From Bollywood to bindi, our Inspired by India family celebration had something for everyone. The day’s events are almost over, but Bollywood film Mugal-e-Azam starts at 5:30.
This is the second post from Tom Vick, our curator of film, about his recent trip to Korea.
I’m back from Korea, after one more night in Seoul and four days at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan). Seoul is a gargantuan, overwhelming metropolis in which every building seems to be vying for your attention. While trying to work in my hotel room I could be distracted by no less than three huge video screens beaming advertisements from nearby rooftops. Adding to the city’s already jumbled skyline are more and more avant-garde, deliberately incongruous buildings dubbed “aliens” in architectural circles. Across the street from my hotel sat one of the most notorious: Seoul’s brand-new City Hall, which looms like a giant wave about to crash over its soon-to-be dismantled, Japanese occupation-era predecessor, in a perhaps deliberate reference to the Korean Wave (hallyu) that has inundated Asia with Korean pop culture in recent years.
Puchon, a small satellite city near Seoul, is a different experience entirely: a jumble of lights and garish signs enticing the visitor to all sorts of temptations. Indeed, Puchon has a somewhat seedy reputation, making it the perfect setting for PiFan, a festival specializing in the extremes of genre cinema: comedy, action, horror, sex, and violence. The fact that festival guests (your correspondent included) are put up in the city’s notorious “love hotels” only adds to the atmosphere.
In addition to the new releases, I was very intrigued by a special retrospective section devoted to Korean comedies of the 1970s. That decade is generally considered a low point in Korean cinema history, but PiFan’s program, along with Udine Far East Film’s 1970s series dubbed “The Darkest Decade,” indicate, if not a revival, then at least an attempt to understand the ways filmmakers reacted to the political censorship and public indifference of the time, ideas that were illuminated during an interesting panel discussion following one of the screenings.
Having sampled these films at both Udine and PiFan, I can say that most of them may not be “good” by traditional standards, but watching a loud, silly comedy from the ’70s can be as much a cultural learning experience—in its own way—as gazing upon the Buddhas in the National Museum.
Tom Vick is curator of film at Freer|Sackler.
I am in Korea, currently as a guest of the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) and next week as a guest of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Each year, KOCIS invites 18 people from around the world to participate in a cultural exchange program. For my visit, I chose to combine business meetings and visits to museums and cultural sites in the hopes of enhancing my understanding of Korean history and culture. I have spent the last week crisscrossing Seoul with my official guide and interpreter, who have enthusiastically embraced the Korean government’s recently imposed relaxed dress code.
Early in my trip I was treated to a personal docent tour of highlights from the National Museum of Korea. The tour included a room of Buddha sculptures that shows off not only the sophistication of ancient Korean sculptors, but also the influence of other cultures via the Silk Road nearly 2,000 years ago.
That same day I was treated to lunch by filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, who visited the Freer a few years ago to show his films, and Hanna Lee, producer of Chang-dong’s masterpiece Secret Sunshine. He showed me around another site where cultures mix: the Bukchon section of the city (top photo), where picturesque old streets have become the settings for wildly popular Korean television dramas, which in turn attract tourists from all over Asia seeking to walk the same streets as their favorite Korean TV stars.
After a week of enriching cultural experiences, productive meetings, and reconnections with old Korean friends, I write today from Gyeongju, city of burial mounds of ancient kings. For everyone I’ve met who loves Gyeongju, I meet someone who complains about obligatory middle school field trips there to be force-fed ancient Korean history. I even saw an installation at Samsung Museum of Contemporary Art lampooning this tradition. But even though Gyeongju dresses up its burial mounds with piped-in mood music and a nighttime light show, it’s hard not to be awed by being in the presence of massive graves that have been left undisturbed for nearly two millenia.
Next week I will experience another kind of spectacle, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, where far-out films from around the world meet an enthusiastic audience of movie geeks. Stay tuned!
Popcorn and a movie? I don’t think so. Following on the heels of the popular event Noodles and a Movie, Freer|Sackler presented “Kimchi, Drinks, and a Movie” last Friday night. Guests nibbled on savory jeon pancakes and sipped makgeolli rice wine in the Freer courtyard, mingled with director Na Hong-jin, and then watched his film The Chaser in the Meyer Auditorium. On Sunday, Na Hong-jin returned to the Freer to introduce another of his films, a thriller titled The Yellow Sea.
Stay tuned to the F|S online calendar for more fun, film, and food-filled events!
We’re just two days away from our tenth annual anime festival, this year titled “Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli.” It’s a celebration of Hayao Miyazaki, the master of Japanese animation who, along with Isao Takahata, cofounded the influential Studio Ghibli. His Oscar-winning feature Spirited Away remains the highest-grossing film in Japan.
The festivities begin in the Meyer Auditorium at 11 am on Sunday, April 15, with free tickets available beginning at 10:30 am. While you’re here, don’t forget to visit the exhibition Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji in the Sackler, as well as displays of Hokusai’s paintings and drawings in the Freer. His works include a collection of manga, Japanese comics closely related to anime.
If you’re going all-out and dressing up as your favorite Miyazaki character, take a photo and post it to our Facebook wall!
On Wednesday evening, more than three thousand people (yes, three thousand!) came to the Freer for Noodles and a Movie in honor of the Chinese Lunar New Year. They were treated to food prepared by one of Taiwan’s top culinary artists, chef Hou Chun-sheng, winner of the 2011 Taipei Beef Noodle Soup Competition. After, many patrons enjoyed a screening of Eat Drink Man Woman, by Taiwan-born director Ang Lee. The film, about an elderly chef and his family, made for a noodlecentric evening that was enjoyed by all.
Were you there? Let us know what you thought!