Mizo's intentions remain quite an enigma throughout the film

Mizo (미조) – ★★☆☆☆

Mizo (미조)

Mizo (미조)

In a seedy, crime-ridden city a young woman named Mizo (Lee Hyo (이효) forms a strange sexual relationship with brutal low-life thug Woo-sang (Yoon Dong-hwan (윤동환). As their love/hate affair develops, Mizo discovers that the extremely violent Woo-sang was a former detective, turning his back on the law following a shocking scandal with a bar-girl (Sin So-mi (신소미). Much to the chagrin of Woo-sang, his old girlfriend is now living with a small-time local gangster (Lee Jeong-yong (이정용), and the men clash over both her and Mizo. Yet the enigmatic Mizo is harboring a secret and an overpowering desire for revenge that could bring about the ruination of them all.

Mizo and Woo-sang have a violently sexual relatonship

Mizo and Woo-sang have a violently sexual relatonship

Mizo is a film of excess in almost every respect, but then perhaps that’s to be expected from director Nam Gi-woong (남기웅), who previously helmed Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine in 2009. It is probably also unsurprising that the film is laced with misogyny. Indeed, shortly after the film begins Mizo is located within a motel instigating, as well as simultaneously enjoying and being a victim of, violent sexual intercourse with a man twice her age. This would be fine, of course, if the film were exploring the fraught life of a young prostitute yet no efforts are made to do so as director Nam appears more interested in shocking spectacle rather than introspection.

To his credit, director Nam does employ plenty of such displays through using taboo subjects, and fans of such stylisation will undoubtedly find much to be entertain by. The world that he has constructed is a dark and vice-filled underworld of sex and violence, and the altercations that arise between characters are often quite visceral and barbaric. Typically the motivations behind the violent confrontation involve Mizo and/or Woo-sang’s ex-girlfriend, with the men on either side fighting for ownership over one or both of them. Enlightened it is not.

Mizo faces her nemesis and rival for Woo-sang's affections

Mizo faces her nemesis and rival for Woo-sang’s affections

Either way, it is extremely difficult to care who wins any conflict due to the woeful characterisation and absurdity of events. Two-dimension stereotypes are employed throughout the entirety of the film to the point of genuine annoyance. Woo-sang is a lumbering Neanderthal with zero redeeming qualities; Woo-sang’s rival, the small-time crook who ‘stole’ his ex, merely shouts and swears at every opportunity; and the bar madam is simply a victim waiting to be saved. As the titular protagonist Mizo escapes such treatment somewhat, but usually because she flits from one stereotype to the next creating an aura of unpredictability.

As Mizo, newbie actress Lee Hyo performs well. While the role itself is limited, Lee Hyo conveys a strong sense of melancholy in conjunction with quirks pertaining to being psychologically unbalanced. Her performance is ultimately what holds the entire film together as while the narrative itself is quite predictable, she is anything but. For much of the running time Lee Hyo is required to be aloof and unbalanced, yet when she has the opportunity to delve deeper into emotional material she does so in a melodramatic, but competent fashion.

Mizo's intentions remain quite an enigma throughout the film

Mizo’s intentions remain quite an enigma throughout the film

Verdict:

Mizo is a drama of sexual and violent excess, but then perhaps that’s to be expected from director Nam Gi-woong, who was previously responsible for Teenage Hooker Was A Killing Machine. For fans of such spectacle, Mizo will quite likely be entertained and to his credit director Nam constructs a believable environment within which it occurs. However the film is blighted by a poor script and terrible characterisation, while the narrative is ultimately quite absurd. Newbie actress Lee Hyo holds the drama together well with a lofty, unpredictable aura yet introspective Mizo certainly is not.

★★☆☆☆

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – ★★★★☆

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) is a rare breed of Korean thriller. Featuring superstar Ha Jeong-woo (하정우), the film takes place almost entirely within a single room rather than racing against time around a city. As such it shares several tropes with Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, ramping up tension through the claustrophobic setting while simultaneously exposing the lead protagonist for past bad deeds.

