I Saw You (너를 봤어)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) – ★★★☆☆

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화)

Omnibus film MAD SAD BAD (신촌좀비만화) has the notable distinction of featuring not only three of Korea’s top name directors in the form of Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완), Han Ji-seung (한지승) and Kim Tae-yong (김태용), but also for serving as the opening film for the 15th Jeonju International Film Festival. The collective work is quite a landmark for an opening film due to the use of 3D, which is, in part, used to emphasis the new vision and production role of KAFA+ (The Korean Academy of Film Arts).

The three segments are each designed to explore human relationships through a connection to a form of popular culture. Director Ryoo Seung-wan helms the first short titled Ghost (유령), about a boy who is addicted to his cell phone; director Han Ji-seung is responsible for I Saw You (너를 봤어), which is concerned with a futuristic zombie apocalypse; and finally director Kim Tae-yong explores the life of a young girl with an autistic brother in Picnic (피크닉).

In the interest of fairness, each short within the omnibus has been reviewed individually, in the order in which they appear onscreen.

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령)

Ghost (유령) –  ★★★☆☆

Ghost depicts teenager Seung-ho (Lee David (이다윗) who is more concerned with the digital world of chat rooms, sms, and computer games rather than reality. When Woo-bi (Son Soo-hyeon (손수현), a girl from his chatroom, claims she is in danger from an abusive boyfriend, Seung-ho teams with Bi-jen (Park Jeong-min (박정민) to help her.

Based on a true story, Ghost is quite a departure from director Ryoo Seung-wan’s typically action-orientated projects, and he ably handles the focus on low-key personal drama. Scenes featuring Seung-ho’s bedroom are expertly filmed and wonderfully convey his fractured relationship with reality, while the social pressures from his school and father are competently expressed. However the tension that a film such as Ghost requires is curiously absent, particularly when Seung-ho and Bi-jen attempt to help Woo-bi. The use of 3D is also quite unnecessary  as the drama rarely features it effectively.

Luckily the ever-reliable Lee David holds everything together well, with his likeable ‘everyman’ charm again forcing audiences to empathise with his plight. That said, the actor is never pushed into new territory and as such his performance doesn’t contain the intensity of his prior work, yet Lee David does what he can with the material on offer. It’s Park Jeong-min, however, who gives a wonderful performance as the socially inept Bi-jen. Complete with thick-rimmed glasses, protruding jaw and nervous ticks, Park’s characterisation is a radical departure from his previous roles conveying angst and social-dislocation with aplomb.

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어)

I Saw You (너를 봤어) – ★★☆☆☆

In the not-too-distant future, zombies have emerged causing catastrophe in their wake. Yet the arrival of a cure for the affliction has allowed the undead to rejoin society. Factory manager Yeo-wool (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) presides over zombie laborers, pushing them to work harder and harder. When a zombie named Si-wa (Nam Gyoo-ri (남규리) attempts to communicate with him, Yeo-wool begins to understand their connection.

Director Han Ji-seung’s I Saw You is certainly the weakest within the omnibus. Poorly scripted, badly acted, and featuring precious little depth, the superficial rom-com-zom is a hollow experience. Director Han’s ambition is clearly bigger than his budget, yet instead of scaling down the film into a more focused piece he has constructed a poor imitation of a large production, one where the narrative veers wildly resulting in a lack of interest in the central couple. There is an attempt to emphasise the importance of memory as with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet it becomes lost amongst the various narrative tangents and oddities.

Bizarrely, I Saw You also fails to use the 3D technology effectively. This is the one production within the omnibus where the genre lends itself to fun 3D antics, however the potential isn’t capitalised on, resulting in a rather bland offering.

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉)

Picnic (피크닉) – ★★★★☆

Su-min (Kim Su-an (김수안) lives a humble life with her seamstress mother (Park Mi-hyeon (박미현) and autistic younger brother. Despite her young age Su-min is often forced to take responsibility for her sibling, and her only respite is to lose herself with the ages of a romantic comic book.

Picnic is a beautifully told, wonderfully charming story of youth and innocence, and is undoubtedly the most accomplished segment with the entirety of MAD SAD BAD. Screenwriter Min Ye-ji has constructed a poignant, sensitive and compelling story regarding those who live on the fringes of society, one which is elegantly depicted by director Kim Tae-yong. Director Kim ‘s uncanny ability to deeply understand and convey his characters motivations is once again apparent as he portrays a frustrated, overburdened young girl with an acute sense of subtly and artistry. Director Kim is also the only director in the omnibus to employ 3D effectively. Picnic features some truly sumptuous cinematography which the 3D technology vibrantly brings to life, particularly scenes of nature as with a pier at sunset and a mysterious forest.

