How I Survived 2018: Films I Became Obsessed With

I don’t generally make lists (I don’t believe in them) but I’m going to half blame Daniel Waters & his excellent cinema-personship for my desire to list the things I saw this year (I read his list today & was like….yeah, there’s some shit I want people to know about) and the fact that I’m getting old & I forget titles of things & such.

Warning: you will definitely see a pattern to much of the content here. I like Korean film and TV. A LOT. Like, not just as a hobby, but like…9/10 things I watch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are Korean. There’s many many many reasons for this: I love the actors, the political intrigue plots, the corruption angles, the action sequences and the absurd number of serial killers or extremely violent murderous villains with amazing hair and immaculate taste in clothing that are existing in Seoul at any given point in the Korean movie environment.

That said, these are the films I watched this year that blew my mind or just made me super happy to be sitting in a darkened theater with other folks. Or, in some cases, home with my cats.

Please note that this is a mix of new and older films. But all were new-to-me.

 

성난황소 Unstoppable (English title) / Angry Bull (literal title) – dir. Kim Min-Ho, 2018

Ma Dong-seok is one of my favorite actors ever & the villain in this- Kim Sung-oh is mindblowing. That burgundy suit he wears is 80,000 shades of YESSSSSSS. Also the action in this one was just superb. Flimsy narrative but if you just go: “Cool. Revenge story. Lots of action & badassery” this is great!

 

꼬방동네 사람들 People in the Slum / People of Kkobang Neighborhood– dir. Bae Chang-ho, 1982

The Korean Film Archive did a hellova job restoring this classic working class drama and it’s worth watching just to see that gorgeous work alone. But the film itself is also great. Mind you, it definitely gets dramatic– like OH GURL THAT MUSIC SWELL dramatic- but I loved this film. And the lead actress Kim Bo-yeon 김보연 is excellent. It’s available to watch here on YouTube for free. thanks to the Korean Film Archive. Also, this article is really great & talks a bit about Bae Chang-ho who was nicknamed the “Steven Spielberg of Korea.”

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Amateurs (Amatörer) – dir. Gabriela Pichler, 2018

This very queer, very funny, very touching comedy made my AFIFest sooooo great this year. I’m a huge fan of movies about adolescent girls saying “fuck you, I’m going DIY you stupid adults” and this is that movie. I died of laughter, I cried a looot and I would see it many more times. There are at least 5 languages spoken in this film- Swedish, Tamil, Arabic, German and English. It is about filmmaking, classism, capitalism and tiny backwater towns with a lotta bureaucratic outdated ways. It is loving and punk as fuck.

AMATEURS-by-Gabriela-Pichler

Pig (Khook) – dir. Mani Haghighi, 2018

This movie is so funny my sides hurt from laughing. A serial killer is on the loose picking off film directors in the local Tehrani film scene one by one. It’s all at once a satire, a parody of filmmaking as an industry and creative pursuit and ridiculously self-aware. The main character has some amazing rock t-shirts that he wears throughout and the film is just a blast. Want to rewatch many times.

 

마의 계단 The Devil’s Staircase – dir. Lee Man-hee, 1964

It’s safe to say that this is one of my new favorite film noir/thrillers that has ever been made. If you know me, that’s saying a GREAT DEAL. I will now profess my new addiction to Lee Man-hee and his work, completely setting the groundwork in Korean cinema for the thrillers and horror work that everyone loves today. This film actually scared me at one point! Goddamn Exorcist does nothing to my fear tendrils. If you love Diabolique by Clouzot (1955), this film is just as terrifying in its paranoia and intensity. Again, for those interested, it is available to watch here for free thanks to the marvelous Korean Film Archive.

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Cam – dir. Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, 2018

This film is tits-out incredible. Having been connected with the sex worker world for most of my teen and adult life, I have watched it change drastically based on technology. While those things evolved, the misogyny and judgey-ness stayed exactly the fucking same. For Goldhaber & Mazzei to make this brutally brilliant and powerful film that stands alone as a great thriller/horror film but also functions as critical analysis of agency and identity in an online sexual universe. HFS. I’m alllllllllllllll in. This was my kind of movie. I cannot wait to see what they do next. Tickets already bought & paid for.

화녀 Woman of Fire- dir. Kim Ki-young, 1971

I worship at the film cans of Kim Ki-young. That’s why 2 of his films are on this list. For reference, popular modern Korean directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook both call this legendary director a huge influence on their work.

화녀 is a seriously dark and disturbing work. It’s erotic and powerful and troubling and visually fucking stunning. This film’s objective is to make you feel unsafe. Domestic bliss, familial calm, any home/hearth bullshit is tossed out the window to make room for psychosexual violence, lust and manipulation. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Oh- and it’s also available for free here thanks to the Korean Film Archive! Have a stiff drink or some ice cream on hand. You might need it.

