Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sutâfisshu Hoteru(Starfish Hotel)

Hey! It's the rabbit from Donnie Darko! In Japan!

Sutâfisshu Hoteru(Starfish Hotel)

Starring Koichi Sato(Samurai Resurrection), Tae Kimura(The Sinking of Japan), Kiki (Vital), Akira Emoro (Memories of Matsuko)
Director: John Williams (Firefly Dreams)

Emits Donnie Darko freakout , does that rabbit suit ,shapeshifting to slippery aura of Alice when we get to the Wonderland brothel ,as a fictional world bleeds into the real. Uh huh. Like the Lewis Carroll cop-out, it could all be so much headnoise for preoccupied salaryman Koichi Sato. Guilt pangs ,because he's a dork who prefers reading mystery novels over getting it on with hot wife Tae Kimura and who does get it on with hotter stranger Kiki and her mineshaft of skeletons. Then hot wife disappears and - - - curioser and curioser? You wish. Gorgeous, yes. Muted and gauzy and proper, right. None of which computes as the palpable hallucination it's aiming for. Or should, if it isn't. No grasp for confusion,then. The mystery bland where it wants to be viscous. The plot thins rather than thickens. And the tacked-on coda comes too late to up the ambiguity. And doesn't anyway.
* *

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bu San (Goodbye Dragon Inn)

The Last Picture Show

Bu San(Goodbye Dragon Inn)

Starring Kang Sheng Lee (What Time Is It There?), Xiangqi Chen (A Brighter Summer Day)
Director: Tsai Ming Liang (What Time Is It There?, The Wayward Cloud)

The architecture has bearing, our elliptical romance with cinema is our elliptical romance with the cinema,too - - - haunted house, repository of stories, cave of dreams, spaces where anything can happen. Not entirely the girftwrapped valentine to the movies Tsai loved that it at first seems to be, but more a soft-spoken elegy to the fading glories of the moviehouses he watched them in. Naturally, nostalgia flavors things. Particularly resonant, though, is how the moviehouse comes off as an ecology ,with its interior sociologies , its modes of conduct. Everything's here, familiar as secret handshakes. There is a thin smattering of people who converge, on this sad and rainy night, at the rundown Taiwanese moviehouse showing King Hu’s Dragon Inn one last time before closing its doors forever. Each has a story to tell. So, too, the ticket booth girl with a game leg and the mysterious projectionist. And in this space where anything can happen, many things do. All bouncing off the movie , the moviehouse and the ramifications of the night , eventually revealing themselves funnily, wistfully, poignantly, beautifully, always deliberately. At just 80 minutes, this is still Tsai’s slowest movie. You know the immersive long take is his discipline, the risking of ennui to tap into epiphanies. Pointlessly argue at this juncture and you’re probably out of his reach. Slowness doesn’t always connote torpor,after all. Sometimes it connotes grace.* * * * *

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chinjeolhan Geumjassi (Sympathy For Lady Vengeance)

Revenge Is A Cake Best Eaten Cold

Chinjeolhan Geumjassi (Sympathy For Lady Vengeance)

Starring Lee Yeong-ae (Jewel In The Palace), Choi Min Sik (Oldboy)
Director: Park Chan Wook (Sympathy For Mr.Vengeance)

Parts of this lose me for want of a hook. The key to confronting Park's specific brand of shock cinema is always that empathic nag that sucks you in - - -the politically corrosive murder in JSA, the kidnapped girl of Sympathy For Mr.Vengeance, the captivity a la Kafka of Oldboy. The hook here's old school Charlie Bronson get-even with not much meat in its spindly bones. Lee Yeong-ae's injured ex-con Geum ja's a cipher. Choi Min Sik’s fuming heavy's a cartoon demon. And the narrative fractures until it breaks down to the emotional consistency of a blackly hilarious sketch comedy. The carpet-bombing of the abstract-expressionist eyecandy and ravishing carnage and absurdist sweeteners Park's getting more and more psycho for counts for visceral joy but it removes me even more. All traumas converge on the overextended schoolhouse finale but has to bristle with it to raise crucial hackles. My heart's not in it by then so it's all so much preening designer ultraviolence to me , like a decapitation under neon.
* * *

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ssawoomeui Gisool (The Art of Fighting)

The art of posing.

Ssawoomeui Gisool (The Art of Fighting)
Starring Jae Hee (3-Iron) / Bae Yoon-sik (President's Last Bang)
Director Sin Han-sol

Karate Kid on steroids. There's more reason to the punches here than some homoerotic ringside action, it's the survival of the poorest where people risk getting beat up for bread. There's also less mush and more street zen; Bae Yoon-sik's miyagi is gangsta cool and the coin-throwing wrist action is believably fatal. Expecting more though would ruin all the fun. This is engrossing predictability at its glossiest with unpredictable bone-cracking in gravity-defying decibels, and a surprising hint of sadness at the futility of the struggle. With wit that bounces off walls and a subtle handle on irony, The Art of Fighting could have aspired for more but it seems to be content with being just entertaining. ***

Orora Gongjoo (Princess Aurora)

No, I'M Lady Vengeance!

