Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2000s' Category

Haeundae (2009)

10th December 2009

haeundaeoriginally posted July 29, 2009–Haeundae Beach, sometimes called the Waikiki of Korea. It is a long, beautiful beach of fine sand and turquoise water. It is also walled in by hotels and apartments, but these are quite nice looking in and of themselves and although they subtract from the natural beauty of the area, they add an air of luxury and excitement.  Going to Haeundae three out of four seasons each year will result in a relaxing afternoon of walks on the beach and maybe some delicious raw fish in the evening. However, going there at the height of summer offers a completely different experience. The beach becomes packed with tourists. It won’t be long before the local news starts giving ‘counts’ of how many people were estimated to be at Haeundae. It will start at about 800,000 and work its way up to over a million sunbathers and swimmers  literally covering the sand with a sea of people. The nightlife is filled with fireworks, concerts, food and drink.

This crowded and exciting locale is the scene of the first film in Korea to feature a natural disaster.  In this case, we have a tsunami that is fast approaching the south coast of Korea–and not just any tsunami–this is a mega-tsunami that towers more than 100 meters in height. The people frolicking on the beach are unaware of their impending doom until an earthquake rocks the shore. From then they have only ten minutes to get to safety as a mountain of water rushes forward to engulf them.

Only ten minutes..  The wave will come, the water will recede and there is the possibility of another bigger wave.  That does not seem like enough time to cover an entire movie. So the first hour of the film is taken up with introducing the characters we will soon be watching fighting for their lives.  Three couples stand out among the cast of thousands, Man-shik/Yeon-hee, Kim Hwi/ Lee Yoo-jin, and Hyeong-shik/Hee-mi.  Man-shik (Seol Kyeong-gu) has been friends with Yeon-hee (Ha Ji-won) since childhood. Since his wife left him, Yeon-hee has been taking care of Man-shik who cannot seem to control how much he has to drink. His drunkness however is not due to being deserted by his spouse. It is because he survived the Indonesian Tsunami that claimed the life of Yeon-hee’s father.  Kim Hwi (Park Joong-hoon) is an oceanographer who watches for undersea earthquakes and predicts the possibility of tidal waves. He has recently been reintroduced to his career-driven ex-lover Lee Yoo-jin (Uhm Jeong-hwa) and her young daughter. Finally, their is the comic, budding love between lifeguard Hyeong-shik (Lee Min-gi) and a tough tourist from Seoul Hee-mi (Kang Ye-won).

The film takes its time to flesh out these characters and several others whom I didn’t mention so that when the wave strikes we actually care about the people involved and to add a personal touch to tragedy which will cost thousands of lives.  And it does an excellent job doing just that.  If you are going into the movie expecting non-stop action, you might be disappointed because the story starts off with just the day-to-day dramas that we all experience. However, when the action starts, it is amazing to behold. The computer graphics are well done in this movie and the acting is excellent. Seol Kyeong-gu and Ha Ji-won are excellent actors who know how to deliver a story and Park Joong-hoon has the experience to pull off anything–so I was not surprised that their rolls were good. I was surprised at the excellent work by Uhm Jeong-hwa and Lee Min-gi in this film.  Their acting in this movie surpasses anything that they have done before–and both of them had me crying at one or two points in the course of the film.  (Because of his work here, I am actually looking forward to seeing A Million which will open soon and also stars Lee Min-gi)* updated–A Million was not worth the wait*

If the film is so good but not perfect. Why?  Well, one of the reasons for that as the cast was introduced, I was able to predict who would live and who would die with an amazing degree of accuracy. Many of them commit ‘Hollywood-cinema-sins’…Person A is greedy, he must be punished. Person B is a bad mother, she must be punished, Person C will supply a noble death, Person D will die saving a child…  These are standard cliches that dominated the sub-genre of ‘Natural Disasters/Nature-Gone-Wild’ films which were especially popular during the 1970s (Like Towering Inferno, Avalanche–and earlier classics like The Birds).  And another, minor, problem I had was about the second wave.  I had to wonder—’How did anyone survive?’ It was huge! 

 I give this film 3 and a half out of 5 stars. This is how to make a big-budget film correctly.

