Song Kang-ho in a scene from "The Face Reader" / Korea Times
This has been a great year for films, so leave a little room for popcorn after your holiday feast
By Yun Suh-young
Chuseok, the annual holiday and rituals that cause congested motorways and acute marital friction, has arrived. But this is also the best time of the year to watch movies because theaters will be less crowded and therefore more comfortable.
Comedies are traditionally the go-to-genre for the Chuseok break: Jackie Chan has been as much a Chuseok staple for Koreans as fried mung bean pancakes and playing card games while drunk.
However, this year's movie lineup tilts toward drama and thrillers, including "The Face Reader," which has been busting records since opening last week.
The movie attracted nearly 2 million moviegoers in its first five days alone and accounts for more than half of recent online ticket sales, according to industry data.
The following is a brief review of this and other films.
The Face Reader is set in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) and recounts the story of how Naegyeong (Song Kang-ho), a face-reading fortune teller, stumbles into investigating a plot to kill the heir of ailing King Munjong.
Director Han Jae-rim cleverly adorns imaginative scenes with historical fact and delivers a product that more than justifies his choice of fictionalizing a confounding period of history. His 140-minute movie feels compact and leaves audiences on the edge of their seats through to the end.
The movie begins by showing the mundane everyday life of Naegyeong, living with his son and brother-in-law in a mountain shack.
One day he is hired by seductress Yeonhong (Kim Hye-soo), a famous gisaeng (hostess), to "read" the faces of people, and after successfully identifying the culprit in a murder case becomes the most famous fortune-teller in town.
Naegyeong finds himself stuck in the middle of a power struggle between military general Kim Jong-seo (Baek Yoon-sik) and Grand Prince Suyang (Lee Jung-jae), who aims to take over the throne.
Naturally, the king hears about him and brings him to the court to detect future threats to the throne.
Emma Watson in a scene from "The Bling Ring" / AP-Yonhap
The new Sofia Coppola film, "The Bling Ring," is also a much-anticipated work. Inspired by actual events, the movie follows a group of fame-obsessed teenagers who use information on the Internet to track the whereabouts of celebrities such as Paris Hilton and rob their homes.
The movie features a star-studded cast that includes Katie Chang, Israel Broussard and Emma Watson, and has been one of the most critically-acclaimed American movies of the year.
The new Pixar film, "Monsters University," a prequel to the company's 2001 hit "Monsters Inc.," will be a popular choice for families.
The movie, which opened in local theaters last week, takes the wacky duo Sullivan and Mike back to their college days to show how they met as freshmen and their erratic experiences on the way to becoming professional monsters that scare children.
Another notable animation is Illumination Entertainment's "Despicable Me 2," a sequel to the hit 2010 film. Steve Carell continues to voice Gru, the super villain-turned-devoted dad, who is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.
A new work by Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki, "The Wind Rises," is also available in theaters.
This feature-length animation received heavy media attention even before it was released because of its controversial plot centering on an airplane builder who made a fighter plane used during World War II.
In the movie, Horikoshi Jiro, the engineer who designed the Mitsubishi "Zero" fighter used by Japan during the war, is depicted as a man who resented war and primarily wanted to make a beautiful airplane.
The movie has received criticism for glamorizing Japan's wartime atrocities but the beautifully animated scenery and characters are enthralling.
The cupboard isn't entirely bare of comedies. "The Spy: Undercover Operation," featuring Sol Kyung-gu and Moon So-ri as a couple in trouble, is providing the closest competition to The Face Reader at the top of the box office charts.
The action-comedy opens with spy agent Cheolsoo (Seol) bumbling on his mission to track down terrorists in Thailand before finding his wife Younghee (Moon) mingling with a lady's man, Ryan (Daniel Henney).
Cheolsoo obviously has a hard time concentrating on his job, which is saving the nation.
Science fiction, fantasy
A couple of Hollywood blockbusters are up for competition in this genre.
"Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters," released Thursday, is a sequel to the 2010 film "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief."
In the newly released sequel, Percy Jackson continues the adventure with his friends who are demi-gods to search for a golden fleece in the Sea of Monsters to protect their homes from vicious forces.
The "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is a film based on the novel of the same name by Cassandra Clare, which was listed on the New York Times bestseller list.
Clary, an ordinary New Yorker, witnesses a murder at a nightclub which only she appears to witness. It turns out to be perpetrated by Jace, a shadow hunter, a warrior trained to slay demons hidden on Earth, who she is introduced to.
Clary, who has inherited powers from her mother who was also a shadow hunter, joins Jace and his group to fight against Valentine, an ex-shadow hunter who is trying to gain control of shadow hunters and demons.
Art house films, documentaries
A new film by director Hong Sang-soo, "Our Sunhi," explores the character Sunhi through the eyes of three men.
Sunhi, a film graduate, visits her school to request a recommendation letter from her former professor to support her application for a post-graduate degree in the U.S.
There she meets two other men who she used to know and the three sit down to talk over a drink. She is frustrated by the men when they try to give her advice when they don't know her well.
"Project Cheonan Ship" is a controversial documentary film that has gained wide media attention because a number of multiplex theaters decided to stop showing it after being pressured by right-wing groups who said that it dishonors the memory of the 46 sailors who died when the naval vessel sank off the west coast of Korea.
The film questions what caused the ship to sink in 2010 near Baengnyeong Island.
An official investigation concluded that the Cheonan was sunk after being hit by a torpedo launched by a North Korean midget submarine, but this film delves into the initial investigation following the incident and provides other opinions.
The film is also available on Internet protocol television (IPTV) for paid viewing.