KOREAN FILM REVIEWS (SLAMS, PRAISES and PACKAGING HIGHLIGHTS)



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(SLAMS, PRAISES AND PACKAGING HIGHLIGHTS)

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 

POINTLESS EXPLANATION

DVD/Blu-ray Distributor – Year

DIRECTOR: Nekrobomb Jo-nes

ACTORS: As correct as possible I’ll place here a list of the main actors

TONE or WARNING: Doesn’t actually mean a literal tone, instead a slight humorous idea of what you’re getting into.

AMERICAN MONEY: If I spot North American product placement, I like to mention it.

       

“A quote from the film that is important, but obscure.”

       

     My reviews vary with the films, a synopsis annoys me, but I also don’t feel like I have to explain things visually as most Korean films are shot quite beautifully, with excellent sound design.  I will often add a Key lime pie rating, 8 slices (a full pie) is the highest, 1-2 is the lowest.  Nothing gets zero, not even A Haunted House Project.  Eat the pie and try harder.

This is a work in progress.  It may contain even other people’s notes.  I edit when I can.  If you see a problem, report it if you must.

… ING (The most beautiful day in my life)

KD Media – 2004

 DIRECTOR: Lee Eon-hee (debut)

 ACTORS: Im Soo-jung, Kim Rae-won, Lee Mi-sook, Kim In-mun

 NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Dunkin Donuts

            

“What a cowardly delinquent girl.”

 

     In my world an ellipsis comes first alphabetically.  Of course, if this movie sucked, it would be a different world.  The title may throw you.  It is throwING you.  You are livING, breathING and readING.  Not everyone will be that lucky next year, next month or tomorrow.  Someone is often dyING in South Korean movies, but that’s beside the point.

     Revisiting this film is wonderful.  Knowing the full story takes nothing away, it enhances like Fight Club.  The petite Lim Soo-jung plays Kang Min-a, a young girl who is lucky to be alive.  She was born with a deformed hand and her insides are turning on her.  She’s a bit slow at times and keeps to herself.  At least she tries to.  She smokes secretly and finds a handsome new neighbor named Lee Young-jae (Rae-won) trying to get her attention.  She finally gives up her last cigarettes and lighter and he takes them away.  He uses psychological warfare to get Min-a’s attention and soon claims to have had a crush on her since his first look.

     The imagery of the film is ambient and thoughtful, warm.  When a new development arises it’s interesting, be it a new turtle, a black umbrella with a blue sky inside, or a photographic excursion.  The film pulls the viewer along happily.  My only personal glitch was the cover made me think that Rae-won was Soo-jung’s father or much older.  I didn’t know anything about the story.  In the film he justifies things and says their age is close, but in real life Soo-jung is two years older, she’s just tiny and it helps with roles where she’s dying, or a jockey.    

     I bought …Ing a long time ago as it had the best packaging I’d ever seen.  It’s a small binder.  It has Polaroid-type of pictures and a second disc of un-subtitled features.  I’ll probably rarely mention that as it is common with limited editions.

     I doubt anyone wants to die alone and most people would love a bit more time.  The film helps the viewer appreciate what they have and makes me want to have a turtle.

1% OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA (Miss Staff Sergeant)

Pre.Gm – 2010

DIRECTOR: Jung Byung-kil

CAST: Lee Ah-lee, Lim Won-hee, Son Byung-ho

TONE: G.I. Jane without the poetry

             

“Looks like she’s trying to intimidate me.”          

 

     How about a movie where Im Won-hee salutes himself in the mirror after destroying the military career of a woman?  This is one of those times where the tone shift from comedy to serious helps, and is appreciated.  At certain points this film is realistic, other times (Won-hee times) it’s very silly.  It should have stayed serious, but I doubt it was possible.

     Monks separate themselves from women to keep focus on something supposedly greater.  The military, for the most part, does the same.  Men in South Korea are forced into service, women are not. 

     Ha Hwang-hoon’s soundtrack is a worrisome affair of bad synth music and a credit finale of talking electronic guitar that would make Michael Bay smile.

A

ACTION BOYS

Art Service – 2008?

DIRECTOR: Jung Byung-kil (debut)

CAST: Kwon Gwi-Deok, Gwak Jin-Seok, Shin Seong-Il, Jeon Se-jin, Kwon Moon-cheol

TONE: Documentary + Action movie

     This is one of my favourite documentaries.  You even got a first glimpse of The Good, The Bad and The Weird if you saw it early enough.  It’s basically about a group of young stunt men from Seoul Action School and their journeys into Korean cinema.  It’s also the debut film from the director of Confessions of a Murderer (reviewed below) if you saw that.

     I’m going to spoil the greatest scene, but I don’t think it’s really a spoiler as this is a documentary, so I’ll stay bold.  We watch two separate interviews, one in a car and one on the street and suddenly, the stunt person in the car hits the stunt person on the street.  Oh, that was great.  Of course it was set up but they want to show off their talents.  The beginning is just that, a visual portfolio.  I think it’s great to see the spotlight on the people that make action action, but rarely get more than a film credit at the end. 

THE ACTRESSES

Ein’s M&M – 2010

DIRECTOR: Lee Jae-yong

ACTORS: Yun Yeo-jungLee Mi-sook, Ko Hyun-jungChoi Ji-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Ok-bin

 

     Fame, Jealousy, Mystery, Pride, Scandal and Complex.

     Imagine, if you will, a well-plotted buddy cop film about a martial artist and a comedian, neither of which are good actors.  The Actresses is the welcome opposite.  If by any chance you want to get deeper into Korean cinema, please do yourself a favour and watch. 

     The director worked with several of the actresses here in previous films and created an extremely realistic situation where each is asked to take part of a Vogue photo shoot for Christmas.  Each actress plays themselves as they show up one at a time bringing with them one of the above words.  The beginning is hilarious as Mi-sook the oldest of the six shows up early and realizes she’s not even a first choice pick.

     The shoot is going well when the gems, necessary for the shoot, don’t arrive.  The female set their differences aside and make the most of things by having a little Christmas party of their own with food, alcohol and a few too many toasts.  The conversation drifts towards how actresses are sheltered and how their behavior was regulated more than men, especially with divorce.  Just when the more jaded people may be bothered about rich women crying, Mi-sook again steals the show by reminds them all, you take the good with the bad.  

     It was fun seeing actresses I know little about, and have seen less of their work.  I know I’ll see Hellcats sooner or later.  The whole thing seems the opposite of a vanity project.  The director must have been overjoyed to put so much talent together.

ALL ABOUT MY WIFE

Up – 2012

DIRECTOR: Min Kyu-dong

ACTORS: Im Soo-jung, Lee Sun-gyun, Ryu Seung-ryong

 

     These films are alphabetically listed.  It’s not that I’m obsessed with Im Soo-jung, probably.

     All About My Wife is another obscure remake.  Though it’s likely you haven’t seen the Argentinian film it’s based on called Un novio para mi mujer, you may have seen Mike Judge’s Extract.  You want a divorce but you’d rather be less subtle than just saying it.  That’s too difficult.  Why not hire a suicidal Casanova to sweep her away?

     Well, maybe by finding her a person who listens to her and at the same time getting her a job at radio where she can air her complaints to many people instead of just one, you may have solved the loneliness of being a childless housewife. 

     Jung-in (Soo-jung) is the most fun and grown up I’ve ever seen.  She’s in her thirties but could play a High School student.  I believe her age as we jump seven years in the past to Japan.  Her mother calls her and she complains endlessly, never letting her parent speak a sentence.  Then an Earthquake sends her to the floor (the only acting I might complain about).  Jung-in meets a Korean who studies seismic activity and build structures to withstand them.  Doo-hyun (Lee Sun-gyun) brings her to the safest place and they form a relationship.  She’s not herself though, as she’s only speaking Japanese. 

     Married she’s very different.  Jung-in’s obnoxious, messy, and clingy.  Doo-hyun can’t even get a moment in the bathroom without juice being forced down his throat.  He begs for a job on the coast for a bit of space and Jung-in surprises him by following.  There they meet Sung-ki (Ryoo Seung-ryong), a man that all the ladies love, but loves no one.  Jung-in doesn’t like him, but that just makes Sung-ki more interested when Doo-hyun pays him to seduce his crazy wife away.

     This is film of exaggerated emotions, which become more and more real as the film progresses.  It leads you to take sides, and then weigh your decisions later.  I found it a lot of fun, especially Seung-ryong as a hyper cheesy human pheromone.   When I found out that Soo-jung won for her acting I was a bit upset, thinking back in her career how much better many of the other roles were, especially Tale of Two Sisters.  Then I realized she won tons of accolades for that and other performances.  Her Blue Dragon and her Women in Film awards are just two more awards.

ALMOST LOVE

Fantom/Pop*Corn Films – 2006

DIRECTOR: Lee Hun

ACTORS: Kim Ha-Neul, Kwon Sang-woo, and others in the way of their love and dreams

TONE: Melodrama +

              

     I remember Jackie Chan being sold to North America one last time.  They played tons of footage about him and I was hooked.  He was starring in a new film called Rumble in the Bronx.  At one point he takes out a hovercraft with a gold sword while driving a Lamborghini.   The opening scene of Almost Love pays homage to Jackie, showing his action packed birth.  Korean action star Kwon Sang-woo plays a huge fan named Ji-hwan while Kim Ha-neul plays Jin Dal-rae.  Both have some big dreams, let’s hope this isn’t a remake of Requiem for a Dream (biting nails, I mean I want to tell you but I won’t).

     3/4ths of Lee Hun’s films have Love in the title, so you can be assured he’s interested.  Can we successfully blend genres of action and romance?  Korea never seems to worry much and sticks often to the comedy first, serious next routine.  I think Almost Love has something good for everyone.  For me it has some amazing packaging.  The Fantom release had a magnetic hard box with huge postcards and a sixteen page color booklet.

     Sang-woo is writing a script and wants to be a stunt man.  Dal-rae wants to be an actress.  They’ll slowly hurt their lifelong friendship as they date other people.  I guess it isn’t exactly a love triangle, more a square, but luckily the other people aren’t flat douches.  We’ve picked our sides naturally, we didn’t have to be forced and that’s mature writing. 

     The film is as colourful and fun as its first press packaging. 

ALWAYS (Only You)

KD Media – 2012

DIRECTOR: Song Il-gon

ACTORS: So Ji-sub and Han Hyo-joo (no one else matters)

              

     Blind women just can’t find a nice guy.  I mean, sure he’s nice and handsome, but he didn’t used to be.  He was violent, had some regrets.  For the finale think See No Evil, Hear No Evil, except a lot less funny.  I think I need to start over.

     I’m getting smarter about buying KD Media limited boxes, the romantic ones leave quick.  The four disc set disappeared right after I bought it.  Women are not to be underestimated as collectors, especially when Woo-bin is involved, which he isn’t here.  

              

ANTIQUE

Showbox/KD Media – 2009

DIRECTOR: Min Kyu-dong

ACTORS: Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Jae-wook, Yoo Ah-in and Choi Ji-ho

              

     From the director of Memento Mori and based on a Japanese manga comes another Min Kyu-dong film that starts with an A!  I’m not sure if you consider manga and comics the same thing.  Our comics are usually about some type of superhero and until recently, the films have often been subpar.  A manga can be about any subject, but the panel format can inspire some beautifully edited shots like in this particular film.  The film is closer to Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery than the Japanese television show, so if you have any problems … blame the book.

     This is another extremely successful film with gay themes.  No punches are pulled either, ____ calls himself “A Gay of Demonic Charm” right near the beginning, able to suck the love and life out of any man.  He’s basically lasted a year at a time in culinary shops as every man wants him.  His new boss is the only person that ever turned him down.  It’s a match made in heaven, except that ___ is scared of females.  This snubs plans of hiring a beautiful female to work with.  After doing too much work by themselves, they hire a hungry kid who will work any hours for money and leftover cake, especially since ___ feels nothing for him.

     Sadly the kid wants to make cakes and doesn’t respect ___ at all.  ___ knows little about his shop, still has no one to clean it and has few customers and little control … and if he eats cake he gets sick.

     It’s a manic film, colourful and crazy like an anime.  There are strange mysteries and secrets and I haven’t even mentioned the fourth man. 

APRIL SNOW

Enter One/Show East – 2005

DIRECTOR: Hur Jin-ho

ACTORS: Bae Yon-jun and Son Ye-jin

              

     Recently a first press Blu-ray has been released, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on the hard box original pressing with a booklet and fold out digipak.  As I begin, I think of Snow Falling on Cedars.  That film is depressing.  You want to kill yourself by the end.  In that way I consider it a sad failure.  This film is calm and beautiful like all of Jin-ho’s projects. 

     Two people meet when their significant others are in a car accident, in the same car.  They were having an affair.  We watch the collateral damage.  We admire the victims be strong and weak as they learn of the betrayal.  The accident killed a man in another car and we watch our victims take all the blame.  Bae Yong-jun and Son Ye-jin play perfectly fragile people who may have no one but each other.  Seo-young (Ye-jin) barely speaks a word for over half an hour.  It’s like some kind of very long 12 step meeting that we’re watching through the window, victims anonymous.

     If it doesn’t sounds like your cup of cocoa, I do feel sorry for you.  Jin-ho’s characters are allowed to live and breathe.  There is a relaxing style that some may not enjoy.  I did. 

           

APARTMENT/APT (9:56)

Enter One/Show East – 2006

DIRECTOR: Ahn Byung-ki

ACTORS: Ko So-young, Kang Sung-jin, Jang Hee-jin, Park Ha-seon, Yoo Min

              

     Toilet Pictures has produced four films.  All have large production values.  Two recent ones were Sunny and Speedy Scandal which made gobs of money, considering they were comedies, that’s quite a triumph.  The earlier two were Phone and this picture.  As Phone and APT were horror by the same director, I’m putting together that he’s the producer.  He’s a much better producer.

     Hey, I like horror.  I’m not a huge connoisseur of so-bad-it’s-good though.  This film is just weird.  I like the message, though.  Hey, help out.  You see something, do something.  We’re only as alone in the world as we force ourselves to be.  Past that, this movie is odd.

     A beautiful woman is eternally single because a few relationships didn’t work.  After a subway suicide, the lights keep going out in her complex.  People keep dying at 9:56.  Only she can stop the madness when no one listens.  Oh boy, I’d love a movie where people listen.

     Horror films are best in the dark, in the theatre with big booming scary sounds.  Everything else destroys the effect.  The acting here is lukewarm much like the characters.  The scary hair is kind of tiring.  I liked Phone and will be seeing Nightmare soon, but honestly, producing light instead of darkness is really working out.  I hope that direction continues for Ahn Byung-ki and his Toilet.

     See instead Neighbors, created from the same artist’s source material, and contains some similar elements.

 

ARCHITECTURE 101

Candle – 2012

DIRECTOR: Lee Yong-joo

ACTORS: Uhm Tae-woong, Han Ga-in, Lee Je-hoon, (Bae) Suzy and Jo Jung-suk

              

     How many people end up with their first love?  It’s a clumsy time.  How do we say how we feel?  Building a life can be as complex as building a house. 

     Seung-min and Seo-yun are each played by two actors jumping in and out of the past.  I thought the cover was of two couples in college, but that the beauty of Korean promotional art, usually it contains a happy interesting scene that never existed.  While I’m on the subject, the first pressing of the DVD is huge, with a giant conti book and a digipak in a box with blueprint art all over the place.  I can’t imagine Americans calling any movie Architecture 101 (or literally, Introduction to Architecture).  The customer might die from yawning as they ask for a ticket to the next superhero film.   

     I like with a seemingly small film blows up.  The consensus seemed to be, and I agree, that there was little melodrama and conversations were realistic.  That’s not very nice to all the rest of the movies made around it, but…

     The house built in this film will make you sick, it’s amazing.  It’s on an island, so you gaze out to the crashing water.  On the roof there’s grass.  The massive windows open like folding paper.

     Seung-min uses an assignment to follow a beautiful girl in his class home.  He just doesn’t know how to tell Seo-yun what he feels, or if she’ll even want to hear it as she likes the same rich and popular guy that everyone likes.  All the while Seung-min in the present is designing for a company and working very hard, when Seo-yun requests he builds a house for her, as he promised years ago.

     My favourite scenes are actually with Seung-min and his best friend (played by Jung-suk).  What’s great is, the guy failed and is repeating High School, but he’s more experienced with women.  He gives good and bad advice, but each intense meeting is hilarious.  Realistic is definitely a great adjective, and in film, that’s a welcome word.  I’m going to build an amazing Key lime pie for this one, with love.  Nominated for 4 Grand Bell awards, two for Han Ga-in, but it didn’t win any.  That must have been strange to have two moments of MAYBE MAYBE … not. 

 

ATTACK ON THE PIN-UP BOYS

SM – 2007

DIRECTOR: Lee-kwon

ACTORS: Super Junior, like every member

              

     Well, it isn’t not funny.  That’s what your bare minimum should be for a comedy.  I set my bar low and that worked out for me.  Of course I’m only a few minutes in, I just wanted to write a few pre-thoughts.  One is that the film might appeal to people like Dasepo Naughty Girls or even Volcano High with its vibrant colours and special effects.  It’s a high school filled with actors who were in a boy band.  I stayed away a long time; let’s see how it works out.

     Oh no, okay, I get it.  One second later I come back and realize it’s a low brow Brick.  Censored crap is being thrown in the faces of attractive males.  The censoring is strange and welcome actually.  I was eating at the time.  There were three attacks before the opening title screen that appears like ten minutes in.  I’m almost at minute thirteen.  Well, I gave it a shot.  To be continued.

Okay maybe a two years later, with nothing else to do, I gave this flick another shot.  The low brow would continue for sure, the dumb jokes, the mystery that was becoming more and more obvious.  For the fans, that’s all I can say, but it sure is colourful and made with lightness.  The musical number at the end is alright, nothing special.  A lot of Korean musician jump into film with a lot of success, so this makes sense.  I just think it could have aimed higher.  That’s all.  Out.

V

ATTACK THE GAS STATION 2

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2010

DIRECTOR: Kim Sang-jin

ACTORS: Hyun-woo Joo, Han-seon Jo, Jong-hak Baek, Won-ju Moon ,Park Young-Kyu, Cho Han-Sun

              

     One of those sequels that takes on the original concept perfectly, but doesn’t require you to have seen the original (Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Desperado).  A gas station manager is fed up with getting robbed and trashed by a biker gang.  He staffs his station with the toughest employees he can find.  When a pathetic group of kids attempt to rob the station, the new hires easily dispose of them, but that’s when things go crazy.  The manager is acting like a gangster boss, and they decide to beat him and leave.  They haven’t been paid though.  The staff teams up with the pathetic wanna-be gangsters and has a cash only sale at the station to make their money back.

     The concept is close to the original.  Thieves find they can make more money working at the gas station than robbing it.  It’s got a nice touch of satire.  The sequel is complex and hilarious.  They also do a good job of making fun of how much time has passed since the original.  People don’t pay with cash much anymore causing problems of taking their money and none of the young people know the punishment of stamping your head to the ground (you place your head on the ground with your body up, minus the feet, and put your hands behind your back).

     All of the staff have pasts, almost a parody of the serious flashback pasts you may see in films, but you get half and half here.  It’s always walking a line between serious and funny.  The leader ___ is kicked off his national soccer team when he fights the players that are injuring him on purpose.  On the contrary, ____ has a thing about hitting women.  He doesn’t do it on purpose though, he seriously injures them by throwing them out of the way of danger or killing mosquitoes on their heads.  ___ basically thinks he’s in a video game.

     Every character is dynamic.  The females may seem to be there only for being silly or cute, but when new gas station dancers are held hostage, one is told she is the new vice-president and must write down the names of any other hostage who speaks.  She takes it so seriously that it scares everyone else.  Everything is a distraction into a new level of insanity and lots of fun.   Myung-rang always can her name as if she’s in third person.  She’s dumb and cute, but always seems to have a purpose, especially when she fills a prison bus of escaped cons with the wrong fuel.  The SWAT team finds the gas station, but can’t find a ten guy pushing a bus.  It does make you wonder where the police are (shrugs).

     Another highlight is when  ____ finds and fights members of the first biker gang who attacked the gas station and started the whole mess.  He attacks them on their own turf and leaves a map, in the dirt, where they can be found.  Not only is it the most elaborate, giant map you could imagine, the bikers still can’t find the gas station.   If that sounds funny or you just like a lot of chaotic fighting, then Attack the Gas Station 2 is for you (as well as the film Top Secret!)

     Though a first press, there is only a clear case with one disc.  As of yet I still haven’t been able to get a hold of the original Attack The Gas Station, but I’m pleased to report a cameo by Kim Su-ro. 

 

AU REVOIR, UFO

KD Media – 2004

DIRECTOR: Kim Jin-Min

ACTORS: Lee Eun-ju, Lee Bum-su, Bong Tye-gyu, Byun Hie-bong

              

     This French sci-fi film actually looks a lot like a Korean romantic comedy, because it is one.  UFOs are a minor player, spoken of briefly in the beginning, middle and ending, but don’t have a huge amount of consequence even if they create miracles.  Co-written by Lee Hae-jun (Castaway on the Moon, Like A Virgin) this is one of the final projects of Eun-ju before her suicide.  She plays a blind woman named Kyung-woo who escapes to a small city to get over a man who breaks up with her.  She’s picked up late by a bus driver named Sang-hyun who DJ’s his bus’s radio with prerecorded songs and full vocal commentary.  He screws up being Kyung-woo’s bus driver so many times that he decides to lead a triple life.  A driver, a DJ that she enjoys and also a neighbor named Pyung-gyu who is helpful and forms a relationship.  Why lie?  In this case I kind of understand but it is crystal clear how this yarn bomb is going to unravel and blow up.

     I had a bit of a problem how sometimes the actors wait for each one’s lines to end before they start their own.  It doesn’t always happen, but it happens a lot in the beginning.  The blindness is handled in an interesting way, Kyung-woo often looks strange and is quite a character.   One of my favourite jokes is her telling Sang-hyun/Pyung-gyu to WATCH OUT FOR THAT TELEPHONE POLE.  The surreal humor works well with her neighbor’s innocence.  This is a sweet film, where a kiss is the ultimate in romance, an early film of Bong Tye-gyu playing a fairly normal brother.  It doesn’t amount to much but that’s okay.  Life doesn’t always build to a climax, sometimes it just gives us the precious opportunity to find happiness and also be ourselves.

     The slipcover is very unique, it’s matte and translucent adding images to the cover like the overseas version of What Lies Beneath or the first press of Usual Suspects.  Though Bum-su looks like he may be retarded on the front, I assure you he isn’t.

B

BAD GUY

Enter One – 2004

DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

ACTORS: Cho Jae-hyun, Won Seo

TONE: Kidnapping pimps are people too!

              

     What if someone reminded you of someone else?  Well, I would definitely force them to work as a prostitute.  Recently I watched two girls review the movie; they said that they watched each scene holding their breath.  It’s nothing that you’ve seen before and that’s always a triumph.  Given that, it won’t be for everyone.

     As always Kim Ki-duk attempts to humanize crime and evil, this time a kidnapper and pimp.  Given that, you may not be on board.  I even had to research a bit about the end.  Hey, it says Bad Guy right on the cover, the matte slipcover.

     Yeah, this one is a hard watch, but an interesting one at least.  In the beginning the film is seeming to say that no one is above anyone, no matter your class or money, but then we see a dreamlike loop former.  Our bad guy is creating someone he knew and misses.  Quite a journey through the brambles of red light.

 

BANG-GA? BANG-GA!

KD Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Yook Sang-hyo

ACTORS: Kim Jung-tae, Kim In-kwon, Shin Hyun-bin, and a bunch of dirty foreigners!  GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRIES!

              

     Again, a successful comedy comes from a sidekick.  It’s full of original, and dare I say, important ideas, and though it will never be remade here – it easily could be.  Kim Jung-tae plays Banga a guy who fakes being Butanese to score a job.  He works with many illegal immigrants who are mistreated and poorly paid.  Hilarious.

     It is. 

     There’s a karaoke contest mentioned early so you know a song or two is going to happen by the end, but even the jaded will pull a bit closer to the screen.  Immigrants love the freedoms of the country they are in and don’t take them for granted like so citizens.  They make futile attempts to blend, just like Banga blends into them.  He fails at all the jobs they are so good at and finally becomes a chair tester.  I love how Jung-tae slaps any viewer’s notion that this would be an easy job.  He has to move in small motions 2000 times or more and walks out of the chair as if he’s 2000 years old. 

     KD Media’s standard first press, a sleeve and alternate art.  The title international was He’s On Duty so wondered if this was some kind of cash-in sequel of She’s On Duty.  It’s not a bad title, as the original would probably confuse and bedevil.

 

BE BRAVE GEUM-SOO! (Saving My Hubby)

Enter One

DIRECTOR: Hyun Nam-seop

 

Hyun Nam-seop, the film tells the story of Geum-soon, a housewife in her early 20s who got married due to an unplanned pregnancy. A former volleyball star, Geun-soon struggles to adjust to married life together with her equally young and inexperienced husband (played by Kim Tae-woo, the younger South Korean soldier in JSA). Then late at night after her husband’s first day of work, she receives a phone call from a bar owner who is keeping her husband hostage, claiming that he owes a $1400 drinking bill. Strapping her baby to her back, Geum-soon goes out to rescue her husband.

From the beginning, Saving My Hubby (literal title: “Be Brave, Geum-soon!”)

 

A BAREFOOT DREAM

KD Media – 2010

DIRECTOR: Kim Tae-kyun

ACTORS:  Park Hee-soon, Lim Won-hee, Kim Suh-hyung, Kim Seo-Hyung, Cho Jin-Woong, Francisco Varela, Fernando Pinto, Junior Da Costa, Marlina Simoes

TONE:  Poor athletic kids meet a selfish coach.  True story.

     Films outside of Korea don’t always work out so well, but thankfully this one, shot in Korea, East Timor and Japan was really great.  Park Hee-soon learned two new languages and was trained by a soccer coach to prepare for the role of Kim Won-kang, a real soccer player.  He fails to sell soccer equipment to almost anyone when he moved to East Timor until he finds he can put the children on a payment plan.  This gets his involved in coaching some of the kids and being beat by other kids without shoes.

     Soccer is the only way kids can think of getting out of East Timor.  They look up to Coach Hee-soon and he has to change from seeing the children as dollar signs.  When they start to show some real talent, he greases every wheel he can find, but mostly runs into dead ends that are all his fault from being involved his shaky enterprises.  Lim Won-hie is barely a cameo, but has a very serious role, trying to convince his friend to come back.  He’s been in a lot of Samuel L. Jackson micro-roles lately, but I don’t mind.

     You’re going to love Josephine.  All the kids have a nice Snatch-esque introduction with a sweet freeze frame and their name.  The major players are well drawn and all get their moments adding up to a great, inspirational sports drama, but what other kinds are there?  Honestly in Korea, most sports films are downers so maybe you’ll be surprised

     Considering the age friendly subject matter, the fact that it’s true and handled well and that Lim Won-hie says hello, how about 7 slices of Key lime pie?

 

BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (A Higher Animal)

CJ E&M #34 (originally Spectrum – 2001)

DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-ho (debut)

ACTORS: Lee Sung-jae, Bae Doo-na, Byun Hee-bong, Kim Ho-Jung, Kim Roi-ha, Go Soo-hee

 

     I gave up.  This was a hard film to get but I didn’t want the Magnolia release.  Domestic!  Never!  Then I was given the Netflix password of a friend and I found myself looking up Boon Joon-ho’s name.  Mother, The Host … oh, look at that.  So, here we go.

     I’ve never seen Bae Do-na so dumb, and it’s not an exaggerated ignorance, it was realistic.  Every character is drawn out from the youthful old lady who dries vegetables to the wife of ___ who controls him.  The film is centered around ____ () a ___ who finds himself driven nuts by a loud dog.  This is where the film might lose some people and I think the “no animals were harmed in this film” is well placed at the beginning.  He finds the dog and searches for way to off him, settling for locking him in a storage that reminded me of a Tale of Two Sisters.

Here are some notes

     Horror story cinematographer (we’re just as stuck)

     Dogs eat better than we do.

     Creative toilet paper

     There’s such a heavy karmic poetry to Barking Dogs, but nothing goes the way anyone wants or hopes. 

     The creative cinematographer sometimes approaches (Silenceof the Lamb’s Tak Fujimoto) as he draws nearer to his subjects, the apartment is filmed geometric genius

     Ask old American Korea eat dog.

     Paying for a higher paying job.

 

THE BEAST AND THE BEAUTY

ShowBox/KD Media – 2006

DIRECTOR: Lee Gye-Byuk (debut)

ACTORS:  Ryu Seung-bum, Shin Mina, Kim Kang-woo, Ahn Gil-gang, Lee Young-suk, Ham Eun-jung

TONE: Modern rom-com mash-up of Cyrano de Bergerac and Beauty and the Beast

 

     You have it all, an adorable blind friend who you gladly do everything for … well, that’s it, but it’s all you need.  Then one day someone pops some good eyes in her head and your world crumbles, because you’re not as attractive as you may have mentioned.  It’s a rather odd twist on both Cyrano de Bergerac and Beauty and the Beast as Dong-gun (Sung-bum) impersonates a roommate whom his girlfriend Hae-joo (Mina) and her family find him unattractive and scary.  At least he buys himself a bit of time to figure things out. 

     Through the film, Dong-gun keeps getting plastic surgery but it makes things worse and worse to add to his dilemma.  I always found Sung-bum had an interesting look.  If anything he’s unique and his various talents lead him into interesting roles.  True he’s not the most attractive guy in the world, but I’m sure he has a million Korean fans.  I think one reviewer said, yeah, it doesn’t matter in film if the guy is attractive, as long as the girl is.  That’s true.  I feel like the film is about confidence more than anything and of course, a little honesty would make this a five minute flick.  It’s only considered an option fifty five minutes in.

     I love how they deal with Hae-joo’s former blindness, after her operation.  She sometimes closes her eyes to find her way or to play the piano, finding the darkness a mental comfort.  Sunlight is too much in the beginning and she wears glasses often.  The realism was a comfort to me.  A newly sighted brain would be overloaded, trying to figure it all out.  She obviously can’t read either.  When she gets a fake Hawaiian postcard she looks at it, turns it, looks again, spins it and hands it back to a friend to read.

     Problems arise when Hae-joo locates the schoolmate Dong-gun always described himself as, a guy who always cast a shadow over his popularity just by being more attractive.  Jun-ha (Kang-woo) is a serious prosecutor and Hae-joo realizes her mistake.  Soon of course, the man is smitten and becomes a suave stalker and Hae-joo struggles to stay faithful to her invisible boyfriend.  Love triangles hurt my brain and heart.  Waa!  Well at least forty minutes in, in a theatre, the ShowBox logo makes an aural cameo as the detective and Jun-ha go on a date.  Waa!

     Of course we all know how it’s going to end, there’s no real reason to cry.  And at least no one dies.  I definitely understand as a shy person.  A pretty blind girl would have been a wonderful gift in high school.  Hurry up Dong-gun, the movie is half over and you’re going to lose her!

     Though the director only made this one film, he was the assistant on Old Boy.  I like all the close-ups and subtle inserts placed into the film.  There’s a hilarious sequence where Dong-gun attempts to spend all Jun-ha’s time with him, instead of Hae-joo.  After days of this there’s a slickly edited race to her door before Dong-gun decides he might as well give in.  During Hae-joo’s epiphany I’m equally impressed as the music and editing change.  Though the initial premise has sitcom-esque exaggeration Gye-byuk keeps my attention.  They don’t make Jun-ha awful either, and I’m impressed by that.  Honestly not the best for any of the main actors, but I must award at least half a pie for not running off the rails as so many rom-coms do.  More like 5 or 6 though, the airport finale is a comedic/melodramatic firecracker.  If you like this try Almost Love, which is quite similar.

BEAT

Content Zone – 2011 (originally 1997)

DIRECTOR: Kim Sung-soo

ACTORS:  Woo-sung Jung           …MinBu-seon Kim          Bu-seon KimSo-young Ko             So-young Ko             …RomiChang Jung Lim                Chang Jung Im …WhanHyun-jin Sa          Hyun-jin SaOh-sung Yu    Oh-sung Yu

 

               “Is fighting a gift?”

 

     Min explains to his friend Tae-soo, if fighting is a gift, I’m going to let it rot.  For a film about drop-outs, Beat is rather complex.  It seems to be about the influences peers have on us, whether negative or positive.  You watch how a life can be transformed completely by one action.  Min (Woo-sung) is your average guy with no real hopes rather than to life a long, calm life.  The other three people around him will change him forever.

     It seems his only peace is a white and black high speed motorbike that says Beat on the side.  Pushed by his dysfunctional mother, Min splits with Tae-soo one day to continue in a better school as Tae-soo finds his way into a gang.  Tae-soo gives his friend the motorbike and stabs a man to death.  He serves his jail sentence as Min meets a glue-sniffing loser in school called Whan (the debut of Im Chang-jung) and is temporarily sold to a self-absorbed straight A student named Ro-mi (Ko So-young).  No matter what, Min always seems to be perfectly in the middle, but I totally understand it.  I’ve had self-absorbed girlfriends, criminal and loser friends that you need at the time.  It’s shocking how universal the film feels sometimes.

     The motorbike is sold and bought again as the world gives constant bad hands to our characters.  Ro-mi loses her mind after a friend’s suicide.  Whan attacks the men stealing his only hope and Tae-soo returns hoping to climb the ranks of the underworld constantly helping his friends for violent favors.

     Problems exist of course, the soundtrack is dated.  Too much talking electric guitar and the blurry slow-motion fight scenes are more distracting than artistic.  The director stopped directing around 2003, but finally has a new blockbuster called Flu a decade later.  His Please Teach Me English is a personal favourite, and definitely shows off his versatility.  This is a classic of pre-new wave and is a good start for action/romance juggernaut Jung Woo-sung.  Five slices of Key lime pie.  The rest are for my friends, wherever they are.

BEDEVILLED

DS Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Jang Cheol-soo

ACTORS:  Seo Young-hee, Ji Sung-won, Baek Soo-ryun

 

     Life can be difficult when you live on a island with only nine people, and they’re all awful.  Bedevilled doesn’t really seem to be about that though.  It starts out like Drag Me To Hell, except there will be no supernatural horrors and our main character, Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) is a real douche.  Hae-won is awful with people, she doesn’t help when it’s need and she punishes the good people around her.  I think that’s where the film may lose some people.  Our main character is awful and then she stops being our main character.  Horror on an island is nothing new in Korea with films like Paradise Murdered.  It’s nice to have an anti-hero horror movie that isn’t a sequel and isn’t about a scary hair ghost.  There is a price though.

     Bok-nam was a beggar and friend of Hae-won.  They both lived on the island of Moodo.  After being forced to take a vacation Hae-won decides to revisit her past and then her character basically fades from our radar.  She’s relaxing while Bok-nam is abused by everyone on the island.  It’s become  a way of life, but when her daughter may be next she begs for help.  True to form Hae-won never believes or helps.

     Jang Cheol-soo obviously came away from working with Kim Ki-duk with some real film experience.  This is not an easy watch, it falls close to the torture porn sub-genre of horror, but sadly, more realistic.  

     As the film begin I admired DS Media’s HD logo.  The Blu-ray is without region and has English, Korean and Japanese subtitles.  DS is a small company, but the film doesn’t look cheap, it was released like their DVDs, with a matte sleeve. 

     6 slices of horrorific Key lime pie.

 

A BETTER TOMORROW

Well Go USA – 2011

DIRECTOR: Jang Cheol-soo

ACTORS: Ju Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo

TONE: WOO!

     I have a love hate thing with John Woo.  The guy is like jazz to me, but enough about that because he only produced this cover of A Better Tomorrow (though he obviously had a lot to do with the writing as well). 

     Oh yeah, attention scriptwriters:  If you are going to kill a guy, don’t have him tell me about his family and kids two seconds before he’s going to die.  It gives it all away.  Do that much earlier, just let me get to know him in a natural way.  Maybe they’re worried that I’m going to like him too much.  That happens, you tune out because they killed your favourite actor.  Just sayin’…

     This film looks like a John Woo film.  It doesn’t look Korean.  That’s actually pretty neat.  Points for Kang Seung-gi, a first time cinematographer.  Young-Choon (Song Seung-heon from He Was Cool) also is a great Chow Yun Fat (he was cool too).  There was some review that said only one actor seemed to be enjoying themselves, whatever.  When your film is about betrayal and regret, hey, some people are going to be having a hard time.  They can’t all be comedies.  This is a Hong Kong tribute, and ends up better than a lot of recent Hong Kong films.  Rare to see guns too, this is Korea not Hong Kong, but BLAM BLAM BLAM!

     The director previously made Failan and Maundy Thursday.  This is who you want directing, except when it comes to action.  Oh no, but that’s kind of the point.  Yeah, well, if you don’t care you’ll like the film.  Action film buffs that love A Better Tomorrow, just watch A Better Tomorrow.  I have the trilogy in a leather bound book from Korea, we can watch it together.  Of course then you might miss the rather enjoyable climax.

     A Better Tomorrow (or Invincible, its first title) is best viewed as an Indie with fun surprise action at the end.  It’s like Peter Jackson’s King Kong.  Can you wait an hour to see the monkey?  No?  How about two?

 

BEYOND ALL MAGIC (Delivering Love)

Planis Entertainment/Yedang Entertainment Company – 2008

DIRECTOR: Cho Nam-ho (debut)

ACTORS: Shim Hye-jin, Kim Su-mi, Lee Sang-woo, Lee Da-hee, Lee Kye-in

TONE: A strange young man fixes the lives of three women

 

               “I didn’t know the fruit I sold was so sweet.”

 

     I really want to call this Black Heart.  It puzzles me when you start the film.  Black Heart, that’s what the subtitles say.  The cover is a crystal shoe placed on a lady’s foot with all the three leads so happy.  Black Heart just straight does fit.  I want to see Black Heart!

     Well it can’t be the young egomaniac daughter Na-rae (Da-hee) back from Seoul after failing to become a weathergirl.  They didn’t like all the improvisation.  It’s not the Grandmother with dementia, Gan-nan (Su-mi), who is squeezing a young bottom on the back of the DVD.  No, it’s probably the cheap mother Nam-hee (Hye-jin from Foxy Festival) who is completely jaded about love to the point that she’s annoyed at the mating of dragonflies.  If she was on the cover alone like an ice queen, then I could have my preferred title.  Instead we get a glossy slipcover, which is a bit odd for Planis.  No thick sleeve?  That’s okay.  I bought it strictly for the white Planis logo and it is right there at the top.  Hopefully the film is good too.

     I’ve read the film described at a wholesome version of Everybody Has Secrets.  When Nam-hee hits a strange young man (Sang-woo of Almost Love) named Jun, he keeps appearing.  Senile Gan-nan thinks she’s dating him and often acts like a crushing teen, writing poetry and dressing half her age.  The mother uses a Hwatu deck like tarot cards as children do, predicting the special guest, and the of course the daughter Na-rae is back home, owning money she stole and hating every minute of being back in the insanity.  I love how basic things are a struggle for her, like reading, eating, talking.  She’s got big television dreams, but small things constantly get in the way.  I found the commercial shoot heartbreaking as she tries to eat soup and deliver lines.  Na-rae begins to cry with all the director’s yelling.  Her dreams are slipping away.  She slowly reveals herself to be darker and more selfish than her mother.

     Cho Chul-ho’s bright summer cinematography is a huge highlight.  I had a bit of trouble looking him up, but Doll Master came up.  One of my favourite things was the look of that horror weirdness.  The film takes its time to show of the environment of the small town and beautiful house.  Joon starts living with the three women and turns their lives around.  He’s a perfect addition to Nam-hee’s fruit stand with his model looks (reminding me a bit of Le Grand Chef) and penchant for magic.  Once you get the kids, you get the parents too.  Making some real money, Nam-hee smiles for the first time.  Call me a sucker, but I like Lee Sang-woo.  He takes very little time to become an ethereal spirit, somewhere between innocence and sage, painting everything he touches with nature and brightness.  Maybe he’ll find a way to PAINT THEIR BLACK HEARTS!

     Well, I like it.  I mean, half the cast is insane, so it’s really about how good they are at convincing you they’re not normal people.  I was swayed.  How about 5 or 6 slices of Key lime pie?  They taste magical.  Beyond all magic.

BICHUNMOO (Out Live, Flying Warriors)

Spectrum – 2001

DIRECTOR: Kim Young-jun (debut)

ACTORS: Shin Hyun-jun, Kim Hee-seon, Jung Jin-yung, Jang Dong-jik, Kim So-ro

 

     2000 was a good year for athletic Kim So-ro and the Korean film industry.  Though they didn’t equal up to the ticket sales of JSA, Foul King and Bichunmoo were the top three Korean films.  Of the three though, this is third for a reason.  Believe it or not, someone made a movie and didn’t follow the book!

     I haven’t read the six mangas, or any mangas, so I won’t be that person.  I came in with an open mind, though I actually waited a while to see the film.  The kinder critics were not so kind.  There is a lot that happens, and often it’s between scenes.  Who is that?  Did I miss something?  The action is pretty cool, it’s a Hong Kong action director and film is about Yuan dynasty (14th century) China versus Mongols.  Luckily they all speak Korean.

     Bichun is a pretty sweet skill to have.  Your sword can send a wave through the ground and explode your enemy into sand.  It was a good idea, because blood might have made the film a crazy mess and made our hero Jin-ha (Hyun-jun) into a monster.  It was similar to Equilibrium in that way.  It’s going to be strange to some, but don’t worry there’s violence and blood and gore.  It’s there.

     Everyone wants the secrets of Bichun.  Jin-ha’s receives a history lesson before his master his master dies from being caged and attacked.  A mystery forms and Jin-ha travels to be near the woman he protects and loves.  As her mother passes, her Mongol general Father returns apathetic about the death and adamantly against Jin-ha. 

     The triangle of love that forms soon after is just passive enough to not annoy me.  Also in love with Sullie (Hee-seon) Namgung Junkwang (Jin-yung)

THE BIG SWINDLE

Content Zone – 2012 (originally released 2004)

 

DIRECTOR: Choi Dong-hoon (debut)

ACTORS:  Park Shin-yang, Baek Joon-shik, Yum Jung-ah, Chun Ho-jin, Lee Moon-shik,  Park Won-sang, Kim Sang-ho Seon Yu, Kim Yun-suk and Lim Ha-ryong

 

     Number three in the Hommage Collection of deluxe Blu-rays, this new release celebrates the first film of Thieves director Choi Dong-hoon with a tiny hardback book.  A limited edition of 1000.  Mine is number 0566.  If you have 0666, contact me.  I was so close.

     With a title like The Big Swindle, your head swims trying to figure everything out beforehand.  I will admit, in the beginning, at the end of car chase, my mind said, “If you don’t see it, it didn’t happen.”  As each suspect is questioned after a robbery, you notice quickly that the Chief of police is out of his league, emotional and easily manipulated.  In the end they say, a swindle is about mind control, not technique.  You just have to know what everyone wants.

     This is Chang Hyuk’s (Shin-yang) show.  He says just the right things to twist people’s brains, pushing them into the paths he needs them to be on, putting a team together.  Joon-shik is no zen master here, he’s a grenade.  Jung-ah is soon in love with the new stranger.  Moon-shik is a short punching bag and the only time the cops seem to think they have a lead.  Won-San is the only one that doesn’t trust strangers, but simply kicking him out of the car pulls him right back into the swindle.  Like in Thieves, most characters have code names like Swallow, Gasoline or Big Mouth and again like Thieves, everyone has a con to take the money for themselves.

     Best laugh goes to Big Mouth (Moon-shik) for his hilarious attempt at escape.  He breathes in and sucker elbows two guards, running for his life, but I must talk about the turn.  Blu-ray isn’t often kind to make-up and effects, but the cinematography is excellent.  Check this edited list out for Choi Yung-hwan: Thieves, Take Care of My Cat, A Man Who Was Superman, Woochi and he debuted with Die BadI wonder if the make-up on Shin-yang is supposed to fool us, or to make us think we know more than we should.  Are we being manipulated?  The giant pore-free nose is a tiny bit much, but the old man make-up didn’t trick me in Thieves either.  It’s a piece of art literally, especially when one of the crew gets stabbed in the neck, dead within a plastic covered frame.  Often we jump from the past to the present like Highlander.  It’s difficult to figure out how it was shot.  An impressive debut making it no wonder than Dong-hoon continues to smash records and make fun action films. 

BIRDCAGE INN (Blue Gate)

Bitwin/KOFIC – 2005

DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

ACTORS:  Lee Ji-eun, Lee Hae-eun, Ahn Jae-mo, Jung Hyung-gi Jeong, Son Min-seok

     Blue Gate, I love that name.  Well, anyway.           

     Hypocrisy is always a fun subject, but Kim Ki-duk’s films are rarely a lot of fun (I don’t mean that in a bad way).  This time we’re humanizing prostitution and the family that houses her business.  She’ll touch each member of the family (literally) during the course of the film, showing that they aren’t any better than she.  Consider the family a pimp, mentally abusing instead of slapping her around.  Ki-duk is so skilled at showing society’s evils in a good light, while making society itself the antagonist.

     Kim Ki-duk became internationally known after this film crashed and burned.   It’s interesting, his films look so different, his tone, and his ideas.  You’d think he’d be a treasure.  He is to me.  I love the character development.  The daughter of the family is the farthest away from the prostitute, but will become the closest in the end.  Often there is a dreamy loop.  You’ll have to toss your opinions aside and open your mind.  I’ve never watched one of his films and felt there was a tinge of cliché.  I always have an idea of what I think the films are about, but I’m never correct.   But, there was a blue gate.  

     Finding the film at all was a chore, so the simple clear case pressing was fine with me.  Like always my North American mind considered it was about the two female leads falling in love.  I rarely look at plot anymore and just trust each Kim-kiduction (c) will be mind-bending perfection.  The painting featured in the sand

      

BLACK HOUSE

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2007

DIRECTOR: Kang Woo-suk

ACTORS:  Hwang Jung-min, Kang Shin-il, Yoo Seon, Kim Seo-Hyung, Kim Jung-suk, Yoo Seung-mok

              

     Those insurance guys, always trying to get out of paying.

     Our insurance guy is named ____ () and he might not be so bad.  He’s an investigator but he has a lot of heart to go with a sad past.  Suicide seems to follow him around since his brother killed himself. 

     But with most mysteries, if you’re lead to a conclusion to early, it’s probably a red herring. 

 

     Beginning, regret, cinema

 

     Thinks the best of what he does, and his fellow humans.  When he says, “Something is still in there”, at the end, he’s not just talking about a person in a burning building.

 

     Black House was first a Japanese novel.  I realize what I want to say is a massive spoiler, so I’ll leave until later

 

BLADES OF BLOOD

Pre.Gm – 2010

DIRECTOR: Lee Joon-ik

ACTORS:  Hwang Jung-min, Cha Seung-won, Han Ji-hye, Baek Sung-hyun, Kim Chang-wan, Song Young-chang

               A mistaken possibility for the foreign language Oscar, but one of the most fun roles of Hwang Jung-min ever.  Let me elaborate.

               Like the Moon Escaping from the Clouds is a good title for a graphic novel, but we want males in the movie seats.  How about BLADES OF BLOOD?  Oh yeah, that’ll win an Oscar.  There Will Be Blood won two!  Well, I doubt Korea was thinking about North America and Joon-ik’s historical films are always complex and interesting.  Hey, if he wants to have his directing title appear over a decapitated head and have some fun, so be it.  Was it fun?

               The sad fact is every Korean wants to fight the Japanese, but instead start taking sides on how to do it and begin killing each other.  Mong-hak (Seung-won) is the tall assassin in white who only sees traitors, loyal to the Japanese and slashes them each down easily while Hwang (Jung-min) is more direct.  He’s blind and calm and yet has the best focus.  In the beginning they’re friends who see differently (ho ho) but will soon find each other at odds.  Young Hyun Kun-ju (Sung-hyun) can barely get arrested, but gets no respect as a bastard son of a priest?    Lee Joon-ik wanted the actor to be in two of his previous projects and dropped him right in the middle of the two veterans.  After his father is killed and he’s mortally wounded, the singing Jung-min saves him to fight Sung-hyun later.  Their travels are the gold of the film, with bright sunny fighting as Hyun Kun-ju learns that his savoir is not disabled and can teach him a lot.

BLEAK NIGHT

CJ E&M – 2012

DIRECTOR: Yun Sung-hyun

ACTORS: Lee Je-hoon, Seo Jun-young, Park Jung-min

              

               A Blu-ray of a graduation project shot with a hand held camera?  I never would have expected an HD release.  It was worth the wait.  Number 20 in CJ E&M’s deluxe Blu-ray collection.

               Korea is so kind to their smaller films.  A lot of the credit must go to Korean audiences.  If you’re good, they will come … except for Kim Ki-duk, come on Korea, get with it.  Best new actor, best new director, many award shows and festivals, Bleak Night (also known as The Gatekeeper) gave audiences a lot to think about.  I have doubts that you’ll end the film and not have a discussion.  Look deeper than bad guys and good guys.  These are kids trying to figure out each other and themselves.

BLIND

KD Media/NEW – 2011

DIRECTOR: Ahn Sang-hoon

ACTORS: Kim Ha-neul, Yu Sung-ho, Jo Hee-bong, Yang Yung-jo, Kim Mi-Kyung, Park Choong-seon, Park Bo-gum

 

               A blind former officer named Soo-ah (Ha-nuel) seems to be the only witness of a hit and run and a kidnapping, but a young food delivery boy named Gi-seob has a different story.  Kim Ha-nuel won best actress at the Grand Bell awards for her performance opposite Sung Ho-yu (The Way Home and Leafie, a Hen into the Wild).  The KD Media sleeve is embossed with braille to bring you further into the subject matter.

               Now, the positives can actually be negative.  Winning an award makes you pay more attention to the acting and on occasion Ha-neul’s Min Soo-ah character speaks a little weird.  This was the year of Sunny and I was shocked that no one was even nominated for best actress (thankfully Best Director and a nomination for supporting actress).  Ha-nuel’s blind acting is pretty good though, and she does act logically for a blind person.  The director occasionally pulls you into Soo-ah’s world by visualizing nothing except for what she senses, surrounded by eerie black.  But some things are so focused on that you can’t help but feel you’re being told: THIS IS IMPORTANT!  PAY ATTENTION!  There’s a vibrating machine shown early on that detects distance.  It was too obvious that it was going to be used at the end of the film.  Maybe I pay more attention than others. 

               I do enjoy how Soo-ah isn’t completely a good guy.  She makes a mistake in judgment that not only kills a friend and renders her sightless, but also makes her in ineligible to continue her occupation as an officer.    Three years pass and she just wants to prove herself.  When it’s revealed that part of her story is incorrect (something the audience knows, but no one else does except Gi-seob) she becomes depressed and stops helping.  I can’t imagine I’d be a happy person if I lost my sight.  Her only friend is a dog and if you know anything about Korean films and horror movies, you know that dog’s fate.  I guess that’s the problem.  For a movie about seeing blind, it’s quite see-through.  There aren’t enough surprises and the kidnapper/serial killer Myung-jun (Yung-jo) is not really developed.  In the day he performs abortions and at night he picks up women, and gives them sedative-laced coffee.  Then he does SOMETHING to them in a strangely lit lab.  It’s hard to know.  I don’t know if he even knows.  He’s kind of inconsequential as it’s really about an blind woman from taking him down.  Adoption versus abortion.  At least they explain everything.  She’s not Zatoichi the blind swordsman. 

 

A BLIND RIVER

Widemedia – 2009

 DIRECTOR: Ahn Seon-Kyung

 ACTORS: Zia, Park Sang-hun, Lee Hwa-Si, Han Ye-Ri, Park Ji-Yun

              

               This movie may start like My Father or many others in the growing genre of “Koreans whose life is messed up by their adoption”, but there is something else going on.  Something odd.  Zia (Ji-a Park) is a regular in Kim Ki-duk films, including the mother who gives her baby away and drowns in the lake.  I wonder if it’s a coincidence.

 

BLUE SALT (Hindsight)

CJ E&M – 2011

DIRECTOR: Lee Hyun-seung

ACTORS: Song Kang-ho, Sin Se-kyung, Cheon Jung-myung, Lee Jong-hyuk, Kim Min-joon, Yun Yeo-jung, Lee Kyung-yung-I, Kim Roi-ha, Oh Dal-soo, Esom, Jang Young-nam

TONE: Killing a friend is difficult, especially when we’re so adorable!

   

               Blue Salt is an insanely beautiful looking film from the cinematographer of Castaway On The Moon and director of Il Mare.  Sadly that film is Hyun-seung’s most successful and the only one he didn’t write.  Ooo, and recently released on Blu-ray.  Oh no, Il Mare is taking over this review!

               As a character dies, there’s a great line announcing the new era of guns.  They’re becoming more prevalent in Korean cinema as well.  Two great things, keeping the Hollywood remake machine at bay, are Korea is a unique divided country and that guns are extremely rare.  Difficult to create a modern North American remake as not even the police have guns.

               There’s a sun lit cooking school, a salt water distillery, reflections of fireworks on the faces of our main characters.  Everything is perfectly polished, so what’s there to hate?  Hate is the word.  This was a panned film.  Some found it empty, too perfect.  You wake up in make-up, fully metro.  I find those types of things distract me less sometimes.  I remember something about a beach scene.  Someone mentioned, “Notice the person in the middle of the sand, there’s no footprints.”  You notice a mess, not a clean floor.  Others notice the clean floor.  It’s too clean!

               Others had trouble with the ages of the two leads.  They made Kang-ho appear quite young for his age and there’s nothing sexual between the two.  He even mentions the different colours of love, maybe it is blue love.  Maybe it’s some other colour.  He’s not even sure.  He just feels something.  And so does Se-bin (Se-kyung), the assassin hired to kill him.

               Doo Heon (Kang-ho) plays a retired gangster.  A former colleague has been killed and he’s keeping his distance.  He’s focused on open a restaurant and cooking, even though he’s not very good.  Se-bin is better.  She stays close to her target and insults his lack of skills.  There’s something great about Kang-ho’s smile.

               The film’s strengths are visual.  I’m sure the gangster genre will never end, but I guess some investors will be a bit more wary about getting along with just star power.  I found it more than enough to watch until the slightly confusing end.  You know what’s going to happen, but you’re not quite sure what to think of it.  It’s beautiful though.  5 well shot slices of Key lime pie.  

A BLOOD PLEDGE

Planis Entertainment/Platys – 2009

DIRECTOR: Lee Jong-yong

ACTORS: Son Eun-seo손은서AsSoy(소이)Jang Kyung-ah (장경아)Jang Kyeong-ah장경아AsEon-joo(언주)Song Min-jeong (송민정)Song Min-jeong송민정AsEun-yeong(은영)Oh Yeon-seo (오연서)Oh Yeon-seo오연서AsYoo-jin(유진)Yoo Shin-ae (유신애)Yoo Shin-ae유신애AsJeong-eon(정언)Park Jeong-yoon (박정윤)Park Jeong-yoon박정윤AsPark Jeong-yoon

   

               Also known as Whispering Corridors 5: A Suicide Pact.

               It’s that time again!  Time for some schoolgirl horror with hints of lesbianism.  You may jump ahead to reviews of Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs, or Voice, just come back soon or I’ll think you’d been killed by a vengeful ghost.  (waiting, looking at watch)

               Okay, besides being an awful idea if wanting to polish wooden antiques, A Blood Pledge is a continuing, yet unconnected, tale started by Whispering Corridors.  In the beginning three students So-yi (Eun-seo), Eun-young (Min-jung) and Yoo-jin (Yeon-seo) swear an oath to die together, signing a pact and cutting themselves … then, a mutual friend Un-joo  (Kyung-ah) ends up dead.  When speaking to the counselor, you’d think she’s notice the schoolgirls’ all cuts on their hands, but they keep them hidden.  They keep a lot of things hidden.  Eu-gene, Eun-young

               The director wrote and assisted on two of Park Chan-wook’s early project so it’s good to see he wrote and directed this film.  My favourite scenes are an errie swingset piece where Un-joo seems to lose her fear of suicide and So-yi gazing up several flights of stairs until there is a sliver where Un-joo’s ghostly face appears.  Casting seemed to choose a lot of first time actors, and that’s worked well for the series (Kim Ok-bin debuted in Voice and Choi Kang-hee began her career with Whispering Corridors).  Some of the bloody illusions, that are driving Un-joo’s former girlfriend So-yi mad, are awfully frightening.  You can’t imagine that she was in on the murder, but her friends are a different case.

    The other students demand answers, especially Un-joo’s younger sister.  Un-joo was top of her class and showed no signs of depression.  As with most of the Whispering Corridors films, we flow in and out of time filling in the mysterious puzzle.  As in often the case, the lesbian relationship in a passing fling.  One girl out grows it as the other feels empty, love in these films knows no gender.

     The few parents you see are exaggeratedly evil, but I doubt adults are the target audience here.  The film is smart enough for anyone though.  The graceful end is kind of spelled out on the back of the glossy Planis DVD slipcover, but I won’t describe it, just in case you’d like to have a Whispering Corridors-fest of your own.  At this point I still have yet to see the first installment and am saving it for last … because I have no choice.  Anyway, I am definitely looking forward to WC6 and the next film by Lee Jong-yong.

BLOODY REUNION (To Sir, With Love)

Enter One/Show East – 2006

DIRECTOR: Im Dae-woong

ACTORS: Oh Mi-hee, Seo Young-hee, Lee Ji-hyun, Lee Dong-kyu, Yu Seol-ah, Park Hyo-jun, Yeo Hyun-soo, Jang Sung-won and Kim Eun-soo

TONE: Disgusting Horror, Twist Ending

 

“She treated me like a daughter.  I wanted to do something for her.”

 

               I use the North American title just in case you may come across the film.  It had a strong DVD release from Tartan as it was gory horror.  Also, To Sir, With Love is a slightly odd title given the teacher is female.  It references the less bloody 1967 film about a good teacher and all he did for his students.  In the end though, there is a certain irony and poetry to the title. 

               When I was in elementary school I wrote a story that ended: And it was all a dream.  Boy I thought I was brilliant.  No one saw that coming.  Of course then, you’ve just wasted everyone’s time, if the entire story you tell is a lie.  Some films got away with it, walking out with a fading limp.  Maybe I’ve said too much already.

