Seen in Jeonju

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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

Winter Wanderer (1986)

30th August 2014

Winter Wanderer (aka Wanderer in Winter)– Directed by Kwak Ji-kyun. Starring Ahn Seong-ki, Lee Mi-sook, Kang Seok-woo, Lee Hye-yeong and Kim Yeong-ae. Release Date: April 12, 1986. 120 minutes

On the surface, medical student Min-woo (Kang Seok-woo) seems to have everything. He is from a good family, has many good friends, a bright future ahead of him and, on top of that, he just met the girl of his dreams in Dal-hae (Lee Mi-sook). But things are not always what they seem. For his entire life, Min-woo’s mother had hated him. His father is lying in the hospital at death’s door. And his brother, on his way to a new life in the USA, hands Min-woo a note that that starts the latter on a downward spiral. It seems that the woman who Min-woo believed to be his mother was actually his step-mother. Instead, he is the result of a tryst between his father and prostitute.

Min-woo sets out to learn more about his birth mother and in the process meets his ‘aunt’ Kim Yeong-sook (Kim Yeong-ae) now known as Laura. Laura runs a bar/brothel that caters to foreigners. There he learns that his mother committed suicide after his birth because she could not be with his father as he was already married. Unsettled, he goes to talk to his father about the situation but before he can get much information, he is interrupted by an elderly businessman who bursts into his father’s hospital room. Saving his father from an attack, Min-woo beats the stranger with the old man’s own cane.

This sends Min-woo on the run but he is soon found and arrested. After a short prison term, Min-woo is released to find that his father has passed away. Worse, when he goes home, he finds his house has been sold and his mother has moved away without leaving a forwarding address. Min-woo falls into a deep depression. Referring to himself as nothing more than trash, the young man turns to his closest friend, Hyeon-tae (Ahn Seong-ki).

Hyeon-tae had been introduced earlier in the film as being a couple of years older than Min-woo and is on the verge of graduating from their university with a degree in Business. However, he is a bit of a Bohemian. He spends his evenings drinking and womanizing in a small pub and performing the traditional mask dance as part of his university’s club. He refers to Min-woo as “Pipe Boy” because he would play tradional pipes for the same club and his very close to the younger man. In fact, Hyeon-tae was instrumental in a successful first date between Min-woo and Dal-hae. Hyeon-tae offers to take care of Min-woo, but thinking he is undeserving of such kindness, Min-woo goes to where he believes his destiny lies– the place of his origin– the brothel.

Wrapped as it is in its melodrama tropes, I was actually surprised how dark this film is. There is no redemption for Min-woo once his sinks to a certain level nor can other characters, such as the prostitute Jenny/Eun-young who falls in love with him. Both try to escape from their situations and improve their lives, but success is brief and only partial at best. One could argue that Hyeon-tae turns his life around, but that would not be a vaild arguement as Hyeon-tae was not doing anything that could be deemed illegal. In fact, the film goes out of its way to provide clues of Hyeon-tae’s ‘goodness’ by strongly linking him with the traditional arts and having him inform the audience that he is actually from the countryside and came to Seoul for the education.

Hyeon-tae’s links with traditional Korea and a simpler life are part of a strong undercurrent in the film that the Western world corrupts. This is a common theme in many Korean films from the ’80s. However, that is an incidental. The main theme in this film is the changes that occur throughout life. It is about how dreams, personalities, lifestyles, lovers and even family relationships change over time. The movie is very successful in depicting this especially in later scenes between Hyeon-tae and Min-woo.

Ahn Seongki is good as Hyeon-tae. Kang Seok-woo was a surprise in this film. I have to admit to never noticing him before. He debuted in movies in 1978 in a Kim Soo-yong film Yeosu. He acted fairly regularly in movies up until 1995. Earlier, in 1982, he was cast in a KBS drama called Ordinary People. He liked the small screen and after 1995, he worked exclusively on television. He is currently in the SBS drama A Good Day. Lee Mi-sook was good with what she had to work with, but her character was overshadowed by the other women in the film. Kim Yeong-ae was excellent as Laura and Lee Hye-yeong gave depth to Eun-yeong, making her more than a just a victim of circumstance.

Winter Wanderer is available on DVD with English subtitles.

Ah– and just a short personal note. This is the first time I have posted on this blog since November last year. The reason was partially because I was certified by the Korean gov’t to write national exams last October and I have been doing that work frequently. That often takes a bit of preparation. I also wrote two TOEIC books, one that will be published next month and the other will be available in December. In any case, I plan to write regularly again. I have already updated the ‘filming and awaiting release’ section and listed all the films that were released during my eight month hiatus under the tab marked 2010s at the top of the page.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

Two People in the Wall (1978)

20th October 2013

Two People in the Wall (1978) — Korean Title: 벽속의 두사람– Romanization: Byeoksokui Doosaram. Directed by Lee Seong-goo. Starring: Ha Myeong-joong (Myeong-ho) and Jeong Yeong-sook (Myeong-ho’s lover). Running Time: 75 minutes. Original Release Date: March 1, 1978. Available on DVD: No

two people in the wall Myeong-ho is a welder in a factory who spends his days like a zombie. He moves between his shabby home where he lives with his elderly mother and his job where he is worked nearly to death. The only relief he gets from work is a five-minute break each day and propaganda time where they chant slogans for the nation. You see, Myeong-ho lives in North Korea. He is not without his friends but he is extremely discontented with life, finding no meaning in what he is doing. He notices things that others are either blind to or have been desensitized to such as when a young woman is taken at gunpoint from his village to be gang raped by soldiers on the outskirts of town. When her body shows up shortly thereafter, he is the only one whose face registers anything. He starts noticing death all around him. Visiting his best friend to discuss his thoughts and doubts proves fruitless as his friend’s younger brother has joined a youth militia is now making regular reports to the soldiers that are an ever-present force in the small village they live in.

Myeong-ho is able to feel all-too-brief moments of escape with his lover, a co-worker in the factory. When he is being punished for sleeping at the job, she leaps to his defense– by beating his senseless, but it saves him from a far worse beating. However, she soon catches the attention of the lecherous soldiers and becomes the latest victim of their appetites. The aftermath leaves her pregnant, so she and Myeong-ho make a difficult journey into the mountains to pay a visit to a hermit who is known to perform abortions. Unfortunately, without the proper equipment or medication of any kind, it is a risky operation and the young woman does not survive. Meanwhile, his friend had been making plans for all three of to escape, but he has been reported by his younger brother and arrested. When a despondent Myeong-ho makes it back to town, he finds his friend hanging upside down from a tree.

Temporarily unhinged, Myeong-ho wanders aimlessly until his approached by a female soldier who inquires after him…rather kindly as opposed to every other soldier in the film. She is rewarded for her kindness by being raped and killed. At first it seems as if that Myeong-ho has no idea what he is doing, but after raping the woman he seems to recover his senses and her murder is intentional. He strangles her while remembering the screams of his girlfriend interspersed with happier times in their relationship. It is out of revenge that the soldier dies.

With nowhere left to go, Myeong-ho returns to his village and goes through the motions of his life. However, his tolerance of his circumstances is at an end. When he challenges the factory boss and the soldiers recruiting there, he starts an uprising among the workers. It is violent, bloody and very brief as reinforcements soon charge into the grounds and quickly disperse the workers that are not killed immediately. The death toll is high and Myeong-ho appears to be among the fallen, but he had only passed out after savagely beating a guard to death and exhausting his energy by continuing the beating long after the soldier is dead. With absolutely nothing left to lose, Myeong-ho heads south, but his sanity is not all there. He is a broken man, shouting angrily at singing birds and his sense of self-preservation is gone. He doesn’t even see the soldiers that eventually shoot at him. Tumbling down a mountain after being shot, he falls into a river (presumably the Duman as we later pan to the line of barbed wire marking the Demilitarized Zone). Crossing, he has barely emerged from the water and gotten his bearing when he is shot five or six times in the back and chest. Even then he does not fall for several minutes, presumably the hope of freedom spurring him ever onward.

A couple of posts down from this, I indexed the films of Lee Seong-goo and this was one of them. I was surprised to see it offered on BTV and decided to give it a chance. While I am glad that I watched it, I do not feel that I could recommend it to anyone else. The depiction of North Korea was how the Koran government of 1978 wanted us to see it and I strongly suspect that an accurate picture was not painted. The village was more like a prison camp than an actual village. However, the people living in North Korea were shown in a far more sensitive light than any anti-communist film I have seen up to that point. Other movies up to this point had shown North Koreans doubting their government and desiring to escape to the South, but soldiers–unless the focus of the film was on their wavering commitment to communism– were rarely shown to have human sides like the female soldier in this film. Her death upset me as there was no purpose to it, especially as it was committed by the man we are asked to identify with and root for.

Lee Seong-goo tried some things to make a rather lackluster story more interesting like the shakey camera to depict Myeong-ho’s slipping sanity near the end of the movie. That worked well and I appreciated the effort he put into it. What did not work so well was equating the attempted abortion to rape. We had already seen Myeong-ho’s girlfriend held down and gang raped and the hermit strapping her down to perform the crude surgery mimicked that. So did the expressions and screams emitted by the girl and the in and out motion the camera focussed on while the old doctor attempted her work.

There was something else that didn’t work as well because I don’t think it gave the impression the director was going for. At the end of the movie, Myeong-ho’s body is washed downriver where it will eventually wash out to see and be picked up by South Korean soldiers on the beach at the start of the film. However, while it is floating along through the rapids, the shots of his bobbing body are interspersed with cuts of South Koreans playing in swimming pools and at amusement parks. I think director Lee meant to show contrast between the freedoms and joys of the South and the pitiable death of Myeong-ho in the North, but it doesn’t work. It comes across as distasteful– the scenes of happy children and their obviously well-to-do mother splashing around in swimming pools at a park seem grossly imbalanced with life in the North as depicted in the film and makes the unknowing people in that stock footage seem uncaring to the plight of Myeong-ho and his brothers.. something I am sure the director was not aiming for.

Or maybe he was. Perhaps Lee was trying to make a statement about what he felt North and South Korean relations should be like…a risky proposition if it were true. At the time, open criticism of government policies, especially regarding the North, were not allowed. I briefly wondered too if the factory conditions shown throughout the film were very much different from what South Korean workers were experiencing in the 1970s. But then I thought that I was trying too hard to find a hidden agenda in this film because I was hoping to give director Lee some credit for trying to show something meaningful. Unfortunately, I think this film is purely a propaganda piece make the evils of the government to the Norht as evil as possible. It has little to offer except as a dated relic of its time and it is for this reason I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone were it ever to become available on DVD.

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Lost Youth (1982)

13th October 2013

Lost Youth (1982)– Korean Title: 버려진 청춘– Romanization: Beoryeojin Cheongchoon. Directed by Jeong So-yeong. Starring: Nam Goong-won (as Mr. Han), Lee Gi-seon (as Myeong-ja), Park Jong-geun (Woo-shik), Choi Hee-jeong and Kim Gi-jong (as Woo-shik’s father). Running Time: 89 minutes. Original Release Date: September 24, 1982. Available on DVD: No

lost youth Myeong-ja ran away to Seoul when she was in her teens in order to escape an unhappy family life in which her father was abusive to her mother and her younger siblings could not afford to go to school. She took a job in a factory with dreams of helping her mother and siblings. But life in Seoul was not at all what she expected. One night, Myeong-ja is raped and her perspective on life changes drastically. Rationalizing that the world was evil, Myeong-ja sets out to make money in any way she can and that includes lying, cheating, blackmail, stealing and selling her body. We know little of her background when we first meet her on the prowl at Kyeongpo Beach. (A beautiful beach, by the way. Not too built up, clean water.. good alternative to Haeyundai Beach) After a quick look through the cars in the parking lot and a chat with the clerk at the front desk of a hotel, she determines that her target is there. She takes to the beach and eventually finds her prey.. Woo-shik. She arranges to ‘accidently’ meet him and is soon heading back to his hotel room where they spend the night together. Myeong-ja sneaks out early in the morning, but before heading back to Seoul she intentionally bruises all of her limbs. The purpose of these self-inflicted injuries is to manufacture ‘evidence’ to support her claim that Woo-shik raped her. Heading the Woo-shik’s father’s home, a large mansion she had scoped out earlier, Myeong-ja arrives during a party. She meets with the wealthy parent and threatens to go to the police with her story if he does not pay her five million won. He relents and gives her the money she requests.

All of that, although a substantial portion of the running time, was to establish the character of Myeong-ja. Woo-shik and his father will appear again in the film, however their role has mostly been played out. The body of the story is Myeong-ja’s meeting of Mr. Han and how they change each other’s lives. They meet in a the lobby of an expensive international hotel is Seoul where Mr. Han is entertaining a rich client from Japan and Myeong-ja is attempting to seduce and rob foreigners. Their exchange inside the hotel is brief but they meet again in the parking lot when Myeong-ja, attempting to escape the enraged Woo-shik, dives into Han’s car and hides in the backseat. There she falls into a deep sleep so Mr. Han takes her home and puts her to bed.

In a Korean film made in the 1980s, you would not often be wrong if you suspected the worst from this situation, but in this case you would be. Director Jeong had a lot of class and Mr. Han was played by Nam Goong-won, so Myeong-ja was perfectly safe in this situation. Waking up in the morning, she strikes up a friendship with Mr. Han. In her case, she is enraptured with his wealth and the size of his estate. For his part, he is fascinated with this charming, young free spirit. Han confesses that he has not been with a woman in seven years, since his wife and son died in a plane crash. Myeong-ja takes this up as a personal challenge, and a chance to make a lot of money, and promises to seduce him in no time at all. After several failed attempts, Myeong-ja finallly succeeds in tempting Han to have sex with her, but her success may be largely due to the fact that the pair seem to have fallen in love with each other although neither will state that at first.

Here the movie could have ended happily ever after except for several things. First, Myeong-ja rediscovers her conscience and sets out to make ammends for some of her recent crimes such as returning Woo-shik’s money and visiting her mother and brothers and helping them as she intended. Unfortunately, neither of these things go off as smoothly as she had planned. Then there are those reoccuring headaches that Myeong-ja suddenly develops– and their instensity seems to be increasing rapidly. Will Myeong-ja get the happy ending she dreamed of all her life?

Lost Youth is a very good story marred slightly by the 1980s obsession with sex. Not that sex is bad in a film, but the overtness of it and the voyeurism the camera indulges in is often uncomfortable. This is especially true when the film is dealing with Myeong-ja’s loose friend whose breasts are exposed whenever we see her, be it at home or drunk at a club. And Myeong-ja’s attempts to seduce Han provide the camera ample opportunities for those uncomfortable ass and crotch shots. Barring that however, the movie is quite good and is an interesting character study, especially of Myeong-ja and the changes she undergoes throughout the film.She moves from being a character out only for herself to one who finds a larger purpose.

This was the last of director Jeong So-yeong’s regularly produced films. He did make two more movies after this.. one six years later in 1988 and a remake of his most famous film series entitled Again in 2001. But up until 1982, Jeong had been making one, two or more films for decades. The film starred Lee Gi-seon whom some readers may know as the shaman’s daughter/maid with the haunted doll from the 1981 horror film Suddenly at Midnight. It also starred veteran film actor Nam Goong-won. This makes for an odd pairing as Nam is more than 20 years Lee’s senior. In the film, Myeong-ja claims to be 21 and by this time the film was made, actor Nam was nearly 50 (although his character’s age is never stated)

All in all a good film, considerably better than I expected. It is not, however, on DVD at the time of this writing although it was, at one point, on VHS. I was lucky enough to see it on Btv and if you are in Korea, you can see it there along with many other classic films.

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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 Carriage Running Into Winter (1981)

