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Posts Tagged ‘Korean cinema’

Seoul Station

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

By now most horror fans have experienced or heard about the greatness of TRAIN TO BUSAN, the 2016 South Korean fast-zombie-plague movie. If you’re in the latter category, I know it’s easy to believe the hype but still feel no urgency to see it, because yeah, I get it. Zombies on a train. So I’ll just say again that while it’s impressive that it made me think “Okay, it turns out I do want another fucking zombie movie,” the real achievement is making me so attached to the characters and attuned to the tragedy of their horror movie circumstances that I produced actual tears near the end. Have I ever cried from a horror movie before? Not that I remember.

When I went to write the review I was surprised to learn that writer/director Yeon Sang-ho’s previous movies were all animated. He’d been doing animated shorts since the ‘90s, before the features KING OF PIGS (2011), THE FAKE (2013). Even more interesting, TRAIN TO BUSAN is sort of a sequel or tie-in to an animated feature called SEOUL STATION that Yeon did immediately before it. I didn’t realize it had come out in the U.S. until I noticed it streaming on Shudder. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lady Vengeance

Friday, March 13th, 2020

(contains heavy spoilers for 15 year old movie)

LADY VENGEANCE is the RETURN OF THE JEDI of director Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy in that it’s the third one (after SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and OLDBOY), it’s loaded with delightful elements, and it’s my favorite even though most people probly say the second one is the best. It begins with a woman named Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yung-ae, JOINT SECURITY AREA) being released early from prison. She’s a national media sensation because of the mismatched combination of the horrible crime she was convicted of (murdering a five-year-old boy) and her youthful appearance of “unabashed naivety.” She got wall-to-wall news coverage, there was a trend of wearing polka-dot dresses like hers, tabloids compared her to Olivia Hussey.

(I wonder what Olivia Hussey is known for in South Korea? ROMEO AND JULIET? BLACK CHRISTMAS? Or maybe a random one like TURKEY SHOOT is huge there?)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

Monday, March 9th, 2020

(heavy spoilers)

Recently my editor at Rebeller asked me to do a column on Park Chan-wook’s so called “Vengeance Trilogy.” I had seen and reviewed OLDBOY long ago, but somehow never got to SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and LADY VENGEANCE. I’m glad I watched them, and I thought they would be worth delving into further. That was a good column, but I’m officially reviewing them for posterity now.

In case you, like me, managed to hear 18 years worth of praise for MR. VENGEANCE without actually finding out what it was about, here goes. It’s the story of Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun, THE VILLAINESS), a deaf and mute young man who dropped out of art school to work at a factory because his sister (Im Ji-eun) needs a kidney transplant. He’s not a match, but he’s saving up his money in case they find a suitable donor. He’s able to narrate the story through letters he sends to a DJ to read on the air, and he’ll sit with his sister as she listens to the broadcasts. (read the rest of this shit…)

Parasite

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

This is a rare one for me: I saw PARASITE having no clue what it was about at all. Completely fresh. I saw the trailer 1 (one) time and didn’t understand what was going on. But I liked the three movies I’ve seen by director Bong Joon-ho (SNOWPIERCER) enough to just take the hype at its word and go see it. And since two of those movies (THE HOST and OKJA) are strange creature movies I honestly didn’t even know if the title was a metaphor or if there was also going to be an actual parasitic monster at some point.

Anyway it’s not a huge surprise twist movie or anything, but I enjoyed the lack of expectations. So I guess only read this if you’ve seen it or don’t care about that. (contains spoilers, mostly vague.)

It’s the story of the Kim family – father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik, TRAIN TO BUSAN) and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam, THE SILENCED) – who seem to take economic struggle in stride. They live together in a cluttered basement infested by stink bugs, with a window facing an alley where they often see a drunk guy peeing. In the opening scene they discover that their neighbor added a password to her wi-fi, but they can connect to a nearby cafe if they crawl into the top corner of the apartment on the raised platform with the toilet. Which is important because they need WhatsApp to communicate with the young manager of Pizza Generation (Jung Yi-seo) who pays them to fold boxes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bedevilled

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

BEDEVILLED is a powerful South-Korean film from 2010 about a disastrous reunion between childhood friends on the tiny, barely populated island of Mu-do. From the cover I expected something more gothic and intensely gory, and maybe supernatural? But it’s not like that. It’s all leading up to a bloodbath, so I wouldn’t deny its horror credentials. But it mostly plays out as a very involving character drama. So keep that in mind if planning a Halloween celebration.

