Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2010s' Category

Scary (2015)

11th October 2015

aka Scary House

aka Scary House

Ghosts in movies often haunt people under 40 years of age. If you are older than three decades old, you might experience a haunting, but not as the main character…and you probably wouldn’t survive your second scene. How refreshing it is then to find a movie where the focus of the paranormal activities in Scary was a somewhat older woman. However, just because she is older, does not mean she is an easy target for forces from beyond the grave. In fact, the pragmaticism that age brings combined with her naturally fiesty nature, makes this lady a formidable opponent.

The story is quite simple. Our unnamed character (played by Ku Yoon-hee) is the new owner of a three story building. While she and her husband will be moving into the top floor, the lower floors will be used for tenants and businesses. On the first floor, they are opening a photo studio. They have started setting it up with manikins of a bride, a groom, and …a ghost? The ghost is the ladies favorite and she takes several photos with it in which she pretends to be terrified of its faceless visage. But later, after her husband leaves on an extended trip, she ventures downstairs again and somehow awakens the ghost in the manikin and the terror she comes to feel is no longer pretend.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned on this movie and I was at first taken aback with how the movie embraces its non-existent budget. At first, I was not sure I liked it, but as time went on, it came across as rather charming. What better way to depict a manikin-ghost than by using an actual manikin. Sometimes it is attached to wires, sometimes animated by stop-motion technology, and sometimes an actor is put in a white dress, wig, and faceless mask for more action-oriented scenes. The simple special effects used for the phantom brought to mind the way ghosts were depicted in Korean movies during the 80s and this is clearly the intention of Director Yang Byeong-gan (who also plays the lead character’s husband). Even the poster is designed to resemble those of horror movies in the 80s. And at times, the sound track does not line up with the lip movements which really completes the illusion that this movie is from another time. None of this seems to be done to mock the movies of the past. Instead if feels like a loving homage.

Director Yang is no stranger to how films were made during the 80s. He started as an assistant director in 1980 to Choi Yeong-cheol with the film Goddess and debuted with his own film, An Ark Shell Lands on Earth in 1985. Never a prolific director, Yang’s last film prior to this year was back in 1994.

Scary is not simply a horror movie. There is a heavy dose of gentle comedy that come from the houseowner’s reaction to the ghost that leads up to a bloodless knife fight against in the basement thatis the is a must-see for its techniqual “ineptness.” Due to the style it is made in, this movie might not be for everyone, but I found myself truly enjoying it by the end.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Veil (2012)

6th September 2014

veil VEIL– Directed by Jeong Chang-hyeon. Starring Yoo Sang-jae, Kim Kyeong-mi, Lee Yang-hee, Kim Joo-hoo, Jeong Chan-seong and Kim Ma-ri. Running Time 73 minutes. General Release Date: December 5, 2013. (Screened in April 2013 at the Boston International Film Festival)

I stumbled across Veil while searching for something to watch and thought I would give this indie mystery a chance. I knew nothing about this film going into it so I had no expectations. After seeing it, I feel I should write about it fairly quickly–otherwise I may not remember much about it. Not exactly a ringing endorsement? Well, it is not the worst film I have ever watched by any means, and if you can see it on TV then give it a try. But I have some complaints about it which I will get to after giving a brief overview of the story. There will be spoilers below, so be warned.

The story begins by introducing us to the married couple Yeong-shik (Yoo Sang-jae) and Se-jin (Kim Kyeong-mi). However, while there life seems superficially perfect, we soon can see cracks in their wedded bliss. Yeong-shik wants children, but Se-jin placidly ignores his suggestions. She does not seem to have anything against children per se as she works in a day care center, but she appears to have no interest in having one of her own. More troubling for Yeong-shik is that his wife has been going out after work or simply not coming home until very late. Soon she is no longer sharing a bed with him and going out before he even wakes up in the morning. Yeong-shik seeks the help of a psychiatrist. He fears that his obsessive nature has taken over and causing him to be overly suspicious of his wife. He decides he needs proof before he accuse her unfairly and hires a private detective to follow her. The detective finds that Se-jin has been meeting a couple of people, a young artist named Min-soo (Jeong Chan-seong) and a woman with a hard expression called So-yeon (Kim Seung-yeon). Se-jin’s interactions with Min-soo have all the earmarks of the two being lovers, but there is no hard evidence.