Orora Gongjoo (Princess Aurora)
Starring Uhm Jung-hwa (Crazy Marriage) / Moon Seong-geun (Virgin stripped Bare by Her Bachelors)
Director Bang Eun-jin

Princess Aurora delivers the chops, the stabs to the groin (I kid you not) and more importantly, a furious motive that (partially) eclipses Lady Vengeance's orchestrated arthouse-ready flamboyance. Uhm Jung-hwa seduces and shocks and carries the movie with sheer intensity. The violence seems random at first, from the first blood spray in a mall's bathroom to the ultimate scissor fighting match in a technoposh bachelor's pad, but the movie's last 30 minutes weave the loose ends together toward a logical, but a little too predictable end. If there's anything the movie lacks, it's humor, and some parts are laughable for all the wrong reasons (the breakdown bit while operating heavy machinery is just hilarious). But for every stumble, we are rewarded with moments of brilliant brutality that more often than not even the score. ***

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Saedu Moobi (Sad Movie)

Dolls with big heads are my favorite type of women.

Saedu Moobi (Sad Movie)
Starring Jeong Woo-seung (A Moment to Remember) / Im Soo-jeung ( / Cha Tae-hyon (My Sassy Girl) / Sin Min-ah (Volcano High) / Lee Ki-woo (The Classic) / Yeom Jeong-ah (Tale of Two Sisters)
Director Kwon Jong-gwan (S-Diary)

Not exactly a sad movie. With a cast of pretty boys and girls, how can it not be fun? Cute and cuddly puppy pieces --- the romcom parts made me blush and sigh like a school girl, fuck it --- cursed with sobby fates. Anything beyond that is just plain adoration. So let's just talk lighting. Filtering is luminous. Glowy. Mostly shot in available light, this movie's little world is literally bathed in dreamy softness, ultimately making the ending more pointless. More sad. **1/2

Sonnimeun Wangida (The Customer is Always Right)

The first cut is the deepest.

Sonnimeun Wangida (The Customer is Always Right)
Starring Seong Ji-roo (Super Family) / Seong Yeon-ah (The Intimate) / Myeong Ke-nam (Address Unknown)
Director Oh Ki-hyeon

A dark past is a bitch if you're a middle-aged barber who has a wife who would rather sell insurance than sleep with you. Especially if that deep dark secret involves screwing a minor and running her over at the end of the evening and a stranger struts in and bitch slaps you with blackmail. In turns funny and excruciatingly desperate, "the Customer is Always Right" rolls along interestingly enough --- with a few Park Chan-wook splices along the way --- until it reaches a satisfyingly surprising, twisted roundabout end. You know the razor will cut and the blood will spurt but the wait in between the sharpening and shaving is priceless. *** 1/2

Friday, March 17, 2006

Juemogi Unda(Crying Fist)

Fists of Fury

Jumeogi Unda(Crying Fist)

Starring Choi Min Sik (Old Boy, Happy End), Seung Beom Ryu(Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance)

Director: Ryoo Seung-Wan(Arahan, Die Bad)

Treading pugilist tearjerk maneouvers lightly but getting a perverse delight from indulging them- - - that frail grandmother evicting her sickbed for a ringside seat is the working definition of pushing it - - - this fighter melodrama was prone to ickiness from the get-go. It succumbs eventually - - - pulling its punches because Ryoo knows better not to. But sap laid on thin is still sap - - -that's my nit. Granted, there's a charge to its coarse sheen. And lower your defenses a bit and making friends with the movie becomes effortless. You don't come away empty-handed either. It makes enough of a case for both its underdog protagonists - - - Choi Min Sik's over the hill champion whoring himself out as a human punchbag for grub and coin while his family disintegrates and Ryu Seung-Beom's hothead punk languishing in jail who finds vent for his rage boxing in prison - - - so that when their parallel lives converge in the ring (you knew that), you not only feel for both , you root for both.
* * *
Salinui Chueok(Memories of Murder)

Good Cop Bad Cop

Salinui Chueok(Memories of Murder)
Starring Song Kang Ho (The President's Barber), Kim Sang-Kyung (Turning Gate)
Director: Bong Jun Hoo (The Host)

It’s the Korean Jack the Ripper. Just as gruesome, just as unsolved. Knowing that won’t muck things up. City cop and country cop partner to crack the case and it's their story mostly. And the serial killer they dog is a lash of panic that welts this investigation into smalltown hysteria , this tweaking of odd couple dynamics , this slapstick upending of the police procedural, this many things beyond dull roman a clef , with the throb of sinister goings-on. Soon, scenes achieve grace, some crackle and one - - - a set piece in the dead of a rainy night - - -had me picking my jaw up from the floor. Delicate balances are struck. Between placid milieu and seething underbubble. Between foreboding creepiness and broad comedy. Between truth and embellishment. Between invisible solution and tantalizing mystery. * * * * *

Friday, March 10, 2006

Jageop-ui jeongseok (Art of Seduction)

Slut machine.

Jageop-ui jeongseok (Art of Seduction)
Starring Son Ye-jin (April Snow) / Song Il-gook (Red Eye)
Director Oh Ki-Hwan (Last Present)

More like the art of Son Ye-jin's smile. She's purty but a seam-splitting seductress she isn't. Given that this movie aims for the funny more than fanny but still, light sweating should still be encouraged. Ye-jin's content with being cute and any licking of the lips (her own) is mechanical.
Il-gook's suave grace dominates, the trophy practically handed over to him, in this lopsided battle of the sex machines which is too polite, too skittish and almost too charming. Everything a good roll in the hay should never be. Kid stuff. *1/2

Na-ui gyeolhon-wonjeongki (Wedding Campaign)

Odd couple. Odd place.

Na-ui gyeolhon-wonjeongki (Wedding Campaign)
Starring Jung Jae-young (Welcome to Dongmakgol) / Yu Jun-sang (Tell Me Something) / Soo-ae (A Family)
Director Hwang Byung-guk

Who looks for love in Uzbekistan? Apparently, Korean farmers. Desperate Korean farmers. (There's a short spiel at the beginning of the movie which explains why there are illegal Korean immigrants --- known as Koryo, I think --- in a far-flung Eastern Europe country, so believe it.) Man-taek's (Jung) naivete in women starts out funny, but in an alien land with cold art deco gold-leafed edifices, it's heartbreaking. The general rule: farmers play the rich man card and the Koryo play along for a visa back to motherland. But Min-taek falls for his handler, a North Korean who wants to defect to the South. I know it sounds complicated and too soap opera-ish but in the hands of the brilliant Jung, Min-taek's unraveling is a mosaic of flaws and shy first-steps that refuse to be anything but a man stubbornly fighting for his last chance at true love. ****

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sarangni (Blossom Again)

Swept away.

Sarangni (Blossom Again)
Starring Kim Jeung-eun (Marrying the Mafia) / Lee Tae-seong
Directed Jung Ji-woo (Happy End)

Love moves in mysterious ways. And it can go all Star Trek on you. Parallel universes overlap and asks you: would you love the same person all over again? A woman about to hit her thirties suddenly meets a younger reincarnation of her first love, a high schooler who doesn't know his math but oh boy, can he kiss (see above). Just like the way she remembers him. She believes. She insists. She loves. And there's no fighting that. When the real guy shows up
for dinner --- all grown-up, forgetful and disappointing --- sideways glances do the talking. No explosions here. No Happy End irony. For those of us praying for that second chance, a possibility, small or miraculously obvious, is good enough. ****

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dalkomhan Insaneng (A Bittersweet Life)

Hurts so good.

Dalkomhan Insaneng (A Bittersweet Life)

Starring : Ro Ha Kim (Memories of Murder)
Director: Kim Ji Won (A Tale of Two Sisters)

It's fed the genre countless times before: henchman gets personal, gets backstabbed, gets even. Heroic Bloodshed jackpots when it regards itself as an apotehosis of pain. More blood shed, less heroism. The pain of impossible love. The pain of a knife wedged in your back. The pain of vendetta against friends. Pain - - - all makes and models - - - is the metatheme of the action movie. The chickenshit ones - - - hi-ho Joel Silver! - - - pull punches, strike poses, sugarcoat. The gutsy ones deconstruct the machismo, count the costs, lance the boil, let it bleed. The gutsy ones hurt. Like hell. Like this. * * * *

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Yasu-wa minyeo (Beast and the Beauty)

Pretty on the inside.

Yasu-wa minyeo (Beast and the Beauty)
Starring Shin Min-a (Volcano High) / Ryoo Seung-bum (Arahan)
Director Lee Gye-byuk

A comedy of errors that has all been done before but with the comedic punch of Arahan
. Blind Hae-ju (the effervescent Shin) is about to undergo eye surgery and can't wait to see Dong-gun (Ryoo). When there's not much to see, really. In desperation Dong-gun gets a couple of surgeries himself, which result in painfully funny bits --- the missing eyebrow, the sketched eyebrow. The drawn eyebrow over the drawn eyebrow. When a dashing cop enters the scene, looking exactly the way Dong-gun described himself to Hae-ju, desperation turns to pathetic. Laughing with tears in your eyes is always the best kind. ***1/2

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Welkeom tu dongmakgol (Welcome to Dongmakgol)

Err, I hope that's a gun in your pocket.

Welcome to Dongmakgol
Starring Shin Ha Kyun (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) / Kang Hye Jun (Old Boy) / Jung Jae Young (Someone Special)
Director Park Kwang Yun

Storyline's a predictable yarn tangled in the barbed speculations of JSA and Shiri, but director Park speculates with delicate magic. North and South Korean soldiers stumble onto Dongmakgol, a mountain cloistered village straight out of Miyazaki's wonderworking head. Arming the usual suspects with charming oddities --- butterfly armies, raging bulls, a kind American --- Dongmakgol earns reverence, almost too beautiful, too benevolent to touch. And when the bombs threaten to fall like rain, you guiltily wish for deus ex machina. Or Totoro to make everything better. ****