Killer Toon (더 웹툰: 예고살인) – ★★★☆☆

Killer Toon (더 웹툰: 예고살인)

Killer Toon (더 웹툰: 예고살인)

Talented artist Ji-yoon (Lee Si-yeong (이시영) is the creator of one of the most popular web comics series in Korea. Her forte is the horror genre, illustrating gruesome scenes of death and suffering  as supernatural forces return from beyond seeking vengeance. However upon submitting her latest edition to the company, the editor is later found dead and brutally disfigured in the exact same fashion as the panels within the art. While all signs point to suicide, detective Lee Gi-cheol’s (Eom Gi-joon (엄기준) instincts lean towards murder and an investigation into the only potential suspect – Ji-yoon – begins. Yet as Ji-yoon is struggling to differentiate between reality and fantasy, and with corpses beginning to pile up all referencing her web toons, can the culprit ever be stopped?

Ji-yoon is the creator behind a successful horror web toon series that begins to come true

Ji-yoon is the creator behind a successful horror web toon series that begins to come true

A solidly entertaining K-horror, Killer Toon is the latest macabre offering from The Red Shoes director Kim Yong-gyoon. Featuring an intriguing premise that is brilliantly visualised in the first act with gruesome excitement, the film gradually seeps into melodrama before succumbing to a frustrating and illogical finale. That said, Killer Toon remains one of the better – and certainly more successful – additions to Korean horror cinema in years.

One of the great frustrations of K-horror is the recurring utilisation of episodic vignettes that don’t coalesce into a satisfactory whole, thereby diluting the compulsion of the story and undermining the very scares within. Killer Toon however takes a refreshingly novel approach to such criticism, constructing a variety of macabre sequences within the framework of webtoon narratives, ironically adhering to the problematic episodic nature while also managing to construct an engaging structure. By using an artist and her comic strips as the framework and source of terror, director Kim Yong-gyoon is given free reign to impose any sadistic sequences of his choosing within the greater whole, amalgamating the disparate features into an impressive and entertaining horror package.

Due to the concept Killer Toon is also a visually absorbing affair, with comic panels employed effectively to heighten suspense and terror, bringing a new dimension to the genre. The comic panels are frightening in themselves with the seemingly interactive depictions of death and murder, even comedically knocking macho detective Lee from his chair in one scene, yet combined with real sequences of terror Killer Toon is elevated above its peers.

Horror scenes are combined with webtoon panels, adding heightened frights

Horror scenes are combined with webtoon panels, adding heightened frights

Yet much of the praise lies primarily within Killer Toon‘s first act, as from there the narrative veers into generic melodrama territory. Rather than focus on the intriguing premise, the source of the webtoon becomes the prime concern. Along with detective Lee, Ji-yoon attempts to uncover the mysterious origins of her ideas by way of a myriad of cliched developments audiences have witnessed multiple times before. As such, the potential offered by the refreshing concept is squandered in order to clarify a mystery that really didn’t need to be explained – the power came from not knowing.

While the cliched second act is frustrating, it pales in comparison to the irritations in the third. In a bid to tie up all the narrative loose ends and add a few twists to keep audiences guessing, the finale becomes wildly illogical and ridiculous. Chiefly this is a result of protagonists being completely re-characterised to provide shock, but it goes against prior developments and serves to remove viewers from the story. That said, the morality tale that arises due to their actions is one that resonates, particularly in contemporary society.

Ji-yoon searches her illustrations for clues to the origin of the deadly webtoon

Ji-yoon searches her illustrations for clues to the origin of the deadly webtoon

Verdict:

With its original approach, Killer Toon is one of the most refreshing additions to K-horror for quite some time. Employing comic panels as the source of horror allows director Kim Yong-gyoon to create some visually stylish and suspenseful macabre scenes, a promising opening that has its potential later squandered by cliched melodrama and illogical twists. Yet the morality tale resonates, making Killer Toon a solidly entertaining piece of horror cinema.

★★★☆☆

Advertisements
Reviews
Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서) – ★★★★☆

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서)

When it was released on February the 14th, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서) had the unenviable – and quite unfortunate – task of competing with several enormously popular films at the box office, in the form of Miracle in Room Number 7 and The Berlin File, which earned over 12 million and 7 million admissions respectively. A week later, gangster epic New World appeared in cinemas, hauling over 4 million admissions. Despite positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, the romantic-comedy just couldn’t compete.