Two weeks later, Se-jin is dead.

From this point, narrative moves away from Yeong-shik’s perspective that up to now was how we were primarily seeing the events on the screen. Instead it jumps between the police investigators looking into who stabbed Se-jin and dumped her body in a river, characters’ suspossitions about what may have happened, and the actual events. Therein lies one of my complaints about the film. After watching it I have doubts about the motive behind the killing because I am unsure if a key event actually happened or if it was all in one character’s mind. Maybe it is meant to be like that, hence the name of the film.

The other complaint I have is the heavy use of the sepia filter. I found it very distracting and I kept trying to figure out why it was being used. At first I thought it was for memories, but that turned out not to be the case. Then I thought it was used for scenes showing incorrect assumptions–which may be closer to the intended use, however I would have to watch the movie again to figure that out and I am not sure I want to do that right now.

I had started this review last night but slept before finishing it. I had to pick it up the next day to complete this post. However, that has proven to be a mistake. I am having trouble remembering many details. That may be the strongest complaint I have about Veil.. it is easily forgettable.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Scars (2011)

21st September 2013

Scars (2009)– Korean Title: 흉터 Romanization: Hyoongteo. Directed by Im Woo-sang. Starring: Park So-yeon (as Seon-hee), Jeong Hee-tae (as Sang-yeob), Yoo Ye-in (as Seon-hee’s mother), Seo Yeon-soo (Yoo-jin) and Jeon Hyeon-sook. Running Time: 64 minutes. Original Release Date: October 13, 2011. Available on DVD: Yes

scars Scars is an emotionally intense film for the very fact that very little emotion is depicted on screen by any of the characters. Everyone of the three main characters is seething with emotions just beneath the skin but lack the ability or courage to express what they are feeling. The main character is Seon-hee. From a distance, she seems to have a perfect life. She has a successful career as an illustrator, she is married to a popular news anchorman making her the envy of the women around her and her mother is recovering well from a recent stroke. But despite her finacial and social success, there is something eating away at her. We learn that it has been three years since she has been intimate with her husband, the relationship she has with her mother seems oddly distant, and Seon-hee is haunted each night by strange dreams involving a smiling Buddha’s face. The image of this face seems to follow her into the waking world as well and Seon-hee starts to see it in the most unexpected places.

One thing we also notice about Seon-hee is that she neither smiles nor frowns. In fact, she does not seem to have normal human emotions at all. The distance that seems to have built up with her and her mother extends with every other relationship in her life. It is telling that she is tasked with drawing a picture book for children with emotional problems in order to help them come out of their shell and express what they want. Our illustrator is quite skilled at making images for others, but she cannot break out of her own head. At one point she tells her husband, “There is nothing I want” but the very next scene betrays that declaration. She has wants, desires and dreams but she suppresses them and does not let them out. This internalization of her feelings is having a serious effect on her health.

Her husband is not much better off in expressing himself. He appears, for very different reasons, as emotionally cold as Seon-hee. Sang-hyeob compensates for this by striving for perfection. And in doing so, he comes across as an obsessive-compulsive. He goes through the same motions day after day, lining up his wallet, phone, keychain and watch in a row and straightening them until no flaw can be found. He brushes his teeth several times in succession using different sized toothbrushes, and spends hours reciting the same line again and again after making a mistake on the air. He is uncommuncative with his wife and it takes his mistress to finally break the news to his wife that he has been invovled in an affair for the past six months. His complaint against his wife is that he always “strives for perfection” will turn out to be ironic indeed.

Seon-hee takes to visiting her mother more often and although she does not reveal her personal crisis, she seems to take pleasure in being with her. As a result of recovering from her stroke, her mother has turned to Buddhism and has taken up Buddist art as a form of mediation and healing. However, she carries her own scars, quite different from the scars carried by her daughter and son-in-law. Hers are based on regret, most especially for how she treated her daughter as a child and why. Her quiet revelations in an attempt to find inner peace, explain to the viewer precious details in explaining Seon-hee and the reasons behind the way she is today.

The director makes ample use of the color yellow in dreams and scenes that represent memories. They are beautiful, quiet and intense, especially after the mother’s confession. The results of that single line from the mother makes subtle but marked changes in Seon-hee and the way she reacts to her husband.

