South Korean Filmmakers Laud Venice Fest Presence, Discuss Lack of Competition Spot

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Kim Ki-duk won the 2012 Golden Lion at Venice for "Pieta."

Film fest regulars Hong Sang-soo, Im Kwon-taek and Kim Ki-duk have been invited to present their new titles, but some are disappointed that Korean films won't be vying for the Golden Lion.

SEOUL — Hong Sang-soo's Hill of Freedom will compete in the 71st Venice Film Festival's new Horizons competition section next month, while two other South Korean fest regulars, Golden Lion winner Kim Ki-duk and veteran auteur Im Kwon-taek, will present their latest work.

Horizons, previously an out-of-competition section that introduced new cinematic trends, has cut down the size of its selection to about 20 titles that will now vie for prizes akin to Cannes' Un Certain Regard. In 2010, Oki's Movie by Hong was screened as a closer for the Horizons section.

Hong's Hill of Freedom has created buzz in Asia for starring renowned Japanese actor Ryo Kase in the lead role of a man who comes to Korea in search of his former lover. It is set for release in Korean theaters in September.

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Kim Ki-duk, who took home the 2012 Golden Lion for Pieta, will return to Venice for the third consecutive year with One on One. The maverick filmmaker made headlines when he announced that he won't be selling distribution rights for the secondary market unless One on One surpasses the break-even point at home. Fortunately the film, which looks into the social implications of a teen's suicide, brought in just over 10,000 admissions for the film to get a DVD release.

Korean cinema fans can also look forward to the gala screening of Im Kwon-taek's Hwajang in the out of competition section. It is the fourth film by Im to be invited to Venice, since Beyond the Years most recently received a gala presentation in 2007.

The 78-year-old filmmaker's 102nd film, Hwajang is based on an acclaimed local novel of the same name. Veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki plays a middle-aged man who falls for his younger co-worker while looking after his cancer-ridden wife. It is due to hit Korean theaters later this year.

Onlookers, however, have expressed disappointment that no Korean film will be vying for the Golden Lion in the main competition for the second consecutive year. The three films by Hong, Im and Kim had been expected to be invited to Cannes earlier this year but did not make the lineup.

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"Recently the Korean film industry has largely been focused on producing mainstream works over arthouse ones. Film festivals tend to put a lot of weight on art films, and this seems to be why there are relatively fewer Korean selections," said Shim Jae-myoung of Myung Film, which is backing Hwajang.

"We are excited that Hwajang will be premiering at Venice, and the festival programmer Elena Pollacchi had high praises for the film's depiction of difficult themes," said a representative for Finecut, the film's international sales banner.

Meanwhile, also featured in Venice's out of competition section is Korean-American indie filmmaker So Yong Kim's For Ellen. Starring 12 Years a Slave's Paul Dano as a self-absorbed young rocker, the film premiered at this year's Sundance.