year's top Korean selection, The Handmaiden, is competing for the top spot at Cannes.  You can check out the trailer here:

The Handmaiden

It's based on British writer Sarah Waters' erotic crime novel Fingersmith.  It's directed by Park Chan-wook, who has an impressive award-winning record with his previous films Oldboy and Thirst. Spike Lee actually liked Oldboy so much that he remade it in English for an American audience (although the remake didn't do nearly as well as the original).  His films are all really dark, so be prepared before you watch them!

The Handmaiden takes place in 1930s Korea, a stunning backdrop during an interesting time when Korea was occupied by the Japanese.  When a girl is hired as a handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese woman, she plots with a man to steal from the woman and ultimately plans to send her to a mental institution.  The plan is derailed when the handmaiden seduces the wealthy woman, and their feelings get in the way of the plan.  I can't wait to watch this psychological thriller!

It's also worth noting that this is a rare Korean film for displaying on-screen homosexuality in the case of the lesbian couple.  Although you can find some Korean films that feature LGBT relationships, it's rare to find this on TV in Korea.  It's worth mentioning that one of my favourite Korean films (and the breakout film of my favourite actor Lee Joon Gi) featured a relationship between a trans woman and a man.  Check it out here!

Other noted selections from Korean directors at Cannes this year were Na Hong-jin with his film Yellow Sea.  This film is a crime thriller about a cab driver from Yanji, an area between North Korea, China, and Russia.  This man is in debt, and after his wife goes to South Korea to earn some money he ends up not hearing from her for a full 6 months.  When someone comes along and offers him an out, he is tempted to take it - even though the price is that he has to assassinate someone.

Yellow Sea

The last Korean entry at Cannes this year is Train to Busan, by director Yeon Sang-ho.  He's better known for his animated films, but made the foray into live-action with this piece.  The movie is about a zombie breakout that happens right as the main character is boarding a train.  It's an action-packed survival thriller movie.

Train to Busan

I am so thrilled to sea Korean movies getting so much international attention - they definitely deserve it.  

I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More