A decade ago in Korea, a career in filmmaking was a dubious thing.
"If I had told my parents the truth, that I was coming to Canada to study film," says Rub & Tug director Soo Lyu, "they would have said, 'Are you crazy? Do you want to starve to death?'
"But within a matter of 10 years, there's a huge industry going on. I think it's remarkable what they've done."
Seoul is on fire right now. The Toronto International Film Festival's Harvest: South Korean Renaissance taps an industry that's churning out winsome romantic comedies, commercial thrillers that outsell Hollywood's best and scabrous, sexually charged dramas to rival anything from Japan or France.
A new generation drives the movement. They're reacting to the magisterial epics of master Im Kwon-taek -- whose Chihwaseon screens as a Gala -- with their own hard-edged, raging dramas. Where Im's films uphold Confucian family values, the new boys -- and nearly all are men -- favour rootless misfits and pornographic power relations between men and women.
In a nation marked by a degree of social cohesion unimaginable in Canada, this is radical stuff. Foreigners account for less than half of one per cent of the population, and there is only one ethnic group in the country. This is still a country where almost everyone knows the same codes, the same stories, the same smells.
Add that to the deep well of suffering and perseverance that marks Krea's history, and you get the flood of emotion that powers Korean melodrama. And melodrama drives both South Korea's military blockbusters and its intimate love stories.
There's a lot to see in the 10-film spotlight. To use art film shorthand, Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy) is Korea's Catherine Breillat, but a man, which changes everything.
Hong Sang-soo (Turning Gate) has, in only four features, established himself as a likely heir to Krzysztof Kieslowski.
His last film, The Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, is spare and morally unforgiving. He's Korea's most interesting marriage of tradition and new style.