Homage to the stars: The official poster for the First Chungmuro International Film Festival in Seoul (CHIFFS) blends inwith the Daejong Award photos displayed on the walls of the Chungmuro subway station. The underground photo gallery records past winners of the prestigious awards, which is the Korean equivalent of the Academy Awards. /Poster courtesy of CHIFFS, Korea Times photo by Lee Jae-moon.
By Lee Hyo-won
With the Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival (PIFF) just having ended, the spotlight shifts to Chungmuro -- the heart of Seoul and the homeland of Korean cinema.
From Oct. 25 to Nov.2., the inaugural Chungmuro International Film Festival in Seoul (CHIFFSS) will provide a cinematic adventure like no other. While most film festivals tend to draw art film buffs, CHIFFSS invites entire families to feel the cinematic pulse of Korea through a host of fun activities. Rather than boasting a high number of world or international premieres, the festival re-illuminates rare-to-see classic films from near and far. Why not? This is where Korean film began.
The festival will show some 150 films from 32 countries under seven sections and two special sections.
It seemed ``unfathomable'' to launch an international film festival in Busan because ``the cultural hub of Korea was Seoul, and the hub of the industry was also in Seoul, or Chungmuro to be exact,'' reads a book looking back at the history of PIFF, ``10 Years' PIFF History.''
PIFF has since grown to become Asia's leading film festival. It seems natural that a festival paying homage to Chungmuro has finally been launched. At the beginning of the 1900s, Koreans saw the first ever screening of a film, followed by its first homegrown kinodrama. Later, silent, sound and color films were made in the first half of the century. After the Korean War (1950-1953), South Koreans were dismally poor but an explosive energy seemed to have seized the nation, as Americanization and modernization took hold.
Lee Kyu-hwan's ``Chun-hyang Story'' (1955) and Han Hyung-mo's ``Madame Freedom'' spurred a great cinematic boom, giving birth to what is commonly known as ``the Chungmuro era.'' The 1950s-80s are commonly known as the golden age of Korean cinema.
This small neighborhood in northern Seoul housed a multiplying number of film companies. Before 1956, less than 20 films were produced annually, but two years later more than 100 were being made each year, according to the Korean Film Council.
Chungmuro is also home to the first movie theaters in Korea, such as Dansungsa. Founded in 1907, the theater still stands tall today near Jongno 3-ga Station. Today, despite the presence of larger multiplex theaters, many movie premieres take place in the area's retro theaters such as Seoul Cinema.
The first Chungmuro festival pushes forth three themes -- Discover, Restoration and Creation. The selection of films range from black and white silent movies to eclectic digital features, coming from all parts of the globe as well as from the dusty shelves of Korea's film archives.
CHIFFSS pays tribute to Charlie Chaplin in memory of the 30th anniversary of his death. Timeless black-and-white classics such as ``The Kid,'' ``City Lights'' and ``Modern Times'' will be screened, complete with the original audio. The Official Selection also includes Laurence Olivier's digitally restored version of ``Henry V'' (1994) and Michael Climino's director's cut version of ``Heaven's Gate'' (1980). Also to be shown are the restored print version of ``Suspiria'' (1977) by Dario Argento.
Chungmuro on Chungmuro
Naturally, the first CHIFFS presents its self-portrait. ``Spring on the Korean Peninsula'' (1941) by Lee Byung-il captures on film productions sites and theaters during the Japanese colonization periond. Kim Soo-yong's ``A Confession of an Actress'' (1967) depicts the dark side of filmmaking beneath all the glamour and glitz of Korean cinema's golden age. The comedy flick ``Man With a Reputation'' (1970) by Kim Jong-rae illustrates the lives of filmmakers through the adventures of an aspiring director who enters the Chungmuro scene in the 1970s.
Mapping Australian Film History
Co-hosted by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the section provides a colorful spectrum of Australian cinema. The lineup dates back to Raymond Longford's 1919 movie ``The Sentimental Bloke'' all the way down to Baz Luhrmann's (``Moulin Rouge'') ``Strictly Ballroom'' (1992) and more recent works such as ``Book of Revelation'' (2006) by Ana Kokkinos.
Silent Film Feast
CHIFFSS presents three silent films this year, including the world's first full-length animation film ``The Adventures of Prince Ahmed,'' created in 1926 by German filmmaker Lotte Leiniger. The other two are ``The Kid Stakes'' (1927) from Australia and ``October'' (1928) from Germany.
Chungmuro will transform into an out-and-out playground for moviegoers. Between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, Namsangol's Hanok Village will house various performances, outdoor screenings and programs where audiences can participate. The nearby Cheonggye Stream will also turn into a venue for outdoor screenings and performances.
Not to miss is the Chungmuro Nanjang Fun Fair on Sunday, Oct. 28, when the block between Myungbo Theater and former Maeil Business Newspaper Building will transform into the ``Street of Cinema.'' Various outdoor performances and flea market booths will fill the streets. You must stop by the ``babcha'' or food truck, where you can eat meals just like filmmakers and staff do on production sites.
Don't miss the free performance tonight at 7 p.m. In ``Chungmuro Sonata,'' Korea's iconic rockers Lee Seung-hwan and Shin Hae-chul will rock the night away outside City Hall at Seoul Plaza. The repertoire includes eclectic performances by popular band Rumblefish and saxophonist Lee Jeong-sik. Screenings highlighting the festivals and fireworks will also illuminate the night. Visit www.CHIFFSs.kr for more information about the festival.
Related movie and restaurant reviews online. Check out Baz Luhrmann's ``Strictly Ballroom'' and North Korean style food at Jin Go Gae, located in Chungmuro.