Ode To My Father (국제시장) – ★★☆☆☆

Ode To My Father (국제시장)

Ode To My Father (국제시장)

In modern day Busan, cantankerous old fogie Deok-soo (Hwang Jeong-min (황정민) runs a general store in the famous international market region. Walking around the area with family and friends prompts memories from his past to return to the surface, reliving the experience that he and his country endured on the path to modernisation after the Korean War. Deok-soo recalls the traumatic events his family suffered through during the Hungnam Evacuation in the winter of 1950; working in the coal mines of West Germany, and meeting his wife Yeong-ja (Kim Yoon-jin (김윤진); operating as an engineer during the Vietnam War; and striving to reunite with the people he lost so many years ago. Always at his side is best friend Dal-goo (Oh Dal-soo (오달수) as they sacrifice everything for family.

Deok-soo recalls the horrific experience his family endured during the Hungnam Evacuation

Deok-soo recalls the horrific experience his family endured during the Hungnam Evacuation

Impressive production values and an epic sense of scale are the scant positives of director Yoon Je-kyoon’s Ode To My Father, a disturbingly nationalistic take on recent Korean history that eschews the complexity of the era in favour of manipulative melodrama. Poorly written, shallow, and horribly acted throughout, the film’s revisionist take on past hardships and overtly patriotic sentiment ensured its success with the middle aged while perpetuating the alarming trend of ultra-conservative cinema for everyone else.

Ode To My Father – literally translated as International Market – is best described as ‘the Korean Forrest Gump‘ for the manner in which the film depicts dark periods of history through rose-tinted glasses, centred around the actions of one man. Indeed, while the events onscreen are specifically and uniquely Korean, the narrative structure as well as visual devices are constantly ‘lifted’ from its American counterpart. While Forrest Gump rightly received criticism for its revisionist take on American history, Ode To My Father takes such conservatism to new heights by completely removing any mention of the military dictatorships and authoritarian rule Korea endured following the war while crucial events aren’t even alluded to. Korean films that were produced during the strict censorship of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – when Ode is set – contained more insight and compulsion so it’s perplexing to see the periods romanticised in the contemporary age.

The mines of West Germany are claustrophobic

The mines of West Germany are claustrophobic

While Park Su-jin’s screenplay eschews historical detail, director Yoon Je-kyoon instead puts all of Ode To My Father‘s large budget onscreen with considerable flair. The Hungnam Evacuation is brilliantly realised as thousands of panic-induced refugees seek transportation to evade war; the claustrophobia of the West German mines is palpable; Vietnamese jungles and bases appear authentic; and the collective grief of TV show ‘Reuniting Separated Families’ is powerfully poignant.

However in each case the impressive production values are undermined as melodrama is exalted above all else, serving to greatly limit the impact such scenes attempt to generate. Director Yoon is so determined to make audiences cry during the (a)historical vignettes that national pride and overacting take place over subtlety and good taste.

The scenes in Vietnam are employed merely to at as a crude parallel to Korea decades earlier and to boast of the nation’s advancement, while a dramatic bomb blast sequence is all but ruined due to a voice over articulating Korean struggles. Yeong-ja is forced to halt her legitimate argument with Deok-soo in order to rise to the national anthem (reportedly President Park Geun-hye’s favourite scene according to several news outlets). Even conveying the importance of TV show Reuniting Separated Families is impaired when an American adoptee, who cannot speak Korean, suddenly recalls perfect sentences from her youth 30 years prior while wailing uncontrollably.

Deok-soo's journey to Vietnam acts as a crude parallel to Korea

Deok-soo’s journey to Vietnam acts as a crude parallel to Korea

Further exacerbating the situation is the manner in which Korean celebrities are horribly shoehorned in throughout the narrative, as well as the representation of youths as ungrateful, rude and self-centred, which serve to provide catharsis for the target audience – middle-aged Koreans – and in that sense is a resounding success, but the achievements come at the cost of context, respect and decency.

Carrying the entirety of the film on his shoulders is Hwang Jeong-min, a usually reliable actor with an impressive filmography, yet in Ode To My Father his theatrically is unnecessarily excessive and akin to a bad TV drama. Certain scenes are absolutely cringeworthy to experience, particularly his rendition of being elderly. Kim Yoon-jin fares slightly better as wife Yeong-ja, yet that’s primarily due to her character’s absence for much of the running time once she’s served her purpose of marriage. There is no chemistry between them thanks to the poor script and characterisation, which attempts to make the couple saintly figures.

Oh Dal-soo, as is often the case, is the most entertaining presence. Using his knack for great comic timing he is fun to watch, and ironically it’s his bromance with Deok-soo that forms the central relationship of the film. However even Oh Dal-so cannot save Ode To My Father from being little more than a well-made nationalistic melodrama.

Whilst working in Germany Deok-soo falls head over heels for nurse Yeong-ja

Whilst working in Germany Deok-soo falls head over heels for nurse Yeong-ja

Verdict:

Ode To My Father boasts an epic scale and lavish production values yet is a disturbingly nationalistic and highly melodramatic take on recent Korean history. Director Yoon Je-kyoon is determined to force audiences to cry throughout his revisionist tale and for middle-aged Korean it undoubtedly provides catharsis, while simply perpetuating the alarming trend of ultra-conservative cinema for everyone else.