I enjoyed this movie very much and wished it had gone just a little bit longer as I liked the direction it was heading and wanted to see it through to a decisive conclusion. I was however, very much surprised to find that I seem to be in the minority in my opinions. Looking at the user ratings on Daum, I was shocked that the average rating was around 4 out of ten, with many users giving the film two or less stars. I found it to be quite enjoyable. There is deep meaning to be discovered in many scenes and I liked that I had to work to find it as it is often not readily apparent. I loved the pacing of the movie and I loved learning that there was much more going on beneath the surface of the characters than we can know from dialogue or even from their actions. It is like knowing someone only from work or school and then learning something a little more intimate and personal about their lives. By the end of the movie, I liked all three of the main characters.

A short, quiet movie that has the potential to spark conversations after viewing. I would strongly recommend seeing it, though the pacing and reserved conversations will probably put off people who require a lot of action and expository dialouge.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

The Puppet (2013)

19th July 2013

The Puppet– 꼭두각시directed by Kwon Yeong-rok. Starring Lee Jong-soo (as Ji-hoon), Ku Ji-seong (as Hyeon-jin), Won Gi-joon (as Joon-ki), Han So-yeong (as Yoo-ri). Running time: 85 minutes. Release Date: June 20, 2013.puppet

This is just going to be a short review. This is a newer film so I feel the need to avoid spoilers so I will keep this post to just my quick impressions. The movie has some good points and several disappointing parts, The good in this film is the pacing. I really had absolutely no idea that I was at the end of the film when it came. There are many movies that I start checking my watch to figure out how much longer until the end comes, and many others…especially when thinking about Korean horror films that don’t seem to know when to end. The Puppet, although it could have continued on, chose to end the film on a very disturbing image and let our imagination take over as to what, if anything, would happen next in the story of these characters.

What is the bad? Well, much of the film seemed like a male’s erotic fantasy. It was certainly the director’s intention to have some of these scenes be uncomfortable because of that situation that led up to them which is understandable in terms of story.And of course, the script justifies ..or perhaps ‘redeems’ this situation by the conclusion.

Another problem I had was the absolute wasted use of the puppets. There are lots and lots of puppets.. I would have used them more. Yes, they were symbolic when used.. the director hits us over the head with that, but I would have liked to seen them used more in the horror/thriller elements of the film.

Actually, I question the need to classify this film as horror.. thriller definitely, but horror..not so much.

I would like to say more about the film, but I would rather not spoil it Honestly, the more I think about it the more I have to say. I was originally going to give the film a rating of 4 out of 10, however, the fact that I have a lot to say about it and it has gotten me thinking as I write the review makes me raise my original evaluation to a 6 out of ten. Perhaps, at a later date, a second viewing is in order.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Happiness For Sale (2013)

2nd July 2013

HAPPINESS FOR SALE– director: Jeong Ik-hwan– starring: Choi Kang-hee, Bong Tae-gyu, Joo Jin-mo, Jeong Gyu-soo, Kim Won-hae– 106 minutes– Release date: May 16, 2013.
I was asked recently by an airline to review Happiness For Sale for their August inflight magazine. I never expect much when I review films for them as they often select very mainstream films as they are not usually films I would have picked to see in the theaters. In this case however, the movie was not bad and had several good aspects. I wrote a light review of it and submitted it to the editor, but I thought that I would write a review here as well. When I review recent films I usually try to avoid spoilers as with the review of Horror Stories 2 that I wrote a couple of days ago. However, if this case, I will not be avoiding spoilers. The rational behind this decision is that Happiness For Sale is a very simple, family-friendly film. As such there are no unexpected twists in the plot. In fact, once you know the setup of the story, any audience member could write it him/herself. So.. Spoilers there are spoilers ahead…. You have been warned.

The film features on Kang Mina (played by Choi Kang-hee). Kang is a low-level civil servant working in a tax office and having a very bad day at the start of the movie. She has just broken up with her longterm boyfriend who has been cheating on her and clients are giving her trouble. One traffic accident and a case of road rage later, Kang finds herself on a two-month suspension. Having nothing better to do at this time, Kang decides to respond to calls she has been receiving regarding her estranged father who has been hospitalized and is deeply in debt. She heads to the small town of Muju to handle her father’s affairs but she does not do this graciously. She is short and sulky the moment she enters her hometown and in her brief dealings with her father. Furthermore, she seems to take a bitter delight in the idea of selling off that store her father owns as soon as she can even as she is moaning about all the work it she will have to do in order to clean up the dusty shop.