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The Pot (2009)

22nd November 2009

potTo begin with, The Pot was not the film that I thought I would be reviewing today.  Yesterday I had eagerly sat myself down and popped in Song Yeong-su’s 1988 film The Wolf’s Curiosity Stole the Pigeon which had recently been released on DVD.  I should have realized that the movie was going to be a little iffy when I saw the original title does not match what the film is now being called.  In English on the original posters, The Wolf’s Curiosity is called Lassie and the Horny Guy.  That should have been a warning.  I wound up turning off the film after just thirty minutes.  I had said to myself that if the girl was raped one more time, I would turn off the DVD player.  Lo and behold, she gets into the car of yet another stranger and is raped.  I gave up and decided to watch something else.

The movie I decided to watch was The Pot a low-budget horror film from new director Kim Tae-gon.  I had heard many good things about the film, including from’s own Q , and I wanted to see it for myself.  The title of the film takes a little time to comprehend.  The Korean word ‘Dok’ can mean both ‘pot’ and ‘poison’–so why was pot chosen? Dok is a certain type of pot–not the kind used to boil water.  Instead, it is a large clay pot with a lid often in the back of old Korean houses.  It is important for fermenting kimchi, soy sauce and bean paste.  ‘To ferment’ is a tasteful way to say ‘to rot’.  And that is exactly what is happening to the seemingly happy family at the center of the film.

This family consisting of a father, a very pregnant mother, and their daughter.  However we can immediately see that their is something straining at their relationship.  The father, named Hyeong-gook, seems to be barely speaking to his wife Yeong-ae. And their daughter’s disrespect of her mother grows throughout the movie.  Besides the strain of a new job, the family must deal some odd new neighbors who thrust their religious beliefs on them and show an unnatural interest in the couple’s daugher Mi-ae.

As you watch the movie, a mystery begins to unfold and the secret guilt the characters hide manifests itself frequently in the form of water.  Water plays a key plot point in the film and the water in small family’s new apartment becomes increasingly rotten and foul. From the single drop of blood in the fishtank and its continuingly cloudy water, the the disgusting sludge that spews from the drain, to odd drop of water that drips from the old woman on the stairs (yes, it was only water–Hyeong-gook sniffs at it and doesn’t react in disgust)

Director Kim does an excellent job in building up atmosphere however, the movie doesn’t really ’scare’ in the way we’ve come to expect horror films in recent years..even during some very unnatural dream sequences. My only real complaint comes from the lighting.  I realize that when there are no lights, it should be dark and the director opted from this realistic approach.  However, it makes it very difficult to see what is going on onscreen much of the time.  Even when there are lights are lit, they appear to get dimmer as the movie progresses.

The Pot is not a horror film that keep you up all night. But it is one that will keep you thinking as the reason behind the strange events becomes clear.

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Another Time Another Place (2008)

22nd November 2009

another time another placeoriginally posted March 29, 2009–Another Time Another Place is an independent film directed by Kim Yeong-hye. It has not received a general release in theaters  but, sponsered by KOFIC , it was  recently put on DVD and shown in a few art theaters. The story is excellent but requires quite a bit of thought afterwards to get the full implications and meanings of what is happening. If you are just hoping to sit down, turn off your mind, and just watch a movie, then this is not for you. If you like being handed bits and pieces of a puzzle and enjoy patching them together to get a whole picture, then you will love this film like I did.  The story is divided into three chapters looking at different times in the life of one man named Sang-woo. In the first chapter, Sang-woo is about eight years old. He learns that his father has left his group of friends on Chiri Mountain and should have been home by now. When his dad still hasn’t arrived by daybreak, Sang-woo decides to set out on his own to search for him which will ultimately enable himself and his brother Byeong-woo to go on a family picnic.

Along the way, he encounters and easily avoids the vague threat of a stranger who offers him a ride. The driver did not insist the boy get in the car and his offer could have been out of the goodness of his heart, but it seems odd and slightly unsettling which sets the tone for the rest of the journey. His next meets an unusual old man who shows him a method of harmlessly (?) stringing locusts onto a blade of grass which the delighted boy plans to give as a gift to his father. But then a sudden sun-shower forces him to take refuge under the awning of a strange wooden door in the middle of a field.  He falls asleep while waiting for the rain to stop but is rudely awakened when two of the guardians painted on the door come to life and force him through the door to the other side. They warn him that anyone who enters can never return. They lead him to a boat and begin to row acroos the river calling to mind images of the River Styx. Furthering this image is a funeral procession on the shore. The boy calls out to small group, “Father! I caught some locusts!” But he receives no answer. Sang-woo himself thinks that it is odd that he would call out for his father at that time.  Peering over the side of the boat, he can see his house in the water below.

