We’ve all heard of Oscar winner Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho, but perhaps our knowledge of Korean cinema draws to a rather limited conclusion there. Providing ample opportunity to widen our cultural horizons, then, is the Florence Korea Film Fest, now in its 18th (be it somewhat different) edition, held from September 23 to 30 at Cinema La Compagnia.
Riccardo Gelli, director and founder of the festival celebrating contemporary South Korean cinema, revealed the roots of the festival to The Florentine, as well as what he thinks captivates audiences all over the world.
“From 2003, when I started to screen Korean cinema, everyone was taken by the originality. The west can be invaded by overly commercial cinema, so it was seen as particularly remarkable. The growth of the festival came naturally and then saw exponential growth thanks to the success of Parasite, which won every award imaginable. It was the first time Korean cinema had ever been awarded an Oscar and brought people closer to this type of cinematography. Korean cinema has 360 degrees. It really does feature everything and anything at all is possible. This isn’t, for example, the case in Italian cinema at the moment.”
Riccardo Gelli is also behind the cultural events group, the Taegukgi Cultural Association (named after the Japanese flag) and is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Korea in Tuscany, a title he was awarded four years ago. With such clear dedication to highlighting Korean culture in Tuscany, the origins of this interest are surprisingly perchance.
“I saw a Korean film on Rai 3 and I was interested to learn more about Korean culture. Really, I’ve been interested in Asian culture in general for years. We held an event at Palazzo Vecchio in 2002 with the Korean ambassador when South Korea played Japan in the World Cup. Following on from that, the ambassador wanted to host a week on Korean culture in Florence in 2003. When we saw the public’s interest, we decided to continue. After I travelled to Korea for the first time, I became enamoured and now I usually go two or three times a year.”
Notably, it is the first festival in the world dedicated to Korean cinema outside of its home country. Now, festivals take place in Paris, New York, London, Sydney and elsewhere, but Florence was first. The Taegukgi Florentine Cultural Association also hosts language classes for those interested in adding linguistic awareness to their belt. Attracting interest from all over Tuscany, the association is the only place in the region that offers such classes, with an on-site school and classes online.
When asked about what has been the highlight of his involvement with the festival, Gelli was quick to answer “meeting such illustrious directors and to count them among my friends”. Included in this list is Bong Joon-ho himself, a guest of the festival in 2011. The Florence Korean Film Fest also sends out cultural handshakes elsewhere, with ties to the Jeonju International Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival, the most important festival of its kind in Asia.
As to this edition, delve deep into the distant landscape as you soar through the various sections lined up for your cinematic pleasure. The programme is divided as such: Korean Horizons, dedicated to contemporary film stars; Independent Korea, for young and talented directors outside of large-scale distribution; and Corto Corti, devoted to short films. K-History screens films with a historical focus, with a particular lens on the nation during the period of Japanese occupation. Lastly, K-Documentary looks at nature and compellingly features documentaries about North Korea directed by South Korean directors. The festival usually extends to dance, music and other performances, but practicalities stacked against their inclusion in these particular times. However, initially scheduled for March, postponed to May and subsequently rescheduled for this September, fans have had plenty of time to get excited about this already abundantly stocked edition.
A truly broad range of films for all tastes is detailed on the website. Launching the line-up is the European premiere of Black Money, a financial crime thriller directed by Chung Ji-young. At the centre of this year’s festival is Cho Jin-woong, the well-known actor who has charted up over 50 performances across cinema and television, with that of the villain his most played role. Celebrated for the first time in Italy, five titles from his career will be screened, varying from a prison drama based on a true story, Man of Will by Lee Won-tae (2017), to the comedy Man of Man by Yong-Soo (2019). Parasite will be shown on September 30, preceded by a video-greeting from the Oscar winning director. Finally, to conclude the spectacular screening series will be another Italian premiere, Bring Me Home, directed by Kim Seung-woo. The final evening will also see the awarding of prizes voted by the public and jury.
Works with elegance, subtlety, consideration and meaning, the emotional impact comes hard and fast as each film explores another element of human life that requires attention. With such a varied and intriguing line-up, best of luck trying to extract yourself from your seat.
The 18th Florence Korea Film Fest will be held from September 23 to 30 at Cinema La Compagnia (via Camillo Cavour 50R) and online. Films will be screened with both Italian and English subtitles. See more at www.koreafilmfest.com.