Students gather with their teacher, Ms. Park (Mi-hee) in the countryside by the ocean to catch up on old times, but a few seem to have ulterior motives.  Maybe the teacher was a bit cruel in the past.  It seems many of the students have worn the mental and physical scars of her for sixteen years.  Tonight, someone is going to die

               First off, this film is kind of gross at points, so if you like some clean murder, this isn’t that PG-13 film with off-screen kills.  If anything, it’s a horror version of The Usual SuspectsOften South Korean remakes are comedy versions, so this was interesting.  Often slasher films have an element of mystery too, so most horror fans will be comfortable at the very least.   We begin in the past with the bloody birth of a Ms. Park’s deformed child.  Her husband kills himself overdramatically, hanging himself as the child draws in the background with crayons.  That child, now grown up is missing as we join detectives in the aftermath of the reunion.  They piece together the story with the only survivor, Mi-ja (Young-hee, from My Lovely Week and Antique, also both with Mi-hee).  She’s a caretaker who was taken in by Ms. Park and arranged the reunion for the former teacher’s betterment, as she’s elderly and sick.

               The highlight of the film truly is the sunlit reunion.  There are hints of darkness as each student speaks to their former teacher for the first time in years, but you feel that maybe they’re past it.  You’re not sure.  It’s a bit like Clue, where everyone is a suspect.  I feel viewers may react strongly in one way or another, but not in the middle.  You’re given an entire bowl of red herrings to eat, never considering that the wine is poisoned.

               Each student was embarrassed or mistreated in one way or another, making you ponder if the reunion was a good idea, but Mi-ja seems pretty naïve.  One former student nearly pushes Ms. Park off a cliff telling a story of being fat and made fun of when she broke a scale.  Now she’s obsessed with plastic surgery and being thin.  One student has trouble bowing and Ms. Park asks him why.  She doesn’t remember being the cause of a lifetime of pain, forcing him to do squats until he was injured.  I don’t know, I think Bloody Reunion was a great idea, even if we’ve seen it before.  What did you bring for the reunion?  A bunny mask?  Oh, I just brought some Key lime pie.  I’ll just set it on the table … near your bunny mask.

               The Korean first press is a two disc textured, matte, slipcased digipak with the teacher in a wheelchair on the front.  Her head hangs behind as her former students stare in the background, one with a glass up.  Like many, I had a Smile Cat coupon and a flap full of suspect information.

BOAT (No Boys, No Cry)

Sponge/Pre.Gm – 2009

DIRECTOR: Kim Young-nam

ACTORS: Ha Jung-woo, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Cha Soo-yun, Shihori Kanjiya, In-gi Jung, Tasuku Emoto, Eri Tokunaga and Morio Agata

              

               It must be difficult to begin a project with another country, Boat was written by a Japanese writer and contains many Japanese actors.  The filmmakers probably didn’t know that Mother was going to come out on the same day.  Mother even made it to indie theatres in my hometown of Kansas City.  I bought Boat because it was at a clearance price, yet critics seems to like it.

               The film seems to be about sacrifice.  It’s kind of an interesting, if slow, adventure.  Hyung-gu (Jung-woo) is a lazy guy who delivers items in a small boat.  I always figured it was drugs, but he didn’t seem to know.  Toru (Tsumabuki) works for the man he delivers to.  Soon they end up in the same boat when dealing with a kidnapped Japanese girl.  Toru is thought of as slow, but he’s quite agile and complex as more is revealed.  He’s trying to take care of his senile prostitute sister and her children as well and is desperate to do dangerous things to get the money.  A large portion of the film involves them in a seemingly safe house with the children.  I wondered why they even left. 

               The highlight is definitely the outdoor karaoke scene with both Hyung-gu and Toru.  The two cultures come together in a bright and energetic way as they sing.  Past that the Yoshinori Sunahara music is slightly strange, kind of like the soundtrack of a RPG video game when you’re walking around.  No Boys, No Cry is not the feel good movie of the year, if anything, it’s about how difficult it can be to live a broken life.  Sometimes it pays off to be a good person, sometimes you really pay for being one.

 

A BOLD FAMILY

Enter One – 2005

DIRECTOR: Cho Myung-nam (debut)

ACTORS: Kam Woo-sung, Kim Su-ro, Shin Ku, Kim Su-mi, Seong Ji-roo, Shin-ee, Lee Kan-hee, Lee Yung-ih, Byun Ju-yun and director Kim Tae-gon

TONE: Tricking a Dying Man for Personal Gain

 

“Honey, our kids are becoming insane.”

              

               What a cast!  The matte slipcase cover art of A Bold Family is a great parody of Godfather, with the golden fingers crossed.  We’re narrated by youngest family member Hyun-jae (Ju-yun), as an elderly man Kim Yoong-yup (Shin Ku) wishes desperately to see his other family in North Korea.  After applying again, he falls down some stairs.  The doctor informs his son Myung-suk (Woo-sung) that he only has a few months to live because of cancer.  It’s not long before his son also finds out about the expensive land his father owns that will only be signed to his South Korean family if Korea unifies.  Now let’s stop here.  I though, whoa, okay for personal interests the family is going to unify Korea.  That’s not where this film goes.  In fact, you start to get choked up by the tone a bit.  Mr. Kim has missed his family for decades.  His son stares at his father’s suitcase and hat…

               Jung-shim and his drunken b-movie director brother Myung-kyu (Su-ro) conspire to stage a reunification video; else they lose the money to a reunification charity.  I was in awe at the brother wonderfully spacious house.  Soon you find he has money troubles, as he’s taken in his mother, father and brother as well as caring for his own family.  The family begins spending every waking minute keeping reality from the old man, breaking eyeglasses, running from acquaintances and changing all topics of conversation and even staging a circus (featuring Shin-ee in the finale).  Mr. Kim becomes happier by the day.  If you move past the lying, the real beauty here is the joy of a Korea united.  I’ve read some complaints over the portrayal of North Koreans, but I’m sure it can’t be worse than the propaganda about the rest of the world than North Korea is fed daily.

               Sadly in the end, all the family’s work may sabotage a real opportunity for Mr. Kim to have a reunion, leading to a serious and heartfelt finale.  I love when the blame is put on Myung-suk and he takes it all.  A lot of sitcoms and films make up pointless lies to complicate what could be a simple scenario, but in way, they didn’t have a lot of choice.  On occasion, hiding the truth is best.  I like the film and await the director’s movie about a woman in the military Republic of Korea 1%.  We can’t all make rom-coms now, can we?

THE BOW

KD Media – 2007

               DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

               ACTORS: Jeon Sung-Hwan, Han Yeo-reum, Seo Ji-suk

              

               This is where my American mind caught up with me and was opened up to the infinite potential of a real cinematic artist.  You might just see a film about a kidnapping child molester.

               Oh okay, I said to myself, the old man gets killed but he’s trained his daughter to use the bow.  This is going to be an awesome action film.  It had a big North American DVD release with Yeo-reum on the cover aiming an arrow.  My KD Media sleeve had a bow in the water like a boat.  This is not an action film.  It’s Kim Ki-duk 101.

               Yeo-reum is given no name.  Most main characters rarely speak anyway. 

BREATH (see Time + Breath)

C

 

THE CASE OF (THE) ITAEWON HOMICIDE (Where the Truth Lies)

Taewon – 2010

               DIRECTOR: Hong Ki-seon

               ACTORS: Jung Jin-yung, Jang Geun-suk, Sin Seung-hwan, Oh Kwang-rok, Ko Chang-suk, Kim Joong-ki

              

               Warning, not for those who speak English!  Some films feel like they just pulled the most American dude off the streets of Seoul and said, want to be in a movie?  There’s this film called the Transporter.  It stars Shu Qi, who was in a Korean film some time ago, the third Married to the Mafia movie.  I had no idea she was fed her lines and didn’t know English.  Knowing that, I’ve watched it again and I still think she does a great job.  This film is not the case, but we’ll skip past that as not every movie is made for North America.

               Of course, when you think of it, the subtitles probably distract a lot of Koreans too.  I know where I live, words on the screens make people run to the nearest 3-d blockbuster based on a board game.  I listen to the words though, I don’t just read.

               Plot: Two punks are accused to killing a sweet student for no reason.  They accuse each other with a real-life Rashomon back and forth.  I think I know why the police fit suspects with their clipboards and paper work. 

               Moral Lesson:  Drugs are bad.

               The film is a bit like television, and I feel surrounded by crime scene shows already.  It’s not the director’s fault.  I like the beginning scene.  It feels like its filmed cheaply with a video camera, but then we follow the blood down the drain like in Underworld.  The scene kind of told my analyzing brain to shut up.  Then the English dialogue started (see beginning of review).

               I think Korea needs some good actors from North America to permanently go to Korea.  You’ll have lots of work being racist jerks.  The pay is probably decent, maybe.  I have no idea.  The Korean film industry is a booming market.  I say go for it.  Take some Key lime pie with you.

THE CAT

KD Media / NEW – 2011

DIRECTOR: Byun Seung-wook

ACTORS: Park Min-young, Kim Dong-wook

 

               Often cats, much more than dogs, are placed in a supernatural realm.  They die and come back or they are a gateway to other worlds.  In horror film they are the cliché tease of a scare before the real scare.  See Aliens and one million other films.  I love cats and so does our main character ___ (Min-young) a groomer who values the needs of the animals more than the owners.  I hadn’t heard much good about the film, but I still wanted to see it.  We shall set our standard bar a bit low and proceed.

              

CELLO

Enter One – 2007

DIRECTOR: Lee Woo-chul (debut)

ACTORS: Sung Hyun-ah, Park Da-an, Jung Ho-bin, Choi Ji-eun, Jin Ji-hee

TONE: Musical Horror (not to be confused with a Horror Musical)

 

               This horror film begins with visual promise, surrounding us with music and art.  A cellist plays while red developing photographs introduce us briefly to our characters.  The image is crisp and suddenly jarring as a bloody injured woman cries on an operating table.  This was TARTAN ASIA EXTREME release over here in the states.  I remember a lot of them for cheap one Halloween, so you may have seen or complained about the film.

               Yun-Hye (Ji-hee) is pretty cute as the youngest daughter.  She reminds me of my Colombian nephew attempting English.  Playging?  That meant do you want to play Mortal Kombat while Mom and Grandmother are away?  I really don’t want Ji-hee to die by way of a haunted instrument.

               After a weird surprise birthday, we’re introduced to Mi-ju and her family, including a sister-in-law and a mentally impaired daughter who becomes enamored with a cello, no matter how much the old dog hates it.  Animals know everything in horror films.  It makes me wish JUST ONCE that someone would believe the animal.  My spider monkey hates that jewelry box.  Throw it away.  A full Key lime pie for that flick.  Anyway…

               We also meet an odd mute housekeeper, an angry student and other weirdness.  When Mi-ju is almost run over by a car in an underground parking lot, I was impressed on how the director brought my eye toward the license.  I memorized it.  Mi-ju doesn’t seem to care.  I think I’d call the police.  Mi-ju has vivid insane hallucinations and then goes about her day.  Character apathy leads to audience apathy.  There are a few fun scares, like another face appearing on Mi-ju’s older daughter.  But despite good camerawork and descent actors, the film wants to travel down the same worn Sadako path.

               I would have loved to have Mi-ju’s daughter’s Cello practicing over the credits.  I think it’s my favourite part of the film with the bow going back and forth, somewhat out of tune and somewhat scary.  It makes a lot of sense considering the film as a whole.  I don’t hate it as much as others as I’ve seen so much worse in the genre, but of course each piece should be judged by itself, like a song.  If you enjoy it, you might like The Circle.  It has the same type of ending.

CHAMP

ShowBox/KD Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Lee Hwan-Kyung

ACTORS: Cha Tae-Hyun, Yu Oh-Sung, Park Ha-Seon, Kim Soo-Jung, Baek Do-Bin

TONE: Silly horseracing clichés.

 

               Considered a huge misstep, I wondered if Champ was worth watching at all.  The beginning just seems like Seabiscuit lite, and I’m not a huge fan of horses or racing them anyway.  It’s hard to top Lump Sugar, but Hwan-Kyung made that too.  The car accident (it’s so near the beginning, I can’t imagine I’m giving much away) is lackluster and feels amateur.  A little dab of Halloween blood shows you that someone got hurt near their eye.  Maybe this is for children. 

               Imagine a child next to you, and everything you’re about to see makes a bit more sense.  The best scenes are with the father and his daughter.  In the beginning they watch the races and Seung-ho (Tae-hyun) narrates like a fast-talking announcer.  I finally felt like I was enjoying the film, but then it kept slipping into that cliché pattern.  Jockey with a tragic past, can’t get it together, and then he finds a horse with problems.  This white horse was involved in the accident and the cinematic coincidences pile up, but just not as good as Lump Sugar.  Why do it again?

               The director score huge after this with Miracle In Cell Number Seven and of course Cha Tae-hyun is unstoppable in his next blockbuster The Grand Heist.  All in all, the movie is silly, but maybe that was the point.  Kids like silly.  Montage.  Lee Dong-joon’s soundtrack is unsurprisingly uplifting.  The racing theme is quite good, though on occasion the music during melodramatic moments, enhances the manipulation.  Dong-joon has created the soundtracks for Save The Green Planet, Lump Sugar and huge films like Shiri and Miracle in Cell Number 7

               The best actor is the horse Woo-bak, as many have said.  It stands out, wonderfully old and white as all the others are brown or black.  Woo-bak swims, gets up as if its legs don’t work, does all sorts of amazing things.  As I hear more and more about acting horses, I am astounded.  I imagine a director’s patience helps a lot, as well as past experience.  There’s a lot of magic, but not quite as much as Lump Sugar.  You become captured for a moment, but then snap out of it.

               When people find out Seung-ho is blind he seems to become suddenly much blinder.  It may be a problem with the translation, but if it’s one eye can’t see out the other?  I also consider glasses might help, but he never wears anything.  This was the major character trait of Red in Seabiscuit so it comes off as stolen.  Seung-ho also like chocolates on a park bench.

               I do fear that I would easily be brainwashed though, as the ending here somewhat ridiculous and yet I must admit to the same emotional reaction I’ve had to many of Cha Tae-hyun’s films, even if he defies gravity, takes a huge fall on to his back and then dances with a cheering crowd.

THE CHASER

Premier – 2007

DIRECTOR: Na Hong-jin (debut)

ACTORS: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yung-hee , Koo Bon-woong, Kim Yoo-jung, Jung In-gi

TONE: Frustrating, with a dash of torture porn


I’m watching The Chaser again in an attempt not to slam on every Premier release I own.  The film was a huge success, selling over five million tickets as well as winning the Grand bell for best actor and director.  Hong-jin’s next film Yellow Sea was a pleasant personal surprise. 
 

               Jung-ho (Yun-seok), a former detective turned pimp, loses his girls one by one and attempts to gather clues by sending his, terribly ill, last prostitute in to report a suspected client’s address.  He believes the man (Jung-woo) is selling them.  So, no good guys, almost all women are victims and things get dirty and gory in a hurry, much like Yellow Sea (which should have been called The Chaser).

               Unlike the more desperate chases later, the beginning chase is amazingly realistic for anyone who doesn’t run very often and finds they have to.  You get tired.  Young-min slips on the pavement (in real life) and keeps going.  Impersonating a cop, an occupation he no longer attains, both Jung-ho and a beaten Young-min get arrested and the frustration begins.  Rare were there bad reviews of the film, but they seem to be from viewers struggling with dramatic irony.  We know the real story.  We know who these men are, but the police are handed a strange mystery and must make sense of it all.  I believe any negativity I may have had in my first viewing came from this and high expectation.  The Chaser beat out international juggernaut Kung Fu Panda!

                The horror movie turned action film becomes a horrors of bureaucracy film.  The culprit has confessed, but it seems more and more evident that he may be let go as there was no warrant to arrest him.  You can’t tell if Young-min is insane, a genius, or just insanely lucky.  The pacing is good, if not possibly slow, for those wanting more violence and gore, but it’s coming.  I love the invisible production design in Hong-jin’s film.  The locations he chooses.  As we put things together, you feel just as trapped.  He’s definitely a master of emotions.  How many films left you empty afterwards?  My favourite scene has no violence, only the softness of Choi Yongrock’s (Take Care of My Cat) score as Jung-ho drives, screaming on the phone with the daughter (Yoo-jung) of his last prostitute crying in the car.  We see them, obscured by raindrops.  As they are facing the worst of times, we’re given calmness.  The daughter seems to represent Jung-ho’s conscience and is the strongest female in the film.  Violent, male-driven films can still have an artist behind them.  Don’t worry though, the very next scene is bondage and blood.

     I still say you start with Yellow Sea (reviewed below) which stars the same actors.  I do love when a director reuses actors though.  It’s fun to see versatility in the same world, someone fighting for their life under very different, yet gritty circumstances.  Six slices, cut with a hammer and chisel.  Or was it twelve slices?

CHEATERS (My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend)

Sponge – 2007

DIRECTOR: Park Sung-bum (debut)

ACTORS: Choi Won-yung, Ko Da-mi, Lee Jung-woo, Kim Poo-reun, Ko Hye-Sung, Kim Young-ae


This film is an attempt to humanize cheating.  In South Korean film tradition, the women seem more in control than the men often do in North American films.  Usually the man cheats, he says he’s sorry and the woman caves in.  Women heal, men destroy.  Here, instead, we have a string of cheating that forms a circle.  It’s best to watch it, instead of giving the plot points, there’s a bit of mystery.
 

               It has its good points, but often they have little to do with the film, like watching Suk-ho (Won-yung) spill cigarette ash on himself, then after cleaning his pants, clean his entire car.  He’s waiting for his second girlfriend.  Neither will give in to his lust as they’re already with other men.  The film has an indie look, and is a hint amateurish.  On occasion it feels like a play.  It’s weird how the director brings me back over and over with random bits of interest.  At a bar Suk-ho appeases to his new girlfriend’s interest in firework by having the bartenders make an acrobatic pyrotechnic cocktail.  Sparkly!

               When everyone is cheating, it’s kind of chaotic on your focus, so the film has person specific chapters.  Some people are more honest than others, but no one is completely honest.  We don’t all cheat though.  My personal advice, be a man (or a woman) break up then go after your new desires. 

               In the end most people will find Cheaters is a soft core porn inside an intricate web of dishonest dating.  There’s a lot better out there, and better films to bare your breasts in.  I give it two or three slices of Key lime pie.  I think it starts better than it ends, and that can really do a film in.

CHULSOO LOVES YOUNGHEE

Midas – 2005

DIRECTOR: Hwang Gyu-deok (debut)

ACTORS: Park Tae-young & Jung Ha-eun

TONE: For South Korean children

              

               I had to finally check out this film.  It’s below my age level, but it’s by the director of For Eternal Hearts (who wrote both as well).  According to some sites the kids never worked again, but I may do a bit more research about that.  In Tae-young’s (Chulsoo) case I can understand it, but Ha-eun (Younghee) is quite good in a very amateur film.  The sound changes when scenes change, an artist I know commented that it has a soap opera feel.  Slowly I did get immersed in the mixed bag.  Sometimes the kids are very real, sometimes we go off into Chulsoo’s dreams and hallucinations with some “Money For Nothing” effects.

               This is a Korean school genre film, where we stay in the class for a good portion of the film.  New student Younghee is partnered with troublemaker Chulsoo.  There’s a lot of strange stuff, like a soft-spoken music store owner, who Younghee falls in love with, trying to successfully have an affair.  Younghee’s period makes her weak and faint, making you think she’s going to die.  Things happen that aren’t explained at all, or not until later.  You have to keep up.  Again, it’s for children, probably Korean children.  I am neither, but I still had some fun.  Happy no one died and no one was molested by a weird music shop owner.

               Oh there we go, Ha Eun-Jung was in Open City which I will probably not see until it’s free and If You Were Me, Lover’s Concerto and the horror flick The Wig.  Hopefully that’s all correct.  The packaging is amazing, a huge hardbox that opens revealing lots of space, poorly glued on plastic for the DVDs and lots of postcards.  The director’s last project is a documentary about his own struggle with films.  Kim Ki-duk had a similar project recently.

CLASH OF THE FAMILIES

Candle Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Kim Jin-yung

ACTORS: Song Sae-Byuk, Lee Si-young, Baek Yun-shik, Kim Su-mi, Kim Eung-soo, Park Cheol-min, Kim Jung-nan, Jung Sung-hwa

               Also called Meet the In-Laws.  Seem familiar?  A PG Meet the Fockers, maybe.  The film is about regional and political differences, also known as prejudice.  Two sickeningly sweet young people are in love.  Cartoonist Hyun-jun (Song Sae-Byuk) is a bit slow with his speech, and innocent Da-hong (Lee Si-young with hair like Phoebe Cates) is a bit old fashioned, but you don’t doubt their feelings.  They blow kisses, read poetry over the phone before bed.  They share food.  They are deep in love.  Sadly Hyun-jun is from liberal Jeolla-do and Hyun-jun is from conservative Gyungsang-do.  Da-hong’s father (low brow Zen master Baek Yun-shik) is setting up blind dates and tells her she must get married soon.  She intends to, but to her boyfriend.  He must impress her parents.

               As sweet Hyun-jun practices a Seoul accent, you may wonder if the subtitles are bad, or the typos before this scene were on purpose.  You is yo and my is me, such like that.  It seems to be for Jeolla-do grammar accuracy, a little helping hand that is rare and appreciated.  I also love it when they explain South Korean language jokes, as in Oollala Sisters where a character’s name also means breasts.

               Early on there is a perfectly constructed misunderstanding that solidifies our feelings for Hyun-jun.  Strangely, he hasn’t confessed his art career.  Da-hong finds fetish photographs when she accidentally develops film from his similar camera instead of her own.  She shares them with her friends and ends up beating on Hyun-jun.  Of course he only takes them for cartooning references.  Sexual fetishes from shoes or anything else ends up being the furthest thing from his love struck mind.  I like that the jokes go that way, instead of the opposite.  That scene is almost a microcosm of all the hiding they both have to do and how it can’t last forever.  And just maybe, everybody has something to hide.

               I wouldn’t have included the sound effects, DOING, after a silly thing said or an elephant noise during a censored nude scene.  I wouldn’t have done the nude scene at all.  Would have cut it right out.  Chop.  This review is getting a bit long.  Chop.  No time for spoilers.

               Candle is the new face of Pre.Gm.  Most of their releases have a matte slipcase or better.  This is better, a two disc digipak with glossy slipcase and a small booklet that fits in the slipcase instead of in the digipak.  The scenery is beautiful.  The regional jokes may slip by the international review, but I get that they’re there.  It’s a bit like being translated a joke.  You have to really be paying attention to catch the accent switches.  The real strength in the film is Hyun-jun’s heroic ways of finding a path into the heart of each person in Da-hong’s family.  He doesn’t feel pressured until things might end.  He explodes during a television interview, wondering why people from two different places can’t be together.  It’s beautiful really.  Each actor is quite a character with strength and vulnerabilities.  It’s no Meet The Fockers, thank Buddha.  7 Slices.

CLOSER TO HEAVEN (My Love is by My Side)

CJ Entertainment – 2010

DIRECTOR: Park Jin-pyo

ACTORS: Ha Ji-won, Kim Myung-min, Nam Neung-mi, Lim Ha-ryong

 

“Love is suffering together until there’s nothing left.”

               That is pretty much Closer To Heaven in a turtle shell.  It’s about slowly dying with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but also about the family spouses of the bed-ridden people.  The disease is awful, slowly you’ll lose all your muscles.  You can’t lift your limbs.  Baek Jong-woo (Myung-min) asks Lee Ji-soo (Ha Ji-won) to join him romantically on his depressing journey.

               There is little chemistry between the two main characters, though only six years apart in real life, and even with her mature job of corpse wrapper (my term) Ji-soo seems quite young for Jong-woo.  As soon as you see the job I think of departures and that in over two hours she’ll be wrapping up the movie by wrapping up Jong-woo.  When they sing together it’s a bit annoying and when they return to it as every film must … still annoying.  It had a perfect record for not pulling at the heart strings, but then desperately attempts to do so at the end.

               Why do the coma victims have their eyes open all the time?  They aren’t dead, if they never blink their eyes would dry out.  I bought the film see Ha Ji-won in a serious role and in that regard I wasn’t disappointed.  She won a few awards this time, as did Kim Myung-min, but the film is hard to recommend even for people who have Lou Gehrig’s.  Though it may be honest, there is little hope.  One scene near the end has Ji-soo ask a boy to tie her up.  She stays alone until she can’t stand it any more.  I repeat, the strength of this film is understanding, whether it be the difficulty of the disease, the difficulty of the family and friends or just that we must stop Lou Gehrig’s.

               Packaging is CJ’s typical slipcover with a strange cover where Jong-woo looks blind.  On the back Ji-soo is crying and some mystery hand is reaching out to console her, touching her face.  Odd.

COMA

Fantom – 2006

DIRECTOR: Kong Su-Chang

ACTORS: Lim Won-hee,

TONE: Not a movie

              

               I don’t watch television series.  That’s a whole other world with rabid fans.  I bought this fat digipack for Lim Won-hie.  The director made two horwar (war horror) films (R-point and Guard Post) and this five part mini movie series. 

COME RAIN, COME SHINE

New/KD Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Lee Yun-ki

ACTORS: Im Soo-jung, Hyun Bin and a kitten

              

               If your idea of a climax is ten minutes of watching someone cook pasta, this is the movie for you.  If you like Daft Punk’s Electrosoma more than anything, you’re in luck.  I bought this film because of Lim Su-jung.  I’ll probably follow her to end of time because of films like … Ing, Tale Of Two Sisters and I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay, but this film’s pace could be made fun of by snail.  If Lee Yun-ki was attempting to make the most boring film ever, he simply failed because he dropped a kitten right at the one hour mark.  I had my heart set on an M. Night Shyamlan twist.  Maybe they stay together and it’s magically not raining any more.  The rain wanted them to stay together.  I guess that was too happy and obvious.  The house is the most exciting character.  It’s amazing.  I think I’d be pretty happy in that house even if someone was leaving me.  Even if Lim Su-jung was leaving me.  Get out and take your frizzy hair with you (sorry about that).  The film was based on Inoue Areno’s short story, A Cat That Cannot Return.  The packaging is a glossy digipak with an elastic.  Inside there are postcards and a stationary pad which fell out instantly.  Not that I would use it.  Maybe near the end of time, I’ll write a note to Lee Yun-ki:

 

               I love This Charming Girl, wasn’t there a cat in that one too?  Anyway, you’ve shown us you can make long shots, next time check out what an editor can do.  He or she will cut out huge chunks of people sitting in chairs silently and people chopping onions.  At least you made it to the 61st annual Berlin International Film Festival, in competition, though it sounds like you wished to not win any awards.  I like that actually.  Remind me to see Dear Enemy sometime; I think they just released a Blu-ray.  Signed, SolarMagnet.

 

               P.S. The actors were not paid and volunteered for the project, believing in it fully.  That might tip the pie slices, or you might not care but it makes me think of Brad Pitt’s scale pay in Snatch and other actors who would rather make something they believe in, rather than getting paid well for the same old garbage.  Of course, they’re usually rich.

CRUSH AND BLUSH (Miss Hong Dang-moo)

Premier – 2009

DIRECTOR: Lee Kyoung-mi

PRODUCER: Park Chan-wook (debut)

ACTORS: Kong Hyo-jin, Seo Woo, Lee Jong-hyuk, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Bang Eun-jin

 

              

               From its hilarous child-drawn cover of our heroine’s face to the moment you see the credits, this film is equally strange and funny. 

 

D

DADDY-LONG-LEGS

CJ Entertainment – 2005

DIRECTOR: Kong Jung-sik

ACTORS:    Ha Ji-won하지원Yun Jung-hoon (연정훈)Yun Jung-hoon연정훈Park Eun-hye (박은혜)Park Eun-hye박은혜Hyun Bin (현빈)Hyun Bin현빈Shin-ee (신이)Shin-ee신이Kim Jung-nan (김정난)Kim Jung-nan

              

               The first attempt at filming Daddy-Long-Legs was in 1919.  It’s a popular story by Jean Webster who died three years before that.  The Korean twist was a calm affair for the most part, a surprise as Ha Ji-won and Shin-ee are rarely subtle.  Though there is a joke that barely fits in the film.  Given the age of the story, I’ve decided to spoil this entire film, and then review a bit.

 

DANCE DANCE ([dæns/da:ns])

SKY – 2008 (originally Bitwin 2002)

DIRECTOR: Moon Sung-wook

ACTORS: Hwang In-young, Joo Jin-mo, Yang Dong-geun, Yun Gi-won

TONE: Dance Dance

 

“Jun-young.  You really like dancing?”

 

               Joo Jin-mo (200 Pounds Beauty) stars as Jun-young in this jazz dance pic released in 1999.  The medical student becomes a stalker quickly after walking into an auditorium.  He sits down and watches Jin-a (In-young) practice.  Jun-young follows the woman to a place called Steps and decides not to murder her and wear her skin.  He’ll join her class to dance alongside her.

               Of course, the film is slow and ambient and mostly about dancing.  If that’s your thing then you will enjoy it.  If not, then you won’t.  It’s that easy. 

     Dong-geun also stars as Sun-do.  He makes use of his breakdancing/hip hop skills and is just another guy with the privilege of talking to Jin-a.  He and some friends will slowly warm to Jin-mo and train him.  It’s very much told from the shy male perspective, which is my wheelhouse, so I am a bit captured.  Most guys aren’t joining a dance troupe for love, especially if all they get to do is watch while they clean the floors and windows.  They’ll just climb a tree with binoculars instead, especially if you have to focus on studying for a medical degree.

               Jin-mo does a good job of not revealing he can dance for real, as that’s the only way an actor could get the part.  He seems clumsy enough, but enjoys the beat.  I admit, it may start ambient, but the film has a good pace.  Jin-a is closed off and focused.  In some ways you might see her as a symbol of dance itself, and maybe Jun-young is trying to capture both.  When he’s made it far enough, she will take him the rest of the way.  Better than you’d think and looks great for the time period.  I’d give Key lime pie, but I’m sure everyone is on some kind of diet.

DANCING QUEEN

CJ E&M – 2012

DIRECTOR: Lee Suk-hoon

ACTORS: Uhm Jung-hwa, Hwang Jung-min

 

               Number 21 in CJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray catalog.

               I know Director Lee as the guy who has made a few Bong Tae-gye films.  Not the highest brow films, but Two Faces of My Girlfriend is a personal favourite.  Here we have Hwang Jung-min, in many recent darker films playing light comedy.  I still think Uhm Jung-hwa is the Julia Roberts of Korea, but I doubt she could sing and dance. 

               What happens when fate pushes you toward your dreams instead of away?  A civil servant is thrown in the political ring, a place he always wanted to be, while his wife is given the chance to be a singer and dancer.  She keeps it secret though, because her husband doesn’t believe in her.  He has a lot of pressure and she used to keeping secrets.  Neither are very happy as they put their lives on hold to get married and have a child, but now it’s as if those years have faded a way and their back.  It’s hard to take how harsh Jung-min (both husband and wife use their real names in film) is when dealing with his wife’s hopes and dreams.  I think the film might have been much better a decade ago.  Maybe Korea is more masculine than American, but it’s films never seem to be.  I guess the tough female roles are all in comedies though.  I’m not really sure.

               The beginning is a bit clunk, especially the riot scene after seeing the brilliant Sunny.  It’s really about how couples need to support one another, but in the formula of a wacky sitcom.  At one point Jung-hwa must perform for her husband and him campaign and also be there by his side.  She goes through quick make-up changes and is almost caught if not for her husband having to turn away and greet other at the convention.  I never felt tense, I was waiting for him to find out and say, this is great.  It’s going to be a long journey though.  I did find it worth it.

               The daughter, Yun-woo, was a huge highlight for me, though she’s only in the film for a few scenes.  When Jung-min is at the podium, I believe everything he’s realizing, but then we cut to Jung-hwa and it’s a bit of a letdown.  It’s worse when she covers her face, but the Park Sa-Rang gets me every time.  Her sad face is perfect.  Each comedic line is delivered with some professional timing.  She also starred in Best Seller with Jung-hwa.  I hope they stay together.

DANGEROUSLY EXCITED

NEW/KD Media – 2012

DIRECTOR: Koo Ja-hong

ACTORS: Yun Je-moon, Sung Joon

TONE: Life Changing Indie        

 

               After seven lucky years, the director of the Wolf Returns … returns.  He brings to you another lovely character driven piece about a civil worker who fits perfectly into his boring job and life.  Dae-hee (Je-moon) runs into a young group of musicians while investigating a noise complaint, they move in together and things get WACKY!  Luckily it’s not that simple, and it sure could have been.  The character development for each band member is strong, and almost equal time is given to the band.  I must say, I loved the sound design while Dae-hee is trying to sleep.  The muffled music penetrating through his basement just at the edge of hearing, just enough to keep you awake.  Nothing seems exaggerated so the comedy is very natural.  If this is where Korean cinema is going, I will stay here a long time.

               Dae-hee impresses his co-workers with simple trivia.  The band members nearly make fun of it.  You can know all the music trivia in the world and not understand music.  The big shock to me was when two members leave the band.  Are they really going to want Dae-hee in their band?  The leader of the band has zero creativity and only writes what’s in front of his face.  If there is beauty in his world, the song is beautiful, but usually he attempts clumsy socio-political garbage that make the other members ill.

               I expected a war of manners and instead received a tiny fork in the road of an average human.  He’s completely right and completely wrong about becoming excited.  He’s so happy learning something new that his job starts to suffer for the first time.  He doesn’t care about impressing people that are easily impressed.  The conservative life finally feels like a necktie pulled too tight, but the character shift is never unbelievable.  Dangerously enjoyable.  A full Key lime pie.

 

DEATH BELL

Planis Entertainment/Yedang Entertainment Company – 2008

DIRECTOR: Chang (Yun Hong-seung)

ACTORS: Lee Bum-soo, Yun Jung-hee, Nam Gyu-ri, Kim Sang Bum and Han Na-yun

TONE: Reality Stomping Torture Porn  

 

               Death Bell was one of those lucky pictures that came out when there was no competition.  It benefited greatly even though, it makes no sense.  I absolutely love the ending.  Sometimes the problem is the rest of the film.

               It has a lot in common with scary hair horror films and Saw 2.  Did I lose you already?  There is no real scary hair ghost.  That’s good right.  I’m going to spoil the twist even more later, so move on if this sounds like your thing.  Competition is fierce in Korea.  They post your grades.  They post your position.  Kids know who they have to beat.  Tutors are a must.  This leads to the all too common poor kid falling behind or sadly prostituting herself for the money she needs.  I don’t know how common it is in reality.  I only watch the movies. 

               The kids are all stuck in school with non-working hand phones (Korean cell phone).  Why are they stuck?  I really don’t know.  Personally, I think they could leave at any time.  Why don’t their hand phones work?  I swear I worked that out in my head once.  I guess you could jam the signal or something.  They just don’t work.  This is a black hole of a plot hole for some.  I finally let go.

               Students are being sacrificed unless the others can solve impossible puzzles.  You’re not going to figure them out so it’s best to let that go too.  It’s almost an exercise in patience.  It’s gory too.  Horror almost seems a genre where you have to relax.  The really intelligent ones rise to the top, but you’re never going to earn much respect anyway. 

               Okay the end.  In the end you find out that the people behind the murders are the parents of a girl who was killed.  They wanted to find out who did it.  The mother dressed like a ghost.  The father is a maintenance man at the school doing the rest.  I love that.  It was so simple that it actually made me smile.  The complex horror really faded and a simple vengeance story revealed like a sunset.

               The packaging is Planis Entertainment’s thick glossy slip case over a clear case.  The alternate cover art is disturbing empty desks.  The rest of the art are the many doomed students.  Good one for school kids on Halloween.  Now let’s hit the sequel, whether we needed it or not.

DEATH BELL 2: BLOODY CAMP

Planis Entertainment/Yedang Entertainment Company – 2011

DIRECTOR: Yoo Seon-d***

ACTORS: Kim So-ro, T-ara, Yun Si-yun, Hwang Jung-eum            

TONE: Torture Porn Sequel

 

               The writer of Arahan continues ringing the Death Bell.  And I can’t help but buy every Planis Entertainment release because they look so beautiful next to each other.  The horror of a pointless sequel vs. the horror of media addiction!

               Wait!  Wait!  They handed in their phones.  This is why they have no phones.  The school is locked.  This is why they cannot leave.  It makes sense!  Death Bell 2 is quite short for a Korean film, less than ninety minutes.  A horror sequel in that amount of time makes you think of North America quite a bit.  The biggest difference?  The young couple that wants to have sex, they’re intelligent.

               As I watched a student torn apart by a spiky motorcycle I considered two things:  Wes Craven must be jealous, and what’s going on here?  I tend to figure things out if it’s not well written, but it’s difficult if the mystery is a bit out of reality’s spectrum.  I jumped past suspects that are spoon-fed to me and I even said no when the supernatural elements occurred.  Like the first film, I knew there had to be an explanation.  I mean, they took the phones!  He wrote Arahan!

               Bloody Camp is a huge improvement.  Though I love the first film’s ending, all the problems are erased so you can just enjoy the senseless violence.  And luckily the last two deaths aren’t senseless.  They’re pretty brilliant and beautiful.  When the world is leading you in a direction that your heart wants to fight, stop and fight.

               The horror looks like tilted cameras, blown out colours, dark blood-splattered horror.  And the past is like a wonderful dream.  Kim Su-ro is a great teacher, by the way.  Watch him in Our School’s E.T. for less subtle example.

DIE BAD

Starmax – 2001

DIRECTOR: Ryu Seung-wan (his $3000 debut)

ACTORS: Park Sung-bin, Ryu Seung-bum, Bae Jung-shik, Gi Ju-bong, Jung Jae-yung, Lim Won-hie, Ryu Seung-wan

TONE: Violent Professional Amateur Fighting Action

 

               You might feel nostalgic as you watch the beginning fight in Die Bad, especially if you started out with a video camera and dreams of becoming an action film director like Seung-wan did.  Things look cheap, but that never stopped a real dreamer.

               Plot, school kids have a fight in a pool hall.  Accidentally one is killed.  Partly the scene is done like a documentary interview, the police are chastised for taking bribes and doing little about youth violence.  We forward seven years as Sung-bin (the director) is out.  Jang Jae-Jung plays his brother who gets him a job. Lim Won-hie plays a parole officer.  He offers a cigarette that isn’t taken.  Later when the officer leaves, he smokes one of his own.

               Wait though, this is no typical film, it’s four short film that were shot at different times.  They each link to each other though and spell out a message about violence.  Much like the stories of Robert Rodriguez’s rise to stardom, Seung-wan was definitely driven.  I still want to see the original short of Dachimawa Lee with subtitles.

               This was a difficult film to get a hold of, to say the least.  It’s over a decade old and has been out of print from Starmax for a long time.  Considering the quality of the first piece I doubt of a Blu-ray release, but if so that would be kind of awesome.  Also looking forward to what Marc Forster want to do with it.  There are lot of huge actors and great fight scenes and near the end it feels like a short film version of City of Violence.  Maybe the remake will finally re-release Die Bad so you can see it too.

DITTO

Spectrum – 2001

DIRECTOR: Kim Jung-kwon (debut)

ACTORS: Yoo Ji-tae, Kim Ha-neul, Ha Ji-won, Park Yong-woo

TONE: Calm Supernatural

 

               Written by Jang jin, this story may seem familiar.  Two people start talking together over a ham radio, but they live in different times.  Ditto and the American movie Frequency were released around the same time in 2000.  It’s very interesting, maybe Jang Jin was talking to some American writer over the ham radio.  He wrote the script years before.

               A lot has changed in South Korea, 1979 was a time of protest and maybe this film is about remembrance.  It’s an interesting romance to say the least.  I remember getting critiqued for some writing I did where I used a God’s Eye view, not focusing on one main character.  I think this works very well here as we shift halfway through the film to Ji-in (Ji-tae) from So-eun (Ha-neul).  I can’t imagine the sparkling eyes as the mysteries of the plot unfold.  Unlike Frequency, which I also enjoy, things don’t go too far.  This film would make a great double bill with Il Mare (I guess then you could watch Frequency and the Lake House).

               Nothing fancy about the release, I have a Chinese copy that is pretty much the same, but if you happen to find an official copy in your attic, please feel free to send it to me.  Place it in your magic mailbox; I’ll pick it up in a different time.

A DIRTY CARNIVAL

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2006

DIRECTOR: Yoo Ha

ACTORS: Jo In-Sung, Cheon Ho-jin, Nam Goong-min, Lee Bo-yung, Jin Goo, Yun Je-moon

TONE: Artistic Gangster Violence

              

               Also Blu-ray, CJ 007.

               A gangster film that involves the film business, not a rarity.  This film is very good though, makes excellent use (for once) of karaoke.  Usually it’s just another scene of singing, but here each song is very important and gives you some inner thoughts.  The movie is tightly edited for being over two hours.  You may be rattled to see the differences in emotion in each next scene, but time passes.  People change.  We wonder how we got to where we are.  On a sidenote, I hate it, in other movies, when a discussion is had over a certain amount of time.  The characters are doing different things but the conversation from three hours ago is still going on, unbroken.  That brings me right out of a film.

               Beung-doo (In-Sung) wasn’t the kind of kid whom people would say, “Ah, he’ll grow up to be a criminal.”  But he did.  His friend Min-ho (Jin Goo) wants to direct and writes awful gangster scripts.  It’s interesting how far we’ll go to get along in this world, whether it be betraying a friend, killing someone or just working at Taco Bell for 30 years.  We’re reminded of our bad decisions only when our peers open up or close down.  After frightening away the love of his life, Beung-doo confesses to his friend, a murder that only his boss has knowledge of.  Min-ho sees it as the perfect script and his film is made.

               Enough plot, this film was so enjoyable, it really sets the standard for a gangster film.  Yoo Ha has had an interesting career that I hope he continues.

             

PRODUCER: *JANG JIN* Presents:

DOENJANG (THE RECIPE)

CJ Entertainment – 2011

DIRECTOR: Lee Seo-goon (Anna)

ACTORS: Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Yu-won, Lee Dong-Wook, Hyun-soo, Jo Sung-ha, Lee Yong-nyeo

 TONE:  My Balloon Is Floating Away!

 

               I’ll follow Jang Jin like Choi Yu-jin follows a child with a devil mask.

               Well they really conserved funds on car accidents, they are only discussed or eluded to.  Best to save money for neat special effects like slow-motion scenes of police watching a criminal eat the greatest bean paste stew ever.  Imagine a movie called Fermented Bean Paste Stew, or better yet Fermented Bean Paste Stew:  The Quickening.  This may have a limited audience.  If you like Chocolat you still may need a push, Ryu Seung-ryong (playing Yu-jin) is no Johnny Depp.  He’s had an interesting, but short career.   He’s an odd leading man to say the least but that’s the kind of thing that can happen in a Jang Jin film.

               The co-writer and director is Anna Lee though.  I see pieces of Jang Jin and then I see him fade away.  A man is put to death, but all he can think about is eating more of the stew that got him caught.  The ideas in the film are great, the execution (pun intended) is a bit shaky.  Our reporter must track down the maker of the stew.  Then, when he finds that may be a dead end … he chases down the brother of the last man who was with her.  We take a lot of tangents that link to the stew and do have a bit of an adventure in the past with the couple who create almost supernatural ingredients, but you’re left with only a handful of good ideas that never quite gel. 

                 Jang Hye-jin is the name of the stew maker.  I found that a funny thing, like if Stephen King called his main character Stephen Lee King.  He was mysterious, that Stephen Lee King, and heartbreakingly handsome.  Lee Yu-won is ethereally beautiful when she needs to be and realistically crushed with longing at other times.  The whole film is just unbalanced.  In the end the final direction for making the stew is waiting.  Our two young stew-making lovers have done just that.  I’ll be waiting for the next film that Jang Jin actually directs.

DOGGY POO (For Everything There is a Reason For Being)

Starmax/Stomp – 2005

DIRECTOR: Oh Sung-kwon

ACTORS:  Clay Animation

WARNING:  Child fecalpheliacs only

 

              Adapted from an acclaimed 1968 children’s book by Korean author Jung-Saeng Kwon and including a second  disc with a Yiruma soundtrack this movie is very short and pretty gross.  I remember back in the day when South Park first arrived it was amazing and hilarious.  Then Mr. Hanky, a tiny Santa piece of of crap made me think they’d gone too far.  Later I found out Matt and Trey, the creators wanted to only make a Mr. Hanky show and were convinced the kids were a more marketable commodity.   I understand the purpose of this claymation, I just find it impossible to be moved by it like many other pieces of children’s animation.  Even at 34 minutes it’s long, we meet some old fertilizer, and a leaf and a future danelion as Doggy Poo is stuck in the same place forever.  Wouldn’t he dry out the same as the leaf?  Wouldn’t he freeze in the blanketing snow?  I’m going too far by even asking these questions.  If you can make it past the first few minutes, you’ll be okay.  If you want to vomit, then turn it off or fast forward to the dandelion spores at the end.  He made weeds!  That was his purpose.

THE DOLL MASTER

KD Media – 2005

DIRECTOR: Jung Yong-gi

ACTORS:  Kim Yu-Mi, Im Eun-gyung, Shin Hyung-tak, Ok Ji-young, Lim Hyung-jun and Lee Ka-Yung

TONE: Pretty Dolls and Violent Fluff     

 

               I believe there is no good way of filming a strangulation.  The tongue comes out and it’s just silly.  Well we’re off to a bad start.  Let’s talk the good.  The packaging is nice.  The first press is a traditional KD Media slipcover, but it has a cutout.  There’s an oval where the doll’s spooky face is.  The dolls are a real highlight.  They’re beautifully shot with bright white contrast when introduced.  Past that, it’s all pretty strange.

               Mostly it’s about a doll maker from long ago, and the doll who loved him.  If you like supernatural horror, than you’re going to feel.

DOOMSDAY BOOK

Well Go USA – 2012

DIRECTOR: Yim Pil-sung and Kim Jee-woon

ACTORS: Bae Doona, Bong Joon-ho, Jin Ji-hee, John D. Kim, Kim Kang-woo,Ko Jun-hee, Ma Dong-suk, Park Hae-il, Ryu Seung-bum and Song Sae-Byuk

TONE: Apocalypse Omnibus Heaven

 

               The world will be destroyed by recycling, a Buddhist robot and the Internet.  I could have guessed the last one.

               I recently experienced Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.  At the end you finally get to see the simple action that almost ended the human race.  With Doomsday Book we begin at the beginning. 

It’s so artistically disgusting that I almost smile and wince at the same time.  We’re not beautiful creatures, but this is a beautiful apocalypse movie by two of the biggest Korean directors. Recycling food causes a spreading virus from an apple core, later fed to cows.  A highlight during the escalating zombie rampage is in a museum, a tracking shot shows the evolution of early man to modern man and a zombie standing perfectly in front of the last spot.  We’re doomed.

               Of course, one vision of our demise wasn’t enough, Doomsday Book offers three.  The next may bring you back to the film I-Robot, as a cyborg named In-myung becomes spiritually human.  In a future time where smoking is illegal and all monks have handphones, a repairman is sent to a Buddhist temple and finds his beliefs shaken by a Buddhistbot (my term).  As the robot is science and religion colliding, I find the idea fascinating.  In-myung and the President of UR (the maker of In-myung) give amazing speeches that may astound people simply wanting more zombies.  The writing shines in the center.   It’s Kim Jee-woon right before he headed off to the states.

               The finale “Happy Birthday” begins with the ordering of a new 8 ball on the Internet while people race for their bomb shelters as a meteor is about to strike the Earth.  A jaded child watches the home shopping network sell a hilarious product, the Life Cube.  It’s basically a solar-powered box that recycles your urine while suffocating a model as men in Star Trek uniforms struggle to free her.  Dark humor abounds in Yim Pil-sung’s cinematic worlds (see Hansel and Gretel).  For a fun and original apocalypse omnibus, I’m sending one full Key lime pie, rocketing towards the Earth.  Splat.

               I bought the film domestically because the Korean release was somewhat lackluster.  Well Go USA has been good about a simple sleeve so I had to support their continuous effort to bring Asian films here.  Plus it was ten bucks, and I’ve been paying 30-40 a film. 

 

DON’T BELIEVE HER (Too Beautiful To Lie)

Cinema Service – 20–

DIRECTOR:

ACTORS: My Tutor Friend and Woochi, Song Jae-ho … Hee-cheol’s fatherKim Ji-young … Hee-cheol’s grandmaKu Hye-ryung … Hee-cheol’s auntLee Chun-hee … Youg-deokNam Soo-jung …Hee-cheol’s auntLee Ju-seok … DoctorLee Young-eun … Soo-miIm Ha-ryong … Hee-cheol’s uncleMyeong Ji-yeon … Hwa-sookNam Sang-mi … Jae-eunRyu Tae-ho

              

               I found the beginning of this film a bit too obvious.  Given away by the title you don’t believe in one tear that Joo Yung-joo (Ha-neul) sheds.  And when Choi Hee-chul (Dong-won) stares at his wedding ring pointlessly and drops it between Yung-joo’s legs.  I sighed a bit.

               But thing change quickly as Yung-joo witnesses the ring stolen by a pickpocket on their trains and tracks it down just in case the man thinks she was the thief.  She’s on parole and has no desire to go back to jail, but her heroic effort cause her to miss the train.  Now she has the wedding ring and the Hee-chul has her carved goose, a wedding present.  Makes me wonder if it’s the same wedding …

               Anyway, Young-joo’s fear of going to jail spawns gallons of sit-com-like lies in a small town where rumors are spread and blanks are filled before she can deny them.  Hee-chul ends up being well known, as he’s the mayor’s son.  And Young-joo ends up being well known as the pregnant woman Hee-chul is planning to marry.  When Hee-chul ends up being aggressive and unreasonable, Young-joo ride the lie train to torture-ville.

 

DRAGON WARS (D-war, Attack of the Dragons)

AMC Theatre – 2007

DIRECTOR: Kim Min-suk

ACTORS: Robert Forester, Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Craig Robinson, Elizabeth Pena, not enough Koreans

              

               Also known as D-war this is the most likely thing a North American might have seen in a theatre domestically.  Sorry about that.  At least you get to see the adorable Showbox logo.  That was the highlight for me, all downhill from there.  Most of the actors are back to television.  Min-suk has since made another America film where he plays a retarded Korean son of a Godfather who is handing him over the business, before that a pizza delivery guy who is sent back in time and possessed by an alien to fight a dragon.  Hmm.

               At least the effects are fairly good.  Robert Forester tries his best to explain the unexplainable.  They’re not really even dragons, they’re buraki.  Maybe a Korean-American alliance isn’t ready, but at least the director made the film he wanted to make.  It made a lot of money.  I was tricked too so don’t feel bad.  I don’t own the movie, but I think there exists a steelbook and a hard box release.  I’m sure you might have seen much worse, but it’s rare that anyone gets dragons right.  See How To Train Your Own Dragon instead.

 

E

EPITAPH

SM Entertainment – 2007

               DIRECTORS: Jung Bum-Sik and Jung Sik (debuts)

               ACTORS: Kim Bo-Kyung, Kim Tae-Woo, Jin Gu, Lee Dong-Gyu, Go Ju-Yun, Kim Eung-Soo

              

               Epitaph tells three supernatural tales revolving around a hospital in 1941.  They’re all unique stories, yet connected.  The time period really provides an original feel and adding some love to the horror lifts each tale up a bit higher than you might expect.

 

E.S.P (SENSITIVE) COUPLE

Fantom – 2009

               DIRECTOR: Hyung-joo Kim

               ACTORS: Jin Goo, Park Bo-yung

              

               Here is one of those wonderful pseudo-science films that actually works (I think).  It also has a dark reoccuring joke that if you’re an older guy with a schoolgirl, things don’t look kosher.  I had recently seen Truck and was really looking forward to it.  It was kind of disappointing.  The same fresh-faced guy (Jin-gu as Su-min) was in this film too.  Luckily he makes a better psychic than a psycho.  Hey, I liked how that turned out, how about you?

               We also have Park Bo-yung (Hyun-jin) as our schoolgirl.  Both are really cute.  What should we have them do?  Hyun-jin won’t leave Su-min alone.  The film is almost a take on another twisty classic that I shall not mention, but it is its own thing when you get to the animated end.  Yeah, there is some great animation, a bonus like in the recent Viewfinder.  I didn’t feel taken out at all.  Sometimes everything falls into place and patience is rewarded.  You’ll want to watch this one twice.  The packaging is something I mentioned in my Mandate slam.  Fantom skipped on the matte slip cover so we gave to be happy with our clear case and single disc.  It reveals an odd picture that has little to do with the film (well…) of two Hyun-jins’ that have Su-min tied up.  He looks like he’s about to do something I’d rather not mention.  You’ll have to check it out for yourself.  Break into my house or something, but don’t take anything.

                

ETERNAL EMPIRE

DK Dvd – 2009 (or VHS around 1995)

               DIRECTOR: Park Chong-won

               ACTORS: Ahn Sung-ki, Cho Jae-hyun, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Myung-gon, Choi Chong-won

              

               Winner of my KOCO award for tightest sleeve ever, Eternal Empire also won Best film, director and six other statues at the Grand Bell awards.  We’re beginning the 19th century during the Yi Dynasty.  The Norons and Namins are struggling for ruling power, Norons wear blue and prefer and modern bureaucratic style of government.  Namins wear red want to keep Kings in power.  This film is very Im Sang-soo.

               Our powerful King Chung-jo is played perfectly by Ahn Sung-ki.  He’ll make you forget any modern action movie misstep he’s made in his career when he’s sitting in a throne.  You never see the ministers of the Norons as more than some rats, though some are quite two-faced and clever.  Their leader is ancient, sleeping during an important autopsy.  The Noron forced the former King to kill his son and King Chung-jo is finally looking for a way to end them, while the Noron ministers conspire to do the same.

               This was before the lighting, sound and cinematic breakthroughs of modern cinema, but it did give a glimpse into what was to come.  The DVD has flaws of the original VHS master tape, but it was so wonderful to see the movie with subtitles.  The end is difficult for me as people sometimes talk, but nothing is interpreted.  I know what a candle means when it’s extinguished though.  I also know what it is like to voice your opinion and to find only sheep wearing ear plugs. 

 

THE EVIL TWIN

HB – 2007

               DIRECTOR: Kim Ji-Hwan (debut)

               ACTORS: Park Shin-Hye, Jae Hee, Yang Geum-suk, Yang Jin-woo, Han Yeo-woon

 

               The Evil Twin went up against Secret Sunshine.  That’s like a civil war horror film going up against Benjamin Button, to put it in perspective.  It was rightly obliterated.  The plot is complicated and it has a scary hair water ghost mixed with a costume drama.  Be afraid!

               It’s set in the Joseon period (more than a century ago), so it made me think.  If someone was in a coma for ten years, wouldn’t they just bury her after six months?  The problems are not visual, that part is fine.  It’s that characters speak exposition too clumsily.  Characters speak their thoughts with a dot dot dot at the end.  Everyone is screaming, THERE’S A TWIST AT THE END!  It’s just not very exciting.  If I see one more film where someone has lost their memory for cinematic drama I’m going to dot dot dot.  If she’s a twin that lost her memory, she’s the other one … right?  That’s me after fifteen minutes.  The writer/director is supposedly a horror expert which makes the film an even bigger mystery.

               Your mystery:  Find the Key lime pie slices.  They might be in the lake with the ghost.

 

               POST SCRIPT: I do have an idea for a Korean film.  It’s called A Murder of Lawyers and it’s about a heinous serial killer who’s caught and the assassins hired to kill any lawyer who would defend him. 

F

FACE

Cinema Service/Spectrum – 2004

               DIRECTOR: Yoo Sang-gon (feature debut)

               ACTORS: Shin Hyun-joon, Song Yun-ah, Kim Seung-wuk, Jo Won-hee, Ahn Suk-hwan and Song Jae-ho

              

               Most of my collection consists of first presses so often there is a second disc just like North American releases.  There are rarely subtitles so I don’t often explore the second disc enough.  This time it was worth it, as the director released two of his short films.  Superman in early Summer is a nice distraction as a bus makes it’s way across the country.  A little girl falls asleep and dreams that Superman (Go Chang-suk) is flying along with the bus.  He wants to give her flowers too.  It’s a little weird, but a great counter to Face.

               I was critically warned about this film, but it was cheap.  It even had a Tartan Asia Extreme release so you may have seen it a few years back.  A facial construction artist retires to take care of his daughter, but is pulled back to help in a case with a rookie from his own field.  At the same time he’s haunted by visions and sounds that I liked, but annoyed him.  I say, go for it sound designer.  Hurt our ears too so we fully understand. 

               A lot of horror cliches are not done very well.  The crawling scary girl.  The bench that stops.  Things happen and you almost laugh, they have no consequences.  A severed head is done with CGI and is too fake to scare you.  It’s unfortunate because the actors do a great job, excluding the specks of romance.  I never wanted to turn it off though.  I wanted to see if I guessed correctly about what was going on.  I was led astray, mostly as the cover art is a lie.  The writer is the director and his career seems to end here.  I re-constructed a few Key lime pie slices for him.

 

FAILAN

Tube/Premier – 2002

               DIRECTOR: Song Hae-sung

               ACTORS: Choi Min-suk & Cecilia Cheung!

              

               Min-suk and Cecilia may not seem like the perfect screen couple but you’re going to wish they had just a moment together.  Failan is heart-crushingly beautiful.  Min-suk is Kang-jae, a destructive gangster, but mostly a loser.  He’s playful and useless.  Cheung plays Failan Kang.  She’s desperate and agrees to a working debt doing laundry for a marriage certificate.  Kang-jae agrees, but never meets her.  They cross paths at the worst times.  Cecilia is sick, coughing blood and worried.

               Hae-sung always seems to cast his sight slightly out of Korea, besides creating a film with a famous Chinese star, he also helmed the remake of the classic A Better Tomorrow (reviewed earlier) and the docudrama Rikidozan, about the Japanese wrestling hero who was actually Korean.  His latest is about a failed director!  Oh no!  Well, he’s far from that, creating a unique visual style to match each project. 

               You wouldn’t know my version from the basic unless you opened it and found the two film cuts inside.  It’s a basic case, but it’s white, quite rare (as South Korean packaging goes).  Cecilia’s quiet pain and tearful moments by herself bring you close, but Choi Min-suk really opens up at the end.  It’s perfect really.  I am convinced that he can do anything.  This film belongs in the lovers-who-never-meet category, with films like Il Mare and Ditto (one remade and the other psychically copied).  I don’t think they have remade Failan.  No one in the states could do what was done with this film.  It sneaks up like ninja with a heart-shaped box full of life’s chocolate-covered difficulties.  I turned around and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place … and I was alone!

               I apologize for the multiple exclamation points.  It’s just that good!

FEATHERS IN THE WIND (GIT)

IVision – 2005

               DIRECTOR: Song Il-gon

               ACTORS: Jang Hyun-sung and Lee So-yun

 

               Honestly except for a literal hiccup I think this film is perfect.  It’s shockingly short for a Korean film, but quite an extension of its original short film concept.

               GIT, which Darcy Pacquet was so nice to mention, means two things, triangle (as in a possible love triangle) and feather.  Our main characters each keep their names, Hyun-sung checks into a motel operated by So-yun on an island.  He’s been there before, long ago and wishes to see a woman who promised to meet him there.  Nevermind that though, So-yun is dancing.  There are beautiful random things to see that always shake your senses around.  It’s lovely hanging with just two people and not feeling like you’re watching something amateur.  Often the sign of a cheap film is a small cast, but they’re realistic and endearing.

               You want Hyun-sung’s love to simply not show up as So-yun gets closer and closer to him.  There’s a wonderful game they play where they make up something horrible about each other and then the opponent must agree, validating the insulting statement.  So funny.  I hear you like to touch Boy Scouts.  Oh yeah, absolutely.  I hear you were born from a pig and a hillbilly.  Oh yeah, absolutely.  Try it next time you’re around a campfire.

               I award this film a full Key Lime Pie.  Oh yeah, absolutely.            

 

FEMME FATAL(E)

PREMIER – 2007

               DIRECTOR: Kang Kyung-hoon

               ACTORS: Ye Ji-won, Lim Won-hee, Jo Hee-bong, Park No-shik, Jung Kyung-ho, Richard K. Kim

 

               A popular young actress named Ha Ji-won (Ji-won) is going to receive an award around Christmas.  She arrives home with Lim (Won-hee), her manager, while a Santa-costumed thief has already broken inside.  While the thief hides, four men arrive one by one, seemingly to congratulate, but ultimately to ask for Ji-won’s hand in marriage and a smoking detective warns of a thief in the area.  This remake of the French film Serial Lover does its best to capture the manic imagery and insanity.  The slip cover of the two disc set even has the similar seductive pose.

               This is an interesting film for both Lim Won-hee and Ye Ji-won, playing very different types.  Won-hee is subdued and realistic.  He lets himself go as the film progresses, but plays the tireless nanny to a silly actress, not to mention he’s the fifth man pining for Ji-won.  He also is the audience when he asks why they don’t just go to the police.

               The police?  Oh, well soon enough Ji-won finds a dead body in her kitchen after one of the suitors is first stabbed in the foot and then slips on some ice and lastly impaled by a fish.  I won’t say which one.  There is a gangster, a foreigner, a professor, and her director.   Bodies start to pile up quickly and things get a bit disgusting, but it’s not hardcore gore.  It seems the film wanted a general audience, or at least their ticket money.  It’s odd.  Femme Fatale is a Christmas movie, released in August.  Oh, I get it, Christmas in August.

               Ye Ji-won blends into the role very well, helpless as accident after accident occurs.  She’s a typical empty-head and pretty face, but that was amazing to me as she plays characters that are all over the map in opposite directions.  You really wonder how in the world things are going to end up all right as more and more cameos enter the house.

               Sometimes I am enjoying myself and sometimes things are a bit much.  I love watching Lim Won-hee get punched while tied up, more worried that his love will be revealed.  There’s a guy for you.  If you’re looking for a darker Christmas film this might be fun.  Might want to start with the original French film though, it’s only fair.

 

FIGHTER IN THE WIND

IVision – 2004

               DIRECTOR: Yang Yun-ho

               ACTORS: Yang Dong-geun, Jung Doo-hong, Jung Tae-woo, Park Sung-min, Choi Ji-woong, Ha Sang-won, Hirayama

 

Dong-kun Yang …Choi Bae-dalAya Hirayama       Aya Hirayama    …YokoMasaya Katô         Masaya Katô      …KatoTae-woo Jung        Tae-woo Jung    …Chun-baeDoo-hong Jung            Doo-hong Jung

 

               The director of Rainbow Eyes and Libera Me created this martial arts juggernaut that began in 1939, sourced from comic artist Bang Hak-gi (Duelist) and “Karate Baka Ichidai.  It was one of many packages I’ve let go that were wearing clothes.  Thailand had a City of Violence in a leather jacket, and Bubba-ho-tep was released in Elvis clothes.  I don’t necessarily draw the line at DVD clothes, I don’t know, it’s just an expensive coincidence.  If Little Black Dress came originally in a little black dress, I probably would have bought it.  This one I do regret a bit, but maybe one day when enough of you buy my book…

               I know I’ll put my book in pink overalls!  Let’s get back to the film though.  Yang Dong-kun was also in Last Wolf this year.  I imagine it was a great time for him.  His character Choi Bae-dal stows away to Japan to become a fighter pilot but refuses to fly kamikaze.  Shockingly let go with his friends, he’s beaten and shown that his Korean martial arts are no match for the Japanese.  He’s wounded and left for dead and within the year the year, Japan surrenders and Korea is free.  The film is shot in a wonderful way that brings you back decades, but on occasion uses newer high speed film techniques that take you back out.  At the time most action film makers were using them so let’s let that go.

               Later after another sword wielding humiliation, now with yakuzas, Bae-dal meets Bum-su (Du-hong) who easily defeats all of the thugs.  Bum-su taught Bae-dal how to fight as a child, but also to make peace.  Even now, with one hand, he’s doing all he can to hold on to his Korean language and ideals in Japan, guarding a Korean circus.  Bae-dal kneels in the rain, begging to be trained again by such an honorable man.

               Rare are Korean comics/mangas about superheroes, but as Bae-dal (whose name means Korean people) begins training, and remains struggling in Japan.  He risks his life to protect Japanese girls from soldiers and basically anyone who might get near them, unable to confess his adoration for Yoko (Hirayama), becoming the legendary ‘Brave Tiger’.  It seems often the film is about balance and bravery.  It becomes epic as Bae-dal retreats with his master’s manual and masochistically trains in solitude for over a year, transforming his body into a living brick wall.  As Masutatsu Oyama, he returns to prove himself in Kyoto, finally unafraid of dying.  Afterward he travels all over Japan, defeating masters one by one by black belt level.  The seventh level ninja fight is lots of fun, but the end is like Ryu fighting Sagat.  This guy should have made the Street Fighter movie.

Dong-kun is a quiet actor, it seems his Kim Ki-duk days stuck with him.  Often he lets the rest of the world talk.  Choi Bae-dal (born Choi Young-eui) is flawed enough to feel real.  He was real.  He founded the Oyama dojo and the Kyokushin style and is a true legend to this day.  Wish I’d paid for the case, a Blu-ray will never be as cool.  It INCLUDEd UNRELEASED SOUNDTRACK CD, BEAUTIFUL UNIFORM TYPE CASE, 50 PAGE PHOTO BOOK, A FOLDING PHOTO CARDS, 35 MM FILM AND POSTER.

              

FINDING MR. DESTINY

CJ E & M – 2011

DIRECTOR: Chang You-jung (debut)

ACTORS: Im Soo-jung … Seo Ji-wooGong Yoo … Han Gi-joonChun Ho-jin … Colonel Seo Dae-ryung (Ji-woo’s father)Ryu Seung-soo … Gi-joon’s brother-in-lawJeon Soo-kyung … Soo-kyung (musical actress)Lee Chung-ah … Ji-hye (Ji-woo’s sister)Lee Je-hoon

 TONE: Jazz hands!

               Finding Mr. Destiny has an interesting history.  The director wrote the musical it’s based on in four days.  That was her occupation, and she was successful.  I guess she decided to be as spontaneous and impulsive as her two main characters.  She directed her film debut here based on the play, starring one of the biggest female leads in Korea.  Following Soo-jung has rarely been a mistake, her choices are interesting.  She’s a model, famous enough to be in blockbusters, but appears all over the genre map.  Enamored since a Tale of Two Sisters, I’ll even follow her into jazz-filled territory (shudder).

               Finding Mr. Destiny is a straight forward lost romance film with only the hint of a twist near the very end.  Gong Yoo (Silenced, She’s On Duty) plays Gi-joon.  He’s one of those leading actors that leave me scratching my head of why girls fall for him.  It seems more character-drivi..

                

FISTS OF LEGEND

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Kang Woo-suk

               ACTORS: Hwang Jung-min (황정민)Im Deok-gyoo (임덕규)Yoo Joon-sang (유준상)Yoo Joon-sang (유준상)Lee Sang-hoon (이상훈)Lee Yo-won (이요원)Lee Yo-won (이요원)Hong Gyoo-min (홍규민)Yun Je-moon (윤제문)Yun Je-moon (윤제문)Sin Jae-suk (신재석)Jung Woong-in (정웅인)Jung Woong-in (정웅인)Son Jin-ho (손진호)Sung Ji-roo (성지루)Sung Ji-roo (성지루)Seo Kang-gook (서강국)Kang Sung-jin (강성진)Kang Sung-jin (강성진)MCPark Jung-min-I (박정민)Park Jung-min-I (박정민)Young Im Deok-gyoo (어린 임덕규)Ji Woo (지우)Ji Woo (지우)Im Soo-bin (임수빈)Goo Won (구원)Goo Won (구원)Young Lee Sang-hoon (어린 이상훈)Park Doo-sik (박두식)Park Doo-sik (박두식)Young Sin Jae-suk (어린 신재석)Lee Jung-hyuk (이정혁)Lee Jung-hyuk (이정혁)Young Son Jin-ho (어린 손진호)Kang Shin-il (강신일)Kang Shin-il (강신일)General manager Jo (조국장)Kwon Hyun-sang (권현상)Kwon Hyun-sang (권현상)Wi Yang-ho (위양호)Wi Yang-ho (위양호)Jason (제이슨)Seo Bum-sik (서범식)Seo Bum-sik (서범식)Choi Joong-man

               TONE: Sunny for guys.

 

               The director of Two Cops, Two Cops 2, The Public Enemy Trilogy, Silmido, Hanbando, Moss and GLove returns on one my favourite production companies, his own Cinema Service label to make up for the ending of Moss.  I begged for this ending and I got it.  So happy I won’t tell you what it is.

               Do you like fights?  You’re going to see a LOT of fight in Fists of Legend.  We pass back and forth through time seeing legendary school time street fighters from decades ago.  Now they’re being called up one by one to take on a professional UFC style fighter for two minutes for 20,000 dollars.  I imagine for most people it would be the longest most painful two minutes of their life.

               Our story centers around four friends who bonded over fighting.  A rich kid, a tough kid, an boxer with Olympic dreams and a rival school enemy who just wants a bit of his pride back.  Duk-gyu (Jung-min) is no longer a boxer and runs a small resturant.  He dodges the show until his Grandmother finds out.  He ends up doing incredibly well and beats the professional fighter and his former rival school friend Jae-suk (Je-moon) who is now a gangster like he is in quite a few films.                 One of the interesting aspects of the film is the eat-your-Key-lime-pie-and-have-it-too.  What is the difference between a production head and the rich boy at recess offering money for his friends to fight?  As the rich friend Jin-ho (Woong-in) gets older and richer he still longs to see his friends fight, though he’s never been in one himself.  We do too.  You’re not watching the film if you don’t want a fight.  We know that each person who says they won’t fight will eventually.  We’ll see people get hurt to save others and to save themselves, but the bottom line seems to be that once the conflict is over and you have a friendship, the fights should end. 

               Working for Jin-ho is a loyal employee of almost two decades.  Joon-sang (Sang-hoon) was known as the number one of his school.  Often gangsters are known by numbers as well.  When anyone comes to his school to fight, they have to go through him.  Jin-ho was number two.  They scoop up the Duk-gyu and form a powerful alliance that does skates in and out of the darkness.

               The film is rather long, but I liked the epic Mr. Kang was going for.  Characters are well rounded and though certain obvious twists occur, you’re still amazed at the spectacle.  There was a kid at school who never fought, but used to talk other kids into fighting.  I really want to punch that kid in the face.  Sometimes a little violence can negate so much more.

               Now watch me pile drive this Key lime pie.

 

               POST SCRIPT:  I love Sunny.  I just imagine some guys won’t want a movie with more than one woman in it, less a full cast.  And even though the few fights are artistic and brilliant fun, most guys think they need more fights.  This film is half fight if not more.  By the end maybe you’ll want something else.

A FLOWER IN HELL

KOIFC – released 1958

               DIRECTOR: Shin Sang-ok

               ACTORS: Choi Eun-hee, Kim Hak, Jo Hae-won, Gang Seon-hee

 

               When younger I used to watch children.  Their parents owned an old video camera that used full-sized VHS tapes.  When it worked, which was rare, we made movies where the cat disappeared or we dressed the young one up like a demon and filmed a hunting show.  What we didn’t do is create, with this borrowed broken camera, the most influential golden age Korean film of all time.  That was done by Shin Sang-ok who produced half of the Korean films being made at this time.  Later Kim Jung-il would be such a fan.

               A Flower in Hell is groundbreaking in regards of the cinematic female.  Though about a prostitute, it’s not about a victim.

 

FLU (Cold)

CJ E & M – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Kim Sung-su

               ACTORS:Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Kim Min-ha, ·  Yoo Hae-jin as Bae Kyung-ub

“Mission aborted.  All birds return to the bird farm.”

 

               You know when it’s sunny and bright and you see all the dust particles in your house or car?  You think, those are probably always there but right now I sure want to vacuum.  In Flu they have what I like to call, Flu Vision.  You see all the particles escaping from the coughing mouths and spreading to the next victim. This is Korea’s less mysterious take on Stephen Soderberg’s Contagion, at least that’s a good way to think about it.  This is more an summer event film though.  The source is known quickly, but it doesn’t matter.  Smuggled aliens have died in a truck and created a culture for a super Avian flu and as they try and burn the bodies, infected rats pour out.

               I can’t not see a Korean event film, especially if you add Jang Hyuk (also the star of the director’s Please Teach Me English) to the mix.  The action mostly centers in the highly populated Bundang-gu, district near Seoul.  So we just sit back and wait for the chaos to begin.  Luckily our two main leads have emergency backgrounds, Hyuk in rescue and Soo Ae as a doctor.  Coincidentally her adorable daughter Mirre (an impressive film debut from Min-ha) finds the only surviving illegal while on her way to feed a stray cat.  See adopts the boy, but infects herself.

               Little scenes like this, personal scenes, catapult the film out of pure popcorn cliché.  I like that science is in the right this time, though of course evil is political.  Shutting down a major city seems like a mistake, but we as viewers know it’s not.  Everything is easy with a bird’s eye view, as the bird laughs after infecting us.

               If the film isn’t complex enough, I do recommend Soderberg’s.  It digs deeper into every aspect on containing a mysterious epidemic.    

FOREVER THE MOMENT (The Best Moment of Our Lives)

KD Media – 2008

DIRECTOR: Lim Soon-rye

 ACTORS: Moon So-ri, Kim Jung-eun, Eom Tae-woong,Kim Ji-young, Jo Eun-ji, Minji

 

               Often sports movies are about men, I started to think about that as I watched Forever the Moment for the second time.  In North America I can only think of one team sport movie about females.  It’s a more interesting set of problems, including sexism, ageism and all sorts of family issues.  We spend a half our time with these problem, while veterans of a Korean handball Olympic team attempt to go for the gold once more. 

               Having Jung-eun in a serious role was quite enjoyable for me.  Comedians can be so much darker and serious (as I’ve probably mentioned 4000 times already).  She’s quickly replaced as coach by a professional male player (Tae-woong) that she’s been romantically involved with and end up on the team, silenced.  I like that coach Ahn Seung-pil has new ideas and wants the girls to win.  He’s not unhappy with his position, as most of these films go.  He wants them to play, and train and eat like the European teams who dominate the sport and doesn’t enjoy the older women fighting his methods.  Though there are some silly situation, the dynamic seems real. 

               This is a film about how much we invest and how little we get back.  The Olympics always remind me of that.  Only three will win each event, the rest spent their lives on a dream.  Money rains down from endorsements and such, you don’t continue, clocking in for forty hours a week for shot putt or archery.  One player works in a restaurant, one dodges her husband’s violent money lender (So-ri playing a version of gold medalist Lim O-Kyung), another is kept on the team as she’s the only woman in Korea that can tend the goal (which might have been a bit of an insult toward the real goalie). 

               The end was an historical game and if don’t know what happens, well, it’s because they probably didn’t broadcast handball on North American televisions in 2004.  This is the first ever handball movie, so that alone is worth your attention span, but seriously the ending should be a wakeup call for the next cliché sport film about a bunch of underdog guys throwing a ball around.

THE FOX WITH NINE TAILS

Enter One/ShinCine 20th Anniversary – 2008 (originally 1994)

               DIRECTOR: Park Hun-soo (debut)

               ACTORS: So-young Ko   …HarahWoo-sung Jung Woo-sung Jung …HyukEun-hee Bang Eun-hee Bang             …Agent from UnderworldRest of cast listed alphabetically:Hae-hyo Kwon Hae-hyo Kwon

               TONE: Old school fantasy horror, old school special effects

 

               Believe me, whatever you think, the effects do set the tone.  But consider this is the first ever film in Korea to use effects.  Yeah, pretty cool now, right?  When you arrive in hell, by train, they take you to a guillotine, pull out your tongue and chop it off.  I guess that ended most of the complaints.  “Hey!  Hey!  It’s too hot!  Hey!”  This hell is more cold and German, it even has saunas for the office workers, so I guess it’s a nice Autumn temperature.  One office worker, #69 (they stamp it right on your face), is being sent up to capture the last Gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who eats the livers of men to become a human.  Sadly he’s unqualified.  They were supposed to send #96.  Still with me?

               This is Jung Woo-sung’s debut as well.  Watch him fight with hilarious sound effects and be rescued by a monster who slowly falls in love with him.  It’s easy to eat a rapist’s liver, but some guys are attractive and nice.  You don’t capture a Jung Woo-sung every day.  

                             

FRONT LINE

KD Media – 2011

               DIRECTOR: Hun Jang

               ACTORS: Shin Ha-kyun, Ko Soo, Ryu Seung-su, Ko Chang-suk

 

               1953, schoolgirls march for unification as military vehicles drive around.  After quick jump to 1950 for a taste of what our main character has been through, the lines start to blur.  Alligator company on the Eastern front seems to be made of some very open-minded soldiers with interesting histories and nothing is black and white.  The film is about an investigation of a murder, which is interesting given that it’s during a war.  Can you imagine being a detective in Iraq?

               Well, it isn’t like that.  In the beginning our company is on rest.  Thirty minutes in, we’ve only seen one mission and it is a brilliant stealthy play that’s over in a blink.  You’re not even allowed to sigh before it all goes to hell.  We then flashback to three years ago once more.  Before the North Koreans let our main characters go, their leader asks and answers, “Do you know why you’re losing?  (It’s) because you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”  This quote will haunt our investigator until the very last scene, where it has some ironic significance.

               When I see people on their hand (cell) phones in the modern age, I think they’re just playing soldier.  When I see soldiers fighting over a hill, I think of the children’s game King of the Mountain where you try to stay on top of something for the longest time.  The investigation brings forth a revelation that’s much more interesting than betrayal, a bit like JSA.  I like this movie a lot.  The Korean war really happened, and considering the divided country, is still happening in a less violent way today.  I just hope one day we’ll all grow up, but it’s easy to say that when you have a home, food and water and everything else in the world …

               … speaking of that, I had to choose between DVD with soundtrack or Blu-ray with no soundtrack.  I decided on the latter, and looking just at the beautiful snow, I think I’ll be okay.  KD Media Blu-rays have the traditional, though smaller, sleeve.  This one is gold foiled as it made it to competition.  It dominated the Grand Bell awards and was submitted for the Academy Awards.  I had a fantasy that it won and so did I for something cinematic I might have done. 

               Here is my speech:  So, let me get this straight, Korea finally wins the foreign language Oscar and it’s for a war film.  What, the German film this year wasn’t about Nazis?  Fuck you America (then I throw my award at some silicone and plastic actress). 

               I award this film 7 of 8 slice of Key lime pie, but I’m putting the last piece up on a hill.  Go fight for it.

 

G

GABI (Russian Coffee)

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2012

               DIRECTOR: Chang Yoon-hyun

               ACTORS: Kim So-yeon, Joo Jin-mom, Park Hee-soon, Yoo Sun, Jo Deok-hyun, Jo Kyung-hoon

“Gabi’s bitterness is rather sweet.”

 

               Some have criticized this film for being straight forward or historically inaccurate, including a scene where coffee is called with a modern word.  Some probably dismissed it because of the massive amount of languages spoken.  No country is fully comfortable with subtitles.  I like a cheap Cinema Service release and a film that goes as far as it can.  This was a project with a grand scope and it doesn’t land on it’s face.  It’s a veteran director of historic pieces like Hwang Jin-yi and modern action like Some.  The novel is written by the same writer as Detective K, so I think it’s safe to say we’re playing with history a bit.

   I think to be completely straight forward there would be no twists or secrets revealed, but there are.  The King knows more than we think, and one of our assassins has more guilt than we realize.  The plot is complex, but here we go.  Icy Fox/Ilyich (Jin-mo) is the sworn protector of Silver Fox/Tanya (So-yeon) whose father was assassinated by the King.  Now they rob Russians of coffee, and sometimes gold, and sell it back for profit and peace between gangs.  Finally they’re caught and given the choice of serving the Japanese or suffering painful deaths.  Tanya must infiltrate the Russian consulate with her language and coffee making skills and get close enough to kill the King who is there for safety as Ilyich attacks the Korean civil army and poses as a Japanese military leader.  He’s killing even unarmed Koreans, in the name of love, but without hesitation.  Even though he’s one of our heroes, he’s a villian too.  Tanya is the one with a turning point.  She loves Ilyich but she cannot kill the King as she gets closer and more honest with him.  King Gojong (Hee-soon from A Barefoot Dream) he’s too modern to me at first, but grows on me as the film continues.  When he confronts Sakamoto (actually Ilyich) he’s very powerful.  He feels the weight of his hiding, as his hungry people suffer and are murdered, but his Queen is already dead.  See Sword Without a Name for an interesting interpretation.

   Final thoughts?  Well, I thought maybe they could run at any time.  They are masters of disguise and know their way around the world.  Anyway, most Americans like the film unless they have Russian or Japanese language skills, or know Korean history or have read the book the film is based on.  I’m a naive American so I get to enjoy the movie. How about five slice though, so smarter people don’t hate me.    

GARDEN OF HEAVEN

Ivision/Showbox – 2003

               DIRECTOR: Lee Dong-hyun (debut)

               ACTORS:  Ahn Jae-wook, Lee Eun-joo, Son Jong-bum, Jeon Moo-song, Song Ok-sook

 

               She has reddish hair, a small bunny named Santa and everyone seems to love her, or hate her.  He’s a quack doctor who frowns often and is now in charge of a hospice.  Oh, and she’s dying.  When they meet, it’s her first day as a karaoke call girl after finding no work in her make-up artistry field.

               The beginning is very strange as everyone faces in odd directions while Choi Oh-sung’s father dies.  He’s distant, but it’s all just weird.  I hate to say it, but there’s something boring about the film.  Written by the talented Han Lee (writer and director of Almost Love and director of Punch) I was hoping for more.  There is a bit of humor as the Garden of Heaven (the hospice) falls under Oh-sung.  We’re introduced to characters who blatantly mention their unique characteristics.  I’m still worried, but I always was.  The art and DVD cover are these magical romantic, yet bland pictures that want to fit perfectly into the genre of romantic tragedy, but add nothing.  When people are in the background they never seem real, either not knowing what to do or how to do it.  I have a feeling there is a reason that the director made only one film.  Maybe I’m not in a good mood, but I’ve paid much less for amazing films by first time directors.

               I will say, the saddest word I’ve ever heard is the Korean word for mom, which sounds like “Oh ma”.  When cried by a little girl as a sheet is placed over her mother’s face, I can’t help but feel her pain, and that’s amazing as in the scene right before it, the girl had this ultra-weird close-up shot that made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  Was the film all done in single takes?  Was the editor on crack?  A hospice must be the worst place to work, a constant reminder of death.  Your job is just to ease terrified people into the process.  I first found out about them when one of my favourite relatives was dying.  By the time I got there he had lost consciousness.  He was there for me when my mother was killed.  He was there for the family hosting reunions.  I don’t like to think of death realistically, but I’m sure I’ve seen it done a lot better.  I would rather see a documentary on Lee Eun-joo, really. 

               Oh no, can’t leave it all like this.  Here are some good things, but mostly you can credit them to the writing.  One of the best scenes is right after Kim Young-ju (Eun-joo) throws up.  She just wants to eat what she wants.  She wants the person she cares about to eat what she makes.  That’s such a luxury; so many people streamline their diets from health issues.  Humans have to eat so often that each meal is just a reminder of death for Young-ju.  There are two men in her life, one sees her as a dying person, the other as a living person.  She gravitates towards living, and that’s quite understandable.  Suddenly as she begins modeling, everyone sees her how she wants.  Of course, it’s easy to garner sympathy when you’re pretty and dying, making Lee Eun-joo’s real life suicide a mirrored tragedy.

 

GHOST HOUSE

Cinema Service – 2004

               DIRECTOR: Kim Sang-jin

               ACTORS: Cha Seung-won, Jang Seo-hee, Jang Hang-seon, Son Tae-yung, Jin Yu-yung and Yun Mu-sik

               TONE: Evil Dead 2 for those too scared of Evil Dead 2

 

               There’s a lot to talk about with Ghost House.  It’s an extremely fun supernatural comedy about a poor kid who must move from place to place while growing up.  His father’s dying wish is that he buy a permanent home.  Pil-gi buys an ocean view house, only to realize a ghost inside will do anything to get him to leave.  I rarely underline so let me clarify.  Anything in a small film is a few bad effects and a door slams and that’s it.  With some money and imagination anything is a couch laughing and trying to kill you.  Glass shards and a butcher knife hover and aim at you.  Your limbs switch places while other hands and feet attack you.  One thousand chickens enter like a SWAT team and of course we must do a Ringu homage.  It’s well done to say the least with Park Yung-gyu (I Am A King) crawling through the television.

               Some of the funniest comedy comes from a supermarket ran by an aroused older lady who knows Pil-gi’s house is haunted.  The city isn’t big, every child knows.  Pil-gi is a great character.  He flexes and speaks of his marine background but it won’t be long before he’s running out of his house again crying.  He sends in shamans and other ghost removal experts but each is thwarted, but that point the film changes.

               Somewhere along the line Pil-gi sees and ghost and meets a new co-worker who had a near-death experience and also sees ghosts.  The turn gives us a bit of depth after all our fun as we meet Seon-hwa (Seo-hee from Crescent Moon) our adorable ghost.  She’s stuck in the house her husband gave to her, waiting for him to return.  See cannot and will not leave without seeing him once again.  A highlight of her appearance is Seon-hwa picking up Pil-gi’s mattress and shaking it.  With her visible, he’s not scared and finds it relaxing.

               It’s a colourful and imaginative film and it was an amazing package.  Out of its massive white textured slipcase, the digipak folds out revealing the characters popping out with metal springs.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  A butcher knife flying into a full Key lime pie is gladly rewarded for this hilarious classic. 

GIRL SCOUT(S)

KD Media/MK Pictures – 2008

               DIRECTOR: Kim Sang-man

               ACTORS: Kim Seon-ah, Nah Moon-ee, Lee Kyung-sil, Ko Joon-hee, Lim Ji-eun, Park Won-sang, Yoo Jae-joon, Kim Hyang-ki, Jeon Ji-ae

 

               I guess I misunderstood.  I saw this rad cover of these angry screaming females, all yellow.  I swear I read that it was about some money being taken.  I got it in my head that some Girl Scouts got their cookie money stolen and the Girl Scout mothers go on a kicking teeth mission.  This was not the case.  Honestly, I still think someone should make that movie.  Hollywood, listen to me and stop trying to destroy Old Boy.

               Our toughest woman doesn’t even fight at the end.  A guy takes over the fight.  It made me angry.  Good thing about disappointment though, I always think I missed something and want to watch the movie again.

               The characters, especially the females, are well written and very different and some twists make you wonder how long they’ll be friends.  They don’t get along even when getting along.  What would be the fun of a road trip movie if everyone just sang the whole time?  Amateurs on a sting mission.  Amateurs on a spy mission.  It’s light.  The Chaser came out the same year.  Maybe you needed something light.

               KD Media’s first pressings are often sleeved with alternate art.  This release is no different.  I love the cover.  It makes you wish it was as judged.  Damn you proverbs.

               I award this film 3 of 8 slices of Key lime pie, but I might steal one.  If Girl Scout want to chase after me, I won’t mind.

GLove

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2011

               DIRECTOR: Kim Woo-suk

               ACTORS: Jung Jae-young, Kim Hye-sung, Lee Hyun-woo, Kim Dong-young, Jang Ki-bum, Yoo Sun and Jo Jin-woong

              

               A slight twist on the sports movie you’ve seen.  A sports star jerk must teach some kids to play his game.  The difference is, they are deaf.  I always wanted, just once, that the cliché be tampered with.  It’d be perfect if the coach really wanted coach as much as the players want to play.  Where’s the drama there though?  Hey, wait, this is a true story.  Take that originality!  Of course, Kim Woo-suk’s Silmido was also based on a true story and not exactly true.  Great movie though.  Shrug.

               What wakes up Coach Kim Sang-nam a bit is seeing a boy named Cha Myung-jae from the Sacred Heart School for deaf kids, about to go to jail after beating up three kids.  I guess though that is another cliché.  Like a girl on the team, always finding the troubled outsider.  That will be our star.  I’m trying to be fair to both sides.  I’m watching this for Jang Jae-Jung.  As sweet as he can be in Castaway On The Moon or Going By The Book, he’s that perfect spoiled athlete who only is with awful attitude.  In this situation, he uses his fame to help the situation.  A small town is always impressed by a celebrity.  Myung-jae lost his hearing gradually and it really bothers him.  He played baseball, but things are difficult for him, connecting and adapting.

               The female coach Na Joo-won) (Yoo Sun) is more masculine than Coach Sang-nam, but of course she’s pretty too.  Will they love each other in the end as much as they annoy each other in the beginning?  I know I’m not making at good case, but I actually liked the movie.  Baseball is easy and I see that GLove is even getting some play domestically.  As you see her real job as a deaf school’s music teacher (think about it) you understand why she puts so much more into baseball.

               I like how as you see the first time they play (against a much younger team) that the deaf kids aren’t really ready and you start to side with the coach.  You see the dramatic potential, but you see his side too.  He’s played professionally and getting hopes high is unnecessary.  As they play on though, as a homerun is hit, the coach starts to make connections and the cinematic telling of a fun underdog story unfolds.  If that is of no interest, may I direct you to the Whistleblower perhaps?  Human trafficking is hard, baseball is easy.

               I award this film 5 out of 8 slices of Key lime pie, and I add whipped cream.

 

GONG PIL-DU (A Big Match)

ENTER ONE – 2006

               DIRECTOR: Kim Joo-ho (debut)

               ACTORS: Lee Moon-sik (이문식)Kim Yoo-mi (김유미)Kim Yoo-mi (김유미)Lee Kwang-ho (이광호)Lee Kwang-ho (이광호)Park Jung-hak (박정학)Park Jung-hak (박정학)Kim Roi-ha (김뢰하)Kim Roi-ha (김뢰하)Yoo Tae-woong (유태웅)Yoo Tae-woong (유태웅)Choi Yeo-jin (최여진)Choi Yeo-jin (최여진)Kim Sang-ho (김상호)Kim Sang-ho (김상호)Lee Sang-hoon-II (이상훈)Lee Sang-hoon-II (이상훈)Oh Soon-tae (오순태)Oh Soon-tae (오순태)Lee Cheol-min (이철민)Lee Cheol-min (이철민)Park Sung-il (박성일)Park Sung-il (박성일)Lee Jung-woo-I (이정우)Lee Jung-woo-I (이정우)Lee Soo-hyun (이수현)Lee Soo-hyun (이수현)Kil Geum-sung (길금성)Kil Geum-sung (길금성)Choi Yun-jung (최윤정)Choi Yun-jung (최윤정)Park Yung-jin (박영진)Kim Hyung-joon-I (김형준)Kim Hyung-joon-I (김형준)Jung Mi-sung (정민성)Jung Mi-sung (정민성)Ji Sung-geun (지성근)Ji Sung-geun (지성근)Kim Nan-hwi (김난휘)Kim Nan-hwi (김난휘)Park Hwi-soon (박휘순)Park Hwi-soon (박휘순)Kim Soo-ro (김수로)Kim Su-ro (김수로)CameoByun Hee-bong (변희봉)Byun Hee-bong (변희봉)CameoKim Soo-mi (김수미)Kim Soo-mi (김수미)CameoKim Kap-soo (김갑수)Kim Kap-soo (김갑수)CameoKim Hyung-Bum (김형범)Kim Hyung-Bum

TONE: Deaf

               The Kidari production logo is exactly like the Daddy-Long-legs image from the director’s previous film, so imagine the director produced the movie a bit on his own.  It’s a huge cast for 2.5 million dollars so included them all (there’s a creative title sequence for them at the end of the film).  Pil-du peaked in high school as a wrestler and has been coasting downhill since then.  His father (Hee-bong, The Host) beats him for having to be his “wife” as his son has never been married and ends up in the hospital.  Detective Gong get no respect and deservedly.  In the opening scene he beats and arrests a victim.  Though admittedly, the scare tactics of the criminal were to beat himself up to get a man to sign some documents.

               The tone is all over the place.  The packaging (Min-sik as Austin Powers and Superman) tricks you into thinking you’re seeing a light comedy, but sometimes the film is a cop drama.  Tae-gon, a loan shark played by Kim Su-ro, sees opportunity in Detective Gong’s hospital debt.  The loaner needs his boss arrested so he can run a legitimate business and informs him he’ll pay for the Pil-du’s father’s operation if he complies.  Though he laughs the deal off, after a bit of research Detective Gong attempts to raid the gold smuggling operation on his own, but ends up looking like a suspect.  With a prosecutor hot on his trail, Detective Gong escapes to solve the crime in barely believable sparks of violence.  Sadly, keeping so close to the criminals has him appearing as he’s involved over and over. 

We’re introduced to too many characters that steal away the supposed star’s screen time.  I think if a few players were developed better and the tone was adjusted slightly, there would be a more balanced and enjoyable film.  In this country I can’t imagine anyone giving an actor as short as Lee Min-sik a chance, except maybe Robert Rodriguez with Machete.  That’s where you have to produce the film yourself, you have to gamble.  It was the last film made by the director and didn’t make even one million.

               In a way, I didn’t mind Tae-gon getting away with the gold.  I think his story might have been more interesting.  Many of the criminals are a lot more fun and you don’t see gold smuggling that often.  This isn’t drugs or guns and he stole it from other criminals, but an implausible death gets in the way of my dreams.  Pil-du’s father isn’t even sick!  (starting to eat Key Lime pie)

               With noodle girls who long to be cops, and an underwear model dragged into the gold smuggling, there was opportunity for a Snatch/Pulp Fiction type of ensemble.  You have to develop characters though.  You can’t just drop them in.  Some actors seemed like they were doing a one-day favor.  The rainy Nowhere To Hide finale seems to be fought on a soft mat they placed on a bridge.  How convenient.  This movie is a strange adventure.  Check out The Grand Heist below for Lee Min-sik doing what he does best, instead.

               Enter One glossy slipcase with alternate art as mentioned above.  Often promotion materials are filmed as a separate element.  I doubt they wanted to do a cover where Lee Min-sik is leaving his gun behind or using an ATM area as an emergency toilet. 

THE GRAND HEIST (Gone With the Wind)

KD Media/Media L – 2012

 DIRECTOR: Kim Joo-ho (debut)

ACTORS: Cha Tae-hyun, Oh Ji-ho, Min Hyo-rin, Lee Chae-young, Sung Dong-il, Go Chang-suk, Shin Jung-geun, Kim Gil-dong, Cheon Bo-geun, Kim Hyang-gi, Song Jong-ho, Nam Kyung-eup, Kim Ku-taek, Oh Na-ra and Lee Moon-sik

               Well, if you going to do a big cast heist film you must have the essentials.  You have to have some suave swindlers and others who have been wronged.  You have to have some wealthy people who are so evil they deserve to be robbed.  You have to have a plan so complex, when it’s explained you’ll never understand it.  You’ll have to have problems between the crew and bigger problems that will ruin the plans.  You’ll have to have an alternate plan that is put together quickly as the time is running out … and you’ll have to have something to steal that worth all the effort. 

               How about ice?

               Though we’ve seen this movie before, we’ve never seen it in the 18th century where ice is a precious commodity, possibly more than gold.  I was a bit disappointed later when gold is also put into the mix, but it provides for some tension and one of the few small twists.  Cha Tae-hyun is almost unrecognizable with his facial hair and period costume and Lee Moon-sik plays a wonderful partner and friend in a short but memorable role.  Ji-ho is a bit stiff, but after a while I enjoyed his part as Baek Dong-soo.  He was a power guard of the ice storage, like the Emperor’s red guards in Star Wars, but his men are attacked and all die.  Most of the crew is screwed over in some way so your sympathy for the wealthy red and blue officials is pretty much zero.  I considered how in other movies you might see those characters as your main characters, like a very different and possibly serious period drama.  Here they’re all corrupt so all you want is to see some stolen ice.

                The women in the crew are actually useful, especially Nani (Hyang-gi) as she makes distracting cat noises or spreads rumors about a plague to keep others away from the headquarters.  Of course there’s going to be some romance, but it’s fairly innocent, excluding an unexpected joke where Baek Dong-soo can’t stand up after being laid upon by Seol-hwa (Chae-young).

               If you wanted Ocean’s 11 (or 12, or 13) to be Korean and a long time ago, you’re in luck.  If you didn’t, well, you don’t know what you’re missing.  The film is pretty fun and comes in hardcover Blu-ray book with lots of pictures, which is how KD Media is celebrating successes.  Six frozen Key lime pie slices, though I’ll probably give one away to the poor kids.

GREAT(EST) EXPECTATIONS

CJ Entertainment – 2004

DIRECTOR: Oh Sang-hun

ACTORS: Kim Chang-jung, Kim Sun-ah, Shin Yi and Kim Su-mi

              

               Lower your great expectations.  If you’d like to see a good interpretation of the book Great Expectations, watch the South Park episode with Pip.  The version here is about as loose as Mi-yung’s (Sun-ah) bowels as she attempts to act.  Tip: Put your diarrhea a little further from the beginning.  Mi-yung is an actress, but the closest she gets to a movie is the ones in her mother’s (Su-mi) DVD and comic book rental store — while she’s told she was found under a bridge.

               Now meet a real sociopath.  Your lead character is a total bum, and worse, he’s educated and can teach.  Chang-shik (Chang-jung) lies around all day and rents films he can’t afford.  I’ve often considered people who study psychology are often insane.  After his roommate Sung-hi (Shin-yi) threatens him, he returns another late video.  This is coincidence one.  Over and over our main characters will run into each other and exude their mutual hate of one another, while you just become worried that the screenwriter will try and have them fall in love near the finale.  I recalled a review of Spring Bears Love that fell on the same lines, but these people are pretty bad.  I hope you like screaming.

               Shin-yi is a favourite though.  She’s very good at being scary and powerful.  When Chang-shik finally makes some money from witnessing a hit-and-run, Sung-hi steals his money.  He cries in his bed and I thought the whole scene was justified and awesome.  When a sociopath makes money he spends it as if he has an infinite supply, first on himself and then he gives gifts.  He doesn’t pay debts, he gives gifts.  In another scene he watches a video where he almost rapes Mi-yung.  He watches it with nostalgic love.  In the next scene when Mi-yung decides to go out with a delivery man, Chang-shik threatens to put the film on the Internet.  This is a comedy, and doesn’t really fall into a black comedy area.  I know you might be wondering how the rape thing happened.  I guess you’ll have to leave it to your greatest expectations.

               The packaging of the limited edition is ultra-deluxe.  Movies like this don’t get awesome presses any more.  It’s a super fat digipak with a pad and a resume sheet.  The film reached almost a million tickets, which was a lot in South Korea.  The Road Taken was released on the same day and was seen by five thousand.  Oh South Korean audience, the road taken.

               I will award this film 2 slices of Key lime pie when I have the deluxe version (which should be in a few days).  Maybe signed by the director with an apology, otherwise one thin slice.

 

GUNS & TALKS

Cinema Service – 2002

DIRECTOR: Jang Jin

ACTORS: Shin Hyun-joon (신현준)Jung Jae-yung , Shin Ha-kyun (신하균)Won Bin (정진영)Jung Jin-yung (오승현)Oh Seung-hyun  (공효진)Kong Hyo-jin (고은미)Ko Eun-mi (정규수)Jung Gyoo-soo(김학철)Kim Hak-cheol  (윤주상)Yun Joo-sang  (손현주)Son Hyun-joo (손현주)Jo Deok-hyun  (조덕현)Lim Seung-dae  (임승대)Kim Ji-yung (김지영)Kim Il-woong (김일웅)Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범)Im Won-hee (임원희)

TONE: Assassin is the same as working at the hardware store

 

               I don’t talk much about the disc two, but most first presses have one.  The chapters are in English and intrigued by a rare section called “other trailers” I found previews of Last Witness and the English language horror film Dracula 2000.  No Korean subs.  Very strange.  The packaging is a glossy alternate art slipcover, but this one has a cut out window box for the four main characters.  Slipping off the cover reveals a second picture on the inside, framed by the large cut out. 

               The film is Won Bin’s debut and I almost consider it Jang Jin’s debut as The Spy isn’t subtitled and he lost creative control with The Happenings.  You could only wish to have a cast like this now.  I believe the four are completely interchangeable, though the placement here is very comfortable.  Ha-yun (Won Bin) narrates the beginning.  He’s the youngest and computer savvy.  He wonders why anyone would want someone to be killed, but given the high demand he treats it like any other job.  His beginning speech really sets the tone.  These aren’t bad guys in this cinematic world; they’re just guys with a strange occupation.  Hyun-joon (Sang-Yun) is patient and calm, and though the leader, is the only one to miss his target.  He doesn’t seem to want to kill anyone, like a janitor sighing at his mop.  Jae-young (Jae-young) is a sniper who speaks only when necessary.  His bullets speak louder than words. Last, Jung-woo (Ha-kyun) was born an assassin and calls people up to tell them about the bomb planted in their ceiling.  Somewhere you can relate each to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

               Jan Jing has an undeniable talent for humor and creative imagery.  Some scenes would work on their own at a short film such as Jung-woo explaining in split why he failed to shoot a target.  As the other assassins throw in their two won, the right hand side changes to fit the questions and answers.  That’s the fun of it, we know assassins, or think we do.  Guns & Talks truly lets our four live their lives as average roommates.  The targets are often businessmen so we think little of their contracted murders.  When a pregnant woman is the target, there’s hesitation and confusion.  They have morals in our eyes, they’re not all bad.  When an abused student (Hyo-jin) pleads for help, they represent justice.

               Don’t blink or you might miss Im Won-hee as a priest.

H

THE HAND OF DESTINY

Korean Film Archive/YouTube – 1954

DIRECTOR: Han Hyung-mo

ACTORS: Lee Hyang, Yun In-ja, Joo Seon-tae

 

               I thought it would be funny if the film was just a hand holding a pipe for ninety minutes with intellectuals discussing the symbolism of the pipe.  This is my first film jumping into the wonderful fresh water pond that the Korean Film Archive has gifted.  Eighty movies have been uploaded to YouTube that can be watched legally for free if you don’t mind a 15 second commercial.  I don’t mind, as you have to watch 15 second commercials for almost everything.  There were simply so many and my knowledge of pre-new wave is so low, I just chose a title I preferred.  Now I’m here with a hand holding a pipe, chosen by my hand, holding a mouse.

 

HAPPY ERO CHRISTMAS

Netflix – 2013 (originally KD Media – 2004)

DIRECTOR: Lee Geon-dong

               ACTORS: Cha Tae-hyun, Kim Seon-ah, , Park Yung-gyoo, Hong Kyung-in, Kim Ji-young, Park Won-sang

               NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: KFC

 

               Admittedly, the first time you see ___ is pretty funny as he takes off his giant female police head off of his cartoony costume.  I liked this panned film so much I searched it out and will be buying the first press soon and cheap.  Maybe it’s considered South Korea’s Jingle All The Way, if Arnold was searching for sex toys.  The ero is for erotic I guess.

               A funny comedy about a kung-fu cop (the nunchuk scene is amazing) and a gangster falling in love with a bowling alley girl gets slightly derailed strange sexual stories.  At one point a fisherman gets off with help from a fish’s mouth.  The fish cries a single tear while most of the audience says, “WTF!

A HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT

Planis Entertainment – 2010

DIRECTOR:

ACTORS:

TONE: Amateur Blair Witch without the woods, or scares

              

     Don’t fall asleep!  No seriously, make sure you’re completely awake when you watch this or you’ll fall asleep.

     When I saw the Blair Witch Project, I was young and naïve and hadn’t seen one advertisement.  It was convincing and quite scary.  Maybe it was a more innocent time.  Now, it isn’t.  “Reality” and “Found Footage” have saturated television and cinema and A Haunted House Project is the death knell.

     The film decides to keep things as realistic as possible by giving the crew no personalities except occasional camera shyness.  If you want to see half the film for free, walk around with a video camera at night in a condemned building while your friend is hiding inside. 

     Considering how many scenes are ripped straight from Blair Witch I wish they’d went the whole way.  Let me get to know the crew.  Instead we have the following: a few interviews with supposed real people, a few minutes with our crew, and then an exploration into the house at night.  You can barely see what’s going on and that’s okay because NOTHING is going on.  NOTHING.

     I wish the twist ending was the found footage was because they lived but they lost their camera.  No ghosts at all.  Oh no though, there is a story told too briefly for anyone to remember, hinting at the ways each of the crew will die.  The ghost has the freaking scary hair that never ends and she picks up the camera for the final shot.  Yeah, the second unit director was a ghost.

               Um.

               If you stay for the credits, which I can’t believe there was more than seven people involved, you’ll hear a story that explains the less than 80 minutes you’ve struggled to see.  I have doubts many people stayed.  One Key lime pie slice for the Planis logo.  The movie is deservedly not slipcased.

HAUNTERS

UP/KD Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Kim Min-suk

ACTORS: Kang Dong-won, Go Soo, Jung Eun-chae, Yun Da-Kyung, Choi Deok-moon, Abu Dod, Enes Kaya, Yang Kyung-mo

          

     Woochi is back, with really bad posture and X-men eyes.  Coming in I thought the film was about ghosts.  Kang Dong-won instead controls people that he can see.  That’s pretty cool.  He gets his abusive dad to kill himself when he’s a kid and almost kills his mom when she isn’t so pleased about the dad thing.  Then we leave all that behind.

     We follow another guy.  This guy is as basic as a guy gets, but slowly he does seem to develop a trait of rapid healing.  So it’s a teenage Professor X versus Wolverine with no claws.  Instead he has an African-Korean friend and another friend from Turkey.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a white guy and a black guy in a Korean movie without them being racist douches or military douches (D-War doesn’t count).  Despite a slightly strange ending, the film is semi-unpredictable (Why leave people literally hanging?  Haven’t you seen Sin City?) and a lot of fun.  Kang Dong-won can do no wrong. 

     I bought the DVD and they Blu-rayed me right after.  Sucked.  I now understand the power of Kang Dong-won.  There will always be a Blu-ray.  The first press DVD was standard KD Media, but like Dachimawa Lee, there was a soundtrack.  It’s very noise-ambient, not typical music.  I played it before hearing it or even seeing the movie and people asked me, “What is that?” but not in a curious way.

     Kang Dong-won is forcing me to award this film 6 of 8 slices of Key lime pie.

 

HE WAS COOL (The Guy Was Cool)

IVision – 2004

DIRECTOR: Lee Hwan-kyung (debut)

ACTORS: Song Seung-heon, Jung Da-bin, Lee Ki-woo, Lee Min-hyeok, Jung Woo, Kyoo Hwi, Lee Jin-Sung

           

     The packaging is beyond rad to me and expresses the sense of humor well.  Our main character, Eun-sung (Seung-heon) is picking up Ye-won (Da-bin) by her shirt, but she’s a cut out flap giving a slight 3-d effect.  Quite young, Jung Da-bin committed suicide three years after making this film.  Okay, packaging and death, not a good tone for talking about a high school comedy.

     In the beginning we see a few school boys walking around, they turn the corner hearing a scream and are thrown away like paper balls.  Their leader Eun-sung doesn’t flinch.  As other school boys come after him one by one Eun-sung lays them out with simple, confident and powerful attacks.   After that he throws a message to their school.  Ye-won goes to that school and fires back over the Internet and finds herself a primary target for the bully who has beat up every boy that stands up to him.  Attempting to escape and sneak into her school as Eun-sung waits for her, clumsy irony places her in his arms … kissing her enemy.  The powerful fighter decides to force Ye-won to be his girlfriend instead.

     Female servitude is actually something found in a few Korean teen comedies, but the real humor comes from the calculated strangeness that each scene contains.  You could simply film the scene or you could mull it over until you fill it with visual hilarity.  A lot of parts make my head go, wow.  Humor doesn’t always need a budget.  It needs sometime random, something extra, something new, like a chase scene with two people in full salon gear where one crashes into a clown with balloons or a mother who slides in like a ghost and is always ready to punish her children with excited fury.

     There is a lot of well-choreographed fighting, and often it’s where the comedy halts.  We watch and wait for it to pick back up, it may or may not.  Maybe there’s a reason for Eun-sung’s method of courtship.  Maybe it won’t matter as he fights the hardest when Ye-won is around and she cares for him the most when Eun-sung is in danger.  The film is about males not dealing with their emotions very well and in the end our silence doesn’t always mean emotional distance.  Probably better to talk once in a while though. 

     Nothing too different about the film, overly cute acting, some melodrama, and secrets we’ve seen before.  I still like the film.  It deserves cult status with it being Jung Da-bin’s only movie.  I wrote on her Hancinema page:  You were cool also.

HELLCATS (I Like it Hot)

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2008

DIRECTOR: Kwon Chil-in

ACTORS: Lee Mi-sook as Kim Young-mi Kim Min-hee as Kim Ah-mi Ahn So-hee as Kim Kang-ae Kim Sung-soo as Oh Seung-won Kim Heung-soo as Na Won-suk Yoon Hee-seok as Choi Kyoung-soo Kang Hae-in as Yoo Mi-ran Kim Bum as Lee Ho-jae Jang Hang-joon as Director Ahn 

AMERICAN MONEY: Domino’s and Kashi

WARNING:  The screenwriter wrote about a screenwriter, always referring to herself as a screenwriter in her own movie … but it isn’t Charlie Kaufmann. 

“Love is courage.”

     I love Cinema Service slipcased first presses so I worked hard to acquire this, as I had missed it.  The director is Chil-in (chillin’) so it must be laid back.  I have my shoes off.  Yeah, let’s go.

     Three  love-starved women live with each other, two sisters and the daughter of the older sister, who serves them all and then goes to work where she continues to serve at a fast food restaurant.  I connect with Kim Kang-ae (So-hee) first.  I was born into servitude as well.  Kim Ah-mi (Min-hee) is definitely going to make or break you with her dramatics.  She treats people badly, as gets everything she deserves for it.  Her friends don’t even like her.  She’s haunting in Helpless and was one of the six chosen for The Actresses.  Her older sister Kim Young-mi (Mi-sook of …ing and Untold Scandal) is focused on work and getting things done and any promiscuity she had in the past seems suppressed.  All this adds to a somewhat sarcastic title.  Nothing is working, and each throws themselves headfirst into settling when things aren’t working out.

     Even though Min-hee won all the awards, I really enjoy the schoolgirl lesbian scenes (see Whispering Corridors 1-5) with Hang-ae and her adorable friend Mi-ran (Hae-in).  It’s her quote above, though I omitted the “girlfriend” tag at the end.  This is a female driven female so I feel embarrassed to say my favourite scene is Hang-ae sulking shyly and then getting kicked in the head by a ball.  And perfectly too.  Everyone is trying to figure out the mystery of love, sex and relationships and failing by trying too hard or not enough.  It’s a fun film in that way like Chil-in’s Singles.  

 “How long do we have to continue this game that has no rules?”  

    Near the end Hang-ae is asking for a referee in her own life to card her during relationship violations.  The saddest part of the film is how scenes are often connected, each character having similar problems, but the three suffer in silence, rarely leaning on each other as it’s easier to insult and let off steam instead.  Everyone is flawed in some way and that makes for a slightly difficult watch, like six or so indecision anti-heroes are all in an elevator with you.  It ends well, not as happy as usual, but seriously … they should have ended the film at the airport.  Best scene.

RARE SECOND DISC REVIEW

     As I’ve said before, most first presses have an unsubtitled disc of special features.  The trailer is always last.  There is a photo shoot for promos and the cover, which is fun.  A Wondergirls video, which is edited horribly, especially the sound design.  I just had to to stop.  The first feature is the director talking about the finale song for about 12 minutes.  All in all I give lesbian schoolgirls a full Key lime pie, for the rest I’ll flush two pieces down the poetic toilet.  And step on one because of that awful play Young-mi is working on.  Awful.

 

HELLO GHOST

NEW/KD Media – 2010

DIRECTOR: Kim Young-tak

ACTORS: Cha Tae-hyun, Kang Ye-won, Lee Mun-su, Ko Chang-seok, Jang Young-nam, Chun Bo-geun

              

     When joking around movie twists I always ask if Bruce Willis was dead.  Someone long ago spoiled the ending of Sixth Sense before I saw it, but I knew, when I finally saw the film that I’d be tricked.  Though it begins with a suicide and soon we have a man seeing ghost, this film is more a comedy.  It’s difficult not to connect it with Sixth Sense, but I would do it with praise more than chiding.  Adam Sandler is set to remake it and I worry about that.  The end tore me up, and I can’t imagine the same effect from the same country that ruined Old Boy.

     Star of My Sassy Girl and Speedy Scandal Tae-hyun stars as an orphan named Sang-man who finds himself not only seeing ghosts, but having to solve all their problems.  It gives him a reason to live and may even help him understand his own life.  This is the second (and coming up third) time the director and star work together.  Babo was the first.  I just ordered the third film Slow Video because they are a great combination.  M. Night often uses people twice, like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable and the Sixth Sense.  That’s the third and final time I mention it.

 

HELPLESS

CJ E&M – 2012

DIRECTOR: Byun Young-joo

ACTORS: Kim Min-hee, Lee Sun-gyun and Cho Sung-ha

              

     At the forty minute mark, just desperately searching for his wife, Jung Min-ho finds himself in a small town getting in a fight.  He seems like he’s going to fight back, but then screams all of his anger and frustration out at once, kicks his side view mirror off and then lies on the ground.  I totally relate.  Sometimes the people we love can turn us into a tornado.

     It’s difficult not to mention the Japanese novel “All She Was Worth”.  I’m not sure if the financial criticism remains intact in the director’s vision (also the screenwriter), but he seemed to find better ways to use the characters.  Though Min-ho (Sun-gyun) is somewhat selfish and innocent in his thoughts about his fiancée, he still helps out in the case quite a bit and Jeon-geun (Sung-ha) is a bit more of a wreck as a former cop, but he cleans up quickly.  The movie flies, I thought about The Vanishing but it’s not as ambient and you aren’t left hanging.  You want to know a little bit, here is a little bit, but there’s still a big piece of mystery to go around.  I’m still not sure I understand it all.

     Lee Sun-gyun has a deep voice, unexpectedly deep.  I think about this every time he talks and always have to look up his filmography.  Oh yeah, Petty Romance, I’m looking him up again.  It’s a bit like Christian Bale as Batman to me.  I must settle in.  Seon-yung (Min-hee) is our disappearing act, she’s as ethereal as one would need to be to make a mental impression that needs to stay.  I was surprised when she kept popping up, but pleased as well.  I actually thought Min-ho would end up with his vet assistant, but maybe she’s too young.  We must like a good mystery instead of what is right in front of us. 

     Technically filmed well with bright beautiful colours, especially during a dreamy flashback, my only complaint is a silly one.  The cover choice is black instead of the random muted pastels, much like the last CJ deluxe Blu-ray, and doesn’t follow their rules at all.  It’s like you had a collection of turtles and one was a hippo with a turtle shell.  I like hippos, but … well, anyway it has a little bookmark.  That’s useful if you’re thinking of stopping reading right here. 

HER LITTLE SECRET (It’s A Secret To Her/My Darling FBI)

Winson – 2009

 

DIRECTOR: Lee In-soo

ACTORS: Hwang Hyo-eun, Kim Kyu-ri, Ricky Kim

              

     This film should be studied by all upcoming filmmakers as a lesson of what not to do.  Everything in this film is completely wrong.  I even changed the cast listing, as Hwang Hyo-eun is more prominent in film than either of the main players.  My Spider-sense wouldn’t allow me to watch this free Chinese copy for a few years.  Thank you Spider-sense.  If you truly hate yourself, buy the Pre.Gm copy.

     The film is about an FBI agent named Albert (Ricky Kim) who hasn’t mentioned the details of his occupation to his girlfriend for unknown reasons.  If he’s undercover, why is he in SWAT gear and part of the raids?  I love how they just paint FBI on a tower and land a helicopter nearby.  Tired of him never being around, Mimi (Kyu-ri) returns to her small town in Korea and prepares for an arranged marriage.  Albert goes to the village and attempts to win her back by learning traditional Korean customs and beating up gangsters who want to buy the land.

     This could have been a decent film and highlights include shots of traditional Korean customs during a festival.  The film is so static and amateur though.  All I’m going to do now is list problems.

     Problem: When giving us absolutely nothing of interest in a character like Albert and then setting up there’s going to be a fight; you might want to spend a little time on the fight.  Albert is an FBI agent.  Use fighting techniques that agents might actually use.  He’s smiling at the end like this movie is fun, when he should be a bit angry.  The men are threatening his girlfriend’s family.  Spend time choreographing an interesting fight and make it more than twenty seconds.  It’s anticlimactic.  The next fight looks almost exactly the same, if not shorter.  He needs to be winning everyone over, including the audience.  Near the end he slides his GUN over to a kidnapper with a KNIFE.  What?  It doesn’t matter how the scene ends, the whole audience must be slapping their heads so hard they miss the rest of the movie.  The FBI has no international jurisdiction, that’s the NSA.  They can’t go to other countries and arrest people.  Guns are also illegal in Korea so, wouldn’t they be arrested?

     Problem: Static shots make me think of the script.  You keep cutting to the same shot and I think, this was filmed and then edited.  I’m thinking of the process and not lost in the movie.  Move the camera around a bit.  I admit, I get tired of shaky handheld, but have some sense of style.  The lighting is like a soap opera.  It feels like the film was shot in the course of a few days with one take for each scene.

     Problem: When the two actors kiss, they seem like they don’t want to, especially Kyu-ri who smooshes her face inward.  Are they in love or in a bad movie?  If they’re supposed to be in love, and they don’t look like it, film it again.

     Problem: Oh I hate the music so much.  There are so many amazing musicians who are dying to get into film.  Some would do three times as good a job simply for a cinematic credit on their resume.  To make the fight worse, the musician has made some campy theme for when Albert fights, making the fighting seem even more repetitive and silly.  Some sounds are like a cartoon.  Music should lift you at time, but mostly be invisible.  Sound effects need to be natural, not like a dubbed Kung Fu film when a guy is punched.

     Problem: Don’t just hire the first white person you see.  Hire an actor.  This is a problem in most Korean films, but here it’s so much worse.  There are so many supposed Americans and not one of them does anything but speak their dialogue as if they learned it a second ago.  I doubt many Koreans notice this so I’ll let it go.  We have a tendency in the states to grab any Asian and plug them into a part, no matter their true ethnicity.  Rain has played Japanese twice, kind of insulting to all the Japanese actors.

     Problem: When someone gets kidnapped, why don’t they fight?  Mimi is kidnapped as we must bring Albert’s training in somehow and link him to the criminal he’s supposed to be after.  A story and B story aligning is no problem, but everyone fights being kidnapped.  Check out Rush Hour for the best kidnapping scenes ever.  A little girl fights tooth and nail not to be taken away.  This scene is so weird.  Why is Mimi so far down the road as people are celebrating?  Just so people won’t see her be kidnapped.  You hear (not literally) the director say:  Okay now, in this scene the bad guys will get out of the car and take you, then drive off.  Instead Mimi should have a better reason for being where she is.  There’s a witness, but the kidnappers don’t pay him any mind.  They act like he’s not even there.  Isn’t kidnapping a crime?  I had the same problems with Mandate.  If you had a surreal and fantasy tone I’d let things slide, but you place your film in the real world.  Play by the rules of the real world.  Always play by the rules you set up.

     Problem: I admit, I laughed a moment when Albert churns butter and Mimi’s sister (Hyo-eun) is pretty funny when she recovers from fighting to look good for her mom.  Most scenes just die or strangely fade out.  There’s no thought, no direction, little lifts you to the next scene.  You gaze at your watch.  One of the greatest things comedies do now as they film is to improvise on the last take.  You lose nothing and might gain so much.  There’s fresh energy there.  Don’t just shoot it, shrug and move on.  Make each scene as good as it can be.

     Final Problem:  Don’t just make a film because you can.  That’s the worst thing that’s happening in cinema today.  Let’s make a movie!  What about?  I don’t know, but I have a camera with infinite film.  HD is actually killing film as art.  You used to have to think about each shot as film cost a lot of money.  Write a script, tighten it up, get professional actors, lighting, sound, and create something unique.  I hate what this film represents, a frightening new age of thoughtless art.

HI DHARMA, LET’S PLAY

Enter One – 2001

DIRECTOR: Park Cheol-kwan

ACTORS:

TONE: Monks, Gangsters, a Zen Master and Kim Su-ro

              

     So, you need a good place to hide.  You’re some gangsters on the run.  Maybe a vacation and a life changing event?  Gangsters in a monastery, there has to be comedy there. 

     The fun starts when the master (Kim In-mun) takes no sides, but offers a little test that may change the heart of the gangster boss (Park Shin-yang).  Everything isn’t Zen with the monks and challenges begin almost immediately including breath holding contests, kick volleyball, kneeling contests and full hand-to-hand combat.  It’s quite a sausage factory interrupted only by a female monk delivery girl who gives a gangster a reason to look inside himself.

     The fighting is a bit sloppy, though it’s fun when one of the monks attacks with a whole tree.  It’s also great when enemies become friends.  There’s always a grey area in people, except Zen masters.  The best lines in the film are luckily from him.  The gangster breaks the Buddha statue (shockingly the very object they were told not to touch, uh oh).  When a monk tells on them, the master is a bit annoyed.  Have you been praying to a statue, or Buddha?  Fix it.  He also tells the same monk that nirvana isn’t just attained from self-discipline, which inspires him to help the gangsters when they need it the most.

     Simple Enter One case, it’s an old film.  It seems like it got released in the states though.  I think it’s good for people that want a little bit more out of their Korean gangster genre.  Just a little bit more.  It was followed by a sequel with a showdown in Seoul.

     I award this film 4 slices of Key lime pie.

 

HIGHWAY STAR (Masked Dal-ho)

Netflix – 2013 (originally Bitwin – 2007)

DIRECTOR: Kim Hyun-soo, Kim Sang-chan

ACTORS: Cha Tae-hyun, Im Chae-moo, Lee So-yun, Jung Suk-yong, Lee Byung-hyun, Seon Woo

TROT:   

 

     A great deal of Tae-hyun’s film have him as the main character, but also the victim, trapped in circumstances he can’t control.  This time he’s tricked into signing a contract that will have him crooning Trot, a style he finds as cheesy as a Kiss fan might find Hee Haw.  I found myself glued to the screen, awaiting for the reveal of the mask.  It’s worth it too, as they tease it and then move to a hilarious scene with a make-up artist.  Dal-ho (Tae-hyun) is dubbed Bong-feel and his managers finally cut an album and score a gig.  Bong-feel doesn’t want people to recognize him and begs for more and more make-up.  After looking like a geisha he opts for a wrestling mask and after a few laughs, becomes an instant star.

     I was a bit sad at the soft treatment of the female lead (So Yun), the only reason Dal-ho sticks around.  It was interesting when she couldn’t sing very well and finally gives up before Dal-ho makes it big.  She’s very quiet, maybe I’m not used to that.  Tae-hyun is usually being attacked.  I just didn’t feel a major connection between them, even as they do the cliché slow-motion walk into the room thing they always do.

     I remember growing up there was this explosion of young country.  A huge radio station became all country after playing popular music for years and years.  Trot was making a comeback in Korea, but I think it’s more accurate to say some bands followed the money.  You already have young girls; why not score the rest of the world?  I admit, our country music movies are never this interesting.  They’re dramas and never about someone who hates country music.  That might be some character development.

     Not a life changing film, but fun nonetheless.  Even though I’d never seen it, it does follow a pattern.

 

HOLY DADDY

Enter One – 2006

DIRECTOR: Kwon Shun-guk (debut)

ACTORS:  Lee Min-woo, Ha Dong-hoon, Kim Sang-jung, Lim Ha-ryong, Ahn Kil-kang, Lee Han-wi and Jo Dal-hwan

WATCH COUNT:  I’ve watched this at least three times.  

 

     This is another one of those films where careers grind to a halt afterwards.  The packaging was beautiful though.  Huge blue digipak with a booklet, some of the art reminded me of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire, but on closer inspection it might be something else.  Any film with kick ball and a kick ball related death is good for me.  The problem is the death looks like a tap on the head instead of something that would really crack the melon open.  I know it’s an old actor, but the film had a Showbox budget.  D-war country!

     The plot is actually a bit complex.  A con man (Ha-ryong) goes to prison and dies on his release day.  His son (Min-woo) hates him for that and for everything else and wrecks the funeral.  The father begs an angel (Kil-kang) to let him have a bit of time to be his son’s friend.  The angel turns him into a student (Dong-hoon) and takes over the body of a gangster (Sang-jung) that he’s sending to hell.  The gangster is the reason that the con man was in jail in the first place.  Whew, got that?

     I like Holy Daddy.  I’d never seen someone wreck a traditional Korean funeral with the picture and the food all laid out.  The angel wings are rare, kind of like in Dogma, they reveal them once and then you’re basically with a human.  Angel movies with an edge are something I can’t avoid.  You have to get someone ethereal like Tilda Swinton, and the grey-haired Ahn Kil-kang fits the bill.

     The “wa wa wa waaaaaa” music sometimes points out when the comedy is a bit silly, but for the most part the message is great.  When we get old we see our mistakes repeat in our children.  Children are just a re-run, ignoring their parents, the way the parents did.  Maybe if a peer steps in, it might not be too late.  We listen to our friends more, even if our Mom tries to leap off a bridge on to the railroad tracks.  Better than you’d think for the switching bodies genre and the reveal at the end is rather enjoyable.

 

HOT FOR TEACHER

Taewon – 2007

DIRECTOR: Park Je-hyun

ACTORS: Kim Sang-Kyung, Kim Jung-eun, Oh Seung-hyun, Lee Yoo-jin, Park Dong-bin, Hwang Hyo-eun, Hwang Taek-ha, Ji Dae-han, Maeng Sang-hoon, Choi Yun-Jung and Kwon Hyeok-poong (where is Hyun-in)

TONE: 100 BJH (Boner Jokes an Hour)

              

“Okay, I love me too.”

 

              

 

 

HOW TO KEEP MY LOVE (My Boyfriend’s Girlfriend)

CJ Entertainment – 2004

DIRECTOR: Park Je-hyun

ACTORS: Kim Sang-Kyung, Kim Jung-eun, Oh Seung-hyun, Lee Yoo-jin, Park Dong-bin, Hwang Hyo-eun, Hwang Taek-ha, Ji Dae-han, Maeng Sang-hoon, Choi Yun-Jung and Kwon Hyeok-poong (where is Hyun-in)

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY:  Baskin Robbins and T.G.I.Friday’s

              

     During a CJ Entertainment fashion show* Hyun-ju (Jung-eun) struts out in sparkling make-up and angel wings to impress her boyfriend of seven years.  It’s definitely a highlight of the film until she falls off the stage into a pool.  Then a more dynamic angel follows her with violins and fireworks.  Jin-shil (Yoo-jin) stares right into So-hoon’s (Sang-Kyung) eyes.  Why is a model and actress in love with a well-paid exterminator?

     Jealousy is the monster as a normal woman fights for her normal man, even though he keeps telling her not to.  Of course we must throw in a small kiss seen through a window.  Scenes like these always annoy me, they’re there to keep the audience guessing, but aren’t entirely realistic.  The worst is in the elevator, So-hoon and Jin-shil are trapped and So-hoon starts to rape Jin-shil.  He’s taking off his clothes and grabbing at her, but it’s only for a rare cockroach.  Strange.  If it was supposed to be funny, it didn’t hit me as so. 

     For me the first real laugh was unexpected.  Hyun-ju lives with four losers.  One is the typical short and annoying character (played by Hyun-in) who is always a boyfriend crazy.  Shockingly none of the friends are that bad and crying of her break-up, everyone takes their turn calling her fat and making it worse, making me laugh.  It was what I needed.

     Past that it’s a strange back and forth of rom com familiars with good scenes thrown in carefully.  I’d almost forgot about the mention of a castle in the beginning of the film, maybe some girls just need to be patient.  (mouse, dress symbols)

     Packaging was a major draw.  CJ went insane; a hardbox holds another hardbox which holds the DVD and a giant book.  They had me at Kim Jung-eun.

 

      *Makes me wonder if during their own fashion show they filmed the movie, as the company owns both.  That would be pretty awesome, to watch some models and then actors in angel costumes.

 

HOW TO USE GUYS WITH SECRET TIPS (Male Instruction Manual)

Daisy & Cinergy Entertainment – 2013

DIRECTOR: Lee Won-suk

ACTORS: Lee Si-young as Choi Bo-na Oh Jung-se as Lee Seung-jae Park Yeong-gyu as Dr. Swarski Kim Jung-tae as Woo Sung-chul, Bo-na’s ex Lee Won-jong as Yook Bong-ah, director Bae Sung-woo as CEO Jin, Seung-jae’s manager Jun-seong Kim as Oh Ji-hoon Kim Min-jae as assistant director Jo Seung-hwan, assistant director Kyung Soo-jin as Kim Mi-ra, office cutie Ahn Yong-joon as Sung-jae

TONE: Colourful, Fun, Stylized and Original.

WARNING:  Use at your own risk.

 

     Are you getting angrier and angrier in the male world?  Do you find your friends and dreams slipping away?  Do males get upset with you for no reason.  The video in this movie might be for you.  It seems the video cassette is still not dead, but at least it’s not in another horror film.  Much like the Criterion release of Videodrome, the packaging is that of a tape.  I don’t miss tapes, but they sure have cinematic romanticism.  

     Choi Bo-na (Si-young of Meet the In-laws and Killer Toon) is stuck in her job as an assistant director, in her blue or yellow hoodie, with the hood tightly tied around her head.  She’s mistreated and if not, ignored unlike other girls.  This is a film that takes on equality as if Michael Gondry was at the helm.  It’s energetic and funny and dare I say, important.  Of course if Lee Si-young wasn’t as adorable as she is in real life, I’d be curious if the film would have the same response.  It was highly praised and came out of nowhere taking many critics by surprise.  Bo-na is actually a boxer as well as a successful actress.

     .

 

HOWLING

CJ Entertainment – 2012

DIRECTOR: Yoo Ha

ACTORS: Song Kang-ho, Lee Na-young, Nam Bo-ra, Lee Min-ho

Warning: The films is absent of werewolves. 

             

     Some broad, playing cop, wants to save a freakin’ puppy while male detectives do the real work.  She won’t even DANCE with them!

     Besides not being very successful, this film had critiques of its misogynist characters.  Isn’t this a movie?  I mean, when a character is racist, it doesn’t mean the writer is racist.  I see what they mean from the beginning, but it reminds me of Crash.  You’re stuck with a prejudice partner with more experience than you.  A man spontaneously combusts better than in the movie Spontaneous Combustion, so I think I’ll enjoy the Yoo Ha ride.  It has two of my favourite character actors.  I hope one is sexist!

     Though Cha Eun-young (Na-young) appears defeated with blank sadness each time she comes across another male who fails to see her as an equal, it’s inspiring to see her continue the path.   In a typical romantic comedy the two hate birds would be love birds at the end, but I can’t imagine that.  I love the reveal that if anything it’s because () Kang-ho is lost in the time of chivalry and hates to see a woman work.  Enough slash marks across the negatives, though.

     Based on yet another Japanese novel, (Asa Nonami’s The Hunter) a rookie detective and a burn out, desperate find themselves searching for a wolf when bodies with bite wounds start stacking up.  () keeps hiding findings to keep the case for himself, though it’s obvious the department works better as a team.  Detective Cha begs him to work together, with his fellow detectives as well as herself, but honestly it is really fun watching Kang-ho go rogue, and you know it.  They didn’t make six X-men movies with Cyclops.  When he finally defends his partner with a flying kick, it’s worth all the uncomfortable moments that a female writer originally wrote.

     In the film we see that animals have the power to kill and to save, just as we do.  We have the power to exclude or to accept, to give up or to get up.  Maybe it’s worse in Japan, consider how docile females were made for so many years.  A great “job” was to marry well or be a high class prostitute, but it wasn’t very different in Korea either.  I want to see more of Detective Cha, they don’t sugar coat.  She’s tough though weaker than her male counterparts.  Females think differently.  Not better, not worse, differently.  I’d rather have two ideas rather than one when it comes to solving a mystery, especially when finding people running a child prostitution ring. 

     Typical wonderful CJ first press DVD.  As far as I know, Lee Na-young has never been on Blu-ray.  Blu-ray is sexist.

HWANG JIN-YI

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2007

DIRECTOR: Chang Yoon-hyun

ACTORS: ·Song Hye-kyo, Yoo Ji-tae, Ryu Seung-ryong, Yoon Yeo-jeong, Oh Tae-kyung, Jeong Yu-mi, Ye Soo-jung, Jo Seung-yeon, Kim Eung-soo, Kim Boo-seon, Song Min-ji, Park Cheol-ho, Lee Kwang-hee, Kim Yoo-jung, Lee Hyun-woo  

 

“I am no longer Lady Jin-yi.  I’ve buried her here.”

 

     The novel Hwang Jin-yi in which this film is based was written by a North Korean named Hong Sok-jung, song of author Hong Myong-hui.  It won the Mahhae prize, kind of a Korean nobel peace prize, the first time for North Korean literature.  It’s about an aristocrat named Jin-yi (Hye-kyo of the beautiful and unhappy film My Girl and I) and a the steward of the house named Nom-yi (Ji-tae of the unhappy film One Fine Spring Day).  In the beginning we see how even at a very young age Lady Jin-yi takes responsibility, no matter the cost, defending Nom-yi who snuck her out to a festival.  She walks in front of her father and the Baron’s whip to depend a lower class boy they took in.  Until her wedding approaches many years later, she never ventures out again even once.  You can tell that Nom-yi always holds a place for her in his heart, though they’re divided by class.  Except, they aren’t…

     After walking in on her rapist brother sexually attacking a servant, Jin-yi learns that Baron Hwang, her scholar father, was no different and she is therefore illegitimate, the daughter of a raped slave.  Her mother tortured the maids, to keep the secrets, but Jin-yi cannot hide from herself.  Suddenly the wealth, education and power are sickening and fake.

 

HWA-YI: THE MONSTER BOY

KD Media – 2014

DIRECTOR: Joon Hwan-jang! (finally)

ACTORS: Yeo Jin-goo – Hwa-yi Kim Yoon-seok – Seok-tae Jo Jin-woong – Ki-tae Jang Hyun-sung – Jin-seong Kim Sung-kyun – Dong-beom Park Hae-joon – Beom-soo Park Yong-woo – Detective Chang-ho Lee Geung-young – Im Hyung-taek Yoo Yeon-seok – Park Ji-won Moon Sung-keun – CEO Jin Nam Ji-hyeon – Yoo-kyung

     Okay, I preordered the Blu-ray and it is here now.  While waiting I read a lot of reviews.  I’m not tainted easily and I don’t fret on spoilers, as you’ve gathered.  I try to do my reviews a bit avant-garde, not always doing a synopsis then opinion but instead jumping right into the molten sweet core of the cinnamon roll.  I wanted this movie to exist ever since Save the Green Planet was ending.  I was baffled by the poor notice South Korea took of it, maybe since I was part of the international audience that adored it.  Now South Korea loves this movie, the ticket sales show this, and critics are disappointed that it falls short of expectations.  I choose to act like this film is Hwan-jang’s first movie if this ends up being the case.  If this were true, opinions would be calmer.  I say all this not having seen anything but a trailer, and the spooky cover of the Blu-ray.  What is a director to do, care about the critics that rarely even pay to see the film, or make money, which allows for another film to be made? 

     The Blu-ray is very close to the look of Pieta.  KD Media did a few digibooks, but mostly they’re just sleeving their Blu-rays the same as their DVDs and charging ten dollars more.  It hurts, but I think the stylized violence calls for HD.  I also noticed the Blue Dragon winning lead, Yeo Jin-goo is best known cinematically for being the young version of other famous actors, over and over.  That’s actually interesting, when you play a part like that you have to make an impact quickly and become an actor people know and love.  He won four awards for his performance.  Oh, man, I have to watch this movie!

 

I

I AM FATHER (I Am a Dad)

Candle Media – 2013

DIRECTOR: Jeon Man-bae and Lee Se-young II

ACTORS: Kim Seung-woo, Son Byung-ho,Kim Sae-ron, Im Ha-ryong, Choi Jung-yoon, Cheon Seong-hun, Oh Yoon-hong, Noh Jeong-ui, Jo Deok-hyeon, Choi Hong-il, Park Choong-seon, Geum Dong-hyun, Lee Won-jong

 

     Let’s change the title.  The strange grammar is only the beginning of a list of problems.  We could call it, “Kim Sae-ron sleeps”.  That’s why I bought it, when they clearanced the film to right under ten dollars brand new.  I read a great article comparing the plot and cover (including font) with the superior The Man from Nowhere.  It’s got Kim Sae-ron and organ trafficking, but let’s be positive.

      Na Sang-man (Byung-ho from Going By the Book) an innocent magician is sent away after walking into a murder.  We’re told that the evidence doesn’t add up, but the corrupt detective in charge sends him away.  While in jail, his daughter is bullied and falls off a bridge and his wife commits suicide and ends up in a coma.  Strangely though, the magician is not our main character.  Our main character is the corrupt officer.  Wait, this is not strange, this is a very bad idea.

     Seung-woo plays Han Jong-sik a violent detective with a butch haircut who accepts bribes, sets up his contacts and continues this behavior even though he got his wife killed and his daughter (Sae-ron) in the hospital.  If anything, she is the reason he can’t stop.  He’ll do anything to keep her alive.  The problem is that you don’t like him and therefore, you don’t care.  Learning from mistakes is character development, driving headfirst into a wall is only interesting for a split second.

     But Kim Sae-ron sleeps really well.  That was worth six of the ten dollars.  I think I take the most issue with the “magical” ending.  The trick is completely impossible, so it’s jarring enough, but after being tortured and having your life ruined, are you really up for doing magic, for the daughter of the man who ruined your life?  I’m not saying he should step on her head out of revenge, absolutely not … but it was way too late to save this dark burnt meatloaf with the thinnest slice of Key lime pie possible.  And one full slice for Kim Sae-ron, I sure hope she was paid well.

I AM A KING

D & C Entertainment – 2013

DIRECTOR: Jang Gyoo-Sung!

ACTORS: Joo Ji-hoon, Baek Yun-sik, Byun Hee-bong, Park Yung-gyoo, Lim Won-hee , Lee Honey, Baek Do-bin, Kim Soo-ro, Han Yeo-wool, Kim So-hyun-I and Lee Mi-do

 

     The casting of this film is no joke.  I was overjoyed watching the royal prince’s head guards, Lim Won-hie and Kim Soo-ro (both in Gyoo-Sung’s A Funny Movie).  This is film is rated 12, so it’s best to consider that as you view it.  Nothing will be too intense.  It’s a Korean retelling of the Prince and the Pauper.  The King (Yung-gyoo) finds handing over his crown to is oldest, impossible, as he’s a violent drunk.  His other choices are his intellectual son Sejong and – well, his other son is a monk, that doesn’t work.

     In an escape attempt the new king steals the rags of an unconscious slave who just happens to look just like him.  I’m thinking all of this is smoothed over better in the blockbuster Masquerade but I sincerely don’t care, because this is what I have at the moment.  I have royal guards Hwang-goo (Soo-ro) and Hae-goo (Won-hie) figuring out that what they have is a situation that might get them beheaded, so Hwang-goo stays back with the slave and makes him look perfect while Hae-goo tracks the missing King and make him understand how much everyone needs him. 

     That’s the briefest I can muster as there are many characters who all want something, like an exiled royal cabinet member (Yun-sik), a scheming royal cabinet member (Hee-bong), people who knew the slave, people who love the King.  It’s all pretty clear though and very good for children as King Sejong is called Great for a reason.  He was a strong leader against the Japanese, supported literature and education and he helped create Hangul, the Korean writing system.  In our story, all of that was about to be erased.  By stepping out of the castle the man experienced what all leaders need.  A reality check.

     I’m used to Won-hie being Won-hie, but I found him quite solid as a guard who humorously paid to be a guard and isn’t qualified at all.  Joo Ji-hoon (Antique) was occasionally strange, fainting to punch up a joke.  Maybe that’s for the kids, I guess.  After a drug scandal and then his military service, this was his big comeback.  The film didn’t open big, despite its Korean Independence day roots and opening day, it was up against the two Korean heist juggernauts, The Thieves and The Grand Heist.  Highlights include almost everything.  They say that there are missing records before the Prince become the King and that will continue to inspire scholars and filmmakers.  I do long to see Masquerade, but I always await a new film by director Jang Gyoo-Sung.

     D&C (Daisy and Synergy) is similar to KD Media with a matte sleeve.  They seem to specialize in releasing international (mostly North American) films in Blu-ray.  Now I’m worried, I could have had a Blu-ray.

IF YOU WERE ME

Wision – 2004

 

DIRECTORS: (The ‘Weight’ of Her) (The man with an Affair) (Crossing) (Tongue Tie) (Face Value) (Never Ending Peace and Love)

ACTORS: 

Tone: Important Professional Short Films

   

     Often short film ominibuses are a way to get some notice, but here the subject is what needs focus so we bring in the professionals.  

1. The ‘Weight’ of Her
Director: Lim soon-rye/ Running time: 20 min.
The first episode of the film, “The ‘weight’ of her” revolves around a relatively fat college girl who is under pressure to lose weight and to do cosmetic surgery so as to get a good job after graduation.

2. The man with an Affair
Director: Jung Jae-eun/ Running time: 18 min.
In a building that is home to a rapist wanted by the police, none of the residents know anything about the criminal except his next-door neighbor — a little child. As punishment for peeing on bed, a young boy is ordered by his mother to go out nakedly to lend some salt from their neighbor.

3. Crossing
Director: Yeo Gyun-dong/ Running time: 14 min.
Yeo’s “Crossing” tells a tale about the struggles of a handicapped man who spends an exceptional amount of time and effort in his daily life to complete tasks that are considered simple by ordinary people.

4. Tongue Tie
Director: Park Jin-pyo/ Running time: 12 min.
Some parents want their children to speak better English. Some even want them to speak perfect English. “Tongue tie” tells a story about a young boy who undergoes a surgery on his tongue enabling him to pronounce a natural “R”.

5. Face Value
Director: Park Kwang-soo/ Running time: 12 min.
A secret is unveiled as a gorgeous female employee argues with a handsome male car driver at a car park.

6. Never Ending Peace And Love
Director: Park Chan-wook (“Joint Security Area”)/ Running time: 28 min.
The ending film “Never ending peace and love” tells the true story of a Nepalese woman who was mistaken for a mentally ill Korean. As she had lost all proof of her identity and spoke with an unfamiliar accent, she was forced to receive mental treatment in Korea over 6 years until she was finally identified and sent back to her country.

IF YOU WERE ME 4, 13 18

Square M – 2009

 

DIRECTORS: Pang Eun-jin (Blue Birds on the Desk), Jeon Kye-soo (You and Me), Lee Hyun-seung (Relay), Yoon Seong-ho (The Theory and Practice of Teenage Dream), Kim Tae-yong (Girl on the Run – Memento Mori)

ACTORS: Ahn Kyong-whan, Kim Chil-joon, Hee Na-young, Lee Jin-sook, Nam Kyu-sun, Choi Yun-jeong, Park Bo-young

Tone: Important Professional Short Films

“Why didn’t you run away?”

   

     Korea is back to push their liberal agenda of human rights. This time with brainwashed young people!

     Park Jin-joo is at the top of her musical class, they sing to the teacher of their mutual feelings about grades and test in the beginning.  It’s taking a toll on her and finally she collapses.  She’s asked, what happens if you don’t take the next test.  Director Pang Eun-jin (Princess Aurora) paints a tough picture of the struggles and stress of a girl on top here.  One wonders if she was the same.  The letters and numbers crawling up Jin-joo’s arm like drug cockroaches, the heavy books and of course the possibility of disappointed parents.  Maybe she needs to hang with Mah Jin-joo girl doing the worst in the class and they can both have their heads in the clouds.  Our focus is on the young, from 13 to 18 and we have some awesome directors for the fourth installment.

     So-yeong is a talented weight-lifter in the next film by Jeon Kye-soo (Love Fiction).  Cheol-ku is grinding scissors into his desk.  There’s a lot more realism in this film, and a lot more walking alone.  The two seem like the two have a hidden connection but they don’t.  Their only connection is confusion and pain inside as they briefly talk in front of a sea they just created with a fire hose.  The film may end abruptly but I considered that it was about the most realistic ending the two could have.  I had a conversation last night where at the end I just kept saying, it doesn’t matter.  We want the words out, but they don’t change anything.  Life continues down or up or straight ahead into the horizon.

Relay is a major highlight from director of Il Mare, Lee Hyun Seung.  Seemingly three girls sneak into school a pet in a cage and take turns taking care of it at risk of punishment and damage to their grades.  Soon it’s revealed that it’s actually a baby and the shift to a documentary format begins as all the teachers have professional opinions.  The students want to take care of it socially and avoid revealing the true mother to keep her social status safe.  At one point the gym teacher exclaims, “You should be getting pregnant!”  The girls all roll their eyes.  No one is truly wrong and everyone is thinking the best for each other but an orphanage is the main villain here.  Our young heroes are doing whatever they can do defeat it.

Much like his film Milky Way Liberation Front, The Theory and Practice of Teenage Dream is an exploration of interesting ideas with specks of experiment.  It’s a multi-chaptered piece where different students talk to each other about the future held together by a beat-boxing girl in red who haunts the field with curiosity.   He had me at beat-boxing girl.  Sometimes we crush each other’s dreams for no reason, sometimes we listen with interest.  Sometimes a single phrase can change the course of world events.  No one really seems to know why the girl is dead and it doesn’t matter.  Her life is over and she’s only a interesting topic and a victim of rumor.  The ending of edited mouth sounds is a lot of fun and lets you off the hook if some ideas were too heavy for you.

Girl on the Run is our finale from Memento Mori director Kim Tae-yong.  We begin with a girl named Cha-eun racing to beat a train and and then walking along side a golden field with a curious boy on a bike.  You already have me from your location scouting Tae-yong.  The girl’s athletic club is being closed down and she’s the best runner.  The coach is assisting the girls in a transfer to Seoul but her father barely listens.  Her Filipino mother seems at first a worthless ear, but soon becomes an ally taking her to Seoul at night before the girl runs there all by herself.  A highlight is a joke where the mother calls the stern father and talks tough about her decision but then he calls for real and you realize she’s faking the conversation as they both find him too scary.  This is an excellent exploration of the theme, in fact, all are.  It’s hard to critique or criticize professionals taking the time to create something as important as films about relating to one another, instead of violence and war.  Always 8 slices for this series, but they really earn it.   

IF YOU WERE ME 5

DS Media – 2012

 

DIRECTORS: Boo Ji-young, Kang Yi-kwan, Kim Dai-seung, Yun Sung-hyun and Shin Dong-il

ACTORS:

              

     Artists for human rights return with five more stories in the fifth volume of If You Were Me.  I admit, I skipped right to Banana Shake, the chapter by young Bleak Night director Sung-hyun.  It’s perfectly encapsulates the theme, as a foreign mover is blamed for a robbery that a Korean co-worker commits.  His hand-held style seemed perfect for short films and my impatience paid off.  The story is tense and complex and like a lot of new films, admits the presence and impact of foreigners in Korea.

     The beginning story, Nina, was another one of many reasons to buy the omnibus.  Sister’s On The Road is an amazing film that like Bleak Night was written by the director, Ji-young.  I think with indie and short films, the simpler the better.  I sometimes get tired and confused watching the credits of blockbusters.  You need way too many people to make a movie.  Sometimes I can be just as happy watching a film that only a handful of people worked on. 

              

INNOCENT STEPS

Enter One/ShowEast – 2006

DIRECTOR: Park Young-hoon

ACTORS:  Moon Geun-young, Park Geon-hyung, Yun Chan, Park Won-Sang, Kim Ki-Soo, Jung Yoo-Mi, Kim Ji-Young, Lee Dae-Yun

     

     Fireflies don’t glow all the time! 

     When Darcy Paquet doesn’t enjoy the film, I worry.  I worried a lot, considering I bought this film long ago, to see Moon Geun-young.  It sounds like a valid reason for any success Innocent Steps had.  I’ve seen John Water’s Hairspray, Girls Just Want to Have Fun and even Blades of Glory and they run like this film.  You have a contest, you have two people that love to dance but have to find a way to get along, and you have cheating.  Why is there always cheating?  The cheating in this film is so blatant, I wonder what are the judges looking at.  I mean, a crime in front of people meticulously watching for subtle details?  In this world, males are more serious about dancing than females and spend outrageous amounts of money to win the contests.  What is the prize, a trophy?   It’s the strangest script.  We got the females with the dancing, but the males … how to get the males?  Oh, how about a conspiracy-driven dance mafia? 

     Now it really isn’t all bad.  I wish they’d stuck to the marriage fraud and tossed the dancing into the background.  The marriage fraud investigators are underused and over-the-top at the same time, but it was interesting.  Chae-rin (Guen-young) is faking her identity and Young-sae (Geon-hyung) accidently applies for a marriage with her instead of the dancer that was supposed to arrive.  Because he’s the best teacher ever, Young-sae transforms Chae-rin into a professional.  The symbolism isn’t the worst with dancing relating to falling in love.    I would like to see more females critique the film though, because I know dancing and me aren’t chums.  Most males see dancing in a film and shudder, hoping their girlfriends and wives don’t see.  But because of Moon Guen-young and some awesome packaging (glossy sleeved dual digipaks with a full colour book) I bought the film and stared at it forever.  I made it through, which is more than I can say about Mr. Wacky (also starring Geon-Hyung)Sorry, but that stab felt great, twisted the knife a bit too.  In fact, I think that’s my entire Mr. Wacky review.  Zero slices for Wacky!

INSADONG SCANDAL

MK Pictures/KD Media – 2010

 

DIRECTOR: Park Hee-kong (debut)

ACTORS:  Kim Rae-won, Uhm Jung-hwa, Lim Ha-ryong, Hong Su-hyun, Kim Jung-tae, Kim Byung-oc, Ma Dong-suk, Oh Jung-se, Ko Chang-suk

 

     This strange, complex and mysterious revenge film is centered in the art world of collectors, forgers and restorers.  Maybe consider it a less Satanic version of Ninth Gate about old paintings rather than old books.  Collectors can sure be some serious people when they acquire money and power.  You can afford anything, so all you want is what you cannot have.  No banks, no casinos, it’s all about Insadong, a market district in Seoul famous for antiques and art.  

     I love the beautiful museum scenes, South Korea has created some awesome modern art.  I hope one day for an HD release.  This is by far my favourite Uhm Jung-hwa role, and she’s the antagonist Tae-jin.  She’s found a 400 year old painting and wants to authenticate it.  Kang-jun (Rae-won) is the best art restorer there is and finds himself helping her, no matter how little they like each other.

     I can’t help it.  Talking about this film without spoilers is rather difficult so move on if you have to.  This is a team heist, mystery, revenge flick.

     Insadong Scandal plays like an art work Ocean’s Eleven with Jung-hwa as the dark lord collector Bae Tae-jin.  It’s my favourite part she’s ever played as she’s cruel but still has depth.  She symbolizes the worst of where art value is coming from.  It’s interesting too that most of our “good guys” are black market auctioneers and replicators.  Our hero Lee Kang-jun (Rae-won) was an orphan who only drew and painted in his youth.  He believes his past as a forger can only be balanced by being the best restorer in art history.  Tae-jin says he has the hands of God.

     I love plots based around searching for something collectible, not a golden statue or money.  I love the Ninth Gate in the same way.  I am forging a nine slice Key lime pie for this special flick.

INTERVIEW (Shim Eun-ha box set)

Spectrum – 2005 (originally released 2001)

DIRECTOR: Daniel Byun (debut)

ACTORS: Lee Jung-jae, Shim Eun-ha, Jo Jae-hyun, Kwon Min-joong, Kim Jung-hyun, Jang Ho-il

TONE: Documentary slash melodrama

 

     I watched two non-linear films today, one being Pit and the Pendulum so I don’t know where to begin.  Hiding behind a camera, an introverted playboy (yeah, I know) learns about love by interviewing many subjects.  Some reviews point out that this film was made with a very specific approach called Dogma 95.  As it doesn’t follow the manifesto and you have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll move on.

     This is Eun-ha’s last film.  She’s almost too beautiful to play the part, but I didn’t let that get to me.  She mourns for her boyfriend, lost to the military and the director Eun-suk (Jung-jae) has formed a crush on her.  He lives his professional and artist existence though, keeping his feelings hidden.  We start at a repeated discussion about how a film should be begin.  This can be a difficult play, but at least it’s at the beginning where we’re getting to know the film we’re about to spend two hours with.  I’ve said it many times, it’s hard not to make art criticizing and analyzing the very things you’re doing.  It’s difficult to not write about writing.  I think I may be doing it now.  When you do though, like now, you get off on a mysterious tangent and the audience may wonder when they’re going to get to escape again.  You raised the money, you scored a crew, and you’re the director.  Make the film you believe the public needs to see.

     The film jumps back and forth from the present to interviews that are going to be in the film.  Near the end, the film we’re watching may be the film, or it may not.  I like the ending though, and that’s where it counts.  Eun-ha’s reprise speech at her husband’s grave is wonderful, and lifted gently with the music.  She was a haunting figure sometimes, and could be realistically-grounded fun in other films.  I’m exploring them all now in whatever order I choose and I’m happy she made what she made.  When someone decides to retire, we may mourn, but I’d rather know they’re alive and happy someplace, I can always watch this film again.  And I should, it’s a lot to take in.

J

JEALOUSY IS MY MIDDLE NAME

Myung – 2003

DIRECTOR: Park Chan-ok (debut)

ACTORS: Park Hae-il, Bae Jong-ok, Moon Sung-keun, Seo Yung-hie

     

     A female director always pushes my interest up.  I try not to let the gender bias wash over me though.  I like rarity and there aren’t a lot of female directors in South Korea (at the moment).

     The title and film comes from a poem.  You’re led by this title to believe it’s going to be a super jealous guy, but instead he kind of lets the world run over him.  Sometimes I wonder why people put so much work into someone who needs a lot of work.  I’m pretty sure there are a lot of others who have it all together.  As you get older and older, you have to take what you can get.  Lee Won-sang (Hae-il) isn’t that old.  If you want to see him old, check out A Muse where he plays a seventy year-old man. 

     His boss is older.  His boss has stolen one girlfriend and is going to do it again.  Won-sang seems more in awe of this than anything.  The film is slow and you have to be very patient with it.  To me the whole thing comes together in the very last few frames.  The plan is devious.  I’m not even sure if it’s going to work. 

      This is Park Chan-ok first film.  Her second is called Paju.   Both are acclaimed, but that may mean little to you.  Perspective is what you’re getting here.  A different one.  A new one.  The DVD release is a massive rectangle of cardboard that houses the movie and film cuts.  It was a huge surprise (literally) when I opened it.

 

JENNY, JUNO

Winson – 2005

DIRECTOR: Kim Ho-jun

ACTORS: Park Min-ji, Kim Hye-sung, Lim Dong-jin, Kim Ja-ok, Kang Nam-gil, Lee Eung-Kyung

TONE: Realistic and adorable teen pregnancy drama

 

      A teen pregnancy movie and someone’s name is Juno?  Wha?  Juno was released in 2007 so you might wonder if Diablo Cody found herself K-inspired.  Juno is the name of the boy though, so that should put all issues to rest.  Whew.

     The director of My Little Bride made himself a more controversial film the following year.  I hope to find the Enter One/Show East version someday, but the Chinese version will have to do for now.  Anyway, the film wastes no time and Jenny (Min-ji) finds she’s pregnant and Juno (Hye-sung) finds himself on roof being given the news as gently as possible.  They’re both fresh faced adorable kids and that’s the interesting difference between Jenny, Juno and Juno.  In this film, it’s about the two as a fifteen year-old couple, though the beginning still brings up the decision to abort the child or not which sends Juno into his own world.  The reason they don’t is much more horrifying than babies with fingernails.  I guess if they did abort, the film would have be rather short, or it had to go off in a completely new direction.

     The film is interesting for what it isn’t.  It’s not an after school special, it’s not a Christian film against abortions and it’s not a comedy.  It’s about two kids who may have been your parents at one point.  They’re honest with their feelings and cause jealousy in the people around them.  It’s the first and screenplay that the director wrote.  I find that interesting.  He decided to skip past any tension about parents, teachers and other elders and focus on his young couple growing up.  Something controversial becomes relaxing and you’re forced to believe that things might be okay.  The female sexual education teacher is even pro-masturbation.

     As I skip back and forth writing the review (or just really a plot synopsis, at this point) I whistle the film’s theme, not noticing how easily the music poured into my subconscious, sadly it’s the last film that Choi Sun-shik and Choi Man-shik worked on.  Another sad thought is all the so-called men who run away from their responsibilities.  There is something beautiful about Juno doing whatever he can think of to ease Jenny’s pain and keep her healthy and happy.  Required viewing for irresponsible pricks.  Enjoy the dance number at the end while you figure out your life.

JUNGLE JUICE (100% Fresh Yang-A Chi)

Enter One – 2002

DIRECTOR: Cho Min-ho (debut)

ACTORS: Hyuk Jang, Bum-su Lee, Kim Roi-ha, Yun Je-moon, Bong Tae-gyu

 

     Sometimes you pop in a DVD or Blu-ray and you get real treat.  The menu is an animated joy, for some reason I thought of how happy the Blu-ray of Mother made me as well.  Putting a little extra effort into the small things will always award you an extra slice of Key lime pie.  I bought this because of Mr. Volcano High, but I totally forgot that Lee Bum-soo was in it!  The next Enter One DVD below also is Enter One, 2002, and has Lee Bum-soo.  He stayed busy.

     The credits are digitally spray painted on a wall, as I try to remember this film that I bought and watched a million years ago.  At the same time I scan around and find a review of pure hate (not by me).  Hmm.  Here we go.

     Jungle Juice is filmed in the ghetto, the red light district and wherever else was free.  It’s well lit, but who wants to shine and flashlight into an outhouse?  I like that Ki-tae (Hyuk) and Chul-soo (Bum-soo) are already friends and not thrown together in some kind of madness.  If you strap in for a cheap adventure of two poor hoodlums running from gangsters you’ll probably be okay.  No other film will show you the sexual position “the windmill”.  Considering this had a North American release, I also wonder if they cut out the small boy’s penis (in editing) that urinates all over our loser heroes from two floors up.

     As awful as Ki-tae and Chul-soo are, they aren’t as bad as most of the guys I’ve met.  In that way they become real, though I like the separation of me and television screen as they run into Gator (Roi-ha of Bittersweet Life) and Hippo (Je-moon of Dangerously Excited).  Suddenly you worry.  The last time you saw him, Gator’s boss was playing golf with an employee’s nose.  I’m sure everything will be okay though when they join his gang.  Eeeeee.

     Basically things turn into a ticking clock on a debt to a gangster as we watch our below average hustlers round up the cash in a variety of ways.  They steal an ATM Machine (the whole thing, while high on “Jungle Juice”), a nurse chases Chul-soo so she can shaved him and take out his liver and Ki-tae becomes a gigolo to old ladies and throws up very realistically (serious warning).  Nothing special, but it stars quite a few actors who became pretty huge and some others who ended their career here, with a bottle of jungle juice and a few slices of Key lime pie.

     The packaging is the first press Enter One glossy slipcover with a cut-out notch.  I like the image inside even more, kinetic and fun, it tells the story as Hyuk laughs with a cigarette and Bum-soo runs to the right.  This is not a great film, but easily his best.  A Million has a worthless script (by Min-ho) and Les Formidables is critically panned so bad I’ve decided to spend my time elsewhere (probably).

JUST RUN (Make It Big)

Enter One – 2002

 

DIRECTOR: Jo Eiu-suk (debut)

ACTORS:  Song Seung-Heon, Kim Young-Jun, Lee Bum-soo, Lee Mun-sik and Kwon Sang-Woo

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Pizza Hut

 

     How a film can meander while being much too tightly edited is amazing to me.  Two metrosexual guys and their geeky Queen-loving friend find a bag of money and a corpse.  Then they lose both.  Then they find the money again as we find the corpse is Lee Moon-sik.  The thief worries me greatly with a dream in which a frightening doberman karate kicks him into the moon, but soon we’re back to reality.

     The high school kids are fairly wealthy (at least one is) so you find the whole thing a bit greedy.  Of course the idea of people finding lots of money and there being problems is nothing new in cinema.  Lee Bum-soo plays a solid detective, but he seems almost like a gangster in his black jacket.  He’s always right behind, though, just like me and the movie.  I just … when the film started, I really had no idea what was going on.  I guess one of the nineteen-year old friends is a gigolo; the other is the only normal one … super modern really, looking for love on the net.  He’s also moral, wanting to go to the police.  One was shot up, and saved a gangster.  It’s hard to care if they keep the money as they wreck a new car on purpose just to see if the airbags work, but shockingly in the end you do worry about them a little when the officer closes in and so does everyone else.

     A soundtrack with Bob Seger, Billy Idol and Queen make the film a bit easier for English audiences and sometimes it seems that the director may know that the plot is flimsy, maybe that gives license for pulling the Z brake and doing what might be funny or at least interesting.  The best scene is when Bum-soo’s character is leaving the hospital after explaining to a “comatose” suspect that he has evidence that links him to the loan shark robbery.  The detective gets in an elevator to leave and tons of doctors, nurses and patients pile in, pushing him to the back.  He spies another cop, but it’s the thief, Mun-sik in a stolen disguise.  The suspect was faking his sleeping state.  Of course as he pushes people out of the way to make it out and grab his escaping lead, the door closes. 

     Though I have this bag full of Key lime pie slices, I think I’ll feed them to a karate kicking Doberman.  The packaging is old school with a helpful cut out notch so you can pull the DVD from the glossy slipcase.  I’ve heard this described as a perfect movie for a guy that has nothing better to do.  Sounds like me, and possibly you.

 

K

KILLER (Web) TOON

Candle Media – 2012

DIRECTOR: Kim Yong-gyun

ACTORS:   Lee Si-young as Kang Ji-yoon•  Um Ki-joon as Lee Ki-cheol•  Hyun Woo as Kim Young-soo•  Moon Ga-young as Jo Seo-hyun•  Kwon Hae-hyo as Jo Seon-gi  Kim Do-young as Seo Mi-sook

       

“Greed?  Like you’re any different.”

 

     The most successful horror film in a long time may be like saying the biggest plate of brussel sprouts you’ve ever had.  It’s no easy feat though and it comes from a director who pushes for visuals no matter what the budget is.  This time it’s all here.

     Ji-yoon signs her name with blood.  I did that once with a CD I pressed for only a select group of friends, though one was annoyed when it was revealed the blood came from my nose.  Anyway, it seems the Ji-yoon’s highly successful webtoon series is killing people.  Much like the director’s Red Shoes I have a feeling there’s a twist.

     All I want to talk about is a wonderful scene near the beginning.  You have money, how do you relax.  Ji-yoon rests on an air mattress inside a small indoor pool with the fan on.  It’s this precious moment with our lead that I love.  The horror is literally graphic, with hyper real webtoon art taking over the gore, but is the quiet moments that catapult bring us back to reality.  The scene isn’t boring, isn’t relaxing and just as stunning as a dead girl or mother hanging by her neck.  Having only one other small feature under his name, Lee Jung-bae’s vibrant cinematography reminds me of Tales from the Crypt (which is of course a compliment).

     And that is the tone, the spurting vein.  This is a colourful horror adventure, but not scary.  It has twists that never end, but I didn’t mind.  They correct themselves as the next piece of the puzzle snaps in.  Some patience is probably required.  The 15 rating makes more sense as most of the horror is off camera.  It’s a lot of fun though.  It really brought me back to watching Tales from the Crypt marathons.  Much like us, Korea has found a lot of success bring comics to the screen, but replace all the action with bloody twisting bones and bloody twisting plots. 

               Drawing some Key lime pie slices, it’s going to take a while.  Come back later.

THE KING OF ASS-KISSING (The Suck Up Project)

Candle Media – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Jung Seung-koo (debut)

               ACTORS: Song Sae-Byuk, Sung Dong-il, Lee Byung-joon, Kim Sung-ryung, Ko Chang-suk, Han Chae-ah

 

               Well, it sounds like a Stephen Chow vehicle, but it stars my new favourite actor as a steadfast man of principle.  In fact, his father is so full of principle, he became a principal.  Dong-sik’s (Sae-Byuk) world crumbles one day as he’s knocked down to selling insurance while at the same time he finds his mother in debt to loan sharks for paying bribes to educators to secretly seal her husband occupational deal.  Does honesty mean anything?  Integrity?  Answer: No.

               Dong-sik finds a book that contains the golden rules that all salespeople need and realizes he’s actually met the man who wrote it.  He begs the master of flattery train him so he can make enough money to pay his mother’s debt.

               I must say, I wanted to see this film badly.  It’s a zen master (Dong-il) teaches pupil type film and really pick up at that stylized point in the movie, but the modern business element sells it.  We humanize an insurance salesman!  Sae-Byuk is so great at playing these types of people who’ll do anything, but has a human limit where he finally breaks (as in Clash of the Familes).  How low would you go?

               Dong-il plays Hyeo Go-soo, the master of flattery.  Like all masters, he’d rather be doing anything than teaching.  He describes his methods not as ass-kissing, but as social ____.  I mention the human breaking point above for many reasons, it’s important with both characters and it leads to a low-brow scene that may be more important than I want to justify.  How much of an ego is a human able to leave at home?  Just in the past couple days mine has been on overdrive, almost getting me into fights.  The script ______ contains some useful information if you want to succeed in the real business world.

L

LA BELLE

Spectrum – 2000

 DIRECTOR:  Yeo Kyun-dong

ACTORS: Oh Ji-Ho and Lee Ji-Hyun

              

     Before I slam I must say that there is one great scene in La Belle about 45 minutes in.  With an indie you’ll take about anything, but this was pretty awesome.  The writer finds his partner returning as if she hadn’t previously run into the arms of her ex-lover, like she does over and over.  She cuddles, laying on him as the writer mimes screaming, an action only we can see.

     Based on The Body, written by the director, La Belle is a difficult watch on many counts.  First off, there’s a lot of graphic sex.  Some people are like, yay, and some people are like, nay, but this is not Green Chair.  You might like revenge movies, but if you even blink you’ll miss the revenge.  The dialogue is strange throughout, especially how it’s delivered.  The camera is static as if someone placed a video camera down and said, okay act crazy and then start having sex.  The most bothersome aspect of the film, though, is whenever someone acts as if they’re a playful fun person, I don’t believe it for a second.

     I bought the film on a whim really.  It was rare and old, a twelve year-old first press.  Spectrum hasn’t released anything for quite some time, though they used to be big with releases like Il Mare, The Foul King and Nowhere to Hide.  I can see this film in one way, though it may offend women quite a bit.  Women can be one thing, then another, flip emotions like that.  We wonder why they would love someone hurting them.  Our (male) thoughts always go straight to killing.  We end the problem, where women find a way to live with it.  Even in the end, the writer is no different.

     Writer movies annoy me, I just feel like the writer is telling me his fantasy of having lots of crazy with a misunderstood woman in trouble.  I would rather have just watched a movie instead of seeing right through it.  Maybe you’ll see it differently though.  Sex above violence is always going to be controversial with violence over sex is the norm.  A couple slices of Key lime pie on the beach.

LADY DADDY

Showbox/KD Media – 2010

DIRECTOR: Lee Kwang-jae (debut)

ACTORS:   Lee Na-young, Kim Ji-suk-I, Kim Hee-soo, Lee Pil-mo, Jung Ae-yun and Kim Hee-won

 

     A film about being a man and taking care of an abandoned child, the connection might just complete them both. 

     There’s a scene where little Yoo-bin (Hee-soo) explains to his father what different guns sounds like in a video game so he’ll know how to distinguish sniper fire.  He mimics each sound.  Later his biological father Ji-hyun (Na-young, now a photographer and a woman) does the same thing, she can tell any old camera just by the sound it makes.  She’s unsure about the future and taking her new relationship with a special effects make-up artist slow, mostly because Joon-suh (Ji-suk) has no idea Ji-hyun used to be a he. 

     As I mentioned in my essay about Someone Special, Lee Na-young seems to choose parts that don’t accentuate her beauty.  Though I must say, Asian males must be idiots.  I can’t tell you how many martial arts films I’ve seen where a girl is dressed up like a guy and they’re all tricked.  I guess it’s just that no woman would dare do a thing like that.  Ji-hyun was a very feminine male and decided to move fully to the gender she felt closest to.

     The comedy is often subtle except for the special effects jokes with a torso and a human head.  Lots of humor about the film industry in general are thrown in as both Ji-hyun and Joon-suh are working on a picture together.  I always enjoy some stunt humor, a few back flips for no reason.  Past that the situation is a bit frightening.  Yoo-bin meets a stranger at a gaming cafe who helps him escape off a bus to English camp.  He finds an address for his father, but I mean … this guy could have ran away with the kid.  Later the parents find out their son is missing and prepare for the worst.  Comedy to drama, this shift reminded me of Speedy Scandal but seemed less tacked on.  The director (Kwang-jae) used to be an actor and I found he really held his own.

     I don’t know how you explain to a child that his long lost Dad has become a woman, but they do a pretty good job near the end.  I also don’t know how I would react if my girlfriend said she used to be a man, but it would help if she was Lee Na-young.  Six slices of Key lime pie, but they used to be lemon meringue.

THE LAST WOLF (The Wolf Returns)

Ao Media/IPictures – 2004

 DIRECTOR: Koo Ja-jong (debut)

ACTORS:  Yang Dong-kun, Hwang Jung-min, Hie-bong Jo, Hyun-Jung Kim, Jang Hang-Seon, and Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Dal-su & Yu Seung-mok

 

     A cop from Seoul travels to the country for an easy life and meets another officer who wants nothing more than to escape the country and fight crime in the city.  Due to inactivity both officers are at risk of losing their station and being transferred to a more dangerous area if they don’t stop a major crime.

     I love a beginning where we jump right into the action and not get the movie title until seven minutes have passed.  Something will push a detective over the edge, but not in a violent way.  He’ll be more suicidal than homicidal, tired of city crime.  After chasing a criminal into an apartment, Choi Cheol-kwon (Dong-kun) gets locked in an elevator for a very long time.  When he’s released, stiff from almost freezing to death in the darkness, he leaves the city and vows to never work again.

     From the moment Detective Choi is in Peace Town, he is in total bliss and so is the country officer Goh Jung-shik (Jung-min).   Jung-shik wants something to happen and is excited by the city cop, but of course Cheol-kwon wants nothing to ever happen again.  From this point I really was so content with the plot, I didn’t mind what happened, but luckily for you the film is quite funny as well.  I may have mentioned it in Woochi, but if I start to enjoy a character, I don’t need a plot.  I’ll watch this character a while.  You drew him out nicely, what will he do next?  Oh look, a pet wart hog.  *Anime smile*

     For a while the comedy seems like a play on “the grass is always greener”, but admittedly, sometimes it really is.  Snow seems beautiful until you have to drive in it and your hands turn to sand paper and your heating bill is 200 dollars.  The city detective is an obvious disappointment, but things get interesting when the low amount of crime in the area (none) threatens to get the police station shut down.  Officer Choi must show that the small town is infested with criminals while Officer Goh sees this as a ticket to a real police station.  Just when you think there’s nothing, out pop a few art thieves, maybe there is a plot.  Well, by the time it shows up you’ll appreciate it a bit more.  Eight paintings of Key lime pie slices, one stolen by three cameos.

     This Ao/IPicture release had a white case like Failan, that was neat, and a brown matte slipcase with alternate art of a crazy wolf in a trench coat, the front has the same wolf with the two officer’s faces instead.  Strr-ange.

LEE DAE-RO CAN’T DIE (SHORT TIME)

Enter One/ShowEast – 2005

DIRECTOR:  Lee Yung-eun

ACTORS: Lee Bum-soo, Choi Sung-gook, Son Hyun-joo, Byun Joo-yun, Kang Sung-yun, Park Choong-seon, Ryoo Tae-ho, Park Geun-soo, Choo Ja-hyun, Oh Jung-se, Hwang Jo-Yun, Jung Won-Kyung, Jo Myung-yun, Jang Suk-won, Woo Don-gi, Min Woo-gi, Jo Min-ki

Cameo: Yoo Hae-jin

 

     Nothing like dying, it will really get you motivated.   The plot is similar to the Dabney Coleman film also called Short Time except for an ending I totally appreciate.  And it’s a bit like the turn in Windstruck, except it’s funny when Lee Dae-ro fails to kill himself over and over again.  Not even when the film is serious, is it serious … but why does he want to die?

     Lee Dae-ro (Lee Buem-soo) is a awful police officer.  He’s worthless as back-up, he can’t run and he lies to everyone.  When he finds out about his malignant brain tumor, though, all he can think about is his daughter.  He wants to find his daughter’s mother, while finding ways to die in the line of duty.  Most of them end up as suicides in the guise of homicides, but every time he fails he also catches a criminal becoming a respected super cop.

     Considering how little I paid for the used film, I didn’t except much.  I definitely received my money’s worth.   Always sad when someone dying makes a video tape, so I may take back what I said about seriousness.  The daughter is a strong character.

THE LEGEND OF 7 CUTTER (Escape from Charisma)

IVision – 2006

DIRECTOR: Jung Jung-hwa

ACTORS: Ahn Jae-mo, Yun Eun-hye, Lee Jung, Hyun Young, I think that’s good.

 

     Is a semen covered octopus going to be a plus or a minus?  What if someone eats it?  What if someone eats it out of another person’s mouth?  Are we done yet?

     It didn’t start out that way, and I have to confess, I don’t have the wonderful Ivision release.  Fat digipak in a slipcase, that could make one forgive a lot.  The movie is funny.  It’s mostly a huge pile of misunderstandings.  A kid comes to a new school and stories circulate that he’s a powerful fighter who cuts others with a 7 cm box cutter.  When he explains it’s not true, he finds himself accidentally slicing a 7 cm cut into the toughest guy in school and setting him on fire. 

     Sorry, maybe I said too much.  He falls in love with one girl, but admits his love to the toughest girl in the school.  Singer Yun Eun-hye plays a boxer who is obviously the most beautiful girl around.  It’s annoying when they can’t get another hot girl so we can at least understand our main characters feelings.  Jae-mo plays Han-soo, the legend.  Good casting, he’s a perfect cross between Cha Tae-hyun (Sassy Girl) and Park Joong-hoon (Nowhere To Hide).  He’s pretty solid.  A lot of annoying characters, a few of them are funny.  Good idea, but when they take a trip to the island, most of the film ends up in the toilet along with a schoolgirl’s hand phone.

     I will say this.  The plot twist doesn’t not make sense and in a world of contrived plot twists that make you want to eat your remote, this one works just fine.  It’s a cheat, but honestly, a pretty good one.  A lot of careers ended after this film so I’ll not kick it too much.

 

A LIGHT SLEEP

Widemedia – 2009

DIRECTOR: Lim Sung-chan (debut)

ACTORS: Choi Ah-jin, Ah Reum-hong, Song Chae-hwan, Bang Eun-jin,

     When we date one another we find there is sometimes baggage.  We have our own lives and our own pasts and getting past that baggage may tear us apart.  As Soo-jin gets to know Yeo-lin he wonders why she’s always so tired.  The answers will be as difficult for him as they are the audience.

     Indie film are often light movies.  You can’t expect too much of a first time director and especially not of the budget.  You know you’re going be told a story, most likely.  This one is a human mystery and quite realistic.  Yeo-lin is still in school, and lost her parents two years ago in a car accident.  She barely sleeps at night, or eats.  What appears before us is fragments and pieces of how she survives and the utopia she exists in only during naps.

     Heartbreaking really, but filmed with great care.  Hard to watch as one character who could help instead tries to take advantage.  If you have been paying attention I already gave away the secrets much earlier in the book so have no reason to do so here.  7 slices of painful Key Lime pie.  I hope the director isn’t done.  Before this he’s made only short films, but he’s been doing it for twenty years.

     Widemedia films almost always have a white matte sleeve with a small picture at the front, usually they show what competitions they were in such as the South Korean film festival in Paris.  This is a director to invest in.

LIVING DEATH / DISTRUST HELL (Possessed)

Art Service/DGC Plus – 2009

 

               DIRECTOR: Lee Yong-joo (debut)

               ACTORS: Nam Sang-mi, Shim Eun-kyung, Ryu Seung-ryong, Kim Bo-yeon, Jang Young-nam, Moon Hee-kyung , Shin Eun-jung, Kim Yoo-jung, Oh Ji-eun

 

     I am an atheist.  I’m not saying that randomly.  I cringe a bit when people start speaking deeply about their love of any god.  With film though, I find it’s the best place to put religion and pseudo-science (ghosts, aliens).  Let’s explore our individual beliefs as art.

     Yong-goo is the director of Architecture 101 and had cast and crew roles in some Song gon-il productions.  It shows.  The cinematographer, Pyo Sang-woo is also an actor and has light and shot many different type of film including Lovers of Six Years, and Breathless.  Here he creates soft creepy horror like a master.  This is a frightening nightmare with talismans, birds, possession, rituals, and a dark mystery that uncoils like a millipede.  It’s a unique and strong vision and an amazing debut of Yong-joo.

     So-jin (Hee-kyung, adorable Na-mi from Sunny) is missing.  Returning from Seoul, her sickly older sister Hee-jin (Sang-mi) finds that her mother is doing nothing but praying.  She calls a detective (a commonly grim Seung-ryong) and he begins investigating.  Almost immediately, there are a few suicides and a talisman is found each time.

     It’s not a Funny Movie exactly, but it is fun how it bounces beliefs off different people.  You strongly disbelieve in what might disprove what you believe.  No one in the world wants to be wrong.  The detective even finds himself grasping for hope with the talismans in regard to his own sick daughter.  When you lose all hope, anything is better than the darkness of reality.

     It’s a huge female cast, which I appreciate.  Females seem drawn to spirituality at stronger and deeper levels and in film they’re often the ones possessed.  It’s such an adventure, I hate giving away much plot.  I do find it interesting that there are some who strongly believe in one thing and only want to share it, as others will cling to anything that gives them what they desire, with no regard to who they’re hurting.  I become the Christian mother in that scenario, strangely.  Devoted and giving, with hope instead of dread.

     I sacrifice seven slices of Key lime pie to you Korean film God.  I hope your hunger is appeased.

LOST AND FOUND (Sweet Lies)

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2009

DIRECTOR: Jung Jung-hwa (debut)

ACTORS: Park Jin-hee, Jo Han-seon, Lee Ki-woo

 

               Harmless is a good description, fitting the alternate title.  I don’t mean that in any bad way though.  Amnesia is so cliché.  It’s wonderful to see a film use it this way.  Fired from her television writing job, drunk and robbed, Ji-ho (Park Jin-hee) gets hit by a car and feigns amnesia to get closer to Park Dong-sik (Jo Han-seon) who hit her.  She’s been in love with him since school.  Using her bag of limited television tricks she moves in with him to recover.  What she doesn’t realize, is her best friend Kang Min-woo (Lee Ki-woo) has been in love with her for an equal amount of time.  I think this comedy came out near Christmas in 2008.  I usually give the year of DVD release, not the movie. 

               Ji-ho gives an adorable performance that borders more on the realistic than the over-the-top of say Oh! My God.  When you realize there are two men involved I was wondering what in the world they were going to do to make me hate one of them.  Only in a few films (Almost Love is a good example) do they let you choose what you want to feel.  Music heightens emotions.  People do things in an exaggerated manner.  This is a rom-com and Korea makes a lot of them.  It’s a good one though.  6 out of 8 slices of Key lime pie.  The case was a problem.  Clear case, single disc like Fantom‘s recent releases.  I guess CJ didn’t think much of it.  It’s fun though.  If you like Almost Love check it out.

 

LOST IN LOVE

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2006

DIRECTOR: Chu Chang-Min

ACTORS: Sol Kyung-gu, Song Yun-ah, Lee Ki-woo, Lee Hwi-hyang, Jang Hang-seon, Jeon Bae-soo

 

     Song Yun-ah is a super cool name.  I had to earn this DVD.  It’s kind of rare I guess.  Lost In Love starts with a break-up.  I start thinking about Lovers For 6 Years and become happy.  Woo-jae (Sol Kyung-gu) drinks a cup of soy sauce and does a spit take in the first five minutes.  Believe it or not, the tone is somber and dramatic.  The literal translation is Letting the Love Slip Away.

     Like usual, Sol Kyung-gu plays a human disaster.  He can’t get over his girlfriend leaving him.  In ten minutes we’ll fast forward a year.  Woo-jae joins the military.  All the while we notice that his friend Yun-soo pines for him.  You want to slap Woo-jae, but that would be to deny the simple fact that women and men live together and we can’t all be in a relationship.  Loneliness doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be with anyone.  Your heart must empty before it can fill again.

     Yun-soo waits in a public bathroom hoping the last bus will leave and they can stay together when she visits Woo-jae.  The bus driver sweeps a picture at the end of the night, it of Woo-jae.  That’s the beginning, not the end.  The movie is calm and relies on expressions rather than words.  It is very different from Mapado.  There is humor though.  After being fired Woo-jae can’t get his locker open, he smashes the lock off with a chair.  There are pictures of a woman inside.  My head called it early, that’s not his locker!

     I don’t often have to speak of technical issues, but the focus pulling is a bit off in a scene or two.  The packaging is a crazy fold-out held with an elastic.  Lots of information that usually would be on a liner is part of the thin beige cardboard.

     One day you might meet someone you really loved and gave up on.  It’s interesting how you watch the character pass through time and how the smallest events influence their lives forever.  Yun-soo becomes a vet, marries and divorces.  Woo-jae becomes just like the rowing coach who was so hard on him.  Sometimes life isn’t good or bad, it’s just life. 

 

LOVE FICTION

NEW/KD Media – 2012

DIRECTOR: Jeon Gye-soo

ACTORS: Ha Jung-woo, Kong Hyo-jin, Jo Hee-bong, Lee Byung-joon, Ji Jin-hee and Yoo In-na

 

     Where does love go? 

     Before I answer that, I must fawn over the packaging a bit.  I expected a traditional KD Media sleeve which I’ve come to know and enjoy but NEW provides some occasional surprises.  The slipcase folds into itself, and opening it reveals the two main characters with perfect annoyed faces, like a Hallmark card gone wrong.  My love for the packaging is not fictional … ho ho.

     I’m a writer, that’s possibly obvious considering you’re reading a book I wrote.  What you don’t know is that I often hate reading books or watching film about writers.  That’s my bag, as the old man might say.  You’re whoever you are.  All I’m saying is, it’s already breaking the fourth wall, as every book and every film must be written.  So often, I see through it like Windex cleaned glass.  The pencil really stabbed me with cruel twist, as this film is about a major problem of mine.  I get too comfortable.  I romanticize.  I blow up without empathy and the female asks me, “Who are you?”

     Getting the hell away from me, Love Fiction does that fun thing, telling a story within a story.  You can get away with pure cheese if characters are watching something on television, on a screen or a story is told by a character.  Even on a simple television, the sound design feels cinematic during Joo-wol’s (Jung-woo) serial stories, like the foley artists lost their minds, overdubbing every word.  The story is inspired by his new girlfriend’s armpit hair.  Hee-jin (Hyo-jin) gives a extremely real performance of an honest photographer who believes most relationships will end, but enjoys them while they last.  She’s professional, entertaining and never seems to be the bad guy.  She’s very difficult to peg down, and I can’t say enough about her performance.  You get really used to over-the-top melodramatics and shrieking.  She’s mild-mannered, where Joo-wol is a mess.

     A great example is Joo-wol’s attitude at Hee-jin’s photographic exhibit.  Their lives are parallel, artists but with other jobs.  They have both been inspired by each other and finally find success.  Joo-wol hates seeing himself on display, though Hee-jin has never complained about Joo-wol’s stories.  The great part about it is, you understand why he’s upset, but you can’t take his side. 

     Love Fiction shouldn’t be mistaken for a comedy (maybe that was just me).  You’re going into it wrong.  It’s a complex tale that may remind couples why they got together in the first place.  Whatever you did on the first date, don’t forget to try it again a few years later.  For some real Hyo-jin fun watch this and then Crush and Blush.

LOVE IN MAGIC

IVision – 2005

DIRECTOR: Chun Se-hwan

ACTORS: Park Jin-heeYeon Jeong-hoonJo Mi-ryeongHa Dong-hoonOh Yoon-ahChoi Won-yeong

TONE: Cocky Playboy Magician Tamed by Love

 

“You take care of this quietly.” 

“Why don’t we kill ourselves?”

              

     The assistant director of Shiri and Taegukgi tries to make some movie magic of his own with Jin-hee (Lost and Found) and Jeong-hoon (the drama Vampire Prosecutor).  Ji-hoon (Jeong-hoon) is a playboy magician.  Yep.  It’s another one of those films.  Ah, but not as innocent as romantic comedies usually are.  A kiss finale or sex in the beginning, this movie is about sex.  One of the first times we see art teacher Hee-won (Jin-hee) her friend is discussing a man coming in a woman’s mouth, with a condiment visual.  I bought this for its shiny limited edition double foil digipakness.  I’m not even sure if I looked up a review or not.  At the time nothing could sway me from a limited edition Korean film.  I was deep in the zone.  Collecting them all like POKEMON.  Magic?  Sounds fun.  Let’s do it!

     The plot involves a fetish for hidden cameras that Ji-hoon’s roommate and friend Dong-sun (Doon-hoon) has.  He soon realized he’s gratifying himself to a video of Ji-hoon and the magician must track down the woman he took to the hotel, who of course is Hee-won.  I love when they see each other again through an aquarium, doing this odd liquid sway as they stare through both sides with the swimming fish.  This isn’t a cheap production. 

     The couple decides, with their reputations on the line, to not go to the police but to find the people responsible.  They buy a camera detector and get to work, or at least Hee-won does.  I think her reputation is worsened visiting all the sex motels for investigation.  A student, in love with Hee-won, ends up in the same motel and one point and angrily confronts Ji-hoon.  Everything he says makes it seem more like the student is with the magician.  “Was it good for you too?  Did you love it?”  That was pretty funny.  Yeon Jeong-hoon makes a better victim than a playboy, though I do want to see Vampire Prosecutor.  Can’t believe we haven’t stolen that idea for North America.  

     Love is Magic is often about the sexuality behind closed doors and how common it all is.    I think maybe it was just a bit late.  Taming a playboy is not a rare plot.  But the film is a comfortable genre for many people.  All females want to be the one that kicked a male’s emotional tail.  I think they were attempting to live in both gender’s worlds though.  Grandma won’t like this movie’s sexuality and it may be too cliché for critics.  The action is so far near the end, most males won’t make it there.  I like the magic, though it seems more like a Michel Gondry video, than a magic act.  I like Gondry.  I like South Korea and like I foiled slipcovers.  I think I’m biased.  I had some fun, you might too.  Let’s say five slices. 

LOVELY RIVALS (Female Teacher vs. Female Student)

Bitwin – 2005

DIRECTOR: Jang Kyu-sung

ACTORS: Yum Jung-ah, Lee Se-young, Lee Ji-hun, Byun Hie-bong and Im Won-hee!

              

               The director of A Funny Movie!  After making a successful film about a teacher, Kyu-sung decides to play with the genre a bit more.  The beginning shows real photos of students and their favourite teachers as a rural school announces the teachers for each of their elementary homeroom classes.  Only one teacher gets a disappointed response.

               Probably best known for being the evil step mother in Tale of Two Sisters as well as many comedic roles, Yum Jung-ah plays Ms. Yeo Mi-ok, the strict teacher that no one wants.  She arrives late making an insane entrance in her vehicle and soon punishes her students for not adoring her like all the other teachers.  One student named Ko Mi-nam (Se-young) also arrives late to class and is punished.  Mi-nam doesn’t seem to hold a grudge, instead she attacks some students that try to screw with her as she cleans the restroom.  Ms. Yeo has a few chances to connect with Mi-nam but is too distracted with her own problems.

               That’s when the solution walks in the door and begins a war.  A new teacher named Kwon Sang-choon (Ji-hoon, the “prince” of K-pop) appears in that oh so common slow-motion and Ms. Yeo knows they’re made for each other.  What she doesn’t know is, in fast-motion, Sang-choon almost hit Mi-nam with his car.  They’ve already formed a bond.   Well, as you may have seen on day time talk shows, or Highlander, there can be only one.

               Sang-choon is not a super manly guy, but it seems that’s what girls want nowadays.  Maybe that’s why they’re becoming more aggressive … at least in Korean cinema ever since My Sassy Girl.  I worry about it more in real life; the talk show joke was barely a joke.  It’s an everyday thing if you actually watch that garbage.  It’s better for me that his is just a story. 

               It’s hard to feel bad for Ms. Yeo as she made such a horrifying first impression.  Paying a little attention to the world around you can save so much pain.  In the restroom Mi-nam took on several girls, one teacher probably won’t be so bad.  You might be surprised at the climax which was actually based on a true story.  There’s a lot more to Mi-nam than a crush and the film is a great portfolio for Lee Se-young.

               Lovely Rivals is a great way to ease into even crazier films like Crush and Blush.  It also provides some social commentary about getting too close to students and how difficult it can be to draw the line.  It follows the half comedy, half serious method, but doesn’t seem too melodramatic.  It makes sense really.  The director continued with Small Town Rivals, about another rural power struggle.  My Bitwin case is rather ancient, a foiled slipcase that was difficult to find.  It looks like two females were fighting over it, though it was probably something else.

 

LOVERS FOR 6 YEARS

SM Pictures – 2008

 DIRECTOR: Park Hyun-jin (debut)

ACTORS: Kim Ha-neul, Yung Gye-sang

              

               I talk about this film a lot.  I really think the plot is perfect.  Watch a young relationship unravel.  There are no secrets or twists.  The relationship will end. 

               Kim Ha-neul is the star of some major classics like Almost Love and My Tutor Friend and the recent My Girlfriend Is An Agent.  She knows comedy.  This film is exactly what it needs to be.  After a while things get stale.  You must decide to reinvigorate the relationship or let it slide.  You might do anything.  It just seemed realistic and was quite enjoyable.  SM packaged it with a glossy slip cover like the Planis Entertainment releases.  I don’t know much about SM except that it’s a music label with famous artists like Super Junior and it released the amazing film Epitaph.

               I compare other films to Lovers for 6 Years (or 6 Years of Love) often for a reason.  A jewel in my collection.

LUMP SUGAR

CJ Entertainment – 2006 

DIRECTOR: Lee Hwan-gyung

ACTORS: Im Soo-jung, Park Eun-su, Kim Yoo-jung, Choi Hak-rak, Oh Tae-kyung, Hong Ji-young

              

This is “a girl and her horse” movie.  Usually I would not be on board, but I’m biased.  Im Soo-jung just has to show up and I’m good.  If you have a problem with that, I apologize.  Here is a lump of sugar.

               The beginning is a series of impressionable moments in a very young child’s life.  Everything is the film is edited very lean.  We constantly move.  Kim Yoo-jung, as the young Kim Si-eun almost upstages (fix all) Lim Soo-jung with her faces of sadness, wonder and joy.  Her father doesn’t want Si-eun to have anything to do with horses, but she holds a magical gift of connection.

               She bonds early with a horse named General who dies many years later giving birth to a foal that will be called Thunder.  Both Si-eun and Thunder have now lost their mothers, but her father sells the horse anyway. 

               Characters are well drawn as Si-eun becomes a jockey.  Soo-jung is quite petite so it makes perfect sense.  Her goodness and caring more about the animals undermines her racing career though.  If there is a moral it’s stated by an alcoholic trainer, that the truth always comes out and her caring nature will be rewarded.

               The film had a Finding Nemo effect of making me cry in almost the first few scenes.  Any far-fetched elements are beautiful.  The music pulls me in.  I guess that’s what movie magic is.

               There are some parallels with Seabiscuit (2003) with lots of eclectic people that come together to race as a team, but I loved the naive investor.  He knows nothing about horses, just that he wants a Korean horse.  He understand the American horses are better, but feels Korean horses need equal training.  Driving on Jeju island, Si-eun’s home.  The investor is told what to look for in a good horse and he stares out the window past the driver.  You soon see Si-eun riding Thunder displaying everything and more.  Lump Sugar was produced by the Korean Racing Association and CJ Entertainment.  It comes in a traditional glossy slip case that looks strangely printed.

 

M

MANDATE [Mission from (the) God(s)]

Fantom – 2008

 DIRECTOR: Park Hee-joon

               ACTORS: Jae Hee, Yoo Da-In, Shim Won-Cheol, Lee Soo-Ho

 

               Let’s talk packaging first because I had no idea what I was in for with this flick.  Just a clear case.  That’s a first press?  There’s no other release of this film so calling it a first press is pretty generous.  Fantom had a good thing going, always a matte cardboard slip case.  Hard boxes for Once In A Summer and Almost Love.  Okay, so I start with disappointment.

               But I have Jae Hee.  He was in Art of Fighting and one of my favourites 3 Iron.  He’s holding a sword.  Things are going to be great.  Well, except for a rapping cop (Soo-ho), I was incorrect.   Da-in you may have seen murdered in the Client.

               The alternate title is Mission From God.  Really?  Are religious people this silly?  Hey, there is that weirdo with a strange haircut and a sword that always pops up at our crime scenes, best to tell him to move along.  Shouldn’t you arrest him?  The script shows no knowledge of police procedure at all.  The special effects aren’t very special.  I usually let that go, but don’t try and use so many if it’s all going to look so awful.  At least it’s one of the shortest Korean films ever.  I usually don’t find that a plus. 

               After watching it I actually defended the film, against someone who was actually making a lot of sense.  Sometimes I’m clouded by rebelliousness.  I’ve tried to sell it once.  It didn’t work, so it stays in a permanent home next to the superior E.S.P. Couple.

 

MAGICIANS

Planis Entertainment – 2011

 

               DIRECTOR: Song Il-gon

               ACTORS: Jung Woong-in, Lee Seung-bee, Jang Hyun-sung, Kang Kyung-hun, Kim Hak-sun

 

               Movies filmed in one take have their limits.  You have to forgive some things, or you have to film it again and again like Kubrick going mad.  Focus pulling in low light is definitely an issue, you notice and think about it.  It would be better to not even realize you’re watching a one shot movie.  Talented directors often do a one shot opening or at least one scene, like the big fight in Old Boy.  

               In Magicians there are fun tricks like Ja-eun (Kyung-hun) slitting her wrist.  Something red and somewhat dry falls from the ceiling when she does it.  It’s a neat effect though.  The Magicians is like a play and the actors are exactly who you’d want.  It also has an international feel with jokes in or about other languages and cultures.  It’s ambient though and that risks me falling asleep, it’s just how I am.  The camera floats and people walk and move slowly.  It’s the perfect film if you aren’t tired.  On the third anniversary of Ja-eun’s death, her other band mate gather to remember her.  She haunts them like a ghost, figuratively and literally.  I think I’d like to be there if people were talking about me.

               Half way in a character mentions the Tango.  It can’t be anybody else’s film but Song Il-gon.  The reason I bought it was the director and an unhealthy relationship with Planis Entertainment.  It’s fun to see what interesting people do in a box.  The conversations are realistic and the characters are interesting, but the director’s best works are definitely earlier and later.  One real highlight is Kang Kyung-hun (also in Il-gon’s Spider Forest), she may have a little trouble reversing her coat, but she adds a ethereal beauty and a playfulness that you desperately need.  Magicians official competed in 2005 and the double disc has many of the director’s short films, though not subtitled.  While I watch them, I will eat a whole Key lime pie in one take.

 

MAPADO

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2005

               DIRECTOR: Choo Chang-min (debut)

               ACTORS: Lee Moon-sik, Lee Jung-jin, Yeo Woon-kye, Kim Soo-mi, Kim Eul-dong, Kim Hyung-ja, Kil Hae-yun, Seo Yung-hee, Yun Won-suk, Oh Dal-soo, Kim Bo-ri, Lee Seung-chae, Lee Jae-goo, Son Yung-soon, Hong Geun-ha, Lee Jung-hak, cameos by Jung Eun-pyo, Yoo Hae-jin and Kim Sang-ho

 

               Hey, don’t watch the DVD menu for too long, you might find a big reveal.  Speaking of reveals, when he find out a big secret on the island, Inspector (Moon-shik) and young gangster ___ (Jung-jin) are fighting.  It’s not about the four years __ spent in jail, when ___ told him it was only going to be three months, either.  Why is a gangster attempting to violently keep a cop on the straight and narrow?

               Nothing much is black and white in Mapado.  In the beginning a gangster boss is cooking for his boys and girls.  He’s given up extortion and is attempting to make it, with some minor hopes each week that his lucky numbers with come up in the lotto.  They do, but sadly the girl who bought the ticket for him has run away.

               He dispatches a corrupt officer and the only member of his crew with a grudge against him.  Good plot planning.  The island has a ferry that only visits once a week so when they both arrive and find no girl and no ticket, they’re stuck with five grannies who think they’re there for fishing.

               The island is like another character, you await its arrival.  I always enjoy the island and small town pictures.  The grannies get away with doing and saying anything just like a kid on South Park.  They force the two to help them in all their chores, especially as Inspector ___ has ruined their honey harvest in a hilarious scene that must be … seen. 

               It’s important to note that the director’s recent historic film Masquerade has just shot up to the top of the box office, won 15 Korean film awards and will even be played in North America.  It’s the first time he didn’t write, but he left it to the scriptwriter of Old Boy.   The guy makes interesting films about interesting people.  The end is especially interesting to me.  We find the island has an amazing crop of marijuana.  At the end the lotto ticket finds its way through bird and wind back to the island and is rolled up in a joint that both the main characters smoke.  It seems an interesting message about the drug itself.  Twice as many Key lime pie slices as Mapado 2, reviewed below.

 

MAPADO 2: BACK TO THE ISLAND

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2007

DIRECTOR: Lee Sang-hoon

               ACTORS: Lee Moon-sik, Kim Ji-yung,Yeo Woon-kye, Yeo Woon-kye,

Kim Eul-dong, Kim Hyung-ja, Kil Hae-yun, Lee Kyoo-han, Kim Yang-woo, Lee Cheol-min,

Nam Ji-hyun, Kim Young-chan, Kwon Do-Kyung, Jang Dae-Sung, Kim Dong-gYun,

Kim Yong-soo,  Joo Hyun, Kim Soo-mi, Jo Hyung-gi, Lee Yoo-jin and Lee In-hye

TONE: A sequel with a different director.

               When you make a sequel, it’s ideal to grab the same cast, writer and director.  Or for a director making his next film after several years have passed, it’s ideal to just do whatever the studio wants.  For an audience a sequel may be ideal, you already are familiar with the characters.  It’s like hearing a song you know, but sang by someone else.  Its success was only a third of Mapado, and that came from being on more than five times as many movie screens.  Still, like a lot of people, I wanted to see it and that is why it exists.

               The sequel is good for those who love cartoons and the relentless torturing of a cat or a hunter.  There’s no real bad guy except for selfish laziness so Moon-sik is the cartoon cat with an anvil dropped on his head over and over.  A writer is the semi-silent substitute for our original quiet brooding gangster.  He’s a wild card, clever enough to stay on the good side of the grannies by telling stories when the television antennae is broken and appearing to be a son of one of the grannies who has Alzheimer’s.  The funniest and most clever writing is perhaps the chicken scene, not so much the night chasing down of the best brood hen, but the cousin Granny who tells Chul-soo? to eat the chicken, only to play with his morals about how important the animal was and how selfish it is to eat it … only to go back and forth asking him why he isn’t eating.  Mostly the writing and directing is somewhat basic and the humor is often crude. 

               If I were Lee Moon-sik I would have been in the film.  It would have been lost without him.  I’ll hope he was paid more.  Often a co-star or cameo, it’s probably difficult to turn down reprising a role.  He’s a punching bag for almost two hours though, so, you’re warned.  I will say the turn an hour in is worth the wait.  Things get complicated and serious, but we get a lot more back story concerning the grannies.  Everyone was young once and you’ll look upon those times as fondly as the five old ladies.

              

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Bear/HB Entertainment – 2005

               DIRECTOR: Song Hae-Sung

               ACTORS: Lee Na-young, Kang Dong-won

 

               Also known as Our Happy Time, this is more proof that every leading man in South Korea must make one wonderful film with Lee Na-young.  One wants to die.  One is going to be executed.  Gong Ji-young, a female writer, wrote the novel it was based on.  The film is calm, but never boring.  All of Hae-Sung’s film are good.

               Kang Dong-won (Woochi) is a charismatic guy.  If he killed your parents you’d still probably be in love with him.  I love that two people who really need each other, found each for such a short while.  The film was highly successful for several reasons.

               Bear releases are much like CJ releases with a glossy slip cover. 

 

MAY 18th

CJ Entertainment/Planis Entertainment – 2007

DIRECTOR: Kim Ji-hoon

ACTORS: Kim Sang-kyung, Lee Yu-won, Ahn Sung-kee, Kwon Tae-won, Lee Jun-ki, Song Jae-ho (add)

TONE:  Michael Bayish

              

               Magnetic hardbox, three discs, postcards, this was a big release for all those tragedy date completests not satisfied with just two 9/11 flicks.  In Korea May 18th is day of mourning.  In Gwangju, students demanding democratic reform were massacred.  I would unbold, except that the events happened in 1980.  The spark?  President Park Chung-hee was assassinated after 18 years of ruling.  18, hmm, number junkies might like that too.

               Obviously with a crying child on the back cover, this isn’t a happy portrait of history.  I admire that but I must admit, the director makes a lot critically panned films.  The beginning starts with a man driving a car with his eyes closed.  We’re introduced to our characters in the same way that disaster films always do, hints of comedy, romance and struggle.  Things turned around for me when a taxi driver (Sang-kyung) attempts to grab a girl (Yu-won) he likes and put her on his bike.  Instead his much more feminine brother (Jun-ki) hops on and we have a cute smile-inducing situation. 

               Though that’s a bit of dramatic irony in itself, that’s all tragedy films are.  We know the ending, like if you knew how you were going to die.  South Korea was fighting itself, a snake eating its own tail.  I’m sure you know all about it from our North American history classes.  No, well, that’s why I wanted to see the film too.  In about 25 minutes the film becomes very real.  You’re reminded how a lifetime ago, an opinion could get anyone killed.  And have no doubt that it’s happening still, as you read this.

               When a high school friend is killed it affects his young peers first, full of ideals and justice they understand quickly why they have to get organized.   By picking up an injured person, the taxi driver finds himself, beaten, stripped and shot at after he escapes.  Some in Gwangju are military, but aren’t listened to as they plead for an ending to the violence against protesters.  Everyone is told that the military will leave if they do, but I guess “rubbing it in” is a human trait and during a patriotic song, bullets fly by the hundreds.  Odd moments kind of ruin dramatic scenes now and then. 

               Maybe Kim Ji-hoon is like the Michael Bay of Korea, his films cost a lot and make a lot of money.  He messes up a lot of the human parts, but excels during the action.  Critics aren’t always kind to either and they’re not wrong.  I guess I’m lucky.  I watched this film with a clean slate and a hunger for some unknown history.  You may do the same if you want a small reminder of how lucky you are next May 18th.

 

MEMENTO MORI

Spectrum – 2005

               DIRECTOR: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong (debut)

               ACTORS:  Kim Gyu-ri, Park Yeh-jin, Lee Young-jin

              

               This has one of the coolest cases ever.  Spectrum was pretty crazy.  Six discs in a hard box, all in thin digipak cases with a hardcover book too.  Includes the soundtrack.  That is a celebration.  This kicked the lesbian schoolgirl horror franchise into high gear and confused the hell out of me each time I saw it.  I think I’m better now though.

               The original release was 2001.  Whispering Corridors was released in 1998.  All five (yet) have taken advantage of the new cinematic freedoms in Korea and had a lot to say about social issues.  Each film is still tame in regards to the lesbian theme.  They follow the lines of the Alien films.  Each time, a new director, a new take.  Nothing is really connected.  Make a lesbian schoolgirl horror film.  Alright, I will.

               Memento Mori (Remember the Dead) begins as a non-lesbian schoolgirl finds a diary of a student who committed suicide.  We jump through time putting the pieces together as the schoolgirl goes mad.  Fun.  The end has some neat supernatural effects.  This is horror for those who like a good story and don’t require rivers of blood and gore.  Thank you.

               What?  You want me to spoil the plot?  I really don’t feel like it, it’s a great film, easily the best of the series.  I invite you to search out all the short films the directors made, that should give you something to do while I struggle thinking up something good to say about A Million.

 

A MILLION (One Billion Won)

Pre.Gm – 2009

               DIRECTOR: Jo Min-ho

               ACTORS: Park Hae-Il, Park Hee-Sun, Shin Mina, Lee Min-Ki, Jung Yu-Mi & Lee Chun-Hee

 

               There was a great idea here, a reality show where the host went insane.  Last one alive in the Australian location gets a billion won.  Going to have to unbold really early here.  He (Min-ho wrote and directed) couldn’t help but put an impossibly retarded twist at the end.  Couldn’t help it.  Had to do it.  Just stop while you’re ahead.  That’s my advice.  Sometimes in a film, one good idea is enough and one awful idea murders your good idea.

               In the end we find that while a woman was being killed, other people look on.  Some tape it, some ignore it.  Well, I mean, seriously … can you imagine that?  I can’t.  In the world of handphones, someone is going to tap a few numbers.  Some guy would love to pound a criminal to help a female in trouble.  That’s the reality.  This reality is more fake than a reality show.

               For Lee Min-ki obsessed fans only.

 

MIRACLE ON 1st STREET

CJ Entertainment/Bear – 2006

               DIRECTOR: Yun Je-kyun

               ACTORS: Im Chang-jung임창정Ha Ji-won (하지원)Ha Ji-won하지원Joo Hyeon (주현)Joo Hyeon주현Jeong Doo-hong (정두홍)Jeong Doo-hong정두홍Lee Hoon (이훈)Lee Hoon이훈Kang Ye-won (강예원)Kang Ye-won

 

               “My job is to pursue the truth.”

 

               Pil-je says the above while lying about being a reporter, but who knows.  Maybe he’s about to get more truth than he can handle.

               I still say, a manager is blind to your problems until they work alongside you.  Then you’ll hear all your complaints echoed and solutions will flow like water from the tap.  An awesome job you can get in Korea is going door to door and offering very little to poor people to get them out.  Redeveloping is good and bad, depending on your social status and where you live.  Chang-jung plays a gangster named Pil-je who moves into a very poor area on 1st Street to muscle people out of what little they have.  His major opponent is a second generation box named Myung-ran (Ji-won).  She wishes to prove to her defeated father (martial artist Doo-hong) she can win a belt, feeling guilty for being the only reason he kept fighting until he was mentally impaired.

               Pil-je quickly feels the pain of the people that he’s supposed to be against.  He uses his mental muscle to get the water turned back on in the area, because he’s personally inconvenienced.  He’s accidentally improving things and lightens the darkness he brings, as well as becoming a hero to the children whose former entertainment was learning to fly by jumping off roofs.  

               Two more pairs of characters are a couple kids who struggle to grow tomatoes to save their Grandfather and the future victim of a pyramid scheme who becomes interested in a romantic vendor.  Everyone is struggling, but also listening, helping and trying to fix what they can.  Some unwittingly.

               Smart to make a film in a tore up town.  Can’t imagine the budget was too high.  I also find it interesting that in each Je-kyun/Ji-won project she stays the same size but gets tougher and tougher.  Soon she’ll be ripping men in half in Attack of the 50ft Ha Ji-won in 3-d!

               One might say, this was Chang-jung’s last great comedy, but I admit to feeling closer to his tastes in roles.  He sure does want a challenge for himself and the audience.  The tomato scenes are astoundingly symbolic.  For sure Miracle on 1st Street is Chang-jung’s most accessible comedy.  A police man can only go down in morality, a gangster can only go up.  Pil-je goes all the way.

               Admittedly the ending is somewhat strange.  It doesn’t quite come together in any particular coherent fashion, but it’s still quite a dig out of the depressing graveyard.  Sometimes just getting out of a bad situation with a sigh is good enough.  Traditional CJ first press.  I award this film two boxes of fresh tomatoes and seven slice of Key lime pie.

A MILLIONAIRE’S FIRST LOVE

Enter One – 2006

DIRECTOR: Kim Tae-gyun

               ACTORS: Hyun Bin, Lee Yun-hee,

 

               “It’s a weird town.  A ten dollar bill can make everyone so happy.”

              

               Here we are again attempting to humanize a douche bag, so maybe we’ll fall in love with him at the same time that Eun-whan (Yun-hee) does.  Kang Jae-kyung (Hyun Bin) is a rich young brat that can buy his way out or into anything, until a clause of his inheritance comes up.  He must graduate from a rural school where his Grandfather’s brother lives and works.  If that’s not enough Korean films genres, someone is dying as well.  The trifecta!  Kim Tae-gyun brought us Volcano High but he mostly brings films about young love (or an occasional Academy Award hopeful).  I hate to say it, but dropping Jae-kyung in the town and letting him dig his own social grave helped me see him the way I was supposed to.  Also his hair is way better in this film than recent ones.  This film was buried by Vampire Cop Na Do-yul (Ricky).

               Lee Yun-hee is a complex character.  She first meets Jae-kyung in Seoul, but actually she’s from Gangwon Province, where he’s sent to, and where the two young people did know each other once.  Traumatic (or dramatic) events erased a lot of his memories.  The quickly edited beginning makes you very happy to be out of city.  Jae-kyung starts his social suicide by punching the strongest, biggest and slowest student. 

               The writing is the problem, in the beginning Eun-whan speaks to a woman in Seoul and the woman suspects she’s pregnant by her son, she tells Jae-kyung she’s pregnant as well.  There’s no reason to say this except to bury the truth about her from the audience.  Though Lee Yun-hee is a very good crier, after forty minutes of it you’ll probably be tired.  The dramatic nature of the film seems a bit much for two kids under twenty.  The film might get you a couple times, but it steps on   its own toes too often.  Eun-whan has a reason to be in love, but seeing who Jae-kyung has become would probably make any girl move on and Jae-kyung’s shift to becoming a emotional human is way too erratic.  I feel like I missed the part where they fell in love.  It just happened between scenes.

               Oh, and I guessed the end on accident.  I was thinking, hey that would be neat if … but it’s more realistic if they don’t … but they did it anyway.  Doesn’t matter.  Forget it.  I’ll just wait for Volcano High 2:  The Eruption.

 

MISTER SOCRATES

Enter One – 2006

DIRECTOR: Choi Jin-won (debut)

ACTORS: Kim Rae-won, Kang Shin-il, Lee Jong-hyuk, Yun Tae-yung, Park Sung-woong, Jung Wook

TONE: Half Infernal Affairs, half Kung Fu Panda

 

“If I wasn’t your Dad I would have killed you years ago.” 

 

               Jin-won’s two films and many scripts haven’t been extremely successful, though I did enjoy Our School E.T. (script) a lot and will be reviewing Officer of The Year (script) in a moment.  I still haven’t watched his second film Smile Babo as there were no subtitles.  It’s mostly about two idiots anyway.

               A larger textured matte paper slipcover holds a digipak with two discs.  Enter One usually has basic releases so I figure Kim Rae-won (…Ing, Sunflower) catapulted the movie a bit.  It’s true, he’s cute whether he’s dating very young girls or beating up anyone in his way.  He plays Dong-hyuk here, the lowest of the low.  Turning in comrades for accidental murder, beating up anyone he feels like and asking his incarcerated father for money.  Of course being surrounded by murder, thugs and no parents gives you a slight window into what breeds such a person.  Enter the teacher (Shin-il).  This is his movie.  The short master with a perfect suit and the impossible task of molding scum into … well, that’s an interesting story, but I’d like to go on a tangent instead.

               My wife is teaching at the worst school ever and that’s where this film scores points.  What if the teachers could do anything to you to force you to learn?  Drown you, beat you, torture you, do anything until the information meets your locked brain.  It’s not easy for teachers, most of whom want to do good and are met with apathy, ridicule and aggression.  You have a gangster film, an educational satire, a master and student film and, of course, the goal is to create a cop who is on the inside.  The fun thing is that everyone knows this except Dong-hyuk who thinks he’s being initiated into a gang.  During his breaking point, after the teacher finds his student’s one weakness, it’s fun when Dong-hyuk’s actually studying.  Later when a cop, Dong-hyuk is more a Dirty Harry type who does anything he feels like to solve crimes and prevent them later.  It’s easy with Mr. Socrates’ (a name Dong-hyuk picks up from his quotations) underworld connections and new highlighter skills.  Detective names him.  Change.

               Of course we want student and master to be friends at the end, but he may have created a monster in the good sense.  I was much more impressed the second time I watched this.  The blending of so much into a coherent story made for a great comedy of violence and satire.  Sometimes you’re not the worst person in the world, it just seems that way when no one is there to guide you.

               Biggest highlight is the “interactions” with a character Mr. Socrates calls Long Hair. 

MISS GOLD DIGGER

Premier – 2008

 

DIRECTOR: Park Yong-jib (debut)

ACTORS: Han Ye-seul, Lee Jong-hyuk, Kwon Oh-jung, Kim In-kwon and Son Ho-young (from Groove Over Dose)

 

               From the adapting writer of Dear Enemy and Maundy Thursday comes a very strange film.  I guess it’s not so strange now, with reality television being the trashcan that it is, but here we follow a gold digging woman working incredibly hard to insure an easy life later.  I mean, we all have to pay our dues.  Sin Min-su (Super Model Leslie Kim/Ye-seul) becomes involved with three different men and likes them all in their own ways, but to do so she must transform her personality to match theirs.  The attractive man isn’t successful or rich enough, the rich man isn’t attractive enough and the man with the highest possibility of success is a total loser with anti-materialistic beliefs.  It’s all about character acting; imagine it being a gender reversed Deuce Bigalow crossed with Bad Teacher.  No one is a good guy, so it’s all pretty fun.

               There is a fourth guy too, the seriously grim Dong-min (Lee Hyuk-jong from Crush and Blush).  This is the guy that never sees Min-su on a good day.  He sees her for the lying, disaster that she is and he always gets the worst of it.  Dong-min also treats her how she should be treated and doesn’t even see her as more than annoying human living in the same apartment, and later refuses to be do business with a company because Min-su works there.  The fun is the unraveling of each character, finding out who they really are, the best is Kwon Oh-jung (playing the rich Jun-seo) who has perfected being likably awful like in Swindler in my Mom’s House.   He’s got a hand fetish that seems very obvious watching for the second time, but not so much the first time.

               The glossy slip cover shows how Min-su actual feels with each man in a pot while she’s pouring water.  Min-su is growing these men.  She’s not lazy, she’s successful, and it makes for something a bit more complex than some chick sleeping with rich men for their money.  She remains chaste the entire film, but of course this isn’t the type of film where you’re going to see any erotica.  Inside the slip cover is something odd, it has art, some of which isn’t repeated anywhere on the DVD.  Square photos of all our characters.  Weird, but neat.  I guess that’s, symbolically, the whole film.

               Six slices of Key lime pie, as long as I can lick the whipped cream from your fingers.

MISSING

Planis Entertainment – 2009

DIRECTOR: Kim Sung-hong

ACTORS: Choo Ja-Hyun, Mun Sung-Keun, Jeon Se-Hong, Oh Sung-Su, Nam Mun-Cheol, Hwang Eun-Jung

TONE:  Twistless torture porn     

 

               Mun Sung-geun (Jealousy is my Middle Name, Unbowed) stars in yet another film of weak women being tortured by Kim Sung-hong.  I recently watched The Trap and found myself a bit bored.  The word linear was thrown out in an amateur review and I think that sums it up.  It’s like anything you might see on television, minus a few axes in heads.  Maybe it’s based on something true, but it seems those facts come up at the very end of the film, not during the movie we’re watching.  A sequel would be fun if the last victim kept her vengeful promise and someone fun made the film.

               Why do police officers never want to help in movies?  Everyone gives you their two cents about how hot the 

MISSING PERSON

Widemedia – 2009

 

DIRECTOR: Seo Lee (debut)

ACTORS:  Choi Moo-Sung, Kim Gyoo-nam, Kim Ki-yun, Baek Jin-hee

              

               To see movies like this one, you must dig deep in the cinematic barrel.  This film is very different and that will probably scare off most people.  Even I stopped watching and didn’t finish for over a year.

               Starts out interesting, which you can’t say about a lot of indies.  A mentally disabled man (Gyoo-nam) is being treated like a dog by a well-dressed business man (Moo-Sung).  This man will be having affairs with several women during the course of the film, with a young teen (Jin-hee) and a depressed mother (Ki-yun).  The mentally disabled man is probably going to be the most interesting bit in the film, like in the Goonies.  You’re kind of taken out of the movie, wondering about him.  It must only be in appearance, as he’s acting.  His teeth are really messed up, is that real or for the movie?  This isn’t Goonies, no fun to be had.  Gyoo-nam (same name in the film) hangs up missing animal posters for a living.  He takes the animals too.  It becomes transparent that soon people will be missing too and given their relationship at the beginning of the film, you know who will be missing last.  Funny thing is, it’s right as Won-yung (the business man) believes he’s not so bad, he’s killed.  You appreciate it, somewhat.

I don’t know.  It’s fun to see a strange film, but this strange film isn’t very fun.  The depressed mother, In-ae, fights so hard when her life is in danger, then gives up in an instant.  Everyone is awful except maybe the teen girl, who escapes and probably makes something of herself.  She’s the only light, why would she stay in their dark world?

               Key Lime Pie slices, I guess 3.  You’re going to need something sweet while you watch this.

 

MISSION POSSIBLE: KIDNAPPING GRANNY K

Cinema Service/Art Service – 2007

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Sang-jin

               ACTORS: Nah Moon-hee, Kang Sung-jin, Yoo Hae-jin, Yoo Geon, Park Sang-myun

               Your mission, if you choose to accept it: Watch three under-educated men attempt to kidnap an old soup tycoon.  It’s better than Mission: Impossible 2, that’s for sure.  Sang-jin directs a lot of films about very odd crimes.  Breaking out of jail right before you were about to be legally released, holding gas station employees hostage to collect the earning of the store, instead of just robbing them…

               Imagine you have your hostage and no one cares.  You find numerous rich children with bigger problems than the kidnapping of their own mother.  Soon the old woman sides with the poor and desperate kidnappers, finds a place to lay low and plans how to get away with all her children’s money.

               The film is colourful and visual, but especially when a huge surprise appears.  Joon-myun is almost always a comedic support and it makes me wonder if she’ll ever have a film of her own.  She’s a big beautiful person as seen in I’m A Cyborg, Antique and Love Fiction, but here she’s really big.  She plays a giant!

 

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER (Director’s Cut)

CJ E&M – 2011

 

DIRECTOR: John H. Lee (Korean debut)

ACTORS: Jung Woo-sung, Sohn Ye-jin, Baek Jong-hak, Lee Seon-jin, Park Sang-gyoo, Kim Hee-ryung

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Coca-Cola

 

     The beginning of this film is like a literal Coke commercial and may fill some viewers with worry.  It’s an important scene in their lives though and someone has to pay for the film, I guess.

     The title kind of gives away what is about to happen, but I’m not sure if the twist was a secret or not.  It reminds me of a They Might Be Giants song called “Unforgotten”.  Imagine building a life.  You’re an architect; you really build the house you live in by building other things to fund your dreams.  All those things start to mean little if your wife can’t remember anything, including you.  Alzheimer’s is taking hold aggressively, she’s confusing the past and present and soon is barely there.    She’s very young, so it’s a little strange.  More a cinematic construct than a realistic one, but who wants to watch old people, eww.

     I’ve read this highly successful film trashed for clichés and prized by fans.  The original hard box DVD release is expensive and difficult to get a hold of.  Luckily the director’s cut was released on CJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray catalogue and received their numbered (013) first press treatment.  It’s worth watching once you get past the beginning; just remember that each moment in the film is important.   

 

MORE THAN BLUE

Planis Entertainment – 2009

DIRECTOR: Won Tae-Yun (debut)

ACTORS: Kwon Sang-woo, Lee Bo-young, Lee Bum-soo

     At my mother’s wake my sister’s ex-boyfriend arrived and seeing his face destroyed me.  I lost it.  My sister married him much later after they got back together.  I guess I just remembered him being at the house during holidays.  The first emotional impact More Than Blue (A Story Sadder than Sadness) had on me occurred during the hour mark when Min-cheol, one of the few people that know K’s condition, drops his head.  The weight of his friend’s secret becomes heavier, knowing he’s leaving.  Luckily it’s not a secret for us.

     If you hate love triangles like I do you might have some troubles until the Fight Club reveal comes up.  Though that is an exaggeration, I do say I went through the same mental pain that I know would be non-existent on the second viewing. 

     Cream (Bo-young) makes a strange first impression over and over again, but there may be a reason when we switch perspectives.  K has cancer, but don’t worry as I wrote above he’ll tell us soon enough.  He just won’t mention it to hardly anyone else.  He’s in love with his roommate and co-worker Cream and won’t mention that either.  He’s got a plan!  He’s going to help his roommate get married to a good man, while he finds a way to remove himself from her life.

     The film is directed by the poet who wrote the letters from Il Mare and Love Me Not, and centers around a photographic artist and the music industry.  It sparingly uses flashy visuals and moves at a brisk pace … sometimes too brisk to make emotional impact, but it’ll hit eventually.  The soundtrack doesn’t help, it’s too clumsy, the music business seems professional but satirized, odd the orchestrations would be so amateur.  4 slices of Key lime pie the first viewing, 2 more for the next.

MR. GO

KD Media – 2014

DIRECTOR:

ACTORS:

TONE: 3-D CGI heavy, animal plays sports

 

               I had to see this.  I had to.  But I didn’t know it was for children.  We have our films about a dog that plays football or a cricket that plays cricket (or we should).  This was Dexter Studios’ time to shine.

 

MR. WACKY (Bad/Wacky Teacher)

IVision – 2006

DIRECTOR: Kim Dong-wook (debut)

ACTORS: Park Geon-hyung박건형Kim Hyo-jin (김효진)Kim Hyo-jin김효진Lee Kyun (이켠)Lee Kyun이켠Moon Ji-Yun (문지윤)Moon Ji-Yun문지윤Song Eun-chae (송은채)Song Eun-chae송은채Jung Wook (정욱)Jung Wook

TONE: Seven dollar Adam Sandler film

 

     Kim Dong-wook co-wrote the screenplay for Spider Forest and this.  I don’t understand that at all.  Was this written on drugs while watching an Adam Sandler film?  Whoaaaaaa, I can do that.  The director worked with Song Il-gon and then made this. 

     The beginning scenes could have been made by one of the actors turning on the camera and then getting on his mark.  There’s a cheapness that really sets the tone.  The editing is awful, choppy for no reason.  Sometimes we do a tiny scene and there’s just nothing there.  The jokes fall like a wet paper towel all balled up.  Splat.

     The moment you finally witness a well-shot scene, the film reverses back to zero with something idiotic or badly chopped.  There are too many films in Korea about an awful person who redeems themselves, or worse, a good person falls in love with them.  This is the bottom of the barrel.  This is under the barrel.  I do admit that the film isn’t boring, which can be the worst plague.  A coffee girl joke actually got me somehow and the genre is familiar enough.  It just feels like a squandered opportunity to create something unique.  At one point, the traditional acoustic guitar leads our emotions, but the scene still shows our “Wacky” Teacher being awful.  If there was a parody element maybe this wouldn’t feel like such a waste of time.  Instead the acoustic guitar returns at the end when the film switches tone completely and you’re watching a completely different film.  It’s too jarring.  Watch some Jang Jin and think before you put pen to paper.  Placing a slice of Key lime pie under the barrel.

MUOI

IM Pictures Corp – 2007

DIRECTOR: Kim Tae-Kyung

ACTORS: Jo An, Cha Ye-ryun, Ahn Thu, Hong So-hee, Lim Seong-eon, Ly Nha Ky

TONE: Curse, Horror, Award-winning cinematography

              

“You caused this to happen.”

 

               Also known as Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait, this is another out of the country film, so you get a whole new look.  In fact, it was supposed to be a considered a Vietnamese film.  Sadly the amount of Koreans working on it made the film appear Korean.  Otherwise this is horror actresses with a horror director making a horror film.  The writer is writing about a writer who has run out of ideas.  Oh Si-tak … Zizak … Zitak.  Whatever spelling, he stopped here after this and Soo.

     There’s a beautiful crispness to the film.  In fact, films in Vietnam are often beautiful.  Who wants a horror film where you’re always in filth?  I like a contrast.  Jo An (Sorum, Wishing Stairs) plays Yun-hee, a writer in need of a new subject after using her friend’s romantic exploits in her last book. Cha Ye-ryun (Voice, Sector 7) is Cha Seo-yeon, a Korean living in Vietnam for the last three years.  She knows the frightening history of Yun-hee’s next subject, Muoi.  What Seo-yun doesn’t know is what the young author has written about herself.

     Muoi was the tenth child (her name means ten) in her family.  She became the obsession of an artist, but the rich fiancée of the artist decided she didn’t like that.  The jealous fiancée get a bit of Robocop-style revenge first wounding Muoi and then destroying her beauty.  Nee-nee-nee-nee.  This scene is pretty effective, and scary, very Takashi Miike.  Crazy people torture, they don’t kill.  The movie centers on an incomplete portrait of Muoi and fifteen day curse (which ends up being Japan’s fault, of course) and the fact that women are all haters.

     Sorry to say, but things start to become a bit obvious after a while.  Seo-yeon is a painter too, creating art that she won’t let her friend see.  The chances are high that she’s read her friend’s book as well and is not pleased.  Yun-hee is seeing scary things, but not sharing the visions as the movie starts to keep a count of the days.  Maybe we’re supposed to know.  At least things are beautiful, like Sunny (My Love Is Far Away).

     This isn’t the first Vietnamese horror movie Korea has attempted (R-Point).  All have had their complications.  As an outsider I enjoy seeing Korea branch out, though some have said it’s not an original thing to do.  I bought the film specifically because it was in Vietnam and that’s what you get, a horror vacation.  It did win a few awards in Vietnam including best cinematography by Park Jae-hong, who now works on Iris, the most expensive Korea drama there is.  Director Kim Tae-kyung is still making horror (Don’t Click).  Oh I think I must click.

MY CAPTAIN KIM DAE-CHUL

Enter One – 2006

 

DIRECTOR: Song Chang-soo (debut)

ACTORS: Jung Jae-young, Jang Seo-hee, Nam Ji-hyun, Kim Soo-ho, Lee Do-kyung, Lee Ki-young

TONE: Bad guy hangs with good kids

                             

“Don’t call me a worm.”  “Who are you, Indiana Jones?”

 

     Also known as My Captain Mr. Underground.  This is a kid’s film for those who don’t watch kid’s films.  It’s not as crazy as Bad Santa or even Cracked Eggs and Noodles, but there will be an edge.  When adorable tomboy Ji-min (Ji-hyun) wanders into the underground hideout of master thief Kim Dae-chul (Jae-young) it could have been a very different movie.  She struggles for her life like you never see in a light family comedy.  And she’s right to do so, even though Ji-min’s quickly tricked into thinking that Dae-chul is hunting for the thief, instead of actually being the grave robber that everyone is looking for. 

     In a small town (possibly in or near Namsan) a pagoda is found with ancient national treasures from the Silla dynasty (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.)  Beating the official archeologists to the dig, Dae-chul makes a ghostly go at it during the night, like a human mole.  But his young cave crasher, Ji-min innocently trades the precious object for a new sculpture of wet clay.  Now as the viewer you have a quandary.  Are we to follow the thief and hope he gets back what he stole?

     No, of course not.  In fact, when Dae-chul and Ji-min converge again to recover the artifact, it has been re-stolen by someone Ji-min knows only as the “Homework Ghost”.  Armed with lies and a golf club, the strange team then investigates a wanna-be vampire who lives at the circus named Byung-oh (Soo-ho).

     Jae-young has played the best of people and the worst of people and is well cast as a tortured and complex person in between.  He’s spiritual when it comes to stealing, but of course annoyed trying to track down his precious treasure.  The kids seem to both need a parent and love the adventure.  Not the happiest movie in the world.  Don’t say I didn’t warn thee.  The kids are pretty much perfect though and don’t get outshined by Jae-young.  It’s a good little mystery where the Grinch grows a heart.  The Enter One release I have is the traditional glossy sleeve.  It’s got a lot of promo art with the kids and Jae-young smiling with his treasure or saluting their captain.  As it’s a clear case, if you remove the liner notes and the Smilecat ticket you see the cast with coal all over their faces.

     One thing I rarely consider is dialect.  I’m obviously not even a Korean speaker, but when I see a dialect coach in the cast I try to pay attention.  I think it may be one of the things that would take a domestic reviewer out, but not an international reviewer.  Imagine a movie about Fargo, North Dakota where the accents were exaggerated.  Oh my.  My amateur ears found the coach trained his actors well, but it’s not easy to find much that other people say about that.  I was about to reward the slices, but someone stole them (gets my golf club).

MY DEAR DESPERADO (My Gangster Lover)

KD Media – 2010

DIRECTOR: Kim Kwang-shik (debut)

ACTORS: ·  Park Joong-hoon … Oh Dong-chul

  • Jung Yoo-mi … Han Se-jin
  • Park Won-sang … Jeong-seo, the gang deputy
  • Jeong Woo-hyeok … Kim, the gang boss
  • Jeong In-gi … Park, the ex-detective
  • Kwon Se-in … Jae-young, the young gangster
  • Min Kyeong-jin … Se-jin’s father
  • Noh Seung-beom … Bong-soo
  • Lee Sang-hee … real estate agent
  • Im Ki-hong … Min Ki-ho, the harasser

               TONE: Well, I think it’s funny.

 

               My favourite scene is less than twenty minutes in where a couple of obscenity-talking schoolboys ask our “Desperado” for his assistance purchasing cigarettes.  What they don’t realize is, he’s a gangster, and the “bitch” that won’t let them buy cigarettes is a poor neighbor.  He buys milk and smashes it over their heads and keeps the cigarettes for himself.  It’s amazing.  What they also don’t know is the gangster was recently humiliated by Hopkido experts and he was looks for someone to hit.  It’s that kind of romantic comedy.

               Dong-chul (Jung-hoon) is the kind of guy who’ll totally agree about the failings of others, but not help you at all, concerned with his own problems.  Equally versatile Jung Yu-mi (Silenced, Café Noir) plays an undergrad who finds herself struggling when the company she leaves home for, goes under.  The film shows everyone bad and good, intelligent or just street smart in the same sinking ecomonic boat.

                

MY GIRLFRIEND IS AN AGENT (Seventh Level Civil Servant)

Buzz – 2009

DIRECTOR: Sin Tae-ra (Terra Shin)

ACTORS: Kim Ha-neul, Kang Ji-hwan, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Jang Young-nam, Kang Shin-il, Domashchenko Vadym, Elizabeth Sujin Ford, Sonya Victoria, Cody Hunter

TONE: Light romantic spy popcorn

              

               It begins like most melodramatic films end with a lover running to meet the other, in a wedding dress no less.  My Girlfriend Is An Agent is a spy romance from the director of Black House.  Watch for an early scene where Lee Jae-joon (Ji-hwan) holds up that film in a video store.  Tae-ra seems to like a weak male and a tough female.  Considering the success of Sassy Girl, I suppose many people prefer that.  The finale is kind of a surprise as Soo-ji doesn’t fight any of the males we follow throughout the film, but a female (Ford) with a variety of weapons including a sword, a whip and a boomerang that magically returns every time.  You may have seen Soo-ji (Ha-neul) as a bride on a jet ski in the trailer.  Luckily she’s not actually a bride, there is no real wedding and it’s in the first five minutes.  The title screen shows tons of scenes from the movie, including the end and looks like a television show more than a film.  Possibly that’s on purpose.

               I have this love hate thing with Buzz releases.  Mostly hate.  Yoga horror movie, sweet!  It was okay.  Take Off was your typical everyone-cheats-but-Korea-and-everyone-hates-Korea sports movie.  It made a lot of money.  Kimchi War was pretty good, though the cast is different (though common, not a good sign for a sequel), and Sisters on the Road was excellent.  My Girlfriend is an Agent seemed like some cheese in a plain clear case so I was content to get the sleeved Universe copy from China for free.  Some movies need to be free to inspire my viewing.

               If you remember Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this belongs in that category but with a lighter tone.  Soo-ji and Jae-joon run into each other after three years, not knowing they’re now in the same business.  She was a spy, lying constantly because of necessity, but hates her boyfriend for leaving.  Of course, even though she wants to be as far from him as possible, they’ll be uncomfortably close soon, one following an assassin and the other a bio terrorist.

               Admittedly the film is pretty funny, with Jae-joon (Rough Cut) being professional and amateur at the same time and Ha-neul being the aggressive professional trying to balance her love life and her strange occupation.  If the film had just been her, I guess you would have some type of “Jane” Bond type of film with male sexual conquests named “Long Dong-soo”.

               Dramatic irony is simply a mystery in chronologic order.  As our character run into each other over and over, we laugh but it’s kind of sad when you think of it.  They’re both forced to be dishonest, putting work above love.  At one point they both believe the other is a traitor and must be brought in, and then they smash things with wooden mallets.  I actually adore the tone.  When it slips toward a familiar place, the director hands you a smile.

Highlights include arguments at the police station, Ji-hwan’s high pitched screaming (which got him nominated Best Actor at the Grand Bells) and Ryu Seung-ryong as the typical tough, but complex character he’s perfected. 

The film spawned a series, if you’re interested, maybe I’ll just check out Runway Cop, another film with the same actor and director.

              

MY MOTHER, THE MERMAID (The Mermaid Princess)

Bear – 2004

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Heung-shik

               ACTORS: Jeon Do-yun, Park Hae-il, Ko Du-shim and Kim Bong-geun

 

               Not since Back To The Future has there been a film that so cleverly shows what our parents were like long ago.  The special effects are pretty impressive as well, with Jeon Do-yun playing dual roles as herself and her young mother.  Besides that there isn’t anything supernatural, no real mermaids, but I love how going back into the past isn’t explained.  It doesn’t need to be.  Korea has mastered romantic sci-fi with Il Mare and Ditto.  Just imagine going to your childhood home and finding your parents as young and silly as you are.  Also, much like Peppermint Candy we explore what molds and changes us.  Everyone was a baby, a child, a teen …

               It might help to at least know that much.  I almost thought I missed something, but no.  Na-young’s (Do-yun) father was once a lively and intelligent mailman and her mother swims in search of valuable resources to send her sibling through school.  He helps correct her illiteracy and they form a relationship that will rocket their visiting daughter back to the future.  Da da daaaaa.

