Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the 'Review' Category

Revenge Week: Day 4

11th July 2013

canton viper
It was only a matter of time before I had to touch on the kung fu craze that dominated Korean action films for more than two decades. They are unavoidable when discussing revenge and Korean cinema unless you are limiting the discussion to just recent films. From the mid-60s to the late-80s, literally hundreds of these martial arts action films were created either as co-productions with Hong Kong film companies or as imitations of that popular style. The background of the movie could be different—set in the distant past the film would often be about an evil bandit or warlord and his gang that are terrorizing the countryside and who may have killed the hero’s family. Or it might be set in pre-World War II Asia where the Japanese army is moving gold or supplies through the region and the best friend of the hero’s, more likely than not working for the Independence Army, is killed fighting for a cause that the hero will pick up. Set in modern times, the movie was likely to involve drug trafficking where, once again, the family and/or friend of the hero is killed or the movie would be about two martial arts academies/temples/schools of thought that are rivals and the bad school winds up killing a student or teacher from the good school, so revenge becomes the goal of the day.

In fact, I think it is nearly impossible to separate the element of vengeance from the vast majority of Korean action films from this period. So why not tackle it directly? That is exactly what actor/director Hwang Jeong-ri did in his 1983 creation Canton Viper aka Kwangdong Viper. The story begins typically enough in that the truly despicable villain of the piece, Cheon-soo, is on the loose in the region, killing, raping and stealing wherever he wishes. One of his victims is the mother of young Ma-ryong. Left to his own devices, the child vowed revenge against the murderous Cheon-soo. Ma-ryong spends the next two decades training himself in various forms of combat for the fateful day when he challenges Cheon-soo.

Unlike many similar films, that climatic battle does not occur at the end. Normally in a kung-fu film, if the hero meets the villain early, it results in the hero getting soundly thrashed and nearly killed, sending him back for a montage of recovery and training. Not so in Canton Viper. Ma-ryong defeats and executes the villainous Cheon-soo, but the story does not end there. Instead the focus switches to pre-teen Il-pyeong, the son of Cheon-soo. The boy vows vengeance against whoever it was who killed his father—he is a little unclear on the matter—and sets off into the mountains to find a master of the martial arts to train him in fighting. The mountains are no place for a child on his own, and Il-pyeong barely survives the trek. He is discovered by Ma-ryong and his companion and the pair nurse the boy back to health. Ma-ryong agrees to train the boy in how to fight but it is not long until the child realizes Ma-ryong is the man who killed his father. Ma-ryong decides to spare the boy decades of bitterness and stop the cancerous desire of vengeance before it can take root in the boy’s soul. Giving the boy a trident, Ma-ryong allows himself to be run through, allowing the boy to fulfill the promise he made to his father’s memory and freeing him to grow up with the gnawing thoughts of revenge that had haunted Ma-ryong all his life.

It is an interesting touch that the name of the main character Ma-ryong is generally a villain’s name (Ma literally meaning ‘devil’—Ma-ryong’s name literally means Devil Dragon). I think the point that Hwang wanted to get across is that in another story, Il-pyeong would have been the hero seeking revenge against the man who killed his father, the evilly named Devil Dragon.

I have included two links below. The first is for a website that shows the last two minutes of the film. The second is for the trailer which, to be honest, is not the better of the two things to watch. The trailer consists entirely of fight scenes and they are not the best choreographed that I have seen.

I admit that I have a hard time sitting through this style of action movie… But the ending is really quite good.

The end of Canton Viper (광동살무사 aka Kwangdong Viper)— Only visible if you have a NAVER Id… if you don’t have one, you can view the the scene near the end where Il-pyeong is goaded into stabbing his teacher– just they don’t show the very touching death scene… However, the whole movie is available to view on Youtube, so you can see it that way..


