Grass (2019)

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Direction: Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Prolific Korean director Hong Sang-soo is known for little conversational diamonds of the modern cinema and Grass, lasting 66 minutes only, shows he still didn’t run out of narrative possibilities within the breezy, light fluency that characterizes his filmmaking style. Sang-soo keeps depicting unpretentious day-to-day situations with realism. Fortuitous encounters, actors, directors, booze, cafes, personal frustrations and peculiarities of the daily life are ubiquitous elements in his works.

The cast includes the same collaborators that join Isabelle Huppert in Claire’s Camera, namely, Kim Min-hee, the director’s muse, and Jung Jin-young. Their gracious performances feel so natural that viewers may feel like voyeurs of true-life episodes. It's true that the story produces little dramatic fireworks and doesn't conclude resolutely. However, it’s remarkable how Sang-soo manages to completely engross us in a tale that only exists for our cinematic pleasure.

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Grass, his 22nd feature film, centers in Areum (Min-hee), a silent, observant young woman who spends a few daily hours in a local café typing on her laptop. She seems to be writing stories inspired by the personal dramas and complicated relationships of the ones sit around her table. A young drinking couple exchange accusations over the death of a close friend; an older suicidal actor is looking for a room and asks his younger former lover if he could stay with her, now that she moved from a tiny apartment to a two-story building; a mature heartless man blames a woman of toying with an old professor and lead him to suicide; a vain director needs something to inspire him and persuades the staring Areum to enter in his new film.

Where the reality ends and fantasy begins is up to the viewer. Meanwhile, Areum shows her temperamental side while hanging out with her brother. According to him, she suffers from spinster’s hysteria.

The classical music is occasionally intrusive while the black-and-white cinematography is aesthetically appropriate for a type of fiction embroiled in a deceptively philosophical guise.

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Burning (2018)

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Directed by Lee Chang-dong
Country: South Korea

The films of Lee Chang-dong (“Peppermint Candy”, “Oasis”, “Poetry”), one of the most esteemed filmmakers from South Korea, are usually layered in a way that requires some patience from the viewer. If you are able to cope with slow developments and dive in Chang-dong’s detached, breezy flow that gradually shapes his characters, it is almost certain you’ll be rewarded in the end. And that’s exactly what you get in the peaceful “Burning”, a skilled cinematic adaptation of a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a confessed adept of William Faulkner, aspires to write his first novel short time after earning a degree in creative writing. He lives in Paju, on the border with North Korea, where he grew up practically alone, taking care of the family’s farm. His mother left when he was still a kid because of the stubbornness and irascible character of his father, a war vet who was sent to prison for physical aggression to an officer.

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One day, while working part-time in Seoul, Jong-su runs into Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), a former neighbor and classmate who secretly had a crush on him. Before Hae-mi’s trip to Africa, they sleep together, also agreeing that Jong-su will come to Seoul to feed her cat while she’s away. In her apartment, he masturbates looking at her picture, but his hope of having her in his arms again becomes questionable with the arrival of Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy man whom he calls ‘Great Gatsby’. This vague, unprincipled man likes to break the rules and doesn’t recall of crying at any stage of his luxurious life. He lives to entertain himself and provide amusement to his upper-class friends through recurrent social gatherings that take place in his apartment.

Combining the unruffled, quotidian spell of Hou Hsiao Hsien’s dramas with the pertinent observation of Jia Zhangke’s contemporary themes, the film burns slowly until the moment when Hae-mi vanishes without a trace. It then gains momentum, moving confidently toward a surprising climax. The resplendent soundtrack, which includes a Miles Davis’ tune, and the naturalistic performances make a significant contribution to the success of this achingly poignant meditation on passion, in its strangest forms.

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On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)

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Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Prolific Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo keeps pursuing both inner sensitivities and the truth in human relationships with a cinéma vérité that enchants with simplicity. Sang-soo remains faithful to a simple yet highly efficient filmmaking style that goes against any contemporary cinematic trend that attempts to turn everything visually spectacular through fabricated settings, eccentric special effects, or excessively pre-staged situations. Instead, he prefers tackling a good emotional story by taking advantage of an observant sincerity, naturalistic performances, and a forthright approach. Gentle dramas such as “Oki’s Movie”, “The Day He Arrives”, and “In Another Country” (featuring Isabelle Huppert) are highlights of an undeviating career that incorporates three more titles this year: “Claire’s Camera”, featuring Ms. Huppert once again, “The Day After”, and “On the Beach at Night Alone”, the object of this review.