This is a genuine shame as How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is an incredibly energetic, entertaining, and fresh rom-com. Director Lee Won-seok (이원석) infuses the film with a wacky and colourful sensibility, whilst simultaneously probing the sexism that exists within the workplace and, by extension, Korean culture. While the film turns to formulaic predictability in the final act to tie up all the loose ends, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is visually enjoyable and great fun, marking director Lee as a talent to watch.

Choi Bo-na is constantly undervalued and overworked - until she finds the video

Choi Bo-na is constantly undervalued and overworked – until she finds the video

Assistant director Choi Bo-na (Lee Si-yeong (이시영) has worked for years in a TV commercial company, endlessly slaving away on other productions while waiting for her big break…which never arrives. Moreover, Bo-na is very aware that her gender is an issue within the workplace as it holds her back from progressing within the sexist industry. When a new commercial for the company is shot on a beach, lead actor Lee Seung-jae (Oh Jeong-se (오정세) complains about everything, and Bo-na’s frustrated attempts to chastise the arrogant star results in more disapproval. So much so in fact that when the commercial has finished shooting, the entire team leave the sleeping AD on the beach. Wandering alone at night, Bo-na spies the colourful Dr. Swalski (Park Yeong-gyoo (박영규) selling instructional videos. Reluctantly agreeing to buy How to Use Guys with Secret TipsBo-na starts putting the tips into practice and suddenly her life begins to turn around with hilarious results.

While the story of a woman struggling in both her professional and personal life is nothing new in the rom-com arena, director Lee infuses the film with such a whimsical visual and musical vitality that it’s impossible not to be won over. From the outset the director’s keen sense of mise-en-scene and flamboyantly playful use of text and image techniques are apparent, yet it is the introduction of charismatic Dr. Swalski that allows him to fully display his zany aesthetics. The doctor – brilliantly performed by Park Yeong-gyoo – is a guardian angel of sorts who bestows advice on how to manipulate men through the video. The cheesy and camp sensibilities of such ’70s style infomercials are lovingly recreated to hilarious effect, from the costumes and props through to the mistakes and bad editing. What makes Dr. Swalski special however is that he is not confined to the TV set. Director Lee constantly plays with and breaks the barriers between the three realities – the video, Bo-na’s life, and the audience – which makes the film incredibly charismatic.

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

Colourful Dr. Swalski provides the tips Bo-na needs to move ahead, to great comedic effect

The comedy hijinks that ensue as Bo-na uses the tips are fantastically entertaining as they feature elements of truth, in that director Lee is probing real gender issues that exist within contemporary Korean culture. Bo-na is a great and talented director, yet her gender halts her progress. Her attempts to conceal her femininity with hoodies and to be treated equally merely results in hiding her attractiveness, which stops men making allowances for her. However when Bo-na begins employing Dr, Swalski’s advice, the story spins into poking fun at modern masculinity to great effect. From simple eye contact through to massaging the male ego, Bo-na learns the simplicity of the opposite sex and rapidly rises through the ranks. This is articulated the most through her relationship with arrogant actor Lee Seung-jae who, despite his initial snobbery, finds himself in very comical situations in attempting to prove his worth.

Yet How to Use Guys with Secret Tips unfortunately flounders in the final act. With so many funny plot threads to tie up, the story falls back on the predictable cliches found in the genre to do so. The absence of director Lee’s playfulness is keenly apparent during the resolution which is a real shame, as the build up to that point is wonderfully entertaining. Still, while the finale is somewhat lacking, the film is certainly one of the most visually energetic and inventive romantic comedies to appear from Korea in recent memory, and a great debut from director Lee.

Can Bo-na find true love and success without using the tips?

Can Bo-na find true love and success without using the tips?

Verdict:

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is a wonderfully wacky and colourful romantic comedy, full of visual and musical vitality. Director Lee Won-seok is brilliantly inventive as he plays with genre and cinematic conventions, infusing the film with a seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm. The laughs come thick and fast as they are based in truth, including sexism in the workplace and the fragility of the male ego, which are explored to highly comical effect. While the final act falls back on cliche and predictability, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is a very entertaining and fun rom-com.

★★★★☆

Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews
Yoo-suk and Ae-yeon form a bond during a botched bank heist

Couples (커플즈) – ★★☆☆☆

Couples (커플즈)

Couples (커플즈)

Intertwined tales of romance between couples seemingly unconnected from each other has become a regular feature of the romantic-comedy, although few contain the charm of Love, Actually (2003) which arguably kick-started the current trend. While by no means a perfect film, Love, Actually succeeded in depicting a variety of couples from disparate socio-economic backgrounds, representing the various problems they face within a highly romanticized London during Christmas time.

