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daniellaalconaba
21st November 2022

Global Cinema Series: Contemporary South Korean Cinema

Although the film title may come across as a ‘cheesy’ or ‘cringe’, Tune in For Love not only constructs a complex notion of love, but also captures South-Korea in a period of great economic change
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Global Cinema Series: Contemporary South Korean Cinema
Photo: Ibiwunmi Balogun @ The Mancunion

Bong Joon-Ho’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) – Daniella Alconaba

Far away from the Oscar triumph of Parasite (2019), a small cast and few locations are used in Bong Joon-Ho’s eccentric directorial debut Barking Dogs Never Bite. The film depicts Yun-ju, an unemployed aspiring professor, irritated by the sound of barking dogs in his apartment building. In this dark comedy, Yun-ju’s frustration leads him to take matters, quite literally, into his own hands.

Whilst Barking Dogs is rightfully not an acclaimed masterpiece, it lays the foundation for director Bong’s later films, as his signature style of mixing tragedy and comedy peeks through. I would, however, class Barking Dogs as leaning more on the comedy side than tragedy. Defensively, the dog owners in the film might argue against me.

In other ways, Barking Dogs bares similarities to Bong’s later films: people living in basements (Parasite); references to animal cruelty (Okja (2017); and, thematically, the discussion of economic insecurity and precariat workers in South Korea. Although the last point is briefly touched upon in this film, it contributes to the attitude change in protagonist Yun-ju.

However charming Barking Dogs is, at times it felt a little unpolished, as some characters felt unfinished. I wish Bong expanded on Eun-sil, as her character  of ‘Yun-ju’s pregnant wife’ is all we know of her.

In terms of plot, it’s unusual to describe a film about the disappearance of dogs as fun but that is what this film is: playful and fun. Nothing in this film is truly explained and that’s what makes it amusing. Weird behaviours are accepted as fact. Accompanying the odd happenings of the film is a sanguine jazz soundtrack marrying well to heighten the film’s comedic relief. With some unrelatable characters, funny dialogue, and good performances, Barking Dogs Don’t Bite is a bizarre but entertaining watch.

 

Ji-woo Jung’s Tune In For Love (2019) – Evie Knight

Full of slow-burn yearning and missed opportunities, Tune in For Love follows two young lovers through the changing millennium.

Although the film title may come across as a ‘cheesy’ or ‘cringe’, Tune in For Love not only constructs a complex notion of love, but also captures South Korea in a period of great economic change during the IMF crisis. Interwoven with their narrative, technology influences the couple’s romance. Mi-soo (Kim Go-eun) and Hyun-woo (Jung Hae-in) meet in a bakery, where the radio becomes the miracle that pulls them together. However, technology also tears them further apart. Soon the bakery is forced to close, skyscrapers are built up around it, and in a desire to keep in touch while Hyun-woo is attending military service, Mi-soo creates an email account for him – but forgets to give him the password.

Finally, radio confirms their love in the last scene, however, this is a scene that entirely upsets the tone of the film, with the non-diegetic Coldplay song ‘Fix You’ blaring over a bizarre reconciliation. I would have chosen a different ending myself.

Looking past this, Tune in For Love is unique in its capturing of the ordinary within love: moments of yearning, being let down in love, and the timing never quite being right. There are no huge fireworks or exciting declarations of affection, but small moments that feel far more real. Some may say the film lacks movement, but I would argue it takes its time, reminiscent of Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995), or even Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017), unhurried, intricate and beautiful. It is a film about patience, in a time before online dating and social media, and the audience also needs patience to appreciate the wonders of Tune in For Love.

 

Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave (2022) – Dominic Hayes

Decision to Leave centres around Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a detective investigating the death of a man who has fallen from a mountaintop, and Hae-joon’s uneasy attraction to the deceased man’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei). I won’t reveal any more plot. Simply describing the plot doesn’t do Decision to Leave any justice whatsoever; just experience it yourself and you’ll see why it’s so brilliant.

Decision to Leave is the closest a modern film has been to emulating film noir. Park Chan-wook has taken inspiration from films such as Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, with noir-typical character types and a plot filled with twists.

Chan-wook lives and dies by the principle of “show, don’t tell”; when Hae-joon is watching Seo-rae from afar, he is placed in the room with her, a directorial decision which is complimented excellently by the intricate sound design and intimate camerawork. All of this combines to make the audience feel close to Seo-rae, which only heightens the stakes in later parts of the film.

The editing of the film is the best I’ve seen all year – Chan-wook mixes different events together seamlessly and deliberately, to manipulate the pace of the film. I only have one flaw – that there is one moment of bad CGI when showing the fall from the mountaintop. The camera is utilised to convey distance, height, and speed, often combined with quick digital zooms, to further convey those ideas. You can only describe this use of the technical elements of cinema as masterful in their conceptualisation and execution. Other directors aren’t doing what Park Chan-wook does here.

The viability of some of the tropes of film noir in the modern day is questionable, specifically, the portrayal of women. There is an incredibly typical femme-fatale character in Decision to Leave, while Hae-joon’s wife is portrayed as a stereotypically overly emotional and impulsively jealous woman. The use of these archetypes in 2022 may become an interesting talking point.

Decision to Leave makes full use of the technical possibilities and attention to detail offered by the medium of film to create a gripping drama.  I really can’t recommend Decision to Leave more highly.

 

Daniella Alconaba

Daniella Alconaba

Film and TV Editor for The Mancunion

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