Now head over to Modern Korean Cinema and see what other films are being covered for REVENGE WEEK

Posted in 1980s, video & trailers | Comments Off

Revenge Week: Day 3

10th July 2013

Report of Daughter in Law FlowerIt is day three at Modern Korean Cinema’s REVENGE WEEK and I continue looking back at forgotten movies of past decades where vengence plays a major role. Today’s film is the awkwardly titled Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower as it is called on the KMDb but also known as Report of Cowwheat (Daum). It is a film from 1989 directed by Ryu Jae-moo and starring Na Yeong-hee. In this film, Soon-yi has tragedy after tragedy heaped on her before she finally snaps and seeks revenge. She started out as a small town girl who becomes pregnant after sleeping with her best friend, Chang-soo. However, he leaves before learning that she is carrying his child. Much later, she goes to Seoul to be with him only to be surprised that he wants nothing to do with her. Distraught, but unwilling to remove Chang-soo from her life, Soon-yi gets a job in her former lover’s company and works under him just so she can be near him. Whether or not her plan to win him back would ever work becomes a moot point when Soon-yi sees the terrible conditions at the workplace and comes to the conclusion that the workers need to unionize. This does not go over well with Chang-soo who arranges for the troublesome Soon-yi to be kidnapped and held in the red-light district to work as a sex slave.

Soon-yi does not take this quietly and she kills one of her captors in an escape attempt. This lands her in jail where her bitterness grows. Eventually released because of the circumstances in the case, Soon-yi goes back to work in the garment factory but she is harassed by the sewing machine repairman. He eventually attempts to kill her at Chang-soo’s request. She kills him first, but realizes that a second murder in self-defense, especially of a man whom she was not getting along with at work, would not be treated as leniently as her first killing. Knowing that she is likely to lose her freedom and all chances that she has at getting revenge for her predictment against the man behind it, Soon-yi goes through with her plan to kill Chang-soo who was on his way to kill her personally. Soon-yi then attempts to flee Seoul but finds she has to shoot her way out as the police are out in force to stop her killing spree. Alas, Soon-yi does not survive to see the credits role.

refusing the tofuI might not have considered this film too seriously for REVENGE WEEK except for one major point. There are points in the film where I was strongly reminded of Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. Oh, the reason for vengeance is entirely different and, let’s face it, Soon-yi is no Geum-ja. The latter planned everything down to the smallest detail while Soon-yi just has things happen to her. One of the most obvious ones is Soon-yi’s refusal of the tofu after being released from prison. If you watch any number of Korean films involving crime or gangs, you will have seen someone eating a hunk of bean curd immediately after being released from prison. This is to symbolize a new start– the pure white tofu reprsenting the ex-con’s spirit which has paid for its sin and now has the change to live ‘white’ (pure) as famously said in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance before Geum-ja drops her face in the cake. Soon-yi is having none of that. She is already planning revenge against Chang-soo and no such desire to be innocent of crime exists in her heart at that point.

The ‘Be White’ line in Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is also said here, but in a much longer style. In the trailer below you will hear Soon-yi talking with her daughter at the table and telling her to live with a “Clean heart, body and soul” to which her daughter replies that she will “be clean.” What triggered the connection for me was one small visual. You will see in the trailer a clip where Soon-yi is marching down the street wearing a spotted scarf. I thought to myself, “She looks like Geum-ja with the polka-dot dress” before realizing that there would be several other connections in the film.

Meaningful connection or not, watch Soon-yi as she lashes out against Chang-soo and his friends in the trailer for Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower… (sigh– there is just no way to make that title sound good..)

Report of the Daughter-in-Law’s Rice Flower

Posted in 1980s, Review, video & trailers | Comments Off

Revenge Week: Day 2

9th July 2013

Nothing to Lose

Over the past couple of days, I have been browsing through a huge number of revenge movies and I was left with two observations. The first is that I really needed to making a working definition of what a revenge movie is to better weed through the literally hundreds of possibilities I was looking at. The second observation was that it seemed to me that the majority of films, with the major exception of the imitation Hong Kong kung fu films, the person seeking revenge was, more often than not, a woman.. at least in revenge films made before the year 2000.

To work through the first point, I eliminated all horror films despite the fact that ghosts are generally motivated by a need for revenge. Horror is a completely different genre than what I felt the theme of REVENGE WEEK is about, despite the fact that a ghost’s motivation is almost always revenge. That does not mean that a revenge film has to be realistic. I would consider A Teenage Hooker Becomes KIlling Machine.. as a revenge flick even with its science fiction elements. Also, someone seeking revenge in a movie does not automatically make it a revenge film if the motivation is not all-encompassing. Of course, a character may give up on his or her revenge plot before it is complete, but I would still consider it a revenge movie is it was a major element in the story. I have a good example of that which I am saving for later in the week.