Mina is a classic example of an adult who blames everything in her life on her parents and childhood. The personality she has demonstrated up to this point in the film is petulant and immature, prone to temper tantrums and likely to respond to problems by either sulking or lashing out. We can see the root of her problems stem from being teased as a child by her classmates because of her father’s stationary/toy shop located just outside of the elementary school she attends. However, we see her father being very kind and friendly to the very same children who torment his daughter at school. Mina reacts by becoming volitile with her father, frequently telling him that she hates him when he shows her patience and kindness. What she fails to see as a child is that the way she acts perpetuates the cycle of being ostracized by the other children. But as an adult, she fails to realize that she has a choice in how she acts. I have very little patience with any adult who continues to blame their parents or minor things that happened in elementary school for all the problems in their lives.

Fortunately, there is another, infinitatley more likable character in the film. HIs name is Choi Kang-ho. A former classmate of Mina, and her only friend as a child, Kang-ho was also bullied because he was very shy and introverted. However, his reaction to the bullying and his life afterward, was quite different than Mina’s. Kang-ho is now a new teacher at the elementary school and it is only a matter of time before the two main characters renew their friendship.

One of the things I liked about this movie is how the children from 20 years ago mirror the children in the present day. Same characters but different faces. Having been on the receiving end of being teased in school, Choi takes some creative steps towards making his classroom a tolerant and accepting place. This is not lost on Mina, whose early dealings with the children were quite hostile. However, she finds an identification figure among them.. one who reminds her of herself as a child. And while our leading lady plots to take as much money from the children as possible to clear out her father’s stock, she unknowingly becomes attached to them emotionally and they come to rely on her.

Choi Kang-hee often overacts her role as Mina, but that was clearly because she was playing a caricature rather than a real character. Bong Tae-gyu gets the much better role to play, although early in the film Choi Kang-ho is played for comedy as he is still as awkward as an adult as he was as a child. But in general I liked the film.. the evolution in the lead and the gradual changes we see among the relationships among the children. Certainly not the best movie of the year, but a nice family movie nonetheless.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Horror Stories 2 (2013)– spoiler free reaction

30th June 2013

Horror Stories 2– 무서운이야기 2– directed by Kim Seong-ho, Kim Hwi, Jeong Beom-shik, and Min Gyu-dong. Starring Seong Joon, Lee Soo-hyeok, Baek Jin-hee, Kim Seul-ki, and Jeong In-seon. –96 minutes–Release date: June 5, 2013.

still_02 I am amazed at how quickly my internet TV provider gets ahold of movies these days. Horror Stories 2 was released at the beginning of the month and just three weeks later it is on tv. Of course there are some drawbacks to this speedy service. One is that I rarely take the trip into town to watch movies anymore.. a drawback because I am afraid I am turning into a homebody. The other drawback is that it costs slightly more to watch new movies on tv than in the theater..It is 10,000 KRW instead of the usual 7-8,ooo KRW.. Of course, it is more cost efficient if I factor in gasoline or bus fare. and if you watch it with someone, then it is definitely a savings.

I watched this movie alone… it is the only way to see horror movies and get the full impact.
Because this movie is so new, I am not going to give any information about the plot. I will only mention my feelings about each chapter of the film.

Horror Stories 2 consists of three main tales encompassed by a framing story. The first story, in my opinion was the scariest. It was titled The Cliff.. well..that is a translation of the title anyway, I did not see it with subtitles. I will not give away spoilers about the plot at all. I just want to say that it was expertly crafted and acted by the two leads. I did not like the acting of the brother of one of the climbers, but it was a small role so there is no real problem. Tension and suspense build in this short for excellent effect. I just wish that slow, steady build had been maintained until the end. The final scene is rushed and should not have been.

The second story, The Accident, was my least favorite.. not because of any major faults in directing or acting.. but because it was too predictable. I knew what was happening and what was going to happen about thirty seconds into the story. There have been too many horror movies with the same set up. While it does have a few good scenes, it never really frightened me.

