Tag Archives: Korea

The Chaser: Korea Keeps Kickin’ It

Should I ever be surprised now when Korea delivers with another amazingly dark and heart pumping thriller movie? I think at this point I just accept that those Krazy Koreans know just how to do it right. Chan Wook-Park and the Revenge Trilogy, I Saw The Devil, and now The Chaser. I hadn’t heard much about this one, but now I will actively be on the lookout for Na Hong-jin after this one. In his debut film, we are

A pimp pushed to the edge to use his strong hand.

introduced to a sadistic killer and a former cop turned pimp and his desire to get back his employees. With a seedy feeling underneath the whole thing, this movie explores the shortcomings of the justice system in catching what’s right in front of them.

As I said before, Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is an ex-cop turned more lucrative business owner of a ladies of the night agency. He has recently been sending his ladies to the same man and they don’t seem to be coming back to him. This troubles him (he is losing money, after all) and he starts actively seeking out this man stealing his livelihood. What he discovers is something far worse. Based on an actual serial killer in Seoul, Ha Jung-woo plays Je Yeong-hee, a young and aspiring serial killer being looked for for years. This game of cat and mouse just got more dangerous.

The deranged serial killer. Chilling.

And what I liked about it were the stakes. Yeong-hee admits to the murders and the police find he’s a serial killer they’ve been looking for for a while. Eom Jonng-ho brings him in (well, he beats him in) and demands they arrest him and find his women. But there is a justice dilemma that favors Yeong-hee. There’s no evidence, and he was beaten severely, against fair and humane punishment laws. He was treated poorly and, without a warrant, they can’t hold him for very long. With a ridiculous police scramble for evidence, Eom Jonng-ho uses his police skills from way back when to find the conviction.

That’s a pretty good hog-tie right there.

This movie is very twisted in the same way that it is a bit more refined and elegant. There’s not too many bloody dismemberment scenes or gory, blood spurting elements to it. It’s very brutal with the beatings and depravity of it, but it holds back on the reigns when it comes to showing things. It is more of a Streets of Seoul type of film than having to do with a slasher film. The police and “ex-police” call the shots and do all they can to uphold justice. It was an interesting change of pace.

The justice beatdown dance.

A lot of the Korean actors in this film I wasn’t familiar with from other films. The daughter, Eun-ji was from Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, but that was about all I recognized. It was nice to see new faces that I can start to follow like I do with Choi Min-sik, Lee Byung-hun, and Song Kang-ho. Those guys are really legitimate good thriller/action actors, and I’m glad their work is recognized, even over here.

What I don’t appreciate is the fact that U.S. movie makers in Hollywood think it’s cool to remake these movies in a more American way. They’re planning to remake The Chaser with Leo DiCaprio as the leading man. Martin Scorsese in the the talks for directing. It’s gonna be an Infernal Affairs/ The Departed situation all over again. The original Asian make was just fine, why go and jumble it up with a poor remake that attempts to improve on the one before? Is it that

He has a very Choi Min-sik feel to him in this film. Think Oldboy.

Americans don’t wanna watch Asians and read subtitles or something. Come off it then…

But I loved this movie. It’s dark with all the right amounts of thriller/gory/horror/action/police work that you want in a psychological thriller like this. There’s some powerful acting and a chilling, “you gotta hate me” performance from Ha Jung-woo playing the serial killer. It has a good I Saw the Devil feel to it as well. Keep it coming, Korea, you gotta love all these dark Asian films. 8.9 out of 10.

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Oldboy: Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This

Based on the Japanese manga (where all good stories come from) written by Nobuaki Minegishi, what incredible things can I say about Oldboy? Considered the best in the Revenge trilogy, Oldboy comes from a very visceral place combining elements of all

Hammer time.

kinds of storytelling into one film. It’s got revenge and tragedy, theatrical protestations and all the heart and music of an opera. People have said (CNN has said) that it is one of the 10 best Asian films ever made. Let’s back that up and rephrase. There’s no need to include Asian in that statement. Ten best films ever made? Sounds good to me.

I’ve seen Oldboy twice now and I’ve been thoroughly entertained both times. The story is fresh and there’s just enough plot and action that keeps you captivated to the edge of your seat. Visually striking, poetic in the way it is formulated and the scenes are shot… Think about the snazziest guy you know that does things in such an elegant way and give him a beat-up haircut and a hammer. That’s this movie in a nutshell.

If you laugh, then the world laughs with you…

Revenge, as I’ve talked about in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is played with in this movie as well. Just when you think you have the good and bad guy figured out, it turns itself on its head. Sympathy is the keyword in all these films. You are meant to feel sympathetic towards all characters in this film. Nobody is spared a reason for doing what they do, and that makes it all the easier to see this as a truly brutally honest humanistic film.