Since most of the films that I will be dealing with this week are about women avenging wrongs wrought by man, I decided that today I would give an example of a man seeking revenge. The image above and the trailer below are from the film I Have Nothing made in 1991. Directed by Im Seon, it is the story of Choi Kang-ta who was raised an orphan by a monk on a lonely island. The monk trains Kang-ta in how to fight, preparing him for a dangerous future. Upon reaching his 24th year, the monk explains the Kang-ta that he pulled his pregnant mother from the sea where she had been thrown by some men wishing to drown her. Unable to save her, he promised to tell Kang-ta her story when he was old enough.

Kang-ta heads to the city to find out more about his background and avenge his mother’s death. Along the way, he earns the respect of several small time swindlers and thugs and winds up putting together his own gang. This brings him to the attention of his mother’s killer, Kang-ta’s own father, who wants to see the young man dead. The older man had married Kang-ta’s mother for position and money as her father is an elderly, wealthy man–with gang ties of his own. Kang-ta’s father throws the power of the gang at his son trying to stop the young fighter from making contact with his grandfather and telling his story.

Click here to view the trailer to I Have Nothing

Now head on over to Modern Korean Cinema and see what other revenge filled flicks they are talking about!

Posted in 1990s, video & trailers | Comments Off

They Shot the Sun (1981)

9th July 2013

They Shot The Sun (1981)– director: Lee Jang-ho– Starring: Park Il, Lee Yeong-ho, Bang Hee, Lee Kyeong-shil and Kim Gi-beom. Running Time: 100 minutes. Release Date: February 25, 1982.
theyshotthesun Looking for a film to write about for REVENGE WEEK over at Modern Korean Cinema, and wanting to review I film I had not seen before, I stumbled across this title and wanted to take a look. As an action/crime movie, there was a chance it could have been revenge-themed but as it turns out, it wasn’t. Of course, I could have saved myself the time by reading the descriptions of the film available online, but then I would have missed out on seeing this exceptionally well-crafted movie.
The story begins with a collage of events– a woman praying in a church, a group of children catching insects in a field, and a drive-by shooting of a woman with an infant followed by a tearful interview of a family whose father was just found shot. These last two events we soon learn are connected. The shooting of the woman was accidental. It was the result of a struggle taking place within the care owned by the two criminals who are the stars of the film, Jong-bae and Do-seok. These two men had just kidnapped a man carrying a company’s payroll. Oblivious of the danger, the man struggled with Do-seok in the back of the car and, in the course of the fight, Do-seok’s gun went off and the woman on the street was shot. A few moments later, Do-seok ends the struggle by shooting the frightened man as well.

Returning home after spending some of their money, the pair shower their families with presents. Both men have two children and a devoted wife. Their interaction with their families reveals more about their characters– Do-seok, now guilt-ridden and determined to leave the life of crime behind, is gentle to his kids and loving to his wife. Jong-bae plays a little rough with his son and his wife is clearly less trusting of her husband although it will be revealed just how deeply she loves him at a later time. Unlike her counterpart at Do-seok’s house, Jong-bae’s wife is instantly suspicious of her husband..even before he returns home. While watching the news, she hears the story of the shooting and the type of crime committed. She immediately goes to the set of drawers in her room and discovers the gun and ammunition kept within are gone. When she confronts her husband with this fact, he spins a quick lie as to why he needed the guns and she allows herself to be convinced..or at least to pretend to be convinced.

She has the right to be suspicious. Jong-bae is an ex-con and that is where he met the Do-seok. The two seem to be a perfect match and act like they have known each other all their lives. However, when Do-seok announces that he wants to turn himself in as a murderer, Jong-bae does not hesitate to beat up his friend in a scene that I noted on a scrap of paper, “Looks like the ending of Rough Cut” — the fight takes place on a mudflat and by the end of the very long fight scene, the two combatants are so covered in mud that they are indistinguishable. In the end, Do-seok agrees not to go to the police, but neither will he join Jong-bae on any more crime sprees.

