Jang Joon-hwan (b. 1970) is an influential figure of the Korean New Wave that surged into international prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s led by a group of young male directors—Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sang-soo and Lee Chang-dong among them—who together embraced a subversively edgy mode of widely popular cinema. Films of the Korean New Wave broke new ground by reinventing familiar genres through an often-unsettling intermingling of dark violence with comedy, biting sociocultural critique with dizzying flights of fantasy. Jang’s now-celebrated first feature Save the Green Planet! pushed the Korean New Wave’s boldest tendencies to a furthest extreme to create one of the most willfully unclassifiable films of the late 20th century. A sci-fi fantasy conspiracy film that melds black absurdism with a strangely moving call to halt the rampant destruction of our ecosystem, Save the Green Planet! effectively disorients the viewer into accepting as urgent truths the delirious visions of its demented characters.
A graduate of the prestigious Korean Academy of Film Arts, Jang had an early interest in animation, a background that helps explain the bold graphic style of his films. Another important touchstone of Jang’s filmmaking is his passion for Japanese anime, whose fairy-tale qualities clearly inform his eagerly anticipated second feature, Hwayi: A Monster Boy, a crime caper fable about a young boy raised by a murderous gang of professional thieves. Despite the film’s pulp qualities, Hwayi also holds at its core an ardent social consciousness and concern for victims of injustice that also beat at the nervous heart of Save the Green Planet!. The same concern for social inequity and abuse of power found full flowering in the new direction taken by Jang’s third feature, 1987: When the Day Comes, a sweeping historical drama about the perilous events that led to the transformation of South Korea from military dictatorship to democracy. – Haden Guest
The Harvard Film Archive is thrilled to welcome Jang Joon-hwan for a retrospective of his three feature films to date.