Twenty (스물) – ★★☆☆☆

Twenty (스물)

Twenty (스물)

Following their high school graduation three best friends must decide on their paths in life. Studious Kyeong-jae (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) opts to attend a respectable university, where he quickly falls for the charms of senior Jin-joo (Min Hyo-rin (민효린); poverty-stricken artist wannabe Dong-woo (Junho (준호) decides to retake his final year, becoming close to Kyeong-jae’s sister So-hee (Lee Yoo-bi (이유비); while handsome-yet-stupid Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin (김우빈) is aimless until meeting actress Eun-hye (Jung Joo-yeon (정주연) despite already dating So-min (Jeong So-min (정소민). The one thing they all agree upon however is they all want sex, and lots of it.

Now twenty, the horny trio are forced to choose a path

Now twenty, the horny trio are forced to choose a path

Surprisingly entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny, Twenty is an enjoyable comedy by director Lee Byeong-hun. As a youthful sex comedy the film is an undoubtedly silly affair and has little substance, yet it has enough quips and gags to ensure that it’s an amusing viewing experience.

One of great pitfalls of youth-sex comedies is the objectification of women through the lustful gazes of cliched lustful male protagonists, and director Lee Byeong-hun wisely sidesteps such eye-rolling banality. While the three friends initially occupy stereotypical roles and take predictably alternative routes after graduation accordingly, the characterisation later becomes more fluid and develops as the narrative progresses. Furthermore, rather than have the camera fetishise their love interests to generate laughs, many of the jokes are derived from the trio’s stupidity and naivety in both love and adulthood. Indeed, the females are often far more mature and intellectually superior compared to their male counterparts, with their especially frank attitudes towards sex and masturbation offering some of the film’s best jokes. Although twenty years old, in many ways Chi-ho, Kyeong-jae and Dong-woo are still boys and as such the gags come thick and fast at their expense.

Chi-ho discovers what life is like without an allowance

Chi-ho discovers what life is like without an allowance

The narrative also eschews any coming-of-age morality from the proceedings which makes the film a little vacuous, yet director Lee manages to allude to, and poke fun at, many of the features of modern Korean life. As with his previous film Cheer Up Mr. Lee, the helmer/scribe produces jokes from the ridiculous situations that arise on film sets, though isn’t afraid to highlight the darker areas of ‘sponsors’ (aka ‘sugar daddies’). The manner in which young people seem to record everything seeming by instinct, especially in university rites of passage, is a fun dig at youth culture, while bittersweet jokes are also garnered from financial hardship.

Twenty loses its way as it enters the final act, as director Lee appears unsure of how to end his tale of boyhood silliness, which culminates in some contrived pairings and a rather random confrontation with some local gangsters. It’s all laughably farcical and slapstick, though does continue for too long and hints that some more stringent editing could have been employed, yet it’s nevertheless an entertaining and enjoyable experience, and in a time when so many productions emerging from the industry are so dark, Twenty is a refreshing change.

The trio find their friendship renewed despite odd circumstances

The trio find their friendship renewed despite odd circumstances

Verdict:

Director Lee Byeong-hun’s youth-sex comedy Twenty is a surprisingly enjoyable affair, particularly as the helmer/scribe steers away from cliches and objectification to generate laughs from the silliness and naivety of young men. It’s farcical and contains little substance, but as the gags continue to roll Twenty is a consistently fun, lighthearted, and one of the more successful Korean comedies in quite some time.

★★☆☆☆

Reviews

C’est Si Bon (쎄시봉) – ★★☆☆☆

C'est si bon (쎄시봉)

C’est si bon (쎄시봉)

Twin Folio, the legendary ’60s duo that emerged from Seoul music cafe C’est Si Bon, is due to be the subject of a television show. Yet when music producer Lee Jang-hee, the man responsible for their creation, is quizzed about the rumour of an original third member, he begins to reminisce about the era. Back in the ’60s, C’est Si Bon was the hottest place in the city to listen to folk song competitions. With his silky voice Yun Hyeong-ju (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) was the star of the cafe, until newcomer Song Chang-sik (Jo Bok-rae (조복래) instigates a rivalry. With their clashing egos a duo would be impossible, and as such Jang-hee (Jin Goo (진구) enlists talented country boy Oh Gun-tae (Jeong Woo (정우) to make a trio. Their inability to work together changes when beautiful aspiring actress Min Ja-yeong (Han Hyo-joo (한효주) enters the club, inspiring them to collaborate and become one of the most successful bands of the era.

