Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2010s' Category

Guest (2010)

24th June 2012


Human beings seem to have this flaw of not being able to look away from things like car accidents and train wrecks… and I must  have that fault times 10.  How else can I justify sitting through the entire runnning time of the movie, Guest? While watching, I took notes and at four different times I marked down that I was considering turning the movie off..and yet I didn’t. 

In fact, I had a pretty good idea that this movie might not be good. It had been released on a single screen and Seoul and had only one showing.  My buying the DVD probably doubled the money that that made from that release.  However, I wanted to give the movie a chance because there are many films that I like and no one else seems to.. and vice versa. There was, I thought, a chance that this was a hidden treasure. That’s the problem of being an optimist. It sometimes leads to viewing experiences with films that I don’t want to repeat.

You may have noticed that I put two posters in the image above which is not something I usually do. This was to demonstrate the name change the film underwent. Even if you cannot read Korean, you will notice the lettering is different. The movie was originally going to be called in Korean ‘Bulcheong Gaek’ and have the English title of The Univited Guest.  However, it was never released under that name. Instead it actually hit theaters.. I mean ‘a’ theater… a year later, under the title of ‘Sonnim 1: Cheotbeonjae Iyagi’ which translates as The Guest 1: The First Story. I was going to use the name The Univited Guest, but the opening sequence of the DVD provides the English title of simply Guest, so that is what I went with. 

Between name changes, the film mercifully lost about 15 minutes of running time. It also lost some visuals as well .. and two words of dialogue.  What do I mean by that?  Well, in the movie Ji-min, the husband, is wearing his favorite shirt, a baseball jersey. However, the production crew obviously could not secure permission to use the name of the team nor of the player. So Ji-min is followed around by a cloud of digitalized pixels that try to obscure the writing on his shirt. Unfortunately, the writing is on the front, on the back and on both sleeves and the pixels dance with the slighest move he makes in their efforts to hid the name of the athlete and team.  If you know Korean baseball, you will know immediately what team they are trying to hide.. only one starts with a ‘W’ nor are the pixels any more skilled at obscuring the players name.  That is not all. We also get a whole screen of pixelization when someone, wisely, decided to hid the loving close up of a pile of vomit. While I was grateful for the visual protection, I have to wonder why the offending two seconds was not simply cut if it was deemed to graphic.. or perhaps phoney?…  in post production. The audio is ‘bleeped’ out twice while watching when the name of a second pro-baseball team is mentioned.. no body apparently wanted anything to do with this film.  Strangely, the team’s name appears in the English subtitles anyway… good job on hiding it, guys…

The movie is a thriller of the home invasion kind.  I think long ago after watching Midnight FM, I mentioned how home invasions are my least favorite kind of horror.  Probably because, when it is done well, it is too realistic and I become too tense and nervous and, when not done well, they are annoying in the choices characters make or in the near-superhuman ability of the antagonists to prevent the hostages from escape or of seeking outside help.  This film is definitely the latter.  The film fails to build up any tension at all even though the threat of injury, death and rape come up quite frequently. The script tries to up the ante by having the main character four months pregnant and the having other hostage a mother of a who one-year-old daughter whom she left sleeping in the apartment while she popped in to deliver leftover cake.  However, it doesn’t work at all.

I am being a negative to the film, and not without cause, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some things to like in the story. There is a strange dance scene in the film where Dong-soo, the crazy home invader, asks for dance lessons (and you wonder why I couldn’t take the threat seriously?)   The neighbor nervously starts teaching him but soon gets into the steps with wild, even joyful, abandon and she and the criminal dance on opposite sides of the room from pregnant Na-yeon who is framed in the middle looking at both of them with an expression of horror.  It is surprisingly well shot considering how unimaginative the rest of the movie is. Another thing I thought I would like was the choice of Dong-soo’s name. I was certain it was going to be an alias because there was a comic sketch from a few years ago on Korean tv featuring a man and is imaginary friend Dong-soo.. a being whom no one could see or hear. However, no connection was made to that and we never learn whether Dong-soo was the insane man’s real name or not. In his first appearances, ringing the doorbell in the dead of the night, he is suitably creepy and, were I directing the film, I might have dragged that out a little more (and added a hefty does of much needed characterization instead of the broad, heavy-handed strokes of character we are given).

I strongly recommend you avoid this film at all costs.  I don’t care of the director personally visits your house with a signed copy.. believe me, you will be wasting 80 minutes of your life that would be better spent watching  pretty much anything.  It is a bad, bad movie. The director, who has a cutting sense of irony, renamed the film Guest 1: The First Story. However, I can guarantee that their will never be a Guest 2. At least, as an optimist, that is what I am going to believe…

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Doomsday Book (2012)

26th May 2012

poWhen news of this omnibus started circulating, many film websites and critics expressed an interest in it, and why not?  The two directors, Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters, etc.) and Im Pil-seong (Hansel and Gretel, Antarctic Journal, and more) had more than proven themselves over the years for some memorable and innovative film-making.  And the cast comprising the three short films that make up Doomsday Book is promising with such familiar names as Ryu Seung-beom, Bae Doo-na, Park Hae-il, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Gyu-ri and other well-respected actors.  Despite the buzz surrounding the film, I remained skeptical for several reasons.  The first had to do with the topic of the first story..zombies.  If you have been reading this site since the beginning, you know that I have always be hopeful for a good Korean-made zombie film, a sub-genre of horror that has been absent from Korean cinema with but a few exceptions starting in the 1980s.  More recently we had the films Neighbor Zombie, Dark Forest and Mr. Zombie, but each time I go my hopes up, I have been disappointed. Being skeptical on that ground was just a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy.”  Another reason I was not excited was because I had read some rumors about investors pulling out and long delays in shooting, never a good sign.  Finally, when still images and teasers started to appear, I was uncertain of the visuals. I did not care for the robots looking so much like they did in the American film I, Robot and I had my reservations about the giant 8-ball that was appearing in the trailers. 

On the whole, I feel justified in having my reservations.  I do not think that Doomsday Book lived up to expectations people had and even I, who was not expecting too much, wound up disappointed on several levels. 

The first story in the three-part omnibus is Cool New World, features the end of the world via zombie apocalypse.  Ryu Seung-beom has some excellent acting moments, especially post-transformation. The night club scene is well handled and I think they may be the first time I have ever seen a zombie movie present a clear cause for the zombie virus. That, and the point hinted that the zombies, although fueled by hunger as in every other zombie movie seem to still be capable of other emotions separate it a little from a myriad of other, similar films.. but is it enough?  I would have liked to have seen both of those areas expanded upon. As it stands, the short film seems too brief and the characters themselves become secondary as the plot erupts all over the place and tries to cover too much ground. Some characters who are introduced as being exposed to the same zombi-making agent disappear. Stories about what happened to each of them, might have been more satisfying than the newscasts the director opted to show. I would say that this film is worth watching for Ryu-as-a-zombie, but the story itself feels rushed and/or edited too heavily for time constraints.

The second of the three was my least favorite. Heavenly Creature was very wordy as the idea of the end of the world via robots is broached. It is filled with philosophical ideas and light on action.. so it may appeal to some.  However the ideas discussed at length were nothing new if you have ever read anything by Isaac Asimov.  This section of the movie could not hold my interest, although some of the visuals were beautifully shot and framed. It was for this reason I selected the poster featuring Heavenly Creature on it to head this post, rather than the posters showing the other movies.

The final film, and honestly the one I thought I would dislike the most, was actually my favorite. It is the only one of the three directed by Im Pil-seong and he set a tone that was clearly tongue-in-cheek.  It is another end of the world scenario, this time by collision with an object from space, but it never for a minute takes itself seriously. This is the one with the giant 8-ball which confused and worried me in the teaser trailers. However, within the minimal logic of the film, it makes perfect sense. Director Im also makes use of the newscasts to tell a story, but unlike in Kim’s zombie story, the news in Happy Birthday is fun to watch and the final broadcast before the end of the world alone is worth watching.  It may have been a little childish at times, but Happy Birthday offered something unique and I appreciated that. 

I wish that the rest of Doomsday Book had been so innovative. It is still worth watching, but it does not live up to its potential.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Dancing Cat (2011)

22nd April 2012

dancing cat2dancing catI was not at all sure how I was going to like the documentary Dancing Cat.  The movie is about stray cats in Korea and I feared, before watching, that the film would go one of two ways.  First, it could be terribly depressing.  It is a fact that there are stray cats all over the place in Korea and that the vast majority of these animals are unhealthy, unclean and will likely die in a horrible way.  I know that already, and I did not want to watch an hour long public service infomercial on the problem.  The other way they film could have gone was overly sweet and sentimental attaching human emotions and motives onto the animals actions much how certain members of my extended family talk about their pets.  I like cats and I had several over the years but I was not sure I wanted to see a sugary view of the feline world. Fortunately, director Yoon Gi-hyeong is successfully able to navigate the two pitfalls I mentioned and provide a look that into the lives of alley cats that manages to be hearwarming without being saccharine and to make its point about their plight without be preachy.

The film alternates between two voices. One belongs to director Yoon who tells the stories of Sweetness and Darth Snooze, two stray cats living outside his home, through motion pictures. The other voice is that of author Lee Yong-han who tales and memories of the cats residing  near his apartment are told through numerous still photos.  In fact, that was technically one of the most interesting parts of the film. The still photos worked so well in telling the story and were so cohesive that after a short time, I forgot that they were not moving images.  Lee describes himself as a poet and traveller and a quick internet search reveals that he has several books to his name.  It was not until he returned from a trip to Tibet that he became curious about the cats living all around him and he embarked on a project that at first may have been a way to find inspiration for a new book, but in fact became a passion and began a love affair with the animals. He admits to the fact that prior to starting his book research, he had no particular interest in cats at all, but the affectionate when he talks about them reveals that his stance has changed and he is now firmly a cat lover. He has also created numerous other cat lovers through his three best-selling books on the cats in this film.  His first book, Goodbye Kitty and Thank You caught the attention of director Yoon and inspired the creation of this film.

This movie is not a retelling of Lee’s books. Half of the movie is told through Yoon’s camera and he imitated what Lee had already done… following and eventually caring for the cats and kittens outside his home. Yoon is normally a director of television advertisements but he successfully makes the jump to documentary-maker and perhaps the format of commercials actually assisted him as the vignettes that comprise the film are relatively short but, like a well made ad, they manage to create characters and evoke emotional responses in that brief time they are airing. 

Through these two men, lives of Gusty, Blossom, Bessie, Yellow, Stranger, Sweetness, Snooze, Limpy and many others are projected on the screen and from there are forever embedded in the minds of the viewer where they will not be forgotten. The movie points out that while housecats will live for an average of fifteen years, these stray cats live only for three.. and most meet violent ends. Although the movie does not dwell on this point, it does hit home on a couple of ocassions. 

Perhaps it was too soon after the death of my family dog that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, but after watching this movie I immediately headed over to the cat pages of the Korean Animial Rescue website ( and browsed through the images there.  Of course, I know that adopting a cat on a whim would not be a good idea and one should be prepared for all the work and commitment that goes into owning an animal. Not to mention the fact that I am out most of the day and the cat would be alone with fish tanks and the indoor  pond (,%20Tom%20Giammarco’s%20Indoor%20Pond.htm).. It would be a terrible mistake to take in a cat.  Still, it is a testimony to the power of Dancing Cat that I was even considering this course of action, however briefly.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Themselves (2011)

2nd March 2012

themselvesAlthough Themselves was released just last year, chances are that you have not heard of it.  It is a low-budget film that received a very limited release. I was interested in seeing it because of actress Ko Soo-hee.  You may remember her as the woman who cooked and ate her husband in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and more recently in a supporting role in the film Sunny.  Her performances have always been memorable and her characters are interesting, even when just playing bit parts. I looked forward to seeing her in a leading role.  I was far less familar with her co-stars..The first is Jeon Ji-hwan aka Jay who plays the blind Tae-seong in this film.  “Jay” is a singer in a struggling boy band, The Boys of Super Space (DaeGuk Nama) that has been around for a while and has released two albums, but has not yet made it big. This is his first film. The other main character is played by Kim Jin-yi whose last film was Rush back in 1999– a film I owned on VHS at one point but for the life of me I can remember nothing about it…   I was not familiar with director Yoon Tae-shik either as he had only two short films to his name prior to Themselves.  So the presence of Ms Ko was really the only reason I was interested in this film.  Unfortunately, while her acting is as excellent as always, it was her character that was the only problematic area of an otherwise satisfying film.

Oh– before I continue, I should warn you that this review will contain spoilers. However, as the DVD does not contain English subtitles, I do not think the majority of the readers of this site will have the opportunity to be exposed to this film and will need to worry about them.

The movie begins when Jin-yi reaches a breaking point and steals a car belonging to the lover of her two-timing boyfriend who has left her pregnant and alone.  It was not a premeditated crime and she really has no idea where she is headed when she accidently runs into a blind young man who was crossing the street in the middle of the night. Shocked at what she has done, Jin-yi offers to take Tae-seong to the nearest hospital to treat his injuries, but his reaction is one of fear, followed by a strange trance-like state that she gives in to his pleas not to go and treats him herself with bandages. Out of guilt, she agrees to take him where he wants to go… but he keeps extending the length of their journey until they are well out of the city.

Due to Jin-yi’s chronic problem of not watching the road while driving, we are introduced to Soo-hee who, like Tae-seong, is struck by the stolen vehicle. Soo-hee is a boxer who has fallen in love with her handsome coach.  However, because of her appearance and the fact that her trainer does not really think of her as a woman, she is afraid to confess her feelings. Her emotional state has become so depressed over the belief that she may never find love, that she has decided suicide is her only option.  She travels with Jin-yi and Tae-seong for a day and after a night of drinking, attempts to kill herself, but she is found by her new friends and revived.

From this point, the three begin to trust and open up to each other and realize that none of them are what they appear to be on the surface. All except Tae-seong. They learn that his older brother is after him with some unsavory character and are attempting to take him to the hospital against his will. Jin-yi and Soo-hee never question why, they just do their best to protect their new friend… and in one of their cases, her new lover… from the threat Tae-seong’s brother seems to present. 

That fact that Tae-seong never trusts them or is completely honest is one minor fault I had with the screenplay as the other characters reveal themselves as the English title of the films implies they should, but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I had a larger concern. It concerns how Soo-hee was depicted by the script and camera work. The theme of this movie asks us to look beyond what we see on the surface to see the true characters of the people onscreen. Jin-yi is not simply a bar girl who has been knocked up. Tae-seong, in one surprising moment (I literally caught my breath when it happend) indicates he might not be completely visually impaired. And Soo-hee is more than a massive athlete and is at heart a scared, lonely woman.  However, her size is where the film reaches for the rare laugh and it is misplaced.  Her fight scenes against gangsters and Jin-yi’s cheating boyfriend are slowed down with her ’comically’ slow, deep roars of anger sounding like a bellowing bull than an angry human.  The point of this film was to humanize the characters and I felt she was not treated with the same respect at points in the film as the other two leads were.

However, that is not to say it is a bad film.  It is in fact, quite good and I enjoyed watching it. I especially liked how the script gave such depth to each of the characters and the director was able to pull layered performances out of the actors.  I look forward to what Yoon Tae-shik has in store for us in the future.  He has shown the potential to be a great, dramatic director who possesses the skill to create character-driven films.  It is just too bad that the lack of subtitles will limit the number of people who can see and understand this film.

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Head (2011)

3rd February 2012

headWhen I first heard about the movie Head and saw the cast, I was really excited to see it. Ryu Deok-hwan! Park Ye-jin! Baek Yoon-shik! Oh Dal-soo! I have been a fan of Ryu’s for a while and really like his recent work–even his television forensic/mystery program, God’s Quiz on OCN. Park Ye-jin’s movie roles may be a little weak, but I fell in love with the image she created during the years she was on ‘real’ television comedy, Family. While BaekYoon-shik’s more recent film choices may be questionable, he has credits in Tazza and The President’s Last Bang under his belt and is still considered an excellent actor. And Oh Dal-soo is a mainstay in Korean films and a great character actor.  Throw in former G.O.D. singer Danny Ahn in a supporting role and what’s not to love?  You would think that this would be a great way to spend a chilly afternoon, just sitting at home and watching the story of Head unfold.  You would be very, very wrong.  It ranks as one of the worst films I have seen in a long time.  It is hard to pinpoint just one place where the movie went wrong, but if I am going to start finger-pointing, it would have to be at director and scriptwriter Jo Woon.  This was his first feature length film after a handful of shorts made around 2005.  I don’t think he knew what he was doing.

With a simple phone call early in the movie, I knew I was not going to be in for an enjoyable experience. It was one of the most awkward moments on camera I have witnessed in a long time. I truly believe that Ryu’s voice was added to the scene in postproduction and that Park Ye-jin had no idea what she was supposed to be responding to nor how she should be reacting. Her deadpan reactions to his panicked screams are at first frustrating and then humerous for all the wrong reasons. In general, her acting is very stiff but in these scenes, it is just terrible and not in line with the seriousness of the situation– even if she thought he was just pulling a prank, she would have reacted more strongly. 

Ryu’s talents are entirely wasted in the movie as he spends much of it tied up either in his underwear or in a dress. I could not tell you if his wardrobe was supposed to be for comedic effect or to add a sense of darker threats in addition to be abducted and threatened with death. In either case, it didn’t work.  Yoon tries his best at playing a villain but he never become fully convincing and I would say he was just phoning in his performance and counting the minutes for the shooting to be finished.  And it was easy to forget that Oh Dal-soo and Danny Ahn were even in this movie (and they probably want you to forget). Their roles could have been played by anyone and it would not have had any effect on this movie.

The script is a big part of this film’s failure.  It was so full of holes and illogical actions. Why didn’t anyone at any point just take the head-in-the-box to the nearest police station. Hong-je (Ryu) claims it was because he had a criminal record, but why would the police blame him?  The story starts with working for a delivery company and being unable to complete the delivery of a package.  The package leaks all over his hand and upon opening it, he discovers a human head.  The head belongs to a famous scientist who was believed to have committed suicide but whose cranium disappeared somewhere between the morgue and the funeral home.

Hong-je calls his sister, Hong-joo (Park), a struggling entertainment reporter, in a fit of terror. First about finding a head, then about his boss being killed at the company’s office and then about being nearly killed himself by a man (Yoon) desperate to get the grisly package back. He hides the head and waits for his sister at home when he is abducted. Hong-joo is informed that she has one hour to find where the head is hidden and get it to the kidnapper before he butchers her brother.  Basically, that is the story. Oh, there is also an illegal organ harvesting ring, a nursing home full of zombified elderly residents following the minister housing them with cult-like devotion and a corrupt cop subplot but it is all just padding and for the most part either makes no sense or is of very little interest. 

There is a too brief moment where the film could have redeemed itself a little when Hong-joo calls a flock of reporters to her assistance rather than the police and, had this been done with a little more satire, it would have been an excellent commentary on the mob-like behavior we often see with Korean reporters. However, it was not done with a tongue-in-cheek intention and proved to be a missed opportunity.  Although I like each actor individually, I cannot recommend this movie at all. And I hope that director Jo does not get his hands on a camera for a while. Even though his second attempt may be better, I need a little time to forget this film before I try to watch anything else he might make.

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Pained (2011)

30th November 2011

pained(I originally wrote this article for the December issue of Asiana Entertainment which is now available on all Asiana flights this month. Now that it is published, I can share it here) Over the past ten years, Kwak Kyung-taek has made a name for himself directing exciting, male-oriented action films where the roles of women were minor at best. Like a Hemingway novel, Kwak’s films focus on the masculine but the beautifully scripted action sequences and powerful emotions therein manage to speak to all viewers regardless of gender. What then, can you expect when Korea’s premiere director of action movies decides to direct a melodramatic love story? Well, from an experienced director such as Kwak, you should expect nothing less than a powerful story.

Director Kwak manages to instill a healthy dose of fighting and other action into this romance. This is necessary due to the lead character’s job. Nam-soon is a debt collector, a man who visits the homes of people behind on their repayment schedules at the behest of the loan shark who employs him. Such employment is far from glamorous and the debt collectors are feared by most as they often resort to violence to collect the money. However, Nam-soon is different from other debt collectors. In fact, he is different from most other humans. He is suffering from a rare disorder that prevents him from feeling pain. If he is cut, he will bleed, however he will never feel the blade that injured him. It is not a genetic disorder however, it is psychological– as a child he underwent a horrible trauma and now he feels nothing.

On a routine job to terrorize a debtor into paying back funds, Nam-soon runs into a surprising bit of resistance from his target, Dong-hyeon. She is a frail young woman working a small stall on the street selling trinkets and jewelry to people passing by. Although she looks healthy enough, she is referred to as frail because she is a hemophiliac. Because her blood is slow to clot, one shallow scratch might be enough to cause her to bleed to death. Despite the fact that Nam-soon had threatened her for money, she sees through his act and chooses to help him when he receives a severe beating at a labor dispute. This simple act of kindness touches the unfeeling Nam-soon’s heart.

When Dong-hyeon is kicked out of her home by her landlady, Nam-soon is there for her and offers to let the now homeless young woman stay at his home. The pair’s turbulent relationship softens and Dong-hyeon is able to see just how deeply scarred Nam-soon truly is as he starts to open up to her. Initial animosity becomes respect and love and Nam-soon makes significant improvements in his life for the sake of his newfound love. However, as Dong-hyeon’s health is deteriorating, Nam-soon agrees to take one last job that will earn enough money to get her the medical attention she needs.

Nam-soon is played by Kwon Sang-woo known for his romantic, tough guy roles and his winning smile. Kwon rarely smiles over the course of Pained and instead relies on his acting skills. The part of Dong-hyeon is played by Jang Ryeo-won. She is a talented actress who has already appeared in several films and is on her way to becoming a top star in Korean cinema.

