Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the 'Review' Category

The Woman Who Leaves Work In The Morning (1979)

12th July 2012

79-022~3The end of the 70s was an unusual, and frustrating, period of Korean film history. On the one hand you had people like Kim Ki-yeong with movies like Iodo and Neumi, pushing the envelope with experimental imagery but his commendable frankness about sex is starting to slip into near-exploitation– a fault suffered by many films of many director the 1980s. And then you have films like this which falls back on the tried, true and safe formulas of the late 60s and early 70s.  On the surface, through its title and its title, The Woman Who Leaves Work in the Morning seemed like it might have fallen into the former grouping, trying to sell the film by making it appear far more sensual than it actually is– another trend of the 80s, especially when covers were shot for the VHS markets.  This movie debut work of director Park Yong-joon who would continue to direct films until 2001 when he directed the direct to video Game Over and draws from more famous movies–or perhaps their source materials– of the past, particularly I Hate You Once Again and a little bit of Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars.  Two of the good things about this film are Ko Doo-shim in her first role and Ha Myeong-jong showing why he could easily be thought of as the Shin Sung-il of the 70s.  I did not mind watching the film for these two and the story did have some interesting moments but for the most part, it was very familar. 

Jang Soo-mi (or Jang-Mi–meanng Rose–for short) is a hostess in a bar, meaning that she sits with the male customers, pours drinks and flirts with them to ensure they keep coming back. One morning, while walking home, she encounters a young photographer and is smitten by his good looks and charm. They meet only a couple of times before the artist, Song Woo-yeol, simply moves into the small apartment that Jang Mi shares with her younger sister Yeong-ah. The elder sister is clearly in love although the two have no commitment to each other at this point, and she resents that Yeong-ah and Woo-yeol are growing quite close. It is quite innocent on the part of Yeong-ah who, although having graduated from high school, is not yet out of her teens but Woo-yeol is something of a ladies’s man and it is hard to believe his protestations of innocence–especially after Jang-mi walks in on the pair kissing. She knows that Woo-yeol cannot be in the same house as her sister, so Jang-mi makes a choice– and kicks Yeong-ah out of the apartment!

I wish, and fully expected, that more time would be spent on Yeong-ah after leaving the house. How did she live? Was she resentful? What happened to the relationship between the two sisters. But no. The film glosses it over. Yeong-ah admits her mistake, packs her bags, and leaves not appearing again.  Nor does Jang-mi bring her up in one of her moments of guilt or self-pity that she regularly has bouts of.  Instead, she and Woo-yeol become lovers. They both continue with their work and lives while living blissfully together.

However, this bliss does not last. Woo-yeol returns home to visit his father who tells him that he must marry soon.  The young photographer becomes engaged to a woman in his own economic class which, as it turns out, is considerably higher than how he presented himself. His status all but ensures that he could never realistically marry a hostess.  After calling his home to find out when he will be returning, Jang-mi learns that Woo-yeol has another girlfriend. At first infuriated, Jang-mi soon calms down after talking with Woo-yeol. He promises to come to see her the following day, which is her birthday, instead of telling her the truth, that he will be married in two days.  After she prepares her own birthday dinner and waits up for him all night, Woo-yeol finally gets around to telephoning and explaining that he could not come because he was planning his wedding.  Once again mad with rage, Jang-mi drives to the wedding site, half-intending to kill her lover for his betrayal, but becomes frozen after getting his attention after the ceremony. Not only does she not attempt to kill him, she does not even tell him that she is pregnant. 

The movie then jumps ahead approximately 6 or 7 years and the story of I Hate You Once Again starts and continues for the last 30 minutes or so of the film. Anyone familar with that classic story knows that the single mother in that story gives up her child to the father so the youngster can be raised in luxery, only for the child to be miserable for missing his real mother.

The movie ends on a note that should be somewhat happy, but somehow just seems to sudden and incomplete and while it was clearly tries to dredge up feelings of nostalgia for one’s mother, it fails miserably in doing so. I blame the child actor… he was quite bad, often looking at someone off camera and being very unconvincing in his rapid mood swings.  While not a terrible movie, it is perhaps a little too typical of early-70s film-making in Korea. If you have not seen many films from that period, you may find it interesting. But the fact that it comes after that period had already passed made the viewing experience seem a little out of date and if you are familar with 70s films, you can probably skip this one as it offers nothing new.

