The Target (표적) – ★★★☆☆

The Target (표적)

The Target (표적)

On a dark and rainy night, a shoot-out transpires in the back streets of Seoul. As a mysterious man is chased through the streets he is shot, and hit by a car. Taken to hospital, doctor Lee Tae-joon (Lee Jin-wook (이진욱) treats the man who police identify as ex-military man Baek Yeo-hoon (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡), wanted in connection with murder. However Tae-joon’s problems are just beginning, as later that night his pregnant wife Hee-joo (Jo Yeo-jeong (조여정) is abducted, with the kidnapper demanding  Yeo-hoon in exchange for her safe return. Yet as Tae-joon attempts to hand over the fugitive, a special task force lead by Chief Song (Yoo Joon-sang (유준상) are called in, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins.

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

The Target (표적) is a remake of critically acclaimed French thriller Point Blank (2010), which clearly must have impressed the French for the film premiered in the Midnight Screening section at the Cannes Film Festival. Quite why, however, is something of a mystery as Director Chang’s version is an extremely mediocre action film, taking the basis of the superior original and altering it to make a very competent, solid, and enjoyable action romp yet one that fades from memory with ease.

The Target begins well, setting a dark ominous tone in which the violence is located as well as for the mysteries to originate. The impressive tension continues through to the hospital scenes, where the introduction (and indeed, inclusion) of no-nonsense female detective Jeong Yeong-joo (Kim Seong-ryeong (김성령) and deputy Soo-jin (Jo Eun-ji (조은지) are a refreshingly welcome addition in a genre that is often overly-masculine, with their stern, efficient attempts to uncover Yeo-hoon’s identity and his role in the murder case one of the highlights of the thriller. Yet following a hospital breakout sequence, the tone of the film never stays consistent as director Chang attempts to juggle the abundance of characters and their respective narrative arcs, and as such the excitement begins to wane. Ironically however as the pace is generally handled well the film never becomes stale, resulting in a film that is difficult to fully invest in but entertaining nonetheless.

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

A similar accusation can also be aimed at the action sequences within The Target. While there are plenty of physical confrontations to enjoy, the sequences are always rudimentary and uninspired, failing to capitalise on the premise or even simply to make the film stand out from the vast number of action-thrillers that already exist. Yeo-hoon, for example, is supposedly an ex-military man with a decade of experience yet his fighting prowess rarely extends beyond that of an average man with basic training. There are fleeting moments however when director Chang is seemingly attempting to enter The Berlin File territory yet never quite manages to achieve it, and as such the action scenes are enjoyable while they last but don’t linger in the memory.

Another pivotal reason why The Target is entertaining yet tough to fully engage with is due to the large number of protagonists and supporting characters, which ultimately distracts attention away from the central story of fugitive Yeo-hoon and doctor Tae-joon. As the film continually focuses on peripheral characters and narrative tangents the main story becomes subsumed, making Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon’s uneasy alliance, as well as their quest to solve the mystery and save pregnant Hee-joo, moderately compelling and more of a backdrop to the carnage. Actors Ryu Seung-ryong and Lee Jin-wook perform their roles capably despite relatively weak character arcs, as does Jo Yeo-jeong as the damsel-in-distress, however it is Jin-goo as Tourette syndrome sufferer Sung-hoon and Kim Seong-ryeong as detective Jeong that provide the most interesting performances. Ultimately, with so many characters on screen, The Target is an amusing viewing experience, but one with little depth.

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Verdict:

The Target is a remake of French thriller Point Blank by director Chang, and while he has constructed an entertaining action-thriller it’s one that fades from memory relatively easily. With competent yet uninspired action sequences, and an abundance of quality actors that serve to distract from the central story with their respective narrative arcs, The Target is an enjoyable action romp yet when that misses the mark.

★★★☆☆

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Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Ga-heun and Jin-pyeong begin their steamy affair in secret

Obsessed (인간중독) – ★★★☆☆

Obsessed (인간중독)

Obsessed (인간중독)

Erotic drama Obsessed (인간중독) is the latest tale of sexual seduction by director Kim Dae-woo (김대우). Upon release in Korean cinemas, audience expectation for a lustful period drama – chiefly due to director Kim’s resume as director on The Servant and Forbidden Quest, as well as screenwriting duties on Untold Scandal and An Affair, and furthered by a marketing strategy emphasising sexual content – propelled Obsessed into the number one spot at the box office in its opening week.