               Packaging is extremely unique.  There’s a oval case with transparent water art that makes it seem like Do-yun is swimming.  You can hang it on the wall.  I know, because I have.  One of my favourite cases of all time.

               I love films where we as the audience form an opinion with our main character and find it shattered an hour or so in.  Do-yun’s mother is kind of awful and her father is barely there, we want her to escape.  Oh the irony.  The film is extremely enjoyable, like laying out under the sun after swimming in the ocean.  I could lay here a long time.

 

MY MIGHTY PRINCESS (The Impossible Female Student)

KD Media – 2012

               DIRECTOR: Kwak Jae-young

               ACTORS: Shin Min-a: So-hwiOn Joo-wan: Il-yeongYu Goon: Joon-moIm Ye-jin: He-inChoi Je-seong: Kap-seongLee Dae-geun: Cheon-poongKim Hyung-il: Chang-hakDion Lam: Geol-wangJeong Ho-bin: Heuk-bongCha Tae-hyun

               TONE: Weird wire-fu fun

 

               The four masters, let me tell you about them first.  One can speak sign language during his attacks, one barely touches the ground, stomping on heads, one dances with enemies and the last is practically invincible using Charyeok defense.  The last master’s daughter is So-hui (Min-a), a light-hearted martial arts prodigy who only wants to win the heart of a motorcycle-riding hip-hop hockey player named Jun-mo (Yu-goon).  That brooding gentleman is in love with a middle-aged officer.  All of this I don’t find complex or convoluted.  I love this eclectic film.

               As we are getting used to all of that, Il-young (Ju-wan) appears.  He’s the son of the dancing master.  Everyone loves him, but he loves only motorcycles and training with So-hui, which puts him perfectly in between the other two.  It’s this avant-garde reconstruction of the love triangle where everyone is only hurting themselves and nothing is uncomfortable.  Though some of the wire work and effects are a bit clumsy, each scene is carefully choreographed.  The film took over two years to be released and I have no idea why, except for the wayward plot.  The film goes where it wants to, even though the amnesia plot device is growing a bit stale.  I still have fun every time I watch Min-a and Il-young make “disguise” faces before fighting.  There is a cartoon/anime lightness to the whole endeavor and I wish there were more films like it.   

 

MY WAY

KD Media – 2012

               DIRECTOR: Kang Je-gyu

               ACTORS: Jang Dong-gun, Joe Odagiri, Fan Bingbing, Kim In-Kwon

 

               Two hours of guys punching each other in the face starts to feel like I’m being punched in the face.  This isn’t a boxing movie, this is war.  It’s also inspired by a real Korean man who served three different countries in World War 2.

               It starts well.  Tatsuo, an arrogant Japanese boy and Jung-shik, a Korean son of a farmer, strike up a rivalry over running.  As time passes, they compete and beat one another time and time again.  Without all the war business you have a pretty compelling story, but then…

               I’ve noticed Koreans never cheat in sporting events and everyone always cheats them.  Jung-shik’s (now a grown up Jang Dong-jun) last marathon is no different, another Japanese runner attempts to aggressively trip him, and our little Korean angel is disqualified after winning the race.  It starts a riot and all the Koreans involved (as it’s Japanese-occupied Korea) are sent to war to fight with the Japanese army.  Then later after a suicidal battle with the Soviets, all the captured Koreans and Japanese are sent to a POW camp to work and then are also drafted into the Soviet army. Right as the irony is setting in, someone gets punched in the face for the hundredth time.

               I love the Japanese battle.  I forgot how crazy they were at the time.  Suicide missions, shooting any troops that retreated, killing yourself if you failed.  I’m not going into the Japanese military any time soon.

               My Way has been criticized for technical mistakes (like uniforms, hair length, guns), over drama, flat characters and even its title.  After Tae Guk Gi, director Kang Je-gyu obviously hungered for more international sales and probably had to as his new dream cost 25-28 million.  It was the most expensive film ever made in Korea and it’s difficult to let things like that go when being critical.

               I opted out of the Blu-ray as I’m a sucker for KD Media hardcores. My Way’s DVD release was a 3 disc faux army bag (I thought it was going to be a real bag and larger) wrapped with an elastic and postcards.  I put Fan Bingbing’s at the top.  That’s right, another Korean military movie with another amazing female assassin.  This time Chinese, though her eyes are not, and she only kills the Japanese.  Well, that’s okay, we didn’t have many Koreans.  Her story arc is rather short.  Some might say, pointless.  I won’t say that females don’t belong in war films, just that they probably have something better to do … anywhere else.

               The running is inspiring, the end is a sad shock, but you see most of it coming.  See Front Line first, that’s all I’m saying.  This is a Ron Howard type of true story.

 

N

NATURAL CITY

KD – 2004

 

               DIRECTOR: Min Byung-chun    

ACTORS: Yoo Ji-tae (유지태)Lee Jae-eun (이재은)Lee Jae-eun (이재은)Yoon Chan (윤찬)Yoon Chan (윤찬)Seo Lin (서린)Seo Lin (서린)Jeong Eun-pyo (정은표)Jeong Eun-pyo (정은표)Sin Goo (신구)Sin Goo (신구)Yoon Joo-sang (윤주상)Yoon Joo-sang (윤주상)Kim Eul-dong (김을동)Kim Eul-dong

               TONE: Fatalist Cyberpunk

              

               “Don’t cry.  The world is supposed to be painful.”

 

 

               She’s a cyborg, but that’s not okay.  Ria’s (Seo Lin) also at the end of her life cycle, three days left.  An MP called R (Yoo Ji-tae) has fell in love with her and is willing to sacrifice anyone to save her.  With a huge futuristic world, it’s good to focus on a love story.  This is the end of Min Byung-chun’s short career, with only one other film, Phantom the Submarine.

               Cyon

               With cyborgs and sci-fi you may compare this film, like many others, to Blade Runner.  I find it more along the lines of The Fountain.  A man struggles to find immortality for his love, as she just wishes for a few special days with him.

 

              

 

THE NEIGHBORS

Eos – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Hwi (debut)

               ACTORS:    Kim Yun-jin김윤진AsKyung-hee(경희)Ma Dong-suk (마동석)Ma Dong-suk마동석Kim Sae-ron (김새론)Kim Sae-ron김새론AsYeo-seon/Soo-yun(여선/수연)Kim Sung-gYun (김성균)Kim Sung-gYun김성균AsSeung-hyeok(승혁)Im Ha-ryong (임하룡)Im Ha-ryong임하룡Do Ji-han (도지한)Do Ji-han도지한Jang Young-nam (장영남)Jang Young-nam (장영남)Cheon Ho-jin (천호진)Cheon Ho-jin (천호진)

 

               Oooooo.  The Neighbors is a frightening back and forth between a wake-up call to be less self-involved and to observe and report strange goings on around you, then a warning against doing so.  Crushes A Million just as I knew it would.  I’m going to talk about a few characters.

               The lone gangster loan shark ___ () is an amazing gift to the audience.  If we already know our killer (the big difference between the webtoon and the movie) it’s great to watch him get knocked around.  “I never liked you.”

               Adorable Kim Sae-roo plays our first victim / ghost ___ and emotional core as well as one of the neighbor’s children.  I had to look it, I wasn’t sure.  She really wows me.  I hope she never changes her eyes.  What a tragedy that would be.  She reminds me of Dakota Fanning, you just believe her. 

               The director began adapting a film I just watched today, Sex Is Zero 2.  He’s improved a million fold. 

 

NO BLOOD, NO TEARS

Fox/Cinema Service – 2002

 

               DIRECTOR: Ryoo Sung-wan

               ACTORS: Jeon Do-yun (전도연)Lee Hye-yung (이혜영)Lee Hye-yung (이혜영)Jung Jae-yung (정재영)Jung Jae-young (정재영)Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범)Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범)Sin Goo (신구)Sin Goo (신구)Jung Doo-hong (정두홍)Jung Doo-hong (정두홍)Baek Il-seob (백일섭)Baek Il-seob (백일섭)Kim Yung-in (김영인)Kim Yung-in (김영인)Baek Chan-gi (백찬기)Baek Chan-gi (백찬기)Lee Yung-hoo (이영후)Lee Yung-hoo (이영후)Kim Su-hyun (김수현)Kim Su-hyun (김수현)Hwang Choon-ha (황춘하)Hwang Choon-ha (황춘하)Kim Jong-goo (김종구)Kim Jong-goo (김종구)Song Kyung-cheol (송경철)Song Kyung-cheol (송경철)Koo Hye-ryung (구혜령)Koo Hye-ryung (구혜령)Kim Il-woong (김일웅)Kim Il-woong (김일웅)Seo ji-oh (서지오)Seo ji-oh (서지오)Kim Tae-hoon-I (김태훈)Kim Tae-hoon-I (김태훈)Choi Seok-joon (최석준)Choi Seok-joon (최석준)Choi Young-hwan (최영환)Choi Young-hwan (최영환)Yoo Sang-seob (유상섭)Lee Jung-woo-I (이정우)Lee Jung-woo-I (이정우)Lee Bong-gyoo (이봉규)Lee Bong-gyoo (이봉규)Cheon Sung-hoon (천성훈)Cheon Sung-hoon (천성훈)Jung Gyoo-soo (정규수)Jung Gyoo-soo (정규수)CameoLee Moon-sik (이문식)Lee Moon-sik (이문식)CameoAhn Kil-kang (안길강)Ahn Kil-kang (안길강)CameoIm Won-hee (임원희)Im Won-hee (임원희)CameoBong Joon-ho (봉준호)Bong Joon-ho (봉준호)CameoLee Moo-yung (이무영)Lee Moo-yung (이무영)CameoOh Seung-wook (오승욱)Oh Seung-wook (오승욱)CameoLim Pil-sung (임필성)Lim Pil-sung

 

               A classic action heist and the sophomore effort of Sung-wan.  The film follows an abusive dogfight promoter (Jae-young).  Everywhere he turns he creates an enemy, including his sunglasses-wearing punching bag of a girlfriend, a hot-headed taxi driver and a informant waiter (Sung-bum).  All four have a criminal past or present and all four need money.  I couldn’t help list all the cast names as the cameos are pretty amazing like the Directors Lim Pill-sung and Bong Joon-ho, Lee Moon-sik (playing a character with the same name) and of course Im Won-hee from Sung-wan’s debut Die Bad and Dachimawa Lee.

               The film spends a good deal of time getting deep into the characters with action spaced here and there.  Everyone is desperate and every action is the final straw. 

NOWHERE TO TURN

DK Dvd – 2008

DIRECTOR: Lee Seung-young (debut)

ACTORS: Cha Su-yun, Yu Ha-jun, Bang Jun-Suk

 

    You’ll probably want to slap the main character around.  Everyone seems to be on drugs. You don’t see them take them, they just act like it.  This film seems rare, though anti-hero films in the indie world aren’t too uncommon.  I bet most people know a Su-yun.

    Cha Su-yun has had a small but interesting career in other small interesting films. Her character Su-yun just dreams and that’s it.  We watch her as if we were the real world, never seeing her dreams.  We just see a selfish person.  To feed her needs she’ll sell out anyone, but she’s lazy too.  I guess that’s what I considered interesting.  The main characters are not very attractive, and the minor characters are.  The main characters are awful and the minor characters aren’t.  It’s like the world was flipped.

    Nowhere To Turn sounds like a desperate thriller type film, but it’s not.  It’s a slow portrait of a girl who wants to find her way out of nowhere and probably never will.  And a large part of it is her fault.  At the moment of realizing her dreams as in every dreaming film, she can’t even do it.  I like it when people feel sorry for themselves, even if they don’t deserve anything.  There is something very human about it. 

    Su-yun is very human.  A very selfish human.

    The packaging is DK DVD’s normal sleeve, much like KD Media, with semi-alternate art.  Most of DK DVD releases are independent, low cost films.  It’s nice to see a glossy release of such films though, instead of released and forgotten.

O

OFFICER OF THE YEAR (The Apprehenders)

Candle – 2011

               DIRECTOR: Lim Chan-ik

               ACTORS: Park Joong-Hoon, Lee Sun-Kyun, Lee Sung-Min, Joo Jin-Mo, Kim Jung-Tae, Lee Han-Wi, Ahn Yong-Joon, Jung Do-Won, Lim Won-Hee

               TONE: Police Competition Comedy

 

“Armed robbery with murder, he must be worth a lot.  I’d say … 150 points.”

 

     Two police districts, Mapo and Seodaemun, compete for the arrests of major criminals.  One is small town and incompetent, the other big city professionals.  Sun-kyun plays a bumbling new chief of major crimes Jeong and Jung-hoon Sneaky Lieutenant Hwang is the very best, but has no special training, making it difficult for him to be promoted.  Jeong needs money for the down payment on a house, and decides to have a personal war after accidentally running into some serial purse snatchers and getting the criminals stolen away by the neighboring district.

     When more evidence of a serial rapist is found, the commissioner gives two weeks for the competing districts to solve the crime with all the promotions and prizes on the line.  They’ll be working side by side as well.  It’s an interesting point in the film where things become a bit more serious in tone, and luckily earlier.  Often things change halfway in.  It is funny though how it’s not just Hwang and Jeong in competition, whatever the level, that rank has a competing officer in the other district.  They meet up and trash talk.  The two Captains graduated together and can’t stand each other.

     I like how the two are not really bad guys.  They have their reasons.  I find myself see-sawing back and forth between the team I want to win.  It’s all ridiculous though, because you forget the same thing they forget.  It’s about the victims, not promotions.  But Jung-hoon already made that film long ago.  It’s called Nowhere To Hide.

     I think we all know I have a thing for Im Won-hee, who cameos as an insane person here called Dr. Go.  One of my favourite scenes is ___ dropping him off to waste the time of __ Hwang.  Hwang listens to his confession, admiring, “That’s one hell of a face.”  I can’t think of a better way to waste my time. 

  

OLD PARTNER

Ein’s M&M – 2009

 

DIRECTOR: Lee Chung-ryeol

ACTORS: Choi Won-kyun, Lee Sam-soon and an old ox

 

 “To me, this ox here is better than a human.”

     Filmed in 2005, this documentary trampled over big budget films, and rightly so.  It’s engaging from the first ring of the old ox’s, almost spiritual, bell.  The first time I watched it, there were no subtitles and I was fine.  Curious, but fine.  Now that I’m watching for the second round, it’s not hard to see why it was nominated for best documentary at Sundance and won at the 13th Pusan Film Festival as well as many other awards.  Heartwarming and heartbreaking, it’s the last year an elderly couple will have with their almost forty year-old cancer-stricken ox.  You feel like the story pulls more to the relationship between the man and the ox.  He’s quiet and seems he’d rather work with the silent beast than his wife, who nags him relentlessly.  She has hunched over so many times, her back is permanently bent.   The old man thinks about the ox often as the wife complains that he doesn’t offer her anything.  Her attitude towards the beast borders on jealousy.

     The couple buys a new ox, a pregnant one, and it has a female.  They admit that without the old ox, they wouldn’t have survived and you slowly countdown the little time there is left.  The old man uses the ox as a car, slowly pulling him in a cart, and in other tasks that the animal struggles to do, but does none the less.  He’s just like the hard-working elderly couple, a thirty year part of their family, fading away.

     To this date, Old Partner holds the record for the highest grossing independent film in Korea.  My copy had a mini book with pictures, loose like the booklet that comes with Mirrors and Daisy.  It has a domestic release given all the attention, with subtitles of course (probably even a dub).  Easily a whole Key lime pie.  If I could feed it to the ox, I would.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN COREA

Premier/IM Pictures Corp. – 2008

 DIRECTOR: Jung Yong-ki

ACTORS: Park Yong-woo, Lee Bo-young, Kim Su-hyun, Sung Dong-Il, Kim Eung-soo, Ahn Kil-kang, Jo Hee-bong, Kim Goo-taek and Kim Hyung-bum

     Oooooo, looking like a slam, so let’s talk about packaging for a moment.  Super tight (literally) slipcover with a top and an open flap over the cover.  That’s interesting.  I like IM, they’re hard to pin down, very few films and none of them what I’d call a success, except maybe Our Town. I’ll get to that.

     This is a starring role for Park Yong-woo, as a hero adventurer.  Usually he plays a good solid character, but rarely heroic or strong.  When he spins his cane, I almost believe it.  He looks cool in his ninja costume with a frightening face on the back.  He finds and sells relics, so a little less heroic than Indiana Jones with his teaching background.  That’s the problem.  The film seems like it might be exciting, but often the music is trying harder than the visuals. 

     The Japanese are the Nazis if we are to continue comparing the film to Indiana Jones, but it is a mistake to do so.  The Japanese have occupied Korea (Corea) and the Coreans can’t even use their names, most have two, a Japanese one and their own.  We see the diamond that everyone is after very early, and it looks like a movie prop, but we must watch it exchange hands over and over.  There are several parties; slightly more interesting is a solo singer/cat burglar that signs each theft.  Not a great idea and it’s getting many people tortured.  I guess that’s the interesting thing, the thieves aren’t romanticized, or at least weren’t romanticized well.  I guess there are a lot of questions, but you might just let them go when you realize the Isadong Scandal that’s being perpetrated.  Or you may mourn the time lost. 

ONE DAY (4 Horror Stories) – DARK FOREST

CJ Entertainment – 2003?

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Jung-min

               ACTORS: 

     Twinkie, Big Brother, Witch, Lonely and Tomcat head off in a car for horrific fun.  You don’t have to develop characters, their names say it all.  Here are some thoughts I jotted down as I watched:  

     Japanese camerawork with TV acting

     Cliché, explaining plot after visuals

               At one point, a legendary death is captured forever on film by the actor dunking his head into the water.  The budgetary constraints and the lack of creative vision in this film are worrisome.  I really wanted to see this film as it seemed a great connection with Jackie Kashian and her Dork Forest podcast (Jackie Kashian & Dark Forest).  You ruined my plans Kim Jung-min so let me talk about you for a moment.

               Writer of this, Tube and What Happened Last Night? (which he also directed) I see a strange pattern of audience disappointment.  Obviously there wasn’t much of a budget, but that’s where snappy dialogue and amazing direction can fill in the money gaps. 

ONE FINE SPRING DAY

Content Zone – 2012 (originally released in 2002)

 

               DIRECTOR: Hur Jin-ho

               ACTORS: Yung-ae Lee, Ji-tae Yu, Sang-hui Baek, Park In-hwan

 

               I’m going to go a bit farther than watching the film on its surface.  This is a thoughtful and relaxing film, but never boring.  I waited a long time to see it as the original Cinema Service release was around ninety dollars.  The hard cover Blu-ray book from Content Zone (number 2 in the collection) was worth the wait.

               When you shoot a film, you usually set up your lights and do every shot in that area, that way you can move on.  There are some environment shots that return with importance as people fill them later, or focusing on a wind chime against the blue sky, you’ll see it later against the night and end another day with our main players.

               There are three really.  There is Eun-su (Yung-ae), Sang-woo (Ji-tae) and Sang-woo’s wandering Grandmother.  Sang-woo is a sound engineer and lives with his Grandmother.  He’s very meticulous and often smiles when things aren’t going well.  Eun-su needs him to record sounds in a bamboo forest for her radio show.  Her place is a mess and she’s the first one to say something negative.  Half the time she dresses like a woman, half the time like a man.  She seems to live in two worlds at all times.  The two opposites slowly begin a relationship.

               Sound and visuals are of great importance given the plot and are recorded with great care.   One of my favourite scenes is shot while it’s raining, we see into the kitchen through a window like a framed piece of art.  It repeats later with no rain but the same player, Sang-woo and his father (In-hwan) and a bottle of alcohol.  Their relationship isn’t the best, but they support each other when they’re at their worst in subtle ways. 

               Sang-woo’s Grandmother seems to remember her dead husband during the good times.  She waits for him on a bench and must be taken home often.  When she sees pictures of him as an old man, she knocks them aside.  He broke her heart later, but was good to her in the beginning.  Sang-woo and Eun-su’s relationship is an interesting mirror.  The last few beautiful shots of the film give us an idea of where Sang-woo’s heart is.  You can sit there listening to old recordings, or you can go and make new ones. 

               An astounding deep piece of art, I will now record the sound of a full Key lime pie for it.

OOLLALA SISTERS (Oh! Lala Sisters)

Enter One – 2002

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Je-hyun

               ACTORS: Lee Mi-sook (이미숙)Kim Won-hee (김원희)Kim Won-hee (김원희)Kim Min (김민)Kim Min (김민)Kim Bo-sung (김보성)Kim Bo-sung (김보성)Park In-hwan (박인환)Park In-hwan (박인환)Jeon Sung-ho (전성훈)Jeon Sung-ho (전성훈)Jo Won-hee (조원희)Jo Won-hee (조원희)Han Sung-sik (한성식)Han Sung-sik (한성식)Kim Yun-seok (김윤석)Kim Yun-seok (김윤석)Hong Eun-hee (홍은희)Heo Gi-ho (허기호)Heo Gi-ho (허기호)Kim Goo-taek (김구택)Kim Goo-taek (김구택)Kim Mi-sung (김미성)Kim Mi-sung (김미성)Lee Sang-sook (이상숙)Lee Sang-sook (이상숙)Jung Yung-geum (정영금)Jung Yung-geum

               WARNINGS: Actresses in blackface, exaggeration, jazz-themed montage

              

               With reviews mostly negative, I came about Oolala Sisters only because it was an 11 year old glossy red first press from Enter One with adorable cartoon art.  The director of The Legend of Gingko (which I haven’t seen), How To Keep My Love (which I review above) and The Huntresses (which comes out this year) is a bit hard to track.  Even the best sites seem to leave some movies out.  Accuracy is difficult when a second language is involved.  I did my best. 

               Lala is a floundering club from the 70’s, sold to a

 

               Honestly, being a fan of Lim Won-hie I’m practically immune to overacting and cartoonish exaggeration.  Some of the jokes are old, but some are old fashioned like being scared by a flashlighted face.  If anything, I wanted these girls to be in the movie Girl Scouts.  This is what I thought Girl Scouts was about, tough chicks getting their stuff back.  It’s kind of how you see the film.  If you want a realistic grounded comedy, you need to move on to St. Elsewhere.  If you like the movie UHF, this is the exact same plot.

               Ultimately the film boils down to lip-syncing.  That was a great skill when you couldn’t sing or didn’t want to.  Who didn’t lip sync to an amazing song in the mirror?  At one point in the film there are tons of lip-syncing routines, all in different costume.  I found the blackface and afros zero offensive, especially in the context of the film.  It’s just another costume in Korea where being black is rather rare.  And it’s a tribute not an insult.

               This is the first appearance of Kim Yun-seok (Chaser, Thieves).

ORDINARY DAYS

Indiebox/Eos – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Inan (debut)

               ACTORS: Song Sae-byuk, Han Ye-ri, Lee Joo-seung, Jung In-gyeom, Oh Yun-hong, Jang Mi-Yun. Kim So-eun-I, Park Il-mok, Jung In-gi, Lee Jung-mi

 

               I’m always searching for a new Eos release, and after clash of the families, another film with Sae-byuk.  I can heal two birds with one bandage with Ordinary Days

               Inan is a director of videos and short films, but look at Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Anton Corbijn or Mark Romanek.  The jump to another larger medium may take a slightly different method, but often it works well.  Inan’s case is no different as we delve into three stories connected sometimes with only the needles of an evergreen.  We’re reminded that though we may be facing our worst times, we’re not alone even then.

               Ordinary Days consists of three parts called Between, Among and Distance.  Nothing is spelled out either, you sometimes have to grab what you have and forget that there are no corner pieces.  Though the chapters might start slow you’re captured by each interesting character, some of the darkest times have perfectly dropped humor. 

               It’s great when you want something to be as awesome as it was.  EOS is an interesting little label and often gives me something to think about.  Ordinary Days played at the Busan and the Dubai international film festivals among others.  It has a matte sleeve with alternate art that looks even better from a distance.  I love that the cover isn’t in the movie; it’s more of a visual collage of one scene.  I have no problem delivering it a full Key lime pie.

OUR TOWN

Im Pictures Corp. – 2008

 

               DIRECTOR: Jung Gil-young (debut)

               ACTORS: Oh Man-suk, Lee Seon-gyun, Ryu Deok-hwan

 

               Our Town begins like ten million North American television shows, a gruesome murder, a young female left hanging in a schoolyard.  This isn’t Our Town’s fault.  We don’t need ten million murder shows on TV.  We need a few done well for two hours.  And no show, except Dexter (I think) is going to give you two serial murderers, a young clean-cut genius (Deok-hwan) and a haggard opinionated writer copycat (Man-suk).  The fun is watching the writer fall so far into his mind that murder just makes sense.  He’s friends with the detective (Seon-gyun) in charge so you have a little bit of a comic book.  He even tips him about it possibly being a copycat.  He falls into all the traps that an amateur would, but who would suspect your friend of murder?

               I’d like to say a bit about Deok-hwan, he’s big in vocal work, doing voices in two of the best Korean animations (Yobi, and Mari) as well as a Deniro type that gained lots of weight to do a role, the amazing thing is, he wasn’t even 20.  Here he has a lot on his shoulders, playing the real serial killer.  His first appearance in the film is almost a cameo.  Some have complained that it would have been better to not know the killers’ faces at all (they’re on the cover) but that early scene is a bit more weighty for it.  It must be difficult to write a mystery and not know how things are to be advertised, but when you’re the writer and director, you probably know.  The truth is, even knowing there are two serial killers is a spoiler in and of itself.

               There’s a great scene as the young serial killer watches his dog eat his dinner.  Why are you doing that?  That’s mine.  He’s just met the copycat and accuses him anonymously with his phone.  Things might not be so friendly, even with killing in common.  As the film goes on, and we delve into the past, the two may have crossed paths.  The film leans into the concept that people kill people, we just call them monsters when we don’t follow suit.  The writer tries desperately to connect with his detective friend and with the entire world with stories.  I can’t say enough good things really, but the violence may not be for everyone.  Luckily you can always watch Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox instead.

               I award a Key lime pie stabbed 42 times.

THE OUTLAW

NEW – 2011

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Chul-han

               ACTORS: Kam Woo-sung, Jang Shin-young, Lee Seung-min, Choi Won-yong

 

               Difficult to hate as it is difficult to love.  Like a child who steals from you and then buys you flowers, that is the movie The Outlaw.  I was expecting a Dolph Lundgren film, you know, where the movie is action and violence stemming from the death of someone who dies in the first few minutes.  No character development, just YOU KILLED MY WIFE!  BLAM! BLAM!  Steven Seagal also fits that pattern.

               Shockingly, this isn’t that film.  This is harsh though, multiple rapes.  Not a big rape fan.  They do it sparingly in the beginning, but crazier at the end.  I think the writer thought of his end scene and then figured out how to get to it, but for the most part it seems in the range of difficult to impossible for a real person to pull it off.  I apologize for writing as if you’ve seen the film, let’s go back.

               This movie is about how officers can form strong ties with their victims, but also an argument against that being wrong.  If I don’t care, I’m just as emotionless as the sociopath.  Imagine being a detective and just watching the clock.  Whew!  No more crimes, I’m off, let’s turn on the game.  Your job is a bit bigger than that, and it’s hard to take a office psychiatrist telling you how you should feel.  She’ll be yet another pawn in this before mentioned impossible scheme.  It’s a weird world that has been created, but there was some thought.  Worrisome thought, and frightening criminals.  JUST LET ME KILL PEOPLE!  I don’t know how I’d deal with that.  How would you?

               I’ll let the Key lime pie slices be a mystery.  You figure it out.

OVER MY DEAD BODY (The Corpse Returns)

CJ Entertainment – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Woo Sun-ho (debut)

               ACTORS: Lee Bum-Soo, Ryu Seung-bum, Kim Ok-Bin, Yu Da-In, Jung Man-Sik, Shin Jung-Geun and Ko Chang-suk as the loan shark with a hairpiece.

 

               The pattern isn’t difficult, a director makes a successful short film (My Really Big Mike) and that director is allowed to make a feature film.  Makes sense to me.  This film is like a Coen brothers movie, with great actors way over their head in a criminal situation.  To raise money for the premeditated hit and run of a biotech engineer, the engineer’s daughter and co-worker steal the corpse of the man who had the biotech killed.  Now that’s a strange thing to do, how much could a body be worth?  Depends on what’s inside it.

               When you think about it, the plot only makes sense given the whole picture and not the individual parts.  I mean, the guy is rich and important but what if no one cares about the body.  We know he has a McGuffin (I mean, microchip) inside him, but…

               It won’t matter, there are so many twists and turns the film becomes a fireworks display of black and broad comedy.  Bum-soo plays the straight man, Ok-bin the hot-head and when Seung-bum finally appears, he might just be the biggest surprise of all.  What’s fun about the actors, though, I’ll bet you could interchange them in anyway and they’d still deliver.  I’ve seen each play serious, comedy and action.  This particular set-up is best though.  I like a toned down intellectual Bum-soo, I like a crazy but introverted Ok-bin and Seung-bum is incredibly gifted at comedy.  After the Berlin File, I’m worried with his improved English, talent at martial arts and drama that he might be the next international “Gianna”. 

               What’s so smart about the script and the director, considering Berlin File, is how complicated things get, but how you’re never lost or confused.  Admittedly this often dramatic irony, instead of a mystery, but with a comedy it’s difficult to laugh when you’re drowning in plot.  When paying the ransom, an undercover NIS agent (Da-in from my first big Korean disappointment Mandate) is chosen to deliver the money.  I smile, not having any idea how much more things might get crazier.  Though wouldn’t it be funny if they lost the body and kidnapped the agent?  The film doesn’t have the slickest lighting or editing (excluding the Banpo Bridge exchange scene), but it’s so much fun.  Sometimes that’s what makes a real classic.  I think the next film Sun-ho does is going to be big.  I’ll keep his Key lime pie slices in the morgue, -4 degrees is perfect.

 

P

PAGE 198 IN HIS BOOK (Heartbreak Library)

Netflix – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Kim Jung-kwon

               ACTORS: Eugene, Lee Dong-wook, Jo Ah-ra, Ki Joo-bong, Yoo Tae-gYun, Jo Deok-hyun,

Go Soo-hee

 

              

 

               The director of Ditto and Ba:bo both of which I love, relaxes a bit too much here.

               Why do I adore libraries and asylums so much?  Visually they’re both highly appealing.  The wooden shelves, the padded rooms, the books, the mental patients … in the beginning of the film my locational loves intertwine as a stressed out librarian finally captures the man mutilating page 198 of many reference books, some out of print.  Joon-oh’s (Dong-wook) excuse was weak and annoyed me.  He didn’t know he could make copies?  The first impression, not so good, plus I wish he was Shin Ka-hyun instead.  When a movie is not extremely captivating I up the cast list in my head.  Dong-wook is mostly a television actor and, I hate to be harsh but, often his crying and underdramatic acting took me out of the film.  And though this is more the director’s fault, during one weird scene a co-worker exclaims that it’s good to see Joon-oh smile.  The camera turns to Joon-oh and he’s not smiling.

               I didn’t have a serious problem with Eun-soo (Eugene).  Her character is grounded, a bit adrift, but it doesn’t keep her from her job of helping sushi-making book assassins solve romantic mysteries.  In fact, like This Charming Girl, I could have been content following her and her library world.  Everything around her kind of fails, especially a curly-haired volunteer who seems to just be in the film to be annoying and incompetent.  I guess that equals funny in some books.  The biggest flaw is Eun-soo falling for Joon-oh, though I do understand how you love putting extra effort into people and get nothing back.  The romantic music is there, pulling you.  Dong-wook just doesn’t quite make it, no matter how many people help him.  He’s told an amazing spiritual tale and he nods subtly.  I give this film more yawns than Key lime pie slices. 

Before I go, after a mystery I seem to dig for clues myself.  The writing is a mixed bag, you have Park Eun-young responsible for some amazing films like My Dear Enemy and Miss Gold Digger (putting in effort to a man who isn’t worth it) and then Na-hyun who has a small part in the film.   Na-hyun wrote on two of Kim Ji-hoon’s films, My Way and others who I like, but obviously have some oddness.  Seems more a polisher than a screenplay writer though.  I don’t know, you watch something like this for 90 minutes and you really desire to figure it all out. 

PAJU

Eos/Myung – 2010

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Chan-ok

               ACTORS: Lee Sun-gyun, Seo Woo

 

               If ever a film crushed the whole “Sophmore effort” phrase, it’s this one.  Though as calm as Jealousy Is My Middle Name, the story is strong and captivating.  It’s a mystery for adults instead of children and even for people not into mysteries.  Though the story unfolds jumping through time, the main events occur during protests for housing development and we can’t help but wonder what frightens Eun-mo (Seo Woo) about her step-brother Joong-shik (Sun-gyun).

               Joong-shik’s wife was killed and there are missing pieces.  Did he kill her?  As much as we try to stay close to the mystery we are derailed wonderfully by the protests.  It’s as if a documentary birthed a drama.  Joong-shik seems like he cares an awful lot for Eun-mo, who grew up more like a daughter and was his student.  It seems to me the film is about running away or facing dilemmas, no matter how big they get.  One character chooses one path and one chooses the other.  This is complex story-telling and requires a little bit patience, but you’ll be rewarded.

               Eos seems like Myung’s new face.  I had to check them out when Rabbit and Lizard (Maybe) came out.  Eos releases have a matte slipcover over alternate art. 

 

A PERFECT MATCH (Romantic Comedy)

Starmax – 2011

DIRECTOR: Mo Ji-eun (debut)

               ACTORS: Sin Eun-kyung, Jung Joon-ho, Kim Yeo-jin, Kong Hyung-jin, Tak Jae-hoon, Park Jin-taek, Park Sang-myun, Hong Ji-min, Kim Seo-Hyung, Jo Yeo-jung. Lee Seon-gYun, Hwang Hyo-eun

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Starbucks

 

               A Perfect Match is about a brother getting married and a matchmaking sister left behind.  The one she’s falling for (like literally down a manhole) is a client named ___ () who barely notices the world around him, all the while her jaded yet obsessed friends look down on every aspect of the romantic world.  Hyo-jin (Eun-kyung) lives like I would if I was alone.  She sleeps on the floor surrounded by possessions and memories.  Seeing her in a clumsy comedy is surreal after My Wife is a Gangster.  There’s a wonderful quality about her, where I just believe her.  She’s toned down no matter the situation (like if Marlon Brando starred in Tommy Boy).  As a cock-blocking co-worker tries to get in between her and ___ I dearly wanted the scissor knives to come out.

               I have this odd feeling that ___ wanted to be with ___ from the beginning and he’s just a client to be near her.  Writing that before finding out is a problem in two ways, I’m either wrong or I’m giving something away.  Is it a spoiler alert if you guess?  Anyway, there’s something about Joon-ho that lets him get away with anything.  He does it in Swindler in my Mom’s House too.

               The debut of 26 year old female director Mo Ji-eun features a small early role by Lee Seon-gyun, one of three tiny parts he played in 2002 before becoming a big star.  It also begins with the ending of Tell Me Something.  It doesn’t break the fourth wall, but often bends it, speaking directly about cinema.

PLASTIC TREE

Planet Entertainment – 2003

DIRECTOR: Eo Il-seon

ACTORS: Kim In-Kwon, Cho Eun-Sook, Kim Jung-Hyun

TONE: Too Triangular!

“Trees can’t grow on cement.”

I’m not a fan of love triangles.  Someone is always left out, usually the weakest of the three.  Possibly Sue (or Su, but the first demeans him more), a seaside town’s barber with a girlfriend named Won-young.  Nothing much good will come from a male friend coming to stay when you’re having problems in your own relationship, especially sexually.  In the beginning Won-young spies trees growing on another roof and wants to grow her own.  They seem to represent her, or her relationship.  She’s a motorcycle delivery girl in an unsatisfying relationship that she’s fine with until another manlier option named Byung-ho arrives and masturbates on the roof.

     Of course he doesn’t do that instantly, Byung-ho basically invites himself and Sue is obviously not pleased but doesn’t nothing.  This is is the point that he relationship could turn around by making a tough decision, but he’s not that guy.  He’s a baby faced, clean-shaved guy in a comfortable sweater, while Byung-ho is a rugged steamroller.  Won-young hides behind Sue, but you can see her curiosity.   He’s leaving for Busan in a few days, a drifting manual laborer and wins over Won-young by offering help in planting sunflowers on the roof, where Sue says it was not possible.  What could happen?

     After accidentally hearing sex, Byung-ho angrilly pleasures himself back on the cold roof.  He shaves the next day, possibly to represent becoming Sue.  They don’t have good conversations, the two are confrontational.  Byung-ho’s words often unravel revealing a lot of talk and little truth.  We know that Sue is a good caring person, but it may not be enough.  Throughout the beginning he cleans up Byung-ho’s messes quietly instead of asserting an authority.  In this way, certain people should watch this film to undestand why bad things things happen to good people.  Politeness can an impoliteness are like matter and anti-matter.  One touch and there’s nothing left. 

Won-young’s job seems to be commonly a man’s job.  Her co-workers and clients mistreat her.  Everything pushes her towards wanting something new, a change.  Something exciting.  Is Sue going to defend her at work?  No.  Byung-ho earns a small rodent at a children’s crane machine and gives it Won-young after a tough day.  He throws down his life’s philosophy at the same time.  Feed it what you want.  If you get tired, throw it away.  He names it Sue-ster.  Won-young is a pretty small and naive small town girl who takes what she gets.  Byung-ho talks more, introduces her to meat and makes love to her with his penis instead of his mouth.  Of course, that might be going a bit far for a guest.  I wonder what a boy named Sue is going to do.      

     The glossy slipcovered single disc options are a teaser, a trailer, a short making of and an awful music video.  Obviously there isn’t much happy or romantic about the film, so to have some odd quasi-romantic music over the depressing imagery is a bit much to bear.  Happy it’s there but I didn’t make it very far.  Everything is without subtitles anyway.  I continue to buy whatever early 2000’s indie I can find, especially if cheap.  Gold is rare, but this pebble could be polished into a nice, um, polished pebble.   

POONGSAN

KD Media/Next Entertainment World – 2011

 

DIRECTOR: Juhn Jai-hong

ACTORS: Yun Kye-Sang, Kim Min-sun, Kim Jong-soo, Han Gi-Joong

 

     Poongsan is a rare breed of dog, almost exclusively found in North Korea.  It’s also an interesting cigarette brand for a man with no name who never speaks.  All the man does is magically jump the DMZ with packages.  He doesn’t do it for money, he does it so people may be reunited in some way.  It all goes to hell when he returns with a North Korean woman.

     Poongsan had me at “written by Kim Ki-duk”, it’s directed by one of his students and is a fun attempt to make an action movie out of Kim Ki-duk’s ideas.  If you just watch action films you might want to watch The Bow or 3-Iron first.  Kim Ki-duk’s character’s do not speak often, if at all.  The other characters let themselves be buried in their own verbal pointlessness.  Poongsan is a pure soul, he lives for everyone and without borders.  While he is as loyal as the dog, everyone else has an agenda and betrays him.  

     There is a bit of magic also.  Main characters do what they have to do to get the ideas out there.  I enjoy this, but I’m sure some people might not understand.  The symbology is thick, but shallow enough for the casual viewer.  The defector character might annoy some people, but I was amazed at his character transformation.  So little can drive us insane, I notice that many of Kim Ki-duk’s magical main characters are tripped up by women.  I think at his core, he’s a monk, one with sad dreams.

     The packaging may seem plain to you, but I found it beautiful.  It’s a brown natural cardboard sleeve with the same Poongsan dog as our main character’s cigarettes (the Blu-ray is smaller but much the same).  There is something wonderful about the plainness.  After he delivers the women he’s asked of his feelings for her many times.  He hands over a Buddha figurine that she owned.  She treasures it and says she wasn’t comfortable without it.  I wonder if I left where I lived, to never come back, what single item would give me such comfort.  It’s difficult when you have so much. 

               I would take a Key lime pie, but I’ll give the film six slices.           

 

PROJECT 577

Filament Pictures – 2012

               DIRECTOR:Yi Keun-woo

               ACTORS: Kong Hyo-jin, Ha Jung-woo (하정우)Self (본인)Kim Geun-hyeon (김근현)Kim Geun-hyeon (김근현)Self (본인)Kim Seong-gyoon (김성균)Kim Seong-gyoon (김성균)Self (본인)Lee Seung-ha (이승하)Lee Seung-ha (이승하)Self (본인)Han Seong-cheon (한성천)Han Seong-cheon (한성천)Self (본인)Kang Sin-cheol (강신철)Kang Sin-cheol (강신철)Self (본인)Kim Hye-hwa (김혜화)Kim Hye-hwa (김혜화)Self (본인)Cha Hyeon-woo (차현우)Cha Hyeon-woo (차현우)Self (본인)Park Ah-in (박아인)Park Ah-in (박아인)Self (본인)Lee Soo-in (이수인)Lee Soo-in (이수인)Self (본인)Lee Seung-joong (이승중)Self (본인)Lee Geon (이건)Lee Geon (이건)Self (본인)Choi Hui-seo (최희서)Choi Hui-seo

               TONE: Breakneck speed, reality-style style documentary

 

               “Watch your words, for they become actions.”

 

               Up for best actor for his role in Yellow Sea, Ha Jung-woo was put on the spot a bit.  Up on the stage, he was asked to pledge something if he won best actor twice.  He doubted it was possible and swore to a cross country trek across Korea, (577 KM).  I would have paid full price for this film, it interested me more than most films in 2012, especially with a growing obsession of Hyo-jin (Crush and Blush and Love Fiction which also stars Jung-woo).  The DVD was bargain priced like most documentaries, but received a matte slip cased first pressing.  Thank you.

               The biggest shock is the speed of the editing.  I was settled in for a slow documentary, and was not ready for the rapid pace.  We’re introduced to a sixteen actors and celebrities very quickly, but efficiently, many of whom are searching for a little bit of notice in the competitive Korean cinema scene.  I considered maybe it was just Jung-woo’s friends, but the documentary was cast like a celebrity reality show.  When they comment about Lee Seung-ha’s (Mr. Idol) hairstyle being similar to Hyo-jin she mentions how she’s younger, almost as if there is a competition.  Hyo-jin herself is worried about the difficulty of the journey, though all are put through training and many safety precautions are established.  The trek is carefully planned, which does make sense.  This is a movie just as much as it is a very, very long walk.

               The last cast member is a toy poodle of Hyo-jin’s that’s featured on the cover.  I was unsure if that was a comment on the actors not being ready for this, or it was real.  Hyo-jin explains humorously to the dog that it’s about to walk for almost three weeks.  Mimi growls.

               A fun piece of foreshadowing comes from one of the many athletic members.  She mentions the third day is when people start to pack up and leave.  Suddenly dropout rules are established for the good of the participants.  You’ll be sent home if:

  1. You are psychically incapacitated.
  2. The medical staff deems you unfit to continue.
  3. You ignore medical advice three times.
  4. You lag behind the group or don’t show up in the morning.

               Past all of that, I think it’s a journey you should take.  This is a fun, and fast documentary and reminds me a bit of The Actresses (also starring Ok-bin) when the professionals and newcomers talk a bit about the business.  They even make up a talk show in their down time.  I’m not a fan of reality television, but I enjoyed seeing the actors as themselves, good and bad and luckily with very few staged conflicts.  Snoring ends up being the catalyst for drama and of course, Mimi.

Filament is a new CJ line for home grown indie films and has the Art Service label attached as well.  I always want to see the big blockbusters of course, but the small films usually interest me more.  If this is the direction, I love it.  Many companies in the states have a separate division for smaller films and it’s good to see art win over money.  577 slices of Key lime pie just for that concept.

Q

QUICK

CJ E&M – 2012

               DIRECTOR: Jo Bum-gu

               ACTORS: Lee Min-ki (that’s right ladies), Kang Ye-won, Kim In-kwon, Ko Chang-suk

 

               I really don’t remember much about Bum-gu’s Bar Legend, just that it was about rival gangs.  I may or may not do a review.  It was a giant hard box indie film with a bonus film inside, so I had to check it out.  Now he’s making exploding action films, neato.  Always fun to see what an indie director does with some money and a sense of humor.

               Well at about the 15 minute mark the film seems like Speed on a motorcycle, Han Gi-su’s (Min-ki) passenger is Chun-sim a woman from his past when he was in a biker gang, who is now a famous singer called Ah-rom.  She puts on Gi-su’s helmet for safety and ends up strapped with a time bomb.  As I’m worried what I’m getting myself into as a viewer, she knocks on her helmet and I laughed.  Way to reel me back in.  The tone is light and the action is crazy.  Summer popcorn.

               This is number 015 in CJ’s line of First Press Blu-rays and I waited a while to check it out.  People didn’t seem impressed, but I know everyone loves Lee Min-ki.  The film is beautiful at the very least, a excellent use of the HD.  There is a scene is the beginning where you’re straining to see a stunt person and though it’s a special effect, you get face of the actress instead.  High definition has definitely changed what you can get away with and set a new standard at the same time.  They meet the standard here.

               While being choked by a member of her girl band, Ah-Rom spurts out, “Stop the car I have a bomb on my head.”  I see this film on the border of parody, but I never let go of something that happened in the beginning.  The main plot of the movie happens after a jump in time with a lot of change in our characters.  Gi-su, now a high speed delivery boy, was heading a biker gang, Ah-rom was chasing him in love and Kim Myung-sik, now an officer, was chasing Ah-rom.  There is a crazy accident that they cause.  Could this be related to the bomber?  I start to drop the idea when the biggest car crash in the film happens by coincidence.

               I often write as I’m watching films so I still have no idea how it ends, that way I don’t say.  I just want to end by mentioning something else I enjoyed.  Right as there is going to be a huge gang fight, we instead watch our main characters take a break and eat clams, one crying at how good they are.  The bomber has led rival gangs to attack and destroy themselves as he leads our main characters to a beachside restaurant.  How bad could the person be? 

               The Key lime pie was on a motorcycle exploding, so it’s unknown how much is left to award.

THE QUIET FAMILY

Starmax – 2003 (originally released 1998)

DIRECTOR: Kim Ji-woon (debut)

ACTORS: Park In-Hwan, Na Moon-Hee, Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho, Go Ho-Kyung, Choi Cheol-ho

 

               At this time Kim Ji-woon is about to debut his first English language film with Schwarzenegger, so let’s take a look back at his first film which you may have been lucky enough to see remade as a musical by Takashi Miike (The Happiness of the Katakuris), but probably not.  Fifty million is a big jump for making the Last Stand.  It’s rare that Korean films cost but a few million.  The Starmax version even contained Coming Out, a short film connecting vampires and lesbians, but not in that Alyssa Milano way.  Wasn’t subtitled, I need to focus.

               Imagine your family business is a rustic rental cabin that no one wants to stop at.  Boring.  Well it would be boring if a guest didn’t accidentally get killed.  You have two choices, and the other is calling the police and no one ever going to your establishment again.  The family stresses out, but comes together to bury the body only to have the same thing happen again … and again.  For Kim Ji-woon first film, the casting is insane.  If he remade the film today, any other director would have difficulty wrangling up the same actors.  Choi Min-suk and Song Kang-ho have been in several of Ji-woon’s projects, but never together again, though they had just made No. 3 together.  That’s interesting right?  No?  Sorry.

               The film is fun, and kind of a moral lesson about asking for more.  Though, I’ve read that the family starts to enjoy the new twist that’s taking over their boring lives, I didn’t quite notice it when I first saw the film.  Possibly that’s what the last shot means, with the whole family together with their pointer fingers in front of their mouths.  I actually thought that shot was a bit odd myself.  It’s on the cover, it’s in the title.  We live it.  Well, what do I know … I’m not directing Schwarzenegger. 

               Six slices of Key lime pie, one more for some short film special features subtitling.

 

R

R2B (Soar Into The Sun)

CJ E&M – 2012

               DIRECTOR: Kang Don-won

               ACTORS: Rain, Shin Se-kyung, Yu Jun-sang, Lee Ha-na, Kim Sung-su, Lee Jong-suk, Oh Dal-su, Jung Kyung-ho, Jo Sung-ha, Jung Suk-won, Baek Bong-ki and Park Hyo-jun

               NORTH AMERICANIZING: Called Black Eagle, with ugly DVD art of a generic jet.

 

               Imagine before going to prison you make a movie about anal rape in prison.  That’s what Rain did before his military service, not the prison rape movie but a film about the air force.  The last cool title film I remember like R2B was D-War, but this is luckily no D-war, though the English actors are extremely difficult to watch.  They spelled out Rothstein michael david (sic) in the credits so I looked him up.  I like how the name was kind of done Korean style.  I found a Colonel, so maybe he was more an expert than an actor.  He speaks like a voice-over actor.

               Rain is the focus though.  He’s been playing Japanese characters in American films, and this is the Korean film where he acts Japanese.  By that I mean, taping paper anime tears on his face and being fun and childish.  He’s the loose cannon hero, so we must also have our douche in charge, our doomed family man, and a love interest.  They do it all, if you can get around the fifteen or so minutes of crash and burn military jokes that make Hot Shots seem Oscar worthy.  Hot Shots is still my favourite jet flick.

               In an hour after the jokes you’ll finally understand the reason they call it Return to Base.  The Seoul scene is pretty cool with a North Korean and South Korean jet pursuing each other.  There are lots of slow-motion scenes if that’s your thing (it’s my thing).  Too many salutes, though.  Next time, I request a three salute minimum.  Just when I thought the salutes were over, they salute again.  Seriously, stop it.  I’ll salute anyone who stops pointless cinematic military saluting.

               The director first continued the My Boss, My Hero series with My Boss, My Teacher and remade Infernal Affairs.  Remaking 1964’s Red Scarf was a huge undertaking, the special effects are quite good and I wondered if that’s why the plot is so simple.  No major betrayal, the climax is about seven minutes.  Most of the film seems like a romantic comedy on an air base, so even with the blockbuster action, the movie never stops being Korean.  Especially when it comes to America and our military being even worse than North Korea.

               Math problem:  Five or six Key lime pie slices minus the number of excessive salutes equals: You owe me several pies.             

 

RAINBOW EYES

Enter One – 2008

 

               DIRECTOR: Yang Yun-ho

               ACTORS: Kim Gang-Woo, Kim Min-sun, Lee Soo-Kyung, Park Won-Sang

 

               My second viewing, I stand with my decision.  Against the grain, I really love this movie.  It makes more sense to me now and I find myself even more confused at the hate I’ve read towards it. Also known as the spoiler filled title, Mask, it’s like Antarctic Journal without all the snow.  Rainbow Eyes wants to have it all ways and I’m not sure I even fully understand it, but how often is a film completely obvious and yawn inducing?  Not this one.  Kim Kang-woo (Doomsday Book, and the recent Cannes disaster The Taste of Money) is the star.

               We’ll go into the past over and over, getting little pieces of the puzzle and changing our minds about who people really are.   Society’s rules about gender play a part in nearly every character.  It begs for another viewing.  Of course if you hate it, I guess you aren’t going to beg for anything but to stop the movie.

               Two young detectives are trying to solve a gory murder, that’s nothing new, but usually that will bring you in quickly.  There are also some sexual situations, right from the beginning.  I’m not usually into that if you’re trying to bring characters together in my heart, but given the rest of the films twists, it makes a lot of sense.  What does that mean though?  I guess you will have to find out.

               I felt like the film had a lot of heart, which is rare considering it was also grisly crime scene film.  Often hate hides in the mask of fear and nothing brings that out like love.  5 of 8 slices of Key Lime Pie, under a lot of peer pressure.  Shiny sparkly slip cover, oooooo.

RAY-BANG

IVision – 2002

 

               DIRECTOR: Jang Hyun-su

               ACTORS:     Hae-gon KimJun-hyeong JoChoi Hak-RakSeung-jin LeeSo-yeong HongChoi Jung-WooHeo Hyeon-HoJung Jae-Jin

 

               Ray Bang’s title has the G like a pair of glasses.  They mean Ray Bans.  They don’t make much of an appearance.  One pair are often on our youngest taxi driver, Choi Hak-rak.  The other is stolen from an officer by Kim Hae-gon, a fellow cabbie and the mediator of the group.  Our third driver is an intellectual named Cho Jun-hyung (each character uses their actual name).  Ray Bang is about their misadventures in a very realistic small town by the director of the sexual and unique Everybody Has Secrets.  They don’t make movies like this much anymore.

              

              

 

THE RED SHOES

Woo Sung – 2005

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Yong-gyun

               ACTORS:

 

               In North America you might find the Tarten Asia Extreme version, but mine is the amazing Woo Sung first press.  A matte textured slipcover holds two digipaks, one with the 15 and up rated version reviewed here, while the second has the non-subtitled 18 and up version with extras.  The art is strange and dark.

 

ROMANTIC WARRIORS (Crazy Assassins)

Ivision – 2004

 

               DIRECTOR:  Yun Je-kyun

               ACTORS: Kim Min-Jong – Yo YiChoi Sung-Guk – Ye RyangJin Jae-Young – Hyang-giShin Yi – Shin YiSin-jung Hwang – Pei PeiLee Mae-RiShin Jung-SeonJin WooJin Goo

 

     If you don’t know Shin-ee (Yi?) and Choi Sung-guk you might mistake this early CJ Entertainment production for serious.  The club scene during the 1600’s will get you straightened out quickly.  I like this director because he thinks big.  It might not always work out, but this guy really tries and creates classics that others destroy in sequel city.

     Bitter ghosts have options, 1000 tears of stolen souls can afford them a bus ticket to heaven, or they need some revenge.  After their tears are drank by some low IQ ronin types, the ghosts strike a deal.  Romantic Warriors are just that, a group of assassins for hire who weren’t very witty.  They came about when China was stepping into Korea and the film takes huge liberties considering who they were and what their lives were like.  It’s pretty funny if you like Stephen Chow ghost type of films.  A history lesson, this is not.

     The ghosts are a lot of fun.  This is also a costume drama for those who are tired of costume dramas.  There’s even a

 

RUNNING TURTLE

Panarama – 2010

 

DIRECTOR: Lee Yun-woo

ACTORS: Kim Yun-suk, Jung Kyung-ho 

 

     If you end up with an official Chinese version of any film, don’t look at the synopsis.  For some reason the phrase spoiler alert is not in the Chinese vocabulary.  At the very least only read about half and you’ll be fine.

     This is a redemption film, a cat and mouse type, but the cat is a bit fat and the mouse is a bit metrosexual.  A bit like the tortoise and the hare, as well.  All these animals might make you think about cartoons, the second big fight is a lot like one.  You know, when you get your enemies to beat each other up while you walk off.  Of course our pretty boy killer isn’t going anywhere.  He once beat up five martial artists.  Wow. 

     This is another film that shows that crime is glamorous and being a cop is a hard life.  The home scenes are hard to watch, messy kids and wife who yells and beats her husband.  And he deserves it too.  It’s odd how reality is more disturbing than a polished Hollywood scene. 

     Let’s hope our turtle has a jetpack underneath his shell because he’s going to need it.  Basically Detective Jo (Yun-suk) steals his wife’s money to make a bet on a bullfight.  The bulls actually fight too, no humans.  A friend places the bet.  Detective Jo wins but his friend’s ego gets him to insult and degrade a fugitive named Gi-tae who stays calm at the time, but then comes back at night to beat the hell out of him.  The prize money is taken for fun.  Gi-tae even gives the money back when he’s pursued by the pathetic small town detective, but male ego makes Detective Jo fight the fugitive.  These guys should stick with their wives and girlfriends.

     1 slice of Key lime pie for the wife and the girlfriend, so 2 of 8.  This film had a basic release and it doesn’t feel very special.  I was hoping for more, and now I’m happy I saw it cheaply.

              

RUNNING WILD (Director’s Edition)

Showbox/KD Media – 2006

 

DIRECTOR: Kim Sung-soo (debut)

ACTORS: Kwon Sang-woo, Yoo Ji-tae, Son Byung-ho, Lee Joo-sil, Kang Sung-jin and Jung Won-joong

   

     You might expect a buddy cop film from glancing at the cover.  No buddy cop film, though it has minor elements, no comedy either, though it has a few funny scenes.  The film is a drama throughout, but luckily places the melodrama in the beginning.  Yeah, your wife is leaving you, yeah your brother is getting killed, we need that stuff so we can get to business. 

     Do-young (Sang-woo) is a Mel Gibson kind of detective.  If he knows you’re a guilty thug he will do just about anything to get you.  He doesn’t have much more in his life.  His mother is dying and he’s rather poor.  Jin-woo (Ji-tae) is a prosector.  As two of his underlings discuss his perfection, one attempts to fix the sign on Jin-woo’s door.  The prosector says hello and fixes it better.  The connection begins when Do-young attempts to bash the head in of the gangster that killed his brother and also sent Jin-woo away for his investigation (Byung-ho).

     It’s a car chase right from the beginning, but doesn’t feel like anything common.  Running Wild is a perfect title.  Do-young is a frustrated animal showing everything he feels inside all the time.  I didn’t get tired of it.  He doesn’t think things through, he just does what he thinks is right.  The film might throw you near the end, the message is clear that vigilante justice is what we want to see on the screen.  It’s in so many films.  The problem is, we see everything.  We know who is guilty in a film.  The finale is seems like something seen before, but from quite another angle.  Everything is switched around as they as so often in Korean films about the law.

 

S

SAMARIA

KD Media – 2004

DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

ACTORS: Han Yeo-reum, Kwak Ji-min, Lee Eol

 

     So Pixar made this movie about fish, and I was thinking, no way, not seeing that.  How can a fish movie be good?  I’ve learned to trust Pixar and Kim Ki-duk.  Just let him do what he needs to do, and take the journey.  This journey is about two schoolgirls involved in prostitution.  One does all the “work” and seems delighted to do it, the other collects the money, scouts out more men and worries.  After Yeo-jin’s friend gets caught and hospitalizes herself, she takes on her friend’s more active role and revisits each man they have done business with. 

     This is an interesting film that explores each angle of its subject in every way you can imagine, romanticizing and then making it a bloody revenge film.  Even the gore subsides to something more ambient and subtle.  I really didn’t want to see the film, but it won so much acclaim I felt forced to do so.  Talking cars?  What?  I just have to trust Pixar and Kim Ki-duk.