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Bunshinsaba (2004)

8th July 2012

166991If someone were to hand me a paper and pencil (and a wad of cash) and say that I can choose any recent movie I want to remake, I think it would be Bunshinsaba.  That is because, while there is a lot to like with this film, it is far from perfect and needs fleshing out. Even though the movie is a full two hours, I thought it would have benefited from more time. As it was, even at two hours, the story felt rushed and the cuts were quite sudden jumping from one scene to the next without transition. One part that needs more attention is the village itself. The cloistered and superstitious atmosphere of the village and its residents is key to this film, and yet 80 percent of the film is spent set in the girls’ high school and its grounds and 15 percent more is spent in the house of the psychic/hypnotist leaving very little time for the rest of the village.  I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. First a brief summary (skip the next paragraph if you are afraid of spoilers..)

The movie begins with a trio of girls preparing a seance, chanting ‘Bunshinsaba,” a chant which is used in high schools and young soldiers to someone wandering spirits. The ring leader of the group warns the others not to open their eyes during the seance as it invites the ghost into their bodies.  So, of course, someone opens their eyes…  The girl’s knew the dangers going into this as they had talked about the cursed seat in their classroom which they chose as the site of their seance and they plan to put this curse on a group of four bullies who have been harrassing them, so they had strong suspicions that the ghost they were calling, long rumored to haunt their school, was an evil spirit.   There curse seems to work as the next day one of the bullies is discovered burned to death in the classroom early the next morning. From there, the ghost goes on a murderous rampage, not stopping when the girls on the death list are all dispatched, but continuing on with a quest for revenge of its own. What is the revenge for? What is the dark secret the little village, where outsiders rarely visit and no one leaves? And what dark  connection does the ghost have with the new Art teacher?

I started out this review by mentioning that there is a lot to like in this film. One of the things are some creative visuals.  Oh, there are quite a few cliches that anyone can see coming a mile a way, but some are very well done.  I especially liked the ghost(s) in the mirror scene which, in hindsight, gives some of the first clues of what is going on. I liked the fact that no one in the film simply dismissed the claims of students to have seen a ghost as they all had reason to believe it could exist. And I liked the fact that there were still revelations coming that made sense (at least in the ground rules set by the film).

What needs fixing, more than anything else, is that editing and the lack of transitions.  Characters jump from scene to scene in completely different locations. Often they don’t show the emotions that one would expect based on the prior scene andit is a little jolting.  I imagine that if the necessary transitions were put in, the running time would increase by half and hour, but that would not be a problem. There are other things that could be cut. For example, we don’t need to see the death of every single victim of the haunting and the psychic scenes, used to provide flashbacks, could have been greatly reduced.

Actually, in my remake, the pretty young psychic would have been replaced with a more traditional shaman. The village is supposed to be steeped in superstition and fear hence everyone believing in ghosts and curses, so the modern young psychic with the beaded curtains on the doors of her very modern house seems out of place. More time really has to be spent on the village and its dark history given the events of the film. We are not even given any shots on the community to make an estimate about how big it is.. but given the size of the girls high school, I think it is quite large ..more like a small town..which doesn’t match the atmosphere the film is attempting to create. They also needed to highlight the differences between outsiders more than they did. Even though the characters presumably no who is an outsider from generations living together, we are not given any clues until one of the characters makes a point to tell us. In the remake in my head, this differentiation would not be done through dialect, but in how the characters carry themselves..their posture and their body language.

Bunshinsaba is an interesting film that goes for shock-style scares rather than a build up of suspense. In some cases, that would annoy me, but here it is tolerated because the story was not bad.  This movie is worth your time if you can track it down.. just don’t expect anything too groundbreaking. Just enjoy it for what it is..and image afterwards like I did what it could be with a good re-working of some of the elements.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

The Postcard (2007)