His resolve however is remarkablely short-lived. In order to make an honest living for himself, Do-seok buys a taxi. But while driving around clients one night, he hears on the car radio about another robbery/shooting of a payroll courier, this time with many witnesses present. He is so distracted by the report that he drives recklessly and causes an accident that lands him in jail. His wife comes to bail him out, but that is the end Do-seok’s attempt at an honest living.

The irony of trying to live right but winding up in prison while having gotten away scott free with murder is not lost on Do-seok and he becomes more brutal in his crimes with Jong-bae than he was before. He stands by, not even looking concerned as Jong-bae chokes an innocent man to death as part of their plot to secure a getaway vehicle for their next crime– the robbing of a bank. The plan this caper as if it were a game, joking, laughing and role-playing their way through the heist, and blindly see it as the perfect crime. However, before they are barely underway, they run into problems–namely car problems. While pretending to repair their car on the side of the road and making plans to steal another from a good samaritan, they have an encounter with a police officer who is immediately suspicious of them. This leads to a shootout and a car chase as the two robbers try to get back to Seoul where it will be easier to hide.After avoiding many roadblocks, the pair make it home, only to discover that the police had thier ID’s and know where they live.

This last part of the film is the most shocking and I will be spoiling it here. However, the movie is not available on DVD (although it really should be) and unless you are living in Korea, you are unlikely to ever come across it. For that reason– and the fact that the movie is thirty years old– I feel no pangs of conscience about revealing the end. If you don’t want to know it, skip the next paragraph.

Do-seok and Jong-bae know the police will come for them. Do-seok removes his wife and eldest son from their home and takes them to a house owned by Jong-bae–much larger than the virtual one-room dwelling the latter lives in with his wife and two children. His youngest child, an infant that does not yet know his father, is left in the care of the housekeeper. Do-seok gives his wife a long note while he leads his son upstairs. By the time she reaches the end of the letter where he explains what he is going to do, it is too late. From upstairs a shot is heard and the terrified woman dashes up the stairs begging her husband not to kill their son. It is too late. Another shot rings out as Do-seok commits suicide. For his part, Jong-bae joins the police in a firefight with his wife and children in the house. Surrounded by more than two dozen cops, plus reporters and onlookers, it looks like Jong-bae is hopelessly outgunned– until his wife picks up a gun as well and joins him in the fight, foregoing the chance to escape. However, the situation is still hopeless and they too decide on suicide to escape capture and disgrace. Jong-bae’s wife begs him to shoot her first as she cannot stand seeing her children killed and Jong-bae proceeds to shoot them one by one before turning the gun on himself. Roll credits.

This has to have been one of the most shocking Korean films I have seen from the ’80s and it was social commentaries. One of the things that I loved was the comparisons of the family dynamics. Jong-bae more violent and wild nature was making his son into the same kind of person which we see while the boy is playing with toy guns. Many children do play with toy guns, but Jong-bae’s son is especially aggressive and gleaful at the imagined bloodshed he is causing. On the other hand, he is shown doing small acts of kindness –such as given money to a homeless man unbidden- and we know there is hope and innocence still in him. The two children of the first shooting victim are also followed by this film for a time, long after they have direct impact on the plot. They are just there to hammer home the relationship and bonds between father and children perhaps to help us understand the later actions of our anti-heroes, though certainly not to condone them.

There are some excellent technical bits to this movie as well as some things that don’t quite work. The use of black-and-white while the two men are planning the bank robbery was a good choice as was making that whole scene almost–but not quite– like an interpretive dance which highlighted the fact that this scene was a fantasy and that their plan in real life was full of holes that only in their daydreams could be avoided. I was not as sold on the brief musical number near the beginning of the film, nor the filtered lens during the sex with the crazy woman on the beach scene. However, both of those scenes got me thinking that the friendship between those two cellmates was very close..and made me wonder just how close the director wanted us to think of them. This was especially the case during the sex scene where Jong-bae spends the entire time watching his non-participant friend on the beach.. the camera focused on Do-seok and moving up and down with Jong-bae’s humping of the crazy, flower-eating woman. However, the film makes nothing more of that so further speculation is useless.