     The end is especially moving.  You’ve dealt with the daughter and the father apart, though also a violent step behind.  Now you deal with them together.  How much would it hurt a parent to know their daughter was exploiting herself?  Ki-duk leaves the girl stuck in the sand.

     Han Yeo-reum (called Seo Min-Jung here) is especially haunting in her brief scenes.  I originally bought a yellow copy of the movie, but later acquired the original, faux water-damaged first press that shouts out the Silver Bear it took home (the Gold went to a German film).  Seven Key lime pie slices for Germany!

 

SECOND FLOOR VILLAIN (Villain and Widow)

Pre.gm – 2011

 

DIRECTOR: Son Jae-gon

ACTORS: Han Suk-kyu Han, Kim Hye-su, Shin Dong-ho, Park Won-sang

TONE: Classic Moral tale

 

     Sometimes you’re tripped up by your own evil.  This is a film by the director of My Scary Girl that also pairs innocence with a criminal.  It’s so amazing, I couldn’t care less about the plain clear case, I just wanted to see it.  Kim Hye-su was nominated for best actress and considered it one of her best films.  I agree.

SECTOR 7

Netflix – 2013 (originally CJ E&M 2011)

 

DIRECTOR: Kim Ji-hoon

ACTORS: Ha Ji-won, Cha Hae-joon, Ahn Sung-gi, Lee Jung-man, Oh Ji-ho, Kim Dong-soo, Park Chul-min, Do Sang-goo, Song Sae-Byuk, Go Jong-Yun, Park Jung-hak, Hwang In-hyeok, Lee Han-wi, Jang Moon-Hyung, Park Yung-soo , Jang Chi-soon, Cha Ye-ryun                

 

     Considered a disappointment, I marveled at the beginning.  It’s beautiful and you can easily see the benefit of the 3-d.  Every popcorn flick now has to be in 3-d, but in Korea it’s a fairly new concept.  Most people are annoyed with it as 3-d is often unnecessary and goes into the screen instead of out.  After a while you barely notice the effect.  It’s difficult not to compare Sector 7 to the Host or Alien.  The potential for something huge is definitely here; an oil rig instead of a space station gives our monster home advantage and still maintains claustrophobia.  Let’s start over.

     We have our crew, and they’re well defined.  Ji-won is our Ripley, she’s the toughest on the rig and probably the most knowledgeable.  You’ll wonder where all those character traits went near the obvious ending.  I mean, what do we have on an oil rig that might be big enough to kill a monster?  But before we spoil everything, why do we have a monster?

     In the ocean, a creature has evolved from the petroleum.  It’s made of the stuff.  As babies they’re quite angelic, but they still have a wicked tongue.  Creating the most annoying character in the film they used this formula: STALKER WITH WEIRD VOICE + SEVERELY INJURED LIP FROM BABY MONSTER TONGUE = I HOPE THEY KILL THIS GUY FIRST BEFORE HE TALKS AGAIN.  You know how people will die though.  You’ve seen this type of movie before.  Look at the cast list and they’ll die in the reverse order.  That’s not a spoiler.  It’s reality.

     Sigh, so much potential.  The monster can’t be taken seriously as it’s rendered awfully.  It looks like it needed one more pass and we’d be fine.  Blu-ray would most likely be a negative.  Most of the effects were done by the Haeundae crew (and they couldn’t handle the water).  It really takes away from the initial set up when the dialogue becomes name screaming, while mucky computer graphics throw people around with a spiky vine-like tongue.  They always throw the heroes, and instantly kill the minor characters.

     I really didn’t want to be negative and was enjoying the film up to a point.  Song Sae-Byuk is one of my favourites and he’s solid as ever here as the injured crew member begging his overacting friend (Chul-min, staple of all the director’s films) not to leave him.  The mystery is pretty good, though spoiled completely if you even glance at Wikipedia.  I really was following the wrong guy, but he turns out to be awful anyway.  The monster is occasionally the audience, going after moral corruptness even though there’s no reason to.  There, killed him too.  Satisfied?  It might be fun to make a parody of monster film using the clichés.  Don’t ever run away instead of helping your friends, you’re going to die anyway.

     But everyone puts up a picture of Ahn Sung-gi and his The Host pole.  It’s like the director wanted to say, I’ll squash that movie.  I have social commentary too.  Sadly he put it at the end right before the credits.  Most people had already walked out.  A few slice of 3-d Key lime pie, with badly rendered whipped creme.

SECRET LOVE

Planis Entertainment – 2010

 

DIRECTOR: Ryu Hoon

ACTORS: Yu Ji-tae, Yun Jin-seo and Yu Ji-tae (ho ho)

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Arm and Hammer

 

     Twin movies, unless a Schwarzenegger comedy, are often eerie and creepy.  This one has you not guessing a thing, you know there is going to be an affair but in the interest of character development it takes a long time to get there.  Like a trip to the ocean after an oil spill, the drive didn’t quite seem worth it.

     The effects definitely had my interest, I have not a clue how a few of the scenes were shot.  That used to be the reason for having the same actor play against himself, but now we’re at an age of special effects where it might not even raise an eye.  Some countries may not even know that Ji-tae is one person.  Almost every film he’s been in is amazing, and the rest are great.  Jin-seo is tiring as the fainting-too-much, life-is-too-hard woman in between, though in fairness my wife has never fallen into a coma for a long time, nor have I later met her twin sister with a better hair-cut who loves Korean films and Key lime pie.  Woo, talk about an affair to remember!

     There is a subplot with her mother and the priest who loves her, but it feels tacked on like in a television show.  I had a pretty open mind and was happy that things were not rushed, but the beginning was strange.  There are a lot of dreams and hallucinations and it’s hard to tell how many comas there were.  I guess just one, but it seemed in the wedding video Jin-woo (Jin-seo’s husband) is talking about his brother waking from a coma.  I guess it’s honest about the genders, I just don’t want to say how and annoy over half the readers.

     Two twin Key lime pie slices with CGI whipped cream.

 

SECRETLY, GREATLY

Candle Media – 2013

 

DIRECTOR: Jang Cheol-soo

ACTORS: Kim Soo-hyun, Park Ki-woong, Lee Hyun-woo

TONE: North Korean Spy Webtoon

 

“Can’t believe his innocent smile and actions were fake.”

 

               So you’re the best North Korean spy, ordered to infiltrate South Korea.  What will be your role in your small town until you receive a new mission?  How about idiot?

               Lots of North Korean films, lots of spy films, lots of Webtoon translations and lots of movies about an idiot, but this one wraps everything together in an intriguing package.  In fact, let’s talk about the package.  Big DVD, but I opted for the cheaper Blu-ray release.  Similar to Architecture 101, there was a box DVD and then a smaller, but quite similar Blu-ray box.  It has a colour booklet with continuity and it shows how close the director stuck to Covertness’s Webtoon imagery.  Greatly jobly.  Add a few postcards and the HD extended cut and I was sold.

               This film sold more opening tickets than ANY film in South Korea.  ANY.  I don’t know what they thought later, but I guess there’s no way to improve it.  Here’s how I’d improve it.  Do we always have to have a climatic fight at the end?  I say no.  What it                         

 

THE SERVANT (The Story of Bang-ja)

CJ Entertainment – 2010

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Dae-woo

ACTORS: Kim Joo-hyuk … Bang-jaJo Yeo-jeong … Chun-hyang[9]Ryoo Seung-bum … Lee Mong-ryongOh Dal-su … Mr. MaRyu Hyun-kyung … Hyang-dan[10]Song Sae-byeok … Byeon Hak-doJung Yang … Wol-raeKim Sung-ryung … Wol-maeKim Min-kyo … EunuchGong Hyung-jin

               TONE: Erotic love triangle, a feudal cockblock contest

              

               Everything you need to know, except that The Servant is based on a famous folktale, is spelled out for you in the first fifteen minutes as a gangster name Bang-ga (Joo-hyuk) tells of his time as a servant many years ago to a curious author.  A fellow servant is hit on in the beginning by a womanizer (Dal-su), but Mr. Ma sees she only looks at Bang-ga.  Bang-ga only has eyes for a giseng (entertainer) named Chun-hyang (Yeo-jung) who his master Mong-ryong (Sung-bum) also finds desirable.  At first the master seems to be a good person, but he slowly reveals he’s use his servant to get what he wants, first pushing him out of the way and next slapping him when he follows Chun-hyang to her chambers.  Even though Bang-ga was following his master’s orders, he takes the hit and defends his master and Chun-hyang against an aggressive suitor, impressing the ladies.

               Mr. Ma finds the move a mistake, but starts to train the Bang-ga in the ways of seducing ladies.  While the servant learns, he continues to work on getting him master together with Chun-hyang, though he secretly wishes her all to himself, finding the world very unfair.

               The original story of Hyun-kyung has the same characters but is a love triangle between the aristocrat son Mong-ryong and his father.  I doubt a story like this could be told so long ago.  In fact the role of Chun-hyang was turned down many times by actresses not interested in the sex and nudity.  Yeo-jung followed this role with a similar one in The Concubine and found her career re-launched.

               The interesting twist with The Servant is how Bang-ga accepts a lower role because that’s all there is, even with the world seeing him different.  It’s hard for him to accept that there’s a way out.  Like in the beginning against Mr. Ma, on his master’s and Chun-hyung’s first meeting, the Giseng focuses on the servant no matter the jealous verbal slights the Mong-ryong attempts to sling.  There is no way out though.  Whether in Bittersweet Life or so many other films with dog-biting-master theme, the nail is pounded back down one way or another.  In that way, The Servant is a difficult watch for me.  I’m not a love triangle person.  I prefer love without conflict.  I think the social satire twist on the folktale was worth it though.  Who cares if two rich people fight over love?  The highlight is definitely Oh Dal-soo’s seduction training.  He often plays the female showing the Servant the difficultly of not knowing what he’s doing, and then which to the male and overpowers the servant easily.

               Though a love triangle, the film was also 009 in the CJ deluxe Blu-ray catalogue so I found it difficult to pass up.  It’s a pretty film, just a bitter pill.  I guess that’s the reality though.  Any other way might have seemed false.  At least the Servant rises farther than most ever would.

 

               The original folktale, the Story of ChunHyang, is the battle between a scholar named Mong-ryong and his father for the love of his wife.  The servant contains the same characters, but switches the battle between the crafty noble and his servant Bang-ga (Joo-hyuk).  Other servants want him, but Bang-ga only has eyes for the beautiful Gisang (entertainer) Chun-hyung (Yeo-jung).  He’s pushed out of the way by his master, who also becomes enamored.  The servant finds himself an ally in a houseguest named Mr. Ma (Dal-su) who schools the defeated servant in the art of seduction and helps him win the Gisang’s heart.

               In the original story, the Mong-ryong returns educated and crafts a ploy to win back his wife from his father.  In The Servant, the tables are turned and the Master returns as a Royal Inspector and convinces a magistrate (Sae-byuk) that his weird desires can be quenched with Chun-hyung, who is now married to Bang-ga.  It’s important to note that Sae-byuk took down tons of awards for his short role, a frightened few scenes that destroy the happiness of the former Gisang and the servant.         

 

SEVEN DAYS

KD Media – 2003

 

               DIRECTOR:

               ACTORS: Kim Yoon-jin, Kim Mi-sook, Park Hee-soon

BACK OF DVD TYPE SYNOPSIS: A famous lawyer finds her immoral occupation on trial when her daughter is kidnapped.  The ransom, free a murderer headed for death row.

 

               I tend not to do traditional reviews, as I don’t watch traditional films.  It’s interesting though, the closer South Korea gets to western cinema, the more success they have.  I still don’t think this is a good direction and luckily Old Boy is still impossible to copy, Rottentomatoes rating, for Spike Lee’s attempt, 43%.

               It’s got torture porn but not so much as to make the normal people leave.  It’s just about everything and with a female lead.  Of course, to keep the film ground, a guy will be the one doing the heavy lifting.

              

SEX IS ZERO

AO Media – 2003

DIRECTOR: Yoon Je-gyun

ACTORS: Im Chang-jung as Jang Eun-shik•  Ha Ji-won as Lee Eun-hyo•  Jung Min as Ham Sang-ok•  Jin Jae-young as Kim Ji-won•  Choi Seong-guk as Choi Seong-guk•  Yoo Chae-yeong as Han Yoo-mi•  Ham So-won as Kim Hyun-hee•  Jo Dal-hwan as Jo Dal-hwan•  Shin-ee as Park Kyung-joo•  Lee Si-yeon as Lee Dae-hak•  Yoon Shi-hoo as Jo Yeon-kyung•  Choi Won-young as Park Chan-soo

               TONE: Disgusting, explicit and daring sexual exploration comedy

               WARNING: Contains breast rape, cooked semen, mouse eating, vomit kisses, and that’s only thirty minutes in …

 

               “

 

               Today arrived the original, sleeved, two-disc, first press release of Sex Is Zero.  I tend to see a lot of Korean film out of order, such another Another Public Enemy before Public Enemy (great idea).  Because of the relation many people made to American Pie, which I’ve never watched, I avoided Sex is Zero for exactly a decade.  In 2002 it beat Public Enemy at the box office.  It was only a hint below the brilliant The Way Home.  Now Ha Ji-won is a major star, she’s barely in the sequel Sex is Negative One (reviewed below with correct title).

               I admit it makes a great opening impression as the males are in near darkness drinking cigarette butts and alcohol, killing their bodies and brains to get in a frat as the well-lit females exercise and train to the Go Go’s.  Eun-shik (Chang-jung, almost thirty at the time, the same in the film) seems less than enthusiastic as Eun-hyo (Ji-won) leads the women, staring right at us with determination.  This is a film about sex, of course.  It is all the males (and the cinematographer) can think about and it’s the upper hand that all the females have.  Excluding Wet Dreams, which came out a month earlier and also had a sequel, Sex is Zero was a new cinematic genre for South Korea.

               If you think now, or even then, about Ha Ji-won and Im Chang-jung together as a couple, it seems impossible, but I guess that’s where these films come from.  In most males’ lives there was an unapproachable female.  You don’t know what to do but stare and then you add to it all the perversion in your brains.  I guess that’s the time to add that this film is pretty disgusting, and contains things you’d never think of (hopefully).  Strangely, in that way, it’s hard to turn away as some of the events border on the impossible.  It wanted to earn the 18+, so you’re warned.  Sadly some jokes are obvious.  If something edible or drinkable is prepared someone will obviously drink of eat it while you shudder.

               The main theme is Eun-shik being cursed to appear pathetic or perverted over and over again, because of clumsiness or accidents of fate.  Luckily Eun-shik is a different person than his friends and his intentions are pure.  He finally gets his chance to speak to the girl of his dreams after she racks him for accidentally rubbing up against Eun-hyo on the subway.  When he nearly cries and says a soft “I love you” to his crush at the end of Karaoke, Eun-hyo misses the words.  I realized this was Chang-jung’s golden time.  He’s in so many films where he’s simply awful.  I actually felt bad for him here, some empathy.  He accepts all the awfulness and often continues on with no hate in his heart, which is quite rare in cinema.  Also, he’s quite good with nunchuks.  The heartbreaking aerobic/martial arts finale is well worth the wait.

The difference between the sequel and the original seems to be about focus (and less frightening abortion scenes*).  We don’t explore other relationships until a perfect thirty minutes in.  The second film is a chaotic ensemble, but it’s really fun seeing the origins of Kyung-joo’s (Shin-ee) tragic relationship with the feminine Dae-hak (Si-yeon).  In real life he was a male model, also named Dae-hak who got a very successful sex change operation and appears in the sequel as a female, slowly driving Kyung-joo insane.

 

               * Want to win a woman’s heart?  Be there for her when she needs you the most.

SEX IS ZERO 2

Winson Entertainment (originally released in 2007)

 

               DIRECTOR: Yoon Tae-Yoon (debut)

               ACTORS: Im Chang-jeong (임창정)Eun-sik (은식)Song Ji-hyo (송지효)Song Ji-hyo (송지효)Kyeong-ah (경아)Choi Seong-gook (최성국)Choi Seong-gook (최성국)Seong-gook (성국)Shin-ee (신이)Shin-ee (신이)Kyeong-joo (경주)Yoo Chae-yeong (유채영)Yoo Chae-yeong (유채영)Yoo-mi (유미)Lee Hwa-seon (이화선)Lee Hwa-seon (이화선)Yeong-chae (영채)Lee Sang-yoon (이상윤)Lee Sang-yoon (이상윤)Gi-joo (기주)Hong Ji-yeong (홍지영)Hong Ji-yeong (홍지영)Bo-ra (보라)Seon Eun-jeong (선은정)Seon Eun-jeong (선은정)Ji-hyeon (지현)Bae Geon-woo (배건우)Bae Geon-woo (배건우)Sang-woo (상우)Park Yeong-soo (박영수)Park Yeong-soo (박영수)Jong-min (종민)Lee Si-yeon (이시연)Lee Si-yeon (이시연)Dae-hak (대학)

               TONE: Explicit sexual exploration comedy sequel

              

               The enjoyment you get out of Sex is Zero 2 will depend on your tolerance for the lead actors, of which most I like.  I also see why you might not like them.  If tons of nudity and sexual fetish jokes are your thing (Pie Is American, Pie Is American 2, Pie Is American 3 …), Sex Is Zero 2 might also be your thing.  The film is somewhat amateur which gives you an odd viewing experience when the sex is serious for a couple of moments.  Don’t worry, someone will get slapped or do something perverted right afterwards.  It’s an odd combination of exaggeration and realism.  Personally I prefer Foxy Festival.

               Tae-Yun is the assistant director of the original Sex Is Zero, but they lost Ha Ji-won (excluding a cameo).  The uneven trade didn’t quite pay off.  Several of the scenes are re-hashes of the original more successful scenes, which is only good for a silly person like me who sees things out of order.  After writing this, the original director went off to direct Miracle on 1st Street (starring both Ji-won and Chang-jung) and write Sector 7 (that starred Ji-won).  This sequel made a little more than half what the original Sex Is Zero made. 

               If anything it was a good time for the minor cast members who receive bigger roles.  For co-stars more screen time in a less successful film might be better than a background scene in a huge movie, but Shin-ee and Sung-guk had even more success starring in Oh! My God (it made nearly the same amount of money).  Chang-jung is around 35 here and looks it.  It just seemed like a sequel that was too late.  I mean, after a while, you’re the creepy guy hitting on college girls and it’s just not funny anymore.  Given that, the Shin-ee and Lee Se-yeon relationship is very funny, especially considering how many real boys she/he is confusing every day with his/her sex change.

 

               POST SCRIPT: Updated after seeing the original.

SHADOWLESS SWORD

CJ Entertainment/Taewon – 2006

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Young-jun

               ACTORS:

 

               The director of Bichunmoo, redeems himself with an epic and actually had some North American success and does everything it seems that Bichunmoo wanted to do with the main actor Hyun-joon now as a bad guy with a complex history and very few scenes.  With an enemy called the Killer Blade army, director Young-jun probably won’t be winning the foreign language Oscar, but he’s definitely going to win the money of his target male demo with action and effects this cool.  Filmed in China, the action is often quite Chinese.  No complaints.

               Always serious (unless someone is handfishing or she’s talking about torture) So-yi plays officer first class So-ha.  I miss her.  Action can be so male dominated.  It was fun to see a female martial artist and sword master.  She’s mostly moved to television permanently it seems, and I find that sad.  Anyway, So-ha informs an exiled prince that he is the last prince alive and he must come out of fourteen years of hiding to become the King of Balhae.  The mistaken assassin also carries with her a really cool sword.  I’ve decided to be as unprofessional as possible because of that cool sword.

               Everyone looks like they’re from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but that’s the point.  Everything is ultra-stylized, though not like Volcano High.  This is a Korean sword and wire-fu film and it feels about as grounded as those Chinese films.  Sometimes life is a bit sped up. Sometimes things are a bit exaggerated.  It’s great.

               Prince Jung-hyun (Seo-jin in his last film) wants nothing to do with being the king as it’s basically a death sentence.  Soon he finds his royal escort useful though and also realizes he doesn’t have much a choice.  He’ll be trying anything he can, but of course you side with the invincible So-ha.  Then there’s ninja smoke bombs, ninja stars, ninjas, throwing knives, rooftop flying leaps, acrobatic flips, underwater battles, an impossibly huge spiky weapon, Kim Su-ro making hilariously bad decisions, ninjas and a soul sucking sword that would take you two months to earn in World of Warcraft.  And Ninjas.

               The packaging is wonderful.  It’s a magnetic hardbox that opens in the middle, revealing a hard flap that you also have to lift to get to your two discs.  There was even a puffy rectangular hand phone thing.  I’m not sure, but I think this may be one of the first times New Line put some money into a Korean production, though they may remake Secret soon.  They handled the release in the states as well, which is a great thing for a martial arts movie.  (Legend of the) Shadowless Sword fits well with all those Dragon Dynasty releases or as a double So-yi bill with Arahan.  Several shadowless Key lime slices decapitate anyone who says a negative word about this film.  I watched Café Noir, both discs, let me have my magical sword ninja fun.

SHAMAN GANGSTER (Man on the Edge)

Showbox/KD Media – 2013

DIRECTOR: Jo Jin-gyu

ACTORS: Park Shin-Yang            Kim Jung-Tae    Uhm Ji-Won       Jung Hye-Young                Yoon Song-YiPark Gwang-Ho     Cha Tae-Joo       Fortune Teller Myung    Dr. Choi Mi-Sook                Han Soo-MinMan On The Edge-Kim Sung-Kyun.jpg           Man On The Edge-Choi Ji-Ho.jpg                Man On The Edge-Choi Il-Hwa.jpg           Man On The Edge-Park Jung-Ja.jpg         Man On The Edge-Kim Hyeong-Beom.jpgKim Sung-Kyun                Choi Ji-Ho         Choi Il-Hwa       Park Jung-Ja           Kim Hyeong-Beom 

              

“You can try and deny the spirit, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t run away from your fate.”

 

There’s kind of an older quality to Gangster Shaman.  It seems like something that might have been made several years back, like I found an old classic.  Given that, you can expect some laughs and some fun, but nothing here is Earth shattering.  The director is responsible for a few gangster films, including one of the best, My Wife is a Gangster.

It’s all about Park Shin-yang, who after a near-death experience, because hosts to a spirit and starts a second job as a shaman.  And there’s isn’t really a lot more.  Problems are solved easily by the shaman side, and the light plot is overshadowed by fun events and entertaining scenes.  If I could only throw out one complaint, I wish the D.A. wife had a more mature detail about him, when trying to communicate through the shaman.  Somehow the scene is still emotional, but it goes exactly where you think it is going.

I think of Vampire Cop ____, when I think of this film.  They aren’t the same, but they aren’t very different.  What if a Janitor could lightning out his hands, we’ll call it, Lightning Janitor.  I bet that would be interesting too.  The finale is a bit like She’s the Man,           where the main character has to be two people in one place, over and over.  It’s fortunate that the film had Shin-yang, who seems to pride himself as a character actor.

The fun is the back and forth about real shamans and fake shaman, belief and disbelief.  In films, though, supernatural events are obvious and happen 100% for real before our eyes.  The first customer is a non-spiritual person, testing the shaman and is outed.  That person is me.  And in real life, I would probably win 

SHE’S ON DUTY

Bear/Spectrum – 2005

 

               DIRECTOR:

               ACTORS:

 

               Let me take a break to talk

 

SHINY DAY

Netflix – 2013 (originally Taewon – 2012)

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Kwang-soo

               ACTORS: Park Shin-yang, Seo Shin-ae,Ye Ji-Won, Ryu Seung-Soo and Ji Jin-hee

               TONE: Criminal Fixed By A Child

               WARNING: Realistic violence and frightening irresponsibility

 

               “I have no ability to raise a kid.  It’ll be a tragedy.”

 

               I must say I don’t prefer the odd title, Meeting Mr. Daddy.  There are a lot of strange translated titles like that and it just too weird.  Shiny Day I can accept.

               Let’s go to the year 2002.  Woo Jung-dae (Shin-yang of Man on the Edge) is a hustler on probation with a cloudy eye and love for bullfights.  His dogfight employers are almost as sick of him as the police.  He’s bailed out by a case worker (a sullen Ji-won) who swears that Jung-dae has a child out there who needs to meet him before being adopted.  Lots of that seems familiar, even the criminal who enjoys bullfights (No Mercy For the Rude came out a year before).

               I actually enjoyed the first meeting a lot.  Jung-dae’s friend announces Joon’s father and his comes out of his trailer like a star with stringed lights.  Then he mistakes boyish Joon (Shin-ae) for a boy, the lights all explode, the friend admits the electricity is stolen and Jung-dae is yelled at for using obscenities.  Hey, he did say it was going to be a tragedy.

               My father ran off, and he lived in a trailer.  In the Midwest it’s sadly common.  It was funny that Jung-dae made so much effort.  Sadly it becomes clear that Joon is quite sick and this will probably be the biggest lesson of Jung-dae’s selfish life.  Shin-ae is incredibly real, cute but not in any kind of cinematic way.  It’s enjoyable when she repeats actions of her father like chomping her tiny teeth together.  When he says “You’re annoying” to his daughter, you gather that she’s just a mirror.  When she hides her sickness it’s horrifying.  You can only hope that the film touched the hearts of a few men like Jung-dae, who care more about their own survival than a helpless child.

               Anti-heroes walk a line, if they cross it they can lose their audience.  Often Korean films have characters that urinate on that line.  Not sure what your level of tolerance is, if the actor wasn’t Park Shin-yang I wouldn’t have made it through.  I did keep watching though, hoping for that “Shiny Day” to actually appear.  If you’ve seen Big Swindle you know, that he can easily be more than one person.  The twists here are actually worth the wait, no matter how many you see coming.

SHOTGUN LOVE

Netflix – 2013 (originally Buzz – 2012)

DIRECTOR: Jung Woo-chul (debut)

ACTORS: Im Chang-jung (임창정)Im Chang-jung임창정AsSang-yeol(상열)Kim Gyoo-ri-I (김규리)Kim Gyoo-ri-I김규리AsSo-yun(소연)Kim Tae-hoon (김태훈)Kim Tae-hoon김태훈AsDirector Park(박피디)Ahn Suk-hwan (안석환)Ahn Suk-hwan안석환AsStreet stall owner(포차주인)Park Min-hwan (박민환)Park Min-hwan박민환AsJang-myung’s father(장명 )Lee Ah-rin (이아린)Lee Ah-rin

WARNING: Semen?

 

               Let me take a break to talk a bit about my reviewing.  I started this book specifically to review Korean films I enjoy and comedians I like.  Some films didn’t fit into my essays and I longed to talk about packaging, one of my favourite aspects.  The more I explore, the more I have uncovered a range in quality.

               This is a Chang-jung (Greatest Expectation, Sex is Zero) film, so I watched it for free on someone Netflix account.  The first press Buzz edition is still available and probably will be for a long time.  I bought Bunt (Cracked Eggs and Noodles) for very little.  I feel that Chang-jung feels he’s doing a great job and in the film does have some emotional moments

THE SHOWDOWN (Bloodbath)

KD Media – 2011

DIRECTOR: Park Hoon-jung (debut)

ACTORS: Park Hee-soon박희순AsHeon-myung(헌명)Jin Goo (진구)Jin Goo진구AsDo-yung(도영)Ko Chang-seok (고창석)Ko Chang-seok고창석AsDoo-soo

TONE: A lit stick of bloody dynamite in the Joseon dynasty

 

               Huge battle scenes can be too much for my brain and it’s nice to know the major plot is a personal three-way battle; therefore I will list only the three main actors.  Before this film, Hoon-jung was best known as an astounding scriptwriter.  After the darkness of I Saw The Devil and The Unjust, he decided his next script should go to himself.  I somehow missed the release of this film and had to track it down a couple years later.  To get packaging out of the way, you have your traditional KD Media alternate art sleeve featuring Heon-myung (Hee-soon), Do-young (Jin Goo) and Doo-soo (Chang-suk) all in chaotic attack mode.  Imagine The Good, the Bad and the Weird in your dining room as each character finds a large abandoned tavern, shelter from a blinding white blizzard.

               When I play Magic: The Gathering, group games end up being more about charisma than anything.  The best deck in the world isn’t going to matter if everyone groups up to kill you.  When a choice is made on who to attack, you subtly mention who won last game.  You make deals.  This is a typical card game with my friends, filmed.

               Chang-seok (Insadong Scandal, Hello Ghost) is rarely ever a main character or serious so I quickly gathered he would be the comic relief.  From the cover you’d think you’d have a three-way, but instead Doo-soo is the torn child in a divorce.  Aristocrats Heon-myung and Do-yung have enough bad blood with rivalry, love triangles and betrayal that one of them is going to kill the other.  Since we start with Heon-myung’s betrayal confession, I had a feeling that we’d spend a lot of our flashbacks gaining his honor, by tarnishing his spoiled friend’s.  Good and evil are a little too easy for Hoon-jung’s writing.  He tends to muddy the waters until you have no one to get behind.  They both need Doo-soo on their side to accomplish the murder they desire and Doo-soo needs them both dead as they’re both witnesses to his survival instincts.  Fleeing from battle is a death sentence.

               Of course, if you weren’t supposed to be there in the first place you might run.  One of the late flashbacks after the craziest scene in the film shows Doo-soo’s family.  Interestingly, it’s his real family.  Each of the men has lost someone they love as the sunny flashback drops in one by one, sad that love creates so much of the opposite.  It’s a small film, but interesting.  I’m looking forward to the director’s Godfather-esque New World.  The Blu-ray is already out of print in some places.  Grr.

               Oh, and if the choice is dying aiding an enemy or dying fighting an enemy.  I know both those choices seem grim, but to me the second might just be worth it.

SILENCED (Dogani/The Crucible)

CJ E&M – 2012

DIRECTOR: Dong Hwang (Hwang Dong-hyuk)

ACTORS: Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Hyun-soo, Jung In-Suh, Baik Seung-Hwan

TONE: Riot Inspiring True Story             

 

               Number 016 in CJ Entertainment’s deluxe Blu-ray assortment is a very frightening film.  The worst part is that it’s true (well, true enough).  A school for deaf orphans is a playground for perverted and sadistic teachers, until a new member to the staff tries to stop them.  It is more graphic than you would ever want to see.

               Based on the book “Dogani”, it’s truth up to a point of outrage.  This film shot a flare in the dark sky and it’s not hard to see why.  There’s a sad hopelessness to the whole event, a disgusting hint of Salo.   You want to jump through the screen, but when Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo) smashes a plant over the head of a violent teacher and takes the student to safety, your heart is finally able to relax for a brief moment.  This is one of those awful dramatic ironies where no person would ever believe the situation he or she is in, we see the worst parts.  He’s a new teacher and is lucky to have the job.  A

               The major difference with Gong Ji-young’s novel seems to be the teacher’s reason for going to the school.  He was involved with a student and it keeps him at a distance from the strange events, instead of just being naive and needing the work.  The real Gwangju Inhaw school had it’s victims interviewed many times for the book, but the author wanted to make it fictional when she heard the cries of the deaf children as they heard the disgustingly light verdict.

               I get annoyed by some of the safety requirements we add each year, kids seem to get weaker and more reliant on technology.  These were orphans, with special needs.  The school was far away like a cabin in the woods.  When the deaf spoke of their embarrassing tortures, people in power turned their heads, but readers and audiences did not.  This was not the only film to point a finger at the justice system.  Social commentary will always get you extra Key lime pie.

 

SILMIDO

Cinema Service – 200…

DIRECTOR: Kang Woo-suk

ACTORS: Sol Kyung-gu (설경구)Ahn Sung-ki, Heo Joon-ho (허준호)Heo Joon-ho (허준호)Jung Jae-yung (정재영)Jung Jae-yung (정재영)Im Won-hee (임원희)Im Won-hee (임원희)Kang Sung-jin (강성진)Kang Sung-jin (강성진)Kang Shin-il (강신일)Kang Shin-il (강신일)Lee Jung-heon (이정헌)Lee Jung-heon (이정헌)Eom Tae-woong (엄태웅)Eom Tae-woong (엄태웅)Kim Kang-woo (김강우)Kim Kang-woo (김강우)Lee Sang-hong (이상홍)Lee Sang-hong (이상홍)Kim Hong-taek (김홍택)Kim Hong-taek

TONE: Serious, political, military sausage factory

 

               I believe there were 3000 made of the 3 disc run, mine is 2552.  It’s a hard box with an elastic, postcards, a booklet and a crazy signed acrylic in black and gold that stands up with a couple chromed legs.  Looking for an alternative to rom-coms?  Kang Woo-suk will always be there for you.

               It begins in 1968 with a North Korean assassination mission aimed at the Blue House.  The few surviving are grouped with other convicts and sent to an island called Simido.  There they will be reconditioned to assassin the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung.  However the cast Woo-suk’s film is simply amazing.  He always throws together the best.  I love the pacing of the film too.  Most film would put your training montage two thirds of the way in.  We barely meet our cast before we’re all deep in military exercises.  It’s difficult not to obey when you’re trapped on an island and your leader has no qualms firing at you with a machine gun and throwing grenades on a boat you all share.

               This actual events film brought up a great argument.  Stick to the true story or make an amazing film.  I think the latter wins here.  The true story is a great launching pad, but Silmido is a “what if?” type of film.  Details of the three year mission were in debate and confidential at the time.

               Won-hee gives us the few laughs there are, but he falls in line most of the time.  During a torture lesson the backs of the soldiers are burnt with a hot iron.  Won-hee runs to the water before being touched, but three soldiers endure quietly for separate reasons.  They become team leaders, but quickly the grouping turns them against each other.  The film twists give excellent justification for the fates of the soldiers when the mission is scrapped and they have no purpose for their advanced training.  The pure insanity of it makes more than a movie.  It makes a whole Key lime pie.

               Interesting facts, written by a woman named Kim Hee-jae, who’s written several of Woo-suk’s projects, sadly the least popular ones like Hanbando and Another Public Enemy.  Also, the training found to be in violation of their civil rights, the families of the dead unit received a massive court ordered compensation after this film was released when the detailed government files were finally revealed.  Rarely does that happen with a romantic comedy.

SINGLES

Bear – 2003

DIRECTOR: Kwon Chil-in

ACTORS: Jang Jin-yung, Lee Bum-soo, Uhm Jung-hwa, Kim Joo-hyeok, Oh Jee-hye, Kim Kwang-il

NORTH AMERICAN MONEY:  Chili’s

 

               Singles could have been a bland affair, but with a good dose of realism and a cast talented enough to pull it off, you feel the weight of each possibility as it fades during the year.  One main character Na-nan (Jin-yung from Sorum and Foul King) is nearing thirty and vows to not be single by year end.  Her love life and career are about to plummet down to the floor of a Chili’s restaurant.  Her friend Dong-mi (a turbo-charged Jung-hwa) is a bit too forward with her thoughts and desires and seems to scare everyone except her roommate Jeon-joon (a subtle Bum-soo).  Our fourth single Soo-hyun (Joo-hyeok) plays a patient and successful stalker who becomes enamored with Na-nan’s Amelie haircut.  He’s such a stalker Joo-hyeok followed Jin-yung into the movie Blue Swallow and Jung-hwa into Mr. Handy.

               As the film blazed a trail toward proposals and pregnancy I became a bit worried about the finale.  Often my male mind begins shutting down if a marriage or a hospital birth is all I get at the end.  It better be a Juno-type journey if so.  The film sticks to its theme though and seems to gently rub the back of anyone fearing turning thirty and being alone.  The world is not ending, it has only just begun.

               I have to give one more standing ovation for the cast.  It’s great when you see the four characters with anyone else and your mind say no, when the two couples are together, no matter where it’s going to lead, it clicks like a seat belt in a dying automobile.  Na-nan worries about wanting sex, and mentions her period coming up.  In the next scene she’s arguing with misplaced anger with Seo-hyun.  I loved it.  She’s not a good or bad human, she’s human.  The fourth wall is broken twice in Singles and yet the film stays beautifully grounded.  Seven slices of Key lime pie.

               The slipcased Bear digipak has a swirling theme in the art behind each of the four leads as well as a swirling embossed plastic coating over the inside art, maybe symbolizing no particular fate, just life going where it goes.

 

SISTERS ON THE ROAD (Now Things Are Fine As They Are)

Buzz Pictures – 2009

 DIRECTOR: Boo Ji-young

ACTORS:  Shin Mina, Kong Hyo-jin, Kim Sang-hyun, Chu Kwi-jung, Moon Jae-woon, Bae Eun-jin and Kwak Do-won (cameo)

 

               Mostly likely the best film Buzz Pictures ever released, the indie film Sisters On The Road debuted at the Pusan Film Festival.  The director’s new film is a low budget documentary about the adventures of three females.  I don’t think she’s going to be making action films with explosions any time soon.

               Shin Mina I’ve followed since the beginning, seeing her as Icy Jade in Volcano High, Sad Movie and Bittersweet Life.  Kong Hyo-jin blew me away in Crush and Blush and basically everything else (they’re both in Volcano High).  The film’s pressing wasn’t special, it was more about the actors really and another new female director with an interesting story to tell. 

               Mina plays Myung-eun a hard-working Seoulite and Hyo-jin, Myung-joo her fish selling sister from Jeju island.  They reunite during the passing of their mother.  Myung-eun decides to use the trip as an opportunity to hunt down her wayward father.  Myung-joo is hesitant, but leaves her child with her aunt and tags along. 

               Sister on the Road is the English title but not completely accurate considering how little time they spend in a car and how much time is spent inside moldy hotels or inside boats.  Past that, the film is absolutely wonderful.  It has the look of an indie, but Ji-young has created something wonderful.  I hate to call it a mystery, but I guess I will.  It’s so seemingly straight forward that when the epiphany lands on Myung-eun, you’ll find yourself in the same slow-motion carnival ride.  What if you felt abandoned your whole life, just to find out …

               I’ve said too much.

               In this world of divorce, I find the set up very relatable.  Myung-eun hates that her sister raised a child without a father, because she feels the same way.  She just wants to tell him that’s she’s been fine without him.  But she isn’t, in more than one way.

 

SO CUTE

KD Media – 2005???

DIRECTORS: Kim Soo-hyun (debut)

               ACTORS: Kim Seok-hoon김석훈Jung Jae-yung (정재영)Jung Jae-yung정재영Ye Ji-won (예지원)Ye Ji-won예지원Seon Woo (선우)Seon Woo선우Jang Sun-woo (장선우)Jang Sun-woo장선우Park Hee-soon (박희순)Park Hee-soon

 

               I’m super curious about the EOS lesbian film Life Is Peachy but there aren’t subtitles.  Let’s go back to the director’s debut.  So Cute is an odd film indeed, but definitely another about a woman’s sexual freedom.

 

SOME

Cinema Service – 2005

DIRECTORS: Jang Yun-hyun

ACTORS: Go Soo, Song Ji-Hyo, Lee Dong-Gyu, Kang Shin-Il, Jo Gyung-Hun, Jung Myung-Jun

WARNING: Man breasts, some weaker men may be intimidated by Go Soo

 

               When you begin slightly stylized with time flowing backwards and then I get a little Chemical Brothers on the soundtrack, well, you have my attention.  For some reason this limited edition is pretty cheap and easy to get.  Works for me, I’m still trying to track down all the Cinema Service releases.  It’s a large hardbox, like a macrodigipak, with a big booklet showing off Go Soo pectorals and the best of Some.

               How can you not like Song Ji-hyo (New World)?  Even alone, setting up her new place she’s interesting and funny.  But toast popping predictions may be a bit of foreshadowing.  She plays Yu-jin, a CCTV watching radio weather reporter that carries herself with a happy lightness right up to the point where she’s attacked on a bus at knifepoint.  She’s been handed a package that everyone wants and her only ally is a very young drug detective named Sung-goo (Go Soo). 

               Resting simply on an angry-gangsters-searching-for-drugs plot would have been a mistake, and luckily with a focus on modern technology and a mystery déjà vu-type of ability, we’re catered to something more.  Sorry, I’ll stop doing that sometime soon.

               I wish this was a show.  We make psychic action films and shows in the states but we tend to push too many effects and forget to construct something of interest.  Some kept me captivated, knowing the end at the beginning but also knowing there was a way to change things.  There’s a scene that really grabs you as a handcuffed section chief grabs Sung-gu’s weapon.  Yu-jin sees him shoot himself and has to finally test if these flashes of the future are real.  Sadly, like in most films, no matter how much proof is offered up, no one believes you.  After enough “coincidences” though, every Scully believes in Mulder.

               It’s amazing how a film from almost a decade ago got things so right about technology.  Now we’re dealing with massive net tracking scams, you can Photoshop anyone into anything and everyone always has a camera at all times, while you’re being watched everywhere.  The plot isn’t convoluted.  It’s a complex string of misunderstandings dancing around some corruption that may be difficult to unravel.  Sometimes we only have a short while on the Earth to figure out the puzzle and no amount of technology can add to it.  Though, right at this moment Google is attempting to cure death.  If that happens I give Google the full Key lime pie.

               Otherwise, a rebellious seven slice here.  I love the characters, the music, and just straight up being ambitious.  The editing is wonderful and for whatever cliché moments concerning gangsters and obvious hidden enemies, I never found a flaw.  In fact, anything I predicted probably means I’m psychic too.  I see you reading another review.        

SORRY, THANKS (Living With The Animals)

DS Media – 2011

 

               DIRECTORS: Lim Soon-rye, Oh Jeom-gYun, Park Heung-sik, Song Il-gon (omnibus)

               ACTORS:

 

               I wrote of many past omnibuses during Ellen Degeneres’s essays, but this was a recent one I wanted to review.  It was commissioned by the government to raise awareness about a growing problem, abandoning animals and their societal worth.  You think kids can make you sad, wait until you throw dogs and cats in the mix.  Our culture is obsessed, but there is a massive irresponsibility as well.  This is a four part film and though rated 12, I believe it would be much higher in North America.  In Korea the rating jumps from 12 to 15, instead of just one age.  Makes sense.

               In the story Jui Jui, a man is hooked and a dog is hanged twice and beaten.  You can’t just skate around issues.  Each picture paints us as the cruel ones and animals as our salvation.  In the first picture, Thank You, I’m Sorry, a mother tries to convince her father to sell his large home that he shares with his dog.  The dog is a serious retriever, giving the newspaper and blankets.  She realizes that family might be more important than paying for her gallery after her father dies.  In the second story, recently mentioned, a homeless man finds the strength to work after he’s given a dog in a strange government program.   Who gives dogs to the homeless?  That must suck for the dog.   As the joke goes, “What?  Hey man, I could have been homeless by myself.”

               The third episode My Little Sister is a big highlight and when the early reveal hits, your hand goes to your head.  A little girl gets home and plays with her little sister, but as she gets in trouble for bathing with her, you realize the little sister is a puppy.  The last is a piece called Cat Kisses, and it’s the only piece to deal with cats … lots of cats.  A father and daughter are brought together by the daughter’s obsession with helping, fixing and feeding every cat in the neighborhood.  It’s also a softer and more relaxing ending as the other short films are emotional assaults.

               Features include a teacher’s guide (in Korean) and it is sleeved with alternate art, like most DS releases.  Though powerful, it’s got some amateur moments, to be fair.  They are easy to look past after you wipe the tears away.  I think of my cat.  I had to put him to sleep as he suffered every day with IBS.  He was my best friend in the world, with no exaggeration.  I would have kept him alive if I hadn’t been reminded that sometimes we put animals to sleep for their wellbeing, instead of keeping them alive for us. 

               Love you Niteball.

SORUM

Content Zone – 2013

 

               DIRECTOR: Yoon Jong-chan (debut)

               ACTORS: Kim Myung-min, Jang Jin-young, Ki Joo-bong, Jo Ann, Kim Ki-cheon,

 

               “Mild but Wild”             

 

I may be the only person on the Earth with interest of South Korean films that hasn’t seen Sorum (it’s 2014 now) so the limited edition (number 18 in the Hommage collection) digipack Blu-ray was a welcome release.  I’ve read the film was a great horror film, for those who don’t like horror.  Perfect.  I like horror, but I’m not an “any slasher is fine with me” type.  I like a challenge.  Here we go.   

In his cinematic debut, Kim Myung-min plays a Bruce Lee loving taxi driver named ___ who moves into a rundown apartment full of interesting characters.  The film begins slow.  Imagine I slowly hand you a bag of chips.  You open it and the chips are all over the place.  That’s what’s about to happen.  The story begins linear, meeting the neighbors, interest in a girl (Jin-young) with perfect hair .  Then, the structure starts to fragment and you know things that buzz in your mind as you try to keep up with the next Korean BBQ chip.  If you ever think, hey, that was weird, the scene soon justifies itself.

The creepy mysterious film’s two leads swept up awards, and justifiably so.  It was the beginning of a short and cursed career for Jin-young, who died early, and a long unique career for Myung-min.  His variety of project give me no clear opinion on the actor.  I guess opinions don’t matter much.

 

SPELLBOUND (Chilling Romance)

CJ E&M – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Hwang In-ho (debut)

               ACTORS: Lee Min-ki, Son Ye-jin, Park Cheol-min, Kim Hyun-sook, Lee Mi-do

 

               Well I adore the stories in Two Faces of My Girlfriend and Love Phobia so hearing all the positive critiques made this film a must see.  This time Hwang In-ho writes and directs.  It’s a bit strange, imagine the Sixth Sense being a romantic comedy.  Really.

               A magician named Jo-goo (Min-ki) notices a morbid female named Yu-ri (Ye-jin) in the city and is inspired to do a horror magic act with a fake ghost.  The sad girl will play the spectre.  What Jo-goo doesn’t know is ghosts are really attracted to Yu-ri.  Much like in Sixth Sense she must help each ghost.  This and Jo-goo having a girlfriend already hinders their relationship a lot.  One particular ghost tries to kill the magician several times in one day. 

               I want to talk about a specific scene.  I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if it wasn’t pointed out.  Jo-goo and Yu-ri both down to the basement of Yu-ri’s house.  She never goes down.  They play some music and are trying to solidify a relationship.  All of a sudden the lights go out.  Oh no!  It’s not a ghost though, suddenly bats flutter out from a hole in the wall.  Okay, a little fun scare, but why did the lights go out?  Well, anyway.

               The killer ghost is actually solved rather easily in a way you’d think would have been figured out quickly by Yu-ri since she helps other ghosts every day.  They were friends and an unfortunate event creates a very tough choice for an emergency medic.  Though the scene is sad and very powerful, most of the film and it’s supernatural special effects stay light and fun.  If you want that, there you go, otherwise give Sixth Sense another watch.

               Packaging is the same limited pressing that has become standard from CJ.  The colour chosen is a dull yellow, but the picture is rather wonderful.  It’s from one of the better scenes in a beautiful restaurant/bar.  Sadly the figure one the wall is mostly obscured.  You’ll have to see it for yourself I guess.  Several translucent slices of horrifying Key lime pie.

SPIDER FOREST

Universal – 2004

               DIRECTOR: Song Il-gon

               ACTORS: Gam Wu-seong … Kang MinKang Kyeong-heon … Hwang Su-yeongSuh Jung … Min Su-jinJang Hyeong-seong … Choi Seong-hyeonSon Byung-ho … Kim Cheol-ju

               TONE: Non-linear psychological mystery

 

               “There is a legend.  If no one loves the spirit of the deceased it becomes a spider, trapped in this forest forever.”

 

               I know what you’re thinking.  Universal, I’ve heard of that!  The official glossy slipcased two disc Korean release was Universal though.  Sometimes I feel like I have to get that out of the way or I’ll forget it.  And so I’m not too boring I’ll add that both discs have the same face on them.  I mean, seriously, put the forest on one disc, or the giant spiders they fight.  Oh boy, those giant spider fights, deep in the forest, they we’re … nonexistent.

               Here’s the real twisty plot: Kang min (Woo-sung) wakes in a forest to find two people murdered, one that he knows.  He’s knocked out again.  When he wakes to get help, he gets hit by a vehicle walking in a tunnel.  Soon we’re in in and out of flashbacks and ideas.  Memories begin playing out, but they become surreal ideas more than memories.  There are three women in Kang-min’s life, a playful new wife Hwang Su-jung (Kyung-hun), a hyper sexual co-worker Soo-young (Soo-jung) and a quiet photographer Min Su-in (Suh Jung).  Each woman leads Kang-min deeper into the spider forest.

               Figuring the whole thing out might be difficult/impossible.  If you like tying things up with shiny magenta ribbons, this may not be your movie.  The script was intentionally tore into shred to fit in with the concept.  Oh, I’m being so mysterious. 

Let’s talk about a scene for the rest of the world.  Spider Forest is quite a serious film but our introduction to the detective Choi character is one of the only hints of light, though violent.  As Choi and his follow officers quietly ready themselves to storm into some suspects’ apartment, the detective’s phone goes off projecting this hyper can-can music that destroys all stealth and offers a funny soundtrack to the beatings that follow.  Choi is a friend of Kang-min and ends up being his only defender when all roads lead to Kang-min being the suspect of murder.

There’s a lot to think about considering what’s real and what isn’t, but I’d like to think the spider spirits are real.  The dead only need us to remember them to be free.  Who knows what those spirits might do for us if we just thought about them once in a while.

Not too far away from reality to be David Lynch, but too scattered in ideas and form to be commercial.  I praise Universal for picking this film up.  It did better outside of Korea, much like Kim Ki-duk.  I’ve hid all the Key lime pie slices I award in Spider Forest.  You must venture in to know just how many.  

SPIES

Candle Media – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Woo Min-ho

               ACTORS: Kim Myung-min (김명민)Section chief Kim (김과장)Yeom Jung-ah (염정아)Yeom Jung-ah (염정아)Agent Kang (강대리)Yoo Hae-jin (유해진)Yoo Hae-jin (유해진)Head of department Choi (최부장)Byun Hee-bong (변희봉)Byun Hee-bong (변희봉)Adviser Yun (윤고문)Jung Kyeo-woon (정겨운)Jung Kyeo-woon (정겨운)Agent Woo (우대리)Jung Man-sik (정만식)Jung Man-sik (정만식)Oh Na-ra (오나라)Oh Na-ra (오나라)Lee Seung-ho (이승호)Lee Seung-ho (이승호)Kim Jin-hee (김진희)Kim Jin-hee (김진희)Cheon Bo-geun (천보근)Cheon Bo-geun (천보근)Ji-sung

 

               A group of North Korean spies are reactivated by a very frightening North Korean named Choi (Hae-jin from Woochi, Truck).  I’m still regretting not buying the director’s Planis release Man of Vendetta.  It stars Myung-min as well so I guess they like each other.  He’s a very South Korean North Korean called Kim.  He scamming his way through life and balancing a family that he loves.  The first character trait that drew me in was the mental games he would play with people.  Psychological warfare is my favourite warfare.  As pieces of his training coming out you’re immersed in the story.  The team was another issue. 

               I loved the casting on paper, but for some reason the script gives so little for the team to do.  Jung-ah’s Kang has a

 

               This is

 

              

SPY GIRL

KD Media – 2004

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Han-choon (debut)

               ACTORS: Kim Jung-Hwa, Gong Yoo, Baek Il-Seop, Kim Ae-Gyung, Ja Du, and Lee Gwang-Gi

               NORTH AMERICAN MONEY: Burger King and Burger King

              

               This is crazier than Mac and Me with product placement, but hey, maybe you wrote a restaurant in and Burger King is willing to pay for the movie, whatever I say.  A North Korean named ____ (Jung-hwa) swims to South Korea after being betrayed.  She finds a fellow North Korean who’ll put her up and also a job at the before mentioned restaurant.  Sadly her beauty is a bit much for the South Korean boys (which I find an interesting plot point) and they put her on a web site of angels.  This compromises her hidden identity and she’s forced to date the high school photographer (gawky Gong Yoo of Silenced).  There’s no real wacky sexual scenes regarding the couple, and I liked that.  The relationship is innocent and naive.  She’s out of his league and most of the time he understand that.  Sometimes you just sigh and move on.

               The film begins low brow, but then hits a fun stride that reminded me of 10 Things I Hate About You.  The script obviously considered the next Sassy Girl step, soft guy dates tough girl < sweet guy dates North Korean spy.  Fun and memorable scenes are usually out of the product placement, like paint ball (where our spy uses her boyfriend as a body shield) and attempting to hold hands (unification is so complicated).  Tame yet political, more aimed at teens I suspect, it probably would have made good television series.  Cinematography is excellent from Shin Ok-hyun (Fighter in the Wind and Terrorist).  I should talk about the cinematographers more.

               I award one ice cream cake smashed in your face.  Oooooo, sorry about your nose, I didn’t realize it was frozen.

SUNFLOWER

IVision – 2007

 

               DIRECTOR: Kwon Hyeok-jae

               ACTORS: Kim Rae-won, Kim Hae-suk, Park Eun-hye, Heo Yi-jae

 

               Let’s start at the end.  Sunflower has my favourite climax, building and building to a fiery explosion of character change.  Expected in martial arts films, as the main character swears off fighting until he simply must, we understand Tae-sik’s (Rae-won) violent past, but we don’t really see it (unless you watch Mr. Socrates).  It’s up to us if we want to be with that person or if we want to be with the person Tae-sik wants to be.

               Back to the beginning, I think I was looking for every Ivision release.  Though they release smaller films, their basic releases are amazing digipaks.  Sunflower is even completely foiled, but it’s also a restaurant getting back to the plot.  Tae-sik has spent a decade in prison, having problems as adopted children often do.  He returns to the mother who took him in and her daughter, trying to connect as his past lurks behind.

               I found this a pretty different film for Kim Rae-won who is usually just in romantic comedies (except Mr. Socrates).  It’s a bit odd at parts as he seems to be a little mentally impaired, yet very intelligent.  I never was bothered by anything though, fascinated really.  It’s a patient build and it makes you appreciate every moment we spend with a man trying to better himself.  Of course, sometimes as a guy you want both worlds.  Give me death than peace, or peace than death.  Whichever order, just give me both.  Seven Key lime pie slices, set on fire!

SUNNY (2008) (My Love Is Far Away)

CJ Powercast/KD Media – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Lee Joon-ik

               ACTORS: Soo Ae, Jung Jin-yung, Jung Kyung-ho, Joo Jin-mo, Sin Hyun-tak, Uhm Tae-woong and Park Yun-ho

              

               I know what you’re thinking, if you happen to pay attention to numbers.  Hey, that took a four years to come to Blu-ray.  You might also be thinking, wasn’t there another film called Sunny?  Or maybe you just read without thinking much and let me perform all the mental duties.  KILL!

               Lee Joon-ik makes films about war and films about entertainers.  This is both for the first time, as well as a female perspective on Vietnam.  North America wasn’t the only country hatin’ on the Communism.  Sometimes Koreans got sent there for cheating on their wife and then beating up a higher officer for reading a letter about it to their fellow soliders.

               Sunny didn’t seem to have an impressive DVD release considering the director and how many awards Soo Ae won, but waiting several years paid off with a Blu-ray digibook.  I’m really liking KD Media releasing all their big releases this way.  Now the disappointment. 

               Vietnam is beautiful, and the Blu-ray feels like you’re right there.  The problem with the film is, it’s barely about Soo Ae.  The sleazy band leader Jung-man (Jin-yung) is always in the center.  Soo Ae is more like a perfect anime robot, with a blank expression unless she needs to sing.  Then the singing program commences.  It just doesn’t feel like it’s about her, instead we get into the entertainment and money side of Vietnam.  There are a few battle scenes, and they’re quite chaotic.  Near the end the “war made me insane” acting, that also happened in Tae Guk gi, gets to be a bit much.  The music is joyous, especially in front of Korean soldiers, but often things are uncomfortable.  The best scene is with the bassist, Yong-duek (Kyung-jo) as he burns his share of the American money.  The way it was earned has completely broke his heart.  I’ve been that guy.

               With all the languages, like Vietnamese and English, the acting better than normal.  The film was a huge undertaking but some things left me underwhelmed.  Of course, if you put things on a high shelf, you increase the possibility of them falling and smashing.  I will say, there hasn’t been a Lee Joon-ik film that hasn’t been worth seeing, but his goal of making something more feminine was not accomplished here.  Next time maybe.

SUPER MONKEY RETURNS

DS – 2010

 

               DIRECTOR:Sin Dong-yeop

               ACTORS: Kim Byung-man (김병만)Son Oh-gong (손오공)Ryoo Dam (류담)Ryoo Dam (류담)Jeo Pal-gye (저팔계)Han Min-gwan (한민관)Han Min-gwan (한민관)Sa Oh-jung (사오정)Min Ah-ryung (민아령)Min Ah-ryung (민아령)Samzang Monk (삼장법사)Choi Hong-il (최홍일)Choi Hong-il (최홍일)Woo-ma king (우마왕)Kim Wang-geun (김왕근)Kim Wang-geun (김왕근)Doctor Kim (김박사)Kim Bom (김봄)White-haired witch (백발마귀)Han Sung-yong (한성용)Han Sung-yong (한성용)Geum-gak (금각)Ha Sung (하성)Ha Sung (하성)Eun-gak (은각)Shin Taek-gi (신택기)Shin Taek-gi

               TONE: Spy Kids meet Journey to the West

 

               Some films I buy because I think others will enjoy them as much as me.  Some I buy knowing full well I’ll be watching them alone.  This film is for forgiving children, but if you think about the movie as if your weird friends made a Journey to the West with the best special effects they could make on their IMac, you might be okay.  I like it once I adjusted my standards.

               Koreans turn the Monkey King into a gang leader who defeats a rival gang of hammy evil-doers and seals them into a gourd, so it’s pretty much the plot of Superman II, except when the bad guys escape, the Monkey King and friends must be reincarnated altering carefully selected children.  This I loved.  Each child wants something in exchange for their sacrifice and the government is happy to oblige them.

 

SUSPECT X (Perfect Number)

CJ E&M – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR:Bang Eun-jin

               ACTORS: Seung-Bum Ryu           …Suk-GoYo-won Lee      Yo-won Lee        …Hwa-SunJin-woong Jo            Jin-woong Jo     …Detective Min-BumYun-Sung Kim         Yun-Sung Kim   …Sang-joonMin-ho Kwak

               GOLDBACH’S CONJECTURE: Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes

 

               For how much darkness the film wants to portray on the cover, the natural light glows in the opening scenes.  It’s purposeful as one character lives in the light and has the power to bring others there.  Based on the Japanese novel “The Devotion of Suspect X”, a shy teacher that seems to have no difficulty connecting anything to math, find great difficulty connecting himself to the neighbor he buys lunch from daily.

               This is definitely cinematic poetry that requires your patience as the story unfolds, much like More Than Blue.  I know people are upset about the cutting out of a character, but Sung-bum blends them well.  Simplicity is best sometimes, but if you feel you’re missing something read the book or see the Japanese film which seems to have a lighter tone and feels a bit like those detective television shows.