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Akasha – dir. Hajooj Kuka, 2018

It may sound odd, but this is an incredible feminist rom-com about a small community set in the Sudan, against the backdrop of the Sudanese Civil War (which is a huge part of the narrative). If that sounds weird and crazy, it is. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film with the humor, feel and joy of 1930s screwball comedy (sans the overwhelming whiteness) that this almost put me into cardiac arrest at how divine it was. Find it. See it. Everything about this film is just amazing.

저는 영화를보고 있어요 Default / National Bankruptcy Day dir. Choi Kook-hee, 2018

Full transparency, I’m a nut for Kim Hye-soo. She’s a hellova actress. And Yoo Ah-in has been one of my main dudes since I watched him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Y’all loved in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning this year. You know you did (I did too, FTR). This is a pretty amazing film especially if you are not entirely well-acquainted with the HFS RAGING disaster that was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Kim Hye-soo plays a financial analyst at the Bank of Korea who is beyond aware of the damages that the IMF will do and has to combat the Very Male industry that she’s in. The film doesn’t shy away from the overt sexism that businesswomen have to face in powerful positions. It’s infuriating and depressing but she is brilliant in this role.

The Night Comes for Us – dir. Timo Tjahjanto, 2018

This Indonesian blood ballet is so exceptionally choreographed and violently HELL YES that I can’t even think about how much I loved it without grinning and wanting to watch it again with other people.

Hold The Dark – dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2018

It is extremely rare that the litany of horrors that indigenous communities have to handle on a day to day basis make appearances in what we might consider mainstream-esque (or at least a Netflix-sponsored) thriller. Hold the Dark is a difficult film to completely parse. I need to watch it again, for sure. But the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it certainly made me think: yeah, this is something I valued highly. The darknesses that this film explores are various: dying children, the inability of white folx to respect indigenous cultures and their rights, animal behavior, and more. Jeffrey Wright is incredible. And I stand by the statement I tweeted after I watched this: HTD is a Christmas movie.

어도 Iodo – dir. Kim Ki-Young, 1977

Out of all the films I watched this year (Mandy included) this is the one that really blew my fucking mind. For all intents and purposes, it is a murder mystery and a genre film done by Kim Ki-young. The extremely pithy Wikipedia synopsis reads: “When a man from an island ruled by women disappears, the man suspected of killing him investigates his past.” But that’s like saying “yeah, people die during wars” or “Having the flu makes you feel crappy.”  어도 is like if Ken Russell and Alejandro Jodorowsky were Korean, got REALLY HIGH and REALLY FEMINIST and were like: “Let’s make our version of The Wickerman, include prerequisite themes of sex, power, gender and erotics, and make a commentary on the erasure of shamanic culture in Korea.” Sound good? HAHHHHHHAHAHAHAH. It’s fucking mindbending and hot.

I love it when US films go strange places but honestly? We just don’t have the history to do it this well. Our history is racism, colonialism and fucked up power structures. Kim Ki-Young is the  goddamn master of mindfuckery in cinema and I love it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch it here, thanks to the amazing Korean Film Archive!

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There were plenty of other films-

도둑들 The Thieves – dir. Choi Dong-hoon, 2012  

Wild Search – dir. Ringo Lam, 1989

Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama, 2018

Shoplifters – dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2018

버닝 Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018

아시스 Oasis – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2002 (Yes, I like this film. No it doesn’t make me a monster. In fact, this is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful films I watched this year).

Sorry to Bother You – dir. Boots Riley, 2018

Skyscraper – dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018

The Ranger – dir. Jenn Wexler, 2018

And so many more.

These are the movies I can’t get out of my head and make me glad that I do what I do (watch & appreciate cinema & its interaction with human life and politics and whatnot).

I hope that maybe you’ll check out one or more of these. If you do, let me know what you think!

FilmStruck Down: Corporate Greed, “Niche” Viewership & Building A Bigger Boat

On October 18th, I wrote a piece about the Asian streaming site DramaFever and how it had announced, very suddenly, that it would be shutting down.  In the week since then, the Kdrama and Asian television online community (centered within Facebook groups, Twitter and Reddit comments) have been wildly searching for other ways to access television content legally.

It looks like a site that previously only provided TV shows in Korean (OnDemandKorea) is stepping up to the plate, advertising one of the more popular shows in recent years, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon 힘쎈여자 도봉순 as “coming soon with English subtitles” along with other programs. So it’s clear that other streaming sites know that what AT&T called a “niche audience” and cast off like yesterday’s trash is worthy of attention. Which brings me to today’s topic: the devastating news of the loss of yet another streaming site owned by WarnerMedia and their corporate parent, AT&T- FilmStruck.

