Tag Archives: Byung-hun Lee

Memories of the Sword (2015, Park Heung-sik)

Memories of the Sword has two, very simple problems. The first is director Park. He’s bad at directing this film. It’s not clear he’s bad at directing films, but he’s bad at directing Memories of the Sword. He fundamentally doesn’t understand action scenes, which means he doesn’t understand how to do the first act of the film. Given Park co-wrote the film, there’s a fundamental disconnect. None of his instincts are right on Sword.

Except maybe trusting Lee Byung-hun so much. Lee is a great villain. He goes from being a somewhat lame villain to being a great one. He even overshadows Jeon Do-yeon as his Juliet, which is surprising because whenever Jeon is around I wish Sword were actually a female, Korean version of Zatoichi. Oh, right. Jeon’s blind. Because tragedy.

Memories of the Sword is bloated melodrama. Park and co-writer Choi Ah-reum go for the jugular every time, usually because Park thinks he can get away with cheapness by cutting from the action. He has way too much confidence in editor Oh Myoung-jun, who can’t make these transitions work. Because Oh’s not particularly good editor and Memories often has dumb stylistic choices. The movie runs two hours but only because every other shot in the last fifteen minutes is in slow motion.

Because tragedy.

But there’s only one tragedy to Memories of the Sword. Ostensible lead Kim Go-eun. Lee and Jeon shouldn’t be the focus, Lee shouldn’t be the main character. Except Park is incompetent and Memories of the Sword goes from being a movie about a girl raised to avenge her parents finally getting to avenge her parents–with martial arts and sword-fighting–to this soap opera for Lee. Political intrigue and occasional fist fights. The film abandons Kim by the second half and she’s supposed to be the protagonist. She’s supposed to be the hero.

It’s impossible to gauge Kim’s performance. The script’s so bad. She does okay. She makes it through the film. Though it’s no one’s fault except Park’s. He can’t make this movie; except somehow the albatross moves. Lee’s story should be tedious. It’s not. It’s not interesting, but it’s not tedious. Because Lee does a good job. He’s what gets Memories of the Sword to the finish line.

Nice photography from Kim Byung-seo. Mowg’s music is saccharine but completely appropriate.

The film’s a bumpy ride; it starts better than it finishes, but it finishes better than it could have. Even with all the lame slow motion.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Park Heung-sik; written by Park and Choi Ah-reum; director of photography, Kim Byung-seo; edited by Oh Myoung-jun; music by Mowg; production designer, Han Ah-reum; produced by Kim Hyun-chol; released by Lotte Entertainment.

Starring Lee Byung-hun (Yoo-baek), Jeon Do-yeon (Wallso), Kim Go-eun (Hong-ee), Lee Jun-Ho (Yull), Kim Tae-woo (Jon-bok), Bae Soo-bin (Poong-chun) and Lee Kyeong-yeong (Teacher).


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I Come with the Rain (2008, Tran Ang Hung)

I Come with the Rain is a strange one. I doubt I can even give away how weird without spoiling the… surprise (it’s one of the two surprises to take the problematic but brilliantly made–not shot, bad DV–picture into the dumps). But there’s enough weirdness without spoiling.

First and foremost… the movie’s in English. There’s no reason people can’t speak Chinese to each other and English to top-billed Josh Hartnett. I’m trying to figure out what Hartnett’s doing in this one. I mean, I know Tran’s a well-respected director and Hartnett probably wanted to see Hong Kong and the Philippines, but those aren’t convincing arguments. He does get a couple good monologues and his scenes with Elias Koteas (how did no one realize he’d make a great serial killer before?) are something to see. They’re… singular.

That element of the film, the serial killer investigation trauma, is like Tran decided to make a Manhunter sequel–Manhunter goes to Hong Kong. The Manhunter comparisons go far–down to certain physical realizations of Blake-like painting subjects.

But the movie really belongs to Tran Nu Yên-Khê and Lee Byung-hun. It’s about their relationship, he the vicious gangster, she the heroin addict with the heart of gold. Kimura Takuya has a role about as big as Hartnett’s, but really doesn’t… it’s hard to explain how Kimura works in this one.

Fundamentally, I think Tran’s just got pretentious intentions and can’t lucidly pull them off.

Great music though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tran Ang Hung; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Mario Battistel; music by Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Benoît Barouh; produced by Jean Cazes, Jean-Pierre Marois and Fernando Sulichin; released by TF1 International.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Kline), Tran Nu Yên-Khê (Lili), Lee Byung-hun (Su Dongpo), Kimura Takuya (Shitao), Shawn Yue (Meng Zi), Elias Koteas (Hasford) and Eusebio Poncela (Vargas).


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Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)

If you try one Korean film, please don’t let it be Joint Security Agency. It’s like hearing alcoholic liquids are good and drinking rubbing alcohol instead of wine.

Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Joint Security Area is a really big piece of shit. It’s not without some merits, some of the acting is good–but a lot of it is atrocious too, and in an offensive way. Park’s got a bunch of English speaking Swedes hanging around–who wear t-shirts that say “ARMY” and they run in formation too–and the boss has a pipe he smokes. I could go on about how awful the lead investigator is, but I won’t.

Joint Security Area is a decent idea for a film, soldiers on both sides of the Korean border becoming friends and the tragic outcome, but Park is so incredibly full of shit, the movie is a painful experience. Park’s direction is terrible. I just had a conversation about whether or not sentimental can be good. Sentimental can, of course, be good (it can be wonderful). I think I’d describe every great director as, to some degree, sentimental. John Carpenter might be the only exception. Now, Park proves that sentimental direction can be unbearably terrible too. His composition and this film’s editing are eyesores.

Still, I’ll point out, I have never turned off a Korean film. In the case of Joint Security Area, it has to do with some of the acting, not with the filmmaker… who really, really wants to come to Hollywood, or at least did when he made this film. Maybe he’s gotten over it, but I can’t imagine anything can improve his filmmaking proficiency.

Oh, I watched some terrible region 1 release of the film from Tai Seng, who are terrible. At least the subtitle spelling was correct this time though….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Park Chan-wook; screenplay by Park, Jeong Seong-san, Kim Hyeon-seok and Lee Mu-yeong, based on a novel by Park Sang-yeon; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Bang Jun-seok and Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Lee Eun Soo; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Yeong-ae (Maj. Sophie E. Jean), Lee Byung-hun (Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok), Song Kang-ho (Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil), Kim Tae-woo (Nam Sung-shik) and Shin Ha-kyun (Jeong Woo-jin).