Just like the former two titles, the latter stars the talented Kim Min-hee (“The Handmaiden”), winner of the latest Silver Berlin Bear, who has been the director’s inspirational muse since the release of the well-received “Right Now, Wrong Then” in 2015. The film comes wrapped up in autobiographical controversy after Sang-soo has admitted his extramarital affair with Min-hee at a press conference in Seoul.
  
Feeling abandoned after the terminus of an affair with a married man, the celebrated yet stranded actress Young-hee (Min-hee) flies to Hamburg, Germany, where she finds solace in the company of a longtime friend. The disenchantment with her actual life is quite perceptible when we listen to their conversations. She wonders if her lover misses her like she misses him and even tests her friend with “should I come living here with you?”.

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Unfitted, she returns to the Korean coastal town of Gangneung, where she reunites with some old friends at a restaurant. This section is a staple in the director’s written statement since food and drinks always play an important role in his narrative process. At the dinner, she gets tipsy in just a few minutes, proclaiming her male friends unqualified to love or be loved, except Jun-hee (Song Seon-mi) with whom she has a special chemistry.
 
After being rescued of her dreams while lying down alone at the beach, she is taken to drink with her former director/lover, an encounter that gains extra dramatic agitation. There is a thin line separating loneliness and friendship here, an idea reinforced by the main character herself when she admits her emotional complexity and destructive side. Also, one can feel a strong sense of misplacement and surrender that translates into emotional aggressiveness rather than resilience.

Sang-soo operates the camera in a very efficient way, regardless if he opts for static or dynamic shots, occasionally complemented with zoom ins and wide pans. His lucid quests for the meaning of love, consistently clever and exclusive, keep enriching the contemporary cinema with modesty and virtue. Hence, “On the Beach at Night Alone” brings some truths attached and is definitely worth exploring.

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The Villainess (2017)

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Directed by Jung Byung-gil
Country: South Korea

Drawing from a promising script he co-wrote, Korean director Jung Byung-gil (“Confession of Murder”) squanders the chance of doing something original or memorable with “The Villainess”. Sadly, the crime thriller in question brings an assemblage of stale clichés that, although fast-and-furious, only increase tiredness along the way.

Byung-gil goes straight to the point, showing a ravaging skinny woman annihilating an entire gang in a short period of time. She is Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), a trained assassin since a young age, whose traumatic memories of a difficult childhood bolstered her lethality and resilience.
 
The superior fighting skills and instant killing instinct she evinces quickly call the attention of the South Korea’s intelligence agency which forces her to enroll in one of their obscure projects comprising several dangerous missions with assigned targets. Before starting to execute these preys under the tight supervision of the agency’s glacial chief, Kwon (Kim Seo-hyeong), Sook-hee is submitted to a facial plastic surgery, psychologically revitalized, and persuaded to join them for ten years in exchange for a lifetime pension and total freedom when the service time is over.

Often, especially while on duty, harrowing situations from a tumultuous past assault her mind and are presented in the form of flashbacks. Despite so, it was still difficult for me to connect with this mysterious character, who is relocated to an apartment with her little daughter in order to live a discreet, ’normal’ life. Rejuvenated and with a new identity, this gal is able to smile again, gaining extra confidence when a young neighbor and widower, Hyun-soo (Bang Sung-jun), gains her trust and her heart. Big disillusion, though, when she finds out he’s an undercover agent sent to control all her moves.

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In fact, the romance gets emotionally vibrant, becoming the prettiest part of a tale whose situations keep oscillating between the easily tolerable and the terribly bad. There are plenty of bloody scary faces, shots in the head, physical torments, nauseating throat slashes, and a scene captured with visual panache of a few bikers dueling with swords in a narrow tunnel. It’s simultaneously excessive and spectacular, and is exactly this intermittence in terms of satisfaction that accompanied me throughout.

To give you a better idea of what you can expect, think about a dark crossing between the psychological harassment associated with the cinema of Takashi Miike and Shion Sono, the vengeful path and romping rage of "I Saw the Devil", and the espionage thrills of "La Femme Nikita". 
The description above might sound appealing for action hunters, but as a matter of fact, and when deeply analyzed, “The Villainess” is simply an overlong, unarticulated, and impotent thriller that opted for the easiest way to impress.

