Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the '2010s' Category

Ghost (2010)

8th August 2010

img392It used to be that theaters in Korea would be teaming with films of ghosts and ghouls each summer. The belief was that being scared helps to keep you cool. This tradition has been slowly disappearing however and this summer there are only a handful of ghost stories. The spirits of the night seem to have been replaced by ‘blockbusters’ and childrens’ movies. Has the horror genre been bled dry?  Last year, the excellent film Possessed offered hope that the genre was still alive and well, but it has not been followed up with anything memorable. In the third week of August, Pyega (possibly to be entitled The Abandoned House) will open. It is one of the ’shaky cam’ style of horror films like The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. While I liked the first three on that list, I hated Paranormal Activity so I am not sure what I will think of Pyega. There seems to be more action that Korea’s other documentary style/handicam horror Mokdugi Video which I said at one point lacked the hysterics of the Blair Witch Project–Judging from the trailer, I think Pyega has put the hysterics back in…  However, there was another horror film this year simply entitled Ghost. And if I were to judge solely on this film, I would have to say that the genre is well and truely dead.  Simply put, Ghost is not a good movie.

Technically, Ghost is actually three movies linked together by a short intro and closing seen directed by Kimjo Kwang-soo.  A name I recognized, I was hoping that Kimjo Kwang-soo would bring something different to the omnibus. One of Korea’s few openly gay filmmakers, Kimjo has recently had some success with his movies Just Friends? and Boy Meets Boy as well as having experience working with horror films such as when he assisted with the 2005  film The Red Shoes. But his experience and unique viewpoint were wasted here. The sexually ambiguous fortune teller might have been interesting, but he is overshadowed by ridiculous special effects–floating tarot cards– that draw attention away from him (much like the singing Cupid did to the stars of Boy Meets Boy). It also did not seem to mesh with the other segments of Ghost despite the fact that Kimjo’s opening and closing are supposed to draw them together. The girls are remarkably nonplussed by the floating cards and magically appearing fortune teller whereas they will scream at the drop of the hat for the rest of the movie.

That last statement is not an exaggeration. The first story of the omnibus is chock full of false scares. The girls screech and squeal at falling hats, cats, brooms and plastic bags. Rustling paper, closing doors and playing the piano are enough to send them into flights of panic. This segment is called The Beckoning Hand and it was directed by Jo Eun-kyeong who directed a 15 minute short horror film called They Live By Night in 2007. Miss Jo seems to have crammed every horror convention she could think of into this movie, even when they made no sense. Why, for example, was the entire basement of the abandoned school building draped in plastic? The only answer I can think of is that it is spooky and makes it difficult to see what could be lurking in doorways. I think someone thought that it was also spooky to have the music and background sounds blaring over the dialogue. It was very hard to hear what the actress were saying most of the time. Director Jo tried hard to come up with a reason for her ghost to be on a vengeful killing spree–wiping out her former friends one by one. However, there is no logical reason for the ghosts actions-even considering that ghosts don’t have to be logical. She had no one to blame for her accidental death except herself ..and maybe the kitten. Actually, had she been haunting the kitten, it would have been more interesting.

The next story could have benefited from a haunted kitten as well. I Have a Soulmate is an ultimately forgettable tale by Hong Dong-myeong who, up until now has only directed short films. The film is filled with uninteresting, unlikable characters. Of the two heroines, I am not sure whom we are supposed to identify with. Is it the clingy, pregnant one who is amazingly cheerful considering she is a high school student who will have a baby in just a couple of months? She has managed to keep the fact a secret for the entire school term but seems to think that she can have the baby in an unused storeroom in the school that she and her friend have set up as a semi-apartment. She is not very bright.  Her ’friend’ gets more screen time so I think she is actually the main character. However, not only does she betray her best friend, she is also directly responsible for letting the father of her friend’s baby die. Yes, he was a terrible man. But, not deserving of death especially as he begged her to save him before he dies and she easily could have done so. She is just lucky that men in these movies do not usually come back as vengeful spirits.

Or do they? The last story has an interesting male ghost of a seriel killer hunting down the ghost of his last victim. Directed by Yeo Myeong-joon, this is the most interesting of the three tales of the omnibus. His is the only part of Ghost that I would watch again. After experiencing some terrifying (and, in comparison to the rest of the film, extremely interesting) phenomena on the subway, Cheol-min skiddishly walks to school. It doesn’t take long to realize that he is like the boy in Sixth Sense but older. I was fine with that until my thoughts made the connection with Ghost Whisperer..and my heart sank a little. But while the Ghost Whisperer parallel is undeniable, this part of the movie remained good–mostly because it did not take itself too seriously. It was fun to watch as the boy, the grandson of a shaman, as he tried to stop the ghost of a killer –and the teacher he possessed– with the help of a timid girl ghost and a classmate who can’t see what he is fighting. Director Yeo previously made the feature length film The Code of the Duel  in 2006 and the 40-minute featurette The Righteous Battle–both of which I am now interested in seeing.

However, it was not enough to save Ghost. Released in June 2010, Ghost is not yet on DVD. I do not know if or when it will get a release. I don’t care. I won’t be buying it. Really. ….. Unless it is really cheap.  Then I might buy it ..but I won’t watch it right away. This is not a film I recommend.

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Blades of Blood (2010)

30th July 2010

lposter041531-k2<Written for the August edition of Asiana Entertainment. That magazine has now been published and I am now able to post the article here. Asiana Entertainment is available for free on all Asiana Airline flights> In 1592, Korea, then known as Joseon, stood at the brink of the Imjin War against neighboring Japan. It was a war that Korea eventually won due to superior naval strength that successfully cut of supply ships from Japan. On land, however, the Japanese army was much more successful thanks to superior weaponry and strong leadership. At the start of the war, the Emperor of Joseon was besieged by ministers with differing opinions on how to engage Japan and the ruler’s indecisiveness gave the Japanese forces an early advantage.

Lee Mong-hak (Cha Seung-won) was anything but indecisive. He realized that Korea had to fight and he had a plan. However, that plan included making himself king and he is willing to kill anyone who opposes him. One of those people who earns Mong-hak’s wrath is the father of Gyeon-ja.

Although ostracized from his family, Gyeon-ja (Baek Seong-hyeon) does not hesitate to rush to his father’s defense when Mong-hak comes to slaughter his family. For all his impassioned efforts, he is quickly subdued and left for dead. He is rescued by an eccentric, blind acupuncturist whom he learns is also an accomplished swordsman despite his lack of vision. Gyeon-ja begs his savior to train him in the art of fighting to gain vengeance for the death of his father. His unseeing benefactor, Hwang Jeong-hak (Hwang Jeong-min), eventually agrees.

Even though this film is set at the start of a war, it is neither a war movie nor a political thriller.  This is an action movie that shares quite a bit with the Hong Kong action movies of the 1970s whose plots often revolved around revenge. However, unlike the movies from decades earlier, this story has the multiple layers that we have come to expect from director Lee Joon-ik.  Director Lee is perhaps best known for his 2005 hit, The King and the Clown, which went on to win many awards domestically and internationally. In Blades of Blood, Lee creates situation where there are no easy answers.  Take, for example, the character of Lee Mong-hak. Although what he is doing is certainly treasonous, his motives were not necessarily evil. And while he is extremely ruthless on the road to make his dream a reality, he is also tender and charismatic, winning the heart of the lovely Baek Ji (Han Ji-hye) with his passions and dreams.

Deserving praise for his role of the blind swordsman is Hwang Jeong-min. His acting is flawless in this film and his interactions with his young ward are both funny and touching. Whenever he is onscreen, he steals the scene with either his dynamic fighting or his witty responses.

Blades of Blood is one of those rare films where history comes alive in an interesting and exciting way while not forgetting the stories of individuals caught up in the events. Watching this movie allows you to learn something about the ancient history of Korea but, more importantly, it will keep you entertained throughout its running time.

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Moss (2010)

21st July 2010

mossThis week, my cable provider in Jeonju shuffled some channels around and gave us a new station called Indiefilm. This amazing channel plays indie and short films around the clock and I have had the chance to see some fantastic movies there. But, I can’t watch movies on tv 24-hours a day…so today I went to the movie theater to see Moss–a film I have been looking forward to.  I was not disappointed. The story is engrossing with many points of tension and suspense and, best of all, the acting is all-first class. The plot is based on a long-running comic book of the same name. I had not read the comic, so I cannot compare the movie with the book, nor did I have to read the source material to appreciate and understand the film. Perhaps I enjoyed it even more for not reading the story because every twist in the plot was a genuine surprise to me.

Briefly, the story is about Yoo Hae-gook (Park Hae-il) who visits his estranged fathers house upon the elderly man’s death. There, he meets his father’s friends including Cheon Yong-deok (Jeong Jae-yeong) who seems to have the entire community scurring to do his bidding. Hae-gook suspicions are raised when everyone keeps trying to convince him to leave quickly and he comes to suspect Cheon and his cronies of perhaps killing his father. After someone breaks into his home, the young man decides to take up residence in his father’s house indefinitely much to the frustration of the villagers. Veiled threats and hinted danger quickly become reality we soon learn that everyone has secrets and perhaps nobody is whom we think they are.

I cannot praise the acting in this movie enough. All of the primary actors deliver excellent performances including Park Hae-il, Jeong Jae-yeong, Yoo Joon-sang, Yoo Seon, and Kim Sang-ho.  I really appreciated the work by Yoo Joon-sang–I loved the confidence of his character Park Min-wook who always seemed like he was challenging anyone he was speaking with to a contest to see who would blink first. But, by far, the best and most memorable perfomance is given by the vastly underrated Yoo Hae-jin who plays Cheon’s close friend and assistant. I am definitely hoping he is able to bring home a Best Supporting Actor role for this role.

I don’t want to say anything more about the movie as it just recently opened in theaters. I strongly recommend you see it when you can.

Posted in 2010s, Review | 1 Comment »

71: Into the Fire (2010)

18th June 2010

lposter041112-k6Now that finals have been scored and grades have been uploaded, I have the next two and a half month to study, write and watch movies. And that is exactly what I did today. I took the opportunity to watch 71: Into the Fire.  The trailers I had been seeing made me excited to finally be able to see the movie and I went into it expecting a lot.  Why wouldn’t I? I like films that make me feel something when I watch. Being directed by Lee Jae-han, the same man who directed the very emotional Eraser in My Head, I had good reason to believe that the move would not ignore the complex emotions that are necessary to make a successful war film. If a war film is simply fighting, shooting, shouting and posturing, it is ultimately boring. No matter how good the special effects are, I have to feel something to stay interested. That is why I liked Taegukgi so much when I actually hated war movies when I was growing up.  One of my younger brothers loved watching John Wayne World War II war movies–they all seemed the same to me…  I am happy to say, that I was also very impressed with 71: Into the Fire.

The story, based on actual events, takes place in the early days of the Korean War when North Korean troups swept through the nation.  Every able-bodied man was needed in the war effort and students were no exception. The northern army was almost at Busan and there was no time for proper military training. One such student is Oh Jang-beom, who finds himself assisting on the battlefield and who is clearly over his head. The pace, the confusion, the sounds and the horror of the battle are overwhelming. But despite it all, and despite the terror Oh is clearly feeling, he completes his futile mission and begins an even more terrifying journey to evacuate the area.  I am unsure how long this opening sequence lasted because I was completely caught up in the action, but when it was over, I found that I had tears rolling down my face. That caught me by surprise–I don’t usually cry during an action scene–but that was a testament to the power of the acting in this first part of the movie.

Oh Jang-beom is played by Choi Seung-hyeon, known to hs fan as T.O.P of the band Big Bang. T.O.P. has previously appeared in the successful tv drama Iris and the little seen movie Nineteen. He has clearly been working on his acting skills because he delivers a powerful performance throughout the film–and especially in the opening. He no lines in the entire opening yet everything his charater is feeling is delivered through his eyes and body language. TOP is in his early 20s yet his character, at times, seems almost half that age–and the terror and confusion he’s feeling is palatable. 

TOP is listed third in the credits, even though his character has most of the screen time. The first two names in the credits are Cha Seung-won and Kwon Sang-woo, two well-known and very popular actors.  Unfortunately, in this film, both of the overact throughout the movie.  Perhaps it is partly the fault of writing–the characters seemed like one-note stereotypes–the evil North Korean commander and the gangster, but as actors they should have tried to make them feel real.  I was a little disappointed in them–especially Kwon.  He really needed to tone the character down and realize that he was not the star of the film.

The first half of the movie I thought was better than the second, which is a lot of fighting without the same emotional impact.  Even though I complained about some of the acting, I loved the movie and recommend it without reservation.  I also look forward to seeing more of TOP in future films.  I think that young man has a bright future ahead of him.

Incidently, the poster shown above is my favorite and the most powerful of the half dozen choices available. First it features TOP who really needs to be recognized for his work on this film, but second because of the tagline in blue which reads in English “Mom, I might die today…” It really brings home the fact that these characters in the film are all just students. These days much of the military are university students between their freshman and sophomore years fulling their mandatory 2-year duty. It was impossible for me not to think about the recent sinking of the Cheonan while watching this movie and I think that made the story even more emotional for me. I get very attached to my students, and I hate to think of them potentially facing such extreme dangers.

Posted in 2010s, Review | 3 Comments »

The Housemaid (2010)

13th May 2010


After months of waiting, The Housemaid starring Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Jeong-gae has finally arrived in theaters. I am happy to report that it was worth the wait.  I am also happy to say that this version of the 1960 film, is more than an updated rehash. There have been many recent remakes of classic films such as King Kong, The Poseiden Adventure, The Exorcist, etc., where the only differences between the original and the new lie in flashier special effects. While the new Housemaid maintains some of the character motives and events found Kim Ki-yeong’s story, director Im Sang-soo adds some new characters, heightens some of the existing motivations to new levels and does away with many parts that are associated with the original. Looking for rats popping out of cupboards? Then go back and watch the 60s version. Im doesn’t put a single rodent in this movie–although their absense is more than made up for by the presence of several especially vile human rats.

One of the biggest differences for me between the 2010 and 1960 versions is in the reversal of where my sympathies fell. In the 1960s movie, I was horrified by the actions of the maid as played by Lee Eun-shim. She was odd right from the beginning and there would have been no way that I would have hired her to work for me, let alone live in my house. The moment she caught that first rat and her strange behavior then would have made me fire her long before she could be shown where the rat poison was kept.  But Jeon Do-yeon’s character, Eun-yi, is not like that at all. There is an innocence about her and I found myself rooting for her throughout the film.

Perhaps I was rooting for her because all the other characters are so despicable. The master of the house, Hoon, is far removed from Kim Jin-gyu’s indecisive and emasculated Dong-shik from 1960. Everything and everyone in the house belong to him. The entire house is a reflection of his ego and it seem built to fit his needs. It certainly has no place for the children he professes to love. His wife, Hae-ra, is addicted to the luxury but matches Dong-shik’s wife only in that regard. While the latter worked herself into a stupor trying to earn more money, Hae-ra has never done anything for herself. Even everyday acts, such as washing her hair, are handled by her maids.

One of those maids is a character not found in the 60s version. Yoon Yeo-jeong plays the senior housekeeper/cook who sees everything and knows all the secrets of the household. Yoon does an excellent job in this role and I think she deserves a Best Supporting Actress award for her performance. Another new character is Hae-ra’s mother. She oozes ambition and greed and will stop at nothing to ensure her daughters place as Hoon’s wife is secure thus cementing her own status vicariously. This woman is evil –and she is both horrifying and fascinating to watch in action.

I won’t say too much more about the movie as it just opened today, but I do have to comment on the set. That house was a work of art and is almost a character itself. But I found myself being drawn to objects in the house–especially the lights. I kept thinking throughout the movie, “Where can I buy those __________?” And that chandelier! When I got hope I dd a quick internet search and found that articles had already been written about it (namely how much it cost). The price was  tens of thousands (USD)—Oh well, it was too big for my house anyway…

The Housemaid is in theaters now in Korea as well as playing at Cannes.  It is an excellent film from its opening to the bizarrely beautiful final scene. It is a ‘must-see’. Watch it.

Posted in 2010s | 3 Comments »