Yet, with the exception of the notably lavish production design as well as moments of gorgeous cinematography, Obsessed is one of the director’s weaker films. The story is bland and uninspired while most importantly the romance itself is particularly contrived. Audiences hopeful for racy erotic scenes will also find themselves disappointed, as aside from two attractive leads the encounters are clumsy and sparse. Obsessed is an entertaining erotic drama, although one with little depth.

Jin-pyeong helps Ga-heun wear an earring after he saves her from a life-threatening incident

Jin-pyeong helps Ga-heun wear an earring after he saves her from a life-threatening incident

The year is 1969. Commander Kim Jin-pyeong (Song Seung-heon (송승헌) is a respected Vietnam War veteran at the military base he now resides, making great effort to hide his dependence on anxiety medication due to past trauma. Life is generally quite agreeable, except for Jin-pyeong and his wife’s (Jo Yeo-jeong (조여정) struggles to become pregnant. When a subordinate (On Joo-wan (온주완) arrives on base with his Chinese wife Jong Ga-heun (Lim Ji-yeon (임지연), Jin-pyeong feels an immediate, uncontrollable attraction…one is equally reciprocated. As he and Ga-heun begin their passionate affair, their desires threaten to destroy everything around them as well as their very sanity.

From the outset, it becomes very clear that director Kim is attempting to emulate Ang Lee’s masterful Lust, Caution mixed with classic American melodrama. He moderately succeeds yet mostly in terms of production design, as the sets, mise-en-scene and costumes are truly impressive and are wonderful in creating the world in which the affair takes place. The care and detail applied to each scene, whether in the homestead, hospital, or local dance bar, is consistently remarkable and does wonders in drawing the audience into the narrative, and the production team deserve to be congratulated. That said, Obsessed feels more skin to an American production as aside from the actors, there is very little evidence of Korean culture on screen. Interestingly efforts are made to convey ’50s era American housewives through hierarchy and gossiping, and to authenticate Ga-heun’s Chinese nationality through the crude inclusion of bird cages, yet surprisingly, other than the language, there’s little to suggest the film is Korean.

Ga-heun and Jin-pyeong begin their steamy affair in secret

Ga-heun and Jin-pyeong begin their steamy affair in secret

Despite the strength of the production values, it’s not enough to distract from the poor script and mediocre acting. The power of a film of this nature lies primarily on the build of passion and the chemistry between the lead actors, and in this respect Obsessed is lacking. The event at the hospital that initially draws Ga-heun and Jin-pyeong together is silly at best, conveying the commander as inept rather than a strong military leader, with later confrontations equally as contrived. The quiet stoicism both actors exude, particularly Lim Ji-yeon, makes such cliches stand out all the more meaning that when the couple declare their love it feels more like a leap in logic rather than a natural and sincere build of emotion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such impassive traits lead to erotic moments that are lacking in passion. The scenes are perfectly serviceable, yet are crucially lacking the raw intensity intended. Luckily director Kim avoids the rape-esque scenes of The Servant to present more equal sexual encounters in Obsessed, but bizarrely in eschewing such latent misogyny the choreography sufferers. Sex between Jin-pyeong and Ga-heun is indeed erotic but clumsily so, akin to inexperienced teenagers rather than two lovers addicted to each other.

Despite such criticisms, Obsessed is entertaining for the most part. Fans of the genre will undoubtedly enjoy the story and derive pleasure from witnessing such cliches play out, while others will find the drama to be a watchable experience. Obsessed is generally a competent film though one of little depth, leading to a final act where the narrative jumps head-first into the pitfall of attempting to melodramatically wrap up all the narrative threads, yet as the film is generally dispassionate such scenes have little emotional impact.

Jin-pyeong suffers a crisis of morality, and must come to terms with his actions

Jin-pyeong suffers a crisis of morality, and must come to terms with his actions

Obsessed (인간중독) is a competent erotic drama from director Kim Dae-woo, the filmmaker responsible for several noteworthy racy period films. While the production design in Obsessed is lovingly crafted and wonderfully absorbing, the lacklustre story and stoic acting from the leads make the film a mediocre affair, and as such the intensity and passion is lacking throughout. In conjunction with some clumsily choreographed sexual scenes, Obsessed is a mildly entertaining romp that never fulfills the promise insinuated in the title.

★★★☆☆

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