TORONTO — Toronto audiences are invited to attend Summer of Seoul at TIFF Bell Lightbox throughout July and August for a showcase on New Korean Cinema auteurs and recent acclaimed films by emerging women filmmakers. Presented by TIFF Cinematheque, the summer series features a spotlight on Park Chan-wook’s early work, in anticipation of the theatrical release of Decision to Leave — for which Park won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The work of Lee Chang-dong, a crucial transitional figure — he marries formalist experimentation and personal vision with socio-political commentary — bookends the series with his masterworks Peppermint Candy and Burning.
Curated by Robyn Citizen, TIFF’s Director of Festival Programming and Cinematheque, and Hanbin Kim, Coordinator, Festival Programming, Summer of Seoul will launch on July 8 with an Opening Night celebration of Korean food, art, live music, and a rare in-cinema screening of the first two episodes of the classic K-drama Winter Sonata. The series celebrates New Korean Cinema, a period that began in the late 1990s and witnessed an explosion in the international distribution and popularity of South Korean films. Building on the growing critical reputation of socially conscious and politically engaged Korean films from the late 1980s through the mid-’90s, New Korean Cinema primarily emerged from voices of the 386 Generation (those born in the 1960s, in university during the ’80s, and in their thirties when the term was coined in the ’90s) and merged aspects of national history with genre narratives, high production values, and glossy aesthetics.
“TIFF has long been a champion of South Korean cinema through our Festival programming selections,” said Citizen. “With the recent popularity of Parasite and Squid Game, we wanted to highlight this national cinema for our year-round audiences as well. Our focus on New Korean Cinema has something to engage everyone — from K-dramas, to emerging women filmmakers, to established filmmakers. We are excited to celebrate South Korea and all they’ve brought their fans.”
In addition to the Opening Night celebration, audiences can look forward to a special presentation of Tale of Cinema on July 23, Hong Sang-soo’s meta-feature about the intersection of passion, cinema, and reality. The film will be preceded by an extended introduction from Dennis Lim, Artistic Director of the New York Film Festival, and followed by a book signing of Lim’s most recent publication, Tale of Cinema, published by Fireflies Press. On July 31, a panel of experts will discuss the films, music, dramas, and fandom that make up the cultural phenomenon of the Korean Wave in an event titled K-Mania: The Popularity of Korean Film and Culture. Also on July 31, Dr. Michelle Cho will introduce the 2000 film Chunhyang from the great Im Kwon-taek, one of South Korea’s most important and prolific filmmakers.
“As TIFF’s Chief of Programming, I am thrilled to launch TIFF’s first spotlight series on South Korea,” stated Anita Lee. “South Korean storytellers have captured the international imagination, working across traditional notions of genre, breaking form and attracting audiences worldwide. It could not be a more perfect moment for TIFF to bring Summer of Seoul to Toronto audiences.”
Tickets for Summer of Seoul will go on sale to Members on June 22 at 10am and to the public on June 29. Opening Night celebration tickets are limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Films & Special Events
All screenings and special events will take place at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West, Toronto)
July 8, 7pm
Opening Night: Free live performance by Korea Town Acid and mural art by Jieun Kim (a.k.a. June)
Summer of Seoul jumps beyond the screen through free public art activations in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Atrium. Gather at 7pm for an improvisational set by electronic musician and DJ Korea Town Acid. Born in Seoul and currently based in Toronto, Korea Town Acid layers hardware, drum machines, samplers, and synths to create cinematic and genre-bending soundscapes with moody textures. Her song “Sobriety,” from her latest album Cosmos, was nominated for Underground Dance Single of the Year at the 2022 Juno Awards.
Then, witness the unveiling of mural art by muralist, tattoo artist, and art producer Jieun Kim (a.k.a. June), on display in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Atrium throughout Summer of Seoul. Born in Korea, June’s work explores the immigrant experience and questions notions of location and “home.” As an expansion of her studio work, June is interested in creating safe spaces through street art.
July 8, 8pm
Opening Night: Special Screening of Winter Sonata (Episodes 1 & 2)
The K-drama that helped start the Korean Wave, 2002’s Winter Sonata is necessary education for fans of the genre. The journey of talented musical student Joon-sang (Bae Yong-joon) and the innocent Yoo-jin (Choi Ji-woo) from friendship to first love, beset by familial obstacles and tragedy along the way, propelled Bae to superstardom and earned him the regal honorific of “Yonsama” from his Japanese fans. The series, so popular that it was credited with boosting South Korea’s “soft power” and facilitating geopolitical relationships, also spawned fashion trends, an anime, an industry of film-location tours, murals, and a musical.
The Opening Night event will be hosted by ETALK and THE SOCIAL’s Elaine “Lainey” Lui.
July 9, 5pm
Peppermint Candy – North American premiere of the new 4K restoration
This screening will be introduced by Robyn Citizen, TIFF’s Director Festival Programming & Cinematheque. This end-of-the-millenium opus by writer-director Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Burning) traverses 20 years (1979–1999) of defining events in Korean history through the story of Kim Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu), a middle-aged everyman seen rushing in despair towards a train as the film opens. A series of episodic flashbacks in reverse chronology trace how Yong-ho was shaped by, and sometimes actively complicit in, socio-political forces — the authoritarian period, the Democratization protests, and the IMF crisis of the late ’90s — as well as personal failures that hurt others and slowly unravelled his sense of self. A film that seamlessly blends social realism, melodrama, and Lee’s singular ability to depict human complexity, Peppermint Candy was produced during a pivotal transitional period for the South Korean film industry and helped to define New Korean Cinema as a distinct cinematic movement, making it essential viewing.
July 9, 8pm
Joint Security Area
The blockbuster thriller that put Park Chan-wook on the map as an auteur of New Korean Cinema, Joint Security Area broke box-office records when it was released in 2000, and firmly established Song Kang-ho as a leading actor. One night, an injured South Korean army sergeant, Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun), is rescued as he tries to cross from the north side of the Demilitarized Zone. He is fleeing an altercation that has left two North Korean soldiers dead and raised a number of questions as to why and how Sgt. Lee ended up on the other side of the border. The film offers a rare, fully fleshed-out North Korean character (Song, in a commanding and charismatic performance) who is neither a spy nor a mere mouthpiece for political propaganda.
July 10, 2pm
The World of Us
This screening will feature an introduction by series programmer Hanbin Kim.
Yoon Ga-eun’s moving, true-to-life film tackles the realities of bullying, classroom pecking orders, and the importance of loyalty. Written and directed by Yoon — whose short film Sprout won the Crystal Bear in the 2014 Berlin Film Festival’s Kplus competition — The World of Us explores the profound impact of the ostracization experienced by many young students.
July 15, 6:15pm
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Presented on 35mm!
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance explores the lengths to which honest people will go when circumstances push them into tight places. Deaf and individualistic, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) works at a factory and spends his spare time with his beloved sister (Im Ji-eun) and his offbeat girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Bae Doona). When he loses his job, Ryu takes desperate measures and becomes entangled in dangerous underworld activities. He soon winds up on the wrong side of his former employer, Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), a dark force to be reckoned with. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a brilliantly constructed film and a brutal tale that director Park Chan-wook imbues with a visceral atmosphere of overwhelming claustrophobia and desperation. Park’s exceptional film draws upon his own sympathy — not for vengeance itself, but for the pain that spawns it.
July 16, 7:30pm & July 21, 8pm
Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004, Park Chan-wook’s revenge masterpiece is credited with bringing Korean cinema to mainstream attention in North America. The film begins on a dark and stormy night when an ordinary man, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), is kidnapped and inexplicably imprisoned in a tiny room for 15 years. Finally freed by his unseen, anonymous captor, the revenge-hungry Dae-su finds himself enmeshed in an even larger and more sadistic web.
July 22, 9pm & July 24, 4pm
Lady Vengeance – Presented on 35mm!
The apotheosis of revenge wears red eyeshadow and an intense, angelic look in Park Chan-wook’s last entry in his dazzling Vengeance Trilogy. Lady Vengeance is a perilous venture into the psychology of a woman pursuing her personal sense of justice — without ever finding salvation. Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) has been imprisoned for 13 years for allegedly kidnapping and murdering a six-year-old boy. With her fascinating mixture of evil wisdom and naïveté, she wastes no time in winning over her cellmates’ sympathies; all the prisoners become instrumental in the scheme Geum-ja has meticulously drafted for her future as a free woman.
July 23, 7:30pm
Tale of Cinema with Dennis Lim
The screening will be preceded by an extended introduction from Dennis Lim, Artistic Director of the New York Film Festival, and followed by a book signing of Lim’s most recent publication, Tale of Cinema.
Having premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Hong Sang-soo’s sixth feature film remains — amid a vertiginously prolific filmography that has yielded 21 films since — one of the filmmaker’s major touchstones, not least because it introduces his use of zooms and voiceover. In the first story, depressive student Sang-won (Lee Ki-woo) runs into an old flame, Young-shil (Uhm Ji-won). After a night of copious drinking and fumbling foreplay in a hotel room, they engage in a suicide pact. The second story focuses on Dong-soo (Kim Sang-kyung), a recent film-school graduate who, while exiting a cinema, sees a woman he believes to be the actress (also named Young-shil) from the film he has just watched — which, incredibly, may have been inspired by his life.
July 24, 7:30pm
House of Hummingbird
This screening will feature an introduction by series programmer Hanbin Kim.
Amid middle-school heartbreak, complications at cram school, and a complicated family life, a South Korean teenager faces the trials of growing up and finding her identity, in Bora Kim’s sincere coming-of-age tale.
July 29, 6:15pm
Park Chan-wook’s cheeky take on Émile Zola’s scandalous serialized 19th-century novel Thérèse Raquin puts a modern, globalized spin on vampire mythology. The filmmaker’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho plays Sang-hyun, hot priest to Tae-ju, the repressed wife of his childhood friend. The two men reunite after news of Sang-hyun’s miraculous recovery from the fatal Emmanuel Virus — contracted through a failed vaccine experiment — spreads beyond his awed parishioners and into the wider community. However, the blood transfusion that cured Sang-hyun of the deadly virus has infected him with an undeadly one that intensifies all of his appetites.
July 31, 1:30pm
K-Mania: The Popularity of Korean Film and Culture
We are thrilled to host a panel of experts — University of Toronto professor Dr. Michelle Cho; film critic, journalist, and podcaster Carolyn Hinds; and PhD student Grayson Lee — to discuss the films, music, dramas, and fandom that make up the cultural phenomenon of the Korean Wave. Moderated by Robyn Citizen, Director of Festival Programming and Cinematheque at TIFF.
July 31, 7:30pm
This screening will feature an introduction by series programmer Hanbin Kim.
Set in contemporary Seoul, Microhabitat follows Miso (Esom), a housemaid with three mandatory indulgences: cigarettes, a glass of whisky at the end of the day, and emotional intimacy with her boyfriend. Jeon Go-woon’s debut film examines the conflicts between personal happiness and universal values, and the weight of contradictions a person has to endure.
August 20, 6pm
Mother – Presented on 35mm!
This screening will feature a pre-recorded introduction by Karen Han, author of Bong Joon Ho: Dissident Cinema.
Bong Joon-ho followed the smash success of The Host with this darkly stylish thriller. The magnificent Kim Hye-ja stars as the doting mother of a grown son with an intellectual disability. When a young female student is brutally murdered and her son is blamed as the culprit, the middle-aged matriarch swings into action to prove his innocence by any means necessary. As he did in Memories of Murder, Bong balances humour and horror to stunning effect, while Kim — one of South Korea’s most legendary actresses — creates an indelible portrait of motherly devotion taken to its most ruthless extreme.
August 20, 9:15pm & August 26, 9:30pm
The Host – Presented on 35mm!
Inspired by a boyhood fantasy, Bong Joon-ho brought his producer a picture of Seoul’s Han River with an image of the Loch Ness monster Photoshopped in — and thus The Host was born. In this truly original and audacious creature feature, a lazy afternoon alongside the Han is shattered when a large, unidentified mass hanging from a bridge reveals itself to be a slobbering monstrosity that snatches away the young daughter of dimwitted snack vendor, Gang-du (Song Kang-ho, a recurring star in Bong’s films). With the city shut down by the government and their American “advisors,” Gang-du and his family go on the lam to try and retrieve the girl from the monster’s slimy clutches.
August 21, 7:30pm
Provocative emerging director Kim Mijo’s debut feature follows Obok (Jung Ae-hwa), a mother and wife in Seoul who holds a stall in a food market that is threatened by impending gentrification. Days before her eldest daughter’s wedding, Obok is sexually assaulted by a fellow stallholder, who is also the chairman of the redevelopment committee. She attempts to repress her trauma, but her anger continues to grow until she finally reveals the truth to her eldest daughter and contacts the police. Justice seems hopeless due to a lack of concern from the authorities or support from her family and community — but against all odds, she speaks up to protect her dignity.
August 26, 6:15pm & August 28, 4pm
These screenings will be introduced by Robyn Citizen, TIFF’s Director Festival Programming & Cinematheque.
A profoundly enigmatic take on Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” Lee Chang-dong’s exploration of a vexed ménage à trois in contemporary Seoul begins as working-class would-be writer Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) encounters Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman who used to go to his school, and agrees to take care of her cat while she travels to Africa. She returns with a new “friend” in tow: a handsome, refined, and wealthy man whose name, Ben (Steven Yeun), seems to signal his international aspirations but whose vocation remains mysterious. As the men fall into an uneasy relationship — the obsessed Jong-su is both fascinated by Ben’s upscale lifestyle and jealous of his suave hold on Hae-mi — the fate of the drifty young woman in the middle seems increasingly imperilled.