30th June 2012

It has been awhile since I wrote about a short film and there is really no excuse for it. Short films are my favorite movies to watch, especially when I am busy with correcting papers or other school-related work. And it is not as if there are any shortage of them. While a few years ago, viewing shorts was difficult to do outside of film festivals or the rare DVD compliation, but then the INDIEFILM television channel became available here in Jeonju. As the name implies, it airs solely independent and art films and among its offerings are numerous short films. A surprising number of these have English subtitles including the movie I caught by chance last night, The Postcard.  This touching tale was directed by Kim Joon-pyo aka Josh Kim and after watching this movie, I wish he would do more. He put an incredible amount of characterization and emotion into a film which was no mean feat considering that the entire running time he had to work with was 14 minutes.  Unfortunately, up until now, his only other work in films has been a bit part in the 2007 comedy Master Kims– a movie I forgot existed until today. The Postcard is really a moving film, bringing me close to tears twice in its short running time. The first time was when the mailman’s hopes are crushed. He goes from happiness to utter despair in the blink of an eye an it is truly heartbreaking. The second time was at the end. It is a film that shows a lot of sensitivity about a delicate topic without maudlin or unduly sentimental and it mixes in a heavy dose of humor.  It is really a movie in need of a wider audience

Actually, I had initially written a full-review of the plot and the points I liked as I had assumed most readers of this blog would not be able to see the movie.  Then I did a quick search and found that this movie had been posted, presumably legally, on Youtube with the English subtitles. I erased my summary and embedded the film below. Enjoy the movie and judge it for yourself.

Posted in 2000s, Review, short films, video & trailers | Comments Off

Guest (2010)

24th June 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Declaration of Fools (1983)

8th June 2012

declaration of foolsWow..  That was completely unexpected. Declaration of Fools, also known as Children of Darkness 2, took my by surprise with its creativity.  I remember Children of Darkness (1981) being very good, but it was nothing like its ’sequel.’  The DVD box lists a long line of film festivals and awards this movie won, and it deserves every one of them. Of course there are faults, it was the 80s after all and not the easiest time to be making films, but Lee Jang-ho crafts a deeply nuanced and entertaining film nonetheless.

Before I begin the review, I would like to point out that the DVD does not contain English subtitles. However, for about 80 percent of the film, that does not matter as the movie is silent sans music and sound effects. There is some narration in the form of a child. The boy reads his lines in a stilted monotone and uses the grammar style that elementary school students write their picture-diaries in (if you have seen many Korean movies or dramas you have probably seen these).  When the characters finally speak for the first time… more than thirty minutes in… it is jolting and actually ruins part of the mood that had been set up. I was happy when, later in the film, the director returns to the concept he began.  The child’s voice introducing the film is utilized along with children’s drawings as the opening credits role. After that, our ears are assaulted with the sounds of the 80s which include video game music, beeps and blips, Western music (most notably the song Gloria by Laura Branigan).. drowning out the sound of a traditional pansori song. Through sound, the theme of the film is introduced although we do not get directly reminded of this until the movie’s final sequences.

The movie starts with a suicide of a stranger and with that we get a better idea of our main character as he lifts the dying man’s watch in front of  a crownd of bystanders and makes off the unfortunate man’s shoes and carefully folded clothes. This is done in a mildly comical way that somehow makes his callous and criminal act seem amiable. However, his progress acts strain the good will and comedic efforts to make us like him as he next begins stalking an attractive young woman and eventually coming up with a plan to kidnap her.  Fortunately, nothing goes exactly as planned and eventually he, the young woman and a taxi driver who lost his cab are headed out into the world to enjoy their new-found freedom and make a life for themselves.

It was early on in the film, I think with the first dream sequence in the cab, that I started realizing how much like a Charlie Chaplin film this was. It was not just because Declaration of Fools is nearly a silent film. It was more to do with the similarity of the main character (Dong-cheol played by Kim Myeong-gon) to Chaplin’s Little Tramp in his expressions and exaggerated walking style. What differentiated Dong-cheol from his predecessor was a complete lack of innocence. I could not imagine Chaplin’s beloved character plotting a kidnap/rape scenario…

This is a movie that is definitely worth seeing. I was impressed with the story, the creative cinematography and music, the acting and the message. I was also deeply impressed with the risks that the director took with this film..not the least of which was adding the Blue House in the background as two of the characters completely reject society. I only wish that the people who released the DVD had added subtitles so it could more easily be understood by a wider audience. With the lack of dialogue, it would have taken about 20 minutes to translate and write the captions.  But don’t be too discouraged by the lack of subtitles. The movie relies heavily on sound and visuals over dialogue don’t need the subs to enjoy this one. THe DVD was just recently released, so if you find it, but it! You won’t regret owning this masterpiece in you collection.

