French filmmaker turns eye on Korea

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BUCHEON, South Korea -- French documentarian Yves Montmayeur's films about cinema in Asia, now showing at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, address the ability of the region's filmmakersto remake themselves over and over through periods of rapid change.

In the midst of an industry downturn in Korea, in which boxoffice growth is slowing and investment falling off, Montmayeur on Friday reminded a group of Korean cinema leaders of what makes their cinema so interesting to him.

"I love the cinemas of Korea, Japan and Hong Kong," Montmayeur said. "But the Korean cinema's energy, I compare it to America in the 1970s -- when America was coming out of Vietnam, like how Korea in the 1990s was coming out from the military dictatorship."

To be fair, Montmayeur said, the Korean film scene might be due for a retrenching. "When you look at any film movement, they usually do not work more than 10 years," he said. "Even French nouvelle vague, with Godard and Truffault."

Some of his co-panelists at PiFan wondered if the Korean film industry has strayed from the popular tastes.

"I saw 'Transformers' and thought it was boring, but many people really enjoyed it," Min Kyu-dong, director of "Memento Mori," said of the current boxoffice smash. "That made me wonder about what I'm doing and whether I'm missing something."

Added "Oldboy" director Park Chan-wook: "It is worrying that the investors are pulling out these days ... we directors are still here. There are still good Korean films coming."

Screening at PiFan are Montmayeur's, "The Angry Men of Korean Cinema" and "In the Mood for Doyle," about cinematographer Christopher Doyle, best known for his work with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai ("In the Mood for Love").

Montmayeur's exploration of Asian films and filmmakers examines Hong Kong film noir, Japanese director Takashi Miike and the animation great Hayao Miyazaki, whose Studio Ghibli is best known outside Asia for such recent titles as "Howl's Moving Castle."

When Montmayeur decided to make a documentary about Doyle, people told him to forget it, the subject was far too difficult. "I thought that it couldn't be harder than Ghibli," Montmayeur said, adding with a laugh, "But it was."

In contrast, "Angry Men" was shot in just eight days, when Montmayeur was in Korea in 2005. "It would have been impossible to get so many great directors together on such short notice in Japan or France or Germany," he said. "But in Korea, everyone was so helpful, it was easy. It was an amazing experience."

Having looked at so many filmmakers around Asia, Montmayeur has a vivid sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the region but is ultimately hopeful.

"I absolutely did not predict today's bad situation in Korean film when I made my film (in 2006)," he said. "The structure of Korean film keeps mutating. Whether positively or negatively, no one knows, but I believe Korean cinema is very dynamic and these difficulties will make Korea change for the better."
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