The brohers are in search of Eun-joo but the question remains - why did she run?

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕) – ★★★☆☆

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕)

When their parents die in a tragic accident, Eun-joo (Gong Ye-ji (공예지) and her half brother Min-jae (Lee Ju-seung (이주승) are given an enormous life insurance settlement. Perhaps unsurprisingly as young adults, they quickly burn through the money as they live luxuriously and purchase without considering the consequences. When Eun-joo abruptly disappears with the remainder of the money, Min-jae makes it his mission to track her down and reclaim what’s his. With a lead on her whereabouts Min-jae sets off from Seoul to the south coast, not realising that step-brother Eun-ho (Kim Tae-yong (김태용) has stowed away on the back seat.

Angry and frustrated, Min-jae has strong motivation to track his sister

Angry and frustrated, Min-jae has strong motivation to track his sister

Shuttlecock (셔틀콕) is an interesting amalgamation of genres, combining the road movie with a coming-of-age social drama. The film is an impressive debut by director Lee Yu-bin (이유빈), who uses the conventions to keenly explore issues of parental responsibility, and its importance in defining and shaping youth during their formative years. Min-jae, for example, is initially a despicable character as he lies and cheats his way to get what he wants, a wayward youth without guidance or direction. His attitude is particularly awful in regards to his stowaway half-brother Eun-ho whom he treats terribly, poking fun at his bed-wetting and abandoning the young boy in the countryside. Yet as they travel together through Korea their bond is strengthened, not as brothers but as makeshift father and son and figures. Their relationship develops naturally and sincerely, with their evolution easily the highlight of the film.

Min-jae and Eun-ho set off from Seoul to Namhae in search of their missing sister

Min-jae and Eun-ho set off from Seoul to Namhae in search of their missing sister

Min-jae’s characterisation however is one of the central flaws of the film, as he is so deeply unlikeable that it is difficult to care about the journey he is on, not to mention whether he can succeed in finding his wayward sister. In order for him to change and grow Min-jae of course must begin as reprehensible, but he is so detestable he’s very difficult to empathise with. While Eun-joo’s motives for abandoning her brothers are elusive, Min-jae is so mean that it’s entirely feasible she did the right thing. In order for Min-jae to become a responsible adult, director Lee constructs some subtle and nuanced moments that delve into his psychology. Unfortunately however there are simply not enough events such as these, ironically even with an overly long running time of around 108 minutes, and the story often meanders whether in a city or on the road.

As well as notions of family, Shuttlecock also presents an interesting debate in regards to the younger generation’s attitude towards money, sex and responsibility, key issues in contemporary Korean culture. The siblings genuinely act like they are invulnerable upon receiving the payout, and have little concern for consequences, something the siblings must ultimately acknowledge when they are finally reunited. As such ‘shuttlecock’ is a wonderfully metaphorical title that conveys their constant up and down trajectory, adding a poetic sensibility to their tumultuous lives.

The brohers are in search of Eun-joo but the question remains - why did she run?

The brothers are in search of Eun-joo but the question remains – why did she run?

Verdict:

Shuttlecock is an interesting examination of contemporary Korean youth, their attitude towards money, and how they are shaped during their formative years by (lack of) parental guidance. The film is an impressive debut by director Lee Yu-bin, who competently employs the conventions of the road movie combined with a coming-of-age social drama in which to explore her characters. However, with a deeply unlikeable central protagonist, and an often meandering story within the overly long running time, Shuttlecock is an intriguing drama that depicts social issues rather than exploring them thoroughly.

★★★☆☆

 

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Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨) – ★☆☆☆☆

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

When brothers Jeok-san (Jeong Do-won (정도원) and Heuk-san (Park Geon-gyu (박건규) are caught betraying the mob, the gangsters seek bloody retribution. After beating the brothers to a pulp, the bloodthirsty enforcers decide to gouge out Heuk-san’s eyes before setting him on fire. What the gangsters don’t count on however, is older brother Jeok-san’s insatiable desire for revenge. Stealing an inordinate amount of dynamite Jeok-san targets everyone within the mob, saving those immediately responsible for his brother’s death for last.

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man is a noir-esque tale

A title such as Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨) conjures images of an entertaining grindhouse B-movie, a chance to exploit some of the more silly genre excesses in a fun, postmodern fashion. Unfortunately however, Dynamite Man is simply an awful, awful film. The revenge thriller is a woefully dull and plodding affair, bizarrely not even fulfilling the basic criteria of the genre by offering inventive scenes of violent catharsis. This is particularly odd given that Jeok-san’s modus operandi is to tie dynamite to the body of his target – begging the questions how, where and why he obtained it – yet rarely is it set off, depriving the audience of even that small spectacle. It is difficult to blame director  Jeong Hyuk-won (정혁원) for such an issue considering Dynamite Man clearly has an ultra-low budget, yet that being the case perhaps an alternative choice would have been more suitable as scenes of revenge are far from satisfactory, while the terrible characterisation make it extremely difficult to care either way.

Jeok-san consults his priest...for an incredibly inordinate amount of time

Jeok-san consults his priest…for an incredibly inordinate amount of time

What are in abundance however are talking heads scenes that go on for excruciating length. One such scene involves Jeok-san talking with his priest for over 20 minutes. With no change in camera shot. Worse still, the dialogue is appalling and laughably cliched. The conversation includes a ridiculously elementary discussion on the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ within a person’s soul as well as childhood memories, one of which involving swimming at a beach, that reduces Jeok-san – the cold-hard serial killer – to tears. Amazingly such sleep-inducing techniques are again employed when Jeok-san visits his brother in the hospital – again for over 20 minutes – as they discuss, amongst other things, their pet puppy. Luckily a few different camera shots are involved during those particular scenes, but the technical prowess is a serious issue throughout the entirety of the film.

The one area of Dynamite Man that is well-crafted are the flashback sequences. Shot in black and white, these scenes contain by far the most competently constructed shots within the film, while their insertion within the story at random junctures is on the right track. Yet even with the flashbacks, unfortunately there is no escaping how amateurish and lackluster Dynamite Man is.

Jeok-san the dynamite man spends time with his dying brother

Jeok-san the dynamite man spends time with his dying brother

Verdict:

A title such as Dynamite Man conjures images of a fun grindhouse B-movie. However the reality is a far cry from such hopes as the film is an utterly woeful attempt at a revenge thriller, one that is not only excruciatingly dull but also technically quite amateurish. While novice director Jeong Hyuk-won does well in constructing flashback sequences, taken as a whole Dynamite Man is a sleep-inducing film and one to be avoided.

★☆☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자) – ★★☆☆☆

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

An ex-firefighter and his family live a quiet and content life as florists, arranging flowers and delivering them around the local area. However one night after a delivery his daughter fails to return home, causing the family great concern. Their awful fear is realised when a stranger calls, informing them that he has abducted the girl and, if they want to see her alive and well again, the father must follow his instructions to the letter – including the kidnap of a young boy.

In a sea of over-crowded thrillers, Guardian (보호자) is a refreshing take on the genre. While each thriller attempts, and often fails, to use a particular ‘twist’ in order to make it stick in audience memory, Guardian‘s hook of pushing a father to the extreme of kidnap is an interesting premise indeed. Director Yoo Won-sang (유원상) does well for his directorial debut, and certainly shows potential for the future as he competently helms the story. Director Yoo does especially well in constructing the opening of the film, conveying the family as a loving and bickering group who play and curse yet still enjoy each other’s company. Such scenes are genuinely heart-warming and humourous, however in the quest to rapidly get to the daughter’s abduction the film runs into problems.

The ex-firefighter's daughter is kidnapped after delivering flowers for the family business

The ex-firefighter’s daughter is kidnapped after delivering flowers for the family business

Guardian is so concerned with getting to the kidnap as soon as possible that not enough time is spent developing the characterisaton within the family for it to have the requisite horror it should have. Such an issue could easily be overlooked with the construction of tension as the father follows the kidnapper’s instructions, but this is also highly problematic and often dull as initially all the ex-firefighter does is simply drive to different locations for no reason. Again, director Yoo seems more concerned with getting to the premise itself than the journey there, which is a real missed opportunity to generate suspense and character insight. As such, when the father is faced with abducting a child or risk losing his daughter, the scenes are interesting rather than poignant, although the director does add some nice flourishes.