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The Story of My Life (2011)

17th November 2011

lifemovie_poster_webI just finished watching The Story of My Life which had opened in theaters this past June.  Missed it in theaters? Don’t worry, you were not alone. The movie opened on just 42 screens around the nation, twenty of which were in Seoul. In Seoul, it sold 189 tickets and its total ticket sales for the entire nation, including Seoul was.. 189 according to KOFIC box office records.  I guess that makes me a part of a very small group of people who have taken the time to take 100 minutes out of my life to watch this film. According to its listing on Daum, this movie is a drama/musical and this influenced my decision to watch it. Korean musical films are few and far between.. in the last decade, I can name only three offhand. But the word ‘musical’ is a little misleading in this case. While there is a partial song here and there, music is a very small part of this movie. Instead, it is a film about the ‘real’ making of a stage musical. I did not mind the idea of watching a semi-documentary about the making of a live musical– it sounds pretty good in fact. Musical theater in Korea is fairly active and I know very little about it. (I looked into going to one here in Jeonju just last month, but the cheap seats were 90,000 KRW each so I decided against it…) But this movie is not really a documentary either. In an early sentence, I opted to put the word real in quotes; the poster pictured here used parentheses justifiably bringing into the question the idea that “real” means “actual.”  I will explain…

The Story of My Life is the name of an actual stage musical and it really does star Lee Seok-joon and Lee Chang-yong who appear in the movie as well playing themselves. The musical is also directed by Shin Choon-soo who both directed the movie and appears in the film as well. I suspect this is where the true situation ends and fiction takes over. Actors Shin Sang-rok and Jeong Seong-hwa are cast in the movie as the alternates of the main characters. Although the two are more famous for television dramas, both are quite capable of singing and in the past few years have been doing a lot of live musicals. Jeong started in comedy and moved on to dramas and these days primarily does musical stage. Shin, probably the most recognizable face for viewers who exclusively watch tv and movies, also frequently does stage and proved that he has a singing voice when he released a single back in 2003. The pair starred in a production called Musical Hero back in 2009. I don’t really see either as understudies in real life– they would more than likely be cast as the stars.

The four actors and the director come together to start rehearals for the musical and it is quickly apparent to all that things are not working out. They are awkward around each other and, even though they are supposed to be playing best friends, there is no friendship between them. In fact, several of them don’t respect their colleagues and either complain about them or ignore them completely when off set. The two main characters have personal issues interfering with their work as well– a crumbling romance and the death of a teacher for starters– and it appears that this musical project will never get off the ground.

In some ways, the movie can be compared to a male version of the recent film Actresses in which a group of Korean actresses who can barely tolerate each other eventually find common ground and not only manage a photoshoot, but forge the bonds of friendship as well. However, while Actresses received substantial praise, The Story of My Life was ignored. I am sure that one of the reasons for this is that Actresses contained all well-known film talents playing themselves. The male cast of the The Story of My Life are relatively unknown. Another reason crossed my mind, but it seems so cynical that I almost want to dismiss it– but the making of this movie showing the making of a musical that is currently on stages made it seem like a marketing ploy. Was this movie made to simply raise interest in the musical.

Of course the cast does eventually come to understand one another and become friends. And the end of the movie is very touching that it did bring a ‘feel-good’ tear to my eye. However, I failed to react to most of the other times the films tries to get emotional as those scenes felt forced. They might have worked if I knew more about the characters/actors involved in them. The best scenes are the all-too infrequent moments when they are singing.

I will not say ‘do not watch this film’ as I did like it for some of the performances, however I would have a hard time recommending it as well. Interest in this kind of movie is limited for a reason. Your reaction to it will depend how much interest you have in a fiction-passing-as-factual account of the making of an musical.

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Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild (2011)

28th September 2011

posterI wrote the following review for the October issue of Asiana Entertainment and, as the issue was recently published, I am able to upload it here. I will preface it by saying I did not exaggerate… Leafie was a very pleasant surprise and currently stands out in a year of some excellent films such as Sunny and Late Blossoms (I had not seen Silenced at the time of this writing and I am very much expecting the release of The Client this week. The following is a slightly modified version of what I had written for the magazine article:  When I was first asked to review director Oh Seong-gyun’s debut, the animated film Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild, it was with some trepidation that I accepted. As it was an animation, I felt certain that it was going to be childish and it was with some embarrassment that I bought tickets for myself and two friends. Even though I review many older animated films, I would rather watch them at home where I will not be embarrassed… Anyway, we went into the theater expecting to have to endure 93 minutes of nonsense. We left the theater stunned and almost speechless. When we could speak again, we unanimously agreed that this was not only the best animated film we had ever seen, but it was also the best movie we had seen so far this year!