The friendship between detective Min-bum (Jin-woong) and teacher Suk-go (Sung-bum) is akin to a superhero film or Silence of the Lambs as the detective is asking for help from the very person who committed the crime.  In that way I’d wished some of the clues were a little less obvious.  When linking evidence is inserted in a book I’m just waiting for the detective to find it.  If I’d never seen it inserted I think the reveal would have been more interesting.  The book is called the Perfect Number much like the alternative/overseas title.  The math teacher is obsessed with solving a problem that has never been solved, and it gives you a hint that problems he created might be just as brilliant.

The

THE SWORD WITH NO NAME (Like Fireworks, Like Butterflies)

Pre.Gm – 2010

               DIRECTOR: Kim Yong GYun

               ACTORS: Jo Seung-woo, Soo-ae, Cheon Ho-jin, Choi Jae-woong, Kim Yung-min and Park Min-hee

              

               After transporting a beautiful woman to the sea, Moo-myung (a flawless Sung-woo) shows her a nest of waterfowl and informs her that the birds fly as soon as they hatch and never return.  The future Empress is moved and strengthened by the words.  The scene transports us to the Jeseon Dynasty.  The woman if historically accurate was only a girl, but she would soon become Empress MyungSung, one of the most important political figures concerning relations with Japan and Korea.  If you don’t know anything about all that, I’ll try not to spoil the ending for you.

               The Sword is a beautiful movie, and even though its special effects budget is below its goals, I’m fine.  Let me go deeper.  There’s a boat scene.  After saving the future Empress twice (!) the head guard and best swordsman around decides to kill the nuisance.  I guess it would be like if every time you tried to sell a car another guy came around and had more information than you did.

               Obviously the bounty hunter Moo-myung is in love, but as it’s forbidden, he finds a way to get as close as possible.  He decrees his wish to be a guard and is fitted with a prototype bulletproof vest and shot and of course he dies.  Just kidding, he becomes a royal guard, but nowhere near the Queen.  Everything about the character is fictional but so wonderful.  He’s brave, he’s steadfast and he’s innocent.  His love physically hurts me as the Queen is of course married and you know what happens sometimes at night.  I just go back to the beach where they first met.  Meditate a bit.  Hey, maybe it’s like Fight Club and he’s the guard and the King.  No.  Nope.  Well, anyway.

               Moo-myung had a Christian name and past at one time.  He watched his mother die for her beliefs while he could do nothing.  He was only a child.  It’s interesting seeing such a common thing here, be so rebellious in Korea.  He wants to be the Queen’s savior, but of course history is not always kind to love.

T

A TASTE OF MONEY

D&C Entertainment – 2013

               DIRECTOR:

               ACTORS:

              

               The sequel to a remake.  Panned at Cannes.  Darcy Pacquet as the white guy.

               I’m Sang Soo’s beautiful and claustrophobic, A Taste Of Money was a must see when the director admitted the movie was too Korean to be submitted to the international film festival.  His new ending of the classic Housemaid intrigued me.  The family isn’t changed by the horrifying fate of their maid.  Where are they now?  I imagine the director couldn’t stop thinking of his characters.  This is not a story where underdogs prevail, this is a series of events that ask what you would do for money and what can it not do.

              

TEARS

Atlanta – 2001

               DIRECTOR: Im Sang-soo

               ACTORS: Jun Han, Park Geun-young, Bong Tae-gyu, Jo Eun-ji, Sung Ji-ru

 

 

               This film is the debut of Bong Tae-gyu and Jo Eun-ji and was the first idea Im Sang-soo had for a project, though he made Girls’ Night Out first.  Tears is rough going, the subject matter is harsh and might appeal to people who enjoy movies like Trainspotting or Kids.  This is the text from the back cover:

              

A Teenager movie unsuitable for teenagers

                              Runaway

                              Drug

                              Escort service…

 

               AT 14.  I had nothing left but my tears

 

               I went ahead and kept the strange punctuation so to keep the realism, so I’m just like Sang-soo.  According to Wiki, the director researched in Garibong-dong for five month, following the runaways he wanted to portray on screen.  The project didn’t pan out cinematically though Sang-soo was recognized at the Pusan International film festival.

               To me the most interesting aspect is, instead of following some men into a Karaoke club where they pay women to hang with them, with follow those young girls instead.  We follow them into a closet to huff chemicals; we follow them on the dangerous streets.   I bought the first press because it was an early Sang-soo film, that I’ve never seen available before.  Right now, the director is making expensive HD projects focusing on the rich in the same way that he’s making a cheap digital movie focusing on the poor.  Not my favourite subject matter, though.  I like a sterile film, with stylized shots, but you get to make those later.  You do what you can in the beginning and make it as realistic and somehow controversial.  Odd that something true would ever be controversial.

               My favourite scene is with  ___ () who runs an underage Karaoke bar.  He confesses that could have sex with Sari () at any time.  He smashes a glass into his hand and lifts it, saying this is from the heart.  We’re all disgusted, but then Sari does the same thing.  You love her for that.

                

THE TERROR LIVE

Taewon – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Kim Byung-woo

  •                ACTORS: Ha Jung-woo as Yoon Young-hwa
  • TONE: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
  • Lee Geung-young as Cha Dae-eun
  • Jeon Hye-jin as Park Jeong-min
  • Lee David as Park Seon-woo
  • Choi Jin-ho as anchor Lee Sang-jin
  • Kim So-jin as reporter Lee Ji-soo

 

 

               “I have a bomb.  I’ll blow up a bridge.”

 

               The Terror Live is about a demoted radio show host that uses a terrorist act to his advantage.  Having little or no knowledge about the film up until its home release, the title made me think it was a horror film.  This is from the indie director of Written (reviewed below), but probably most people’s first Byung-woo film.  I hope people see Written because of this, a very interesting debut.  It also stars the award winning Ha Jung-woo of The Yellow Sea and The Berlin File, as opportunist anchor Young-hwa.  He’s about to find himself equally used.

               I used to listen to a radio show at night that always referred to the anchors as newsbunnies.  When something awful happens, the station is making money.  The Terror Live exposes the simple facts we live with and holds people responsible.  Like most films with a mysterious voice, you wonder how no one can trace the call, how did he get a bomb in the earpiece and how does he know so much?  Question like those almost always take a backseat as you watch each next scene with hope that the answers are coming soon … like the next “important breaking” news story after a commercial.

               The frightening danger that Young-hwa is in is heightened by clever editing and sound.  Being the lead actor, it would be hard to believe he would be killed quickly, but you still feel the intensity.  You’re never quite sure how far things are going to go, and that’s a pleasant/jarring experience.  I love it when an indie director gets some money, things can go all sorts of ways, but this was a great satire.  I have a weird feeling that North America will be stealing it soon, but you’ll have to find someone great to fill Jung-woo’s shoes.  He’s wonderful here, cocky at first, but your sympathy grows as he plummets, becoming more and more fragile and open.  He starts to become the person you’d really want to see each night.

Okay, I can’t not talk about the ending here.  My mind instantly said that that was the best ending I’d seen all year.  It’s interesting when you think about terrorism.  We all want some attention and action, especially when we’re the victims of injustice.  A film will always paint a bit simply, but the finale always blurs the black and white.  Young-hwa apologizes for his country when the President does not.  I understand the need to not negotiate with terror, just as you stand firm with law, but there is always a “but”.  When Young-hwa sits there, identifying with a young man that he thought he hated, as he considers his ruined life, as we hear “We will not negotiate with terrorists.”  We all want him to push the button and that’s the most interesting aspect of the film.

TIME + BREATH

Taewon – 2009

               DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

               CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Sung Jong-moo

               TIME ACTORS: Ha Jung-woo, Park Ji-Yun, Kim Sung-min and Sung Hyun-a

               BREATH ACTORS:  Zia, Chen Chang, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Ki-duk

 

               In 2009, two of Kim Ki-duk’s films were packaged together.  I read that it was because Breath had been subpar, people kept relating it to Spring Summer Fall Winter … Spring.  All of that was unfounded and unfair.  Anyone who can make cheating and murder poetic and beautiful is a real artist.  Like Bad Dream, Kim Ki-duk doesn’t mind throwing a non-Korean into his film as Chen Chang doesn’t really have to speak a word.  The death row prisoners seem like caged animals, fighting over pictures and a single human hair.  Zia goes crazy, as her happy family life falls apart from a cheating husband.  She starts visiting Jang Jin (Chang) dressing the walls up like each season and recalling events in her life.  She sings a seasonal song as foreplay and each season they get closer and closer … but so is her jealous husband.

               I want to take a moment to smile at Jang Jin being the name of the prisoner.  I wonder if it’s a coincidence.  Considering the ending, hopefully not.  Whatever the case, I really liked Breath.  The lesson learned as a cheating husband realizes he’s worse than a criminal on death row to his wife.  Also, the prisoner keep attempting suicide.  In Korea, no one that has received the death penalty has been federally murdered since the 90’s, so the chances of him dying are slim.  Why are we outlawing such a personal choice?

               Time has a mysterious cover that makes it seem like The Cell.  It also stars Ha Jung-woo but this time as the boyfriend of a self-conscious woman named Seh-hee.  Big high five to Ki-duk for speaking about plastic surgery, which is a frightening tread of famous people in Seoul and beyond.  But it seems to have a magic quality as things often do in any Kim Ki-duction (I should trademark that). 

     

THE TOWER

CJ E&M – 2013

               DIRECTOR: Kim Ji-hoon

               ACTORS: Seol Kyung-gu설경구AsKang Yung-gi(강영기)•Son Ye-jin손예진AsSeo Yun-hee(서윤희)•Kim Sang-Kyung김상경AsLee Dae-ho(이대호)•Kim In-kwon김인권AsByung-man(병만)•Do Ji-han도지한AsLee Seon-woo(이선우)•Lee Chang-joo이창주AsAssistant Jo

              

               I placed my standards on the floor, firmly.  So many people slam on Ji-hoon’s films and they should.  The Michael Bay of Korea, I don’t know yet.  There are as many similarities as there are to the film Towering Inferno.  But to me, the film has more to do with the tower of Babel.  It as starts to feel that way as the artificial snow starts to fall. 

               Long ago a tower was built to reach the heavens, full of people who spoke the same language.  I don’t know if it was Korean or not.  In our cinematic tower, the owner wishes to bedazzle his wealthy friends with miracles.  One is to helicopter in snow, which slowly connects all the many characters we’ll meet in the first half an hour.  It’s actually kind of nice to not drag things out, there’s even a tease with a kitchen fire, but it’s important to the plot.  Rich people don’t care about sprinklers! 

               Back to point, sinful behavior and selfishness gets you killed.  Recreating nature is overshadowed by real nature as an updraft takes hold of a helicopter’s cargo and sends it flying into Sky Tower like a missile.  That was a pretty cool scene.  Though the characters are somewhat cliché and stiff in the beginning, I realized I started to care.  Sol G

 

As jaded as I can be, I actually thought the “new money” Christians were kind of funny. 

 

THE TRAP (The Hole)

Spectrum – 2001

DIRECTOR: Kim Sung-hong

               ACTORS: Choi Ji-woo, Park Yong-woo and Yun So-Jung

              

               This film was created right as the new wave was about to start so it technically suffers a bit.  I like a rough horror/suspense film though.  It adds to the agh and the ugh!  When we first meet two of our three characters we’re not completely sure what they are to each other and that’s the point.  They wrestle on the bed and talk about a date, but soon the son reveals to his mother that there’s someone he wants her to meet.  There’s only one crazy person in the house and she doesn’t want any female coming between her and the child she’s spent thirty years with.

               I’ll buy any old Spectrum release I can find now and this one was a must.  It’s the debut film of Yong-woo (My Scary Girl, Handphone).  He’s your typical boyfriend/husband who doesn’t believe his girlfriend/wife.  Ghosts?  That’s silly.  Monsters?  You’re seeing things honey.  The son and girlfriend (Ji-woo) are married rather quickly in a time jump and we get to the claustrophobia meat of the movie.  The mother starts off drugging the new wife so she sleeps in.  Chastises her lack of cooking skills and alphas her all the way down the stairs at one point.  There’s even a scene where she’s washing her son.  The son defuses the situation rather quickly and explains that it’s only been him and his mother and he considered it normal.  He soon takes his wife side wanting no one more worries.  Of course that’s just like stepping on a crack and breaking his loony mother’s heart. 

               Could be a fun one for Halloween, but don’t expect a lot of surprises.  Each player is quite good at their roles though.  So-Jung was last in Late Blossom if you’re interested.  The writer ended his career here having previously made Ghost Mama.  Might skip that one, though the director of Ghost Mama worked on Papa which was one of Park Yong-woo’s last films.  File that under Too Much Information.

 

TREELESS MOUNTAIN

Oscilloscope Pictures – 2009

DIRECTOR: Kim So-yong

ACTORS: Kim Hee-yeon, Kim Song-hee, Lee Soo-ah, Kim Mi-hyang, Park Boon-tak

WARNING: Graphic grasshopper genocide

          

     This film is under 90 minutes so something is up.  The director was born in Busan but grew up in California.  Her partner in marriage, Brandley Rust Gray is also a partner in film and they produce each international (Canada, U.S., Korea, Iceland) film together.  It was shot entirely in Korea, but was mostly released in Canada.  There are Asian releases but none in Korea that I could find.

     The movie is incredibly realistic, bordering on documentary as two girls are sent to their poor Aunt’s so their mother can find their dad.  All the girls want is their mom so that is their focus.  And the camera focuses on them almost entirely, how they feel and see.  They find a rocky dirt pile where they can view the buses arriving, a treeless mountain.  They wait with hope.

     Their mother promises she’ll return if they fill up a bank of coins (actually an incentive to be good as the aunt will award them for good behavior) and the innocent sweethearts take it seriously.  They cook live grasshoppers for money to serve to neighborhood boys and change big coins for small to fill it faster.  It’s a heartbreaking affair but difficult to turn away.

     The aunt has a drinking problem and a failed business so it’s not long before the children are shuffled to their grandparent’s farm.  The short finale is the climax of the film as they finally start to find a bit of joy and distraction in farm life and their sweet hard-working Grandmother.  An excellent and very unique film that stays with the kids no matter what.  I am not sure how they did it, but this is great for people you loved The Road Home.

(THE) TRUCK

Premier – 2009

DIRECTOR: Kwon Hyung-jin

               ACTORS: Yu Hae-jin, Jin Goo

              

               Sometimes you put a movie up really high in your expectations, in a place it could never fit in.  It’s like being the daughter of a truck driver, asking to play with some rich girls.  They’ll let you push, but never let you ride.

               We paint a very common picture in the beginning of Hae-jin (in a rare starring role) as a truck driver named Chul-min barely making it by.  He shuns gambling even when figures like 10,000 dollars are thrown at him.  He only throws his cigarette out the window when talking to his daughter.  His existence would appear to be a grey as concrete until he has the worst day of his life. 

               His daughter faints when pushing the before mentioned playground equipment, and we soon find she needs a 60,000 dollar heart transplant.  Time to round up a loan or two and go to the underground gambling table to be swindled by friends and thugs.  And worse yet, to witness the aftermath of the slaughter of several women by a gangster.  Hey, you have a truck, I have some bodies … you have no choice.

               All the while we cut to news of a psychopath named Kim Young-ho (Jin Goo) who has been caught and is being transported, only to escape.  It’s a bloody mess and soon it all becomes too much or too little.  The detective leading the investigation is very lackidaisical about the situation and his job.  We’re supposed to believe that Chul-min picks up an officer searching for Kim Young-ho, but it never makes sense with what we see (or the cover of the film) that he could be transporting anyone but the psychopath.  Maybe that was the reason for casting Jin Goo, who I like a lot, but in this film he’s just not scary.  Things fall apart and so do our attention spans. 

               Previously the director made For Horowitz which is okay, nothing that will make your head explode.  I just wanted more, and that can be the very worst viewing curse.  In Premier films the casting is usually interesting, the plot sounds like a good idea and then the execution leaves you desiring another slice of Key lime pie, or something else.  Crush and Blush may ignore my negativity.

 

TROUBLESHOOTER

Planis Entertainment/NEW – 2011

               DIRECTOR: Kwon Hyeok-jae

               ACTORS: Sol Kyung-gu, Lee Jung-jin, Oh Dal-Su, Song Sae-Byuk, Lee Sung-Min, Joo Jin-Mo, Moon Jung-Hee, Choi Ji-Ho and Lee Young-Hoon

 

               You can complain.  I know you can.  Car chases with tons of crashes, beating people because a child was endangered, a cop allowing two people to fight because one is a bad guy, I WAS SET UP!  The bottom line is, it’s fun to watch Sol Kyung-gu beat up bad guys (Public Enemy, Another Public Enemy, Public Enemy Returns).  It just is.  And he doesn’t always do it.  He’s in amazing films.  Beautiful movies.  Oasis was a Korean submission for the academy awards.

               Ryoo Seung-Wan even shares the writing credit.  He’s created some of the best action films in Korea.  The story is fairly complex.  There are two Troubleshooters.  I would have liked to see Sol Kyung-gu solving more problems than his own, but he mostly seems to be taking pictures of people having sex in motels.  How fun would that be?  One of the more emotional scenes is when he’s helpless and tied to a chair waiting to be blow up as the gas is turned on and a lighter is in the microwave.  Why didn’t they just kill him?  They never do.

               If they killed him, the star is gone from the movie and the bad guys get away.  What if the police simply arrested the criminals?  It’s anti-climactic.  There’s a fight in the middle with Lee Young-Hoon as a psycho and Sol Kyung-gu.  There seems to be no one at the mental ward.  Maybe it was closed down, the power is still on.  Am I condemning or defending?  I had fun.

               Planis Entertainment releases often have a generous glossy slipcase.  Troubleshooter is a slipcased digipak with two discs and a film cut.  There is even a little hole to keep the cut in.  4 slice of Key Lime Pie, with a little extra whipped cream.

 

TWILIGHT GANGSTERS (Pistol Bandit Band)

Pre.Gm – 2010

 

               DIRECTOR: Kang Hyo-Jin

               ACTORS: Na Moon-hee, Kim Soo-mi, Kim Hye-Ok, Lim Chang-jung, Kim Kwang-kyu

              

               The odd director of Punch Lady goes even more off the edge with a film that makes light of elderly thieves.  Hey, they just want a little pocket money to go to Hawaii.  Everyone is so uptight.  Lots of guns in the climax, that’s a bit strange, but it’s a remake of the German film Now or Never, so that might explain a bit.  The climax also seems to be written all in one day, okay so we’re painted into a corner, so we’ll do the only thing we can do.  It’s kind of a downer ending, but I would never complain about that.  Tons of other things to complain about. 

               The film is somewhat funny in the beginning, but often Korean films become quite serious for no reason at all at the half way point.  It works sometimes, but if you already have a comedy going, it’s not always necessary to melodramatize.  Old ladies on a motorcycle, this isn’t going to win a Golden Bear.  Odd film, that’s all I’m saying.  Next.

              

TWO COPS

Cinema Service – 2002 (originally released 1993)

               DIRECTOR: Kang Woo-suck * (debut)

ACTORS: Ahn Sung-ki as Jo, senior detective, Park Joong-hoon as Kang, new recruit, Ji Soo-won as Soo-won, Kim Bo-sung as Lee, detective, Kim Hye-ok as detective Jo’s wife, Shim Yang-hong as police chief, Yang Taek-jo as unit head

 

               TONE: Cheeseball soundtrack, buddy cop

                             

               * The first credit and text you see is a producer credit, spelling out Kang Woo-suck instead of “suk”.  I found it funny.  This is one of the first of his Cinema Service releases so it has the “blockbuster” basic case.  Sung-ki ate all the awards for his role as a professional corrupt cop, Detective Jo.  It’s fun to go back and see him like this as he’s often the straight man now, a modern sage at most.  Sung-ki has had a loooooong career, beginning in 1957, and can be the beggar all the way up to the King.

               Top graduate Kang (Joong-hoon) plays a by the book type, like if you combine a typical roof-chasing action star with Dan Aykroyd in Dragnet.  He’s met his match with his new partner, the baron of bribes.  Detective Kang gazes with confusion and amazement, as Detective Jo has the world on a string.  Detective Kang may have a lot to learn from Dectective Jo if he doesn’t arrest him first.

               The tone is really set as both Jo and his former partner are arrested and only the partner is fired.  Detective Jo has this magically way of getting out of anything and you’re set up over and over again.  My only problem is the music which is at better cheap synthesizers, and at worst talking electric guitar reminding me of Bruckheimer and Bay.  This is a bit before the new wave hit and suffers technically.  The widescreen occasionally has mysterious pieces of something hanging from the black bars.  Did they just place some paper over to create the widescreen? 

               Kang-suk made a sequel (though Two Cops has two sequels) and then created the most amazing corrupt cop trilogy ever starting with Public Enemy.  This is the beginning though, how you build an empire.  I’m watching this again after his last film, Fists of Legend, in awe of how far corrupt and violent men can catapult one.  Cinema Service will probably be my first favourite company.  I adore those kids at the beginning, with their little paper airplane.

 

TWO FACES OF MY GIRLFRIEND

Cinema Service – 2007

               DIRECTOR: Lee Suk-hoon

ACTORS: Bong-Tae-gyu, Jung Rye-won, Kim In-kwon, Jo Dal-hwan, Jin Tae-hyun

TONE: Post-Sassy Multiple personality Rom-Com

                             

               “A pretty girl with no flaws would never date you.”

 

               The only way I want to see a scary hair ghost is if it’s in a parody.  Luckily that’s how they lead to the title sequence here, where a young man starts dating a girl with two very distinct personalities.  A-ni is a sweet girl pining for an ex-boyfriend and Ha-ni is a protective masculine side that attacks who attempts to get close to A-ni.  If this sounds familiar you may have seen Diablo Cody’s television show that came out in the states two years later called “The United States of Tara”.  Now I’ve made TWO coincidental situations between Diablo Cody and Korean cinema (Jenny, Juno), but I’m sure everything is fine.  I’m hoping South Korea remakes her succubus flick, Jennifer’s Body once Kim Sae-ron is old enough.

               Yu-ri is the real name of the girl (played by the agoraphobic co-star of Castaway on the Moon, Rye-won) and her mental condition ends up being brought on by something more tragic than a break-up.  Mostly we follow jaded virgin Gu-chang (Tae-gyu, also the star of the director’s debut film See You After School) as he gets to know this girl who is way out of his league.  He’ll take the physical and mental lumps from Ha-ni as he’d rather not be alone.

               Though familiar tropes exist like a weak guy and a tough girl, or meeting under odd circumstances on the subway, the subway is pretty funny.  There is a lot of creativity and fun, like in the beginning in a restaurant, suddenly there is a spotlight on Gu-chang and he explains himself.  I truly think this could be remade successfully in the states, if we needed another Korean film to adapt.  Luckily Oldboy is currently failing, as it should.  There’s a reason why so many people jumped on to later jump off.  You don’t remake perfection. 

               The party scenes with Gu-chang’s friends in Mickey Mouse clothes are a bit weird and break-up scenes happen only to be patched up quickly in the next scene, but I do enjoy the film, especially the lighthouse end.  “What about now?  Does it look real?”  It did to me.  I worry when others don’t like a film, maybe I missed something, but when I looked back I enjoyed it.  I like Tae-gyu, though often in some low-brow projects, this wasn’t really one of them.  It almost feels like a satire like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  When you really meet someone you’re crushing on, do you let go of the woman you love just because you found something difficult?  I know multiple personality is more prevalent in films than all the cases in real life combined, but Rye-won made me believe it.  It’s nice to have a character that is a jerk for a good reason, isn’t of just being awful. 

KD Media first press sleeve, multiple Key lime pie slices, left frozen in Antarctica.

U

THE UNJUST

CJ E&M – 2011

               DIRECTOR: Ryu Seung-wan

               ACTORS: Hwang Jung-min, Ryoo Seung-bum, Yoo Hae-jin

              

               Getting the packaging highlights out of the way, it is the typical deluxe Blu-ray release from CJ, a foiled slipcase digipak, number 012 in the series.  I like their style.   They make you want to have them all.  The Blu-ray is well worth it, the image is crisp and close and it brings you in, especially during the brief art gallery scene.

               Imagine a symbol of a balanced legal system, a cymbal for our symbol.  Crash down on that cymbal with a reign of marbles.  The marbles are all our characters who live lives of betrayal and corruption.  But nothing seems too far out there.  You know in each character’s head, things are fine, everyone else is wrong.

               Captain Choi (Hwang Jung-min) and Prosecutor Joo (Ryoo Seung-Bum) are the center of the film, though Choi is definitely the biggest marble.  How To Succeed would have been an on the nose title.  During a very important investigation of a serial rapist and murderer, a suspect is killed.  If the right cop steps up and gets rid of the problem, maybe he could have a very big promotion.  Captain Choi is already helping semi-post gangster Jang Suk-gu (Yu Hae-jin) with a timely arrest of his contracting competition.  The competition has Prosector Joo in (or at least near) his pocket.  This film is like the Departed except everyone is supposed to be on the side of the law and isn’t.  It’s frightening.  Written by Park Hoon-jung of the recent I Saw The Devil, you already know it’s going to be complex.

               The film takes a bit of getting used to as everyone is introduced but it starts to collect itself well around the first half an hour.  Maybe it’s not the best tourist commercial for visiting South Korea, but it is another great addition to their evolving film industry.

THE RIOT OF LEE JAE-SOO (Les Insurges) (Shim Eun-ha box set)

Spectrum – 2005 (originally released 2001)

 

               DIRECTOR: Park Kwang-su

               ACTORS: Lee Jung-Jae, Shim Eun-Ha, Frederic Andrau, Yun So-Jung, Myung Gye-Nam, Yeo Gyun-Dong, Sebastien Tavel

               TONE: 1901 true story, Jesus told me to hang you

 

               “Trust me.  I will hold that since it’s too heavy for you.”  (Lee Jae-su taking a hunter’s gun, after he explains he’s never shot at a human before)

 

               I find it very interesting that the Christians in Korea were often the rebels.  In modern day life, Christians are hard to get behind, banning this or censoring that.  And here they’re wielding their power until the other’s snap.

               I decided to combine the aspects of the original title and the North American title.  The French title is hard for me to get my head around (Les Insurges) and I think it tells the story.  Yi Jae-su is going to uprise and Il-suk-hee (Eun-ha) is along for the ride, kind of.

               I love the scene that all uprising movies have, where the leader gives some sort of speech to inspire his troops.  The scene starts all a cave wall, and almost looks like we’re in space, with the reflections like stars.  We walk in late, realizing where we are.  We join the scene we’ve seen so many times, and feel a part of it, the way we’re supposed to.  Not all the scenes work, but it’s obvious they’ve been carefully planned out, possibly even overthought.  I appreciate someone who thinks too much and fails, more than the same old clichés done perfectly.  The film has a lot to say and a lot for us to think about.  And while that’s happening, you may get distracted by French Keanu Reeves.

               This is Lee Jeong-jae’s (recently Thieves and New World) film.  He’s a simply person who finds himself confused by the chaos and puts himself in a leadership position. 

 

High hopes were placed on “Les Insurges”, the Korean-French co-production becoming the first Korean film chosen for the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival. Residents in Che-ju island were suffered from some Catholics’ misbehavior and too heavy taxation in 1901. Although a commoner Lee Jae-Soo knew about that the leader of rebellion should be responsible for all the results and willingly choose the death after rebellion, he volunteers a leader, leaving his lover, Sook-Hwa, alone. The battle starts. Lee finally captures the castle, but a French fleet has already headed for Che-ju. In the meantime, Lee lays down his life for himself after obtaining the promise on correction in religion and taxation by the government… Almost 3 million dollars.

Long known as a place for internal exile and persecution, the turn of the 19th century saw the flames of rebellion ignite once again on Jeju with Lee Jae Soo’s (이재수) uprising against an increasing number of Catholic missionaries and native converts spreading out across the island. The result: a massacre of some three hundred Catholics and the creation of Jeju’s first Catholic cemetery, which remains with us to this modern day.

The seeds of the massacre, however, were first sown in 1886 with an agreement between Korea and France which legally opened the country to their Catholic missionaries who had previously been unable to practice freely without persecution. Two churches were established on Jeju but local government officials continued an unwelcoming stance which was reciprocated with an increasing lack of trust from the Catholic community. The situation was not helped by certain individuals taking advantage of the agreement- local tax collectors, Bong Sae-Kwan (봉새관) Kang Bong-Won (강 봉원) extorted tax and gave special benefits to Catholics.

Natives of the Daejeong area would in turn organize themselves against such actions, to create the Sang Moo Sa Won (상무사원), led by district head, Chae Goo-Shik (채구식). One member of this organization beat a Catholic before being captured by a Catholic party and beaten himself. This man, Oh Shik-Ran (오 식란) committed suicide, which was one of the final incidents that served as a catalyst for the uprising against the Catholics, led by Lee Jae-Soo (이재수).

 

 

V

VAMPIRE COP NA DO-YUL (Vampire Cop “Ricky”)

Enter One – 2008

               DIRECTOR: Lee Si-myung

               ACTORS: Kim Soo-Ro, Jo Yeo-jungCheon Ho-jinSon Byung-ho, Oh Kwang-rokKim Goo-taekLee Sang-hongOh Soon-tae, Park Yung-soo, Yun Won-seok, Jin Yong-wook, Kwon Sung-hyun, Yoo Hee-jung, Jo Seok-hyun, Lee Min-a, Jung Jong-yeol, Kim Hee-jung, Kim In-moon , Choo Kwi-jung and a listed Brett Miles Matiam (Dracula, I imagine)

               TONE: Approaching Superhero genre     

 

               The sad looking director of 2009 Lost Memories, Lee Si-myung, creates another strange flick.  I think the oddest thing is changing Na Do-yol to Ricky for English speakers.  Though, don’t worry, there will be some more weirdness coming up.

               In an amazing intro, Dracula rises from his coffin in Transylvania to be bitten by a mosquito.  He’s about as happy as most of us our as we touch the bite but miss squashing the insect ninja.  The mosquito becomes a vampire mosquito and ends up accidentally transported to Korea by plane and then DHL truck, where he bites a corrupt officer Na Do-yol (Su-ro).  Mosquito vision is pretty cool.  The effects are not top notch, but definitely get you to the next scene as Do-yol’s life changes forever.  Unlike Thirst, the officer turns immediately, sleeping all the way into the night.  He scares himself in the mirror with his yellow eyes and fangs and I smile.  Never did understand vampires not appearing in the mirror.

               The film is pretty funny as Do-yul gets to know himself.  The vampire in him comes out sexually and of course seeing a homicide is like a buffet.  He may have been slightly corrupt in his profession, but doesn’t want to be a monster of a human.  He turns to the church and tries to forget his partner is slowly figuring out Do-yul shady dealing with illegal gambling.  He ends up also having a vampire hunter (Kwang-rok) after him as well.  The tone is interesting, over-the-top when it needs to be, but still a strong layer of reality, explaining the rules.

               You might have a problem with vampires in mirrors, or just being tired in the sun instead of bursting into flames.  Do-yul is fatally dropped and saved by the vampire hunting priest who warns him of anger and arousal, two aspects that monks and priests may also suppress, will turn him like the moon for a werewolf.  He’s not fully a vampire until he sucks blood.  He has a holy ally if he’s good or an enemy is he’s bad.

               Su-ro keeps a good even humor about him during the film.  He doesn’t go over-the-top, nor does he ever stay very serious.  In cinema now he’s even more controlled.  This film was pretty successful, but it seems the limited edition DVD has been easy to get for quite some time.  I guess people saw it and that was enough.  Like the Red Shoes limited edition, it’s two slipcased digipaks with glossy promotional art of So-ru as a traditional vampire.   I actually like it more this second time.  Being a cop and a vampire has definite strength and stealth advantages.  Watch out for Bruce Lee and Phantom of the Opera colliding as Do-yul realizes, being a hero can be so much better than taking a few bribes. 

Stephen Chow should have remade this.  I’d love to see a sequel in the hands of an action director as this is a real original superhero for Korea.  My only complaint is at the end.  I guess it’s possible, but it kind of took me out of the film when a character is still alive.  It’s a good callback and it thrusts the finale forward, but it has a G rated feel to a slightly more mature movie.  Parody of Batman almost makes up for it.

VOICE (Whispering Corridors 4: Voice Letter)

Cinema Service – 2005

               DIRECTOR:Choi Equan (debut)

               ACTORS: Kim Ok-bin김옥빈Seo Ji-hye (서지혜)Seo Ji-hye서지혜Cha Ye-ryun (차예련)Cha Ye-ryun차예련Kim Seo-hyung (김서형)Kim Seo-hyung김서형Im Hyun-kyung (임현경)Im Hyun-kyung임현경Jeon Ji-ae (전지애)Jeon Ji-ae전지애Extended cast

              

               Ghosts remember what they want to remember.

When you see the black textured magnetic hardbox in the right light, the black notes appear and the red foil lettering looks decent.  This was a pretty unique and hard to acquire limited edition for the fourth installment of the Whispering Corridors franchise.  This time we’re going to focus on a choir and singing.  This is the debut of Kim Ok-bin as Young-eon.  She’s trying to piece together why she’s a ghost with her friend Sun Min (Ji-hye), who can hear, but not see her.  Otherwise, like a poltergeist, Young-eon is trapped in their all girl’s school.    

You may have this film.  It was released in the states as Voice with the red stamped “unrated” over a horrifying picture of a hand crawling out of a mouth.  Well, my packaging lies much less than your packaging.  I’ve noticed they either try too hard (Woochi the “Demon Slayer”) or not hard enough (Black Eagle).  With horror they grab you with half the budget on the cover.  They know you.  This is a beautiful horror film.  Be patient.

The depressed music teacher ends up dead next and rumors of a lesbian affair between her and Young-eon surface as Ji-hye digs deeper into a weird outcast (Ye-ryun) who claims to also hear voices of the dead.  The film flows in and out of time, as we construct the puzzle.  Equan (or Ik-hwan) seems to be very comfortable with effects.  They’re well done and add to the supernatural tone rather than distract.  His next film was a rotoscoping movie, though not really groundbreaking.  It’ll be nice to watch Life Is Cool again for a review after seeing this calm horror film.

               That’s what this is.  It’s not a slasher and it’s not extremely gory.  It’s probably the closet to Memento Mori in series considering enjoyment.  I love the idea that a ghost only exists if you remember them.  It completely explains why they would want people to fear them.  You know what you fear and maybe fear is the most powerful energy.  Fear my Key lime pie rating system!

W

A WACKY SWITCH

KD Media – 2004

               DIRECTOR: Jung Yun-won (debut)

               ACTORS: Jung Jun-ho, Son Chang-min

              

               Searching for a couple rarer films I found a first press of this at quite a bargain.  Knowing that it was cheap and possibly about two people switching places made me wonder if purchasing it was a great idea.  I’ve been slamming on switch movies for a long time.  I have a great nail-in-the-coffin idea for one too.  Luckily A Wacky Switch wasn’t supernatural.

               A writer named Lee Dong-hwa (Jun-ho of a million gangster films) isn’t beloved by his hard working wife.  When attempting to make money he hits a con artist and owes even more.  When defending his child he gets beaten up.  He believes himself to be a great writer, but he isn’t.  A businessman wants him to ghostwrite his bio though.  Suddenly he’s rich.

               Turns out, as rare as it is in Korean cinema, the businessman is a gangster.  Yun Man-chul (Chang-min) is one of those heart of gold gangsters though.  He’s sick of the whole business.  Personally I think his inward moments are the best in the film.  Imagine the President, an official, being followed always, always guarded.  You feel his serenity when he’s alone, just taking a nap, in the quiet of a normal house.  But that’s getting a bit ahead.

                Dong-hwa is worried at first but loves the new admiration he gets with his new money.  His new office.  Gangsters who give his respected.  An office overlooking the city.  He soon uses his power to fight the small injustices in his life as Man-chul falls in love with a writing teacher who is friends Dong-hwa. 

               I like how the film doesn’t feel too forced.  The switch is realistic, not supernatural as each falls into the other’s roles.  It’s a midlife crisis that might turn out alright.  I can’t give it a whole Key Lime Pie, but it definitely deserves more slices than the next 30 million dollar film about a mom and a daughter switching places. 

               Packaging is KD Media’s normal first press.  Alternate art on a matte sleeve.  Look for the backwards letters on the books on the cover.  I am unsure if that was on purpose or not.

 

WAR OF THE ARROWS

DGC Plus – 2012

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Han-min

               ACTORS: Park Hae-il, Moon Chae-won, Kim Mu-Yeol, Ryoo Seung-Ryong and a tiger.

              

               Four canines die in the first few minutes, it begins an interesting theme of hunting and chasing though.  I’ve always had an obsession with archers, assassins and elves.  As we watch Nam-yi (Hae-il) continuously miss his target later in life, I smile.  I felt closer to him, knowing what he was really aiming for. 

               I must say, as your good guy is only as good as your bad guy, Jyustinta (Seung-Ryong) is excellent.  His heavy arrows are menacing.  He feels invincible, as he often does in films like Front Line.  Often playing a North Korean, or at least someone tough, this time Seung-Ryong plays a Manchurian leader.  His soldiers have slaughtered or stolen all of the people in the town where Nam-yi and his sister now live.  Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) is getting married to their geeky adopted brother during the attack while Nam-yi is making his leave.  Though I would have stayed for the cake, it is quite clear that Nam-yi didn’t approve.

               He returns to set his village free with some stealthy and some bold moves.  Let’s just say tigers have a reoccurring theme as well.  The movie is quite fun, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen.  I wish one particular scene was done a little better. “I’m dying, leave me.  I am also dying, go!”   Not a direct quote but we’ve all seen the scene.  The veteran is injured and doesn’t want to hold up our hero so he’ll stay behind and smart bomb the enemies.  They do too, one after another.  It’s a bit weird, but the last one actually has a bit of a surprise (shrug).

               Korea finally releases a Blu-ray in a Steelbook, thank you DGC plus.  This should keep happening.  I approve.  Luckily for you though, the movie had a wide release and should be easy to get a hold of no matter what.  Hey, it’s America, we love war.

 

A WEREWOLF BOY

CJ E&M/Art Service – 2013

 

               DIRECTOR: Jo Sung-hee

               ACTORS: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-yung, Yoo Yun-suk, Jang Young-nam, Kim Hyang-ki,  Lee Yung-ran

              

               Over and over this film has been compared to another film, usually pointing out A Werewolf Boy’s superiority.  I agree, so I find no reason to repeat it.  I’ve decided to do a strange thing though.  I’m going to relate this movie to numerous other films instead of reviewing it.  If that’s not something you like reading, I give it 8 Slices, move on.

               First off, obviously you’d compare it to the Wolfman and a Werewolf in London, but this film has more to do with Frankenstein.  The boy is not naturally a Werewolf, he was created that way, and it isn’t long before people have their regrets and pull out their torches and shotguns.  Like in the film 28 Days Later, humanity is always worse than the monsters.   Monsters are simpler, and we can’t fully blame them as their desires are black and white.  We as humans know what we’re doing and still cross the line.  Now if anything is evil, that is.

               More than the sparkling vampire film that everyone must compare this film to, I thought often of Edward Scissorhands.  A created monster (excellent job by Joong-ki) is adopted into a patient forgiving family while an awful person, connected to them, will do anything to get what he wants.  The difference is, the wolf boy can be cropped and cleaned to appear completely human.  He hulks out when he becomes angry, and only in the dark, much like The Hulk.

               I know what you’re thinking, I found the film unoriginal.  Not at all, I loved every glorious minute.  The young director has already shown a great deal of talent in End Of Animal, but even that is an apocalypse film.  What we have here is a beautiful tale of first love in the countryside, many years in the past.  Bo-yung plays a sad girl with weak lungs who trains the boy, and grows close to him as they both start enjoying life.  One of my favourite scenes is seeing her transform after the landlord’s son brings friends to hurt the wolf boy, Heoul-su.   Her eyes flare as she lays all her feelings on the table.  She chooses the monster.

               Every member of the cast is great, the adorable children, the mother (Young-nam of the Neighbors).  And of course, Joong-ki who plays a perfect family dog.  You just wish the first half could continue.  All monsters must be driven away, even if they stay in our cowardly hearts.

               Blu-ray CJ 28 may or may not end up in my collection.  The numbered DVD box set (mine is 94) was so tremendously insane, it became a must.  A three disc with the extended version (not reviewed … yet), a picture book with personal messages, mock Poloroids, a scenerio book and a film cut.  Yeah, Korean packaging is back in 2013.

 

WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT?

Fantom/KM Media Culture – 2008

 

               DIRECTOR: Kim Jung-Min

               ACTORS: Ye Ji-won,Tak Jae-hoon, Kim Hyun-sook, Lee Jae-hoon-I, Kyung Joon, Cha Seo-won

              

               Also known as While You Were Sleeping, this film came out a bit before the Hangover.  The director may be working on the second 200 Pounds Beauty.  Not sure if that’s a good idea or not.   

               Well, let’s stick with the Hangover, only because you probably know it.  Instead we have only one female instead of several men.  She attempts to reconstruct a drunken romantic encounter by scratches male possibilities off her list, one by one.  Strangely the cover gives the mystery away so close your eyes if you buy the DVD. 

               The film is kind of a difficult watch.  It’s colourful, but it’s difficult to find someone to like. 

              

WHEN I TURNED NINE

Cinema Service – 2004

 

DIRECTOR: Yun In-ho

ACTORS: Kids

              

     The director made a few films including The Game.  The kids made even less films except maybe Lee Se-yung who was in other kid roles like in Lovely Rivals.  This is your 1970’s Korean school movie.  You’ll cringe at the violence, especially since they’re very young.  Nuns would cringe.  The acting is fairly good for the kids.  It’s a bit rough in places but Kim Suk is awesome.  He plays a pretty interesting leader type.  His looks are special, his actions are realistic. 

     A new girl named Woo-rim comes to school and our main character Yeo-min has a mild crush.  She’s snobby though and Yeo-min’s friends can’t stand her.  All the while Yeo-min is doing odd jobs to buy his half blind mother glasses that she doesn’t want and trying to help a strange man deliver letters to a piano teacher.  Then the biggest bully ever wants Yeo-min’s title as the strongest in the neighborhood.

     Uneven and painful, not your typical kids film, but I think kids would relate (if they could understand Korean).  I liked it too, but it’s pretty sad at the end.  You will feel bad for everyone except the teacher who is almost evil.  Packaging is a strange flat brown cardboard digipak with a strap.  Mine was old when I opened it and the strap is still very loose.  It reminds me a bit of the Princess Aurora box which is also childish, cardboard and from Cinema Service.

WHISPERING CORRIDORS (Yeogo Goedam)

Youtube – 2015 (originally CJ/Cinema Service in 1999)

 

DIRECTOR: Park Ki-hyung

ACTORS: Choi Kang-hee/Choi Se-yeon, Lee Mi-yeon, Kim Gyu Ri,  Park Ki-suk, Yun Ji-hye Lee Yong-nyeo, Kim Yu-Seok, Yu Yeon-su

TONE:  The Original Korean Schoolgirl Horror

“Jin-ju is here.”

              

     It seemed my options were buying a plain case copy in the states or watching it for free as the Korean version is waaaaaay OOP and not subtitled anyway.  Guess what I chose.

     Oooooo, you are dropped into creepyville very quickly with metallic noises and blood red pens in a school at night.  A ghost of a schoolgirl is back, and not to do homework.  Having seen the 4 sequels previous I know some things in advance, like there should be a lesbian element.  Why don’t we have lesbian schoolgirl horror movies in the states.  Peter Jackson made a great one called Heavenly Creatures.  Well anyway, on with the schoolgirl bloodbath.  

     The interesting difference is the time lapse between the return of Jin-ju and her death.  In fact the girl she loved, Hur Eun-young (Mi-yeon) is now a teacher in the school.  Students joke about a haunting, but of a good grade ghost.  They aren’t scared even though a teacher they refer to as “Old Fox” was recently found hanging outside.  I like the look of older Korean films sometimes, pre-new Wave.  Horror can be helped a lot by a certain grittiness. By Criterion Silence of the Lambs will never be replaced by the remastered Blu-ray.  No thank you.  

It isn’t long before we delve into another world.  We learn that Jin-ju was a shaman’s daughter and one of the modern students, Lim Ji-oh, can call up the spirit world with a pencil and a partner.  We also have another animal-titled teacher called Mad Dog who definitely lives up to his name as he beats Lim Ji-oh in front of all the others for painting the Old Fox hanging.  Maybe he liked her.  The beating is shocking though and we don’t like him.  He’s a pervert to another another student named Park So-young with icky strokes of her hair. Get him Jin-ju!

     Lesbianism is against danced around like a Mexican hat on the colourful tile floor.  Students and even teachers have feelings that create confusion and social destruction.  Even as light as it was, this wasn’t common.  It also takes on authoritative violence, which you would see more and more in Korean film about schools.  I’m shocked that males can teach at an all girls school, but it’s not 100% going to stop violence and perversion.  

Only a ghost can, a ghost who may see things a bit warped but is taking out the trash all the same.  Nothing changes in her mind.  She just wants a close friend and to protect her from those who take advantage because of their position and she’s probably not going to leave so maybe it’s best to do your job and lay no hand on the student body.  No matter how hot that uniform is.  Meow!

(Into The) WHITE NIGHT

Cinema Service – 2010

 

DIRECTOR: Park Shin-Woo

ACTORS: Han Suk-kyu, Son Ye-jin, Soo Go

              

     Read this one wrong.  Thought it was going to be pointlessly sexual and then boring.  Instead you receive a puzzle with 10,000 pieces and all the pieces are black or white.  The packaging is as artistic as the film and eventually sold me.  Sleeved Cinema Service releases always get me.  The only flaw of buying a mystery is, the second time you know the ending.  Here let me tell you what happened …

     The film really wakes up when Detective Dong-soo & an investigator meet and have a little brawl and post-brawl conversation.  There are a lot of suicides that might not be suicides.  There is a man in black who may be in involved and a woman in white who isn’t that far behind.  “They’re like Siamese twins who can’t stay apart no matter how painful it is.”

     The ticking clock is fifteen years, so you would think you could relax.  I don’t know, this is definitely one of those films I feel bad when I tell you too much.  You have to earn it here, and that’s a good thing.  I think you’ll be ahead of the curve when it comes to where the bodies are, but I’m certain you’re supposed to be.  Ack!  They just released a Blu-ray!

     I’m going to sit here, frustrated with Korean release scheduling now. 

              

     POST SCRIPT:  Broke down and bought the Blu-ray.  It’s wonderful.  It’s one of the only Blu-ray (018) in the CJ catalogue that has something different on the other side.  One is white and black, one is black and white.  I flip it often to justify its existence.  The film is beautiful and warrants a HD watch.

WITH A GIRL OF BLACK SOIL

Sponge/Premier – 2008

DIRECTOR: Jeon Soo-il

ACTORS: Yoo Yeon-mi유연미AsYoung-lim(영림)Park Hyeon-woo (박현우)Park Hyeon-woo박현우AsDong-goo(동구)Jo Young-jin (조영진)Jo Young-jin조영진AsHae-gon(해곤)Yoo Soon-cheol

TONE: Calm, ambient, but the ending, oooooo

 

     When I ordered this, for some reason I looked around a little deeper for a discount.  I have no idea why.  What I found was an elaborate knock-off bootleg.  Later I bought the original, which is a normal clear case, but the other one was quite strange.  The foldout paper sleeve has an extra picture of Yeon-mi’s character Young-lim (similar to the picture inside the real DVD revealed through the clear case), the side says the film comes from CJ Entertainment and is a DVD-9 and the credits include Japanese actors.  Oh bootleggers, the best thing about bootlegs is I can report you, get my money back and keep the DVD for my collection.  Thanks.

     Soo-il isn’t into a quick pace, but this film is easily his most accessible and paints a difficult picture.  Mine working has to be the most difficult and least rewarding job there is, health wise.  In certain countries the workers strike often for their rights.  Imagine pulling out precious metals and what not, for some rich bastard, while you get sicker and sicker, paid nothing.  Worst yet, Hae-gon (Young-jin) is diagnosed with black lung and finds himself fired.  He’s the father of two children, a mentally challenged boy of eleven named Dong-goo (Hyun-woo) and our focus Young-lim. 

     No matter the despair, no matter what’s going on in the foreground, we often stay with Young-lim.  She’s perfectly real, with no quips or knowledge she shouldn’t have.  She’s forced into being a mother and sister to her brother, a role which she plays with no hesitation as her father searches desperately for means to keep his family alive.  Whenever a stranger arrives it’s always a bearer of bad news, like child services or eviction.  You grow to love the moments of the three together, and especially Young-lim’s world.

     It may sound depressing, but it’s the focus on Young-lim that keeps us there.  She’s the light, with the innocence of a child, but the strength of an adult.  Her world is brightly lit, with kittens, snow, making music from trash and reoccurring mirrors.  It’s a very short film, but the impact is staggering as we crash headfirst into a tragic misunderstanding that will change the family forever.

     I award a whole Key lime, with someone inside.  Oooooo.

WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN

Bear – 2004 

DIRECTOR: Hong Sang-soo

ACTORS: Yoo Ji-tae, Sung Hyun-ah, Kim Tae-woo, Oh Yu-jin, Eom Soo-Jung and Min Yung

 

     What a set up, and I don’t mean that in a positive way.  In some circles what Hong Sang-soo does is a holy experience.  I see him making the same black and white film over and over, but I try to take them in as individuals.  Two friends decide to meet up with a female from their pasts, in the most passive alpha male grudge match you’ll ever see. 

     It’s a real experiment in charisma, but why am I attempting to make a typical review?  I bought the film because it went to Cannes (buried by Old Boy) and had a neat orange case.  Woman is the Future of Man!  Has to be feminist, right?  Wrong.  I do respect Hong Sang-soo liking phrases and just using them no matter the project.  Like a beautiful poster for a cheap horror film, whatever gets you in the seat.  The problem is once you’re in the seat with high hopes, dashing them is easier and easier.  All I know is, this isn’t the best place to start a marathon of Sang-soo.

     Let’s talk about the end.  For the illionth time Mun-ho has stolen a woman from his friend.  We are about to witness another unromantic rendezvous in a small room when there’s a jarring knock on the door.  We’re left to wonder who it was, but it should be obvious.  It’s my favourite part of the film, small but alarming.  It’s an interesting career choice to focus on the worst aspects of males, but with no judgment.  It’s very easy to do more.  The audience craves justice and revenge.  Hong Sang-soo seems content focusing on the disgusting reality of humans and technical filming aspects which continue to make him a cult icon.  He’s an anomaly for certain, but an acquired taste as well.

     There is also an Hommage Blu-ray limited to 500 copies that I will convince myself I do not need.  If you chose to send me one though, I would surely appreciate it.

WRITTEN

Widemedia – 2010

DIRECTOR:

ACTORS:

               Widemedia is swell, lots of indies.  First time I had ever seen a black cover.  You’ll feel elements of David Lynch but not too crazy, hints of David Cronenberg but nothing that extreme, the style of Saw at times but little of the violence, and the writing style of Charlie Kaufman where the worlds of writers, characters and actors may intertwine.  It’s ambient and sleepy, no explosions to be found.  I think it’s best to watch before you write a script so you don’t do this.  I mean no offense, you’re just only allowed to do this so many times.

               You wake up and your kidney has been taken.  I noticed a lot of English used in Written.  The writing on the wall, the sequence and title cards are in English.  It may have helped the film get some international viewage, past that it was in many festivals including Pusan and Stockholm.  But is it good?  I realize now that what I write may have impact on other worlds that I can not even comprehend.  So all I want to say to character A is, seriously, go to the hospital!

Y

YELLOW SEA (The Murderer)

Netflix – 2013 (originally KD Media – 2010)

 

DIRECTOR: Na Hong-jin

ACTOR: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yun-suk, Jo Sung-ha, Lee Chul-min, Kwak Do-won, Lim Yeo-won, Tak Sung-eun, Kim Ki-hwan, Ki Se-hyung, Lee El, Oh Yun-hong, Jung Man-eik

TONE: An adrenalized nightmare, where you keep barely escaping

 

     The alternate title goes well with the director’s debut, The Chaser.  This time we follow a Chinese-Korean (called a Joseonjok) taxi driver attempting to crawl out of his wife’s debt by killing someone in Korea and bringing back their thumb.  Gu-nam escapes China with a new identity and lands on the coast of Ulsan in South Korea, finding his mission quite difficult.  There’s a metal gate in front of his target’s door and the elevator won’t travel to the floor.  It’s amazing when leaving frustrated, Gu-nam runs into his target and it treated well and even given money.  He crosses off day after day on his nudie calendar.

     Hong-jin films are very dirty, but well-paced.  I wanted to like The Chaser more than I did and wanted to buy the deluxe edition of Yellow Sea, but the lack of subtitles threw my interest away.  Possibly it had to do with Fox International backing it.  The film had different deluxe releases all over Asia, being in Cannes probably helped.  Gu-nam is a quiet character and we learn from his actions.  His gambling is a problem, but his wife is his major weak spot.  His debt is from her and he doesn’t mind spending his precious few days searching for her in the bitter cold while lips dry up.

     To say more would be a crime, a very violent bloody crime.  This is a chaptered thriller that crawls a bit before it sprints like an Olympic athlete, but I appreciated both speeds.  Each complication has a solution and then further nightmarish Grand Theft Auto-style complications.  Hong-jin should make Grand Theft Auto a movie.  I know I have to view The Chaser again too, so this is the push down the stairs I needed, especially since both stars supply the main roles in Yellow Sea.  Myun Jung-hak (Yun-suk) seems like a small role as the man who send Gu-nam to Korea, but he soon finds him tracking down the amateur.  The role is way more dynamic than the Chaser, something you’d expect of Choi Min-suk, but he fills it perfectly.  My main problem with both films is that females are simply there as sexual objects, or victims.  I know a lot of action screenwriters and directors do the same, but I’d like a hint of female empowerment in the next film.

     Would have also liked the Kd Media (2011) release.  I considered case replacing and now it’s long gone.  I’ll chase it down sometime.

 

YESTERDAY

Winson – Originally released 2002

 

DIRECTOR:

ACTORS:

TONE: Incomprensible Dated Sci-fi.

WARNING: Contains suitcase gun fired by a Korean in dreadlocks

 

“We need a real understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself.” 

-quoted from Carl Jung

 

     Here’s a silly future movie (2020 is the year), stifled by budget (even though it was 5 million) and dated beyond belief.  Korea is united (okay).  Cloning is legal (okay).  All evil is in our DNA (um).  And I have no idea what’s going on.  This is my third or fourth time attempting to watch this film.  In Korea it made about 1 million dollars, and probably about that many confused Koreans.  Maybe it was the guns that made it so cool.

     Considering what I’m seeing in the last few years,

     Yoon Suk () is our typical humorless, by-his-own-rules detective.  His team is cra-zay.  Just look at (Sun-ah) sparkly temporary face tattoo!  Thirty years ago children were kidnapped, now scientists are being kidnapped in chaotic shootouts in which we feel no emotional investment.  That’s really the problem here.  What do we care about?  Moving on…      

 

YOGA (Yoga Institute)

Buzz – 2010

DIRECTOR: Yun Jae-yun

ACTORS: Eugene (Kim Yoo-jin), Cha Soo-yun, Park Han-byul, Jo Eun-ji, Lee Young-jin, Kim Hye-na, Hwang Seung-eon

 

               Honestly, for simply existing Yoga gets a few slices of Key lime pie, past that you’re on your own.  Yes, this is a horror movie, about yoga.  Yun Jae-yun also directed Wishing Stairs, another horror film with a large female cast and another in the Whispering Corridors series.  Yoga is kind of gross and, of course, strange.  I just couldn’t help it.  Like Gremlins, there are rules for the special yoga class:

               No contact with the outside world.

               No unauthorized consumption of food.

               No showers or baths within one hour after training sessions.

               No mirrors.

               No disclosure of the events within this academy to the outside world.

               And not following these rules is what the Ghostbuster Eon Spengler would call “Bad”.

               Personally I think I’ll stop because I don’t feel the need to critique or justify a genre film about a topic that has never been attempted.  I’ll just relax, bending my neck around slowly.  Or maybe, all the way around.  I’m in the advanced class.

YOU’RE MY PET

Neovision – 2013

DIRECTOR: Kim Byun-gon (debut)

ACTOR: Kim Ha-neul, Jang Keun-suk, Yoo Tae-joon, Jung Yoo-mi, Choi Jong-hun

 

     When you load your gun with Kim Ha-neul and a Japanese manga, you don’t expect it to blow up in your face.

     The source material has already been made into a Japanese series.  The cinematography is static HD with little style, purposely to capture the Japanese television show, I guess.  The sound design is amateur and the conversations leading up to the strange subject matter are clumsy at best.  This is not the Ha-neul I knewl!  I remember buying a giant box of chicken called My Tutor Friend and enjoying it a lot.  She’s sleepwalking here.

     The poster was worrisome.  For a model, Keun-suk is an odd-looking guy with way too much eyeliner.  He’s called a player but willing to degrade himself.  He’s desperate to get a place, but has six months of rent in cash.  For no reason he sings a cover of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” (a cover itself) for his feminine hippy ballet pals and I cringe.  The surprise reprise finale had me screaming, “No Momo!  No!”

     Positives are few and far between.  Ha-neul pops up in a more than one film where a love triangle forms, but the “other guy” isn’t a cliché douchebag to help the audience choose a side.  In that way it’s enjoyable.  In fact I’ll bet the audience is divided into three groups.  One group wants her with Momo the pet (Geun-suk), another wants her with the V-chested Woo-sung (Tae-joon, all three starred together in the drama Hwangjin-i) and the majority checked out before the thirty minute mark.  Geun-suk is giving it is all.  He’s an embarrassing cheese ball but I think about the movie with switched gender roles and it becomes like so many other animes.  Sadly that wasn’t the point.  In the manga, a career-oriented woman keeps a secret perfect boyfriend, a dominated homeless male that acts as a dog would.  The secret isn’t kept long here. 

     I just wish this film was directed by someone who understood anime like Min Gyoo-dong (Antique) or Lee Jae-yong (Dasepo Girl).  The director Byun-gon was a production designer before directing, and it’s no shock that the most interesting aspects of the film are the props, like several beautiful clocks.  One has an animated bird; another has swinging girl for a pendulum.  The film stops for these interesting objects and I lose a hint of disappointment.  Stick with what you know.  There’s no shame in that.

     Original Korea packaging was slipcased from Art Service, much like another comic-based film, Hello Schoolgirl.  Mine is the free Neovision Hong Kong copy, it actually looks pretty nice.  Good job Neovision.

no Z A?

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