Suddenly, Sang-woo wakes up. Believing he had been dreaming, he continues on the road to search for his father. He soon becomes thirsty and asks a girl about his age for some water. She takes him into her run down house and he soon tells her his story. She offers to help find his father and dons full shaman robes to commune with the mountain spirits. Offering his precious locusts to the mountain gods, the boy learns that if he continues on the road, he will meet his father again. Since he can not take back his gift to the spirits, the girl presents him with a bright red feather to give to his dad when he finds him. The boy accepts her present but when he turns to thank her, he finds her gone.

There are two more chapters, one where Sang-woo has recently graduated from college and breaks up with his girlfriend only to dream of a mysterious woman in the river and observe a ’spirit wedding’ in a sudden sun-shower and another a few years after that where he drives to Chiri Mountain to pick up a shaman ’spirit dancer’ to perform in a folk festival he is organizing. Each of these chapters feature strange dreamlike scenarios that may just be visions or be actually happening. I would lean towards the vision theory myself except after each supernatural encounter, Sang-woo brings back something red–the feather, a blood stain, and a red talisman. The ’supernatural’ aspects of the encounters are left intentionally vague–the girl shaman may have simply gone inside (Sang-woo) does not go back to look, the woman he meets on the bank of the river may have been a drunken dream as he had been drinking heavily after breaking up with his girlfriend, nor does he search the final house well after the older shaman gives him the talisman and warns him against getting lost before also disappearing.

The implication is that the two shamans, child and adult, are the same woman as well as being the woman he meets by the water in the second chapter. The spirit wedding he witnesses drives home that he is still somehow in the world of spirits as the guardians warned him even though he is living in the physical world and he and the shaman are closely connected. This led me to question if the shaman was a spirit the entire time. Certainly she seemed to disappear quickly in each encounter and spirit wedding were a custom of marrying the living with the dead (as seen in Epitaph and Woman With Half a Soul). She is seen performing in one of Sang-woo’s festivals ‘two months later’ at the end of the film, but this does not guarantee that she is not a spirit. In fact, her movements are so fluid and graceful that they seemed eerily unnatural. I was wondering if the actress (Jo Ha-na) was on wheels or if she was really that good at dancing the traditional ’spirit dance’.

It was interesting how all the chapters eventually connect but I must fault the film on one point. I was confused at first by the final chapter when it appears as if Sang-woo is going to drown himself in a lake. He swims through his house the lake but is called back from death when he hears himself call out ‘Father!’ and seizes the red feather. The whole sequence did not make sense to me until the end credits when I saw that, although it was the same actor, it was not Sang-woo. Rather it is Sang-woo’s father who had left his group on the mountain to kill himself but is saved by a vision of his son (during the latter’s dream in the first chapter). Only then did the whole puzzle fall into place. However, if I had not watched the credits, I never would have figured it out. Using another actor would have made the situation clear.

However, overall, Another Time Another Place is a wonderful film experience. It is on DVD from Taewon Entertainment, but i have not seen it for sale anywhere. I received my copy as a gift from director Kim. However, I suspect that if one is interested in finding it, the DVD could be purchased through KOFIC.

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The Story of Mr. Sorry (2008)

15th November 2009

story of mr sorryIn October 2009, the Korean Academy of Film Arts released a box set containing four projects of their graduating class.  Among the films was one animated feature entitled The Story of Mr. Sorry.  While I may write fairly often about animated movies from earlier decades, most Korean animations from the last ten years or so, with the exception of Oseam, have left me cold.  I was unsure what to expect with Mr. Sorry, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The animation is relatively low-key and in a style that reminded me of Rene Laloux’s film The Fantastic Planet (1973).   Actually, this new movie shares more than just style with that classic movie.  Both contain quite a bit of surrealism and more than  a few symbolic images and characters which depict modern society in a rather critical light. And qhile The Fantastic Planet depicted a race of doll-sized humans revolting against their giant masters, The Story of Mr. Sorry involves a man shrunken against his will to serve the business aims of his boss.