Posted in 1980s, Review | Comments Off

Doomsday Book (2012)

26th May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

Sleeping Beauty (2007)

12th May 2012

347854The cover of this DVD proudly proclaims Director Lee Han-na as “the female Kim Ki-duk” though I would debate whether that is a good claim to make or not. The early works of Kim Ki-duk are well-crafted, thought-provoking albeit disturbing, stories. However, his later works have, in my opinion, been self-absorbed and lacking fresh ideas.  Which Kim Ki-duk was Lee Han-na channelling?  I am happy to report that the answer is neither. Comparing her to another director is unfair to her and Sleeping Beauty should be judged as a work on its own, not placing it in a shadow of another set of films. I really have no idea why promoters would make the claim of Lee being a female Kim Ki-duk at all..especially in hangul.  They could not possibly think saying that would sell more DVDs… the movies of Mr. Kim is not popular at all here in Korea. Perhaps writing that tag in English would have been more productive as Kim Ki-duk is very well respected in Europe and North America.

Sleeping Beauty is an omnibus tied together with a common thread of incest. Not exactly a topic for light film viewing and probably why the DVD has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it several months ago. It seemed like the kind of film I would have to be in a certain mood to watch. Well, I finally gave it a try today and, while some situations are to watch, the movie is quite good.  It manages to navigate a trecherous road and presents its subject matter without ever appearing lurid. In fact, the most shocking subject matter and situations potentially offensive to the viewing audience happen entirely within our imaginations and not splashed across the screen.  They are set up well so there is no mistake as to what is happening/going to happen, but you see nothing.  In retrospect, I don’t recall there even being any nudity within the film… a fact you would never know by looking at the poster.. The only visual that felt gratuitous and completely unnecessary is a brief two-minute scene introducing the film where a woman pleasures herself in her sleep while her phone rings annoyingly in the background.  I was unimpressed by this and could only think “Cut that out and answer the damn phone!” However, this scene also feels like it was tacked on as it has nothing to do with the common thread in the film and the character involved has nothing to do with any of the three chapters of the movie.

Yes there are three chapters. Sleeping Beauty is an omnibus. The first story is called Cousin about two pre-teens mirroring the past mistakes of their parents. Through the parents’ lives we are able to see what is in store for these two.  I was very impressed by the acting in this part of the film ..especially of the adult characters. Their subtle eye movements and body language speak volumes.. much more than their words say.  The second is called Hibernation in which a struggling farmer takes care of her father who is in the advanced stages of dementia. His single moment (?) of lucidity is shocking and infuriating at the same time with his simple words of “I win” but subsequent events make it useless for the main character to feel the anger for long. This was the hardest of the three segments to watch. Finally, there is Sleeping Princess, the story of a young Chinese girl ‘adopted’ into a Korean family in the countryside when her mother goes to marry a man in Busan. The first night she is made to sleep with her new ‘father’ who is more than twice her age and has a grandson the same age as she. He is abusive and uncarrying, but also dangerously jealous of the growing friendship between the two young people.

I am avoiding writing details about the movie because it is something that you should track down and see for yourself. I was, however, very satisfied at the conclusion. The movie had made me think and evoked an emotional response.. two things I require from a film. The subject matter may be very disturbing, but I strongly recommend Sleeping Beauty for mature viewers.

Posted in 2000s, Review | Comments Off

Dancing Cat (2011)

22nd April 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010s, Review | Comments Off

The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars (1974)

1st April 2012

74-062~1The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars was based on the work of novelist Choi In-ho and inspired two sequels. It won numerous film awards including prizes forBest New Director at the 1974 Grand Bell Awards, and the 1975 Baeksang Art Awards where it also won Best Cinematography. Not only that, this movie screened at the 24th Berlin International Film Festival.  It would seem as of this would be a hard act to follow for debuting director Lee Jang-ho, but that turned out not to be the case.  Lee would follow this up with such masterpieces as A Good Windy Day, Children of Darkness, Knee to Knee and, of course, Lee Jang-ho’s Baseball Team.  Incidently, Chilren of Darkness will be released later this month on DVD but, like today’s feature, it will be sans subtitles.  That is a shame because these older films have a lot to offer, not only in potential stories, but in history as the backgrounds, fashions and culture of Korea of decades past comes to life before our eyes.  In the case of The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars, the background takes on a life and is actually blamed by the author for its callous treatment and the eventual destruction of Kyeong-ah. 

