Posted tagged ‘k-cinema’

Film Review: Mother (2009)

November 11, 2010

Mommie Dearest
(or, Omma Goodness, WHAT a Movie.)

by Ender’s Girl

The Cast:
Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Je-moon, Jeon Mi-seon, Song Sae-byeok

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho and Park Eun-kyo / Barunson & CJ Entertainment, 2009

In a Nutshell:
When a mentally disabled man is implicated in the brutal killing of a high school girl, his widowed mother moves heaven and earth to find the proof that can exonerate her only son.

(SpoilLert: Nothing spelled out, if ya know what I mean…)

How far will you go to prove a loved one’s innocence? How much can you sacrifice in exchange for their freedom?

Dangling the irresistible, two-for-one lure of a family drama encased in a taut whodunit, the film Mother hijacks your interest like a hefty block of granite inexplicably hurled your way from inside a dark alley one moonless night, resembling a monstrous projectile spewed forth by a malice-filled cave. If such a thing happened to you, as it does to one of the characters in the film’s most pivotal scene, would you step closer to the crevice, or scuttle away in dread? You know that whoever threw the rock still waits in the shadows — but it isn’t clear if their purpose is to bait you, or frighten you away, or maim you irreparably — or even kill you. Even then, would you dare risk the unknown? Would you cross over and enter?

To bite the bait is to follow a trail that snakes past grimy backstreets and up narrow, crumbling stairways that open into a deserted rooftop overlooking Seamy Town, Korea. Daybreak is just hours away, and by then this same rooftop will be swarming with police and forensic personnel examining a dead teenage girl’s body, bent awkwardly over the balcony wall and with her skull bashed in. A telling piece of evidence points to the village idiot, a 28-year-old mentally retarded man named Do-joon (Won Bin) who lives with his herbalist/acupuncturist mother Hye-ja (Kim Hye-ja) in their ramshackle home downtown. After eyewitnesses finger Do-joon as having been in the vicinity shortly before the girl’s death, the material evidence — a golf ball on which Do-joon had written his name just the day before — appears to be the incontrovertible proof of his guilt.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

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Movie Smackdown (Part 2): Crows Zero (2007 & 2009) vs. Volcano High (2001)

October 1, 2010

Battlefield High School

Part Two: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

by Ender’s Girl

[Read Part One of Smackdown: Counting Crows, Feuding Foes]

Volcano High / Hwasango

The Cast:
Jang Hyuk, Shin Min-a, Kim Soo-ro, Kwon Sang-woo, Gong Hyo-jin, Byeon Hee-bong, Heo Jun-ho, Kim Hyung-jong, Jeong Sang-hun, Chae Shi-ah

Directed by Kim Tae-gyun / Sidus & Cinema Service, 2001

In a Nutshell:
Not-quite-your-average teener Kim Kyung-soo’s expulsion from school for the eighth time (for disrupting class with his powers, tsk) lands him in Volcano High, an elite institution for other preternaturally gifted kids. But a nefarious plot soon sows chaos within the school administration and the already fractious student body, while an even graver and darker threat looms right outside the walls. Though determined at first to keep out of trouble (this time), Kyung-soo finds himself – and his vast, if still-unripe powers – left standing between his school and its oppressive new regime.

(SpoilLert: Very spoilery.)

After watching the Crows Zeros I was still feeling… dissatisfied despite being left near insensate by the visual and aural overload the films had dumped on me. So I rummaged through my Asian drama stash for two old VCDs that must’ve been buried under the newer arrivals. I found the discs still in their dusty case, exactly the way I left them ages ago.

My first encounter with Volcano High was in the early/mid-Noughties (just as my Hallyu obsession was reaching its peak), and I found it to be a breezy, entertaining popcorn flick that had the perfect blend of action and comedy with just a dash of romance and lightly — very lightly — sprinkled with interesting psycho-social insights. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my viewing satisfaction had not diminished over time – in fact it had increased, because now I could better appreciate the little details in the story, acting and production design.

