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Han Gong-ju

Canadian Premiere
  • South Korea
  • 2013
  • 112 mins
  • DCP
  • Korean
  • English (subtitles)
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WINNER: Silver Tiger Award, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2014
WINNER: Jury Prize (ex aequo), Critic's Prize, Audience Award, Deauville Asian Film Festival 2014
WINNER: Golden Star Award for Best Picture, Marrakech International Film Festival 2013
WINNER: Citizen Reviewer's Award, CGV Movie Collage Award, Busan International Film Festival 2013


"Han Gong-ju is outstanding in Mise-en-scene, image, sound, editing and performance" – Martin Scorsese

"A skilfully crafted and highly accomplished debut – deviating from classicist structure, this film lures the spectator to participate in the pleasures of storytelling through an extraordinary and intricate narrative puzzle" – Hivos Tiger Awards Jury, INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM 2014

Upon her arrival in the new city in which she’ll be studying, Han Gong-ju seems just like one of those self-questioning teenage girls with a head full of dreams. Something, however, doesn’t feel right. Housed by the mother of her former teacher and receiving the bare minimum for subsistence from her father, she is often looked upon with a reproachful eye. She is also asked indiscreet questions. On top of it, her mother has asked her not to come and visit anymore. Gong-ju clearly has something to be ashamed of, but what? Little by little, the teenager adapts to her new environment, slowly being accepted by her foster family and even making a few friends. Initially wary, she softens up under two conditions: that she never be filmed and that she be kept away from the internet. What could have possibly occurred for her past to be as present within her psyche as to make her throw away all possibility of hope? Just when she finally starts to feel at home, her past suddenly resurfaces…

Each year, Fantasia attempts to lay its hands on a rare cinematic pearl, an Asian picture so powerful as to inhabit the viewer’s consciousness for days, or even weeks on end. There was BREATHLESS, BLEAK NIGHT and SEE YOU TOMORROW, EVERYONE, productions that have garnered favourable responses from both critics and festival audiences alike. In 2014, the widely sought-after gem is the magnificent yet devastating HAN GONG-JU, a debut feature of incredible narrative virtuosity written and directed by Lee Su-jin, a name that will surely impact South Korean cinema in years to come. While we are privy to a striking drama, Lee maintains the mystery surrounding Han Gong-ju’s past like a true master of suspense. Revealing the troubled teen’s traumatic origins through snippets and flashbacks, he meticulously establishes the girl within her surroundings all while keeping her direct involvement with the events ambiguous. Is she guilty or a victim? This question will haunt you throughout the film’s revelation of the facts. Herein lies HAN GONG-JU’s true power: implicate the viewer in order to arouse a sound reflection on universal social issues that must here be discarded in order to maximize the visceral experience that awaits us. The nuanced performance of Chun Woo-hee (MOTHER) must also be emphasized, her touching serenity going a long way in conveying the haunting emotional awkwardness of a troubled teenager with powerful subtlety. If we’ve ever expressed doubts as to existing successors to Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ki-duk, HAN GONG-JU shouts out loud, “Here I am!”

— Nicolas Archambault

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