KOREAN FILMS have finally gained the world's attention with such recent festival and art house hits as the espionage thriller "Shiri," Lee Myung-Se's "Nowhere to Hide," Park Chan-Wook's arty, gruesome "Old Boy" and Kim Ki-Duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."

Now, the Freer Gallery of Art offers the largest Korean film festival ever in the United States, which boasts films from virtually every genre. Shown at a wide variety of Washington venues, including the Freer, the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre, the Kennedy Center, the Avalon Theatre, the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it begins Thursday with Bong Joon-ho's 2003 "Memories of Murder," which screens at 7:30 p.m. at the Gallery's Meyer Auditorium. The festival concludes Oct. 31.

Based on still-unsolved murders that occurred between 1986 and 1991, this thriller is about two detectives, a small-town cop and a sophisticated investigator from Seoul, who team up to find a serial killer. The film is followed by a discussion.

The 30-film series, which goes into high gear next weekend, will showcase an enormous variety of films, including costume drama, horror, melodrama, sci-fi, documentaries, experimental film and art house hits. The Freer will feature the "golden age" of South Korean cinema in the 1950s and 1960s as well as contemporary films; the festival includes one rare pre-Korean War film. The Kennedy Center and AFI Silver Theatre will focus on comedies. The Avalon Theatre will offer cult classics and contemporary films. The National Museum of Women in the Arts will show films by Korean women, and the Hirshhorn Museum will present experimental works. Admission varies. Visit www.asia.si.edu/KoreanFilm.htm for more information.

GET SHORTS

This weekend's inaugural DC Shorts Film Festival kicks off Friday at 7 with a meet-the-filmmakers party at the Poste Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco, 555 Eighth St. NW. Screenings of the 37 films, selected by jury from more than 70 submissions from around the world, will take place Saturday at 4, 7 and 10 at the 130-seat Flashpoint Arts Center, 916 G St. NW (Metro: Metro Center), followed by an awards breakfast on Sunday at 10 at Flashpoint.

The festival is the brainchild of Jon Gann, an award-winning local filmmaker and graphic designer, who says he grew tired of the all-too-common view that the short-form film is the "bastard stepchild" of the cinema world. At the moment, what he hopes will become an annual festival consists mainly of work by young filmmakers (artists whose writing abilities, Gann notes, typically exceed the production values of their project), but he hopes to someday include work by more established names. "These people have potential," he says, "and showing the work of emerging artists is always important."

Tickets are $12 per screening session or $30 for an all-day pass, and are available online at www.dcshorts.com. Call 202-393-4266.

'DOLPHINS' ARRIVES

"Dolphins," a new Imax film celebrating the intelligence and beauty of these aquatic mammals, with soundtrack music by Sting, opened this week at the National Museum of Natural History's Johnson Imax Theater, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Federal Triangle). For show times and information, call 202-633-7400.

-- Desson Thomson

and Michael O'Sullivan