Personally, I have a hard time blaming Seoul for the turn of events. Rather, the downfall of Kyeong-ah can be blamed on the rigid morality and double standards of men at the time– at least in films.  Kyeong-ah’s early life seems very happy and as a young woman, she is wooed by her true love Yeong-seok.  In fact, the two seem perfectly suited for each other and they have an understanding that they will be married until that fateful night Kyeong-ah gives into Yeong-seok’s persistant demands for sex.  That night started a double tragedy for the young, vulnerable woman.  First, it did far more than rob her of her virginity which by 1974 was not enough to get a heroine dumped by her lover, but it left her pregnant and forced her into a backroom abortion clinic.  Yeong-seok never looked at her again without feeling guilt and that effectively destroyed his love for her although she loved him with all her heart right up until her last breath. The second major influence that night had on Kyeong-ah was that it began her reliance on alcohol. To take the edge off her nerves as she became determined to satisfy Yeong-seok, Kyeong-ah turned to drink for the first time.  This reliance on liquor becomes more severe as the years progress until she is a full-blown alcoholic. 

Alcohol ruined more than one subsequent relationship after Yeong-seok’s marriage to another woman.  Kyeong-ah began seeing a much older widower and soon marries him. Moving into his enormous house must have seemed like a dream come true until she realizes that she is living in the shadow of his first wife. While her husband is on a business trip, she throws out everything belonging to the deceased woman, Kyeong-ah’s happiness is cut short due to their first fight and her drunken explanation as she drinks heavily to get the courage to explain herself. Although her husband, who loves her deeply forgives her and much of her past, he cannot live with her when he later discovers that she had an abortion.  Her pleas for him were reaching him even as he was leaving out the door, until he realizes that she is in a drunken state. Rather than let him go, Kyeong-ah says that she will leave on her own, and this leads down a road to ruin.

Not having any way to earn a living, Kyeong-ah needs a way to support her habit. It is because of her reliance on drinks that she falls under the control of the dangerous pimp Dong-hyeok who tatoos his name on her as if she is his property when she tries to escape.  It is at this stage in her life when the other main character enters the picture, artist Kim Moon-ho. His one night stand with her turns into a continuing relationship which gives Kyeong-ah the courage to escape from her life as a prostitute and try for respectability.  However, she cannot escape from herself or her memories. Her addiction to alcohol and her past regrets are both destroying her from within… as is a case of TB she picks up along the way…

In the movie, we are actually introduced to Moon-ho first and it is through him that we learn of Kyeong-ah’s life. In fact, in the opening scene, Moon-ho is carrying a box of ashes wrapped in white, so we know right from the start that things are not going to end well for the tragic young woman. Her entire life is told as a flashback within a flashback.  At some points in the film, we are actually four levels deep in flashbacks as the Moon-ho remembers Kyeong-ah when they were together telling him about the time she told her husband about how she became pregnant.  The movie continues like this jumping in and out of various depths of the past, but due to the director’s skill, it is never confusing. 

Some quick research reveals that the first of the two sequels deals with Moon-ho who is suffering from TB as well and has met a new lover– Soo-kyeong– who suffers from mental problems. Soo-kyeong has a baby and at first claims that it is Moon-ho’s daughter (and he, in a nice bit of continuity, promptly names her Kyeong-ah), but it would turn out that Soo-kyeong is lying and Kyeong-ah is not his child.  The second sequel (The Heavenly Homecoming of the Stars 3) follows the life of the sole remaining living character at the end of the second film, Soo-kyeong and what leads to her unhappy marriage and death. 

One can only hope that these movies will also be released on DVD at sometime in the near future..maybe as part of a Heavenly Homecoming collection. Is that asking for too much?