The story begins on a strange note.  A bizarre gameshow is underway hosted by I. M. Heartless and panelled by various political figures and ‘experts’. The gameshow, To Kill or Not To Kill, is a trial of sorts where viewers call in to decide whether the defendant should be executed on air or set free. This is the programs first broadcast and the defendant in this case is a hideous spider which is accused of driving an important politician incurably insane.   The spider emerged from the politician’s nose and the only other person present at the time was Mr. Sorry who has mysteriously disappeared.

The movie then backtracks to give us Mr. Sorry’s story.  He is a lonely, timid young man who works as an Ear-Cleaner (a totally fictional career).  His company both gives assignments to its workers as well as sending them door-to-door to attract random customers. As the job implies, the ear-cleaners professionally scoops out earwax from his clients for money. As an ear-cleaner though he is not much of a success and most of his customers are very unsatisfied with his work. We learn that the only reason that he entered the field was because he older sister used to clean his ears for him when he was a child and it those times are the happiest memories Sorry holds. Sadly, Sorry’s sister disappeared years ago and he has no idea how to find her.

Then one day the company owner takes an interest in Sorry because of his timid nature.  He is called into the office and given a ‘vitamin’ package.  However, the pills he begins taking begin shrinking him.  For the first couple of days, Sorry doesn’t notice as his clothes become looser and more ill-fitting and he finds himself growing weaker and weakder.  When his shoes become to big for him to walk in though, he goes to the company doctor and is given the same vitamin pills his boss supplied him with. The result?  One day, Mr. Sorry finds himself rapidly shrinking to about half and inch tall and struggling for his life within the ear of his client.

Now able to crawl into people’s ears, Mr. Sorry becomes an instant celebrity and much-sought after ear-cleaner. He makes tons of money for his boss who keeps the tiny man in a dollhouse.  Mr. Sorry thinks that life cannot get any better until he accidently discovers that their is a door from the ear canal into the subconscious of people.  Learning how to cross the barrier, Sorry gains insights into each person he meets that seems to explain their actions in real life (such as the body builder’s secret well of tears or the accountant’s secret loss).  He cannot cure people’s psyches, but he understands them better.

Not everything he learns is pleasant however as he learns in the subconscious of a young girl who hold incestuous thoughts towards her father. This causes Sorry to question his own motives in finding his sister and his actions towards her in the past. He learns far more than he wants to however, when he enters the ear and subconscious of the handsome and powerful Highes T. Peak.  It is there that Sorry learns something about his sister and more than he ever wanted to know about himself.  And meanwhile, there is the fate of the spider and how it all connects.

The Story of Mr. Sorry is an enjoyable film and is available with English subtitles in the KAFA boxset.  It was written and directed by Kwak In-geun, Kim Il-hyeon, Ryu Ji-na, Lee Eun-mi and Lee Hye-yeong.  I look forward to seeing what these young filmmakers will come up with in the future.

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Timeless by Ryu Seung-wan

9th November 2009

timelessDoes anyone remember back in 2005 when BMW hired three directors from Korea to make short films that would showcase their cars?  The movies were not about the cars–they had stories–but BMWs appeared in many scenes.  They had hired an impressive trio comprised of Kim Ki-duk (Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring, Samaritan Girl), Kim Seong-soo (Musa, Please Teach Me English) and Cha Eun-taek (a television director).  I remember watching them and really enjoying these short films–they were done in such way that the commercial aspect did not interfere with the movie.   Unfortunately, they were only available online for a relatively short time and are now extremely difficult to find.  

Well, now it is Ryu Seung-wan’s turn.  Ryu, the director of such action films as Crying Fist, Arahan and City of Violence, has made a twenty minute short film with Motorola entitled Timeless.  It stars Jeong Doo-hong (actor in City of Violence and reknowned stunt choreographer working on such films as Bittersweet Life and The Good The Bad And The Weird) and Japanese actor Kane Kosugi (War, DOA).

The movie is the story of Jeong, playing himself trying to put together a film with director Hwang (Hwang Byeong-guk, director of Wedding Campaign). They hire a former stunt school classmate of Jeong’s (Kosugi) who has become a big star and conflict ensues over how to make their film. 

The movie does not have subtitles, but about half of it is in English–Kosugi and his staff speak fluently–and much of the film is the kind of amazing, old-school stunt action that we have come to expect from Jeong’s work.

Want to watch it?  Go to   You will encounter a giant phone.  Click “launch’ at the bottom and a new window opens.  After a short preview of the film plays, a menu appears at the bottom of the screen.  Choose “Theater” and click the first choice in the new menu.  You will see options to play the full 20 minute film, a 1 minute preview or a 15 second commercial. 