Within the highly restrictive setting director Kim Byeong-woo (김병우) does an excellent job in generating suspense, while the critique of the highly competitive – and corrupt – world of the newsroom makes the thriller a surprisingly deep cultural examination. However, the film is let down by a lack of characterisation in regards to the central roles while the tension is often undermined by arguably unintentional comedy. Despite such shortcomings The Terror Live is a unique and interesting addition to the genre, and one which leaves audiences wondering about the villains in society after the credits have finished rolling.

Yeong-hwa is apathetic in his role as a radio show host

Yeong-hwa is apathetic in his role as a radio show host

Recently divorced and demoted to a radio show host, Yoon Yeong-hwa (Ha Jeong-woo) couldn’t care less about his new role as he repeatedly offends callers with his brusque manner. However when one caller phones in and claims to have primed bombs on Mapo Bridge located near the station, Yeong-hwa scoffs – and moments later the bridge is in ruins. Seeing this as his chance to return to the spotlight as a TV news anchor, Yeong-hwa teams up with former manager Cha Dae-eun (Lee Kyeong-yeong (이경영), quickly setting up a newsroom and broadcasting the terrorists demands instead of reporting to the police.  As the ratings skyrocket and other news agencies struggle to catch up, it quickly becomes apparent to Yeong-hwa that something is very, very wrong as the terrorist becomes increasingly fixated on him personally, intent on exposing his checkered past.

One of the great strengths of The Terror Live is in conveying the cutthroat manner executed by those in power and in the media.  The thriller is one of the few films to tackle the issue of real news and the mediated news presented to society, capturing the seemingly inherent corruption and societal risks taken in the war for ratings.  Within this framework Yeong-hwa – whose name literally means ‘movie’ – is very much at home and director Kim does a superb job in slowly drip-feeding character information throughout the narrative. From the outset Yeong-hwa is certainly in-keeping with other thriller anti-heroes as he thrives in the grey areas of morality, only coming to reconsider his position due to the threat of exposure. As such the anchorman must not only acquire, filter, and present the news to Korean society and outwit a terrorist on live television, but also fend off a damaging character assassination attempt and please his management. Juggling so many plot threads is consistently riveting viewing, as new dimensions to the case constantly challenge everything Yeong-hwa and the audience have come to learn, driving up suspense for a thrilling viewing experience.

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

Exploiting the opportunity to become a news anchor, Yeong-hwa begins to regret his decision

Ironically however the inclusion of so many plot threads is also one of The Terror Live‘s key flaws, as there is so much going on that character development is sacrificed. Ha Jeong-woo is a gifted actor and performs very competently, yet he is given little to work with as Yeong-hwa other than being a shrewd and morally ambiguous news anchor. The same criticism also applies to the terrorist, who clearly has strong motivation for his attacks but is a rather two-dimensional antagonist. Luckily director Kim’s highly kinetic camerawork keeps such issues at bay featuring a variety of techniques including crash-zooms and realism-inducing camera shaking as well as more traditional fare, while the rapid editing helps to ramp up the tension without ever becoming nauseating.

The suspense generated within the confines of the newsroom is very impressive, yet bizarrely there are often instances of unwarranted comedy that serve to completely undermine the tension. It is difficult to know if such moments are intentional or not. When Yeong-hwa struggles with a situation and begins swearing at his oppressors it is incredibly funny, although the straight faces within the film suggest otherwise. Once the comedy has passed however it’s back to business and the dramatics increase further, leading to a daring finale and a potent commentary on Korean politics and the media.

The conflict between the bid for ratings or stopping the terrorist put the team at odds

The conflict between the bid for ratings or stopping the terrorist put the team at odds

Verdict:

The Terror Live is a rare and highly interesting thriller. Within the confines of a newsroom director Kim Byeong-woo does an excellent job in escalating tension by featuring a variety of camerawork techniques, while the story regarding corruption within both Korean media and the government is a potent socio-cultural critique. While the lack of characterisation and (arguably unintentional) comedy undermines the suspense, there is more than enough on offer to provide an entertaining thrill-ride from start to finish.

★★★★☆

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