FILMS from Korea have, in recent years, become a new force in film festivals around the world and art house theaters in the United States. Such films as Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong's 1999 "Memento Mori," Lee Chang-dong's 2000 "Peppermint Candy" and the 2003 "Old Boy" by Park Chan-wook are testament to that. This international presence has been buttressed by a healthy film industry in South Korea, where, for instance, Kang Jae-Gyu's 1999 "Shiri" beat the box office record set by James Cameron's "Titanic."

The area's second annual Korean Film Festival, at the Freer and Sackler galleries downtown and the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, is lively proof of that. Starting Friday and running through Oct. 20, this 13-film series (eight at the Freer, five at AFI) seems to have it all: wacky martial arts comedy, loaded political commentary, documentary and sci-fi. Three films made in the 1960s will be shown as testament to a previous era of spirited output.

The series -- programmed by Tom Vick of the Freer and Sackler and Hyunjun Min of the University of Maryland -- starts Friday at 7 at the Freer with Ryu Seung-wan's "Arahan." The 2004 comedy features high-flying martial arts in its story of a seven-man group of middle-aged crime fighters. Also this weekend at the Freer is "Spying Cam," Sunday at 2. Director Wang Cheol-mean's mystery follows two men trapped in a motel room who videotape themselves reenacting scenes from Dostoevski's "Crime and Punishment."

Ryu's 2000 directorial debut, "Die Bad," screens Sept. 22 at 7 at the AFI. It's a four-vignette drama about a murder victim who comes back from the dead to haunt his killer. And speaking of horror themes, Kim Jee-woon's thriller, "A Tale of Two Sisters," will be shown Sept. 23 at 7 at the Freer. It features two girls, a wicked stepmother and a haunted house.

Filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and his wife, Choi Eun-hee, stalwarts of Korean cinema in the 1950s and 1960s (he was the director, she was his usual leading lady), are scheduled to attend three of their films at the festival, showing Oct. 13 at the AFI and Oct. 14 and 16 at the Freer.

More details about these films, and the rest of the lineup, can be found on the Freer's Web site at www.asia.si.edu/KoreanFilm.htm and the AFI's at www.afi.com/silver or by calling the Freer at 202-357-2700 or AFI at 301-495-6720. All films at the Freer's Meyer Auditorium (12th Street and Independence Avenue SW) are free, and tickets are distributed (two per person) an hour before showtime. Admission for the films at the AFI (8633 Colesville Rd.) is $8.50.

IN THEATERS

You won't see TV ads for two movies opening in the area this weekend. That's because they're independently distributed:

"Echoes of Innocence," the first film put out by New World Pictures, stars Sara Simmonds as Sarah, a high school student whose obsession with Joan of Arc has led her to experience otherworldly voices herself. Her troubles are compounded when Christopher (Cody Linley) disappears soon after the two have pledged their love. The film, which has received some festival awards, will show at area theaters. (For more information, including theater information, visit www.echoesofinnocence.com.)

"Lorenzo & Monica, L.A.F.S.," written and directed by Frank E. Jackson Jr., a producer at CTV's Channel 76, was shot and produced in Prince George's County. The feature-length film, produced by Jackson's Sunjada Productions, is about a Bonnie & Clyde-styled couple (played by local actors Dexter Perry and Jessica Ostopoff) who go on a romantically charged crime spree that leads to tragic consequences. It opens Friday at the Magic Johnson Theater and the Marlow 6. For more information, visit www.sunjadaproductions.com or call 240-535-4092.

-- Desson Thomson