Tag Archives: south korean

Thirst – Review

12 Jan

Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies. South Korea is actually may favorite market for foreign film because of the amount of beautifully shot films that come out of there. Today we’re going to be looking at a movie made by Park Chan-wook who is prominently known for his cult classic Oldboy, but also for dabbling in the American market with Stoker. I’ve always found the majority of his movies to be beautiful but awfully pretentious. The same can be said for his 2009 film Thirst, although it is far more enjoyable than others like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who feels that his life should be dedicated more to than just prayer. To make himself feel more fulfilled both with his life and faith, Sang-hyun decides to volunteer to become a test subject to find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, which has been wiping people out all over the globe. While he does in fact die during the test, he is resurrected when a blood transfusion is performed, but with some unexplainable side effects. Sang-hyun is now cursed with vampirism and survives day to day by stealing blood from hospitals. Life after death becomes even more complicated when he is reunited with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a childhood acquaintance who insists on becoming a vampire.

This is just such a cool idea for a movie. When done properly, vampire movies can contain some of the coolest and most memorable scenes and characters. Interview With a Vampire is my go to vampire movie, but then there’s the comedic What We Do in the Shadows that also works great as a vampire movie. In Thirst, the biggest draw that separates it from the rest is the fact that a Catholic priest is turned into a vampire. This is an interesting plot point since Catholics believe so strongly in going to either heaven or hell after they die, and this priest is now stuck in this undead state and is forced to drink blood to survive. Another interesting thing is that Park wrote vampirism to be some weird biological side effect to the disease that Sang-hyun volunteered to help find a cure for. It puts an interesting and worldly twist on something that is normally considered supernatural.

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With his other films, Park Chan-wook has shown himself to be highly skilled at creating a visually beautiful movie. While his movies do look beautiful, I’ve always felt that they’ve lacked in terms of telling a story. In both these regards, Thirst is no different. There’s a lot of great looking scenes in this movie that deserve a lot of attention, but Park doesn’t really explore the narrative possibilities to their full potential. There’s a vampire priest that’s engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a woman who feels the need to become a vampire. That should open a lot of doors to utilize different vampire lore or character development, but that doesn’t really happen to the degree it should. With that in mind, there are also a lot of scenes where nothing really happens and just serve to drag the movie out a little bit intead of a scene that could include something that would boost the movie up.

Thirst is an example of a really good movie that gets weighed down by the pretentiousness of the film maker. Park Chan-wook obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, but he’s conveying these ideas in broken sentences. It’s pretty clear that Park’s main goal was to make a beautiful piece of art, but the art of a movie isn’t just how it looks or sounds. To me, one of the most important pieces to a film is the story. Narrative should never be discounted as not important to making a cinematic work of art, even if it’s something more abstract or experimental. That’s just my personal taste anyway.

I don’t want this review to sound negative because I actually did enjoy Thirst and appreciate the work that Park Chan-wook put into it. It’s actually one of his best movies after Oldboy. I just wish more attention would have been put into the lore of the vampire and more detail added to create a flowing story. I actually highly recommend this film to people who love a good vampire movie, but just don’t expect a completely fulfilling movie.

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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.

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.

A Tale of Two Sisters – Review

31 May

Fairy tales make good horror stories. In fact, they make great horror stories. Just think of most fairy tales that you know and then think of just how disturbing they really are, even though we have no problem telling them to children to teach them all sorts of lessons. In 2003, South Korean film maker Kim Ji-woon decided to make a psychological horror film based off the South Korean fairy tale Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, and since then it has been often labeled as one of the most unsettling films of our time and I can completely agree with that statement.

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Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and her sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) arrive at their lake house where their concerned father (Kim Kap-soo) and domineering step mother (Yeom Jeong-ah) are staying. The time spent there begins with their step mother berating them and only gets worse as time passes, despite Su-mi trying to tell her father how terrible she is to her and her sister. Su-mi and Su-yeon also become much more curious about their mother, who has since died, and this angers their step mother to the point of physical punishment. As the maternal torture continues between the two girls and the step mother, it is clear that there is something else much more sinister in the house that is making its presence known and making it clear that the two sisters have much more to think about and fear than their step mother.

What I love about A Tale of Two Sisters is the fact that this isn’t horror at it’s most traditional. There are a few times where things get spooky in a familiar way, but these aren’t the scenes that make this movie scary. What makes it so frightening is the constant feeling of confusion and dread that is felt throughout the entire movie. The situation that these girls are in is bad enough, but the fact that no one is there to help them makes it even worse. Finally, and I have to say this without spoiling anything, everything you think you know is happening is put to question as the movie reaches its mind bending climax and makes you rethink just how disturbed everyone in this family is.

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As with most of the South Korean movies that I’ve seen, this one keeps with the tradition of being beautiful to look at. Kim Ji-woon has earned fame with films like I Saw the DevilThe Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the American film The Last Stand. Obviously to earn international success like that, you have to have a good amount of talent and it shines completely in A Tale of Two Sisters. This is a beautiful movie to look at to the point where it would be just as entertaining to turn the sound off and just watch the images and the colors and how everything moves. Color really pop in this film and the often moving camera seems to just flow from scene to scene. Beautiful stuff, but also haunting.

Let me just use this time to rant at about how this is how horror movies should be made. It’s annoying to go into these kinds of movies now and expect jump scares that may freak you out for a second, but won’t last with you. When I see a horror movie, I want to think about why it was so terrible. I don’t want the film makers to tell me why. Audiences are smart enough to be able to watch a horror movie and have scares in it that aren’t obvious or loud, but legitimately frightening. That’s where A Tale of Two Sisters succeeds the most.

A Tale of Two Sisters is slow moving and quiet, but also one of the prettiest and most disturbing horror films that I have ever seen. What’s great about this movie isn’t quite the fear that you feel during the scariest parts, but rather it’s the uncomfortable feeling you have throughout the whole movie. Being able to create a feeling like that and hold it for an entire movie is something to commend and respect. I would easily put this film on a list of my favorite horror films, and it’s one that any horror buff shouldn’t miss out on.

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.