Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2000s' Category

Evil Spirit: VIY (2008)

20th June 2013

evilspiritviyEVIL SPIRIT:VIYDirected by Park Jin-seong. Starring Jeong Seung-gil, Im Ji-yeong, Hwang Taek-ha, Kim Doo-yong and Lee Se-rang. Running Time: 120 minutes. Debuted: 2008 Busan International Film Festival/ Theatrical Release Date: March 4, 2010.

I watched EVIL SPIRIT: VIY last night with absolutely no expectations of it being particularly memorable and then spent half the night and the entire morning thinking about what I saw. This story is so complex and thought-provoking that I felt compelled to search out the source material and read it to gain insights into what I saw. Director Park Jin-seong does not create an easy film which you can relax while it spoonfeeds answers to you. Instead, you have to work to make sense of the images and actions. Even though I still do not have all the answers regarding what I saw, I want to say that this was one of the most ….. (hmm– I am struggling for words here.. I wanted to type ‘most satisfying’ but I am far from satisfied and I want to know more..ah! I’ve got it!) .. one of the meatiest movies I have seen in a long time. Before discussing it further I want to say two things. First, this review will have spoilers. It has to as I want to discuss the original short story and how it compares to the film. The second thing I need to say is that this movie will definitely not appeal to everyone. If you like your films to be easy to follow, clearly linear, and to make sense at first glance.. avoid this movie. If you want to see an experimental film that demands every ounce of your attention so you can piece it together, this is a film for you. Its style reminded me of the film WRITTEN, which I also loved and thought about for a long time afterwards.

EVIL SPIRIT: VIY is based on the short story THE VIY by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). In that story, a young seminary student is forced to read prayers over the body of a witch whom he, unknown to anyone else, had killed. The witch’s corpse becomes animated each night and attempts to harm him as he sits protected in a circle of protection he drewon the ground that keeps him hidden from evil. Her attacks become increasingly more powerful until, on the last night, she summons the VIY to find him and, when it does, she unleashes the force of hell against the seminarian.

The movie version directed by Mr. Park is divided into three chapters like an omnibus, but where the stories are more connected than many such films– and connected in unusual ways, sometimes even flowing into each other. Because the main characters are played by the same actors in all three sections, the intertwining of stories may be through one of the actors suddenly playing a character from a previous chapter.. and a chapters conclusion may suddenly occur in the course of another chapter’s story. In a lesser director’s hands, this could all come across as a confusing jumble, but director Park was able to create something quite fascinating.

I will begin by explaining the second chapter, first. This is not the be in keeping with the non-linear story-telling method employed by the screenplay. It is because the second story, entitled The Witch’s Coffin (which is also the title of this movie in Korean)most closely follows Gogol’s original work. The VIY, which is the King of the Gnomes in Russian folklore, makes no appearance however, despite his importance in the short story. But most of the other elements are there including the old witch who rides her victims to death as if they were horses, the flying coffin that the ghostly witch employs to try and drive the praying student out of his circle of protection, and witch herself, beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Also one of the two tales told by the Cossaks in the novel that proved the deceased young woman was known to be a witch is recreated for the movie… and in a very interesting way. You see, this chapter of the movie was set up as a stage play with all the exaggerated speeches and motions– and bare sets– that you might find in at an arthouse stageplay or in a college production of a drama. However, when the guard begins his flashback, the curtains behind the men open up and we are treated to a movie of his memories. The movie has an entirely different feel than the set it is screened on in that it is highly realistic and set in modern times as opposed to the highly stylized, uncertain timeperiod, of the rest of the second chapter. The part of this memory when the witch enters the house was one of the few times in this film where I jumped in surprise… for the most part, it is not that kind of horror movie. I was not exactly sure what she did to the mother and child until I had read the short story.. the movie is remarkable restrained here. Now, I did not mention the end of Gogol’s short story in this review (you can go and read it online like I did) and the chapter of the film does end either– instead, it switches to the characters and ending of the first chapter which, in retrospect.. and after reading the original story.. may be the ending of this chapter as well..

The first chapter, listed as The Strange Woman.. starts off with us watching a very creepy casting tape. This tape is the first few minutes of the movie opening credits and the way it is shot filled me with dread. While there is really nothing very scary about watching the woman dancing on the screen and coming gradually closer to the camera, the music, lighting and, most importantly, the way actress Im moves is both sets the viewer on edge with the expectation that something terrible is going to happen. Viewing the casting tapes are the director and his assistant who also play the seminary student threatened by the ghost and his friend, respectively. The director, simply called ‘P’ is thoroughly unlikeable. He is demanding, insulting and sullen. Never satisfied with anything, P decides to immerse himself in the role of the witch’s victim in order to fully understand the emotions of the film he is trying to make and to then be able to express his artistic vision on screen. You see, P is trying to film a modern-day version of Gogol’s story as a business allogory. However, his obsession with the plot, and with the lead actress who sometimes appear as if she might really be possessed by an evil spirit, blur together in his mind so that reality and fantasy become blurred– for both him and for the viewer. I often found myself questioning of something was really happening, if it was only his his mind, or if it was just a scene in the movie that he was making.

The final chapter, Curtain Call, follows most closely what we have come to expect horror movies to be. It reminds me of the old horror comics I would secretly buy as a kid.. Like House of Secrets or Tales of the Unexpected. These stories often had a twist that you could see coming from a mile off but were still somehow satisfying when they got to their ’surprise’ ending. In Curtain Call, the director P/seminary student now plays the role of a blind musician nicknamed Henri. Henri has a horrible job playing guitar in a Karaoke bar of questionable repute by night and tuning pianos with his roommate by day. His only joy in life is that he has been asked to direct and play the music for a puppet show/play that it being practiced by a small troupe set to tell Gogol’s story of VIY. (Puppet shows are also mentioned in Gogel’s story as a way the seminary makes money) Each night after work, Henri is met by the beautiful lady in black who operates the puppet of the witch.. a masterpiece in itself– and she leads him back to the hall where the rehearsals take place. There he is happy, with the performers going through a beautful, ritualized dance which mimics the movements we see of the witch attempting to reach the priest-in-training as we see in the second chapter. His performance is deeply appreciated by the rest of the crew who listen in delight to his playing and he feels happy and useful- finding joy in being with his newfound friends. However, his roommate begins to worry about him and follows Henri one night to the place the puppet show is practiced. There he spies a horror he never dreamt existed (and one of the most haunting images in the film) and takes steps to try and protect his friend from a fiend from the grave.