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If you think that this page looks similar to the one DramaFever had, you’re right. The biggest difference is that FilmStruck is giving their members a good month’s notice instead of, oh, like 24 hoursSo if you’re a FilmStruck-er, go and watch a shitload of movies RIGHT NOW. Or at least catalog your watch list and take advantage of the amazing ORIGINAL content that they created.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that you never had FilmStruck. Or that it didn’t work for you on your platform of choice. Or you didn’t don’t care for classic/arthouse cinema. And the same with DramaFever and its offerings of Asian cinema and television. OK, totally your choice. That saidthe way these channels were removed and why they were removed and the carelessness and thoughtlessness behind the process is unforgivable. We need to start examining the way these larger corporations are eating up smaller media-providing organizations because, in my mind, destroying them is just a “quick fix” so they don’t get accused of becoming a monopoly. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the destruction of channels like DramaFever and FilmStruck solidifies their monopolistic practices.

paramount 1948

I just keep thinking about the Paramount Decree of 1948 and how that stopped the Hollywood Studio System from having total control over the films that were being shown and (equally as important, especially to the topic at hand) HOW THEY WERE BEING SHOWN. Block booking became illegal and many of the exhibition practices that the major Hollywood Studios were forcing on theaters all over the country were shown to be discriminatory towards independent theaters and were, essentially, bullying tactics.  This case…it’s still important. I feel like it’s useful here because I think AT&T is not-so-subtly removing independent media from viewer accessibility and establishing a dangerous monopolistic precedent only to jockey for first place with another corporate entity.

As I documented in my previous article, AT&T is looking to compete with Netflix. They are the parent company of WarnerMedia who, in turn, owns the streaming sites that have been dropped: Boomerang (a cartoon network) [EDIT: I read that Boomerang was going to be one of the losses in at *least* two different publications when DramaFever was axed- as of today, 10/26/2018, I could no longer find confirmation of that channel’s removal so this is an inaccuracy on my part- apologies!-AS], DramaFever (Asian television), and now FilmStruck (Classic/Arthouse Film). AT&T is chomping at the bit for what I see as “a bigger boat.” They want to create a Mega-Monster Streaming Channel with HBO at the helm (sorta as the selling point), and within the Monster Belly it will contain all the bobs and bits that have been swallowed up from the sites that they have killed in the building process.

As a media archivist I know that one of the trickiest things in our business is licensing.  Full transparency, these are only my thoughts and my musings so I haven’t done deep research on who has the streaming licenses for the films on FilmStruck but I know that there may be multiple bodies since the film content came from Warner Archive, Criterion and TCM. That said, I also know that Criterion still has content available to stream on Kanopy (a library-based media streaming site) so they may have multiple streaming licenses going (or they may have an educational license for that one?). My point with the licensing? Who has the contracts and for how long? Does AT&T own the streaming rights? Are they going to sit on those materials until they create their Monster Channel and then have a Special Classics/Arthouse section? That’s what they promised the DramaFever community.

The people in the DramaFever community have already moved on. We don’t wait for some über channel. We will find our TV shows and our community where ever and however we can. More importantly, we don’t like being treated like second-class citizens. We watch media that is high in emotion and it’s traditionally considered “trash media” since Western society is uncomfortable with the raw display of emotion. So…we’re a “niche” market.

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With FilmStruck, I hope that there can be an equal bounce back. What I would like to see happen is for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu to jump in. They could easily do it. Classic films, arthouse cinema, this community is analogous to the one I align myself with in the Korean Drama world. There are films that are high in emotion or extreme in some way- costume, language, make-up. Geez- no one talks like Katherine Hepburn anymore, amirite? And musicals? But FilmStruck has a MUCH higher draw than the dramas that I watch, and I will readily admit that.

The interesting thing about FilmStruck is that, unlike DramaFever, many (certainly not all) of the materials that are being streamed are available on DVD or Blu-ray which (of course) then begins the conversation (as usual) about viewers being “so glad” that they kept their physical media. I’ve seen the word “hoarding” being used a decent amount which…always makes me a little queasy but if that is how you want to refer to your media library, hey- who am I to stop you?
Obviously, this whole situation brings up ideas of access and economics and such. Streaming is far more economical (and thus accessible) for people who are on a lower budget which is more common in this not-so-awesome landscape right now. So it is something to keep in mind.

As an archivist, I will certainly advocate physical media 100%. But we need to look at all sides of streaming and accessibility and what digital might provide and who/what audiences it might welcome. Additionally, if AT&T is going to put all of this content behind an expensive cable paywall…that certainly doesn’t allow for the kind of openness that FilmStruck was known for.

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There is a great danger in not speaking up when these corporations swallow us whole. We simply don’t know what parts will be left. If they are holding the licenses to these films and we have to wait…which ones will they come back with? How long will we have to wait? Can we access only part of the package? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

To all of my wonderful friends and colleagues who have put so much work and love and goodness into FilmStruck: you are why we watch. You are why we will always watch.
I love you from the bottom of my sprocketed reel heart.