With such an interesting premise Guardian doesn’t need to add some of the typical contrivances that afflict Korean thrillers, yet unfortunately they are present particularly in the later stages of the film. Twists and turns are always enjoyable but the story tips its hand too early, while the lack of sufficient clues, red herrings, and general characterisation means that they never achieve the impact their potential suggests. The tone of the film, chiefly due to the music, is also to blame as the soundtrack is often wildly inappropriate for the scenes in which they feature. Despite this however, the loose ends are weaved together for an interesting, though far from powerful, finale.

The father is pushed to breaking point in the attempt to be reunited with his daughter

The father is pushed to breaking point in the attempt to be reunited with his daughter

Verdict:

Guardian has an interesting premise, as a father is tasked with kidnapping a boy in exchange for his own abducted daughter. Director Yoo Won-sang displays potential throughout his directorial debut, competently helming the thriller with some nice flourishes. However the story is quite underdeveloped throughout, with a lack of tension and suspense equating to scenes that never fulfill their true potential. As such Guardian is an interesting, rather than exciting, thriller.

★★☆☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – ★★★★☆

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A slick and pulse-pounding thriller, Cold Eyes (감시자들) is a consistently engaging cat-and-mouse cop drama by co-directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byeong-seo (김병서). Gaining an impressive 5.5+ million admissions during its run, Cold Eyes has remade the 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky in a distinctly Korean fashion, eschewing the hard boiled noir in favour of highly polished Seoul landscapes and state of the art technology.

The strengths of the film lie in the kinetic sequences and exhilarating pacing, as well as the performances by the lead actors who have been wonderfully cast-against-type. Cold Eyes is not without flaws however, largely involving fleshing out the supporting cast and a third act that isn’t quite sure how to resolve everything. Yet such issues are easy to overlook when a genre film such as this is so engaging and enjoyable, and is quite the thrill ride throughout.

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-joo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Trained in the skills of surveillance and endowed with an incredible photographic memory, rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo (한효주) works hard to join an elite government agency under the watchful eyes of Chief Hwang (Seol Kyeong-gu (설경구). Yoon-joo’s arrival is timely, as a group of expert criminals have been stealing from notably high profile targets, constantly getting away without leaving a shred of evidence. Yet during their latest crime a small but significant clue has been discovered. Joining Chief Hwang’s unit, recruit Yoon-joo – now code-named ‘piglet’ – must put her skills to the test and follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the mastermind behind the operations, the cold and calculating ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성).

Immediately upon opening, Cold Eyes establishes itself as a cool and slick thriller. The futuristic metallic surfaces of the subway and high rise commerce zone in Seoul are highly impressive as Yoon-joo follows her target, turning the capital into a character in itself. The sequence is also exemplary in the construction of Yoon-joo as a rookie surveillance operative, as she works hard to notice and remember every minute detail no matter how insignificant, yet still makes enough mistakes to be believable and sympathetic. Not content with such a compelling opening, directors Jo and Kim follow it up shortly after with an engaging bank heist by uber-criminal Shadow. Clearly the co-directors have been influenced by the Joker’s bank job in The Dark Knight, and while Cold Eyes never reaches those heights, it is still thoroughly entertaining. The manner in which the criminals orchestrate their robberies is also quite thrilling, as Shadow watches from the rooftops to ensure a clean getaway while his henchmen busy themselves with the mission at hand, allowing for a duel perspective on events as well as providing even more polished cinematography of the Seoul skyline.

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

Another great strength of the film is undoubtedly the A-list cast who have been brilliantly cast against type. This is acutely the case for Han Hyo-joo who has been consistently cast as the love interest in several mediocre melodramas. In Cold Eyes the actress shines as an intelligent, skilled, and powerful operative, and it is a genuine delight to see a woman occupying such a role in a Korean film. Han Hyo-joo’s famed attractiveness is refreshingly never focused upon throughout the film with attention instead bestowed on her prowess, and the actress clearly relishes the role. Meanwhile Sol Kyeong-gu also excels as disheveled mentor Chief Hwang. Sol initially portrays the team leader with a commanding stoicism and intellectual fortitude, yet as story progresses it is primarily due to him that comedy enters the film thanks to his eccentricities. Naming every member of his team rather unflattering animal code-names is genuinely funny – particularly when designating their rotund target ‘thirsty hippo’ – yet such unorthodox methods are also crucial as he carves and maneuvers animal chess pieces on missions. As the ruthless and manipulative ‘Shadow’, Jeong Woo-seong is great. Typically cast as a romantic lead and/or inherently ‘good’, Jeong is surprisingly adept at playing the role of a cold-hearted villain with a penchant for murdering with a fountain pen. While he has the least to do of the three performers, every scene he is in is constantly engrossing and it’s a tribute to the actor that more screen time is desired.