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The Age of Shadows (2016)

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Directed by Kim Jee-woon
Country: South Korea

Brought to cinematic life by the hand of writer/helmer Kim Jee-woon, “The Age of Shadows” is a Korean espionage action thriller that reaps honors with a smart script, outstanding action scenes, and unshaken performances by Song Kang-ho (“Momories of a Murder”, “Snowpiercer”), Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan”), and Eom Tae-goo.

The director, whose past works oscillate between the horror (“Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil”) and the action genres (“A Bittersweet Life”, “The Last Stand”), shows a strong narrative articulation while keeping high levels of tension throughout.

Set in the 20’s occupied Korea and Shanghai, the film centers on Lee Jeong-chool (Kang-ho), a deserter member of the Korean resistance who started working for the Japanese as their police captain. He usually accomplishes knotty missions in a stainless way, being regarded as an asset in the hunt for rebel leaders. His superior, Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi), has him in a high account and never recriminates him, even when the operations go off the track.

After the killing of Ok Kim-jang, an important member of the Resistance, Jeong-chool, whom was his former classmate and close friend, radically changes sides as he teams up with Jin Kim-woon (Yoo), a dissimulated antique dealer and persuasive blackmailer who asks for help in a scheme to transfer explosives from Shanghai to Seoul. The explosives would be used to destroy critical Japanese targets in the disquieted capital of South Korea.

Divided between the Japanese duty and his true Korean heart, Jeong-chool resolves to embrace the role of a double agent after meeting with the most wanted man in the country, Jeong Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun), the leader of the Resistance and, according to his own words, a “soldier who lost his country".

At the same time that our agent tries to deviate the attention of Hashimoto (Tae-goo), his voracious new partner in the police, he also tries to locate the betrayer who, acting from inside the group, keeps the occupiers so well informed.

Every scene was carefully weighed and measured to look as realistic as possible, a factor that is commonly neglected nowadays in favor of fireworks and overdone tantrums.

Never decaying in pace, the film provides us with thrilling Hitchcockian sequences on a train, suspenseful ambushes, treacherous inside men working in the shadow, and incredible shootouts at the sound of Louis Armstrong. Are these enough reasons to make you interested?

The Age of Shadows” not only received domestic praise but also drew positive reactions internationally.

The Handmaiden (2016)

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Directed by Park Chan-wook
Country: South Korea

14 years ago, Korean director Park Chan-wook secured a huge legion of fans with his critically acclaimed thriller “Oldboy”, which later on was subjected to a lame American remake directed by Spike Lee.
During the following years, Chan-wook came up with some good ideas, most of them characterized by violence and general alienation. Titles like “Lady Vengeance”, “Thirst”, and “Stoker” belong to this roster.

This year, and for our surprise, he resolved to change direction, adapting Sarah Waters’s novel “Fingersmith” and switching its Victorian background for Korea under Japanese colonization. He counted on his regular collaborator Chung Seo-kyung to work on the script.

The voluptuous psychological thriller, “The Handmaiden”, stars Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri as Lady Hideko and Sook-Hee, respectively. The former is a wealthy Japanese heiress who lives with her stern uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), while the latter is an experienced Korean con artist who is hired by a scheming man who, adopting a false identity, goes by the name of Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo).
His plan consists in sending Sook-Hee, operating under the name of Tamako, to the opulent mansion of Hideko, an orphan haunted by nightmares, where she would work as her personal maid. This strategy envisions to facilitate his access and intentions of marrying Hideko to steal her inheritance.

Everything was going as planned, but unforeseen difficulties arise when master and servant embark on a scalding lesbian romance that leaves Fujiwara aside, with no financial perspectives.
Along the way, we learn more details about the characters, especially Hideko who struggles with psychological problems related to a terrible childhood. She lives haunted by her aunt’s ghost and trembles with fear of her perverted uncle.
Sook-Hee, whose ambition is not as big as her passion for Hideko, manages to get rid of Fujiwara with a little help from the deranged Uncle Kouzuki.

Rich in dark humor, detail and color, as well as marked by a strong narrative, “The Handmaiden”, eschews the bloodsheds that Chan-wook is so fond of. 
Instead, it intertwines lustful carnal scenes and tense artful schemes.
The package comes full of fine ingredients, old and new, telling us that the filmmaker’s vision and aptitudes are wider that we’ve had imagined.

