South Korean movies are making a strong showing at the Cannes Film Festival, riding on a wave of enthusiasm for entertainment such as Squid Game and Parasite, and catering to a taste for sophisticated intrigue and polished action.
“It feels like a golden age for South Korean productions,” said Lee Jung-jae, the superstar actor in Netflix’s Squid Game, whose debut as a director, Hunt, has screened out of competition at Cannes.
“And that’s just the beginning,” Lee added.
The Hollywood Reporter called Hunt, which tells the story of two South Korean secret agents who compete with each other to unmask a North Korean mole, a “twisty espionage thriller,” while The Wrap noted an abundance of “double agents, buried secrets and lots of broken arms.”
In the running for the Palme d’Or, is Decision to Leave by director Park Chan-wook, who said that his country’s turbulent postwar history had shaped the collective personality of South Koreans, and made for interesting film production.
“We went through extreme situations and that has changed our character,” he said. “That goes for both the film-going public and film-makers. We don’t have a tranquil or Zen character, we’re temperamental and that’s reflected in our films and series.”
Decision to Leave tells the story of a detective who, investigating a man’s fatal fall from a mountain, comes under the spell of the victim’s wife whom he suspects of having caused her husband’s death.
Park said the film drew inspiration from the methodical police work contained in the Swedish Martin Beck crime thriller books.
“That’s what I wanted to represent in a movie,” he said.
The detective story increasingly meshes with the mutual attraction engulfing the main characters, and the resulting erotic tension that is heightened by the constant proximity of death.
“I’m not a romantic, but I’m very interested in the expression of emotions,” Park said.
The movie’s soundtrack includes the Adagio in Mahler’s 5th Symphony that was immortalized as a soundtrack in the 1971 movie Death In Venice by Luchino Visconti.
“I tried to find other classical pieces that could work, but this piece by Mahler was just ideal,” Park said. “And I thought: ‘Is there a law that says only Visconti gets to use this piece? No there isn’t,’ so I went ahead.”
“But I knew before coming to Cannes that I’d get asked about it here,” Park added, laughing.
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