For much of the running time Cold Eyes is an incredibly engaging cat-and-mouse thriller, and the entertainment derived from both sides attempting to outsmart each other is consistently high. Yet there are moments, most notably in the final act, that somewhat undermine all the great character work with silly coincidences in the attempt to tie up the story neatly. This is quite a shame considering what came before. Cold Eyes also fall into the trap of having too many underdeveloped secondary characters, with the belated attempts to flesh them out falling short. That said, the speedy pace of the film combined with the compelling story means that such concerns are never dwelt upon for long, with the open ended nature of the finale guaranteed to raise a smile.

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Verdict:

Cold Eyes is a slick and riveting thriller from co-directors Jo Eui-seok and Kim Byeong-seo. A remake of hard boiled Hong Kong noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a quite different film due to the focus on a seemingly futuristic Seoul and state of the art technology. The A-list cast, who have all been superbly cast against type, excel in their roles, particularly Han Hyo-joo as a highly intelligent and skilled rookie operative. With a highly engaging story and rapid pacing the film is consistently entertaining and, while some silly coincidences and over-abundance of secondary characters detract somewhat, Cold Eyes is a wonderfully compelling cat-and-mouse thrill-ride.

★★★★☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이) – ★★★☆☆

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Living in the remote countryside, Vietnamese bride Thuy diligently takes care of her ailing in-laws. As her mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Thuy’s daily chores become evermore burdensome, particularly as her husband has been absent for an unusually long time. Despite the loneliness Thuy fills her spare time with studying Korean language and attending the local church, living a quiet but content existence. Yet when her husband is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Thuy soon discovers the realities of being a Vietnamese woman in the Korean countryside.

Thuy (안녕, 투이)

Thuy becomes suspicious when her husband fails to return home

Thuy (안녕, 투이) is an impressive debut by director Kim Jae-han (김재한), both in exploring the issues South-East Asian wives face in Korea and as a visually striking film. Indeed, director Kim and director of photography Kim Sung-tai are to be congratulated for capturing the ethereal beauty of the Korean countryside, as Thuy features some truly gorgeous cinematography involving the natural landscapes of the area. Combined with the washed out tone that permeates exterior scenes throughout the film, the village becomes a palpably foreboding location, one conveyed as forgotten by time and the rest of Korean society. As such Thuy’s isolation and loneliness within the environment are further emphasised, with her plucky attempts to stay positive crafting a naive yet likeable central protagonist.

Thuy stays positive despite the hardships as a foreign wife in the country

Thuy stays positive despite the hardships as a foreign wife in the country

Thuy’s characterisation as a curious, bold and humble young Vietnamese woman is one of the great strengths of the film, and director Kim wisely uses her as a conduit for examining the life of a foreign bride in the countryside. As tradition dictates, Thuy often acts akin to a maid in taking care of her in-laws and diligently studies Korea language at the local church with other foreign wives, something their spouses dislike in case they get any ‘ideas.’ Thuy also witnesses domestic violence – with the victim, rather than the aggressor, locked in jail – as well as the prostitution ring foreign woman can fall into in the city. As such Thuy is quite an insightful film, with the subtlety applied to the societal pressures and prejudice she endures adding further potency.

Where Thuy fails however is in the later attempts to turn an insightful drama into a thriller, and the story suffers greatly for it. Thuy’s inability to accept her husband’s death is wonderful in revealing the tenacity of her character, with her enquiries also revealing a great deal of the prejudice she must endure as an immigrant. However when the story veers away from her into exploring the local police force and neighbourhood watch ‘militia’, something which increasingly occurs as the film progresses, the power and insight begins to wane as it becomes typical genre fare, complete with contrivances that serve to undermine Thuy’s journey.

