Tag Archives: choi min-sik

New World – Review

9 Jun

The gangster genre of film is arguably one of the most interesting to choose from when you want to watch a movie. Not only are there always tough decisions and crime on a massive scale, but you can also learn a lot about a culture depending on what you watch. New World is a gangster movie from South Korea that combines the styles of The DepartedThe Godfather, and even some of Oldboy to craft a story that is full of twists, turns, betrayals, and violence. If you can’t already tell, I loved this movie.

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Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) is a top level gangster in South Korea’s largest syndicate, Goldmoon. Ja-sung is also a police officer who has been posing as this gangster for eight years, slowly making his way up the totem pole. After the head of Goldmoon is killed in a car accident, Ja-sung believes that his job is done, but his boss, Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik) goes back on his word and forces him to continue with the syndicate in order to bring it down for good. The mission, titled Operation New World, is to pit Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) and Lee Joong-gu (Park Seong-woong) against each other, both of whom are possible candidates to take over as boss. As true motives start to become clearer and clearer, Ja-sung has to decide where his loyalty lies, whether it’s with the corrupt police or the criminalized syndicate.

When it comes to telling a story, conflict is one of the most important ingredients. To me, if there’s no good conflict, there’s no good story. New World, fortunately, has a lot of great conflict. In fact, you sort of get double the conflict. The whole story is told through the eyes of Ja-sung, an undercover cop who has slowly found himself becoming one of the gangsters that he is trying to stop. Right away, the criminals won’t be on his side. The police aren’t on his side either because they just want him to finish the mission no matter what so they can take all of the credit for taking down the syndicate. This clash between two powers makes for some pretty incredible character dynamics.

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Along with the excellent character dynamics between the police and the gangsters, Ja-sung, himself, is a complex and interesting protagonist. I love seeing characters who are normally in control of every situation begin to be pushed way too far to the point where they have to do something drastic. Think Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. His character works very well with the other antagonists, like Chief Kang with the police and Lee Joong-gu in the syndicate. Every scene provided new opportunities for a plot twist or some kind of betrayal, and the tension that builds becomes really intense as Ja-sung’s character gets pushed farther and his identity risks exposure.

I believe that South Korean movies are some of the most beautifully shot films you or I will ever see. New World isn’t exactly anything to lose your mind over, but there were plenty of scenes where the camera work went above and beyond what would normally be asked for in a gangster movie. There’s one scene in particular where a fight is shot from overhead inside an elevator. There’s about 7 people fighting in this one elevator, and the camera seems to move in the same way that they do shooting down on them. It made the scene so much more effective, and did so throughout the entire movie.

New World is a very well crafted gangster thriller that is superior to many others that are put out. It’s character dynamics and strong sense of conflict keep the movie moving, but also the sense that anything can happen, including the breakdown of the protagonist makes it that much more interesting and watchable. Anyone who is a fan of The Godfather or The Departed will find a lot to love in New World.

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Lucy – Review

14 Aug

Luc Besson is one of those film makers that you either love or hate, or don’t even realize who he is and how many movies you’ve actually seen that he’s been involved with. Personally, I think he’s great. Many of his action films that he either wrote, produced, directed or any combination of the three are normally very enjoyable in that switch your brain off kind of way. It is true, however, that he hasn’t really made an “excellent” film since the days of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, and Lucy certainly isn’t breaking that pattern. I will say that, like The Family and The Transporter and Taken, this is a fun movie that you definitely need to turn off for and just buckle in for the ride.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is not having a good day what with being pressured by her boyfriend to be the middle man during a transaction with the sadistic Korean drug lord, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). The deal goes down well, but now Lucy is left in the custody of Mr. Jang to serve as a mule in order to get Jang’s new drug into the hands of people all over the world. What Jang wasn’t counting one was the surgically implanted drug packet breaking inside Lucy’s stomach and barraging her with the effects. Soon, Lucy begins evolving into something more than the human capacity could possibly handle and teams up with the world renowned psychologist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and French police captain Pierre (Amr Waked) to figure out how to stop her brain from overloading her body’s nervous system, but also to get her revenge on Mr. Jang for causing all of this in the first place.

Before anyone even needs to say anything, of course this movie’s premise is total bullshit. It’s been proven that humans use more than 10% of our brain capacity leaving that idea to be nothing more than an outdated theory. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a really cool idea for a movie. In fact, Lucy is pretty similar in idea to the 2011 film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Think of Lucy as Limitless on steroids. There’s plenty of really cool action in this movie and some pretty neat special effects. Plus, Scarlett Johansson, who has already shown this in the multiple Marvel films she’s been in, can be a complete badass if the occasion calls for it. It’s everything you’d expect from a Luc Besson movie, with a bit of a philosophical twist.

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One thing I do have to complain briefly about is the time spent in between all of the cool things. The gripe I have with Besson’s films, save for one or two, is that he knows how to craft really cool ideas and scenes that make for a memorable movie, but the down time in these movies really leave something to be desired. This is true also with Lucy even though there isn’t a whole lot of down time to be had. When there is, however, it is anything but interesting and I found my mind drifting when I should have been paying attention. Also, it’s kind of odd to have philosophical discussions in movies like this, especially when the premise is already complete ludicrous. I found the attempts at philosophy a little heavy handed and unnecessary. All you need to do for this movie is check your brain at the door and don’t listen to anything deep Besson wants you to hear. This is an action movie to the core and that’s it.

After saying all that, I really do have to say that this is a totally kick ass movie. I’ve liked it a little more since I’ve seen it, even though I don’t think I’m ever going to really love the movie. There’s one scene in particular where Lucy, without aiming at all, shoots through a door a few times, almost with precision. I knew what was going to happen, but it was so cool to see the accurate effects of her shooting even through the hard wood door. The movie is filled with awesome scenes like that, and it’s so much fun to watch Lucy evolve more and more, making her enemies nothing compared to her. Besson really outdid himself on the cool factor for this film.

Lucy isn’t particularly a great film, but in terms of summer popcorn fun, you can’t really go wrong here. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how the movie doesn’t really have a point and the science doesn’t even make sense. It makes me wonder when people forgot that going to the movies was supposed to offer a couple hours of FUN. Notice the emphasis on fun. To those of you who know how to have a good time at the movies and check your brain at the door, Lucy will provide you with some quick and memorable entertainment, despite its major scientific and narrative flaws. For those of you who can’t get the sticks out of your asses, may I offer you some Godard and tea?

 

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – Review

18 Jan

Finally, we have come to the third and final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy. Taking a cue from the name of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance comes Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. In order for me to start talking about this movie, I want to look back at the other two. I said that Oldboy is a modern masterpiece that will go down as one of the greatest films ever made, and after seeing Lady VengeanceSympathy for Mr. Vengeance is so much better. I appreciate how I wasn’t confused for most of the movie and that the story was cool. It’s a really good movie. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a muddled, pretentious soap opera that went on for too long and made me wish I was watching one of the predecessors.

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Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae) is faced with a prison sentence of thirteen years after she confesses to the abduction and murder of a five year old boy. After she serves her time and uses her polite demeanor to her advantage, making a lot of friends in prison, she starts her quest to get revenge on Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), the man who kidnapped and threatened her infant daughter if she didn’t take the blame for the abduction and murder of the boy. First, Geum-ja has to reunite with her daughter Jenny (Kwon Yea-young), but soon turns back to her original mission, and she makes sure she isn’t the only one who is getting revenge.

This movie really is a soap opera, and can also be seen as further proof that a great director can get a little bit too full of himself. The biggest problem here is the motivation of the story. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, the motivation of vengeance and redemption were strong and pushed the characters towards a climax. In Lady Vengeance, I never really felt like the plot was going anywhere fast. All of the flashbacks, subplots, and characters were more of a distraction than they were interesting. In fact, the subplot involving Geum-ja’s daughter isn’t interesting at all, and Kwon Yea-young was just annoying.

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I may sound like a broken record here, but Sympathy for Lady Vengeance looks fantastic. Park Chan-wook pulls out all of the stops here in terms of style, and creates some of the nicest shots and transitions in the entire trilogy. It can be haunting and it can be beautiful. The costume design for Geum-ja is also really nice and adds a lot to her character and speaks for the transformation she made from innocent young girl, to a violent woman bent on revenge. Style is what this movie really has going for it. The soundtrack is also an excellent companion to the visuals, but style isn’t everything in a movie.