I might be feeling extra-generous today– (I decided to stay home rather than type this in my office and I feel very relaxed..) — but I am giving this film nine out of ten stars. It is an excellent movie that I hope will one day get a wider audience.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

Happiness For Sale (2013)

2nd July 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Horror Stories 2 (2013)– spoiler free reaction

30th June 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Five Marines (1961)

23rd June 2013

Five Marines– Director Kim Ki-duk (1)– starring: Shin Yeong-gyun, Choi Moo-ryong, Hwang Hae, Kwak Gyu-seok and Park No-shik. Running Time: 118 minutes.
five marines 1961 Last night I had the chance to watch this classic war movie and I could not pass it up. How could I? The cast list above reads like a Who’s Who of actors from late 50s/early 60s in Korean cinema and it also included such powerhouses as Kim Seung-ho, Hwang Jeong-soon and Dok Go-seong. It was also the debut film of one of the most prolific directors of the 1960s, Kim Ki-duk. No, not the Kim Ki-duk who is directing films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter..and Spring and Pieta. This is the original Kim Ki-duk who made 66 films in the course of his 16 year career.. and 49 of them were in a 9 year period! Of course, just because he could wrap of shooting and move on to the next project quickly does not make him a great director. In fact, most of his films are just passable with a few standout movies. His best films include Barefoot Youth (1964) and South and North (1965) while his most memorable film is probably Yonggari, Monster From the Deep (1967). However, if I were to put together a list of five or so directors who best represented Korean filmmaking in the 60s, Kim Ki-duk would certainly make that list. As I said, his films may not have been the best or most creative, but they were all relatively mainstream for the time and closely followed the trends that audiences were following or the ideals the government demanded.

The Five Marines is an example of that. It follows the feeling and structure of many World War II movies made in the west just after that war. In fact, while I was watching this film, I jotted in my notes that John Wayne would have been in it if it had been made in the west– especially in some of the more unrealistic battle scenese. Now, that note might have been a little bit unfair. I do not care for John Wayne films at all and the Five Marines is better than the majority of his films as the machismo is kept to a minimum.

Of course, there is a lot of macho posturing in this film– it is almost inevitable in this type of movie where male egos compete or chaff against being a subordinate to a higher ranking officer. But it is moderated as the film attempts to humanize each of the priniciple characters with flashbacks to their home and civilian lives. We spend the most time learning about Oh Deok-soo played by Shin Yeong-gyun. He is in the unenviable position of serving on the front lines with his father as the commanding officer–a father he feels has let him down through the years prior to the war. Deok-soo is devoted to the memory of his mother. He feels his father is not doing enough to remember her. Worse, his elder brother seems to be self-destructing by taking to drink heavily and disrespecting their deceased parent by bringing home a young woman of ill-repute on the eve of the anniversary of their mother’s death. Of course, the dynamics in the Oh family household are meant to represent the situation in Korea building up to the war with Deok-soo representing the south, his brother representing the north and their mother representing the lost Joseon Empire which ended when the Japanese took control of the pennisula in 1910 and which was the last time that Korea was a whole, independent nation.

While Shin was an excellent actor, I feel this area of the film could have been improved by using a younger man to play the role of Deok-soo. At the time of filming, Shin was 33– which of course is not old at all. However, his character Oh Deok-soo is supposed to be hurt and bitter about how his father, by his inaction in punishing his older brother, seems to favor one over the other. This level of petulance, while never pretty, is at least understandable when a person is in their teens. It is far less sympathetic when a person is in their 30s and unfortunately, I just wanted to shake him and say, “Get over it!” rather than feel any empathy with him.

Each of the characters get a home seen as well and these are possibly easier for audience member to connect to as they say goodbye to their mothers, wives and/or girlfriends prior to leaving for the war. These little snippets into their personal lives are all touching in their own ways and do well to add a little bit of depth to these characters who otherwise would just be stereotypes of different age groups of parts of society. While the seen where Kim Hong-goo (Hwang Hae) leaves his elderly mother is supposed to be the most heart-wrenching, I was most interested in the goodbye-scene given to Ha Yong-gyu (Nam Yang-il). Yong-gyu, the nicest guy on the front, states at one point that he is an orphan and has no idea where he was born. When he says goodbye to the girl he loves, their are hardly any words spoken. He calls to her outside her window on the ground floor. When she goes to the window open window, the couple just hold hands, seperated by her house. I felt it was clear that the pair were not supposed to be meeting– that possibly her parents did not approve of their daughter meeting with an orphan (not an uncommon trope in Korean films from this era) and their love was in secret. It was a successful scene because I wanted to know more.