The original trio learn to collaberate due to their muse Ja-yeong

The original trio learn to collaberate due to their muse Ja-yeong

C’est Si Bon is something of a love letter to the vibrant music scene of 1960s/70s Seoul, one that attempts to capture the spirit of the era through the story of the renowned cafe. Generally it succeeds, particularly in the opening act as there is much enjoyment to be had in witnessing the titular music arena being introduced, the band coming together and egos clashing. The C’est Si Bon cafe is a wonderfully charismatic and dynamic place due to some quite lovely set and costume design, helmed competently by director Kim Hyeon-Seok (김현석) who is likely hoping for the same success as his prior romantic endeavour Cyrano Agency.

Yet following an enjoyable 30 minutes, the film eschews the fun and vitality of the music scene to descend into a cliched romantic tale. As the members of the band all fall in love with Ja-yeong and attempt to out-perform each other to win her affection, the story moves away from the enjoyment of the band’s origins to become a standard rom-com. To be fair to Han Hyo-joo, she is absolutely stunning throughout and has rarely looked better, however due to the focus applied to her as the muse of so many admirers, C’est Si Bon consistently feels like a vanity project for the actress. Ironically however, as Ja-yeong tends to use and manipulate the men in her life as they constantly try to impress her, the result is an attractive but not a particularly likeable lead female protagonist which significantly lessens the romantic appeal.

Ja-yeong is the muse of seemingly everyone at music cafe C'est Si Bon

Ja-yeong is the muse of seemingly everyone at music cafe C’est Si Bon

Recently in Korean cinema a greater number of films are being produced with older audiences in mind which is welcome news for diversity, and C’est Si Bon fits neatly within the paradigm. Yet the film also perpetuates the disturbing trend of romanticising Korea’s totalitarian past. Curfews, police brutality and authoritarianism, and even scenes of intimidation reminiscent of prelude to torture, feature within the narrative. However due to the romantic-comedy contrivances of the film such issues are presented as nostalgia, alarmingly either employed for humour or simply glossed over.

Things change from bad to worse for C’est Si Bon in the final act through the inclusion of scenes set in America, years after the rise and fall of the famous cafe. Apart from feeling acutely tacked on and frankly dull, the sequences are unintentionally, and quite literally, laughable. For instance, during highly emotional scenes between veteran actors Kim Hee-ae and Kim Yoon-seok are some incredibly poorly timed interludes by bad American actors that simply destroy all tension and instead generate laughter. As such, C’est Si Bon ends on a sour note, despite the initial enjoyment and promise displayed in the first act.

Years after the rise and fall of the cafe, Geun-tae performs in America

Years after the rise and fall of the cafe, Geun-tae performs in America

Verdict:

C’est Si Bon is a love letter to the vibrant music scene that existed in Korea in the 1960s, with a particularly enjoyable first act that introduces the styles and catchy music of the era, as well as the formation of the band Twin Folio. Yet director Kim Hyeon-seok’s film oddly eschews such promise by later descending into bland rom-com cliches and romanticising Korea’s totalitarian past, before ending with an unintentionally funny and quite poor finale.

★★☆☆☆

Reviews

Period Epic ‘Empire of Lust (순수의 시대)’ gets English Subtitled Trailer

Empire of Lust (순수의 시대)

Empire of Lust (순수의 시대)

Empire of Lust (순수의 시대), the first big period epic of 2015, has unveiled a trailer featured English subtitles.

The tale takes place during 1938 as the kingdom of Koreyo gives way to the new era of Joseon, with the various royal, military and political factions all vying for power. With betrayals, revenge, and no small amount of lust all featuring, Empire of Lust looks set to be an intriguing addition to the Korean period drama canon.