Train to Busan (2016)

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho
Country: South Korea

This Korean zombie thriller flick is much more invigorating than many of its American relatives. Likely, a big production company already targeted it as a profitable Hollywood remake for a near future, and its writer-director, Yeon Sang-ho, is the one responsible for all the buzz and favorable outcome.
A prequel of this live-action adventure, entitled “Seoul Station”, was also released this year in an animated form.

Seok Woo, an extremely busy fund manager who doesn’t spend enough time with his daughter, Soo-an, reluctantly agrees to take her on her birthday from Seoul to Busan where her mother lives since their divorce. However, they get caught in terror when ravaging zombies quickly infest the high-speed train in which they travel. The pandemic is spreading furiously, triggering the national state of emergency, and the well-guarded Busan seems to be the only city that gives them an absolute guarantee of safety.
The claustrophobia increases onboard of the train as the spaces become narrower and the fear and paranoia take care of the passengers.  
A few stops are made, some of them forced due to unexpected setbacks. The Daejon Station, for example, had a severe outbreak and massive wild attacks are being perpetrated by a bunch of spasmodic soldiers.

Seok Woo is not alone in this ghastly battle, though. There are other passengers who, carrying different energies, look desperately to survive and remain close to their loved ones. Separation impels this redeemed father to join forces with Sang Hwa, a brave yet sometimes-rude man who is also looking for his pregnant wife, and a teen baseball player who searches for his girlfriend. Still, there’s always someone whose selfishness only makes the things worse, which is the case of the wealthy CEO Yon-suk.

The story has enough emotional bates to firmly grab the audience, and Mr. Sang-ho proves he knows how to create suspense and appall us with rowdy and often spectacular situations of chaos, panic, and disarray. 
I also have to mention that the characterization of the zombies and the bloody scenes are not overdone, as they normally are, while the screenwriter also throws in a strong sense of fate translated in a few occurrences where the characters benefit from being in the right place at the right time. One can expect interesting twists-and-turns along the way. 
Even abusing a bit of the dramatic tones, this is a funny and somewhat eccentric ride onboard of a crazy train heading to a distant paradise called Busan.

The Boys Who Cried Wolf (2015)

Directed by Kim Jin-hwang
Country: South Korea

Kim Jin-hwang’s directorial debut, “The Boys Who Cried Wolf”, is a drama turned into a detective story.
 
It stars the newcomer Park Jong-Hwan as Wan-ju, a frustrated stage actor who also works as an escort and wingman for his friend’s agency.
With his mother sick in the hospital, needing urgent surgery, Wan-ju needs desperately to find a quick solution to get the money that would allow him to pay both the treatment and the hospital bill. 
At the same time, he gets pissed off when he doesn't get the leading role of a play he was really committed to.

The opportunity to thrive without much effort comes when Yang Kyang-Sun, the CEO of a well-established company, persuades him to falsely testify in a murder case. 
The supposedly simple task becomes a headache in the minute that Wan-ju finds out that the suspect is innocent and the CEO who had contacted him wasn’t the real Kyang-Sun.
Propelled by a strong curiosity, he starts digging up the mystery as he attempts to clear his name from the mess he was pushed into. 
Continuous threats and a beat up are just a little part of the predicament.

The chain of middlemen and a large number of suspects made of this modest exercise a difficulty. In the end, the mystery-thriller presented here wasn't up to much. However, its stylish approach, more European than Korean, and the quality of the acting had the desired effect to pump it up a little.

The Wailing (2016)

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Directed by Na Hong-jin
Country: South Korea

Na Hong-jin, the successful writer/director of the action-packed “The Yellow Sea” and “Chaser”, returns with a supernatural thriller that guarantees creeps and laughs in equal amounts.

Do Won Kwak plays the main character with aplomb. He is Jong-Goo, a small village cop whose qualm about unexplainable occurrences don’t refrain him from investigating a mysterious and quiet Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura) who everybody says is an evil ghost. After this man’s arrival, a few brutal crimes, associated with a patterned ritual, started to happen, making him the main suspect, although without proof. The villagers also believe he raped a young woman (Chun Woo-hee) who became deeply affected and, since then, keeps wandering throughout the village with no apparent direction.
There’s a laughable foolishness, perhaps even a slight naivety, in Jong-Goo that arises sympathy. As a vulnerable man, he’s often tormented by nightmares and is not afraid to scream whenever startled.

A strange force possesses one villager at a time, making their bodies rot and impelling them to commit harrowing massacres, which frequently aim their own families. It seemed obvious that Jong-Goo and his partner nothing could do about it. However, when his daughter starts to evince abnormal behaviors and becomes violent, he accepts the help of a noisy shaman (Hwang Jung-min), who despite knowledgeable and available is also fallible. 
Meanwhile, he befriends with a young deacon whose curiosity about demons is larger than his faith.

The frequent presence of animals, shadowy figures, heavy rain, and hypnotic rituals are part of the ominous scenario, beautifully captured in Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography and intensified through a powerful score. Once in a while, we are presented with a stunning landscape to break the tension, or that tension is broken by an unexpected humor, as in the scene that invokes a typical zombie attack.
Never tacky in the execution, “The Wailing” is rousingly entertaining and shall attract the ones who love to be shaken by the power of horror, crime, and action.

Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)

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Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

The films by the South Korean writer/director, Hong Sang-soo, are widely known for the exploration of multiple possibilities within the same story. That’s why his latest film could have been entitled “Right Then, Wrong Now,” instead of “Right Now, Wrong Then”, the two realistic parts of a fictional story about a celebrated art-house filmmaker from Seoul who arrives in the city of Suwon, accompanied by his seductive assistant director, to give an oral presentation after a screening of his new film. 

Regarded as a womanizer, the married Ham Cheon-soo (Jae-yeong Jeong), tries to avoid further gossips and disregards her company, without guessing he would fall for a model-turned-painter, Yoon Hee-jeong (Min-hee Kim), with whom he engages in a warm conversation and spends the day with. The explorative Mr. Sang-soo, telling the story twice, benefits with the compelling performances and with the honesty of the situations created. During the first vignette the high expectations of the dedicated painter are thwarted by the director’s posture and behavior, while in the second, in a slightly funnier way, he creates an alternative situation in which the opposite happens: a bad start makes way for a wonderful finish.

Mr. Sang-soo intelligently combines the structure with a very particularly serene mood, creating a few familiar situations that can be identified in his previous titles: “The Day He Arrives”, “In Another Country”, and “Nobody's Daughter Haewon”, just to name some of my favorites. 
By resorting to the use of typical scenes like the ones taking place in restaurants where the characters drink and become closer, we have a feeling of déjà-vu that not always work beneficially. The repetition of the ideas, even impeccably executed, feels a bit time-consuming at times. Moreover, the dialogues and the chemistry between the protagonists are not as strong as in the movies mentioned above.

The film, even living from the power of words and the burst of feelings that the characters try to pour out, shows a final segment that felt moderately unseasoned, having trouble to get away from its mechanical re-enactment. With this being said, it’s not my intention to make you disregard the few enchantments presented in this relaxed Korean drama, sensation of the Locarno Film Festival (best film, best actor, prize of the Ecumenical Jury – special mention). It’s just that this two-sided tale feels like ‘not-so-right-now, right-then’ when compared to other identical chapters of Mr. Sang-soo’s career.

Assassination (2015)

Assassination (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Choi Dong-hoon
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: Set in 1933, “Assassination” is a historical espionage thriller that focuses on the Korean resistance movement created in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Korea. Plotting against the Japanese leaders, a group of exiled rebels, operating from Manchuria, China, seek to avenge the fall of their country in the hands of the illegitimate occupiers and recover what was taken from them. The assassinations are planned to occur in Gyeongseong (Seoul), and the targets include the Japanese high-ranked commander, Kawaguchi, and a pro-Japanese Korean businessman, Kang In-gook. The only one capable of leading this mission is An Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), an infallible sniper who has first to be released from a Shanghai prison, where she’s serving time with her dauntless mates: the guns' aficionado, Big Gun, and the expert in explosives, Hwang Deok-sam. In charge of taking them out of the prison is Yeom Seok-jin, an agent of the provisional Korean government who had managed to escape out of prison in 1911. Embracing the risky mission with all her strength, An Ok-yun will also have the chance to meet with her estranged twin sister, Mitsuko, who was separated from her when they were babies, and now is going to marry commander Kawaguchi. The mission becomes even more complicated when she finds out there’s an informer among her comrades. Moreover, two inexorable assassins, Hawaii Pistol and his follower, Old Man, were hired to destroy the team and stop the mission. Director and co-writer, Choi Dong-hoon, who had fairly entertained me in his previous “The Thieves”, could have done much better here. Sadly, the several conspiracies, ambushes, traps, and shootouts, are presented with a phoniness that pushed me away from the story in an early stage. Mr. Dong-hoon, regardless having recreated the period with nice looking images by the cinematographer, Kim Woo-hyung, assembled a cheap Hollywood imitation thwarted by a scattered narrative, convoluted plot, lack of conviction in choosing the direction to be taken, and indistinguishable characters that didn’t show sufficient arguments to make us care. In addition, the excessive duration of the movie increases the viewer’s discouragement in the face of an inept execution that never spoke with a voice of its own.