In this type of film, where a small group of soldiers volunteer for a dangerous mission for the greater good of the rest of their fellow military men, you have to expect that some, most or all will not make it back to base. This question kept me watching until the end of the movie which went rather later into the early morning than I would have liked. But it is to the movies credit that it kept me awake and curious until the end. I would give this film a 5 our of 10 stars. It is certainly a good film and representative for its time, but keep in mind that modern audiences.. who seem to have no patience for black and white films, understated special effects and slower pacing.. will probably not appreciate this movie.

Posted in 1960s, Review | Comments Off

Evil Spirit: VIY (2008)

20th June 2013

evilspiritviyEVIL SPIRIT:VIYDirected by Park Jin-seong. Starring Jeong Seung-gil, Im Ji-yeong, Hwang Taek-ha, Kim Doo-yong and Lee Se-rang. Running Time: 120 minutes. Debuted: 2008 Busan International Film Festival/ Theatrical Release Date: March 4, 2010.

I watched EVIL SPIRIT: VIY last night with absolutely no expectations of it being particularly memorable and then spent half the night and the entire morning thinking about what I saw. This story is so complex and thought-provoking that I felt compelled to search out the source material and read it to gain insights into what I saw. Director Park Jin-seong does not create an easy film which you can relax while it spoonfeeds answers to you. Instead, you have to work to make sense of the images and actions. Even though I still do not have all the answers regarding what I saw, I want to say that this was one of the most ….. (hmm– I am struggling for words here.. I wanted to type ‘most satisfying’ but I am far from satisfied and I want to know more..ah! I’ve got it!) .. one of the meatiest movies I have seen in a long time. Before discussing it further I want to say two things. First, this review will have spoilers. It has to as I want to discuss the original short story and how it compares to the film. The second thing I need to say is that this movie will definitely not appeal to everyone. If you like your films to be easy to follow, clearly linear, and to make sense at first glance.. avoid this movie. If you want to see an experimental film that demands every ounce of your attention so you can piece it together, this is a film for you. Its style reminded me of the film WRITTEN, which I also loved and thought about for a long time afterwards.

EVIL SPIRIT: VIY is based on the short story THE VIY by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). In that story, a young seminary student is forced to read prayers over the body of a witch whom he, unknown to anyone else, had killed. The witch’s corpse becomes animated each night and attempts to harm him as he sits protected in a circle of protection he drewon the ground that keeps him hidden from evil. Her attacks become increasingly more powerful until, on the last night, she summons the VIY to find him and, when it does, she unleashes the force of hell against the seminarian.

The movie version directed by Mr. Park is divided into three chapters like an omnibus, but where the stories are more connected than many such films– and connected in unusual ways, sometimes even flowing into each other. Because the main characters are played by the same actors in all three sections, the intertwining of stories may be through one of the actors suddenly playing a character from a previous chapter.. and a chapters conclusion may suddenly occur in the course of another chapter’s story. In a lesser director’s hands, this could all come across as a confusing jumble, but director Park was able to create something quite fascinating.

I will begin by explaining the second chapter, first. This is not the be in keeping with the non-linear story-telling method employed by the screenplay. It is because the second story, entitled The Witch’s Coffin (which is also the title of this movie in Korean)most closely follows Gogol’s original work. The VIY, which is the King of the Gnomes in Russian folklore, makes no appearance however, despite his importance in the short story. But most of the other elements are there including the old witch who rides her victims to death as if they were horses, the flying coffin that the ghostly witch employs to try and drive the praying student out of his circle of protection, and witch herself, beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Also one of the two tales told by the Cossaks in the novel that proved the deceased young woman was known to be a witch is recreated for the movie… and in a very interesting way. You see, this chapter of the movie was set up as a stage play with all the exaggerated speeches and motions– and bare sets– that you might find in at an arthouse stageplay or in a college production of a drama. However, when the guard begins his flashback, the curtains behind the men open up and we are treated to a movie of his memories. The movie has an entirely different feel than the set it is screened on in that it is highly realistic and set in modern times as opposed to the highly stylized, uncertain timeperiod, of the rest of the second chapter. The part of this memory when the witch enters the house was one of the few times in this film where I jumped in surprise… for the most part, it is not that kind of horror movie. I was not exactly sure what she did to the mother and child until I had read the short story.. the movie is remarkable restrained here. Now, I did not mention the end of Gogol’s short story in this review (you can go and read it online like I did) and the chapter of the film does end either– instead, it switches to the characters and ending of the first chapter which, in retrospect.. and after reading the original story.. may be the ending of this chapter as well..

