Tag Archives: bong joon-ho

Okja – Review

1 Jul

Bong Joon-ho has really made a name for himself as one of the most internationally acclaimed filmmakers to come out of South Korea. His films like Memories of MurderMother, and The Host were hits in South Korea, and Snowpiercer brought his talents to the west and into the English language. He has this excellent ability to create moments of humor out of very serious situation and his style is something all his own. His latest film, Okja, is a Netflix exclusive which also continues Netflix’s trend of creating quality entertainment. This film, while having very cute and funny moments, is a condemnation of the dealings of big business in the animal industry and shines a harsh light on the manufacturing of GMOs.

Okja is a genetically modified super pig who has been being raised in a rural South Korean village by a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather Heebong (Byun Hee-bong) for the past 10 years. Okja was first created by the Mirando corporation, run by the then new CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), to be the next best meat in the entire industry. Now that Okja is fully grown, Mirando sends its spokesperson, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), to get Okja and bring her back to Seoul and eventually New York City. Mija’s not about to let them take Okja away from her, so she runs off to Seoul to stop Mirando and runs into the ALF, or the Animal Liberation Front, a small group run by animal activist Jay (Paul Dano). With time for Okja running out, Mija has to reluctantly team up with Jay and the ALF to expose the major wrongdoings and cruelty of Mirando and save Okja in the process.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is the whole message this movie is giving. Bong Joon-ho is known for his environmentalism and his environmentally conscious films. Okja continues this tradition with an even louder voice than ever before. The first thing he tackles is GMOs and how it can be an absolutely absurd practice to genetically enhance animals and have people ok with that, even when it’s used for something more shady than health reasons. His other stance that he takes is the two faces of major companies, no matter which industry they are a part of. In this film, Lucy Mirando and Dr. Wilcox make it impossible not to like the Mirando Corporation, but once you see past the surface you know what they are really about. This is a time when companies are backed by armadas of lawyers and P.R. teams who exist just to issue cleverly worded apologies to make everything right again. While I can back these stances and I’m glad to see them presented in a movie, Okja sometimes is a bit to heavy handed with the message to the point of sounding preachy. Other scenes have that subversive wit this film maker is known for and it more than makes up for the more overly explicit moments.

There are a few minor faults with the movie that did get a little distracting as I was watching it. Towards the end of the movie when things were really going down and the climax of the film was fast approaching, I sort of started to lose track of what the villains of the film were really up to. I feel like most of this happens because their motivations get muddled and the writing makes it so they run the gamut of evil to make them seem like the villains they truly are. They do something to Okja that is very serious and quite important, but then they go and try to do something else that completely counteracts what they originally did. It’s something of a plot hole where I feel like I could be missing something, but it just seems like intentions got muddled somewhere in the screenplay. The story is also a little slow on the uptake. A lot of time is spent introducing Mija and Okja, which is important to build the relationship, but there’s something in particular that happens in the very beginning that just seems out of place. It distracted me from where the story was heading and could be cut out of the movie all together. These are relatively minor complaints, but obvious enough that made them worth stating.

I really need to take a moment to mention how excellent Ahn Seo-hyun is in this film. Her performance of Mija is really excellent and it’s rare to see an actor this young give such an honest performance. This goes along with the fact that her best friend in the movie is a CGI super pig. She does very well at acting around something that isn’t even there and I was really impressed. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal are both hilarious in this movie and Paul Dano gives the exact kind of performance you would expect Dano to give. I do want to touch on Okja herself. At times the CGI got a little bit cartoonish, but there were other times, especially in close up, when the CGI looked great. As a whole I was definitely a fan of the design of Okja. When I saw the first promotional picture released, I thought the design looked kind of stupid, but seeing it in action completely changed my mind. Speaking of visuals, it’s hard for me to remember just how well shot Bong Joon-ho’s films are since I always relate him to writing and character. The camerawork in Okja is sweeping and exciting and adds a whole new layer of entertainment to the film.

Okja is certainly a welcome addition to Bong Joon-ho’s filmography and is a reminder that Netflix is really killing it with their original content. I can’t say that this film ranks up there with Bong’s earlier films like The Host but it does have a strong message, some excellent characters and actors, and a CGI super pig that is surprisingly lovable. Okja is both a strong drama and a light hearted comedy that blends to create a very entertaining film despite some minor issues with motivation and pacing. I say, if you have Netflix, this is a new addition that should definitely be seen and works well to also introduce any newcomer to Bong Joon-ho’s unique style.

Final Grade: B+

Mother – Review

6 Dec

While there are many great film makers to come out of South Korea, Bong Joon-ho is, by far, my favorite. All of the other films I’ve seen of his have really struck a chord in me in some way. The Host was a perfect blend of environmental warning, monsters, and comedy. The same can be said about Snowpiercer, but Bong also showed his strengths with more realistic film making with his 2003 film Memories of Murder. All of these movies seamlessly blend different genres with dark comedy, and Bong’s 2009 film Mother is no different. Not only can Mother be appreciated by different artistic stand points, it also raises a lot of interesting questions about mental health, love, and the legal system while also providing us with an entertaining mystery that will often make you laugh.

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This film tells the story of a nameless single mother (Kim Hye-ja) who struggles with taking care of her mentally disabled son, Do-joon (Won Bin). Do-joon may be mentally inadequate, but he’s harmless, so when Do-joon is charged with the murder of a young school girl his mother knows it can’t be true. Unfortunately for the mother, she is stuck with a lawyer that isn’t interested in the case, a police force who is only interested in the circumstantial evidence, and her own son who is really no help to anyone. When all looks bleak, the mother enlists the help of Do-joon’s troublemaking friend, Jin-tae (Jin Goo), to help her on a mission of vigilante detective work to prove her son’s innocence.

Mother had the potential to be a really somber movie. From scene to scene, things just go from bad to worse to the worst it can possibly get. If another film maker wrote and directed this film, this would’ve been a pretty upsetting movie. Now, I’m not saying that this film isn’t dramatic. I’m saying that Bong Joon-ho’s unique style gives this movie a little something extra. Like I said before, Bong is known for putting a lot of dark comedy into his movies, even one as serious as Mother. Putting too much comedy into it, however, would have ruined the mood of the movie completely and make it feel uneven. Luckily, Bong’s talent pulls through again and Mother has a perfect balance between stone seriousness and hearty laughs.

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What makes Bong Joon-ho such an affective film maker is that he captures life in a very real kind of way, which goes back to what I was saying about him mixing comedy and drama together seamlessly. Other than that, his characters all feel like real people, even in a science fiction monster movie like The Host. Of course none of this would be possible if the actors playing the characters didn’t play their roles just as naturally. Kim Hye-ja doesn’t just give a great performance, more so an excellent performance. She is both intense and naïve during her investigation to prove her son’s innocence, and this can almost become tragic when she begins ignoring facts and acting irrationally. I can’t forget to point out the good work also done by Won Bin and Jin Goo, but Kim is really the one that’s going to grab your attention in every scene.

The storyline of Mother doesn’t just happen in one place, which means there is plenty to look at in terms of environment. Much like in Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho captures everything both good and bad about where his characters inhabit. The urban and rural landscapes often clash with each other as the beautiful and the ugly pop with startling colors and subtle grays. This is a beautiful looking film, indeed.

This review may have seemed like my love letter to the career of Bong Joon-ho, and in a way it sort of is, but I was reminded of it because of how great Mother is. This movie works as a mystery, a drama, and even a dark comedy in some scenes. While I still think The Host is my favorite movie in Bong’s filmography, Mother is still a movie that I won’t forget and ranks up there with the best of Korean film making.

Tokyo! – Review

29 Jul

Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-ho are all powerhouse directors in their own respects. Gondry has made dazzling films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and worked on multiple music videos. Carax has been working since the eighties with his most recent success being the critically acclaimed Holy Motors. Bong has also become a directing commodity in South Korea after his smash hit film The Host. All of these directors, wether you’re fans of their work or not, are all exceptional film makers with their own visions and styles. Their collaborative effort, Tokyo!, that consists of three shorts films directed by each film maker offers a trippy view of the city of Tokyo, but it also provides a dreamlike and inspiring cinematic experience.

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In Michel Gondry’s segment, Interior Design, Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani) and Akira (Ryō Kase) are a young couple who have graciously accepted an offer by their old friend Akemi (Ayumi Ito) to stay in her small flat while they search for an apartment of their own. As time quickly passes, and Hiroko is having no luck in terms of employment and finding an apartment, she begins to feel completely worthless to herself and everyone. Things change in many different ways when an unbelievable physical transformation happens to Hiroko. In Leos Carax’s segment, a mysterious psycho from the sewers, referred to as Monsieur Merde (Denis Lavant) begins terrorizing the city of Tokyo until he is eventually arrested. A trial soon happens with a special lawyer (Jean-Françoise Balmer) brought in from Paris to represent Merde. During the trial Merde’s true intentions are discovered. In Bong Joon-ho’s segment, we see a shut in (Teruyuki Kagawa) who meets a woman during an earthquake who has buttons on her body that seem to control her functions and emotions. The shut in is then forced to leave his house and brave earthquakes in order to find this mysterious woman whom he has fallen in love with, even after spending ten years in his house.

Gondry really has an amazing artistic eye but also a strange sense of humor and design that always makes his movies interesting. With his segment in Tokyo!, he has to pack all of that style and storytelling into a short film. What we get is a moving examination on young adult life and also a theme of self worth, which is told in the most unique way I’ve ever seen. Props have to go to Gabrielle Bell who wrote the short story comic that this is based off of, Cecil and Jordan in New York. For most of the segment, it’s a story about a young couple trying to really get their lives started, but it ends with a fairy tale ending of transformation that left me practically speechless. Gondry got his point across easily without being derivative, and this is easily the best segment of the entire film.

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Carax’s segment brought me back to the night that I watched Holy Motors and the mixed feelings I had about it. Luckily with his part of the movie, I got to see the first time Carax used his character Monsieur Merde, who also had a scene in Holy Motors. This is a strange story, possibly even as strange as Gondry’s, but completely different. I’m not entirely sure what this part is about, but Carax said that he simply got the idea of some sort of creature coming out of the sewers and killing people, so it might be a bit much to try and dig into it to find some deeper meaning. If I had to I’d say it would be about the ugliness of bigotry and hatred, but this could also just be a cartoonish entry that is meant to highlight the character that Carax created. Either way, this was entertaining as all hell and Denis Lavant showed me yet again that he is an underused and excellent actor.

Finally, we come to Bong Joon-ho’s segment, which I think is the weakest of the entire film, but that’s not really belittling it since the first two were so over the top and awesome. This is a much quieter and human story with some really touching depictions of loneliness and love, even with a strange fantastical, almost science fiction twist. I kind of wish that this idea was expanded a little more because the buttons used to activate the woman’s emotions and actions was a cool idea. This is still a beautifully shot short film that shows the talent Bong has behind the camera as well as in writing. Compared to the other two, however, if could have a been a little stronger.

Tokyo! was an excellent film that had strong entries by each of its three talented directors. I feel like a central theme that can be seen weaved throughout all of these unique tales is a theme of being alone in a city that is dense with millions of people who are going on about their own business, and not paying you any mind unless you give them reason to. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the uneven film that I heard it was. In fact, this film surprised me on many levels and I can highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

 

Memories of Murder – Review

19 Mar

In the years between 1986 and 1991, 10 murders were committed in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea, marking the first serial killings in the country’s history. Memories of Murder tells the story of the detectives who were charged with finding the killer and potentially saving more lives. This movie had potential to be a derivative detective film, but the history and consequences is what really brings Memories of Murder from being average, surpassing good, and becoming great.

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When a young woman is found raped and murdered in October 1986, it seems a little out of the ordinary in such a small and peaceful village as Hwaseong. Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) is put on the case, but is soon joined by Detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul after it is determined that they might have a serial killer on their hands. With such a danger lurking about the streets, it is imperative that Doo-man and Tae-yoon find the culprit as quickly as possible, but this is made almost impossible with such crude forensic technology. The two detectives are then forced to you their own intuition and, often times, brutality to find the killer and save any potential victims.

Memories of Murder is a near perfect detective/crime film. It’s pretty standard now to have a detective or police procedural movie that implements all the different kinds of technology and resources available to find their suspect. This is exactly what this movie is not about. It was so refreshing and startling to see an environment where there are so many hoops to jump through and people to hurt in order to secure what’s best for the common good, especially in a modern era. At times, the policing is brutal and often wrong, but the stress of the detectives comes through very well and makes Memories of Murder all the more effective.

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In my honest opinion, South Koreans have the best eye for cinematography than any other country. Memories of Murder is visually stunning. It really covers all the bases, with beautiful slow motion shots to excellent uses of color. Sometimes it’s not important if a movie looks great, but other times the better it looks, the more impactful the material is. That’s the case with this film. Some of the most beautiful scenes involve highly desaturated rural landscapes with either a red ribbon or a red coat that draws your eye. This may sound like a cliche, but when done right it look fantastic.

Much like with the lack of forensic technology making Memories of Murder unique it its brilliant use of comedy. With a story that tells of South Korea’s first serial killer, you would think that it would be somber and serious at all times. I was expecting that. I was pleased to see that there was some scenes of comedy throughout, both lighthearted and dark. That right there is a sign of an exceptional screenwriter, and I have to give this credit to the writer/director Bong Joon-ho. Joon-ho uses the same kind of comedy mixed with seriousness in his next feature, the phenomenal monster movie The Host.

Memories of Murder is an exceptional film that will horrify you, move you, and make you laugh. It tells an interesting tale of detectives doing everything they possibly can to catch a serial killer, even though it seems apparent that their attempts are futile. It’s easy to make an average detective film, but it’s not so easy to make one as memorable as Memories of Murder.