Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2000s' Category

Dark Forest (2006)

9th January 2010

dark forestOriginally posted July 23, 2007–Yesterday I watched the Korean zombie movie Dark Forest. I had received it about a month ago when I purchased the horror collection, One Day Suddenly. I remember having seen it once before on tv…come to think of it, I saw it the on tv the same summer it was released–that should have told me something. I also realized after watching it, that I had seen the edited version on television not long before. 

The movie is unfortunately the weekest of the collection which makes it especially disappointing as zombie films are so rare in Korean cinema.  My biggest problem with the film was not the low budget or even the oddly convuluted story (Psychic visions? Why?). The biggest problem I had was the blatent misogyny on display. Many slasher movies suffer from the same discrepancy in how they deal with their male and female characters. The males often encounter a quick death and frequently the actual event occurs offscreen. Women, on the other hand, often endure long horrifying deaths for the pleasure of …ummm..who exactly?  Certainly not the audience.  Dark Forest takes this situation to a new and even more disturbing level when one of the characters is raped with a knife held by a zombie. Why this unnecessary cruelty? In a slasher movie, someone could make a weak arguement about the sexual deviance of the killer–but this film is about zombies!

Most of the action that occurs in Dark Forest was completely forgettable but one thing made me think about the movie long after the credits rolled—the message written in the matchbook.  One character claims to be trying to quit smoking.  His girlfriend writes a note behind the matches that he won’t be able to see until the matches have been all used. The subtitles claim this message reads “Why don’t you quit?” but that is not what it says. It actually reads “You bad man” followed by the symbols for tears used in text messaging and internet chatting.  Given that he discovers the note when he is about to burn a character to death to prevent them from turning into a zombie, wouldn’t the literal translation have been more poignant and fitting?

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May 18 (2007)

9th January 2010

may 18Originally posted July 27, 2007–Last night I watched Director Kim Ji-joon’s latest film, May 18, which opened in theaters across the country this week. The story of the film is the Kwangju Massacre of 1980 in which the government sent in the armed forces to deal with protests against Jeon Doo-hwan’s coup on December 12, 1979.  The army and the nation at large were told that the incident was a communist uprising and that story persisted for more than a decade after the event.  After democracy was restored in the mid 90’s, the goverment apologized for the incident. The citizens of Kwangju who died in that week of fighting and seige are now considered heroes of democracy–although the exact number who lost their lives remains uncertain. More information about the incident can be read here:

The movie begins on the day before the tragic events. Taxi driver Min-woo (Kim Sang-kyeong) spends his time taking care of his younger brother Jin-woo (Lee Joon-gi) and nuturing a crush on a young nurse named Shin-ae (Lee Hyo-won). Although there are signs of something building–scenes of riots on unwatched televisions in the background for example–nobody is really paying attention and it is life as usual.

In fact, all of the main characters are so unaware of what is happening that they decide to go to a movie downtown (see note).  This puts them in the middle of everything when the soldiers are ordered to go on the offensive. It did not matter that most of the citizens of the city were not involved in the protests, they were deemed communists and were put down with deadly force. The scene of the audience fleeing the movie theater is incredibly powerful and their confusion and terror kept me on the edge of my seat. 

Besides the movie itself, I found the people in the theaters interesting to watch as well. Perhaps it was the time that I chose to watch it, but most of the audience were older- Every once in a while when a certain scene appeared or a particular shot struck a cord, their would be a murmer through the audience with people remarking to each other, “that really happened” and similar phrases. Normally, I don’t like any talking during a movie, but this actually hightened the feeling of dread and unease. 

I arrived in Korea in 1995. Shortly thereafter, the citiizens of Kwangju began a campaign to reveal what they had actually been through and part of that was a touring display of photos and even more information was provided at the city’s bi-annual art show. I wish I had never seen those pictures. They were images of death aimed at showing the brutality of the soldiers and to counter the official death toll (which after the event was set by the government at about 200 people–actually it could be as high as ten times that number).  As brutal as the movie is in parts, I was grateful that it was never as gory as it could have been. In fact, the film does a great job at showing enough violence to provide an emotional response while avoiding sensationalizing the violence a la Saving Private Ryan or Taegukgi. 

