Top 6 art cinemas in Seoul
For anyone sick of watching the same 10 movie stars go through the same motions in every blockbuster, these six art cinemas around Seoul offer less commercial, more experimental films on their screens.
Keep in mind that most of the movies are shown in their original language with Korean subtitles, unless otherwise noted by the theater.
Located in the basement of Gwanghwamun’s landmark Heungkuk Life Insurance building, Cinecube was opened in 2000 by Korean Film Art Centre Baekdu-DaeGan, which acquires and distributes foreign films in Korea.
The small theater houses two screens, and while there is no concession stand, there is a small convenience store.
The theater has hosted the Australian Film Festival, the “Queer, Homos and Us” Festival, and the Asian International Short Film Festival, Korea’s largest international competitive short film festival.
In addition to the signature “Hammering Man” sculpture outside, the Heungkuk building is also known for some of the other artwork it houses in its lobby, so while you’re there, don’t forget to check out Fre Ilgen’s sculpture, “Your Long Journey,” the biggest indoor installation in the country, as well as works by Kang Ik-joong and Romero Britto.
B2, Heungkuk Life Insurance Gwanghwamun Office Building, Shinmun-ro 1-ga 226, Jongno-gu (종로구 신문로 1-가226번지 흥국생명 광화문사옥 지하2); +82 2 2002 7770; www.icinecube.com
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2. Arthouse Momo
Arthouse Momo is housed in the stunning ECC building in Ewha Woman’s University.
The theater has hosted “Cinema that Hears Music” concerts featuring musicians whose songs appeared on movie soundtracks, Arabic-language films hosted by the Korea-Arab society, and the EBS International Documentary Film Festival, which screened documentaries from all over the world.
The underground ECC building, designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, who also designed the National Library of France in Paris, is a great place to play and wander, with its many cafés, restaurants, stores and concerts.
ECC Gate 3, Ewha Woman’s University, 311-1 Daehyeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 대현동 11-1 이화여자대학교 ECC Gate 3); +82 2 363 5333; www.cineart.co.kr
Spongehouse was opened in 2006 by Sponge Film Company to screen movies it imports and distributes. While there used to be two other locations -- one in Apgujeong and the other near Euljiro 2-ga -- the Gwanghwamun theater is the only one still standing.
Sponghouse has screened cult hits such as “Volver,” “Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens,” and “Bowling for Columbine.”
The theater also holds the annual Japanese Indie Film Festival as well as various retrospectives, such as a Jeon Do-yeon retrospective in 2008 in honor of the Korean actress’ 2007 win at Cannes for Best Actress.
A coffee bar sells snacks as well as beer which patrons can take into the theater.
C Square Building, 61-21 Taepyeong-ro 1-ga, Jung-gu (중구 태평로 1가 61-21 씨스퀘어); +82 2 2285 2095; www.spongehouse.com
3. Sangsang Madang Cinema
Sangsang Madang (which loosely translates as “Imagination Grounds”) is known as an indie culture hub in Hongdae, as the complex houses an art gallery, studio, café, design store, and cinema, and also regularly holds indie music concerts.
The cinema screens a wide range of domestic and international short and feature-length films and holds many festivals including the Sangsang Madang Family Film Festival and the annual Sangsang Madang Cinema Music Film Festival.
June 2011 saw the opening of a second Sangsang Madang in Nonsan, 180 kilometers south of Seoul. The theater also plans to open branches in Busan, Daegu, Jeonju and Gapyeong.
367-5 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 367-5); +82 2 330 6200; www.sangsangmadang.com/cinema
5. Seoul Art Cinema
A non-profit organization run by the Korean Association of Cinemathèques, Seoul Art Cinema has been fighting financial difficulties due to the government’s 50 percent cut in funding last year.
Past events include "Korean Cinema Now: New Director's Strategy" which screened independent Korean movies with English subtitles, the Russia-Eurasia Film and Culture Readings, the Seoul LGBT Film Festival, a Roman Polanski Special, and the Experimental Film and Video Festival.
They also host a free monthly screening of Japanese films. On the third Friday of every month they show new Korean independent short films.
Every month, the cinema picks a director who comes in and talks to the audience about his or her film, filmmaking process and philosophy.
4/F, Nagwon Arcade, 284-6 Nagwon-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 낙원 284-6 낙원상가 4층); +82 2 741 9782; www.cinematheque.seoul.kr
6. Media Theater i-Gong
Alternative Visual Culture Factory I-Gong is a non-profit art organization that screens experimental films that focus on women and minorities.
Tip: The films screened here can at times be explicit with the level of nudity and/or sexual innuendo, as the content often is chosen for specifically dealing with the body, sex and sexuality.
Films screened in the past include those of avant-garde lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer, dancer and poet Maya Deren, and Yoko Ono.
I-gong also organizes the Seoul International New Media Festival.
2/F 330-8 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 330-8번지 2층); +82 2 337 2870; www.igong.org
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