The first chapter, listed as The Strange Woman.. starts off with us watching a very creepy casting tape. This tape is the first few minutes of the movie opening credits and the way it is shot filled me with dread. While there is really nothing very scary about watching the woman dancing on the screen and coming gradually closer to the camera, the music, lighting and, most importantly, the way actress Im moves is both sets the viewer on edge with the expectation that something terrible is going to happen. Viewing the casting tapes are the director and his assistant who also play the seminary student threatened by the ghost and his friend, respectively. The director, simply called ‘P’ is thoroughly unlikeable. He is demanding, insulting and sullen. Never satisfied with anything, P decides to immerse himself in the role of the witch’s victim in order to fully understand the emotions of the film he is trying to make and to then be able to express his artistic vision on screen. You see, P is trying to film a modern-day version of Gogol’s story as a business allogory. However, his obsession with the plot, and with the lead actress who sometimes appear as if she might really be possessed by an evil spirit, blur together in his mind so that reality and fantasy become blurred– for both him and for the viewer. I often found myself questioning of something was really happening, if it was only his his mind, or if it was just a scene in the movie that he was making.

The final chapter, Curtain Call, follows most closely what we have come to expect horror movies to be. It reminds me of the old horror comics I would secretly buy as a kid.. Like House of Secrets or Tales of the Unexpected. These stories often had a twist that you could see coming from a mile off but were still somehow satisfying when they got to their ’surprise’ ending. In Curtain Call, the director P/seminary student now plays the role of a blind musician nicknamed Henri. Henri has a horrible job playing guitar in a Karaoke bar of questionable repute by night and tuning pianos with his roommate by day. His only joy in life is that he has been asked to direct and play the music for a puppet show/play that it being practiced by a small troupe set to tell Gogol’s story of VIY. (Puppet shows are also mentioned in Gogel’s story as a way the seminary makes money) Each night after work, Henri is met by the beautiful lady in black who operates the puppet of the witch.. a masterpiece in itself– and she leads him back to the hall where the rehearsals take place. There he is happy, with the performers going through a beautful, ritualized dance which mimics the movements we see of the witch attempting to reach the priest-in-training as we see in the second chapter. His performance is deeply appreciated by the rest of the crew who listen in delight to his playing and he feels happy and useful- finding joy in being with his newfound friends. However, his roommate begins to worry about him and follows Henri one night to the place the puppet show is practiced. There he spies a horror he never dreamt existed (and one of the most haunting images in the film) and takes steps to try and protect his friend from a fiend from the grave.

While there are some spoilers here, there is a lot I have not mentioned and your general enjoyment and surprise of this film will not be altered by reading this review. While it is classified as a horror film, it is not really what we have come to expect horror to be and except for three scenes– the audition tape in the first chapter, the flashback in the second chapter and what the roommate saw in the third–I did not generally feel scared while watching this film. I was more fascinated in figuring out what was going on. I have a feeling that this is a film that will only benefit from multiple viewings and I have every intention to see it again in the near future. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly was to mine. I am giving this film 9 out of 10 stars.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Hotel at 00:00 (1983)

16th June 2013

Hotel at 00:00 directed by Nam Gi-nam. Starring Baek Il-seob, Choi Hee-jin, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kwon Soon-yeong, Lee Eun-sook and Byeon Hee-bong. Running time: 101 minutes. Original Release Date: May 20, 1983

zero hour hotel

My internet TV provider had added recently added Hotel at 00:00 to its horror/thriller menu. Before deciding whether or not to watch it, I checked with the KMDB to read what they have to say. Here is a description of the according to the Film Archives:
Wu Nam-ho is the second son of the head of Wuil Corporation. Nam-ho and his bride Hye-won stay at a hotel before leaving for the Canadian branch and their honeymoon. However, the bride is murdered. At this time, Sung-min, after his release from jail, kidnaps the popular singer Mun Hi-seon and brings her to the hotel. The investigators look into Hye-won’s personal life. Of the three men she dated, they suspect Dong-gu and arrest him. He confesses that he went into the room to kill Hye-won but she was already dead. It is revealed that Nam-ho is actually the murderer. A complicated relationship between Nam-ho, Hye-won, and Nam-ho’s brother became the impetus for murder.”