I also realized, after having seen the Crows Zeros, why Volcano High stands up in the litmus test of multiple viewings and doesn’t feel stale or tedious to watch – even several years down the road. And the difference is predicated on two key elements absent from Miike Takashi’s Crows Zero films: a high school that feels like high school (despite the fantasy elements), and a likable protagonist with a well-developed story trajectory.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Film Review: White Night / Baekyahaeng (2009)

July 25, 2010

White Queen, Black Pawn: A Korean Chiaroscuro

by Ender’s Girl

[Note: this film review also serves as a comparison post for White Night and the 2006 J-drama Byakuyakou. For a primer, click to read my Byakuyakou review]

The Cast:
Han Suk-kyu, Son Ye-jin, Go Soo, Lee Min-jeong, Park Seong-woong, Cha Hwa-yeon, Jeong Jin, Bang Joong-hyeon

Directed by Park Shin-woo; Adapted screenplay by Park Shin-woo and Park Yeon-seon / Cinema Service & Pollux Pictures, 2009

In a Nutshell:
The mysterious death of a convicted blackmailer — officially ruled as a suicide — inadvertently disentangles a snarl of perfect, untraceable crimes that have lain buried for fourteen years, and that may or may not have been perpetrated by… a 14-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.

(SpoilLert: Very spoilery for those who haven’t read the original novel or seen the 2006 J-drama adaptation.)

[Recommended companion track: “Light and Shade” by Fra Lippo Lippi… no just kidding, lol]

Chiaroscuro: An effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Who knew that the main theme from “Swan Lake” could serve as the PERFECT backdrop for both… murder and sex? The opening sequence of Park Shin-woo’s 2009 film White Night is a stark juxtaposition of these two disparate events: a beautiful woman makes love to her man on the immaculate white sheets of her bed, while a man in black garrotes a seedy-looking ex-con in his seedier-looking digs.

As Tchaikovsky’s iconic score sweeps into its emotional crescendo, you realize with disconcerting clarity that murder and sex actually have much more in common than you’d like to think. Both are extremely physical acts involving the use brute force with each jerk, twist and thrust; both are also highly intimate acts wherein one invades the personal space of the other, and bits of soul are exchanged in the process. Little or no dialogue gets said, but the grunts and pants of exertion are heard as the participants engage in the single-minded consummation of The Act. Everything else is obliterated until climax is achieved; and whether it comes as death or orgasm, the physical manifestations are indistinguishable: the paroxysmal stiffening of the body, the voiding of body fluids, even the sacrificial shedding of blood. So is the aftermath the same: the slackening of the body muscles and the emptying of the mind as inactivity and quiet settle over the persons involved.

If anything can be inferred from this opening sequence, it is that something so life-extinguishing as a killing, and something so life-affirming as the act of lovemaking, are but two sides of the same coin, two opposites aligned in perpetual syzygy. This duality is more than a stylistic one; more importantly it is a thematic one, for within all of us is that inbuilt mechanism that enables us to swing from one antipode to the other through the choices that we make: Life or death… Love or hate… Vice or virtue, purity or depravity… Black or white, light or darkness, sun or shadow. And it is this “fearful symmetry” of the human condition that the film White Night unsparingly takes us through, zeroing in on two individuals who turn into the victims and the transgressors in their own tragic tale. This is their story.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Film Review: Chaw (2009)

March 30, 2010

SOME PIG
aka Chomp!!! (There It Is!)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the, uh, foliage…

by Ender’s Girl

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The Cast:
Uhm Tae-woong, Jung Yoo-mi, Jang Hang-sun, Yoon Je-moon, Park Hyuk-kwon

Co-written and directed by Shin Jung-won / Soo Jack Films, 2009

In a Nutshell:
Giant man-eating mutant boar terrorizes Korean village!!! (OMNOMNOMNOMNOM!!!!!)

(SpoilLert: OMNOMNOMNOMNOM!!!!!)

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Through the mist, through the woods
Through the darkness and the shadows

It’s a nightmare but it’s one exciting ride…

Monster movies usually make for unapologetically diverting, if dopey, fun. And Chaw, the 2009 creature feature from writer-director Shin Jung-won, delivers a solidly entertaining two-hour chomp — er, romp through the rolling meadows and orange orchards of rural Korea — and into the dense coniferous forests beyond, where the, um, Wild Things Are.