The principle characters and director Ryu also provided interviews.  Kosugi’s is in English.  Click “Theater” again and choose the third option.  You will be given three choices–the first is the Ryu interview, the second is with Jeong and the third, in English, is Kosugi.   Enjoy!

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Land of Scarecrows (2008)

6th November 2009

land of scarecrows“First the children will become sick. Then the hospitals will be overflowing with the dying. You should leave here now, ” intoned the old man.  No, he is not a prophet of doom stirring up fear of swine flu.  He is the homeless old man who pops up from time to time in the film Land of Scarecrows, rather dark movie with a ray of hope in an unexpected place from director No Kyeong-tae (Last Dining Table). 

The story focuses on three main characters struggling to find that hope in a land where the clams they find are rotting, insects appearing out of season and dying in mass, and something horrible is contaminating the water.  The first one we meet is Ji-yeong aka Ji-seok.  Ji-yeong is confused sexually. Born a woman, Ji-yeong is convinced that she is a man trapped in a woman’s body and believes her problems stems from growing up near a landfill which screwed up her hormones.  We meet her on her way to the Philippines where, in her Ji-seok persona, she is part of a ‘tour’ group selecting Filipina brides. Although she/he decides not to participate at the last minute,  she winds up meeting the second member of the cast.

Rain Lopez is a woman growing up in poverty in the Philippines. She picks through garbage to eke out a living while she holds on to her single dream.  She has been swept up by the romance and opulance of Korean dramas and dreams of marrying a sensative, handsome, wealthy Korean man.  She joins a company that arranges marriages and which promises her that she will “meet her Korean prince.”  Unfortunately, most of the candidates that come through fall far short of expectations.  When Ji-seok proves himself to be much more sensative than any of the men she met so far, knows that he is the man for her and takes steps to join him in the squalid little home.

If he knew of her plans, the third member of the cast might try to dissuade her.  He is Loi Tan, a young man who was adopted when he was six by a Korean couple while they were travelling in the Philippines.  They raised him as their son— at least that is what they tell him and what he would like to believe.  In truth, he was more like unpaid labor and, when they are finally tired of him, they simply let him go.

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The Happy Life (2007)

16th October 2009

happy lifeOriginally posted January 19, 2007– A recent article in the Korean Herald mentioned how an increasing number of films are being made to target the older members of the audience who are making up an ever-growing percentage of the box office figures.  By ‘older members’ they were refering to viewers over thirty who have more stable jobs and a disposable income. The article mentioned several films that were propelled to success because of this crowd including May 18 and Radio Star.  The Happy Life was not mentioned, but clearly should have been as it was certainly created for the late thirties/early forties demographics who may long for the days when they were still young and free to do whatever they dreamed of rather than face the burdens of responsibility, failed careers that they do not really like anyway and marriages that have dissolved into a dull routine.

 The above description aptly fits the life of Ki-young, the main character in the film. He had lost his job sometime before the film begins and does not seem to have enough ambition to search for another at his age.  His short-tempered wife is a teacher and it is her salary that allows their family to continue. She appears to have stopped nagging him about getting a job though and goes through her daily routine that barely includes her husband. 

Ki-young learns of the death of a college friend who was also the leader of a band called ‘Active Volcano’ that both were members of.  After the funeral, the surviving members remember their days in college and Ki-young suggests that they start up their band again. After all, it was a dream that they all passionately shared before life got in their way and they all seem to be weary and tired of struggling through the motions of living lives they were never meant to. By denying themselves their dreams, they are slowly fading away to nothingness.

That is all well and good for Ki-young, but not really practical for the other former musicians.  Drummer Hyeok-soo is supporting a wife and two children who are studying in Canada to give them an academic advantage. He sells used cars for a living and sends his entire earnings to his spouse which has reduced him to living in a single room apartment and eating ramen every night.  The bass guitarist Seong-wook has recently been laid off from work and has taken to working several different part time jobs until his company is able to hire him back.  His wife, however, does not seem to realizes the seriousness of their situation and constantly spends money on the best tutors for their son, the best afterschool academies and any other method she can buy to make sure that their young son will be at the top of his class.