The Korean version of the above is an abbreviated description of a plot synopsis I read published 1985 and basically says the same thing. However, that is not what happens in this film. Yes, Nam-ho marries Hye-won and they are celebrating with their friends at a pre-honeymoon party at the hotel they will be staying at before embarking on their trip. However, it is not Hye-won who is murdered. She is not in the room when someone enters the hotel suite, interrupting Nam-ho’s shower, and slashing the handsome, young man’s throat while he gawks in surprise at his attacker. The vicious attack happens so quickly that hardly any struggle is involved. Hyewon later brings her brother in-law and his wife up from the hotel nightclub to have them say goodbye to Nam-ho, intead they find him sprawled in the bathroom, quite dead.

The police are promptly called and they begin an investigation into the unfortunate victim’s death. However, it is here that the movie gets derailed. This is namely because it gets too distracted by unrelated side plots. The most major of these is the kidnapping of the night club singer Moon Hee-seon (or Mun Hi-seon as written above). Threatened with an old-syle, straight-edged razor, Hee-seon has little choice by accompany her attacker back to his room where he reveals himself to be her ex-boyfriend. Out of prison, he has hunted her down and confronted Moon with her perceived betrayal of the love they shared when they were both youngsters on Jeju Island. He even goes so far as to insinuate that it was this betrayal the led him to a life of crime. There are a couple of reasons to have this incident taking place in the very hotel where a murder was just committed. One is to provide a red-herring suspect. The razor Seong-min is wielding as he kidnaps and continues to theaten Hee-seon looks exaclly the same as the murder weapon. The blade is the only thing we see as Nam-ho is killed.

The other reason the kidnapping case goes on far too long and we spend too much time away from the main plot is more unfortunate. The threat of rape becomes constant for Moon about halfway through the film. In her first escape attempt, Hee-seon’s dress is torn off in the most improbable and lurid fashion. For the majority of her scenes afterwards, Hee-seon is in her underwear until a kindly policeman covers her near the end. This type of uncomfortable sexual situation is what I feel often marks Korean films from this periods and makes the ’80s– and early 90’s– my least favorite period of Korean cinema. Moon’s situation is not the only example of sexual perversion in the film but the other, although more important to the film, is thankfully carefully edited and mostly implied. Apparently, Nam-ho had a fetish for whipping which turns out to be the reason for his death. It is a credit to Nam Gi-nam that, despite the sometimes uncomfortable shots of the shivering Hee-seon, she is rescued before she can be raped and that Nam-ho’s turn-on is handled with some restraint. I have not been a huge fan of director Nam’s work, but I think that is probably because most of the things I have watched from him were primarily aimed at children. For example, he was the original director of Shim Hyeong-rae’s Young-gu films and his most recent movies have featured the cast of Gag Concert (a weekly comedy series) and are also meant for much younger audience members than I.

Hotel at 00:00 (which is a title I opt to read as Hotel at Zero Hour since it sounds dramatic) is rather bland as it meanders around its plot. I mentioned the kidnapping incident, but we visit several other hotel rooms and spend a little too much time in each and this distracts from the plot which should have been the center of the film. The closing scene where the police inspectors wax profound at the slice of humanity they witness in the course of that evening seems an loose attempt to justify spending so much time away from the murder mystery, but it is too little, too late. Calling it a thriller is certainly a stretch. However, few people will be able to judge because this movie is not available on DVD.

I would give it a rating of four stars out of ten. The KMDB and Daum offer no ratings, but 4 Naver users gave it an average rating of 6 out of ten stars.. overly generous I think.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

Running Man (2013)

9th June 2013

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

PK1340521 PK1340511

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off