A Hard Day (2014)

A Hard Day (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kim Seong-hoon
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: It had been a while since one of these virulent Korean thrillers didn’t hold my attention. To be more precise, the last one was “Snowpiercer”, a Bong Joon-ho’s creation, released more than a year ago. Even considerably distant from the riveting action movie cited above, the brand new “A Hard Day”, the sophomore directorial feature from Kim Seong-hoon, was thought with logic and cooked with enough energy and intensiveness to solidly entertaining me during the toughest day in the life of Western District homicide detective, Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun). After a tiresome day, where he and his colleagues were subjected to a meticulous investigation for bribery, detective Ko drives in the middle of the night in order to meet his sister and little daughter for the final burial of his mother whose funeral happened hours before. However, tragedy occurs and he accidentally runs over a man who was standing on the side of the dark street. In panic, and under the pressure of a patrol police car that was checking the area, he hides the dead body in the trunk. After being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, which was the funniest scene in the film, he couldn’t find any better solution than dump the body inside his mother’s coffin. From then on, he starts receiving threatening phone calls from an abusive corrupt cop, Lt. Park (Jo Jin-woong), who inexplicably demands that he brings the body of the victim that after all was wanted for murder. Most of the plot’s twists had a successful impact while just a few ones are guessable, fact overturned by the director’s efforts in bringing in exciting physical confrontations and chases. In truth, the scenes of violence are firm and ferocious, but never uncontrolled or overdone. If you dig cat-and-mouse thrillers, this is a good choice since Mr. Seong-hoon found a positive equilibrium between a thrilling script and tight action.

Haemoo (2014)

Haemoo (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shim Sung-bo
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: “Haemoo”, literally ‘Sea Fog’, is the feature directorial debut of Shim Sung-bo, writer of “Memories of Murder” from the acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon-ho who reciprocates by co-writing and producing. The screenplay’s strength relies on a love story between a sensitive fisherman, Dong-sik, and a defenseless illegal immigrant, Hong-mae who goes after her missing brother in Seoul. Everything happens on board of the Korean fishing boat ‘Junjin’ whose captain, Kang Chul-joo, made up his mind and resolved to face his ruin, both professionally (low incomes prevent him to keep his boat in times of economic crisis) and in his private life (his dissatisfied wife cheats on him), by taking the risky mission of smuggling a group of people from China to Korea. There’s a sense of fatality present throughout the story and the typical Korean staple of self-destructiveness that almost always degenerates into violence. This aspect is mirrored in Captain Kang’s behavior (the most interesting character in the film) but it’s also showed in a more vulgar way through the remaining irascible sailors who embrace greediness and uncontrollable sexual appetites. Confined to a breathless, nauseous hole meant for fish, tragedy is expected any time for the illegal travelers. The non-static camera moves along from one side to another, normally at the sound of a score that alternates between mildly tense and dramatically gentle. Ironic tones are a constant, even in the most serious occasions, which takes “Haemoo” to the dangerous ‘waters’ of cynicism. The arrival of sea fog intensifies claustrophobia and the story indelibly gains a new dimension with the chaos onboard, ending 30 minutes after with a forceless epilog.

