Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wanee and Junah

In the mood for love.

Wanee and Junah
Starring Joo Jin-Mo (Happy End, Musa) / Kim Hee-sun (Bichunmoo, The Myth)
Director Kim Yong-gyun

Taboo lite.

That's it, let this movie surprise you. Not a giggly giddy romance. Its thoughfulness keeps you glued, the fearful politeness necessary. The fluid leaps in time are candid the way memories surface like smiles from strangers. Plus the watercolor animation that bookends the movie is, plain and simple, beautiful.

Junah (Joo) is easily accessible because A.) He is a struggling writer; B.) He's fighting everything and everyone to keep what he has: live-in relationship, happiness, pride; c.) As a result of item B, he ends up trying too hard. Hits too close to home. X marks the heartbreak. Kim keeps uncomfortable moments burning under low fire, and true enough, they gnaw. They haunt. They hover like something you shouldn't have said. Or should have noticed. Can't help waiting for that spill over, that boiling point. The break-up.
You're in for one serious mood-fuck. ****

Palwol ui Christmas (Christmas in August)

Last Christmas.

Palwol ui Christmas (Christmas in August)

Starring Han Suk-kyu (Shiri) / Shim Eun-ha
Director Hur Hin-ho (April Snow)

(Because it's Christmas.)

Short, sweet, yet surprisingly tough. This movie about an unremarkable man with a terminal disease pulses with life, quiet and natural. Jung-won (Hang) chuckles, drinks with high school friends and falls in love in his last few weeks while he writes down instructions on how to run his photo developing store. His interaction with his family is mundane, devoid of drama and soundtrack, but the wonderfully expressive actor that Hang is, Jung-won always appears like he is memorizing everything. The flavors of his father's cooking; the conversations over watermelons.

Da-rim (Shim) enters his life in a stumble, harassed and unapologetic. But when she becomes a regular visitor, armed with ice cream and a secret smile, you know it's love.

In one of the film's best moments, Jung-won tries to teach his father how to operate the VCR. We've all been there; grrr-arrrgh. Jung-won storms out, frustrated. Desperate. In his room, he writes down detailed instructions. Step 1. Step 2. With such quiet formality, it fucking hurts. *****

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dalkomhan insaeng (A Bittersweet Life)

Bloody hell.

Dalkomhan insaeng (A Bittersweet Life)

Starring Lee Byung-hun (Joint Security Area) / Sin Min-ah (Volcano High)
Director Kim Jee-won (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Quiet Family)

An assassin and the boss’s luminous mistress. Like oxygen to a flame, the result is predictable combustion. Surprising and consuming. And as an action movie, this one cauterizes, fueled by feral rage. Sun Woo’s (Byung-hun) frantic punches and swings, fighting of twenty men in an abandoned warehouse, is epic. The camera shudders with every blood splatter. Insides lurch when rusty nails connect, digging too deeply in the ankle. Yet the movie keeps us guessing, all this for what? Sun Woo keeps emotions simmering; a trained killer precise as shattered glass yet awkward. Adolescent shy. The first few glances at Hee Soo (Min-ah) were fleeting. Her feet. Her neck. The lock of hair she tucks behind her ear. And the casual smile that makes everything worthwhile. It’s the small things that drive us crazy, really. Those uncalculated long last looks that make A Bittersweet Life great. *****

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Naesarang Ssagaji (My Love Ssagajy: 100 Days with Mr. Arrogant)

She ain't heavy, she's a minor.

Naesarang Ssagaji (My Love Ssagajy: 100 Days with Mr. Arrogant)

Starring: Kim Jae-won (Romance), Ha Ji-won (Memories of Bali/Love, So Divine)
Director: Shin Don-yup

This should have been a bad movie. The booger flinging, the masturbation jokes, the spit soup, ranges from whathafuck to blech! But I enjoyed. I enjoyed it a lot. Originally an internet novel, the storyline is see-through flimsy right from the outset. A high school knucklehead accidentally causes a car accident and the dickhead owner demands that she become his slave for 100 days to pay off the damage. Pacing is quirky quick, and the jokes, ah, the jokes. Sublimely irreverent. Haven't cried this much since Old Yeller. Of course, love ruins everything and humor takes a backseat in the last half hour. The leap to innocence is uncovincing and trite it almost feels like an apology for the brutal naughtiness of its early parts when, really, none is needed. ***

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gabal (The Wig)

Getting Wiggy With It

Gabal (The Wig)

Starring Min-seo Chae (Champion), Hyon-Jin Sa (Tube, Kilimajnaro)

Director: Shin Yeon-Won

The ending wracks, right. But trangression's still a priority also-ran , so - - - uh oh. The sustain it achieves, though, you have to at least admire that. The way it stretches cuckoo premise over pokerfaced tableau with a straight face. Some parts draw you in. Others make you flinch. Most make trips to the refrigerator without bothering with the pause button guilt-free. Rarely does it hit ballistic on the sublime freakout you secretly hoped for. Nor the arcane kitsch that would've done as consolation prize. But then, rarely does it collapse and twitch into the involuntary giggly fits you save for those Ed Wood marathons. Things stay prim , proper, blah - - - like a string quartet. It gives its game away only after when it sinks in that what you've just plowed through was a horror movie about a haunted wig. And what an inexplicably dull missed opportunity that was. How Miike would have skullfucked this baby. Bit of a shame, then. * *

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Ninja kiss.


Starring: Jae Hee (Sassy Girl Chun Hyang) / Lee Seung-yeon (Piano Man)

Director: Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy, The Bow)

Lee's only lines are at the end of the movie: "Let's eat" and "I love you". Brave and simmering, 3-Iron is almost a silent movie. Twitchy fingers, sideways glances do the talking and really, it is one of the best written movies ever.

Jae Hee's a bum who breaks into empty houses for shelter and food. He washes clothes and fixes broken things around the house (clock, gun) for rent. Fair deal (except for the gun bit, that, scary). Lee's a battered wife who refuses to talk, and when Jae Hee crashes their house, she doesn't do anything except watch him (take a bath and masturbate). The husband comes home, Jae Hee aims golf balls at the husband's balls, and the rest -- thoughtful, curious, distraught, yearning silence.

Jae Hee and Lee explore houses as they search each other's faces for comfort. The silence they share is almost magical; it does hold the best lines, bouncing off walls and drifting through corridors. Creases, pillows talk in Kim Ki-duk's humming world, and when Lee utters her first phrase, it's the ringing happiness in her voice that matters. Words distract while salvation, puzzling and weightless, kiss her on the lips. ****

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Agressives

Skater boys Mogi and Soyo and a very big water bottle.

Taepoong Taeyang (The Agressives)
Starring: Cheon Jeung-myeong / Lee Cheon-hee (A Good Lawyer's Wife) / Kim Kang-woo
Director: Jeong Jae-eun (Take Care of My Cat)

When asphalt virgin Soyo (Cheon) asks Mogi (Kim) about his scars, the dogtown lord replies, "These are not scars; they are kiss marks." So, this is love.

Jeong's second feature, The Agressives, does unfurl like a love story: boy meets rollerblades, boy throws away rollerblades, boy falls in love again with rollerblades. Disappointingly conventional. Sacharrine for adrenalin. The fast and furious editing also wears off a few mintues into the first half. Disjointed and blurry, the rushed, fractured storyline is a speeding ticket waiting to happen.

But somewhere in between are quiet sparks of brilliance. Soyo's imitation of Mogi in front of the bathroom mirror is part de Niro spunk, part Slacker lost. The finger skating bit -- secretive, unfiltered, almost untouched -- is easily the most resonant in this glossy but surprisingly subdued movie.

Sports is painful and dirty. Extreme sports, excruciating and fucking repugnant. Love and extreme sports? It can never be this pretty. **

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Little Bride

Matinik ka talaga, Kevin.

EORIN SHINBU (My Little Bride)
Starring: Kim Rae-won (Attic Cat) / Moon Geun-young (Tale of Two Sisters)
Director: Kim Ho-joon

Snogging a sixteen year-old girl, yeah, sweet. But hello licking flames of hell. Then, there's also prison. My Little Bride has neither dancing devils nor shiny handcuffs because in Korea, it is legal to marry a minor. You read it right boysies, it is LEGAL to marry a sixteen year-old girl (with the parents' consent, but still) in Korea, or at least, that's what this movie makes us believe. (Insert disclaimer: no cultural judgment here, general queasiness mostly from catholic high school background.)
Sang-min (Kim) and Bo-eun (Moon) are childhood buddies; one is twenty-two and a compulsive flirt, the other's sixteen and is just starting high school where she spends most of her time silently watching a particularly polite softball jock. And as fixed marriages go, they got fixed, and the funnies begin to roll and rock their worlds. Giggling in bed, giggling at underwear, giggling in aisle 4, the first half is giddy with games of hide and seek encounters as their lives begin to overlap. Sex is easily dismissed; it is just not in Bo-eun's mind.
Any tension under the sheets is dealt with tenderness, sweet and uncomplicated.
Bo-eun's slow unraveling is kick-in-the-shin painful. Going steady with the jock, her teen fantasy turns to hop-skipping with adultery. Being a PG comedy, the movie sidesteps the real issues and ends a little abruptly with a cringe worthy speech. But never mind that. Kim, with his sparkly charm, and Moon's feisty innocence collide and merge like atoms: charged, fateful. ***1/2