Thuy displays great resolve following the death of her husband

Thuy displays great resolve following the death of her husband

Verdict:

Thuy is an insightful film the explores the issues South-East Asian wives endure in the Korean countryside. Featuring some quite striking cinematography of the ethereal country landscapes, as well as subtlety in examining social issues and prejudice, Thuy is an impressive debut by director Kim Jae-han. However, the attempt to turn the interesting drama into a typical and contrived thriller greatly undermines Thuy’s journey which is quite a shame, as for the most part the film is a potent and welcome addition in depicting concerns faced by female immigrants.

★★★☆☆

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카) – ★★☆☆☆

Pascha (파스카)

Pascha (파스카)

Screenwriter Ga-eul (Kim So-hee (김소희) lives a modest existence, working in dead-end jobs while she attempts to complete her screenplay. The only comforts for the lonely 40 year old are the stray cats she tends to – and often adopts – from the neighbourhood, and her boyfriend Joseph (Sung Ho-jun (성호준). Yet the relationship is quite scandalous as at 23 years her junior, Joseph has yet to complete high school let alone his required military service. Keeping a low-profile the couple continue their relationship unabated, until unexpected complications arise that threaten to drive them apart forever.

Crucial to the success of any romantic-drama is the core relationship. Audiences are fully aware that circumstances will enter the film that will challenge the protagonists, with the enjoyment derived from being so invested in the relationship that they will it to succeed despite the odds. In this sense, Pascha (파스카) falls far, far short of what is required as there is precious little romance or chemistry between Ga-eul and Joseph throughout the entire film. Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경) has decided to enter the relationship well into it’s maturity, which is certainly no bad thing, as she sets up events and situations that are both natural as well as allowing for the sincerity of long-term partners to emerge. Yet even though the relationship is far from conventional such heartfelt emotions never appear, chiefly due to the awkwardness between the two lead actors which is incredibly distracting, particularly by Sung Ho-jun. There is a distance and coldness between them that conveys a mother and son relationship rather than lovers. Joseph’s Oedipal concerns are obviously an issue – hammered home with the song, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” – but scenes such as sharing a bath just appear clumsy and indifferent rather than passionate and intimate.

Ga-eul's relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Ga-eul’s relationship with 17 year old Joseph is quite a scandal

Pascha‘s most interesting moments lie within scenes involving Ga-eul’s family. When they discover her relationship with the 17 year old, the judgement and criticism Ga-eul receives conveys a deep-rooted misogyny that, even at the age of 40, she must humbly endure. The abuse she suffers is indeed shocking and it is during such moments that actress Kim So-hee shines, displaying the frailty of the nervous and unconfident screenwriter with skill. The pressure enforced upon Ga-eul also leads to film’s very strong – and very graphic – anti-abortion statement, that will likely appall the majority of audiences and outrage many others. Commentators are likely to discuss how far directors could, or rather should, go when it comes to presenting such explicit and visceral portrayals of such a sensitive topic. Yet it is also bizarrely ironic given that the film is so concerned with feminist issues only to undermine one area of debate in such an extreme manner.

It is also unfortunate that director Ahn only begins to show creative flair out of the ashes from such controversial scenes. For the vast majority of the running time the film is an incredibly bland affair featuring a static camera and very little eye-catching cinematography. The uninspiring camerawork and compositions in the early stages of the film do convey the depression, loneliness and solemnity Ga-eul endures, yet such technical issues are rather crude and also suggest directorial inexperience, further detracting from the supposed intimacy between her and Joseph. This is indeed strange as director Ahn’s capabilities are impressive and wholly apparent during the film’s final scenes, a genuine shame as the relationship sorely requires such visual prowess much much earlier to be convincing and effective. As such Pascha is a romantic-drama that is ironically not memorable for its central couple or the relationship, but for the debate on ‘how far is too far?’ in representations of sensitive subject matter.

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Ga-eul must learn to endure the pain of loss

Verdict:

In the attempt to convey the scandalous relationship between a 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend, Pascha falls far short of other romantic dramas. The awkwardness and indifference displayed by the actors ultimately ruins any tension for when the relationship is predictably threatened. Yet director Ahn Seon-kyoung does well when examining the issues of misogyny endured by the central protagonist. Ironically however, Pascha, is not memorable for the scandalous relationship but for the explicit representation of abortion, which will likely upset critics and audiences alike.

★★☆☆☆

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물) – ★★★☆☆

Godsend (신의 선물)

Godsend (신의 선물)

When teenager So-young belatedly discovers she is pregnant, her attempt to get an abortion is dismissed by a doctor as too dangerous. Overhearing their conversation however is middle-aged Seung-yeon who, after several years of trying and failing to become pregnant, offers So-young a deal – the baby for an expensive foreign car. As the two women head into the country for the final months of So-young’s pregnancy, they form a close relationship, supporting each other through the unusual circumstances. Yet they are beset by problems from Seung-yeon’s selfish husband, and a group of three hunters with a penchant for rape. All the while, a secretive gardener watches the events unfold.

Godsend (신의 선물)

The women bond over simple chores

As the title implies, Godsend is intended as something of a contemporary nativity story, expressed through the unique visions of Kim Ki-duk – here on writing and producing duties – and protege director Moon Si-hyun (문시현). Kim Ki-duk’s methodology of employing amoral, misogynistic characters to explore social problems is quite apparent throughout the film, yet Godsend is also lighter than most projects he is involved with, presumably due to director Moon. Indeed, the portrayal and character development ascribed to unlikely duo So-young and Seung-yeon is quite charming, arguably even empowering, in the early stages of the film as the twosome attempt to complete their unorthodox deal without the aid of men. Bonding scenes, which include driving lessons and growing vegetables, are sweet natured and sincere. That is, before the inclusion of men. The male characters within Godsend are appalling beasts, and the threat of rape is constantly present throughout the film which often makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Seung-yeon is constantly abused by her selfish husband

Seung-yeon is constantly abused by her selfish husband

While early sex scenes between Seung-yeon and her husband convey an impersonal and unloving relationship very well, the theme of ‘sex as duty’ and his later consistent attempts to rape his own wife despite her proclamations to stop emphasise the intense misogyny laced within the story. This is further compounded by the three hillbilly hunters who lay sexual siege to the women, while So-young’s ex simply wants to receive a share of the money. In each predicament Seung-yeon and So-young are routinely blamed and ‘punished’ for stepping outside of traditional patriarchal ‘boundaries’, often to shocking – and infuriating – effect. While Kim Ki-duk certainly has his flaws, his depictions of misogyny are usually quite insightful on both character-driven and cultural levels. Such depth is not contained within Godsend, and as such the later attempts to change such morally vacuous males into upstanding gentlemen rings ridiculously hollow.

Yet Godsend is very engaging whenever the story returns to the developing sisterhood between Seung-yeon and So-young. Critics often lament Kim Ki-duk’s characters for taking huge and arguably illogical leaps within his narratives, and director Moon Si-hyun overcomes such concerns through non-linear editing.  Initially the film jumps from So-young’s disgust at the proposed exchange to her journey with Seung-yeon into the countryside, yet director Moon fills in the gaps with flashbacks which works wonderfully in terms of character development, with their burgeoning relationship easily the heart and soul of the film.

As a modern nativity however, Godsend falls flat. While the first half of the film sets up events well, the second half provides an overabundance of sexist sub-plots that detract from the journey the women undertake. The constant misogyny and threat of rape constructs a perverse nativity as opposed to an exploration of contemporary pregnancy and childbirth issues. Thankfully the religious themes are not overt however, while the developing relationship between So-young and Seung-yeon makes Godsend an interesting and oft-compelling drama.

Seung-yeon's husband listens to 'gift of God' in So-young's tummy

Seung-yeon’s husband listens to the ‘gift of God’ in So-young’s tummy

Verdict:

Godsend is a compelling attempt at a contemporary nativity story of sorts, based on a screenplay by Kim Ki-duk and directed by one of his proteges, Moon Si-hyun. Exploring the issues of pregnancy and surrogacy, the film shines when depicting the burgeoning relationship between the two central female protagonists as they bond during their unorthodox deal. However the inclusion of atrocious male characters, who perpetuate a constant threat of rape, often makes for uncomfortable viewing.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews