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Poongsan ("Pungsangae")

North American Premiere
  • South Korea
  • 2011
  • 121 mins
  • HD
  • Korean
  • English (subtitles)
Official Selection, Busan International Film Festival 2011
Official Selection, Tokyo FILMeX 2011
Official Selection, Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2012

“Unfaltering in its momentum and often unbearable in its intensity” - Maggie Lee, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

“Ideologically charged... dark, thought-provoking, and bloodstained” - C.J. Wheeler, HAN CINEMA

Who is this man who come nightfall, steals across the border dividing the two Koreas? That red line on the map is among the most impenetrable on Earth. Crossing this zone, with its abundance of traps, landmines and concealed troops, approaches the impossible. It’s suicidal. But Poongsan has made such clandestine crossings his business. Mute and elusive, Poongsan is an enigma. He’s impossible to track down and sources his own clientele among the families divided by the border, which he traverses with messages, objects and even people before disappearing again. When he takes a contract to bring south In-ok, the wife of a deserter, everything shatters. The men who hired him work for government and they don’t like seeing the efforts at border security routinely thwarted. Then the deserter is targeted by North Korean assassins, who quickly take note of the one helping so many comrades “emigrate” to enemy soil. And then there’s the startling, illicit passion arising between In-ok and Poongsan. Manipulated and betrayed by both camps, Poongsan will take his revenge rather creatively…

Fans of Kim Ki-duk’s films of the BAD GUY and THE COAST GUARD era, pay attention! The similarity is striking between POONGSAN, which Kim after all wrote and produced, and the raw, visceral cinema the renowned Korean auteur created at the dawn of the last decade. Even though the themes tackled, and the characters and their motivations, follow the master’s modus operandi, director Juhn Jai-hong invests the film with his own distinct voice, revealing a penchant for action and black humour. Though POONGSAN is a somber, nihilistic and occasionally cruel movie, it offers its fair share of amusing moments and memorable montages, like the delightful sequence in which our antihero gets his payback against all who’ve wronged he and in In-ok. Like these vicious yet satisfying reprisals, POONGSAN is equally scathing in its criticism of both North and South Korea, a step up from the majority of films handling the conflict. The duo of Kim Ki-duk and Juhn Jai-hong deliver an eminently political film that never takes an easy way out, an excellent work of suspense that will leave no viewer unaffected.

— Nicolas Archambault