It’s definitely a morality tale. Hae-won (Ji Sung-won, EMPIRE OF LUST) is a young bank worker in Seoul. At the beginning she coldly refuses to loan to a woman who’s about to lose her home. It reminded me of DRAG ME TO HELL, but she doesn’t get cursed for it, and she’s not doing it under professional pressure. In fact when she steps out her co-worker takes over and does help the woman. So it establishes her lack of compassion. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Villainess

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

THE VILLAINESS is LA FEMME NIKITA with a little KILL BILL by way of South Korean cinema. A young woman with a troubled past has her identity erased, is trained to kill for the government, put undercover, given a mission, trying to earn her freedom. But she was already pretty damn good at killing before the feds got involved. They capture and recruit her after an incredible opening massacre, done in her POV – it’s first person shooter/slasher/stabber/kicker-through-window – until she sees herself in a mirror, then gets her head smashed into it and the perspective separates from her body, rotating around her as she continues to fight, mostly using gym equipment (the jump rope is my favorite) as weapons.

As her captivity, training and missions are depicted in somewhat elliptical fashion, the events leading up to that rampage also come out piece-by-puzzle-piece in flashbacks, not even in chronological order within themselves, and with some characters played by different actors in different periods. I find the story at times confusing and overcomplicated, but still compelling. Even if I didn’t, I’d still call THE VILLAINESS a must-see for the most audacious, envelope-pushing action filmatism I’ve seen in quite a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Yellow Sea

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

THE YELLOW SEA is a movie about desperation. In the zone between China, Russia and Korea a man named Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo, the killer from THE CHASER) works a miserable job for criminals, enslaved by debt after they got his wife over the border into South Korea for him. She hasn’t sent word back, or the money she was supposed to; every time he mentions her, people tell him she must be a prostitute or remarried. But he never stops waiting for her.

Then one day, salvation. Well, not really. Not at all. But his bullying handlers introduce him to Jung-hak Myun (Kim Yoon-seok, the actual chaser in THE CHASER), who has a job Gu-nam can do to erase the debt. Myun is not to be trusted, but he has a great charisma. He feels authentic in his casual bonding by talking shit about “the bastards” Gu-nam is indebted to.

Of course the job is to kill a guy in South Korea. Memorize an address, go there, kill him, cut off a thumb to prove he did it. Keep the receipts, in other words. I’m not so sure his servitude is what pushed him far enough to say yes. I think it’s more the notion that he can look for his wife while he’s there. Kill two birds with one stone. Or kill one bird with one stone but use the same stone to try to find another bird. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Chaser

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

THE CHASER opens with an escort getting in a car with a john. We don’t see what happens after that, just that she doesn’t come back. Many days pass – we know this from the amount of parking tickets attached to the car when Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok, THE YELLOW SEA) finds it abandoned on a winding road in the Mongkol District.

“You bitch,” he says. “If I find you, you’re dead.” And it cuts to the title. THE CHASER.

So this guy is The Chaser. Cool, I thought. This tough-as-nails detective is on the trail of a serial killer, and he’s not messing around!

Ha ha. Not quite. Come to find out he’s a pimp. It’s her he’s threatening to kill. A bunch of his employees have gone missing, and he thinks they’re running out on him. He sees it as a personnel problem. Not to be preachy but in my opinion pimping is not a respectable line of work, and he performs this immoral vocation in the style of a heartless corporate boss, or an Ebenezer Scrooge.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Wailing

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

tn_wailingTHE WAILING is a long, moody, unpredictable South Korean film about a terrible evil coming to a small fishing town in the mountains. The plot is fairly simple, there’s not that much to it, but I like how it takes you very gradually from naturalism to a bit of craziness.

It’s one of those openings that made me immediately think this might be a great movie even before anything actually happened. It just has this potent transporting quality as it depicts this hapless cop Jong-goo get up early to investigate a crime scene. Rain is coming down hard, you can hear it in every direction. He’s still trying to wake up, and he’s not in any hurry. And then he gets there and all the officers are sheltered under their tent-like rain coats, walking through and cataloging the aftermath of a horrific murder, and unlike the usual depiction of seen-it-all cops barely phased by dead bodies (while one minor character kneels down and pukes to show that this is an extra bad one) we see Jong-goo’s terrified expressions as he witnesses the increasingly bizarre circumstances of the deaths.

This is our hero. Not some badass. Just a guy. And it endears us to him so that we’ll relate all through the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Train to Busan

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Most of the great zombie movies are not as much about zombies as about people and what they do when they band together and try to survive. This is the case with TRAIN TO BUSAN, last year’s South Korean smash hit about the passengers on a train during a sudden ghoulification outbreak.

It centers on this dude Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo, THE SUSPECT) who is kinda like John McClane in that he’s fucked things up with his family because of his work and you kinda feel sorry for him and know he wants to fix things even though to be honest he shoulda known better. But he’s unlike McClane in that he’s a handsome well-dressed fund manager guy. Totally different color of collar. Come to think of it he literally had a white collar because I noticed the tall collar on his shirt looked cool.

Anyway he’s got a bunch of shit going on at work but he reluctantly agrees to bring his young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) on the train to Busan to see her mother, because it’s her birthday and she kept threatening to go by herself and then he really blew it when trying to buy her a good present. (read the rest of this shit…)