If I had to find fault with the movie, it might be in the budding romance between Min-goo and Shin-ae.  Their subtle flirting and unspoken feelings are nice in the first few minutes of the film, but once the Kwangju situation exploded, I had a very hard time caring whether or not their love would come to fruition. The events around them were too big for me to worry about that.

All-in-all, this is a powerful film–one of the best that I have seen in a long time.

trivia note:  The movie in the theater that they main characters are watching is Let Me Show You Something (1980).  However, this is a small mistake on the part of the film-makers. That comedy did not open in theaters until early June while the events of the movie occur in May–they could not have seen this film

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Paradise Murdered (2007)

9th January 2010

Originally posted September 3, 2007–There have been a number of paradise murderedprominent releases so far in 2007–Secret Sunshine made news when Jeon Do-yeon took home the prize of Best Actress from Cannes. Both D-War and May 18 have been making news for their box office tallies and even Black House peaked interests due to its source material.  But there have been dozens of new releases that slip under the radar but some of them deserve wider recognition.  Paradise Murdered is one of those.

The premise of the film is fascinating.  All seventeen people inhabiting the small island of Geukrak have been killed or have disappeared. All the clues that the police have are trails of blood and an oddly cryptic note.  What happened to the isle’s inhabitants is then told in flashback.

The story starts to unfold as we observe the cast of characters and their interactions.  Although it may seem like a large number of people to start a mystery with, the characters are quite distinct and it is never confusing. In fact, the cast deserves the highest praise for making their interactions completely believable.  It truly does feel like the majority of these people have spent their entire lives on this island. 

The cast soon starts to be whittled down through grisly murders and mysterious disappearances. After the first killing, a double murder, the cast grows understandably nervous and suspicious as they realize that the killer must still be on the island and may even be one of them.  Initially, they believe they know the identity of the killer and even his motive for his crime and their main concern is locating him.  However, when that initial theory is destroyed so is their peace of mind and satisfaction with their community. Suspicions and tempers flare and the residents of the small village start thinking of reasons why the other members would have murdered so cruelly.

As these suspicious thoughts prey on people’s mind, their reasoning seems to suffer. They all recall a local legend in which a woman, one of their ancestors, was starved to death to ensure her chastity.  Now, some members  of the village believe it is the curse of the Chaste Woman that is causing their problems and a few even start seeing a ghost like vision hovering around the areas of where murders take place. Clearly there is  no such thing as ghosts, so who or what is this terrifying image?

I have to say that I enjoyed watching Paradise Murdered and trying to figure out who is responsible for the deaths and how he or she could have pulled it off.  However, here is the major problem with the movie.  It does not play fair with all its clues.  In fact, the ending seems so far-fetched that it is impossible to guess.  Therefore, I recommend that if you watch this film, NOT to try and figure out the ‘how’ of the matter, though ‘who’ you may be able to guess.  The story, acting and images are all quite enjoyable on their own without the added satisfaction of having ’solved’ the case.

And I certainly recommend this film which is now available on dvd. In fact, Paradise Murdered is  safely among my ‘top 5? favorite releases of 2007 so far.  Enjoy!

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Summertime (2001)

9th January 2010

summertimeOriginally posted September 6, 2007–Yesterday, I received my monthly order of dvds which included many interesting titles. It also included Summertime.   I had a vague memory about not liking this movie but I couldn’t remember too much about it so I decided to pop the disk into the dvd player to refresh my memory.  It all came back to me–I don’t like this movie anf for more than one reason.

The first thing that I do not like about the movie is its treatment of the Gwangju Incident. Sang-ho took part in to demonstrations in Gwangju and is now on the run from the authorities. He hides out above the house of Hee-ran and Tae-yeol. Tae-yeol is a former policeman who has been laid off for taking bribes and is now working as a securtiy guard. Hee-ran is a woman he raped years ago and later married. He keeps her locked in their house all day for fear that she will run away. The two almost never look at each other and their interactions follow the same routine day in and day out. 