One on One (2014)

One on One (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kim Ki-duk
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: The cinema of prolific Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk is growing viciously violent, with superficial scripts, and exhibiting very few aspects of interest. While in “Pieta” (2012) he had the merit of combining violence scenes with a psychologically intense story, last year I wasn’t convinced with “Moebius”, another brutal family drama transformed in a bloodbath. This current year, “One on One” focuses on a personal vendetta and numerous ways of torture, relying basically in graphic violence and poor reflections on human conduct and moral values. I would say this is one of the most low-spirited films of the year and almost unbearable to watch, where everything takes nauseating proportions. The screenwriting here is pretty vulgar and can be summarize in the following lines: seven people, forming a sort of anti-communist militia, kidnap seven men who, directly or indirectly, had something to do with the murder of a young high school student on May 9th. The culprits are savagely tortured before signing a written confession, and then released. The immoderate physical abuses divide the avengers whose leader believes that anger and desire of vengeance keep him alive, assuming an uncontrolled madness. Evilness, political fanaticism, human misery, bosses and lackeys, snitches and crooks, everything is tastelessly presented in this brainless thriller. The tortuous repetitions of violence showed scene after scene, disgusting characters, and lousy finale, turns “One on One” into rubbish for sadists. You cannot imagine how relieved I was when it came to an end.

Miss Granny (2014)

Miss Granny (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: After “Silenced” released three years ago, Korean filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk directs “Miss Granny”, a pop comedy-drama that turned into another local box-office hit. The film starts by establishing an imaginative parallel between women and different types of balls used in sports. Right after that our attention falls in Oh Mal-soon, a 74-year-old widow who runs her own restaurant and reveals an overbearing side, sharp tongue, and strong character. She can be as much protective regarding her musician grandson, as a teaser to her daughter-in-law who ended up in a hospital with more complications in her debilitated heart. Realizing she was being a nuisance in the family, she decides to leave for a while, entering by chance in a photo studio called ‘Forever Young’. Surprisingly, she comes out from there with 20 years old, joining his grandson’s heavy metal band, falling in love with a young music producer, and finding the long lasting love of her restaurant employee, Mr. Park. She decides to adopt the name Oh Doo-ri (Au-d-rey) in homage to her favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Despite technically competent, the first hour was interminable and boring, and I was convinced that no more interesting twists in the plot would happen. The truth is that “Miss Granny” gets slightly better in the final part, showing a feel-good attitude and a more efficient humor. Regardless the aspects referred before, they came too late and were never enough to pull the film out of the banal zones composed by clichés and sentimentality.

The Attorney (2013)

The Attorney (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Yang Woo-seok
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: Newcomer film director Yang Woo-seok brings us a courtroom drama inspired on the early life of Roh Moo-Hyun, the ninth president of South Korea, then turned into an activist, and his ‘Burim case’ dated of 1981. Guided by the motto ‘never give up’, Song Woo-seok, even without a college degree becomes a voracious attorney, getting the life he always wanted. Professional success, lots of money and a beautiful family, makes him boasting around and expose himself as a wealthy man. But Woo-seok shows to have a good heart too, when he returns to a restaurant he used to go as a student in order to pay an old debt to the owner, a lady whose teenager son will be illegally arrested, tortured and forced to confess he is a leftist. The man who carries out these unacceptable operations is the highly patriotic police officer, Cha Dong-yeong. Disturbed by this injustice Woo-seok will radically change his life to free an innocent from the corruption of the Korean system and improper use of public power. Even if a bit melodramatic in the final moments and stepping familiar territories, “The Attorney” combined humor, drama, and a raging courtroom battle, in an appealing way. I would say that the aggressive performance by Song Kang-ho, along with the cynical one by Kwak Do-won, were able to maintain the film well alive, regardless of the director’s gullible attempts to draw some tears, especially in the end. Fortunately, this wasn’t enough to turn down the magnificent work from these two respectable actors.

Han Gong-ju (2013)

Han Gong-ju (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lee Su-jin
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: Lee Su-jin's fantastic directorial debut, “Han Gong-ju”, is a poignant drama whose title was taken from the name of its main character, a teenager girl who is transferred to a new school, trying to adapt to a new life. Isolated and quiet, Gong-ju is visibly tormented with something that we aren’t able to perceive at first. Little by little, and in an intelligent way, the story is unfolded and shocking revelations finally makes us understand the reasons behind the young girl’s detachment. Completely abandoned by a drunken father and a freshly married mother, Gong-ju was raped by a gang of kids whose parents have social influence, only trusting in a former teacher who tried to help her the best way he could. Her talent for music was noticed by some new colleagues who gave her a boost, trying to get closer, but will Gong-ju be capable to forget her past and freely accept her gift? A demanding narrative structure didn’t frighten the newcomer director whose work was noteworthy, collecting prizes in festivals such as Pusan, Rotterdam, Deauville, Marrakech and Fribourg. Chun Woo-hee’s second performance in a feature film, after her appearance in Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother”, was also accurate and convincing. This is a sad, unsettling film that requires a deep reflection after observing its atrocious scenes. It might not be an easy watching story but a hint of hope allows us to breathe at the end, in a drama where a new writer/director emerged to be considered a valid one in the modern Korean cinema.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Country: South Korea / others

Movie Review: Korean helmer Joon-ho Bong’s English-language futuristic action thriller, “Snowpiercer”, lacks the humor of “Memories of Murder” and the psychological quietness of “Mother”, but find other arguments to stand as a dazzling adventure occurred inside a super-tech train that carries the last human survivors, after the outside world has become frozen due to a failed experiment against global warming. Inhabiting the poor tail section of the train, popular leader Curtis (Chris Evans) moves forward with his longtime uprising plan against the violent regime headed by the unapproachable Wilford (Ed Harris), the eternal engine mentor and ruler who unexplainably ordered the kidnapping of two little kids from tail section. Curtis will team with some mates, including Namgoong (Kang-ho Song), a drug addict who was behind the implementation of the doors security system in each of the cars. Surprises and twists will come up as the men advance towards the front. The plot, based on the French graphic novel “La Transperceneige”, was superbly executed in all its technical aspects and precise action moves, which became a delight for the eyes. Assertive, fantastic, and impossible, “Snowpiercer” reveals a deep dark side but doesn’t forget hope, taking the excitement of this trip to its maximum strength. Tilda Swinton’s performance as Wilford’s train-cult devoted, Mason (a somewhat feminine version of Austin Powers), was simply memorable in the most recent action gem of the year.

Our Sunhi (2013)

Our Sunhi (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: “Our Sunhi” is probably the weakest film directed by prolific Korean director Hong Sang-soo in the last few years. The film is almost an extension of his previous studies “The Day He Arrives” and particularly “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon”, where people related to cinema roam through the city having several encounters with acquaintances, fortuitous or not, and exposing their state of mind. Film student Sunhi, always running to go somewhere or hiding from something, shows to be confused about what she really wants in life, including her affective relationships. She asks her former teacher for a reference letter in order to study abroad, but wasn’t so pleased with the truthful statements in it. Nevertheless, a kind of flirtation arises between them and a more 'suitable' letter will come up later. Meantime, she accidentally meets with her ex-boyfriend Munsu who is still in love with her, and gives hope to Jae-hak, a married friend who always had a crush on her. All three men happen to know each other and the story, as you can imagine, won’t end in the way she probably wanted to. The approach relies on the usual simplistic style adopted by Sang-soo: natural and long dialogues, while drinking in pubs or restaurants, and repeated situations in different circumstances or presences. Only this time, the story was not so catchy and drags itself slowly towards a totally predictable ending, failing to surprise. Furthermore, I must confess I’m not a fan of some unexpected and nonsensical camera zooms, so evident in "Our Sunhi", a minor work from a respectable director.

Moebius (2013)

Moebius (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kim Ki-Duk
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: After “Pietà”, winner of last year’s Venice Film Fest, South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk portraits once again a dysfunctional family, using his habitual style in order to provoke with violent, shocking, and disturbing images. From the start, we can guess the heaviness that the film will carry out, addressing topics such as adultery, sexual perversion, bullying, and incest. The insanity presented in this picture is based on the sickness of the mind, which is posteriorly extended to the body in multiple forms. We can ask what kind of woman cuts the penis of her own son as a way to get revenge on her husband? Well, you have to see the film to get the answers, but I can affirm it’s almost impossible to feel any kind of sympathy for such obnoxious characters. Other curious aspect is that the film is speechless, just relying on the power of the images to tell the story, but also making the protagonists even more inhuman. Every frame created from the poor script, including rape and castration, was meant to make you uncomfortable, without trying to say anything valuable. That’s why this film was a complete failure to me; you are provoked in a disgusting way and then there is no lesson to be learned from the ridiculous occurrences. Far from a pleasant watching, the almost unbearable “Moebius” is just another big setback in Kim Ki-Duk’s intermittent career. Tiresome and unnecessary…you may skip it, for your mental sanity!!