>>> Festival Review: Toronto Korean Film Fest has lots of Seoul

Artists are at the forefront in fifth annual fest

TORONTO KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL Friday (June 17) to June 24 at various locations. tkff.ca. Rating: NNNN

Now in its fifth year, the Toronto Korean Film Festival is scaling up, opening with free screenings uptown at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Friday (June 17) – a selection of shorts at 5 pm, and the opening-night gala The World Of Us at 7:30 pm – before setting up shop for the week at Innis Town Hall on Saturday (June 18). 

The wide selection of films includes the North American premiere of Stop (Sunday, June 19, 7:30 pm). It’s the latest from writer/director Kim Ki-duk, once hailed for dramas like 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring, but if you were hoping that this one might signal Kim’s emergence from the primal-scream period that gave us Pieta and Moebius, well, no such luck. 

Set in Japan, Stop is a banal drama focusing on an expectant couple living near a nuclear power plant not unlike Fukushima. After an accident contaminates their town, they relocate to Tokyo – but when wife Miki (Natsuko Hori) becomes convinced her fetus has been damaged by radiation exposure and decides to abort, husband Sabu (Tsubasa Nakae) refuses, keeping her prisoner in their home. 

There’s more, but none of it really matters. Stop is just an excuse for Kim to indulge in the sadism of which he’s become so fond. 

A much more worthy pick is I Am Sun Mu (June 23, 5 pm, Innis). Adam Sjöberg’s doc follows the pseudonymous artist – who fled North Korea for the South, where he works to create anti-regime art – as he prepares for his first show in Beijing. It’s remarkable how close Sjöberg makes us feel to the story without ever showing his subject’s face.

The festival wraps up with Dong-ju: The Portrait Of A Poet (June 24, 7 pm, Innis), a black-and-white biopic about Yoon Dong-ju, a Korean poet who studied in Japan during the Second World War. It’s a stately, serious work – maybe a little too stately, actually – but Kang Ha-neul brings some nuance to the lead.

normw@nowtoronto.com | @normwilner

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