Basic plot, shall we? Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) was kidnapped after a drunken night out around his daughter’s birthday. He vanishes from society for 15 years and we get to see a montaged version of that process. Through Oh Dae-su’s diaries, we see the tortured mind that has no idea of his crimes or who he wronged. He writes down every name he can remember in case he has to seek

I forgot to mention Ji-tae Yu, but he did some great work in this movie too.

revenge or beg forgiveness, it’s all up in the air at this point. But, with no reason or rhyme, Oh Dae-su is released after 15 long years of seeing no one and having no company other than a T.V. This leads him on a calculated and cold chase for the man who put him away for seemingly no reason.

Choi Min-sik is a theatrical master in this film. I’m pretty sure Park Chan-wook liked him so much that he brought him back for Lady Vengeance for that reason (different character, just as good). He has a great sense of theatrical, dramatic moments, and he takes his time in delivering lines. That’s what I found interesting about this movie (and Lady Vengeance). Choi Min-sik gathers his thoughts (as a person not on camera would) and says things as if he is choosing his words carefully (no script style). It’s a very unique and non-traditional way of acting, and I enjoy it every time I see him (i.e. watch I Saw The Devil).

The cinematography in this film is a bit more fluid, but you see the same basic ideas come across in this one that you saw in Sympathy for Mr. Revenge. Long shots, wide angles, an extreme focus on the bigger picture. This movie has a fight scene from a side angle that is about 5 minutes long and took 17 takes in 3 days to make. Uncut and visceral, it’s realistic fight scenes like this that make martial arts films being made today possible. (You can see a similar scene in Tony Jaa’s The Protector.)

The plot is fantastic and the cast is great as usual. It’s movies like this that only come around once in a lifetime that everything comes together perfectly to make a film that transcends genre, style, and overall movie like quality. You feel you are watching something more real and ethereal than you expected to see with something created by man. I can’t say anything bad about this movie and I feel, for all audiences (above 13, I’d say) this movie is worth watching again and

A strange sense of Korean comedy…

again. Moviemakers out there, if you don’t already have this for your collection, get it. This should change the movie industry (hopefully) for the next 20 years. And I really hope Spike Lee doesn’t remake it…

Anyways, 10 out of 10. Obviously.

 

 


Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

I feel that deep down, if anyone has ever been wronged or hurt in some way by another, they seek revenge in some form on that person. So, you could say, that revenge is a very human thing to pursue and wish to deal out. I would say that’s why these films have been so successful (although box offices mighy say pshaw). After having seen Oldboy in a film class a few years ago, I knew I had to see more of Park Chan-wook’s films. He has a great sense of story and emotion coupled with a visual style you don’t often see in action films.

So I started off Park Chan-wook’s Revenge series at its logical point, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This story follows a deaf mute man named Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) who is down on his luck. His sister (Lim Ji-eun) has kidney failure and is in dire need of a new one. Ryu is fired from his job at the factory and now seeks a new way in which to raise the

This was an interesting scene involving a mirror.

money. In finding a black market organ gang, Ryu is swindled and left without a kidney himself. With no other way to raise the money after not being a suitable donor himself, Ryu must turn to desperate measures with his anarchist girlfriend, Cha Yeong-mi (Bae Doona).

Stunning visuals.

What’s most interesting about this movie is the way that revenge and its plot in the film shifts from character to character. You think it’s all about Ryu and seeking revenge against the organ dealers (and to a point, it is). But it turns into something bigger when Ryu’s ex-boss gets involved. What is intriguing about this movie is that everyone has a motive, and usually for good reason. Ryu wants to save his sister and others want to correct past wrongs (don’t wanna spoil the movie). So there’s no definitive bad and good character, and this is even apparent in Oldboy. (Haven’t watched Lady Vengeance yet, we’ll cross that bridge soon.)

Another thing that leaps out at you in this film is an insanely new way of dictating tempo and focus with camera angles and amount of time spent on one shot. Kim Byung-il and the director, Park Chan-wook must have collaborated together to get such a unique style of story telling through showing. In dealing with a deaf mute character, sound was at times taken for granted. At others, sound played an important part, more

Song Kang-ho is one legitimate actor.

importantly what couldn’t be heard. The story fluctuates in such a way that plot mixes with circumstances, and chance happenings lead to development.