Posted in 1970s, Review | 2 Comments »

Drifting Islands (1960)

19th March 2012

drifting islandsIt was with high expectations that I started watching Drifting Islands this past Sunday.  After all, it is part of the excellent Landscape After the War DVD collection which included The Widow, Flower in Hell and Money. Each of the films in this set looks at the struggle to survive in a country freshly out of a devastating war and in the throes of confusing and often painful changes. However, I was a little disappointed with this movie. It may have been the running time, at 124 minutes, may have been too long and the film could have been trimmed or it may have been the changes made to the movie from its source material. You see, Drifting Islands was based on a novel by Park Kyeong-ri… but the director wanted to make the movie more melodramatic and to create a love story based on the ideal of love rather than the realism of the novel and of Korean society at the end of the 50s when it was written. The movie focuses on Kang Hyeon-hee and her struggles for survival, not just for herself but for her elderly mother and young daughter as well. In doing so, she opens a coffee shop which instantly lowers her social status. This may be a point that would seem strange to people who have never been to Korea, or those who have only been in Korea for the past few years. Before Starbucks, Angel In Us, Tom and Tom, Cafe Benne and dozens of other coffee shop chains colonized Korea, the expression “coffee shop” was interchangable with “dabang.”  These days, in Korean movies and dramas, you will often see “dabang girls” delivering coffee on the back of scooters to customers who call them and they have a reputation for being friendly for a little extra money. This is not the case with all dabangs, but just how “friendly” depends on the place for which they work .  In the movie, the establisment of  Ms Kang..or Madame Kang as she is called by her customers… is above reproach, although one or two of her employees do not help the reputation of coffee shops at that time. Kang’s former classmates even ask her cattily, after being invited to visit the shop, if it is the type of place a lady can visit.  Women of breeding simply did not go to coffee shops without risking their reputation.

But Kang Hyeon-hee has another fact working against her that lowers her social status even further. She is a single mother. At the time, it was not uncommon for women to be raising children alone…the war had claimed the lives of many fathers. However, her daughter was born out of wedlock. Both she and her boyfriend were struggling university students who started to live together to save money.  Their baby was an accident and there was not time to get married when the war broke out.  Hyeon-hee’s mother does not condemn her daughter for her choices and loves her grand-daughter, perhaps more than Hyeon-hee does. When advising one of her employees on an unwanted pregnancy, Hyeon-hee tells her to “get rid of it and live your own life.”  Not quite the words one would expect to hear from a doting mother nor one who named her coffee shop ‘Madonna’ which brings to mind images of a loving, self-sacrificing mother.

Then again, Hyeon-hee says a lot of things that may have  been surprising at the time and were perhaps leftovers from the source novel. For example, when discussing chastity with one of her employees, Hyeon-hee states bluntly “Chastity isn’t important” and even her addition of “but [sex] should be together with love” does not mitigate just how far removed her stance is from the ideal of ‘one love” that is often seen in films from around the world.  Later, a male character states the “Chastity is the most important thing to a woman” showing clearly the 1950s ideal of romantic love from a male perspective. 

According to the information supplied by KOFA with the DVD, the novel was popular for the very reason that it was based on reality. In the novel, Hyeon-hee gives up all notions of romantic love with a married man and settles for stability with a different man before giving up on him as well and choosing simply to live for herself.  In the movie, the undying love between Hyeon-hee and the married Sang-hyeon is the most important aspect of the film. Sang-hyeon takes some drastic, life-changing steps to ensure that their love will have a chance.  The second man who holds a prominent part in the novel, is reduced to a kindly, family friend whom I was not aware was meant to be in love with Hyeon-hee. 

While the story was watered down to cater to what audiences of 1950/60s melodramas expected–idealized love– there were some great performances in this film. Outshining both lead actors was Uhm Aeng-ran in the supporting role of Gwang-hee. Her character was hopelessly in love with a selfish, drunken poet of limited prospects. Her story even gains precedence over the main plot at one point in the film as Gwang-hee’s life becomes a “what if…” version of Hyeon-hee’s.  What if Hyeon-hee had had an abortion? What if Hyeon-hee had taken that extra step with the coffee shop and become a “fallen woman” –her words– as she threatens to do on more than one occassion.  Through Gwang-hee’s tragedy, we can see what would have happened, as well as the dangers the filmmaker (or novelist) felt inherent in  straying too far from what was socially acceptable.

I am not sure who is the actress, but Miss Yoo in the coffee shop is made into an interesting bit character through talent of the woman playing her. She does not have many lines, but her glances, expressions and body language elevate her and give her more of a personality than some people who have much more screen time.

This is not a bad film, but one I think I would have enjoyed more if I were actually familar with the novel and were able to compare and contrast the two while watching.

Posted in 1960s, Review | Comments Off