The holy trinity of compelling couples, romantic city and endearing holiday period are notably absent from Jeong Yong-ki’s (정용기) Couples (커플즈). Aside from a handful of humorous moments, Couples is lacking in both comedy and more importantly romance due to the shallow and contrived protagonists and events within.

Yoo-suk (Kim Joo-hyeok (김주혁), a tea shop owner, is incredibly sad following the sudden disappearance of his fiancee Na-ri (Lee Si-yeong (이시영) two months prior. Worse still he used all means available in order to buy a house for their future, which is increasingly bleak as creditors close in and minor accidents result in threats of legal action. Desperate, Yoo-suk hires private investigator and best friend Bok-nam (Oh Jeong-se (오정세) to find Na-ri. Meanwhile Yoo-suk forms a relationship with traffic officer Ae-yeon (Lee Yoon-ji (이윤지) during a botched bank heist, herself a recent singleton from a lying ex. Bok-nam manages to track down Na-ri and becomes infatuated with her, but her gold-digging ways have resulted in a new partner, gangster Byung-chan (Kong Hyeong-jin (공형진).

Yoo-suk and Ae-yeon form a bond during a botched bank heist

Yoo-suk and Ae-yeon form a bond during a botched bank heist

If the above synopsis sounds unnecessarily contrived, then you’d be right as Couples quite literally includes all manner of bizarre set-pieces for the sake of comedy which rarely pays off. Worse still, there is no attempt to portray events such as bank heists, near-miss car crashes, involvement with private investigators and gangsters and so forth with any originality which further emphasises their manufactured inclusion within the narrative. Such scenes also detract from any notion of romance as the inorganic nature of the multiple plot strands conveys a lack of genuine connection between the couples, and as such renders them all as unconvincing or compelling.

Director Jeong Yong-ki is competent throughout, however his decision to craft the narrative as non-linear is highly problematic as the editing between different couples and timelines destroys any sense of romance that has been conveyed prior. Worse still are the inserts of interviewed couples which add nothing to the film and quickly become an annoyance, as often the couples interviewed have only a minor connection to the main story and are included for the sake of cheap comedy, such as tripping and pulling a women’s skirt down.

Where Couples does succeed is in the initial portrayal of Yoo-suk and Ae-yeon. Ridiculous scenarios aside, the slow and occasionally humorous moments that occur are endearing, with sharing their tales of heartache further solidifying their romantic development. Private investigator Bok-nam is also comical, fancying himself as a Humphrey Bogart/Batman-esque sleuth who is routinely foiled and humiliated.

Bok-nam tracks down the gold-digging Na-ri

Bok-nam tracks down the gold-digging Na-ri

In terms of performance, the central couple played by Kim Joo-hyeok and Lee Yoon-ji are by far the best in the film and provide the most naturalized portrayal of romance – a portrayal which is later wholly undermined by the narrative in a clearly desperate endeavor for a conventional finale. Oh Jeong-se overacts his role as Bok-nam, however his style is suitable given that his entire character is a parody of masculinity and as such offers moments of comedy. Ironically for a film titled ‘Couples’, Bok-nam is the only protagonist not included in one – his unrequited infatuation notwithstanding – which is a real oversight. Lee Si-yeong is woeful as gold-digging Na-ri. Her overacting is frustratingly annoying, while her consumerist character is represented as so entirely selfish and ignorant that her quest to find real love is unengaging due to the lack of empathy. Instead Na-ri functions as a prize, a villainous woman who must be tamed by a man. This role is bestowed upon Kong Hyeong-jin as gangster Byung-chan, who performs his stoic character competently despite the lack of screen-time.

Gangster Byung-chan falls for Na-ri despite her love of money

Gangster Byung-chan falls for Na-ri despite her love of money

Verdict:

Couples is a lackluster addition to the romantic-comedy fold, due to the highly contrived narrative and absence of genuine emotion throughout. While certain scenes – notably portraying central couple Yoo-suk and Ae-young – are endearing they are halted from development through the decision to craft the film as non-linear and randomly including interview scenes from couples who have merely a passing reference to the main narrative. As such, Couples is for die-hard rom-com fans only.

★★☆☆☆

Reviews