Starring role for South Korean cinema

JUST over a decade ago, South Korean cinema began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with internationally.

A still from Jang Cheol-soo's comedy spy drama Secretly, Greatly, which will be shown in St Andrews. Picture: AFP/Showbox

Although Asian cinema in general had been flourishing thanks to the ongoing influx of Hong Kong action movies, Japanese horror films and the global box office success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was the new wave of South Korean film-makers, spearheaded by directors such as Park Chan-wook (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), Kim 
Ki-duk (The Isle) and Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters), who seemed to be making the most daring and audacious work.

Capitalising on recently relaxed censorship laws and a quota system that prevented local films being edged out by big budget Hollywood products, they showed what was possible when film-makers were given the freedom to flourish in their own country. When Park’s über-extreme 2003 revenge film OldBoy went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, it only further validated their particular way of working. In the years since, Park and Bong may have consolidated their positions on the international scene (both recently made their English language debuts: Park with Stoker starring Nicole Kidman and Bong with the forthcoming sci-fi film Snowpiercer), but South Korean cinema in general is also in rude health. Box office admissions hit a record high earlier this year – leading analysts to suggest that the country might be on the cusp of another golden age.

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The knock-on effect is that this current resurgence is starting to boost the visibility of South Korean in UK cinemas once again. The Edinburgh International Film Festival dedicated a strand to it in June and Friday sees the release of The Flu, a disaster epic in the mould of Outbreak and Contagion, which was one of the biggest domestic hits of the summer.

Then there’s the Korean London Film Festival, which brings its wares to Scotland this week. Now in its eighth year, the festival will descend upon the New Picture House in St Andrews tomorrow and Friday with screenings of Pluto (a dark high school drama), Rough Play (a brutal meditation on fame) and Secretly, Greatly (a spy comedy that broke all box-office records when it opened there last summer). For those looking to discover the next Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho, this is a good place to start.

• The Korean London Film Festival is at the New Picture House in St Andrews tomorrow and Friday; The Flu is in cinemas from Friday,