What follows is the story of their struggles to live life the way that they want to, regardless of the cost.  Showcased throughout this tale are several songs written for the story that are quite catchy.  One of them was near to wearing out its welcome by the fifth time I heard it, but fortunately it is good enough so I didn’t really mind it.

This movie is listed as a comedy, but as you can see, there is nothing at all comedic about the plot.  ‘Feel good’ film yes, comedy no.  Definitely worth your time to see

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Fade Into You (2004)

16th October 2009

Originally posted January 28, 2008— fade into youFade Into You is a great movie for a rainy day when you might be feeling a little bit introspective.  It is NOT a movie to watch if you are in the mood for breathtaking action or exciting visuals.  During this film’s 70-minute running time, I don’t think more than ten short lines of dialog were spoken-and none that I remember in the first segment. However, the realistic actions of the characters living their solitary lives draws you in and allows you to identify with what they are feeling–or not feeling. The story is divided into three segments which briefly look into the lives of three different individuals with remarkable similarities.  The first stars Lee Nan (who had directed the short Swing Diaries in 1996) as ‘the man who travelled to space’. The second features Kim Han as a new worker who takes a short business trip to Wonju and the final third of the film watches a young woman played by Ok Ji-yeong who travels to Jeju Island.

The fact that they all taking trips is not what ties the three together. What marks them as similar is their complete lack of contact with other people.  The man travelling to space works in some sort of custodial position in a large facility.  He does not appear to have many duties and spends his time wandering the halls, looking out the windows at nothing in particular, eating in the company cafeteria or sleeping on his cot presumably on his job site. There is at least one other person there-and probably many more given the size of the facility–but we never see their faces and the man never speaks a word to them.

The second man has many more opportunities to have contact with people. He stops to help an old woman in a bizarre and amusing sequence. He works in an office that has an often-absent supervisor and at least one other employee.  All three of them drive to Wonju for a meeting and must spend the night there. However, the ride in the car is silent and the young man literally fades in and out as if he is not really there. Once in Wonju, the three eat a silent meal and sleep in different rooms. All opportunities to communicate and reach out to people are ignored.

The woman vacationing on Jeju Island is travelling alone and despite obviously being on holiday does nothing. She spends the entire first day lounging in her hotel and even orders room service instead of going out for dinner. Eventually, she phones for a rental car (which may be the only time where one of the characters initiates a conversation) and drives to the mountains where we watch her wander around looking at..nothing. With all the beautiful things a Jeju, the only thing that catches her attention-and that she examines for several minutes is a small stone.

At several points in the film, the viewer may wonder ‘What is such-and-such character looking at? Why are they doing nothing?” and then the director turns the tables on us. At one point in the film the director turns off the camera.  I sat and watched the suddenly dark screen waiting for something to happen. And I sat…and I sat… and I realized that I was doing exactly what the characters in the film were doing. I was just sitting and looking at an empty screen–not moving, not speaking–just waiting. And in that instant where I realized what I was doing, I completely understood the characters and felt even more empathy for them than I already had.

Fade Into You is the first and only work to date for director Chae Ki.  Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more from him in the future

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Radio Dayz (2008)

14th October 2009

radio dayzOriginally posted February 8, 2008—I had mentioned on Monday that I loved the movie Radio Dayz that had opened a week ago and is currently showing in theaters.  I had originally thought that I would be writing about it for one of the magazines I write for, but I abandoned that idea after struggling with the article because I did not feel that I could get the three pages I needed to write. That frees me up to write a short review here.

But before I begin the review, I would like to direct your attention to the teaser poster above. This poster was made well before the release of the film which is why the release date on the poster just says January rather than a specific date. However, the most obvious thing about the poster for an English speaker is the misspelling of the word ‘Radio’ as ‘Ridio’. This is do to the old-style Koreanization of the word ‘radio’ in the Korean title which seems like a mistake today as it is now out of use. However, ‘ridio’ has apparently been abandoned and the misspelling is now in the word ‘days/dayz’ which although wrong gives the correct pronunciation.

Early promos and magazine articles about the film indicated that this was a Ryu Seung-beom venue..which while never a bad thing, would have been a waste of the other cast members. After watching the film however, I am happy to report that almost all the main actors have equal time with the exception of young Ko A-seong.  Her character, Soon-deok, has very little to do.

Ryu Seung-beom plays Lloyd, the fast-thinking producer of a radio program in 1930. The station is underfunded and understaffed. New ideas are needed to keep gain listeners. One of these ideas is to create a radio drama, the first of its kind in Korea. Lloyd gathers together a handful of voice actors. These consist of Marie (Kim Sa-rang) a beautiful and modern Jazz singer, the kisaeng Myeong-wol (Hwang Bo-ra) who often forgets that the radio audience cannot see her, Man-cheol (Oh Jeong-se) a voice actor who takes the part of just about every male character in the drama as the narration, reading the news and doing commercials. The previously mentioned Soon-deok is recruited to handle the voices of female extras. Off to a slow start, Lloyd also recruits a sound-effects man who simply calls himself K. 

The writing is handled by the harried Mr. No who has trouble coming up with what will happen next in the daily drama. He task is complicated frequently throw the script out the window if they don’t like how its going and adlib their way through the show.

The drama is a hit with the people with the people who argue on the streets about the love triangle and where street-performers re-enact the events of the previous day’s show. The cast is launched to stardom but the increased attention given to the radio drama also draws the attention of the Japanese colonial government. This may not have been a big problem for Lloyd, but some of the things his actors say outside the script may cause problems and one of his cast is secretly working for the Korean Independence Army.

I think this may be a first for Korean movies in the light way the Korean Independence Army is portrayed. Of course, this film is a comedy, by the four men making up the KIA (one of them is the well-known comedian Moon Se-yoon) are portrayed as being highly ineffective–the most successful thing they have done recently is rob a mail car. However, at least one of them is smart enough to recognize how useful the radio station can be to their cause.

The radio drama itself is extremely well-done. Not only is it used to poke fun at the government at the time, it also spoofs the cliches of modern television dramas. Love triangles, amnesia, contrasts in social status between the rivals for the hero’s affection…however, despite the cliches it manages to draw the modern viewer in and we begin to wonder..along with the writer…just how the drama will end.

With so many other high-profile Korean films released at the same time for the Lunar New Year, Radio Dayz may be pushed to the background–However, when the dvd is released, don’t hesitate to snap it up.  It is a genuinely fun movie!

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Take Off (2009)

12th October 2009

take offOriginally posted on August 6, 2009—I had thought that Haeundae would be the highlight of the summer movies. I was wrong. Last night I watched Take Off and I have to admit that I liked it. I knew from word-of-mouth and reading reviews in magazines like Cine21 that it was good, but I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the film.  While watching the film I ran the gambit of emotions–from sadness to joy and from suspense to fear.  Director Kim Yong-hwa (200lb Beauty, Oh Brothers) managed to find the balance between comedy and drama–neither one outweighing the other. The camera angles draw you in, especially during the competitive ski jumps, and the really help you imagine what an athlete must feel poised alone at the top of a steep hill where one mistake could mean the difference between life and death.

I will keep this review short and spoiler-free as the movie is still in theaters.

Actor Ha Jeong-woo continues to impress and has secured his place as a top actor in Korean film. Here he plays a Korean adoptee returning to the country of his birth to find his mother who gave him and his sister up decades earlier. His character, Cha ‘Bob’ Hyeon-tae, feels more than a little like a man without a country.  His inner confusion manifests itself in a variety of ways, most commonly making him standoff-ish from his teammates. He is also confused on how he wants to deal with his mother–on the one hand, he is still bitter from being abandoned long ago but on the other, he wants to understand her and help her escape from the hardships she is undergoing.

Although Hyeon-tae’s issues could easily weigh down the movie and make it pure melodrama, the other characters provide a little levity into the scenes–even though each of their family situations is equally as difficult as Hyeon-tae’s–if not worse. And each of these characters gets a moment to shine. Most surprising to me was the scene in the bar that changed Heung-cheol (Kim Dong-wook) into a character I could respect. This was done not by transforming his personality into something new and more palatable, but rather through revealing a deeper level inside the already existing character- like what happens in life as you get to know someone.  However the most touching, exciting and fear-inspiring part of the film involved young Bong-gu (Lee Jae-eung). Although often used for comic relief–Bong-gu has one of the most dramatic parts of the movie.

All the characters are memorable in their own way–from the sultry, quick-witted Su-yeon (Lee Eun-seong) to a cameo appearance by Kim Su-ro. The story is exciting and paced well and the camerawork is excellent. All-in-all, Take Off earned  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.   It is well worth your time to see it…maybe even twice!

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