The same is not true for the third story, Escape. About five minutes into the tale, I thought that I was going to hate it. It looked like more of acomedy than a horror film, which isn’t always bad, but the comedy was quite childish and much of it even relied on bathroom humor. However, the movie went in a direction I had not seen before and, while it retained a comedy feel about it, it became more of a black comedy. .. and parts of this film were genuinely terrifying. Of all the stories, this is the one I thought about when I was nervously trying to get to sleep last night. (I wound up closing the opaque sliding window in the master bedroom that looks out on the veranda– when you watch this movie, you will know why). It is not perfect because of the comedy, but I appreciated the originality of the film.

The framing tale, 444, was hastily thrown together I think and is not meant to be really frightening. It serves its purpose in setting up each story, but it fails as a story in its own right. Again, I don’t blame the director in this case. The structure of the film fails this story as it has to be broken up to introduce the other, longer chapters. So when the twist is thrown in, it comes out of left field and feels quite unneccessary.

I am satisfied that I liked two out of four stories in this film.. especially since the two films that I liked really managed to create feelings of dread and/or terror in me that I want to experience when watching a horror movie.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Running Man (2013)

9th June 2013

Running Man– Directed by Jo Dong-oh. Starring Shin Ha-gyun, Lee Min-ho, Kim Sang-ho, Jo Eun-ji and Oh Seong-je. Running Time: 127 minutes. Release Date: April 4, 2013

PK1340521 PK1340511

Cha Jong-woo finds himself in more trouble than he can handle when a mysterious passenger whom had hired him as a driver winds up murdered in the back of Cha’s car-but not before accidently sending an encoded message onto Jong-woo’s phone. Now Cha is on the run from not only the local police, but also secret agents who want the secrets the phone contains and a mysterious assassin who will do anything to ensure that Cha does not get out of this alive. However, Cha has a ragtag collection of allies who believe in his innocence despite the circumstantial evidence that he is a killer. Among the core members of this group are Cha’s troubled teenaged son, Ki-hyeok, a quirky and tenacious reporter whose antics sometimes cause one to question her sanity, and a low-level police officer who has unfortunately lost the respect of the entire precinct. Together they race to try save Cha before he has nowhere left to run and it’s up to Cha to keep alive until then.

I was at first curious about this film because Shin Ha-gyun who plays the lead role of Cha Jong-woo, is one of my favorite actors. However, I have to admit that I never considered him as an action star. I was pleasantly surprised in the first half of the film where he does a credible, albeit a less powerful, version of some early Jackie Chan stunts which were genuinely fun if you can suspend your disbelief regarding the possibility of pulling off such stunts in real life without loss of life. I wish the film had managed to keep the Jackie Chan homage up for the duration of the movie, however the story undergoes a tonal shift and becomes much darker about halfway through the rather long running time. Actually, it becomes darker both figuratively and literally. The turning point is not the death of someone close to Cha at the hands of the ‘Dark Man’ (as actor Jo Woon is credited)—a rather fun escape scene follows at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. Instead it comes after a family member’s life is threatened. However, it becomes more literal as most scenes following this point take place at night. In fact, may major complaint is this point. The last twenty or thirty minutes of this film are so ill lit that It was difficult to tell what was going on and who was present during the action.

While Shin is generally an excellent actor, his character does seem to chew up the scenery a bit in this film and it would have benefited the movie he had shown a little restraint. Even so, he is still enjoyable to watch and I have always felt that he dives whole-heartedly into each role he takes. But how do the other actors fair?

There is Lee Min-ho as Ki-hyeok.. not the Lee Min-ho who starred in Men Over Flowers, this is a younger actor. Lee does a good job with what he is given but, as I mentioned with some of the action scenes, you need to check your disbelief at the door in regards to Ki-hyeok. The writing hurts this character tremendously, saddling him with mother-abandonment issues as an excuse for his dour and disrespectful personality. Prudent editing of that whole subplot, as well as his brutal beating of an underserving classmate that frankly should have landed him in jail would have improved the character immensely and would have served the dual function of whittling down the running time. While 127 minutes may not more than average for a film, I was checking the clock on and off through some of these unnecessary scenes involving the younger Cha wondering when the movie would finish.

Some of the supporting characters were much more interesting. Kim Sang-ho as Officer Ahn gives a solid performance and Jo Woon as the ‘Dark Man’ merely has too look menacing as in most of his movies, but he does that extremely well. However, one of the best characters was the unusual reporter , Park Seon-yeong played by Jo Eun-ji. Jo’s birdlike motions and features add a strange, quirky and sometimes quite uncomfortable feeling to the character. She is someone I loved watching but wouldn’t really want to be associated with in real life as she was too unpredictable and her immaturity sometimes comes across as if she is not playing with a full deck. She does, however, manage to steal most scenes that she is in.

What is my final evaluation of the movie? It is watchable if not particularly memorable. Like I said earlier, I wish it had stuck to the comic action in the style of an early Jackie Chan film instead of trying to get all dark and gritty which unfortunately has made it blur into one of a thousand of shoot-‘em-up action films that I have watched over the decades and it is unlikely I will remember plot details this time next year. Daum web browser has it rated at 8.0 out of 10 while Naver gives it a similar 7.98 from internet users but a 6.4 from film critics and reporters. I would have to agree with the latter and I would rate it about 6 out of ten stars.. but that is mostly because of Shin Ha-gyun’s effort.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Miracle in Cell No. 7 <2013>

5th February 2013

Miracle In Cell No. 7 <2013>– Directed by Lee Hwan-kyeong. Starring Ryu Seung-ryong as Yong-gu, Park Shin-hye as adult Ye-seung, Kal So-won as young Ye-seung and Oh Dal-soo as ‘the gangster’

1그룹_~4 This past weekend, I took a rare trip up to Seoul to visit a friend. While there, we decided to see a movie and, since neither of us had seen The Berlin File, that is what we opted for. However, going to the theater in Seoul is far different than going to see a movie in Jeonju. Here, you usually do not need to make a reservation. If a movie is sold out, you simply walk across the street to another theater..and each theater has enough screens so that popular films will be on more than one screen in each multiplex and staggered so you don’t have to wait long. In Seoul, you must make a reservation and, since we had decided this course of action on the spur of the moment, there was no way we were going to be able to see Berlin File. We were in Myeongdong at the time where my friend will be opening a health club and the CGV there has quite a limited number of screens. Berlin File was sold out for the next two screenings so, instead of going to some other place, we chose to watch Miracle in Cell No. 7. I was unsure about this decision, but I had been hearing some good things about movie so I thought I would give it a chance.

One of the things I had heard was that it was like the film I Am Sam but not having seen that film, that didn’t mean much to me until I looked it up on the internet. After reading about I Am Sam, I have to disagree with the assessment that the two films are similar. In the Miracle in Cell No. 7, the father and daughter are separated by the fact that he is in prison, not because anyone is challenging his parenting skills based on his mental capacity. Instead, this new movie reminded by of the Korean film Harmony with one major difference. I spent most of my time sobbing while watching Harmony while the Miracle in Cell No. 7 divides its time between comedy and drama and leans more heavily to the comedic side.

The story is about the love Yong-gu and his daughter Ye-seung. When Yong-gu is arrested and charged with murdering a child for her bag that he wanted to give to his daughter, the pair of devastated. An elaborate plan is hatched by Yong-gu’s cellmates to find a way to reunite the two. It’s a story where it is necessary to suspend disbelief and accept some coincidencs.

I loved the opening scene of the adult Ye-seung leaving the prison in the snow and the yellow balloon floating above the grounds, symbols of new purity and memories respectively. And I became engrossed in the story as it unfolded, so much so that I failed to realize that two hours had already passed by the time it was finished. One of the interstesing things about the story is the big question, Did Yong-gu kill the little girl?

Well, I am not going to tell you here. I may write spoilers on twenty or thirty year old movies but I am not going to do it for a film that is still in theaters, and doing very well thank you. So, if you get the chance, head out to the movies during this coming long weekend and give it a chance. It is very good and a movie that I would not mind watching again. Maybe I will if Berlin File is sold out again…

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Soomokjang (2012)