 Sang-ho watches everything they do through a hole in the floor and becomes obsessed with Hee-ran as a sexual fantasy. One day, Tae-yeol drops the keys to the house  and they are found by Sang-ho. The first chance he gets, Sang-ho enters the house and imitates the habits of Tae-yeol so that Hee-ran will not suspect anything or look to see who is in her house. Sang-ho then rapes her while she thinks that she is with her husband. Being the kind of movie that this is, when Hee-ran does eventually look at the man she is having sex with and realizes that she has no idea who he is, she does not call the police or even look perturbed for more than twenty seconds. Instead she kisses him and thanks him for ‘a moment of freedom’ before carrying on where they left off.

I have problems with this on so many levels-including how it relates to Gwangju.  In this film, Hee-ran represents Korea. Her husband, who had taken her by force and who has now lost his true authority while remaining authoritarian, represents the government of the 1970s and 80s when the Gwangju incident took place. And Sang-ho moves from being a demonstrator to representing the whole of the democratic movement, offering a moment of freedom to Korea.

BUT Sang-ho’s rape of Hee-ra is a crime. That plus his bizarre acts of voyeurism and his envy of Tae-yeol do a grave disservice to the men and woman who sacrificed their lives in the opposition of tyrrany.  Furthermore, the director chose only to present the official government statistics of the Gwangju Incident through a radio report which states that only 74 people participated in the demonstrations (or ‘riots’ as the announcer calls them). This may be ok for the radio announcer to say as that is what was reported at the time. However, an alternate and more accurate view is never presented! not even by Sang-ho!  He calls himself an outlaw and states that all his friends have been arrested.  It really makes me wonder what the director was thinking.  By 2001, the facts of the Gwangju Massacre were pretty clear-why does director Park Jae-ho seem to be supporting the view of the dicatorship of old?

Besides this, there are other reasons not to like Summertime. Some of the shots are very uncomfortable.  I do not have a problem with the amount of sex in the film. However, I do not like the scenes that deal with people peaking through bathroom doors or looking up skirts from under a staircase.  It may be one think for us to see a character doing these things–we would simply lable him as a pervert and move on. But when the camera follows these characters’ points of view and lingers on the image, I think it crosses the line into pornography. 

Despite a few acceptable shots and a fairly good performance by Song Ok-sook as the nosy seamstress, this is not a film I would recommend to anyone.  The only reason I am writing about it at all is because it made me so furious!! Avoid this film.

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Oseam (2003)

9th January 2010

oseamOriginally posted September 10, 2007–When people talk about their favorite Korean animations, I am always surprised how rare it is to hear Oseam mentioned.  If you ask someone what they feel is the best Korean-made animated film of the last decade, many will answer with Wonderful Days and a few will say My Beautiful Girl, Mari.  To be honest, I didn’t care for Wonderful Days at all–it seemed like a run-of-the-mill anime to me.  And I don’t think I ever finished watching my dvd of My Beautiful Girl, Mari and if I did, I don’t remember it which is not a good sign. 

However, Oseam is a movie that I have seen several times and it never becomes boring. The animation, drawn by hand, is beautiful to look at and the story, although moving forward at a leisurely pace, is enjoyable to watch.  It is based on a novel by the same title written by Jeong Chae-bong and published in 1986.

The story is about Gam-yi a young girl of about 8 years old and her five-year old brother, Gil-sonyi.  When Gil-sonyi was an infant, there was a terrible accident and the children’s mother was killed in a fire. At the same time, Gam-yi lost her sight.  The pair now wander the countryside with the young boy leading his older sister. Because of his young age, Gil-sonyi does not do a very good job of guiding his sister and often leaves her on her own while he goes off to chase butterflies, catch a puppy or scrounge some food.

Gil-sonyi is the focus of the story.  His character is pure and his laughter is contagious. He never feels the dispair over his situation the way Gam-yi does because he does not know that they alone in the world. In fact, he believes that they are looking for their mother. He does not remember the fire or even his mother’s face, but he is convinced that they will find her soon. 