Director Ahn Sang-Hoon (안상훈), who helmed thriller Blind back in 2011, appears to have evolved as a filmmaker judging by the stills released so far which is promising. Empire also features a stellar cast in the form of Shin Ha-Kyun (신하균) (Save the Green Planet), Jang Hyeok (장혁) (The Flu) and Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) (Mourning Grave) as the figures vying for power, while the female roles – and no doubt the objects of lust – are relative newcomers Kang Han-na (강한나) (No Tears For The Dead) and Sa Hee (사희) (Marbling).

Empire of Lust is due to be released in March. See below for the trailer and character posters.

EoL Prince Yi Bang-won

EoL Prince Yi Bang-won

EoL Jin

EoL Jin

EoL Commander Kim Min-jae

EoL Commander Kim Min-jae

Film News

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) – ★★★☆☆

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Ever since he was young, high school student In-su (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) has had the ability to see ghosts. Following a traumatic incident In-su moved to Seoul, only to find that his ‘gifts’ developed further, and apparitions appeared ever more frequently. Finally deciding to give up city life In-su returns to his countryside hometown, reuniting with his agoraphobic shaman uncle Seon-il (Kim Jeong-tae (김정태). Yet almost immediately upon his arrival a mysterious girl ghost (Kim So-eun (김소은) begins following him, and a relationship begins to blossom. Meanwhile, at In-su’s new high school, students begin disappearing one by one as a masked, vengeful spirit patrols the hallways.

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su's new school

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su’s new school

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) is marketed primarily as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s (오인천) feature debut actually amalgamates an array of genres to become a teenage romantic-comedy-drama with a macabre twist. The mix of generic features works surprisingly well as Mourning Grave is consistently an entertaining and quite enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon, one which contains an infectious appeal due to the light-hearted tone throughout.

Ironically, the jovial nature of the film, in conjunction with a narrative structure told through a series of vignettes rather than an overarching whole, is competent yet also halts the story from being particularly effective. This is perhaps understandable given director Oh’s history as an acclaimed director of short films, however the approach results in the originality of the screenplay, as well as the serious social issues within, lacking in resonance. Bullying is of central concern within Mourning Grave and the film is noteworthy for emphasising the role of the teachers, students, and even society in the creation of, and ignorance towards, the abuses endured by students. Yet as it features within an episodic sequence rather than as an underlying theme throughout, the portrayal is provoking albeit fleeting, which is a genuine shame.

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

As central couple In-su and ‘girl ghost’, both Kang Ha-neul and Kim So-eun are delightful. The development of their friendship and burgeoning romance is conveyed with sincerity and is lovely to watch unfold. Unfortunately due to the vignette style of the narrative the screen-time Kang and Kim share is infrequent, yet when they appear together the film embodies the qualities of innocent first love, propelling Mourning Grave into a compellingly sweet love story. However both they, as well as the other actors who fill the high school roles, are clearly too old to be playing students and serve as a distraction from the story. Luckily veteran actor Kim Jeong-tae helps to allay such issues by stealing the show as uncle Seon-il. As the agoraphobic shaman Kim is incredibly funny, employing all sorts of trickery to stop ghosts from bothering him, with his comedic timing never failing to hit the mark.

Due to the gentle nature that permeates the film, Mourning Grave is quite a predictable affair. Hints that are laced throughout the story are particularly easy to ascertain, although it is still enjoyable to see the results achieve fruition, while even the various comedic, romantic, and dramatic cliches employed are entertaining enough to raise a smile. The ever-present horror epilogue sequence, which attempts to bond the characters through a shared history and destiny, also features within Mourning Grave and while such scenes are frustratingly commonplace, director Oh has crafted an endearing finale that is poignant and heartfelt.

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Verdict:

Mourning Grave is billed as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s directorial debut actually encompasses an array of generic conventions, underpinned with a ghostly mystery. Due to the light-hearted tone the film is consistently entertaining, and the approach to serious social issues such as bullying is refreshing. Unfortunately such themes aren’t explored fully thanks to the vignette storytelling style, yet the endearing central couple, and a show stealing performance by Kim Jeong-tae as an agoraphobic shaman, make Mourning Grave an enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon.

★★★☆☆

Korean Festivals 2014 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 18회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews