Jan 2016 – K-Film Preview

January 7th

Don't Forget Me (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Remember You (나를 잊지 말아요)

Director: Lee Yoon-jung

Cast: Jeong Woo-sung, Kim Ha-neul

Distributor: CJ Entertainment

Synopsis: When Seok-won loses the past 10 years of his memory due to an accident, he struggles to piece together his existence and discover the life he once had. However upon meeting Jin-young his memories start to return as love blossoms between them.

The Lowdown: Director Lee Yoon-jung developed Remember You from her celebrated short film Remember O Goddess, initially turning to kickstarter to generate funding before superstar Jeong Woo-sung – whom became friends with director Lee while she worked as a script supervisor on The Good, The Bad, The Weird – came on board as both producer and actor. After around two years of production, Remember You is finally being released alongside a significant advertising campaign from distributors CJ.

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Catch Him to Survive (잡아야 산다)

Director: Oh In-chun

Cast: Kim Seung-woo, Kim Jeong-tae

Distributor: OPUS Pictures

Synopsis: When two friends – one a CEO and the other a police officer – have their phone and gun taken by a group of high school delinquents, they must work together to track down the thieves and recover their stolen goods.

The lowdown: Action-comedy Catch Him to Survive seems quite a departure for director Oh In-chun, who previously impressed with horror-drama Mourning Grave. Judging from the trailer (see below) the film looks set to be a madcap caper with promising chemistry from veteran leads Kim Seung-woo and Kim Jeong-tae (who, ironically, was originally cast in Remember You [see above] before leaving the project due to scheduling conflicts). Catch Him to Survive also marks the big screen debut for four young actors, including Hyuk from Kpop band VIXX.

January 14th

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Mood of the Day (그날의 분위기)

Director: Jo Kyu-jang

Cast: Moon Chae-won, Yoo Yeon-seok

Distributor: Showbox

Synopsis: While on a business trip to Busan, Soo-jung meets lothario Jae-hyun and is instantly repulsed by his suggestion of spending the night together. However when the journey doesn’t go according to plan they are forced to travel together, and the duo find themselves becoming close.

The lowdown: Mood of the Day is another romantic outing for stars Moon Chae-won and Yoo Yeon-seok, who dabbled with the genre in last year’s Love Forecast and Beauty Inside, respectively. Their collaboration appears to be quite a comical take on modern relationships, and it will be interesting to see if director Jo Kyu-jang can avoid the cliches and offer something fresh for audiences.

January

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Robot, Sori (로봇, 소리)

Director: Lee Ho-jae

Cast: Lee Sung-min, Lee Hee-joon, Lee Honey, Chae Soo-bin

Distributor: Lotte Entertainment

Synopsis: Tragically, Hae-gwan lost his daughter 10 years ago although he refuses to give up on finding the youngster again. Unbeknownst to the distraught father is that an AI satellite with voice-recognition capabilities is circling the globe, and upon crash landing in Korea, helps Hae-gwan to be reunited with his daughter.

The lowdown: With a narrative that is particularly reminiscent of animated tale Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Robot Sori looks set to be a heart-warming family sci-fi drama. Lee Sung-min has starred in a staggering number of films and TV drama series since his debut, though his star power increased dramatically following his turn in hit TV show Missing, resulting in his lead role in Robot Sori.

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

A Melody to Remember (오빠 생각)

Director: Lee Han

Cast: Siwan, Ko Ah-sung

Distributor: Next World Entertainment

Synopsis: As war ravages Korea during the early 1950s, Second Lieutenant Han Sang-Yeol discovers a village while leading his platoon. Moved by the children of the village who have lost everything, Sang-yeol vows to protect them.

The lowdown: Director Lee Han is back in cinemas after helming impressive family dramas Punch and Thread of Lies, though this outing sees the filmmaker tackling war as a major component. Featuring Siwan, whose star power is steadily rising following roles in The Attorney and TV drama Misaeng, A Melody to Remember – or more literally translated as Thinking of my Older Brother – looks to be a war-era tear-jerker.

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Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕) – ★★★☆☆

Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕)

Scarlet Innocence (마담 뺑덕)

Due to a scandalous issue at university, literature professor Hak-gyu (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) is forced to relocate to the countryside while an investigation transpires. Arriving at a small village, he begins reluctantly teaching the elderly residents, and in becoming acquainted with his new surroundings Hak-gyu meets young and innocent fairground operator Deokee (Esom (이솜). Although married and a father, Hak-gyu begins a steamy, passionate affair with Deokee, yet when a surprise phone call alerts him that the scandal has ended he returns home, abandoning his new mistress. Years later, as his sight begins to dissipate, the ramifications of Hak-gyu’s selfish past deeds come back to haunt him.

While in exile, literature professor Hak-gyu meets innocent Deokee

While in exile, literature professor Hak-gyu meets innocent Deokee

Scarlet Innocence is a reimagining of the classic Korean folk fable Shim-cheong, in which a daughter sacrifices herself at sea in order for her blind father to regain his sight. Director Lim Pil-seong (임필성) and screenwriter Jang Yoon-mi (장윤미) update the tragic filial piety story into a modern tale of lust and revenge, spurred by questions about how the motivations of the original characters developed. The revised story, with the addition of sexual promiscuity, themes of revenge and the gangster underworld, bares little more than a passing metaphoric resemblance to the original tale to the point where it’s surprising Shim-cheong is referenced as inspiration at all. Yet that aside, while Scarlet Innocence is competently produced and sports fine performances from leads Jeong Woo-seong and Esom, the erotic thriller consistently feels rushed and unfinished both narratively and directorially.

The film opens with Hak-gyu journeying to the countryside to endure his time in exile. The cinematography is a visual treat through the recurring motif of blooming cherry blossom trees and quaint rural landscapes, yet rather than employing additional cinematic cues to convey the professor’s angst a voice-over is incorporated to explain the premise. The unnecessary device is utilised at several junctures throughout the film to clarify certain situations yet rather than illuminate, it serves merely to draw audiences out of the story. Scarlet Innocence improves greatly however upon Hak-gyu’s arrival, where his frustrations and dispute with the university are articulate well through tantalizing hints that allude to his precarious situation. The development of Hak-gyu’s relationship with Deokee also begins well, largely due to Esom’s wonderfully charismatic performance as an innocent girl enamored with an older sophisticated gentleman. A scene in which she is almost hypnotised by Hak-gyu’s hand as it moves over a desk is impressively constructed, conveying intense, palpable sexual desire.

Hak-gyu and Deaokee begin a passionate affair

Hak-gyu and Deokee begin a passionate affair, arousing gossip in the village

Unfortunately however the development from such moments to explicit sexual scenes lacks the impetus to make the affair compelling, as the relationship jumps from a stolen kiss to impersonal sex on a ferris wheel, and beyond. Much has been made of the intimate sequences, so much so that the film has rather unfairly acquired a reputation for it, yet the erotic moments, while featuring plenty of exposure, contain a shortage of both sincerity and passion particularly when contrasted with the year’s other erotic drama Obsessed. This is not so much due to the actors, both of whom are impressive in conveying their psychology through their bodies, but rather the need for greater prior development and intensity between them which another script rewrite would ultimately correct. That said, the issues that later lead to Hak-gyu and Deokee’s separation are dramatic and effective, culminating in an absorbing climax.

Yet from such engaging material the narrative jumps eight years into the future, not only undermining the previous tension but also generating the sense that Scarlet Innocence is actually two shorter films tenuously stitched together. This is achieved through the focus on Hak-gyu’s descent into drink, gambling and debauchery, as well as the return of Deokee as a cliched femme fatale and her highly implausible plans to exact revenge. The inclusion of Hak-gyu’s daughter Cheong-ee (Park So-yeong (박소영) to the proceedings is also a misstep due to her woeful underdevelopment, despite the original fable primarily based on her character. The sexual politics are also frankly awful throughout, notably the fixation on high heels as empowering yet inherently evil, while the inclusion of the criminal underworld is at odds with everything that came before. As such Scarlet Innocence evolves from a mild-mannered erotic drama to a cliched crime thriller, resulting in a film that, despite its potential, is entertaining yet quite underwhelming.

Years after their affair, Deokee returns for revenge

Years after their affair, Deokee returns to exact a unique brand of revenge

Verdict:

Based loosely on the classic fable Shim-cheong, Scarlet Innocence is an updated version featuring erotically charged scenes and themes of revenge. Director Lim Pil-seong competently helms the drama, particularly in the early stages, while actors Jeong Woo-seong and Esom provide fine performances. Yet the film consistently feels rushed and unfinished both narratively and directorially while the second half of the drama descends into implausible cliched territory. As such Scarlet Innocence is entertaining, yet quite underwhelming.

★★★☆☆

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The inevitable stand-off provides catharsis

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) – ★★★★☆

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈)

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈)

The western genre is most obviously synonymous with America, and is arguably one of the few unique cultural products to emerge from the country. While Spanish westerns had existed prior, the notions of a ‘promised land’ of ‘New Eden’, the taming of the wilderness/frontier, and the conflict generated in the origins of a nation are all uniformly American in nature and allude to the difficulty of the era. The Searchers (1956) perhaps best exemplifies such ideological underpinnings, featuring western icon John Wayne as the tortured lead protagonist. Clint Eastwood’s career was forged through the genre and was capped by the magnificent Unforgiven (1992), which deconstructed the mythology surrounding the cowboy/outlaw and explored the inherent corruption of law officials.

Therefore, when superstar auteur Kim Ji-woon (김지운) announced his intentions to direct a Korean western, it was met with some trepidation; how could such an exclusively American genre be molded to suit Korean audiences and reflect Korean history and culture? The apprehension was unwarranted, as The Good, the Bad, the Weird  (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) not only addresses such concerns but extends beyond them, becoming a worthy addition to the genre in its own right.

Set in the 1930s Manchurian desert, The Good, the Bad, the Weird portrays a land of lawlessness and violence. Korea is occupied under Japanese rule, and refugees flee north to escape persecution. However, the land is far from a safe haven as immigrants from all nations struggle to survive. Within this fray is ‘The Weird’ train robber Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho (송강호), who stumbles in and out of danger with an apparent nine lives. Performing his usual heist, Tae-goo unintentionally procures a treasure map rumoured to be the resting place of unimaginable wealth from the Qing Dynasty. However, ‘The Bad’ Park Chang-yi (Lee Byeong-Heon (이병헌) and his gang of bandits also desire the map, and give chase. Behind them is ‘The Good’ bounty hunter Park Do-won (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성), seeking to bring both men to justice.

'The Bad' Park Chang-yi (박창이) leads bandits on a murderous chase

‘The Bad’ Park Chang-yi (박창이) leads bandits on a murderous chase

As the motives for chasing each other continually change, the emphasis is not on a gritty-realist portrayal but rather an action-orientated dark-humoured revisionist style. As with Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), each character has their own distinctive brand of death-dealing and mayhem such as Do-won’s long range rifle that blows miscreants through walls, Chang-yi’s knife wielding blood lust, or Tae-goo’s bizarre luck in dropping opponents. The light-hearted nature is Indiana Jones-esque as the film moves from one action set-piece spectacular to the next as bad guys and worse guys alike are blown to bits. As with all Kim Ji-woon’s films, the characters can be enjoyed on multiple levels. On the surface, they are fun and generic protagonists; on a more penetrative level they are allegories of Korea in-flux, the personification of national identity under Japanese occupation. They are fragments of a whole, each one without a country, each one on the run from a tortured past and chasing the other. The inevitable stand-off provides catharsis not only for audiences in need of resolution, but also for themselves as they simultaneously desire each other but want to be the last man standing and solidify their/Korea’s identity.

The inevitable stand-off provides catharsis

The inevitable stand-off provides catharsis

Director Kim Ji-woon is renowned for genre-play, taking pre-existing conventions and flipping them to create something vibrant and fresh. The Good, the Bad, the Weird  is no different as the gritty ol’ west is eschewed for fun and action set pieces which are shot in incredible fashion. The mise-en-scene is superb in every frame, with the consistent use of long takes adding considerable realism and enjoyment. Kim Ji-woon also employs the use of crash-zoom shots to great effect, but does so in his unique style that functions simultaneously as parody and pastiche of the genre. The multi-tiered action sequence in the Ghost Market is pure joy as Do-won flies on rooftops, Chang-yi cuts a swathe through other villains within buildings, and Tae-go simply tries to survive as he navigates the claustrophobic streets. Similarly the final chase sequence between the titular characters, marauding Manchurians and the Japanese army is exhilarating as the camera weaves between everyone involved while bullets fly and the body count rises.

Do-won ('The Good') pursues his targets

Do-won (‘The Good’) pursues his targets

Verdict:

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a zany, fun-filled revisionist take on a traditionally American genre. Kim Ji-woon makes it a uniquely Korean production primed with historical and cultural anxieties. As the pace of the film is frantic to say the least, there is very little in the way of character development or dramatic, poignant scenes as to why the map (and the rush for the treasure) is so vital for all involved. Instead, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is an action-packed love letter to the genre, one that provides incredible enjoyment from start to finish.

★★★★☆

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