Baseball, pandas, zombies and more: the 2020 Korean Film Festival

A still from "The Man Standing Next". Image: supplied.

Rita Bratovich reports on the Korean Film Festival, which is taking on a new pandemic-friendly format for 2020.

The Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) returns to our shores for the eleventh year with a diverse program and a new pandemic-friendly format. The Korean Cultural Centre Australia is presenting a total of 18 feature films, representing the best of a broad range of genres from Korea’s film industry. 

“I think the experience with the film festival will be very different this year,” says KOFFIA Artistic Director, David Park.

“We really were always a physical film festival and we always imagined we’d be a physical film festival ever since we first opened ten years ago. I guess what happened this year was unprecedented.”

Rather than cancel altogether or even postpone, KOFFIA has opted to take the festival into the ether, offering the whole program for free online viewing. People simply need to go to the website – www.koffia.com.au –  and register and they’ll then be allowed to view the program and select their preferred time slot. 

Park understands that a digital festival is no substitute for being in a physical space with a group of film enthusiasts, and discussing it afterwards over a glass of wine. 

“I just don’t think any online screening would be able to replicate that experience wholly,” he concedes. 

“That being said, we are trying to implement a system which tries to replicate that as much as possible in an online format. I guess one way we’re trying to achieve that is by scheduling all our films, so that viewers can come in at the scheduled time and stream the film within the 30 minute streaming window.”

KOFFIA is also encouraging participants to engage via social media using #KOFFIA2020. 

The 2020 Korean Film Festival in Australia trailer. Video: Korean Film Festival in Australia/YouTube.

While there may be some compromise in the festival format, there certainly hasn’t been any in the quality of the films. 

“This year, going online and making it available free for the general public, I think we were able to be a bit more brave with our selections, so there are fantastic films,” explains Park. 

“There are a lot of films that feature strong female characters, and we have a lot of female directors who have been able to creatively put out their voices and make some beautiful films.”

The trend towards including more female content and directors in the programming began about three years ago when both opening and closing films were by female directors. 

This year, the field includes Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 an examination of social gender discrimination adapted from a best-selling novel; Lucky Chan-sil, about a female producer whose life is upturned by sudden misfortune; and Moving On, which looks at life through the eyes of a young girl as she navigates her parents’ divorce. All are films with first-time female directors.  

One of the films featuring a strong female lead is Baseball Girl, about a Korean girl trying to enter the pro-baseball league. Park describes the film as poignant and very relevant. 

“It kind of talks about the social stigmas and precognitive ideas that shape Korean society when it comes to women seeking things that were originally set for men, and the social barriers they have to break through to realise their dreams,” he says. 

Other highlights include Mr Zoo: The Missing VIP, a zany comedy about a security agent charged with guarding a panda who discovers he can talk to animals; and The Man Standing Next – a factual political thriller that depicts events leading up to the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979. 

As part of the festival, SBS On Demand is presenting seven specially curated Korean films from past festivals including the award-winning Mother and the zombie horror hit, Train To Busan

In a normal year, KOFFIA would travel to selected cities around the country and its audience would be restricted to capacities of venues, proximity, and time availability. 

“We’ve definitely found a silver lining this year, in that we’ve been able to go online and … open up our festival to a wider range of people. So they could be in the Outback – as long as they have an internet connection they can see our films,” says Park.  

“The screenings are free and they’re online, so now there’s no excuse for anyone in Australia not to watch a Korean film.”

The 2020 Korean Film Festival will run from 29 October to November 5. For more information, visit koffia.com.au/2020/.

A selection of films from previous Korean Film Festivals will be available through SBS On Demand from 1 to 8 November at www.sbs.com.au/ondemand.

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