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Korean Film Festival 2015: Ode To My Father - Review & interview

Ode To My Father

Review by Veronica Blake

ODE To My Father opened the 10th London Korean Film Festival at the BFI on Monday night.

The film stars Hwang Jung-min, who flew in from Seoul with producer Kil Young-min for the glittering red carpet gala attended by a representative from the UK Ministry of Culture and many hundreds of Londoners who love Korean cinema.

The film – which took US$105 million at the box office is the second highest growing in the history of Korean cinema – depicts modern Korean history from the 1950s to the present day through the life of an ordinary man, as he experiences events such as the Hungnam Evacuation of 1950 during the Korean War, the government’s decision to dispatch nurses and miners to Germany in the 1960s, and the Vietnam War.

An epic, big budget blockbuster drama as melodramatic as Gone With The Wind, Ode To My Father was a massive hit in Korea and played at the Berlin Film Festival this year. It also had the BFI audience spellbound for two hours. It’s emotional but humorous and spans seven decades in the life of Duk-Soo through life’s joys and travails.

We meet him as a child when an entire town attempts to evacuate via the sea. This traumatic event changes Duk-Soo’s destiny, as he must take charge of his family.

The themes of sacrifice and doing one’s duty for your family, in particular, and fellow mankind generally are portrayed throughout the the film which as all of the epic emotion, passion joy and sorrow of Gone With The Wind.

We follow Duk-Soo’s life from childhood to 70’s, brilliantly performed by Hwang Jung Min, who subsequently told me he had no problem with playing a 20 or 40-year-old but struggled with playing a 70-year-old, so he took to the local park each day and observed elderly people, their movements and mannerisms, chatted with them. From the closing scenes, we can see just how brilliant an actor he is as he plays the role of the 70-year-old to perfection.

Though he is Korea’s leading actor, who has appeared in over 40 films, he remains humble and quite shy. When told he played the part to perfection, that he did not seem to act the role as live it, he replied bashfully: “Oh, I am not as handsome as him.”

A veteran of more than 40 films he says that when choosing scripts, he looks at the overall storyline rather than the character itself. He then exerts effort to continuously bring out the character’s inner workings.

Hwang said: “It is very important that you don’t get too absorbed in yourself. You must always remember that there is another person watching the scene. Maintaining objectivity is important.”

Hwang emphasizes sincerity and empathy in his acting.

“The camera doesn’t lie,” he continued. “You can never fool the viewer. You have to act with your heart, not your head.”

It is because of this commitment to emotional truth that Hwang can confidently tell interviewers that he is 100 per cent satisfied with his work.

During a crisis on set, or when he is either feeling too satisfied or caught up in mannerisms, he takes out notes he made when he first read the screenplay. He said: “I look at the screenplay again and again. That’s where all the answers are.”

The role in Ode To My Father proved strenuous, physically and emotionally, and involved fighting in the jungle, being shot at by the Viet Kong, underground mining in Germany in the ’50s, and in one particular scene a mine explosion that leaves him close to death. When asked if the role was gruelling he laughed and replied that climbing in the Himalays was a lot more challenging.

Korean cinema fans are in for a treat. The festival, which runs from November 2 to 14, 2015, includes 51 films, features and shorts, retrospectives and newly emerging directors and documentary makers.

There is a ‘People’s Choice’ strand where the public were asked to vote for their favourite opening/closing films of the festival over the last nine years.

The top three films will be screened at this years festival, which features the very best in Korean cinema with works from established filmmakers to up and coming directors.

This year’s festival offers something for everyone and is sure to attract even more Londoners to discover the magic of Korean cinema.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival runs from Nov.2-14, 2015 at the BFI Southbank, Picturehouse Central, Picturehouse Hackney, Picturehouse Ritzy, Odeon Kingston and Regent Street Cinema.