(This film was a rec from my best friend, and though I’m not the biggest fan of the horror-comedy genre, I soon found myself in a late-night mood for the random munching of body parts that Chaw promised. And Uhm Tae-woong and Jung Yoo-mi together in a monster flick? Now, how cool is that!!!)

MOAR BOAR!!! MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Film Review: Rough Cut / Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada (2008)

November 26, 2009

Rough Cut: One Smooth Ride, Coming Up

by Ender’s Girl

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The Cast:

So Ji-sub, Kang Ji-hwan, Hong Soo-hyeon, Ko Chang-seok

Directed by Jang Hoon; Screenplay by Kim Ki-duk and Ok Jin-gon / Kim Ki-duk Film, 2008

In a Nutshell:
A chance encounter between a gangster and a movie star blurs the boundaries between their very different worlds — with somewhat disturbing consequences.

(SpoilLert: No whoppers, yay.)

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I watched Rough Cut with my best friend, and it was totally worth the hypothetical dinero we would’ve shelled out had we gone and seen the film in theaters (which we obviously didn’t, because (1) we live in a different climate zone for Pete’s sake; and (2) downloading rawwwks, baybeh). But I can see why Rough Cut attracted Korean moviegoers and made a killing at the box office: it’s fast-paced and entertaining, with badass fight choreography and strong, solid (and not to mention award!!!-winning!!!) performances from Messrs. So Ji-sub (as the gangster, Gang Pae) and Kang Ji-hwan (as the movie star, Soo Ta).

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The premise is a funny little switcheroo of sorts: think “The Prince and the Pauper” meets Wife Swap meets Trading Places. You have a gangster who secretly longs to be an actor, and an actor who behaves like a gangster — fanciful, yes, but interesting. And there’s a certain droll symmetry to the characters of Gang Pae and Soo Ta: on one hand you have this moody, dispassionate gangster with a strange code of honor, and then you have this reckless, licentious movie star whose gets embroiled in the consequences of his own actions. The movie is rife with point/counterpoint metaphors and visual imagery — black outfits vs. white, underworld vs. celluloid, real vs. reel, gangsta vs. film star — to an almost exaggerated degree (but then, with characters literally named “Gangster” and “Star,” I doubt the writers were aiming for any kind of subtlety here). Obviously this style was meant to underscore the contrast between their stations in life, as well as their respective ways of dealing with the repercussions of their choices, which inevitably spiral out of control as the story progresses. And by the time the movie’s climax comes to a head, you’re left breathless and transfixed.

Click to see who likes to play in the mud. Tsk, tsk. MOAR!!! after the jump…

Film Review: The Duelist / Hyeongsa (2005)

November 3, 2009

Dreaming of The Duelist

by Ender’s Girl

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The Cast:
Ha Ji-won, Kang Dong-won, Ahn Sung-ki, Song Young-chan

Written and directed by Lee Myung-se / Korea Pictures, 2005

In a Nutshell:
Undercover detectives Ahn and Namsoon are hot on the trail of a counterfeiting syndicate that is fast paralyzing the Joseon economy. Complicating matters is the entrance of a mysterious and deadly swordsman who stands in the way of their investigation.

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What I loved most about this film was the breathtaking beauty of the visuals and the heavily stylized direction. It’s as if I had walked into a dream… The movie has the feel of a graphic novel on celluloid (like Frank Miller’s 300, for instance), or a stage play translated to film. Director Lee Myung-se reveals his proclivity for the theatrical with his use of dramatic tableaus, vivid colors and striking contrasts in scene rendering and composition, and especially the interplay of light and shadow. This third aspect is particularly used to enhance the atmosphere of the duel scenes between Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) and the mysterious swordsman, whom we only know as Sad Eyes (Kang Dong-won) — and we see this in the clash of blades, the glint of steel, the shadows and silhouettes. Super cool…

Enter the Dreamscape