21st August 2013

The Carriage Running Into Winter– Directed by Jeong So-yeong. Starring Kim Yeong-ae, Lee Yeong-ha, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kim Jin-gyu and Hwang Jeong-soon. Released January 1, 1982. 108 minutes.
carriage running into winter I have been watching a lot of newer movies these days as this summer’s releases have been really excellent. Snowpiercer, Hide and Seek, The Terror Live!, Killer Toon.. and so on. But everyone and their uncle are writing about them. I will wait a few years to do that. Instead, I found another movie I can watch. The title seems to imply that it this movie will, like Snowpiercer, will have something to do with trains* and snow. Well, don’t get your hopes up on that score. This movie is pure melodrama.
The film starts with a depressed Yeo Yoon-hee going quickly into a flashback to the happier days that led up to her marriage with Jeong-woo. The two were deeply in love and married over her parents objections that he and his family are too poor to support them. This turned out to be true but it did not stop their happiness. Yoon-hee made ends meet by secretly borrowing from her parents to run her household. However, it was doomed to end too soon. Jeong-woo is killed in an accident…after several extended scenes designed to tug at the heart.
Widowed while still in her twenties, Yoon-hee devotes herself to her work doing what appears to be layouts at a newspaper. Through her boss, she becomes acquainted with Mr. Park who soon surprises her with a proposal of marriage. Mr Park is considerably older than Yeon-hee and she soon finds out that he is unbelievably wealthy. She remarries, again over her mother’s objections, and it again ends in tragedy. Her husband to be has a severe heart attack at the altar. She moves into Park’s house where his mother, sister and son from a previous marriage live with a number of servants. She visits Park every day in the hospital, but it is clear that the female members of Park’s family blame her for his heart attack.
Park never regains consciousness and becomes gradually worse. The only member of the household who treats Yoon-hee with kindness is Woo-seob. But there is a reason he does so. He is very attracted to her, so much so that while his father lies dying in the hospital, Woo-seob startles Yoon-hee by embracing and kissing her in the kitchen of the house. This leads to Yoon-hee running away and making a convoluted plan to kill herself in a way that it looks like suicide. However, she is tracked down by Woo-seob. After a long talk, he confesses his love for her and she agrees to go back to his home. There she falls ill. Woo-seob takes care of her and comes to Yoon-hee’s defense when a family meeting is called to turn Yoon-hee out of the house.
In the aftermath of the family row, Yoon-hee has a sleepless night. Wandering into the hallway she accidently glimpses Woo-seob butt naked. This three-second flash of flesh has Yoon-hee flee into the garden and experience a fantasy involving her and Woo-seob. The young man follows her and soon the fantasy is well on its way to becoming reality. Yoon-hee has a change of heart and runs back into the house. She realizes that she has to leave and after meeting unexpected opposition from Park’s mother, she does just that. Yoon-hee goes back to thinking about her suicide plan, when Woo-seob shows up at her door. To his surprise, she is no longer against being with him and to two spend a week or so of pure bliss together. He offers to take her away from Korea, but she refuses. The thought of the future terrifies her and Yoon-hee once again goes back to her plan of suicide.
The Carriage Running Into Winter is quite melodramatic but it is watchable. It was interesting to see Hwang Jeong-soon (Park’s mother) and Kim Jin-gyu (Park) near the end of their careers and their acting certainly is part of the reason the movie is so watchable. Kim Yeong-ae (Yoon-hee) is another. Less so is Lee Yeong-ha as Woo-seob. The movie is not available on DVD though it was at one point on VHS as the image above shows. (I far preferred it over the original poster though I use that when I index this film)

*The Korean title makes it quite clear that the movie does not contain a train. Instead, the carriage in the title refers to a horse drawn carriage. What is not clear is how that.or any part of the title.. is related to the movie at all. ..

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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.

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Trailers of Revenge- Final

13th July 2013

black design scarf
This will be the final entry that I have for REVENGE WEEK and I wanted to save the best for last. Yesterday’s theme of having a hitherto unknown family member exacting revenge on a victim touches a little on today’s theme of a stranger in the house.

Home and hearth hold a special place in our hearts. A home is supposed to be a refuge from the work, stress, confusion and peril of the outside world. However, that does not mean that one can stay in isolation within the house. Friends, family and possibly repairmen come and go and domestic staff may need to be hired to handle excessive work around larger homes. These maids or butlers move among and around the family members, always present but outside. Korean films, especially from the sixties and seventies, often contain a maid, a cook or a driver. A week could be spent on the housemaids themselves because they come in such a variety of styles—the comic country bumpkin, the saucy loving type and the sultry seductress. There are also the innocents who fall in love with the family’s eldest son, those mortally in fear of losing their jobs because they are supporting their entire families, and the vengeance-filled lunatics.

Of course, for Revenge Week, I will be looking at one in that final category from the 1960s. She appears in a Kim Ki-duk (I) film from 1966 called The Black Design Scarf. When her child is killed in a hit and run accident, this woman played by Kim Ji-mi, does a little research and finds the owner of the car. She learns that this wealthy driver is having an affair that she does not wish her husband to know about, hence the reason for speeding. The grieving mother steels her nerves and hides her raw emotions beneath an increasingly cold exterior and manages to get herself hired as a housemaid in the rich woman’s home. The goal she has set for herself is nothing less than killing the murderer’s child.

For a long time she watches and waits for the perfect opportunity but after several missed chances, she realizes that she does not wish to become a killer herself. Breaking down, she confesses everything to her employer and forgives her. The wealthy woman surprisingly does not fire her on the spot but guilt-ridden over her own crime, she kills herself, leaving her child to be raised by the housemaid.
Unfortunately, this movie is lost, existing only as scenarios, advertisements and images so I cannot provide more details…

Wait a minute.. forgiveness? Redemption? Those are not part of a revenge film, are they? Well, yes they are. At any point, in any revenge film, these elements are an option but depending on the genre, we don’t often expect to see them. In the case of Black Design Scarf, the film is a melodrama—and starring Kim Ji-mi, so we could expect a lot of crying. Other films containing revenge-crazed housemaids may be horror or thrillers and thus we can expect a different end.

For housemaid madness, you can’t beat the original. Here is a recently-made trailer for the 1960 classic The Housemaid. C’mon Myoung-ja, you crazy nicotine fiend, show us how revenge is done right!

Finally, I would like to thank Modern Korean Cinema for opening up Revenge Week and for Pierce Conran for inviting me to take part. I look forward to any other events MKC may consider hosting!

Posted in 1960s, Review, video & trailers | Comments Off

Revenge Week: Day 5

12th July 2013

Incest as a tool of revenge must surely be one of the most shocking methods of achieving vengeance. The role it played in the most popular of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy shocked audiences around the world with both its venom and its creativity. The more recent Dirty Blood features a young woman intent on getting revenge on her father and begins a sexual relationship with him without him knowing her real identity. Are these cases unique in Korean cinema? The answer, of course, is ‘No.’

Back in 1971, we have another example of a young woman out for revenge against her biological father. The movie this occurred in is called I’m Your Daughter and it was directed by Jo Moon-jin and it had some big-named stars in it. The incomparable Moon Hee played Baek Yeon-hee opposite Shin Yeong-gyun who played Mr. Baek and Shin Seong-il who played her former lover, Seong-ho. Two other major actresses of the time, Ko Eun-ah and Hwang Jeong-soon also appear in the film.

In the story, Yeon-hee lives in poverty. Her mother bore her out of wedlock when she had an affair with Mr. Baek and never recovered after he abandoned her. After her death, Yeon-hee turns to her boyfriend, Seong-ho for comfort and becomes pregnant with his child. Seong-ho attempts to do the right thing and marry her, but cannot oppose his family who object to the marriage because of Yeon-hee’s background. Instead, Seong-ho is married off to Mr. Baek’s legitimate daughter, Ja-myeong and Yeon-hee is left to fend for herself and raise her son on her own.

To support herself, Yeon-hee becomes a hostess—entertaining men at a bar. She moves closer to Seong-ho’s house so her son can get to know Seong-ho a little. It is there that she is presented with a chance to avenge her mother, and Yeon-hee hatches a dreadful plot. The womanizing Mr. Baek frequents the bar in which Yeon-hee works. Throwing all morals to the wind, Yeon-he gradually becomes closer to him, seducing him and allowing Baek to fall in love with her. When sh is ready, Yeon-hee finally reveals who she is, taunting him with the information and blaming him for her mother’s death and her own ruin. It turns out that Yeon-hee had concocted the ultimate revenge against Baek. Upon learning of his incestuous relationship with his daughter, Baek has a heart attack, keels over and dies. Yeon-hee leaves her son in Seong-ho’s care and leaves for parts unknown.

A decade earlier there were a couple of other films where adult children enter their fathers’ lives without their identities being known, to wreak havoc on his family and business. There is one where a son comes back, gets a job with his father, and attempts to make his stepsister fall in love with him as revenge before having a change of heart and another from 1966 where a young woman gets a job in her father’s office as his personal secretary and feeds confidential papers to rival companies for revenge.

Unfortunately, while these films still exist, a trailer or film clip is not available. So instead, I will leave you with the clip from Who Broke the Red Rose Stem? (1990). A more typical revenge film where a woman sets out to avenge the deaths of her father and husband as well as her daughter’s lost sanity against a cooperate director responsible in his effort to steal the company from her. Five years later she has reinvented herself as a fashion designer and with her model bodyguards enacts revenge on the businessman only to have it revealed that her husband is alive and was manipulated by the evil corporate heads into killing her father. She decides to take her vengeance out on everyone involved, manipulated or not…

Trailer of Revenge 5!

Don’t forget to head over to Modern Korean Cinema for more Revenge Week

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