I want to like the story. I really do, but I just can’t. This would have been a good start to the trilogy because compared to the other two, the story in this one is underwhelming as hell. It isn’t even the fault of the way the story is composed. It just doesn’t have the gusto and the energy that the other two movies have. I found myself constantly checking to see how much time was left in the movie, and there were some parts where my mind would drift to some other thing because the story and the energy of this movie just wasn’t enough to keep my mind occupied.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is the weakest entry in the Vengeance trilogy, and is just an all around weak movie. There is a lot of potential with the style and the characters, which are played just fine, but there isn’t enough in this movie that really makes it all that suspenseful or exciting. One may argue that this is more of a drama than a thriller, but the drama is a little too hokey at parts and felt kind of like a soap opera. Just because there are a few cool or intense scenes in this movie doesn’t help pull Sympathy for Lady Vengeance from the muck.

Oldboy – Review

17 Jan

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, left me wanting more. It was definitely a good movie, but I can’t say that it was a great movie. In 2003, however, audiences were treated to and shocked by Oldboy. Every film student in the world has heard of this movie and I can almost guarantee that any film fanatic has seen this at least once. The first time I saw this movie, I really enjoyed it, but felt like I was missing a lot of the hype. After this second viewing, I understand completely. Oldboy is more than just a thriller. It’s also a mystery, dark comedy, and action film with strong roots in Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies.

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Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is an average Seoul businessman with a wife and daughter, who has believed to have lived a normal life. One night, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and placed in a room for fifteen years. While in the room, Oh Dae-su changes and becomes psychologically twisted and thirsty for revenge. When he is let out after fifteen years, Oh Dae-su starts his quest for revenge and meets Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), a chef who is willing to help him out, despite her not even knowing anything about him. As the kidnapper is revealed as millionaire Woo-jin Lee (Yoo Ji-tae), the mystery becomes even more intriguing. Instead of who locked Oh Dae-su in a room, he has to figure out why, and the answers may push him to the edge of his sanity.

If you were to take all of the good things from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, like the excellent blocking, cinematography, and story, and then take away how awful the plotting of that movie is, you still wouldn’t have Oldboy. In order to describe how great Oldboy is you would have to add in a mixture of excellent suspense combined with spot on pacing, and only then would you see how excellent Oldboy is. This is one of those essential pieces of film that everyone should see if they are interested in film. It’s more than just a bloody thriller. It’s a look into the darkest parts of human psychology where revenge and murder are just part of a person’s life.

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This has a very similar artistic style to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In terms of set design, this is a dirty looking movie, but once again Park Chan-wook has shown how he has a talent for creating beauty amongst the grime. His lensing in this movie is fantastic, but his interesting use of the camera doesn’t stop there. One scene in particular that stands out is a huge fight scene shot from the side of a corridor that was filmed in one continuous take. It isn’t rare for editors to hide cuts into takes as long as these, but this shot was 100% done in one take. Every shot is composed wonderfully, which once again shows that Park has one of the best eyes in the international film industry.

As great as Oldboy looks, it wouldn’t have worked without Choi Min-sik’s excellent performance. Oh Dae-su is a very complicated character with a lot of ups and downs, and Choi plays it with spot on perfection. There are scenes where he is smiling, but we sense all of the inner pain that is boiling beneath the surface, and other times where his acting shows all of the anger and hate. The climax of the movie, which really shows comparisons between Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies, really highlights Choi’s abilities and is one of the best onscreen performances I have ever seen.

Oldboy is one of the best films ever made, and deserves to be on the same lists as classic films. In its own right, it is a contemporary classic that will go down in film history. It’s a poetic story of violence, love, and revenge that shows a side of humanity that people don’t normally like to see. Choi Min-sik gives an excellent performance, and Park Chan-wook shows his talent as a film maker and story teller. If you haven’t seen this Oldboy, it is your responsibility to see it as quickly as possible.