South Korean talent comes to Hollywood

The past two years have shown a peak in a distressingly mundane Hollywood trend: nine out of the 10 top-grossing films in each year were either sequels, prequels or remakes.

Of the two films that did not fall into those categories, one was a surefire-success book adaptation (The Hunger Games) and the other a bastardized slice of warmed-over pop culture (The Smurfs). Looking ahead at the schedule of releases for 2013, there’s good reason to fear that the industry may continue to take its gargantuan smurf over all that was once entertaining.

Thankfully, there is at least one promising development on the domestic film front: a handful of popular and adventurous directors from South Korea are taking on big-budget American projects due to be released this year.

Directors like Park Chan-Wook, whose audacious revenge thriller Oldboy (2003) found an enthusiastic international audience, will be among those at the forefront of this wave of foreign talent.

Park’s confrontational films may have initially brought outside attention to his work, but his upcoming American debut, Stoker, trades in some shock for classic chills in a psychological horror plot starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska.

Early critical reception for the March release has been quite positive, with many reviewers pointing out atmospheric similarities to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

“Korean directors make visceral, artistic and compelling films that many Americans will fall in love with. I can’t wait to see Stoker,” said fourth-year biochemistry and english double major Brian McGarry.

The first release this year to feature a prominent Korean director was The Last Stand, an action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. While the film itself has received mixed reviews, some critics have pointed out that it benefits from director Kim Ji-Woon’s inventive visual style.

Among Kim’s additional body of work is the chilling ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), which has since been remade stateside as The Uninvited (2009) and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008), a wild, spaghetti-Western-influenced adventure set in 1930s Manchuria.

Later in the year, we will see the third major South Korea/U.S crossover with Bong Joon-Ho’s sci-fi epic Snowpiercer. Bong is arguably the most compelling of the three filmmakers mentioned, with a knack for consistently widening the boundaries of whatever genre he works in, whether it’s a black comedy (Barking Dogs Never Bite, 2000), a giant monster movie (The Host, 2006) or a murder mystery (Mother, 2009).

Snowpiercer will be an adaptation of a French graphic novel, whose intriguing scenario concerns the survivors of an ice-age apocalypse who reside in a perpetually moving train.

“[Snowpiercer] sounds intriguing. It’ll be interesting to see if the movie will bring a different sensibility to the genre,” said fourth-year technocultural studies and art double major Christopher Jones.

One must commend these directors for taking on projects in an entirely new studio system — and in the case of Kim Ji-Woon — a new language. Kim revealed in recent interviews that the South Korean system is much different, with all the resources and energy on set going toward achieving the director’s vision instead of adhering strictly to the shooting script and working hours once the film is written.

One must also give props to a few Hollywood studios for trying something different.

“South Korean directors have certainly made a mark on Korean pop culture by displaying their unique style and attention to detail in movies, dramas and music videos,” said president of the K-Pop club Phancisco Doan, a third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior and computer science double major. “This is why K-pop culture has been making its way into the states and [is] becoming ever more popular.”

One might hope that the tradition of remaking successful foreign films into slightly different copies will be curbed in favor of collaborating with international talent. In any case, it may open up domestic audiences to other varieties of popular entertainment available in world cinema.

ANDREW RUSSELL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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