3rd December 2012

Soomokjang– directed by Park Gwang-choon. Starring Lee Yeong-ah (Cheong-ah), On Ju-wan (Jeong-hoon), Park Soo-jin (Ji-hyo) and Yeon Je-wook (Han-ki). Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: November 15, 2012 (theater)/ August 17, 2012 (TV)

posterThe last few weeks for Cheong-ah have seemed like a beautiful dream as she has been preparing for her upcoming wedding with her high school sweetheart, Jeong-hoon.  She is also a tree doctor and researcher which allows her to be outside and working with nature and plants. It is the perfect job her and her love for plants is mentioned on more than one occasion. One particular day however, all that begins to change. Cheong-ah is sent out into the field to investigate a strange blight infecting which may be killing them. Something seems to call out to her from the tree’s trunk and compels her to lay her hand on it. Doing so gives Cheong-ah a vision of a girl, clearly a ghost, in the heart of the tree. This vision unnerves her, but not overly so until that night when her sleep is haunted by terrifying dreams of the dead girl.. and several others as well. Her dreams become even more bizarre as she is apparently attacked and entrapped in her sleep by tree roots. She wakes with a start to find her mother sitting by her bedside persistently asking what she was dreaming. Her mother closes the conversation with Cheong-ah with a query that she always asks, “Did you take your medicine?”

While all this is going on, a second drama begins to unfold. A young man pretends to hang himself in a mental institution in order to undertake an escape.  It is successful after he slays a guard and a truck driver who has been stealing trees from a mountainside burial ground.  The first thing young man named Han-ki does after escaping is to arrange to ‘accidently’ bump into Cheong-ah whom he also knows for high school. He knows her, her fiance, and her best friend Ji-hyo well as they were all classmates together, however Cheong-ah does not recognize him until he sends her a package containing their old yearbook with his photo circled in red. This terrifies Cheong-ah who starts having flashes of surpressed memories including a key one where the shy Han-ki attempts to confess his love for Cheong-ah and give her a present, but is cruelly interrupted and humilated by the rest of their classmates causing Cheong-ah to run away from him. What does this unstable killer have in store for Cheong-ah? Or will the spirits in the trees get her before he does?

I watched Soomokjang last night.  I was supposed to be watching R2B: Return to Base for a magazine article I have to write, but I was procrastinating because I know that film is not very good and yet I have to give it a positive review. Oh, I knew that Soomokjang was not going to be an award-winning film either, but I have far more tolerance for a film that is not good and cost thousands to make as opposed to a film that is not good that cost millions. And anyway, Soomokjang is not terrible.. it just gets derailed a little.

The biggest problem with Soomokjang is that it forgets it started as a horror film. The film itself warns us this is going to happen through the character of the old man in the mountains and insists the story of the ghosts is more about sadness than terror… but I would have preferred terror. The scary and suspensful scenes the movie does have are done simply but well…the sudden flopping over  of a menacing figure, the quickly moving ghost in the forest–always just out of flashlight range, and the revelation of the old man himself.. not to mention the unpredictability of Han-ki. All of these were memorable and effective. However, the film detours into the realm of standard drama with a love triangle or two and attempts at tear-jerking moments.

3The made-for-TV nature of the film is evident as well, especially in the acting. Lee Yeong-ah is passable as Cheong-ah but Park Soo-jin as Ji-hyo is not particularly good. Yeon Je-wook overacts his part as the psychotic Han-ki, throwing in occasional spasm and twitches and the actress playing Cheong-ah’s mother is especially bland. Actor On Ju-wan is several classes above the other actors, but even he sometimes has problems with what the script gives him, with one scene at the end coming across as unfortunately laughable when it was clearly meant to be tear-inducing. The failure of that sceene is due entirely to the writing, not the actors .  All of the characters suffer under the script and they often seem like stereotypes that can be found in almost any K-drama.  Soomokjang’s small-screen origin is evident in another place as well. When mad Han-ki breaks the fourth wall and stares directly at the camera with a long, pregnant silence, I thought to myself, “Ah, commercial break.’  Commercials don’t come as often on Korean tv as they do in many other countries. However, they do occur between programs or at the end of an hour and this was obviously the place to insert an ad. It was evident enough to completely jolt me from the narrative.

However, despite my complaints and criticisms, I am going to say that Soomokjang is entirely watchable–and there are even a few good scenes as mentioned earlier.. especially the old man on the mountain. While the story seems like it was written by two different people and then shuffled together, it was an easy way to spend an hour and a half.  And I got through it.  I can’t say the same for R2B.. and I’m getting paid to write about that…

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

REC (2011)

18th September 2012

REC: Directed by So Joon-moon. Starring Song Sam-dong <as Song Yeong-joon> and Jo Hye-hoon <as Seo Joon-seok>.  Released November 24, 2011. Running Time: 66 minutes.

REC_포~2Two men spend the night in a motel with the intention to film themselves having sex. They are not doing this in order to make a cheap porn film. Instead they are celebrating their fifth anniversary as a couple and they want something personal to commemorate it with. Yeong-joon is the older of the two, now thirty years old, and he is much more excited about making this movie than the younger Joon-seok, but even the latter begins to enjoy himself as he relaxes more and realizes their movie will not wind up on the internet. The two discuss themselves, their hopes and dreams, their fears about their relationship and interact with each other in many cases as if the camera is not there. However, in more candid moments, we can see glimpses of sadness in one or the other’s eyes and it becomes obvious to the viewer that there is something unspoken happening beneath the surface that the two particiapants sense as well.

The above description is really all there is to REC.  The movie has just two actors and the set for 99 percent of the film consists of the confines of the hotel room.  However, by different positioning of the camera, the scenes never feel cramped or dull. Most of the film is supposed to seem as if one or another of the actors is doing the shooting, which makes perfect sense in context as opposed to people running for their lives while shooting footage a la Cloverfield.  The few times that the camera is not being utilized by one of actors, but by the cinematographer, the film becomes black and white. This only happens near the end when one of the characters removes the disc from the camera and we are forced to see things from the perspective of an outsider instead of through the eyes of the participants. 

The underlying cause of the sadness that becomes evident during the movie?  That should be obvious from re-reading the first paragraph where I state one of the characters is 30. That can only mean one thing. If he isn’t already married, he will be soon.  If he is the eldest son in his family, then remaining single is not a viable option. He would receive pressure from his family to marry .. and to a certain degree, from society as well.  Having an unmarried daughter is an embarrassment. Having an unmarried son is a disgrace. It is the son who is responsible for carrying the family name down to the next generation. It is the eldest son and his family who will take over the duties and traditions of ceremonies honoring deceased ancestors, cleaning off the family tombs and maintaining the family lineage. 

This movie reminded me of a friend I had.  I will simply call him K.  As a student, K confided in me that he was gay. It is easier to confide in me as I am a foreigner and, as such, I am assumed to be more open-minded. It may also have to do with the fact that I was in my mid-thirties at the time and was (am) unmarried.  What he wanted was advice and just someone he could talk to without hiding who he was. I knew he had a lover, but I was never introduced to him. He also had a girlfriend whom he met at church and whom everyone involved expected he would married. After graduating and passing the tests necessary to become a policeman, he got a job. His parents ordered him to marry before starting his new work. About one week before the wedding, he came to see me and spoke about his families. His English was week, but from the phrases he used, I knew he had practiced and checked vocabulary before meeting me. Once we were alone, the first words out of his mouth were, “I loath my wife.” I was a little taken aback and thought I might have misheard ‘loath’ and ‘love’ but he continued that he hated touching her and sharing a bed.  I asked him if he couldn’t call off the wedding to which he replied sadly, “No. I must get married. I have no option.”  I have often thought about him over the years, worried about him, but that was the last time I saw K. He never contacted me again after that.

K’s situation is what we are watching in REC.  One of the characters in the movies states how all gay relationships in Korea are doomed from the start because of the requirement that they must marry. He goes on to state that because of that, one year in a gay relationship has to count as ten years. It is the only way to create the illusion of a lifetime of happiness.

It is true that the situation of gays and lesbians has improved in the last few decades. When I first came to Korea in 1995, it was a common practice for listeners to put their fingers in their mouths and simulate gagging whenever someone mentioned the word ‘gay’ ..or at that time ‘homo’ (a term I thankfully no longer hear).  There was another story I heard from a student at the time about her younger brother. ‘J’ told me that when her brother was in high school, he was caught in a compromising position with another male student. His family sent him to a doctor who in turn institutionalized the young man in a mental hospital where he received some sort of therapy. The result was that whenever a man went to reach for him such as to shake hands, he would cringe and scream.

We are a long way from those days, but LGBT individuals in Korea still face an uphill battle to be recognized as equals in Korea.  Movies play a part in helping to mainstream differences and work towards acceptance and/or tolerance. However, because of its rating due to incidental frontal male nudity and the frankness in the discussion of same sex relations, REC can only have a very limited audience.  It is a shame, because the story being told is both beautiful and heartbreaking–one character secretly expressing his true love and gratitude while the other secretly knowing that what they have is over.

Posted in 2010s, Review | 4 Comments »