While there are some spoilers here, there is a lot I have not mentioned and your general enjoyment and surprise of this film will not be altered by reading this review. While it is classified as a horror film, it is not really what we have come to expect horror to be and except for three scenes– the audition tape in the first chapter, the flashback in the second chapter and what the roommate saw in the third–I did not generally feel scared while watching this film. I was more fascinated in figuring out what was going on. I have a feeling that this is a film that will only benefit from multiple viewings and I have every intention to see it again in the near future. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly was to mine. I am giving this film 9 out of 10 stars.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Elysium <2003>

17th November 2012

Elysium– Directed by Kwon Jae-woong. Voiced by Kim Jang , Kim Jeong-ah , and Lee Jae-yeong — Running Time: 75 minutes, Released in theaters: August 15, 2003>

77185The Earth in the year 2113 is a very different place than now. The world has a space fleet and meets with ambassadors from other planets. Sentient robots are commonplace and anti-gravity cars and motorcycles are available to everyone.  Some things, however, remain the same. Pizza deliveries still occur <in under thirty minutes or less> and sporting events remain popular.  The sporting event of the day is Turbo Pinball Racing where contestants on custom designed hover bikes speed through an trecherous course that looks for all the world like a cross between a roller-coaster and a titanic pinball machine. To win this race is young Van’s dream. He works in a pizzeria as a delivery boy and prides himself on his speed and ability to handle his bike in traffic. He is also in love with the beautiful Lydia, a dancer, who is fully supportive of boyfriend’s ambition.

At the same time that Van is preparing for his big day, two seemingly unrelated events take place.  The first is the mysterious circumstances involving the death and disappearance of research team at the South Pole who were sent to investigate reports of a living fossil in a chamber beneath the ice. The other event is the destruction of a spaceship carrying Amabassador Yaspe of the planet Elysium on a peaceful mission to meet with Earth officials. His ship was destroyed by the very space station he was attempting to dock with. The Elysium are quick to respond and completely destroy the station and declare war on the Earth without ever learning that some outside force had taken control of the station and caused the weapon systems to fire on the ambassador. 

The attack occurs just as Van is about to win the Turbo Pinball race. Fiery death rains down from the sky as the Elysium call for the end of the human race for the violent ways.  Millions die in the initial attack and even more fall as the aliens send swarms of spider robots and elite warriors wearing giant robot suits of armor to elimate the survivors.  The humans that were not killed in the initial strikes are forced to live in underground shelters while the Earth Defense fights a losing battle against the attackers. Van and Lydia take shelter in one such place, but as time passes, Lydia starts to pine for the sun prompting the pair to risk a trip to a grassy hillside where they used to date.  Unfortunately, their timing was bad and they are caught in the crossfire between the armies of Earth and Elysium. Kronos, wearing the armor of a giant warrior, takes aim and kills the fleeing young woman leading to a change in gentle Van. In mourning and bearing a deep hatred for the Elysium, especially Kronos, he joins the resisting forces. However, in what seems to be his first mission, his entire squad is wiped out except for Van who is saved at last minute by first Nix, a platinum-haired beauty from Elysium and then the mysterious Son-ra who teleports Van to her base beneath the sands of a wasteland. There, Van joins Paul and Christopher as part of Son-ra’s last line of defense to keep the powerful Triad Weapon out of the hands of General Necros of the Elysium.

I have no doubt at all in my mind that the creators of this film were hoping for it to evolve into a television series. One of the reasons I say this is, despite the resolution of the main conflict, a purpose is set up for the Four Knights of the Triad to remain together. But the other reason I believe they hoped it continued was the fact that so little time was spent on some pretty major characters, Christopher and Son-ra in particular. We know virtually nothing about Christopher except that he was an officer in Earth’s spacefleet before the attack by the powerful aliens ever occured. We know even less about Son-ra. It would seem that she is of the Elysium which would explain her advanced technology, knowledge of Nekros– the leader of the Elysium forces– and her apparently long life beneath the sands.  But we have no idea when she came to our world or under what circumstances. It looks as if she could have been there for thousands of years.

Paul gets a little more attention, primarily because he is the identification figure for the target audience.  He is very young, just on the borderline of becoming a teenager. And he is extremely headstrong and aggressive for his age. No reason is given for his desire to constantly fight but it seems far more than simple rage. His companion, the robot Oz, keeps a tally of his win loss records and we learn that before the Earth was ever under attack, Paul had been in nearly 2000 fights and won the vast majority of them. Since Son-ra speaks of her knights as being ‘Chosen’ –beings who possess the necessary DNA to unlock their own giant robot armors– I have to assume the fighting is something built into his genes that speaks of genetic manipulation by the ‘good’ branch of the Elysium. Oh, speaking of Oz, he is the mandatory annoying and/or cowardly sidekick that animated heroes often seemed to have. Robot Taekwon V had Tin Can Robot, He-Man had that little magician, the Thundercats had Snarf, and many versions of the Power Rangers have some kind of goofy robot that makes comments only a three-year old would find funny.  Oz was formerly a robotic vaccuum cleaner, but Paul’s mother upgraded it to house and advanced super-computer. She should have done a better job with the programming though.

14990Robots in the future can lie directly when asked a question, even one posed to them by their owner. Oz’s ability to lie to perceived enemies is not surprising especially if Paul’s mother had designed Oz to protect her son. However, Oz also lies to Paul’s mother and hides the fact that Paul is going to the Turbo Races — an activity that his mother had deemed to dangerous for her son to attend. Oz also frequently has self-doubt and appears to be more than able to act autonomously, as do all the robots in the movie.  I found myself questioning just who was in charge of the world–humans or robots?  In the pizza parlor, the robots do all the cooking under the supervision of a human manager, however a human does the dangerous work of delivering the pizzas. The Pinball Races are manned by humans and the fiery, explosive crashes imply fatalities. However the announcers at the sporting event are robots, excitedly cheering on the violence.