More about the visual style. Amazing work with angles you wouldn’t think of. This movie can take a simple handshake shot to a new extreme. It leaves on things you wouldn’t think of as the events unfold from a single angle (one take shots are hard to do…) and tilts the cameras to gain new perspectives. Light and dark shows its place when the characters walk up an abandoned parking structure in an almost comical way. I think the creators of this film really took a brand of their own outlandishly dark comedy and injected it into their film with just visual aspects.

Also touching.

And another important part of this movie. Song Kang-ho who plays Park Dong-jin, Ryu’s ex-boss. When he gets roped into this story, things start happening. It’s not such a quirky action film anymore. The emotions come out and you see the true face of vengeance. Song Kang-ho is an incredible actor, especially by American Cinema actors. You don’t feel like he’s fooling you with his emotions and actions on camera. You feel like you’re actually feeling for another human being. He didn’t have any classical acting training before he started getting involved with acting, but he has done such a wide range of characters that it shows he has depth. A comedic, bumbling, good hearted Dad in The Host. A bloodthirsty vampire priest that I’d like to see in Park Chan-wook’s other film, Thirst. A comedic and tormented thief in The Good, The Bad, and the Weird. And he’s won awards for his work. Get a load of that.

You bring together excellent acting (and I’m talking to the whole cast about this), stunning visuals, and a bit of violence

Who is seeking vengeance on who?

and revenge, and you have an American A+ caliber action film. What’s different though? This one has heart and emotions that put it at drama level. And so far, with having watched this and Oldboy, Park Chan-wook has hit all the good points on the head. He even puts a bit of violence and gore in there for me too. Violence and a great foreign action film? I think this was made for me. 9.3 out of 10.


The Red Shoes: Korea’s Hans Christian Andersen

First of all, this movie should be renamed the pink shoes, because clearly (unless I’m colorblind) those shoes were pink. Not that color matters, but it came off as weird… Anyways, this was a pretty satisfactory horror film from South Korea about the old fairy tale about the crazy broad who couldn’t stop shindigging in her red pumps. In this take, a curse is placed on the shoes and you should probably make sure to watch your ankles, cause you’ll get cut off by the shin.

The story centers around Sun-jae (Kim Hye-su) a working wife who is semi-happy with her life. Her husband doles on their daughter, Tae-su (Park Yeoh-ah) and leaves very little love for his wife. One day Sun-jae comes home a little too early from stalking their daughter on her way to dance class. She finds her husband cheating on her and

That’s how the movie kicks off. Bang.

promptly leaves with Tae-su in search of a happier life (a little Pursuit of Happiness, but completely different).

In a run down apartment opposite of the subway, Sun-jae is struggling to start up her eye clinic with the help of hipster before it was called hipster contractor, In-cheol (Kim Sung-chu). With a jealous daughter who misses her father and wishes he mother was gone instead, Sun-jae takes solace in her fancy shoe collection. And then, on the subway, the perfect pair comes along… of… pink, shoes.

A mother and daughter, on a mission… for shoes.

Things start going wrong, horrific visions, her daughter is becoming jealous of a pair of shoes she can’t even fit into, and life is just becoming stressful in general. The perfect elements for a gory psychological thriller. Except for the ending. When a movie has 3 different endings (2 short of LOTR: ROTK) then you know you have a problem. It means the writers second guessed themselves and thought the movie needed more closure/explanation than it actually needed. And that is exactly what happened. You’ll see once you watch the movie, it’s not that bad up until a bit of a struggle with the end. It was 20 minutes too long.

But I loved the way this movie delivered the horror. A lot of it dealt with the wait and spook (jumpy scenes) but the music really dictated the tempo. There were screeching violins, nails on a chalkboard, offbeat music rhythms that really made you feel unsettled. There were some of those psychological scenes that dealt with disturbing images (i.e., one example – not a ruiner – but bird in a bloodbath sink) and a lot of tensions between

Beautiful and tragic.

family members on some adult levels. The director and the cast/crew had a good sense of what creeps people out and what works in a classical sense, and they nailed all the major points.

This is one of those horror movies though that brings in a whole lot more than just horror. This movie tackles family relations, materialism and consumerism (with the shoes and all that, even an ad agency), a woman’s self image and outer appearance, and even feet fetishes. It was done in a very deliberately symbolic manner, and my analytical film mind actually picked up on those cues. This film ended up being a more intelligent horror movie than I thought it could be. That’s worth applauding. The acting was creepily good, special shout out to Kim Hye-su, the star, and a little girl who had to take on more than she probably bargained for, being yelled at by adults (proud of you, Park Yeoh-ah). Overall it was a very visually disturbing movie with an underlying message and too long of an ending. That all adds up to movie you should view for yourself and decide whether you like it or not. Have fun! 6.3 out of 10.

Is it over yet? Who knows…