London Korean Film Festival has returned for its 17th edition. From new releases to hits from renowned Korean directors, the FilmSoc Journal reviews a selection of films showing at this season’s festival.
Caleb Tan reviews Jeong Ji-yeon’s pulse-pounding Hitchcockian thriller The Anchor, starring Chun Woo-hee in the role of a tormented news anchor.
A mind-messing murder mystery in a man’s world. This was film journalist and London Korean Film Festival curator Anton Bitel’s introduction to scriptwriter and director Jeong Ji-yeon’s feature film debut before the screening of The Anchor at Picturehouse Central.
A decade in the making, from writing, funding and casting to the eventual pandemic and its premiere, The Anchor narrates the story of female leading TV news anchor Jung Se-ra (Chun Woo-hee), who struggles to survive at home and in her workplace in a largely male-dominated world.
Se-ra tries to manage a broken marriage, expectations from her mother (Lee Hye-yeoung), and workplace politics to keep her literal seat as a news announcer all at the same time. However, her life begins to change one day when she receives a call with a plea for help from a young woman. Although she dismisses the call as a prank at first, Se-ra later decides to visit the address provided by the caller at the nudge of her mother. The audience is introduced to the caller’s psychiatrist Cho In-ho (Shin Ha-kyun) as the mysteries surrounding both women begin to unravel.
As per most Korean films, The Anchor transcends genres. The film is both a psychological thriller and a murder mystery, with elements of horror. The narrative is intense and packed with twists, reaching a dizzying climax towards the end of the film as we begin to unpack the life of Se-ra, giving the audience little to no time to process their thoughts but stay engaged as the plot progresses towards the final reveal.
There are some disconcerting cuts in the film. While the film employs tropes of horror with requisite jump scares, making the audience flinch in their seats, there are also cleverly edited sequences that bring us into the mental state and lived reality of Se-ra. The cold and precise atmosphere in the psychiatrist’s office juxtaposes the dream-like (almost nightmarish) nature of Se-ra’s mental state.
The unforgivingly suspenseful soundtrack immerses the audience into the cinematic experience and keeps the audience on their toes. The only exception is that of the opening sequence of the news, which barely gives the audience enough time to catch their breath before another shocking sequence. Chun Woo-hee’s performance also perfected the characterization of Jung Se-ra, tying various elements of the film in place.
Ultimately, The Anchor is also a social critique. It examines the multiple roles that women are expected to play and perform to their best in society – in their careers, as a fiancé, as a daughter, and even as a mother. But it is also a story pertinent to all of us – how we have to manage various expectations and societal pressures in order to survive in this harsh and unforgiving world. The film serves as a clear tribute to Hitchcock, but still engrosses the knowing audience. I think The Anchor, and Jeong Ji-yeon’s future films (which, as she teased, may include a thriller and a sci-fi film) definitely deserve a watch.
Watch the trailer for The Anchor here: