Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from South Korea

My 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival top ten

sorcerer-truck-on-bridgeThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) kicks off in few days. As usual, there’s a packed program full of cinematic goodness. If you’re wanting to check some films out but are stumped as to what to see, here’s my ten picks.

Sorcerer, 1977

The newly remastered print of Sorcerer, William Freidkin’s 1977 homage to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 classic, The Wages of Fear, is up there as one of my top MIFF picks for the festival. The story is about a group of four men, each of them on the run from various sins committed in their past life, who are hired to transport a truck load of volatile dynamite across an incredibly hostile stretch of Central American jungle. Freidkin may be better known as the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) but this hard boiled slice of pure cinematic noir is, in my opinion, his best film.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films – 2014

I really enjoyed Mark Hartley’s documentaries, Not Quite Hollywood (2008), about Australia’s Ozsploitation film scene, and Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010), his look at American film making in the Philippines in the seventies and eighties, so expectations are high for this one. Electric Boogaloo is the story of Cannon Films, the Hollywood B-studio responsible for such cinema gems as Lifeforce (1985) and the pre-Rambo, Rambo film, Missing In Action (1984).… Read more

South Korean cinema influences

Today, I’m very happy to welcome Chris Irvin to Pulp Curry.

Chris is a short story writer, one of the editors of the great short fiction site, Shotgun Honey, and the author of the recently released novella, Federales. Federales is  about a Mexican federal agent, drugs, and politics. It’s on my to-read list and I’m pretty certain it should be on yours, too.

Chris wanted to write about how South Korean crime cinema has influenced his own crime writing. Welcome Chris.

And by the way, if you are interested in winning a copy of the Federales e-book, just leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick a winner from among them a little later in the week.

fullsizephoto254644Perhaps like many fans of South Korean (Korean) Cinema, I was first introduced through Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy (2003), a brutal revenge tale adapted from a Japanese manga.

Revenge is central to many Korean thrillers Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002), I Saw the Devil (2010), Bittersweet Life (2005), etc.

But take a step back and look at the common themes that set Korean films apart from their American cousins, and what I find inspiring and influential to my writing.

I find many themes and layers of Korean cinema to be fascinating, especially those informed/influenced by Korean history/society, but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on three:

The Dysfunctional Family – The dysfunctional family bands together to defeat the foreign menace and overcome its own natural flaws.… Read more

Great crime reads set in Asia

Okay, I’ve sat patiently through the hype about Scandinavian crime fiction, which shows no sign of ending, only to read recently that the next big thing in crime fiction is central Europe.

I keep thinking people will eventually discover Asia as a fascinating place to set crime fiction, but it looks like I’ll have to keep on waiting on that score.

Not that there aren’t some great crime reads set in the region. A few weeks ago I wrote the following post on some of my favourites for the site, Crime Fiction Lover. One book I could’ve included but didn’t was David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero. One CFL reader suggested the books of Seicho Matsumoto. I’d live to hear other suggestions as I’m sure there are heaps more.

Jade Lady Burning – Martin Limon

Low profile crime writer Martin Limon has so far written six books featuring Sueno and Bascom, officers in the Criminal Intelligence Division of the US military based in South Korea, and a seventh is on the way.

Jade Lady Burning was the first of the series, written in 1992, and for my money it’s still one of the best. Sueno and Bascom are assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a local prostitute which turns into something much more sinister.… Read more

Report back from the Korean Film Festival in Australia

I’ve been meaning to report back for a while now on the Korean Film Festival in Australia, which recently took place in Melbourne and Sydney (and to thank the organisers for the media pass – thanks).

The two films I managed to catch in the Melbourne program where LEE Joeng-beom’s The Man From Nowhere and Jang Hun’s Secret Reunion, the number one and two box office hits in South Korea respectively in 2010.

I would have made it three films, but for some reason Ryoo Seung-wan’s The Unjust only played in the Sydney part of the program.

That a film like The Man From Nowhere did so well with South Korean audiences fascinates me. It’s a standard revenge flick, but it also contains a pretty staggering body count and a sub plot in which children are kidnapped to work in an illegal drug laboratory and then harvested for their organs when they can’t perform their duties any longer (that said what would a South Korean audience make of the popularity of Animal Kingdom, one of the highest grossing Australian made films in 2010?).

A solitary pawnshop owner, Won Bin (played by Cha Tae-sik) gets sucked into bloody feud between two rival gangs of drug traffickers, when the junkie mother of a little girl he has befriended in his apartment building leaves stolen heroin in a camera she pawns to him.… Read more

The Yellow Sea

South Korea seems to be leading the pack at the moment in terms of knocking out top-notch crime movies that are not afraid to play with genres. Take for example, The Yellow Sea, released in 2010.

This 156-minute film starts off as a tightly plotted and gritty neo noir, transforming half way through into a blood soaked chase/revenge movie. Topping it off is a big dollop of social realism about the plight of Chinese of Korean decent or the Joseonjok.

The Yellow Sea begins in Yanji, a city in the Chinese region between North Korea and Russia. It’s your standard Chinese industrial town, endless rows of anonymous apartment blocks swathed in low hanging haze.

Gu-Nam is a Joseonjok taxi driver whose life is rapidly disintegrating. He’s heard nothing from his wife since she left to work in Seoul six months earlier. Gu-Nam strongly suspects he is being cuckolded and has drunken dreams about her sleeping with other men. More seriously, he’s racked up 60,000 Yuan in mah-jong gambling debts to a fearsome local gangster and people trafficker, Myun-Ga.

Myun-Ga offers to wipe the debt if Gu-Nam agrees to go to Seoul and kill a man. It’s a chance for Gu-Nam to start again. There’s also the lure of being able to search for his missing wife.… Read more