 I hardly know where to begin describing this impressive film which was based on a best-selling children’s story by Hwang Seon-mi. I think the first thing that stood out for me was the backgrounds. There is such an amazing amount of detail in the scenery that each frame is a feast for the eyes. Such care was given to the art in the background that you can easily identify the types of flowers, trees and insects they are meant to be. You can almost feel the breeze or smell the outdoors as you are looking at parts of this film.

The characters too, are lifelike and memorable. The movie focuses on Leafie, a hen who has managed to escape the horrible conditions of an egg production line. After surviving a harrowing encounter with a one-eyed weasel and being rejected by the barnyard animals where she grew up, Leafie is free to wander where she will. Her cheerful nature, naïve character and eagerness to make friends quickly win her a place in the hearts of viewers. Among her friends are a helpful, outgoing but somewhat meddlesome otter and a brave, regal and handsome duck nicknamed ‘Wanderer.’  The enemies she made are the overly proud ornamental hens of the farmyard and the previously mentioned weasel who would gladly make a meal of the vulnerable hen in the wild.

Through a tragic series of events, Leafie becomes the guardian of a duck egg and, eventually, a duckling.  The lifestyle of a chicken is very different from that of a duck, but Leafie was willing to learn and make the sacrifices she needed in order to ensure the happiness of her son. The fact that a hen cannot swim or fly does not stop Leafie and her child although the local waterfowl definitely think the situation odd and in some cases are quite unkind to the pair. However, this film is not a rehash of the fable of The Ugly Duckling. This is a warm and surprisingly realistic tale where the themes of love and sacrifice frequently come into play.

The realism of the film manifests itself in the laws of nature and the rules of predator and prey. This film is not akin to Madagascar or Lion King where the big cats do not hunt and eat the other animals. Instead, it is more like the beloved animated classics like Bambi and Watership Downs where death is not sugarcoated. It is a real threat and plays an important role in the film. In this respect, it is perhaps best that younger viewers see this movie with a parent.

This truly impressive and beautiful movie is destined to be a classic. Plans are already in the works to open this film internationally so a much wider audience will be able to see and enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and watch this film the first chance you get. No matter what your age, you are sure to love it.

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Ghastly (2011)

23rd September 2011

ghastlyGhastly opens with a grisly death where a woman seems to have chopped her feet off with a butcher’s knife and bled to death in front of her young son.  The boy’s aunts and uncle come to stay with him at his enormous home.  The boy is understandably withdrawn and lashes out when people invade his personal space with their concern or, as in the case of his classmates, with their taunts. His strange behavior leads him to become suspect in the death of his mother, at least as far as one police investigator is concerned but it also leads to some friction with his younger aunt, a high school student, who is annoyed by his actions and resents the attention he is getting.  Opening an unbelivably large storage area on the premises where the boy’s grandmother kept the tools of her trade, the elder aunt stumbles upon a strange old book depicting scenes of a terrible rite that brings fertility to the couple participating in it.  Now the members of the very disfunctional household are suffering from terrifying dreams and preminitions of their own gruesome deaths. 

Whenever I sit down to watch a horror movie, I go into it with the idea that I am going to like it. I am also willing to put up with a little less quality in a horror movie than I might in another genre, so it has to be pretty bad for me to be negative about it.  Well, Ghastly just about fits the bill.  Although it has a handful of good points, the bad far outweigh any positive aspects.  The good are some of the scenes in the film, particularly the dream sequences where the ghost can be just glimpsed crouched menacingly at the edge of the shadows–just out of range of clear vision. Another intense dream involves a character sitting under a desk and pounding on its underside like he is trying to escape while apparently asleep while yet another dream involving a knife uncomfortably close to a sleeping person’s eye creates a lot of tension.

However, everything else is something of a mess.  To begin with, their are plot holes you could drive a bus through.  I really have to wonder just how the aunt found the body of Bin’s classmate based on a watch and missing person posters.  She had no knowledge of the location and no clues leading her there. There is also the question of why Bin was allowed back in school after lashing out with a pencil at a classmate who had stolen the painting of his grandmother. He would certainly have been suspended. And why was a certain character not locked up at the end of the movie. Even though we know that he/she was possessed by a ghost at the time the killings took place, it would still seem that she/he was responsible. There is no way the police would allow this character freedom at the end of the movie. 

Again, plot holes I could overlook. However, the editing is probably the worst I have seen in a modern Korean film.  There is often no transition between one scene and another and one has no idea how a character got there.  Because of the editing, it was difficult to understand how much time had passed. For example, the grandmother is found in the hospital, barely coherent and with bandages over her ears, yet we meet her shortly thereafter, apparently fine which led me to believe at least several weeks had passed. But the disappearence of a policeman between these two events raises no eyebrows. One officer comments that he is ‘away from his desk’.  But I would have thought more time would have passed based on the grandmother’s recovery.

Speaking of the police, the actor playing the investigator on the case is much too young. His real age is around 25, and he looks it.  There is no way he could have the job he has.  I have nothing against actor No Min-woo who playes the young cop–in fact, I hope to see more of him in movies– but something should have been done to make him look older.  The casting mistakes continue beyond that with T-Ara singer Hyo-min playing a high school student. Although she is by no means old– in her early twenties– she does not look like she is in high school.  Her acting is not bad although a little bit lacking in nuance, but couldn’t the director find an actress that was actually a teenager.  It would have made Hyo-min’s character Yoo-rin seem far less childish while she is pouting over the lack of attention she was receiving if the actress had looked younger.

While I cannot recommend going to pay full price to watch this movie, I would say watch it if you can see it for a discounted price.  It is, frankly, not very good. I probably won’t remember anything about it except for the rather horrible fertility rite, which I liked and found original), and  the ultrasound scene which may very well be the  stupidest thing I have scene in a horror film in a long time.

Posted in 2010s, Review | 1 Comment »

The Cat (2011)

25th August 2011

cat posterThis summer, my interest was peaked by the coming of the horror film The Cat and it inspired the post where I looked at some of the feline ghosts in Korean cinema’s past. Then I read some reviews about the film and decided to skip it in the theaters. Yesterday, I saw that it was on Hana TV.  Hana TV has been doing an excellent site of getting films quickly after finishing their theatrical run and I can see them at half the price as I can in the theater. Link and Beast were just released a month ago but Hana TV already has them available on demand! Anyway, this isn’t an ad for Hana TV… this is about The Cat.  My expectations going in were cautiously hopeful…maybe not as high as they were at the beginning of the summer, though. The movie had opened on July 7th and disappeared from theaters by the end of that same month with less than seven hundred thousand tickets sold.  But, regardless of the fact that the film was not a box office smash, I am happy to say that I enjoyed it very much.  It manages to build suspense quite well and maintain it throughout the film.  Too many times I am enjoying a ghost story only to find that once we learn what is motivating the spirit to torment the living, it becomes far less frightening. The Cat does not suffer from this as we do not learn what is driving the ghost until the very end and immediately following the reveal, we are given a satisfying ending.

The main character of the film is a pet store employee and animal lover named So-yeon played by Park Min-yeong.  On the surface, she appears slightly shy–perhaps relating better to animals than people– sensitive and kind-hearted.  The crush she has on her friends ex-boyfried Joon-seok is very well handled and serves to underline her shynes. However, she has a darker side as well.  So-yeon suffers from out of control claustrophobia. Her fear of enclosed places is so severe that she cannot take an elevator or ride the subway. She has even removed the door to her bedroom so she can sleep. The medication and counselling she is receiving does not seem to help. The other secret she is keeping is that her father is shut away in a mental hospital. She does not care to visit him and fears that she may wind up like him.  Her fears may be valid as she begins seeing a terrifying vision of a part cat/part girl that seem anything but benign.  I liked this aspect of the character as it presents a possibilty that the events happening onscreen are all in her head and that she, in fact, could be responsible for the deaths of a number of people who all had recent contact with her.

Little girl ghosts may seem a bit cliche in Asian cinema since Ring, and Phone, and Dark Water but Kim Ye-ron does a good job of keeping her phantom fresh. (Incidently, if you have not seen the original Japanese film of Dark Water directed by Hideo Nakata, do it now! It is nothing like the unfortunate American remake).  The ghost appears to switch back and forth between the forms of a young girl and a domestic cat.  The questions are who is the girl and what is her motive? As it is with real cats, what this ghost girl/cat does is often a mystery that only becomes clear later in the story. Of aspect of her motives is clear immediately– Don’t do anything to harm cats or you will find yourself facing and unforgiving and terrifying visitor.

While there may not be enough to The Cat to elevate it to the levels of horror films like A Tale of Two Sisters or Ring, it is still a competent and satisfying movie– and one of the better Korean horror films released in recent years. Watch for its DVD release!

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