It seems like the world is a very violent place.  But what of the Elysium?  These aliens, in the name of peace, announce a genocide. They do not want the planet to surrender or to give up its violent ways. They opt to kill every man, woman and child alive to make the galaxy a safer place. Of course, they are being tricked by the evil General Nekros but the fact remains that is a rather extreme retaliation for the death of their ambassador. Nix and Kronos, are given some depth of character as they begin questioning orders, but both are guilty of killing unarmed innocents before their change of heart starts to take root.  I also appreciated that not everything worked out in a predictable fashion in the conflict. For example, Van desires vengeance on Kronos for killing Lydia, however fate has other plans for Kronos that denies Van the chance he seeks.

As far as production values go, Elysium is a mixed bag. In places, the animation is excellent, especially in scenes where Nekros becomes active. In other places, like the general motions of the humanoid characters, it seems stiff and unrealistic. Of course, I am looking at it ten years after its release and computer animation has made unbelievable leaps in that time, so I am not going to be too critical of that. I am a little critical of the English subtitles, however. Spellings were inconsistent.. I really have no idea if the machine was actually called a  Triad or a Triod.  Also, some major characters like Son-ra and Lykros go unnamed until the credits. We are told the name of characters who have one line before dying or disappearing from the story like Kudos and Stacy, but we have no idea what the of the woman who founded the Four Knights was called until the end credits roll.

Elysium is a movie that would have benefited from a little more time tacked on to its short running time to give us more information on the background of the characters and the world they live in. As it was, it was impossible to become emotionally invested. On the other hand, the length of the film does manage to keep the plot moving and the film is never dull despite some childish moments. I may be in a minority complaining about these as the DVD box proudly proclaims that this film opened in ten European countries and won an ‘Audience Favorite’ award in Russia. According to Daum, Elysium is now being remade as a live-action film in the USA directed by Neill Blomkamp <District Nine> and starring Matt Damon and Jodi Foster to be released in 2013.

Posted in 2000s | Comments Off

If <2000>

13th October 2012

If <2000>– Director: Han Deok-jeon, Starring: Lee Hye-yeong <as Ha-young> , Yoo Tae-woong <as Seon-woo> and Kim Ui-seong <as Dr. Park> . DVD Running Time: 92 minutes. Released in Theaters: June 24, 2000.

107490Dr. Lee Ha-young is a leading urologist and a modern woman with ideas that society deems radical. She strongly believes that men are near obsolete and sets out to prove by example that an independent woman can live a fulfilling and happy life without the need of a husband. However, she dreams each night of being a mother and clearly loves children. Wanting a baby of her own desperately, Ha-young is inspired by a trend reported in Japan where a growing number of women are opting to become single mothers through artificial insemination. Coincidently, reporter Shin Seon-woo has been tasked by his editor to turn in an article denouncing artificial insemination as a danger to society and he is ordered to get the opinion of Dr. Park, a respected obstetrician.  The good doctor flatly refuses to assist in writing the article, but recommends Dr. Lee instead for, as he states, “she has far more expertise in this area.” Shin does as instructed, although he makes it clear from the start that he does not respect the doctor and goes so far as to substantially alter the article she submits in order to get it to match his own ideas which are namely that career women avoid marriage and are therefore usable as sex objects for males. Part of his ideas may have been formed by his co-worker Mi-ra, journalist by day- improbably clad leather lover by night- whom Seon-woo has been sleeping with on and off for a while.

In retaliation for Shin having altered Ha-young article, Ha-young and Dr. Park pretend to perform a phoney vasectomy on the reporter in which they give him an injection of viagra instead of a pain-killer.  Rather than either suing or simply letting it go, Shin finds a moment where he thinks he can get revenge on Dr Lee by forcing her onto a roller coaster that she is clearly reluctant to ride when he runs into her by chance at the Daejeon Expo. This proves to be a bad idea due to her pregnancy.  Learning of her condition, Shin is initially scornful and considers Ha-young a hypocrite and worse until he realizes that their is no father. His feelings soften towards her but she now despises him. They seperate for a good six months until Ha-young is nearing the end of her pregnancy. She is beginning to feel that there is something missing in her life and the pair iron out their differences just in time for Ha-young to go into labor. During subsequent events..getting to the hospital, labor, and an emergency blood transfusion– shows Ha-young that she needs someone in her life she can rely on. Man, woman and child then settle into a picture-perfect life in the quiet of the countryside while Christmas snow swirls outside there windows and the happy, albiet disembodied, laughter of a baby is heard.

107486Wow. This morale of this film felt quite archaic to me– like a Korean film right out of the 1950’s. Next time I will review  A Female Boss <1959>, where a handsome, young, new employee teaches a magazine owner her place in society and I think we will find the theme of the two films, although forty years apart, are quite similar. The theme of If is that Woman needs a Man and Motherhood is the ultimate and perfect career for every woman. A woman without these, according to the movie, is empty and the film gives us numerous examples of Ha-young feeling incomplete without a husband by her side– not to mention her constantly pregnant best friend forces the issue just about everytime the pair meets. However, the movie does go a step further than many its 1950’s predecessors do.  It lets us know that the same applies to men.  After realizing his love for Ha-young, and breaking up with his insatiable girlfriend, Shin Seon-woo is at a complete lost. Without being able to express his love and fulfill his destiny as Ha-young’s husband, Shin is a mess and spends most of his nights drinking despondently until he is finally able to confront Ha-young and work things out.  The whole ‘babies make for a perfect life’ motif is evident in other imagery as well such as the halo-like making the doctor seem like a saint performing a miracle during the birth of Ha-young’s son <pictured right> or the smiling, computer graphic  fetus imitating its mother’s actions in utero while Ha-young is swimming in a pool at the hospital.. and there are many, many more.

But while the film may differ slightly from the older movies by stating man needs a woman as much as woman needs a man, it is not so fair minded in how it views sexual freedom Despite all the talk, jokes and images of sex in the film, this screenplay is very conservative. When Shin Seon-woo first learns that Ha-young is pregnant, his normally good looking features turn into a frightful sneer as he grumbles that ‘they are all the same.’  Even though he is allowed to frequently meet women, apparently, in his mind, Ha-young is not. Although she is ‘redeemed’ in his eyes when he learns that no man was involved..except from afar.. in the making of her baby, one has to wonder how he justifies his double-standards. Of course, his girlfriend/co-worker is shown not to be the marrying kind not only from her actions and her attire, but she is seen playing pool with a foreigner. There are other movies earlier than this that I can think of where association with a foreigner led to assumptions about character and sexual activity– for example, in The One Love from 1980, the lead couple break up because of a photo of the woman’s mother standing with a foreigner turns up.  Although this does not always apply today, in 2000 it did–especially in a film like this that seemed to be resisting trends and appeared determined to espouse ‘ideals’ of earlier decades.

There are quite a few graphic and entirely unnecessary aspects in this film such as extreme close ups of an actual circumcision and another of a real child birth. These go along with the unneeded sexual imagery like the animated flowers and sperm scene at the beginning of the movie.  Despite these and the fact that I disagreed with this film on so many levels, It is watchable if you are not expecting much more than a traditional K-drama which totes the line that marriage and family are the be-all and end-all in life.  That is not to say that  I recommend you run out and buy the DVD <as I did>. Save your money for any number of better films.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Vanishing Twin <2000>

7th October 2012

Vanishing Twin <2000>– Directed by Yoon Tae-yong. Starring Ji Soo-won <as Yoo-jin>, Ku Pil-woo <as Art Lover> and Kim Myeng-s00 <as Jin-ho>.  Running Time: 94 minutes. Release date: September 23, 2000.


While everyone else is enjoying the Busan Film Festival, I decided to take what little free time I had this weekend and watch a couple of DVDs that I hadn’t gotten to before. The first was Iri from 2006, but I was so disappointed with that film that I decided to put off writing about it. The other film I watched was Vanishing Twin, which was also a bad choice..but not as bad as Iri.. Maybe I will write about that film later on but I have already mercifully forgotten most of it so it will have to wait until I can view it again..and that won’t be for a while. 

Vanishing Twin starts off with an interesting premise. Yoo-jin has been having nightmares recently involving a younger version of herself, the greenhouse their mother kept, a mewing cat and her sister..apparently hanged by an umbilical cord.  When she awakes, Yoo-jin is reminded that her sister, Seung-jin, is coming from the USA for a visit and this triggers memories of their childhood together. The pretty Seung-jin, an artist, and had asked Yoo-jin to pose nude so she could sketch her and Yoo-jin readily agreed. It was hard to say no to her charasmatic sister. However, Yoo-jin’s brother-in-law, Jin-ho, arrives at Yoo-jin’s house alone and announces that Seung-jin is dead. Needless to say, Yoo-jin is shocked and this leads her to look into her sister’s life but, along the way, Yoo-jin learns more about herself and dredges up memories and feelings that she had apparently surpressed over the years.

One set of these memories and feelings revolves around Jin-ho. Through his dreams, we learn that Seung-jin had hung herself. However, although he is in mourning, Jin-ho does not hesitate to express his feelings for Yoo-jin in an awkward moment where Yoo-jin is caught trying on her dead sister’s clothes. Jin-ho nearly forces himself on the startled Yoo-jin who flees the house and returns to her own home. Shortly thereafter, her friend is telling a Native American myth in exactly the same way that her sister used to tell it. She learns that her friend heard it from a man identified by his cyber ID of ‘Art Lover.’  Yoo-jin logs onto the chat room that she is told Art Lover frequents and introduces herself to him arranging a time and place for the two of them to meet so she can learn more about Seung-jin’s life.  Art Lover plays coy with the information but their meeting is made more insteresting when police interrupt and attempt to arrest the mysterious man. The pair escape and hide in an abandoned warehouse in a run down part of town. The close quarters of their hiding place leads Yoo-jin in the following to days to fantasize about what could have happened instead of the reality where they parted ways.

370It is not long before the two meet again and Yoo-jin tries to force the information out of him. There is definitely sexual tension underscoring their relationship, however Yoo-jin fails to get anything more than a glass of wine and a cookie out of the meeting. On her way home, she witnesses her husband arguing with a woman who is revealed in the course of the conversation to be his mistress. When she confronts him with this, he becomes furious and calls her a hypocrite.  Although he is completely unaware of Art Lover, he pulls from the past and mentions how much Jin-ho is in love with her. Denying it at first, Yoo-jin later remembers a time when she and Jin-ho had sex in her mother’s greenhouse. Yes, it was before she was married..but her sister was engaged to Jin-ho at the time and, to make matters worse, Yoo-jin knows that her sister was watching at the time and looks right at her during intercourse. Realizing this about herself frees Yoo-jin of the constraits she had placed upon herself. She sleeps with Art Lover in her store, leaving Jin-ho outside the locked door waiting for the appointment he had with her. She now feels nothing but disdain for her husband and the future of their marriage does not look good, nor does her relationship with her brother-in-law. It also does not seem as if she will be meeting Art Lover again. Instead, Yoo-jin has awakened as an independent, sexual being free to love as she wishes.

Well.. that is as much meaning as I could ascribe to the film. In actuality, the screenplay seems little more than a ninety minute excuse to build up to the sex scene between the two leads..with several minor sex scenes thrown in.  Th title Vanishing Twin, which is from the medical phenomenon where one fetus in a pair of twins disappears in the first trimester of pregnancy–either reabsorbed, miscarried or absorbed by the stronger twin,  is probably the best way to describe what happens to the story of Seung-jin as her sister’s self-discovery gradually, but completely comes to dominate the film. Everyone forgets about Seung-jin…

Vanishing Twin is available on DVD. My copy is from CineLine and does not contain English subtitles..but that is not a big loss. I cannot recommend this movie at all.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Paradise Villa <2001>

1st October 2012

Paradise Villadirected by Park Jong-won, starring Jo Han-joon <as 20-year old>, Ha Yoo-mi <as Piano Teacher>, Lee Jin-woo <as the Fund Manager>, Running Time: 95 minutes, Release Date: December 7, 2001

4046I have to admmit that I like the poster of this film, probably more than I liked the actual movie.  The darkened apartment building and the menacing eyes superimposed over the stairs create a heavy atmosphere that, unfortunately, the confused screenplay can never hope to match.   The tagline reads, “One visit, Seven Murders, 100 minutes. Killing Start!”  which, all-in-all, is an accurate,albeit brief, description of the movie.  I’ll expand on it a little. 

The movie opens in a noisy PC game room where we meet a young man whom we will be seeing a lot of in the latter part of the film. We never learn his name, but his gamer ID on the video game Lineage is 20 Year Old.  A strange glitch occurs and his character encounters another playing character operating under the name Mr. Viagra. The game identifies Mr. Viagra as a friend and the young man is unable attack him or prevent him from stealing all of his weapons and supplies that he built up over the course of time– often years.  I remember the Lineage craze in Korea.. one of the students living in my house around 2003 had a character that was very high level and, after years of playing, he sold the character for the equivalent of a couple of hundred US dollars.  And that was exactly what the hackers are doing with 20 Year Olds equipment..holding online auctions and selling off his character’s property. Furious at what has happened, 20 Year Old <henceforth 2YO as I don’t want to keep typing his full name as credited>  snaps and, in an unexplained manner, discovers where the perp who stole his virtual equimpent live, goes to that apartment in Paradise Villa to get answers. Eventually, he goes on a killing spree but not at first. In fact, he cannot even be credited with the first murder.

That act belongs to the Piano Teacher and the Fund Manager. The two have been involved in an affair and the Piano Teacher is trying to convince Fund Manager to leave his wife. They were in the middle of an afternoon of passionate sex when the Landlord bursts into the Fund Manager’s apartment screaming at them to stop what they are doing.  The Landlord had been alerted to their amorous activities by his son who left a phone message regarding what was going on in the second floor apartment.  I assume the reason why the Landlord reacts so violently is because he leapt the conclusion that Fund Manager was with Rooftop Girl.  The latter young lady lives in a small room on the roof of the apartment building and has been sleeping with the Landlord. Although an adult, she is childlike, playing hopscotch and the like by herself on the roof, and is overly friendly with most men she meets. The Landlord had seen the Fund Manager on the roof smoking a short while before which is why he flies into a fury.  Mind you, he never says any of this but I assume what Fund Manager does in his own apartment would be his own business and there can be no other reason for the rage.  In any event, the Fund Manager defends and protects the Piano Teacher from the attacking Landlord.  The building owner is shoved backwards and trips, striking his head on a shelf on the way to the floor where he lies, unmoving.  The pair of lovers panic and start making plans on how to dispose of the body. There is a soccer game beteween Japna and Korea on tv and Fund Manager reasons that they can get the body out of the apartment while everyone is watching the match and dump it in the abandoned mines along the eat coast. But while Piano Teacher is gathering her clothes, the injured landlord wakes up and startles her to such a degree that she reaches for a nearby dumbbell and crushes his head with it.  A new level of shock and panic sets in the leaves the pair temporary frozen and unable to act. So while they are stunned, the film turns its attentionot 2YO and what he is up to.

86312YO has traced his hacker to the apartment of the landlord. However, all he has is the online ID of Mr. Viagra to go on. He does not know who he is looking for. As luck would have it, his first encounter is with the people responsible for his misfortune in the computer game, the landlord’s son and his friend. Of course, they deny knowing what the clearly disturbed young man is talking about and the pair are allowed to leave freely. 2YO is not physically strong and taking on two opponents would be beyond his ability. He was also unaware at that time that the landlord’s son lives in the apartment he wants to get into which is probably why the situation does not escalate then and there. Instead, he is let in by the Landlady and kills her with her son unaware of the danger she is in just a room away.  The son then leaves to plant hidden cameras around the tenents’ apartments and to try to film some live porn with his handheld camcorder. But it is not long before one of the tenents, a friend of the landlord credited as Taxi Driver, comes to visit his friend and try to get a peek of the soccer match that his wife won’t let him watch. He is also caught unaware by the fury of 2YO and is killed even though he manages to disarm the younger man first. However, the murderer could not expect that yet another tenent, called Water Purifier Woman, would come wandering into the apartment as well since the door was unlocked. He chasers her up to the roof and kills her there, leaving her body in an ironic location before he returns to the third floor apartment to wait for the landlord’s son.  He does, however, make on detour into a different apartment where he rapes and murders the occupant.  Finally, he encounters the son who blames the theft of the virtual goods on his father before he too is killed. Prior to being killed he dials his father’s number and hands his phone off to the murderer. From the sound of the ringing, 2yO is able to track the location of the landlord, now stuffed in an oversized piece of luggage in Fund Manager’s apartment bringing the killers in contact with each other. As the tagline promises us seven murders, we know that not everyone is getting out of this alive.

While there were quite a few things I did not like about the movie, in particular the confusion surrounding some of the characters and their actions, I did like the surprising twists near the end.  Actually, part of the ending has to be assumed since we never actually see the murder to know conclusively how the story ended, yet with the tagline there should be no doubt about what happened in that final encounter. However, should I have to rely on the tagline on the poster to be able to figure out the end of a film? It seems like far too much work and I assume that the majority of the people who watch this movie are left with a question mark as to whether there were one or two survivors of that night.  While I normally like a film that does NOT explain everything to me and I have to reason out events or conclusions for myself, that is going too far. I did like how the viewers are forced to watch and then connect the dots regarding the death of the woman credited as Na Ju-ri Look-Alike. While I thought it was completely out of character for 2yO to kill her..let alone rape her <entirely distasteful and unnecessary to the story>.. I thought it was interesting how it was revealed. Someone, possibly Rooftop Girl, sees 2YO climbing down an electrical wire outside the apartment buiding after killing Water Purifier Lady and calls the police. We never see the call being made, but the police do show up sending more than one resident of Paradise Villa into a panic.  They visit the apartment of Na Ju-ri Look Alike and are greeted by her roommate who checks on her friend. From her comment about Na Ju-ri sleeping naked, we can later put together that something had happened.  However it only comes together after Landlord’s Son sneaks into the room and retrieves his hidden camera..also not realizing the woman on the bed is dead.  He goes home, puts in the tape to review, and is promptly attacked by 2YO who was back hiding in the Landlord’s apartment. Depending on where you are watching, you will either see the two young men in a life or death struggle or the rape/murder of the young woman on the television screen. If you are watching the latter, you are able to piece together events that were not directly revealed to us.

Unfortunately, I was not able to piece together the events taking place in the first floor apartment where the host and his wife have people over to watch the soccer game. One of the guests has bet against Korea in favor of Japan and  from his remarks throughout the movie, he seems to be the director’s mouthpiece over his dissatisfaction with Korean society. However, his criticisms take no clear form other than ‘Everything is not alright with Korea.’ Frankly, I expected more from director Park who’s previous works included the powerful Guro Arirang and Our Twisted Hero..both with strong messages meant as social critiques.  Incidently, I wonder why those two films are not on DVD.. both are excellent especially Our Twisted Hero…

I seem to recall reading somewhere that this film takes place during the Korea/Japan World Cup event of 2002, but I want to clarify that it does not.  One character does chear “Hurrah World Cup 2002!” it was simply to give himself an alibi and draw attention to himself, not to set the time. The match being watched on the television was a Korea VS Japan match– possibly just a friendly match as the host nations would not need qualifying matches.  Soccer games between these two nations always garner a lot of attention locally and keep most people glued to the televsion screens, epecially these days with anti-Japanese sentiments on the rise again.

It was also interesting, although annoying to type in a review/synopsis of the film, how the characters were not named. In the credits they were either given a moniker based on their jobs, like Piano Teacher, even though we never see them working, or they are called by their room number as in the first floor people, ‘Room 103 Man’.  One person in Room 103 is apparently named Sang-tae <which means either Status Quo or The Current State in Korean>. We learn this when the soccer game is finished and someone says ‘Wake Sang-tae’ –just before the discontented, anti-Korea man also in the apartment, erupts into violence and smashes a bottle over someone..presumably Sang-tae’s.. head.  Clearly, and especially if the name was meant to mean Status Quo, the violent awakening has meaning.  However, this is not something you would ever pick up on if one is forced to rely only on the English subtitles.

While Paradise Villa suffers in comparison to any of director Park Jong-won’s previous films, and was in fact his last film to date, it was not bad. The main problem I had was the lack of clarity in both the story and the veiled or unspecific social criticism.  I think a little more work was needed to tighten the story and sharp the critique, it would have been quite good.  Paradise Villa is available on DVD with English subtitles and might be worth the time tracking down if you are willing to put effort into sorting out the tale as it unfolds and have the patience to sit through a lot of gratutious shots of homemade porn…

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Moodori (2006)

6th August 2012

79596Sometimes I buy movies for the very reason that I know nothing about them.  Moodori is one of those films. I knew the basic outline of the plot but I really knew nothing else about it. And apparently, when the DVD arrived, I simply filed it alphabetically and never thought about it again until the other day when I was browsing through the shelves wondering what to watch and it caught my eye…barely.  I absolutely hate the DVD cover and the posters made to promote the film. They seem to eager to depict more of the slapstick side of the film which a) I could have done without and b) if you were going into this expecting pure comedy, you would be sorely disappointed.  I think those in charge of marketting would have done themselves better by advertising the movie as a black comedy along the lines of A Quiet Family.. (and have the film’ s editor leave some of the more base comic scenes on the cutting room floor)

I actually found the situation the film sets up rather interesting. Basically, there is a remote village at the base of a mountain whose north face is a sheer cliff.  The area is said to be haunted and looking over the ledge at the mists below can “make even the sane ones want to jump.”  Because of this, the area has become a destination of poor despondent souls seeking to leave this wordly coil behind.  However, when one of the elderly residents of this small village receives money from a mourning father as both a thank you for finding his son’s body and suicide note to him and as an apology for ‘disturbing the quiet of this peaceful village’ a mercenary streak emerges among the three most prominent members of the community.  They come up with a plan to fleece the suicidal visitors who come to the village for as much as they can get before their lives are ended by building an inn and a small mart where they can charge pretty much whatever they want.  At some point, they start taking things a step further by stripping some of the more valuable personal items from the bodies such as bejeweled hair clips and wondering if one not-yet-dead guest has gold teeth.  There actions and attitudes become increasingly repugnant until ironic tragedy strikes. Frankly, I was expecting some sort of ironic tragedy to make an appearance as the screenplay was clearly building towards it, but even I was caught offguard at the nature of the event that forces everyone to reconsider what they are doing.

Complications occur with the presence of an online suicide club that has made its way to the mountain. Almost cultlike, they have a series of rules they feel they must follow in order to correctly kill themselves and achieve happiness in the next world. And unknown to everyone, a down-and-out reporter has infiltrated the group thinking that she is on the story of the decade.  She is more than happy to play at being one of them but when the time comes for them to kill themselves en masse, she has to frantically come up with ways to keep them all –and especially herself– alive.

While most of the movie was not bad, and some of it had quite a bit of potential as a dark comedy, the reporter and her producer are where the film fails. Many of their interactions take the form of that lowest form of comedy–bathroom humor.  In particular the farsical PD spends all but his first and last scenes on the toilet talking to the reporter with a strained grimace across his face and the conversations punctuate by farts.  Really not at all my style.. and it adds absolutely nothing to the film.  The PD, beyond his first appearance does not serve a function in the film at all except for cheap ‘laughs’–if anyone actually laughs at this kind of humor.

What really surprised me was that this reporter whom I thought was chewing up every scene she appears in with her overacting, was none other than Seo Yeong-hee.  Ms Seo played the memorable murderess in the excellent film Bedevilled a few years ago. I can say with confidence that comedy is NOT her forte, however she seems to have made several attempts at it.  Looking at her filmography, I see she has appeared in movies such as Liar, Mapado, and Fortune Salon.  Compare those films with other, non-comic films she has  appeared in such as Chaser, To Sir With Love and Bedevilled and..well.. there is no comparison. So please, Ms Seo, don’t make any more comedies…

Moodori is available on DVD with English subtitles.. If you can get it from the discount bin, I recommend picking it up… but only from the discount bin..

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Bunshinsaba (2004)

8th July 2012

166991If someone were to hand me a paper and pencil (and a wad of cash) and say that I can choose any recent movie I want to remake, I think it would be Bunshinsaba.  That is because, while there is a lot to like with this film, it is far from perfect and needs fleshing out. Even though the movie is a full two hours, I thought it would have benefited from more time. As it was, even at two hours, the story felt rushed and the cuts were quite sudden jumping from one scene to the next without transition. One part that needs more attention is the village itself. The cloistered and superstitious atmosphere of the village and its residents is key to this film, and yet 80 percent of the film is spent set in the girls’ high school and its grounds and 15 percent more is spent in the house of the psychic/hypnotist leaving very little time for the rest of the village.  I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. First a brief summary (skip the next paragraph if you are afraid of spoilers..)

The movie begins with a trio of girls preparing a seance, chanting ‘Bunshinsaba,” a chant which is used in high schools and young soldiers to someone wandering spirits. The ring leader of the group warns the others not to open their eyes during the seance as it invites the ghost into their bodies.  So, of course, someone opens their eyes…  The girl’s knew the dangers going into this as they had talked about the cursed seat in their classroom which they chose as the site of their seance and they plan to put this curse on a group of four bullies who have been harrassing them, so they had strong suspicions that the ghost they were calling, long rumored to haunt their school, was an evil spirit.   There curse seems to work as the next day one of the bullies is discovered burned to death in the classroom early the next morning. From there, the ghost goes on a murderous rampage, not stopping when the girls on the death list are all dispatched, but continuing on with a quest for revenge of its own. What is the revenge for? What is the dark secret the little village, where outsiders rarely visit and no one leaves? And what dark  connection does the ghost have with the new Art teacher?

I started out this review by mentioning that there is a lot to like in this film. One of the things are some creative visuals.  Oh, there are quite a few cliches that anyone can see coming a mile a way, but some are very well done.  I especially liked the ghost(s) in the mirror scene which, in hindsight, gives some of the first clues of what is going on. I liked the fact that no one in the film simply dismissed the claims of students to have seen a ghost as they all had reason to believe it could exist. And I liked the fact that there were still revelations coming that made sense (at least in the ground rules set by the film).

What needs fixing, more than anything else, is that editing and the lack of transitions.  Characters jump from scene to scene in completely different locations. Often they don’t show the emotions that one would expect based on the prior scene andit is a little jolting.  I imagine that if the necessary transitions were put in, the running time would increase by half and hour, but that would not be a problem. There are other things that could be cut. For example, we don’t need to see the death of every single victim of the haunting and the psychic scenes, used to provide flashbacks, could have been greatly reduced.

Actually, in my remake, the pretty young psychic would have been replaced with a more traditional shaman. The village is supposed to be steeped in superstition and fear hence everyone believing in ghosts and curses, so the modern young psychic with the beaded curtains on the doors of her very modern house seems out of place. More time really has to be spent on the village and its dark history given the events of the film. We are not even given any shots on the community to make an estimate about how big it is.. but given the size of the girls high school, I think it is quite large ..more like a small town..which doesn’t match the atmosphere the film is attempting to create. They also needed to highlight the differences between outsiders more than they did. Even though the characters presumably no who is an outsider from generations living together, we are not given any clues until one of the characters makes a point to tell us. In the remake in my head, this differentiation would not be done through dialect, but in how the characters carry themselves..their posture and their body language.

Bunshinsaba is an interesting film that goes for shock-style scares rather than a build up of suspense. In some cases, that would annoy me, but here it is tolerated because the story was not bad.  This movie is worth your time if you can track it down.. just don’t expect anything too groundbreaking. Just enjoy it for what it is..and image afterwards like I did what it could be with a good re-working of some of the elements.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

The Postcard (2007)

30th June 2012

It has been awhile since I wrote about a short film and there is really no excuse for it. Short films are my favorite movies to watch, especially when I am busy with correcting papers or other school-related work. And it is not as if there are any shortage of them. While a few years ago, viewing shorts was difficult to do outside of film festivals or the rare DVD compliation, but then the INDIEFILM television channel became available here in Jeonju. As the name implies, it airs solely independent and art films and among its offerings are numerous short films. A surprising number of these have English subtitles including the movie I caught by chance last night, The Postcard.  This touching tale was directed by Kim Joon-pyo aka Josh Kim and after watching this movie, I wish he would do more. He put an incredible amount of characterization and emotion into a film which was no mean feat considering that the entire running time he had to work with was 14 minutes.  Unfortunately, up until now, his only other work in films has been a bit part in the 2007 comedy Master Kims– a movie I forgot existed until today. The Postcard is really a moving film, bringing me close to tears twice in its short running time. The first time was when the mailman’s hopes are crushed. He goes from happiness to utter despair in the blink of an eye an it is truly heartbreaking. The second time was at the end. It is a film that shows a lot of sensitivity about a delicate topic without maudlin or unduly sentimental and it mixes in a heavy dose of humor.  It is really a movie in need of a wider audience

Actually, I had initially written a full-review of the plot and the points I liked as I had assumed most readers of this blog would not be able to see the movie.  Then I did a quick search and found that this movie had been posted, presumably legally, on Youtube with the English subtitles. I erased my summary and embedded the film below. Enjoy the movie and judge it for yourself.

Posted in 2000s, Review, short films, video & trailers | Comments Off

Sleeping Beauty (2007)

12th May 2012

347854The cover of this DVD proudly proclaims Director Lee Han-na as “the female Kim Ki-duk” though I would debate whether that is a good claim to make or not. The early works of Kim Ki-duk are well-crafted, thought-provoking albeit disturbing, stories. However, his later works have, in my opinion, been self-absorbed and lacking fresh ideas.  Which Kim Ki-duk was Lee Han-na channelling?  I am happy to report that the answer is neither. Comparing her to another director is unfair to her and Sleeping Beauty should be judged as a work on its own, not placing it in a shadow of another set of films. I really have no idea why promoters would make the claim of Lee being a female Kim Ki-duk at all..especially in hangul.  They could not possibly think saying that would sell more DVDs… the movies of Mr. Kim is not popular at all here in Korea. Perhaps writing that tag in English would have been more productive as Kim Ki-duk is very well respected in Europe and North America.

Sleeping Beauty is an omnibus tied together with a common thread of incest. Not exactly a topic for light film viewing and probably why the DVD has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it several months ago. It seemed like the kind of film I would have to be in a certain mood to watch. Well, I finally gave it a try today and, while some situations are to watch, the movie is quite good.  It manages to navigate a trecherous road and presents its subject matter without ever appearing lurid. In fact, the most shocking subject matter and situations potentially offensive to the viewing audience happen entirely within our imaginations and not splashed across the screen.  They are set up well so there is no mistake as to what is happening/going to happen, but you see nothing.  In retrospect, I don’t recall there even being any nudity within the film… a fact you would never know by looking at the poster.. The only visual that felt gratuitous and completely unnecessary is a brief two-minute scene introducing the film where a woman pleasures herself in her sleep while her phone rings annoyingly in the background.  I was unimpressed by this and could only think “Cut that out and answer the damn phone!” However, this scene also feels like it was tacked on as it has nothing to do with the common thread in the film and the character involved has nothing to do with any of the three chapters of the movie.

Yes there are three chapters. Sleeping Beauty is an omnibus. The first story is called Cousin about two pre-teens mirroring the past mistakes of their parents. Through the parents’ lives we are able to see what is in store for these two.  I was very impressed by the acting in this part of the film ..especially of the adult characters. Their subtle eye movements and body language speak volumes.. much more than their words say.  The second is called Hibernation in which a struggling farmer takes care of her father who is in the advanced stages of dementia. His single moment (?) of lucidity is shocking and infuriating at the same time with his simple words of “I win” but subsequent events make it useless for the main character to feel the anger for long. This was the hardest of the three segments to watch. Finally, there is Sleeping Princess, the story of a young Chinese girl ‘adopted’ into a Korean family in the countryside when her mother goes to marry a man in Busan. The first night she is made to sleep with her new ‘father’ who is more than twice her age and has a grandson the same age as she. He is abusive and uncarrying, but also dangerously jealous of the growing friendship between the two young people.

I am avoiding writing details about the movie because it is something that you should track down and see for yourself. I was, however, very satisfied at the conclusion. The movie had made me think and evoked an emotional response.. two things I require from a film. The subject matter may be very disturbing, but I strongly recommend Sleeping Beauty for mature viewers.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

With a Girl from Black Soil (2007)

19th January 2012

147892Jeon Soo-il is a director who deserves a lot more attention. I have really enjoyed the four out of five of the films he made that I have seen. My Right to Ravage Myself, Himalaya Where the Wind Dwells, The Time Between Wolf and Dog and With a Girl from Black Soil are all excellent movies. The one I did not care for was A Bird That Stops in the Air. I found it painfully self-aware and trying too hard to be ART! And I have not seen his debut film which screened at Cannes in 1997, The Wind Echoing in My Being nor his two latest films, Pink and I Came From Busan, but I will definitely be tracking them down.  I love his use of vast, bleak landscapes and his now-matured and subtle use of artistic symbols (overdone in that one movie I disliked). In With a Girl from Black Soil, the film is set in a coal mining town in the northern mountains of Korea dominated by uncaring machinery, run-down buildings and a mountain of discarded shale. Hardly the ideal playground for 8-year old Yeong-lim and her brother Dong-gu. But ‘ideal’ is not a concept anyone in this depressed little community would be familar with. Most are trapped in this difficult and dangerous job with no hope of advancement and probably no future.

Yeong-lim’s father, Hae-gon, does his best for his two children. But his hours are long and the conditions in the mine are taking a toll on his health. In fact, he is diagnosed with the early stages of black lung disease. Angry at the lack of safety precautions at the mine where the workers are not given face masks, Hae-gon voices his disapproval and brings a lawsuit against the company resulting in his being fired for his efforts. While his initial attempts to find alternate employment seem to meet with some limited success at first, everything eventually falls apart for him. To make matters worse, the area of the town he lives in has been slated for ‘urban renewal’ (most likely because of the new casino opened nearby for tourists) and it will be torn down at the end of the month. So his future looks as bleak as the dark rubble surrounding him.

As the sole caregiver to his two children, Hae-gon is very concerned…not so much for Yeong-lim who is bright, obediant and very responsible, but for her slightly older brother, Dong-gu. His son is developmentally stunted. At the beginning of the film we see Hae-gon talking to a social worker and learning that his eleven-year old son has the mind and vocabulary of a three-year old. Yeong-lim spends much of her time looking out for him but both she and her father know they have to teach him to take care of himself. It seems like a hopeless task however, and Dong-gu is often wandering off and unwittingly placing himself in dangerous situations.

Yeong-lim seems to be the only one among her small family with any hope at a future, but she is still quite young and cannot do much more than offer silent encouragement to her struggling father and uncomprehending brother. And as her father’s frustration turns to depression and he, as a consequence, turns to drink, Yeong-lim is forced to more and more extreme ways to ensure their survival. Eventually, she has to make some decisions that no person should ever have to make…

Yeong-lim is the main character in this movie and she is played by Yoo Yeon-mi, who you might know as the little girl in the 2010 hit film, The Man From Nowhere. There is also a couple of cameo appearances from celebrated actress Kang Su-yeon playing a character whom may very well be the adult Yeong-lim. 

It is an interesting film whose ending will definitely make you think.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off