The compulsion of the film rests on young actress Kim Su-an’s shoulders, and she delivers wonderfully. Her performance is continually captivating and displays a quality that belies her youth, proving that her prior films, including Berlinale winner Sprout, were no fluke. Kim’s charismatic performance conveys an adult sense of responsibility and independence alongside a youthful innocence and vitality, generating a deep sense of empathy and that never fails to entertain.

★★★☆☆

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제15회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게) – ★★☆☆☆

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게) is responsible for breaking several notable records in Korean cinematic history upon release. The film surpassed all expectations to earn the biggest opening day for a domestic film with 497,560 admissions; the following day another benchmark was set as it scored a whopping 919,035 admissions, the largest haul in a single day for a Korean film. With such an impressive start, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Secretly, Greatly took only 36 hours to pass the coveted one million admissions milestone, the fastest Korean film to do so. And to cap it all off, the film won the Citizen’s Choice Award at the 2013 Puchon International Film Festival.

With such incredible success it would be reasonable to assume that Secretly, Greatly must therefore be an outstanding piece of cinema, but unfortunately that is far from the truth. While it begins confidently, the film quickly becomes submerged beneath pointless supporting characters and melodrama, with the belated action sequences and nationalist agenda bland and uninspiring. Competently directed by Jang Cheol-soo (장철수) yet lacking in substance, Secretly, Greatly is ultimately only for fans of the original webcomic and the extremely handsome lead actors.

North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

North Korean soldier Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyeon (김수현) has trained relentlessly to be the best in his unit, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. His superiors give Ryu-hwan a mission – to infiltrate South Korea under the cover identity of Dong-gu, the mentally ill fool of a shanty town, and to await further instructions. Taking to his new identity with patriotism and verve, Ryu-hwan slowly becomes disillusioned as time passes and with no word from his homeland. Yet one day out of the blue rival Northern soldier Ri Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) shows up in the neighbourhood, sporting a wannabe rocker identity. Adding further distress, junior soldier Ri Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo (이현우) also appears as a high school student. Yet just as the former rivals begin to form a brotherhood, their country calls them into action but their hearts and minds pull them in different directions.

Secretly, Greatly begins well, as Ryu-hwan is given orders by a scarred and scary general on a dark and snowy desolate beach. The foreboding sense of danger is wonderfully and skillfully undermined as the film then cuts to his new identity as Dong-gu, and the harassment and ridicule he experiences from the local townspeople. The editing is superb during these scenes as everything Dong-gu does, from falling over to sneezing, is all meticulously planned but results in physical comedy, and is highly entertaining to watch. The humour derived from the great contrast is amusing, especially in watching Dong-gu being humiliated despite his impressive skill set.

Ryu-hwan is joined by two other top spies, who form an uneasy fraternity

Ryu-hwan is joined by two other top spies, who form an uneasy fraternity

Yet once the opening has passed, the film very quickly becomes incredibly tedious. In the attempt to show Ryu-hwan’s life is far removed from the glory he imagined, he is inundated with bland, everyday problems. Often these problems are not even his, but those of the local community. The variety of inhabitants that are introduced into the story are completely one-dimensional and serve no purpose other than to provide momentary distractions for Ryu-hwan. Cliches and stereotypes abound, featuring the struggling single mother, the high school bully, the sexy girl with a heart of gold, and so on. None of them are developed into interesting characters, and the sheer number of them halts any development of the main protagonists themselves. Rather, their inclusion instigates a number of short stories that offer brief instances of comedy and/or drama, before being completely forgettable.

Likewise, the addition of wannabe rocker Hae-rang is a wholly wasted opportunity to initiate rivalry and bring some kind of direction to the wandering narrative. Hae-jin fares much better upon entry to the community, instigating mystery and action which is welcome. Yet that too quickly disintegrates as the three forge an unlikely kinship at a community picnic, such is the excitement within the shanty town for the spies.

The aimless story finally shifts gears in the final act as a North Korean general begins a special protocol, forcing Secretly, Greatly back into becoming an action film. Yet for three supposedly top agents the action is very dull and lacking in thrills, while the additional melodrama doesn’t carry any weight. In attempting to please all factions of the audience with elements from all genres, Secretly, Greatly manages to ultimately satisfy no-one.

Finally employing his lethal skills, Ryu-hwan fights for justice

Finally employing his lethal skills, Ryu-hwan fights for justice

Verdict:

Secretly, Greatly is a record breaking film, although unfortunately that doesn’t mean that it’s of high quality. While competently directed by Jang Cheol-soo and with a fun opening, things quickly become tedious due to an array of one dimensional stereotypes that flit throughout the aimless narrative, while the drama and action are bland and uninspired. Secretly, Greatly’s successes seems to be based on fans of the original comic strip stories and of handsome actors Kim Soo-hyeon, Park Ki-woong and Lee Hyun-woo, as there is little else to recommend.

★★☆☆☆

Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews