Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Korea Chooses Mother for the Oscars

Last year the hit Swedish vampire picture Let the Right One In was passed over for Oscar submission in favor of the historical drama Everlasting Moments (which was nearly nominated last year). This year another vampiric import meets the same fate. Thirst, currently on US screens, was passed over in favor of Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed drama Mother. The Hollywood Reporter claims that six films were considered but only names three, the third being the hit documentary Old Partner about a man and his beloved ox. But back to Thirst. It's probably a wise snub on Korea's part. AMPAS has just never loved the blood suckers. The gold man might as well be carrying a stake instead of a sword.


This is not to say that Mother isn't a deserving choice. It's the story of a woman out to prove her son's innocence in a local murder. Word is that it's a very good picture. Trivia note! This is Bong Joon-ho's first Oscar submission. He's best known for the hit monster movie The Host which will be needlessly remade for America -- it's hardly inaccessible as is!

Foreign films make up a teensy sliver of US box office and their market share seems to be sadly shrinking. In other countries, the box office pie is divided up mostly between Hollywood pictures and homegrown efforts.


Glancing at the charts from Korean Cinema Today -- I've just added the flags to the chart for ease of categorization -- you can see that they're actually flocking to their own films. China is the only other country (besides the US) to figure in with the star-heavy Red Cliff 2. It's kind of odd to see the much maligned Terminator Salvation at the tippity top of any box office hits chart but there it is in print.

While Korean films have often won praise on the festival circuit and found fans in arthouses, they've yet to be nominated for an Oscar. Here are their most recent submissions (links to Netflix for the available titles):
  • 2008 Crossing Over by Tae-Gyun Kim
  • 2007 Secret Sunshine by Chang Dong Lee. This film won Do-yeon Jeon Best Actress at Cannes. The jury made a fine choice. She's sensational in the picture, giving a rangey nuanced, furious and tearjerking performance.
  • 2006 The King and the Clown by Jun ik-Lee. You can't rent this gayish period epic for some reason but you can watch it online
  • 2005 Welcome to Dongmakol by Kwang-Hyun Park
  • 2004 Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War by Kang Je-Gyu
  • 2003 Spring, Summer, Fall Winter... and Spring (pictured left) by Kim Ki-Duk . I'm still sad that Oscar passed over this profoundly moving elegantly structured picture.
  • 2002 Oasis by Lee Chang-Dong

24 comments:

Jane said...

Historical dramas, espionage thrillers, horror (like the Japs), gang dramas, romantic weepies. These genres generally have a lot of pull at the Box office over there.

Koreans have (for the most part) always flocked to their own films.

I remember seeing Chicken Run at a cinema in Seoul. I was the only one laughing, everyone else was too busy reading the subtitles.

J.D. said...

Is Secret Sunshine EVER being released in the U.S. or what?

Elisabeth said...

Let the Right One In came out in October in Sweden last year - I thought it was a case of being ineligible, since the rules run from Sept/Sept? Am I wrong?

Which would make it eligible to be Sweden's nominee for this year, right?

Ryan said...

Does the Academy make a distinction between North and South Korea here, or is this just "Korea"'s choice? The article says Seoul on it, so I'm guessing that North Korea had nothing to do with this selection. Has North Korea ever had an entry in best foreign language film? How have they done this in the past?

adelutza said...

I recently saw a very funny korean film, Daytime Drinking. I don't remember when was the last time when I saw three good films from Korea, they had a very good year.

NATHANIEL R said...

Elisabeth I'm not sure about the dates for Let the Right One in in Sweden but either way it's ineligible at this year's Oscars since it played in a regular engagement during the calendar year in 2008 in Los Angeles.

JA said...

Thirst is way too batty for the Academy anyway so Korea made a good choice (I haven't seen Mother yet but it seems far more typical a pick).

Wallace McKelvey said...

The word "masterpiece" gets tossed around too much, but I think it fits Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, a suspenseful and frank police procedural with a healthy dose of sarcastic comedy that manages to survive translation. The Host suffered greatly in comparison. Nevertheless, I'm absolutely looking forward to Mother, which sounds like it's closer to the former in tone.

Glenn Dunks said...

I sorta hated The Host, but Mother looks quite good.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Just caught Mother at the Melbourne Film Festival - it's sort of a vague awkwardly slapstick-y small town murder story that slowly develops into a gorgeously wrought melodrama. While not quite as brilliant as The Host, it's both very moving and thought-provoking.

Based on the mixed Cannes reviews I skimmed, I decided to skip Thirst. I'll probably randomly catch it on cable in a couple years. I doubt I'll prefer it to Mother.

Anonymous said...

Saw it 3 times and loved it. Great character drama indeed. But I think there'll be a lot of difficulties to understand for foreigners. It's like, Park's Lady Vengeance.

JaneNot really.. Actually, I don't get every single word you said. You must know nothing about Korean cinema. Historical dramas, espionage thrillers, gang dramas and horror movie? They're the most unpopular genres in Korea. Talking about Chicken Run flick, they probably weren't laughing because it's not funny AT ALL.

Ryan "Korea" indicates South Korea here. They're different countries. I don't even know North Korea people make movies?

- Melisa.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I didn't like Thirst so this is good news.

- Melisa.

Anonymous said...

But then again, we can see Song Kang-ho's penis so I'll say Thirst is not horrible.

- Melisa.

UncleVanya said...

"The word "masterpiece" gets tossed around too much, but I think it fits Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, a suspenseful and frank police procedural with a healthy dose of sarcastic comedy that manages to survive translation."

I agree Wallace. And his first film, "Barking Dogs Never Bite", is also very good.

Personally, I find it a little disgusting that none of Chan-wook Park's films have, thus far, been recogized. I have yet to see "Thirst", but his films, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (now that's a masterpiece), and "Oldboy" could easily trounce most of the treacle that AMPAS deems oscar-worthy. Unfortunately, the voting-block for this catergory seems to be made up of geriatrics with one foot in the grave and the other on their great-great-grandchild's skateboard. Hence, my vote for the worst Foreign language film to win, ever, was last years', "Departures". I couldn't decide what was the most obnoxius: it's "three stooges" style of acting, the endless saccharine and sentimentality, the plagiarized, oft repeated music, or the screenplay that felt like a 1970's sitcom, where everything is tied up into a nice little bow. In the end, I was envious of the corpses for not having to witness this drivel. Kurosawa, Ozu, Naruse, Suzuki, Ichikawa and other great Japanese directors must be giggling in their graves.

Stella said...

OH. MY. GOD. Three days ago I was thinking about war movies, and the best war movie I had ever seen in my life - not Saving Private Ryan or The Battle of Algiers, but a Korean war film that I'd randomly walked in on. It absolutely killed me that I didn't even know the title, so I gave up after Googling for awhile. While clicking on these links, I - yep - found it. Thank you Nathaniel for unintentionally making my day (or rather, night).

Anonymous said...

Stella Do you mind if I'm asking what the title is?

NATHANIEL R said...

anon -- i think Stella is talking about TAE GUK GI BROTHERHOOD OF WAR. It played very very briefly in NYC. I think for just one week and I missed it. but I guess Stella is heartily recommending.

Anonymous said...

Departures, while far from innovative, was not a bad choice. At least it felt distinctly Japanese, which is more than one can say of generically-made films that look and feel like they could have been made in America, just made in another language. Just from this past decade alone, I'd say it tops Nowhere in Africa, Tsotsi, and the Counterfieters.

Adam

ZiZo said...

Didn you Nathaniel a while ago talked about "A Frozen Flower"? I think it was kinda a Brokeback Mountain + Curse of the golden flower... a la Korean.

Ryan said...

Thanks. I know that they're different countries. I was just curious if North Korea and South Korea submitted different entries for the Oscars. But I guess it would make sense that North Korea doesn't, and Korea means South Korea in this case. I wouldn't have asked if it just said South Korea submitted "Mother" in the article.

Elisabeth said...

Hmmm, not to get too sticky about the foreign film things, but I don't think it needs a domestic US release to be nominated. After all, we haven't seen last year's nominee the Bader Meinhof Complex yet...I thought the rules were country X picks from their releases from sept to sept...

Which is good! Cuz' I think it means Let the Right One In is eligible this year. (hopin! ever-optimistic!)

UncleVanya said...

Unfortuantely, I cannot agree with you, Adam, in regards to "Depatures". In fact, you just made it clearer for me why I disliked the film so much. It didn't feel Japanese at all, but more like an American high-concept melodrama, with all the cliches, hallmarks, and mind-numbingly insipid pretext intact. I'm sure that is why Japan submitted it in the first place (and why so many flat-footed and inane--not to mention irrelevant--- films are being submitted). Japan was right. And thus, got their first ever Oscar for Foreign film, a pyrrhic victory because I believe it fortells things to come for future foreign nominees. Comparisons to "Tsotsi" and "Nowhere in Africa" are out of my pay-range to debate here (if I was being paid I would defend them). But you are right about "The Counterfieters". In fact, until the "Depatures" win, I thought that that film was the worst ever to be honored, ever. But the old trolls in the academy seem to be on a roll.

Styx said...

I didn't like "Tsotsi" too much (thought that "Paradise Now" should have won instead from what I've seen -- haven't seen "Sophie Scholl"), but I thought that "Nowhere in Africa" and "The Counterfeiters" were both fine films. If TPTB would allow me the opportunity to finally see "Departures", I could weigh in about it, although the things I've heard about it so far aren't glowing at all, and anything that beat out both "Waltz With Bashir" and "The Class" better be damn near flawless. The category's a hot mess and will likely always be that way b/c of who votes for the winners (just changing how the films are nominated isn't enough), but I still look forward to the category each year anyway, hoping I'll be surprised by the victory and find some unexplored gem to watch.

dzong2 said...

Not sure where to start!

1. Korea's six-film Oscar shortlist including nominee "Mother", plus runner-ups: Breathless, A Frozen Flower, Lifting King Kong, Old Partner and Thirst. If they're looking to choose the most Oscary film, they probably chose correctly....

2. As an American resident in Japan, I loved "Departures"...It always stayed just the right side of sentimental, and I'm sad to hear people comparing it to overrated Oscar winners like "The Counterfeiters"! It was a great film, and Japanese people here very much felt that it represented the country and its cinema well.

3. North Korea has never submitted a film in the Foreign Film category, and is not on the list of countries invited to submit films by AMPAS, though they could request to do so. The North Koreans traditionally had a very strong film industry (now, not so much), in large part because insane dictator Kim Jong-il is said to be an avid film buff.

4. I think "Let the Right One In" is NOT eligible since it played in the United States in 2008, but I have heard some people say that it is eligible because it didn't get any Oscar nominations....It would be the obvious choice to rep Sweden if it qualifies.