★★☆☆☆

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Gi-soo and Choon-sim are forced to work together or the helmet-bomb will detonate

Quick (퀵) – ★★☆☆☆

Quick (퀵)

Quick (퀵)

The action-comedy sub-genre can be a gleefully entertaining experience, eschewing the penetrative socio-cultural material conveyed through critically acclaimed work and focusing primarily on exhilarating stunts and battles, charismatic lead actors, and downright silly fun. The amazing Jackie Chan has built a career through action-comedies with his incredibly unique vision for fight sequences and stunt work that made insurance companies weak at the knees. Similarly, Jason Statham’s The Transporter and Crank genre vehicles helped cement his role as action hero, while The Fast and The Furious has such popularity with its fast cars and overt machismo that a seventh sequel is currently planned.

Quick (퀵) aims to emulate such successes, featuring racing motorcycles, rogue police officers, and a race against time to stop the Machiavellian ne’er-do-well from exploding yet another building. However, the striking lack of originality, lack of charismatic leads, and general lack of comedy make Quick a forgettable viewing experience.

Han Gi-soo (Lee Min-ki (이민기) is a legendary biker gang leader, always in trouble with the law yet despite this dates the studious Choon-sim (Kang Ye-won (강예원). Caught kissing another girl, Gi-soo simply rides away but is pursued by Choon-sim who demands answers for his betrayal. During the chaos, the bikers cause several traffic accidents resulting in the destruction of a number of cars and lives lost. A few years later, Gi-soo works as a bike courier renowned for delivering packages in ultra-fast time. One afternoon Gi-soo is instructed to transport a person to a studio, which turns out to be Choon-sim who has re-invented herself as Ah-rom (아롬), a member of a Kpop girl group. Yet when she puts on her helmet, a bomb is triggered and a mysterious voice on a cell phone claims he will detonate if Gi-soo refuses to deliver packages to various recipients. In addition, Gi-soo is also tagged with a bracelet linked to Choon-sim’s helmet – if they are more than 10 meters away from each other, the bomb will also detonate. Gi-soo and Choon-sim are forced to work together to deliver all the packages in time and escape with their lives, as well as discovering why they were chosen for the task.

Gi-soo and Choon-sim are forced to work together or the helmet-bomb will detonate

Gi-soo and Choon-sim are forced to work together or the helmet-bomb will detonate

Director Jo Beom-goo (조범구) competently constructs and frames the action, filming multiple car pile-ups and explosions with confidence. The motorcycle stunts, despite the suspension of disbelief required, are thrilling and entertaining to watch as Gi-soo and Choon-sim jump over ramps, rooftops, and even over streets into nearby buildings as they avoid the fleet of police officers hunting them down and the fiery infernos that are left in their wake. To this end the editing must also be acknowledged as the rapid style adds excitement and conveys the speed of the race-against-time scenario. The same cannot be said for Park Su-jin’s (박수진) script which is overly convoluted featuring corporate espionage, gang warfare, and an ineffective police force. Overburdened with so many narrative tangents, and so many protagonists inaugurated to achieve those ends, the core plot of Quick quickly becomes submerged which detracts from the enjoyment of the over-the-top action spectacles. Quick (퀵) also blatantly ‘borrows’ gimmicky ideas and themes from other films of the genre, most notably The Transporter and The Fast and The Furious franchises, in a less-than-subtle attempt to become Hollywood fare. The reason such devices worked in prior films was due to their originality and the charisma of the actors involved, who clearly understood the tongue-in-cheek nature of  their role. Quick unfortunately has neither.

Gi-soo and Choon-sim find themselves in an array of dangerous situations

Gi-soo and Choon-sim find themselves in an array of dangerous situations

While lead actor Lee Min-ki and actress Kang Ye-won are incredibly attractive, their performances leave little to be desired. The roles themselves are extremely limiting as they function as devices simply to move from one set piece to the next, but even so, Lee Min-ki is not convincing as an action star. His lack of physical prowess notwithstanding, the tough-guy street-savvy attitude and intimidating personality are noticeably absent with the singular – and unimpressive – fight scene doing very little to remedy the matter. Similarly Kang Ye-won’s role, in which she miraculously changes from teenage bookworm to Kpop superstar, is merely to complain, whine and scream throughout the narrative. But by far the most irritating protagonist is biker-turned-traffic cop Kim Myeong-sik, played by Kim In-kwon. While initially humourous, Myeong-sik quickly becomes aggravating due to recurring gags and his constant yelling for his unrequited love interest. It’s also puzzling as to why so many protagonists are deemed necessary, as the abundance of police officers, gangsters, and corrupt office workers severely impede the character development of the lead roles.

The couple must take to the pedestrian-filled streets to escape the police

The couple must take to the pedestrian-filled streets to escape the police

Verdict:

Quick is an enjoyable, albeit mediocre, action comedy. With some entertaining stunt work and fun set-pieces, Quick is a fast paced and – thanks to the lead actors – an attractive viewing experience. However the film is weighed down by excessive narrative tangents and protagonists, and the resulting lack of character development detracts from creating empathy with the leads and portraying the intensity of their situation. Despite these shortcomings, there are enough car and motorbike crashes, highway chases and explosions to keep fans of the genre happy.

★★☆☆☆

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