The siblings stumble across a kind monk on his way back to his temple.  As winter is approaching, he invites the children to stay on at the temple grounds. They accept his offer and are soon living in a warm room with enough food. Gam-yi is grateful and makes herself useful by helping the kitchen staff prepare food or by doing the laundry and sweeping the grounds.  Gil-sonyi, however, is as bored as any normal pre-schooler would be living with a bunch of monks who strive for silence.  His mischievous nature takes over and soon he is stealing the monks shoes to decorate trees or helping himself to the offerings left for Buddha.  Although the monks do not always approve of his behavior, they do understand and the boy is quite popular with them, so much so that one of the monks invites him on a journey to a secluded retreat at a small temple on a mountaintop.

Gil-sonyi readily agrees to go, but finds it almost as boring there as it was at the larger temple. However he does find things to do to keep himself occupied. But then the monk has to go to town for supplies and he opts to leave Gil-sonyi at the temple believing that he will be alright alone for a few days.  He goes, giving Gil-sonyi a warning not to go into the dilapitated structure behind the small temple as that building is where an old monk died of lepresy and it is now unsafe.  However, almost as soon as the monk has left, the lonely Gil-sonyi makes his way to the unused building and finds an unusual companion to keep him company.

There is much more to the story than this and the end always leaves me in tears.  If this film is not already part of your Korean movie collection, I recommend that you track it down. You will not regret it.

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Home Sweet Home (2004)

9th January 2010

home sweet homeOriginally posted September 27, 2007–It is a sad fact that there are simply not enough ways to view short films.  Scores of films are made each year but unless you are able to attend every film festival out there, then you probably will not see many of these.  And someone who just watches their films in a multiplex will probably never see these films at all.  That is a tragedy because some of the best films to come around each year are not feature length films made by famous directors with bundles of money, but small films made on shoestring budget that probably run less than an hour long.  Today something jogged my memory and I recalled the film Home Sweet Home directed by Uhm Hye-jeong that I saw back in 2004.  Although I have not seen the film since then, the story and feelings I made such an impression that I am still able to remember the entire film and can say with confidence that it is one of my favorites.

The scene opens with a family in tears. The father, mother and elder daughter have been watching tv and saw that their was a fire at the preschool that the youngest member of the family attends.  It is now quite dark outside as the news shows bodies being pulled from the wreckage of the school and the family’s wailing fills their small apartment. Then the doorbell rings.

Standing at the door is the little girl, hair disheveld, blackend with soot and cuts on her leg.  She says nothing and is clearly in shock or….A ghost!!  Ok–that was the first thing I thought and it was certainly the director’s intention.  The family members seem skittish around her and her silence is terrifying. Even when she is dropped into a hot bath, she makes no sound or movement.  It is not until the elder daughter intentionally hurts her that the little girl suddenly starts screaming and you realize that she was just in shock after all.

You would think that would please the family but instead it seems to have the opposite effect.  Although they clearly love her–reading her favorite story, dancing around the house together–the family all believes that it would have been better for them and for her if she had died.  The explanation is even more terrifying than the supernatural, the conclusion is quite macabre and the thoughts of what must surely follow is horrifying, but together they combine to make one of the most memorable short films I have ever seen.

I sincerely hope that someone, somewhere adds this film to a collection of shorts. I would love to see it again.

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Nematomorph (2006)

9th January 2010

Orininally posted October 11, 2007–Nematomorph was a short film released at the most recent Jeonju International Film Festival.  Directed by a new director, Choi Seung-min, it features a scene that is far creepier and more suspenseful than any found in most recent full length horror films and demonstrates this young man’s potential to be an innovative director in a genre that is in dire need of fresh ideas.   

Running only 15 minutes, the film is very dark starting off with a slew of images depicting the aftermath of various suicides.  Oddly, every scene of death is accompanied by a great deal of water–even when it seems unneeded. For example, you would expect to see water in a case where someone has jumped off a bridge or killed themselves in a bathtub, but why is there water all over the floor in the case of a hanging?  The radio we hear in the background also indicates that suicide is rising to an almost epidemic proportion. What is causing this?

The movie then quickly settles on the character shown above, actor Ju Seong-min playing Seon-jae, as he drifts emotionlessly through his day.  It is clear that he is very depressed and his parents are not the most understanding of people so the audience soon comes to fear for this man and what his actions may be.  Seon-jae’s room is very disturbing.  He raises lizards and he keeps his room dark except for the light needed for his vivarium.  The light seems quite harsh as is the incessant sound of crickets that he is using for his pets’ food.  The room is anything but inviting–and then there is the bathroom scene.

Seon-jae goes to take a bath in his house which has a huge, extremely well-lit bathroom. Despite its size, it is very bare except for the tub and a mirror that stretches the entire length and height of the wall where the bathtub is. Just looking at it, you know something is going to happen. In a standard horror film, a ghost would pass by seen only in the mirror or something would reach through and grab the hero. But this is not a standard film and what happens original and suspeneful.

Even though the director certainly did not have a large budget for this–it was he senior project as part of his final year at university majoring in Film–the sets  are good and atmosphere that he manages to create rival or surpass any of the big budget movies that we have seen in recent days.  Remember the name Choi Seung-min. I would not be at all surprised to see him directing feature length horror films in the coming years.

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Doggy Poo (2007)

9th January 2010

Originally posted November 23, 2007–I watched Doggy Poo on Hana tv doggy poolast night– I swear that Hana tv has everything– It has hard to find things like Song Il-gon’s The Magicians and Kim Jin-seong’s Geochilmaru. So if there are so many great options, why am I taking the time to write about a short animation about ..for lack of a better word..a turd.   Well, get all thoughts of South Park (I really hate that show) our of your head. Doggy Poo is as far removed from Mr. Hankey as possible.  This beautifully realized claymation is more inspirational. It feels like a story that might have been told by Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince and never delves into any kind of  ’toilet humor’ which the main character might lead one to expect.  As the poster on the right states, it is a story of self- discovery for little poo as he tries to find a reason for his existance. Although he is ignored by larger life forms and terrorized and instulted by various kinds of birds, Poo finds comfort, and later answers, from various inanimate objects like Clump of Dirt, Fallen Leaf and Dandelion.  Although all of these things, including Poo, are unable to move on their own, the characters are not dull and their expressions more than make up for their lack of movement.

Kwon Oh-seong has done a wonderful job at directing this animation and seems to have taken up the reigns as Korea’s best claymation director. Kwon’s other works include Animal Farm from If You Were Me: Anime Vision and Lucky Seoul. The background he has created for Doggy Poo was painstakingly detailed and very realistic.  If you enjoy books like The Little Prince, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or Hope For the Flowers, you will also enjoy this 40-minute long movie which reminds us that everything in life has a purpose.

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If You Were Me: Anime Vision (2005)

9th January 2010

if you were me anime visionOriginally posted February 6, 2008–The If You Were Me series which has been produced by the National Human Rights Commision now consists of four sets of films. The first was produced in 2003 and featured top directors Park Chan-wook, Im Soon-rye and Park Kwang-su. The second set, produced in 2005, included shorts by directors Ryu Seung-wan and Jang Jin among its number and the most recent collection had works by the indie directors No Dong-seok, Hong Ki-seon and the Kim Brothers. However, the animated installment of If You Were Me took a different stance. Only one director is readily recognizable–Lee Seong-kang who made My Beautiful Girl Mari, Texture of Skin and Yobi the Five-Tailed Fox. The stories, as one might suspect, feature much of the same themes that have already been covered in the earlier films. But in the format of animation, the directors are free to have their characters undergo impossible situations as well as making it visually appealing to viewers of all ages. 

The films included in this set Day Dream (Yoo Jin-hee), Animal Farm (Kwon Oh-seong), At Her House (Kim Joon, Park Yoon-kyeong, Lee Jin-seok, Jang Hyeong-yoon, Jeong Yeon-joo), The Flesh and Bone (Lee Ae-rim aka Amy Lee), The Bicycle Trip (Lee Seong-kang) and Be a Human Being (Park Jae-dong).

In my opinion, the best of these both visually and storywise, are Day Dream, The Flesh and Bone and Be a Human Being. Day Dream is about a young girl without fingers or feet sleeping happily next to her father safe from a world that does not want to understand her or accept someone so obviously different into its midst. This is the only story of the six short films that impacted me strongly.  In fact, it is such a powerful story that I would have saved it for last rather than putting it first in order.

The Flesh and Bone is the story that takes up back generations as we look at the ancestry of a woman with ‘bad genes’ and is thus born lacking the looks that society aspires to. This is driven home by her trip to the streets where we see factories turning out women with perfect, but identical, bodies and men engrossed with building their muscles. Be a Human Being takes a unique look at the problem with education systems that try to impose its own form of success.

I would say that the weakest of the collection is At Her House. I am not sure why it took five directors to make it. Least interesting story and art style.

If You Were Me: Anime Vision was released on a Region 3 DVD, but it is not easy to come by.

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Life Track (2007)

15th December 2009

life trackOriginally posted July 25, 2009–Usually, I like to give low-budget, independent films a chance.  I often enjoy slow-moving, introsective films and I do not require a lot of dialog to understand the story. However, that being said, there is slow-moving and then there is stagnant. Life Track by director Kim Kwang-ho unfortunately falls into the latter category. How slow is it?  I fell asleep three times while watching it. I would wake up, go back to where I had dozed off to see what I had missed, and each time discovered that I had missed absolutely nothing.  It wasn’t the fact that there was little to no dialogue. Words are not needed if the actors can convey the story through their expressions or body language. Hell, I’m even happy if there is nice cinemotgraphy and little else to look at and I find old silent movies very enjoyable.  However, the camerawork and scenery in this film are not that much to look at, the actors, with the exception of Jang So-yeon, are not up to the task of telling a story through their expressions and there is no spoken story to fill the viewer in on the thoughts of the characters– the first sentence spoken in the film comes at the 20 minute mark and during the entire film there are only about ten lines.  In brief, I thoroughly disliked this film.

Oh, there are some good points. As I mentioned, lead actress Jang So-yeon does an admiral job. She plays a deaf woman who is unable to speak. We do learn more than halfway through the film that she knows sign language (which is kindly translated for us by subtitles). However, she only communicates this way once in the movie–and it is not even with the man she is living with.  We learn nothing new about her character through her single line. Mostly, she smiles or stands by nervously. Unlike the lead actor, Choi Geum-ho, Jang does convey readable emotions. However, the takes showing her breaking into a grin or feeling uncertain are so long that they lose their impact and the poor actress actually looks pained and uncomfortable with a smile pasted on her face. She is not to be blamed for that situation–it is clearly the fault of director Kim.

Choi is less effective as an actor, but of course that is because he is not a professional actor. I liked the fact that they used an actual handicapped man to play the role of the man who takes in a woman on the run instead of using an actor pretending to be physically challenged.  However, not being a professional, Choi is unable to bring much feeling into his long stares which come across as blank and completely unreadable. I had no idea what he was thinking throughout the film and the choices his character makes near the end came as an absolute surprise–not in a good way, but in a confusing ‘out-out-of-left-field’ kind of way.

The final scene of the film is suitably shocking and definitely caught my attention. But I think the 90+ minutes leading up to it were a waste. The entire movie would have been better as a fifteen minute short than a feature length picture. There were a few other interesting plot points, like what Choi does to the couple in the car, but even that was not developed sufficiently. Another scene that seemed like it was important, the flashback of  young Choi and his mother, left me scratching my head as to what it meant.

I don’t often say this, but I do not recommend this film–even for obsessive collectors like myself. Buy it only if you often have guests who stay too long–pop this in the DVD player and I guarantee that they will be out the door (or comatose) within ten minutes.

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