Tag Archives: Hye-jeong Kang

Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005, Park Kwang-hyun)

Welcome to Dongmakgol is about an idyllic village in the midst of the Korean War. Two soldiers from the South, three from the North, and an American flyer end up there. Obviously, they learn people are just people and wars are a bad idea, but Dongmakgol revels in itself so much, it’s impossible to dismiss the film as commonplace. It starts strange, with the American crashing. Good CG has obviously made it to Korea and director Park Kwang-Hyun uses a lot of it in Dongmakgol, trying new things with it, fully utilizing it as a storytelling device. Even though the crash looks good, I was unsure of Dongmakgol, since I really didn’t know what it was about. Sometimes not knowing is good, sometimes it’s bad. Immediately following the crash, there’s a standard stand-off when the Communist officer proves himself a decent guy. Again, something else I was worried about. Then, horribly, a battle scene straight from Saving Private Ryan. It’s apparently become the standard for battle scenes.

But once they get the village–which isn’t a Shangri-La aware of its blissful isolation, just ignorant of world events–the film starts to get better and doesn’t stop improving. The Northern and Southern soldiers take time working out their differences, starting with their personal problems first. The pacing is methodical, which hurts the film scene-to-scene, but nurtures a more rewarding experience overall. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Park goes for broke with a three or four minute action sequence done in the studio. It’s a surrealistic CG scene and he pushes it too hard, making the proposition of the scene work better than the scene itself, but it’s done with so much enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to enjoy. Once the film gets back on a more predictable path–it veers again, of course–Park treats the audience to some more exuberance. The end sequence features some great CG and gives the film a great, unexpected, wrap-up.

However… the music, by Joe Hiaishi, almost does the film in. Park’s creating an audio and visual experience with Dongmakgol and Hiaishi recycles one theme over and over again (it sounds like a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol). Stylistically, the music’s out of an episode of “Magnum, p.i.” or “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s far from good enough and doesn’t even achieve a solid mediocrity.

The acting in the film is all high quality. Best is the Communist officer, played by Jeong Jae-yeong, as he’s got the most to do for most of the film. His Southern equivalent, played by Shin Ha-kyun, is good too, but his character’s internally conflicted so he mopes for a lot of it. Ryu Deok-Hwan’s character learns the most about himself in the film, so he’s probably the most interesting. The American, played by some guy named Steve Taschler, is okay. Taschler looks like a cross between Hugh Laurie and Michael O’Keefe, only young, and he’s fine in most of his scenes, especially when there are other people around. I’ve never seen an American actor incorporated so well into an Asian film before (the Godzilla films usually do it to great comedic success, but nothing else).

Dongmakgol is Park’s first film–something almost unbelievable given how well he uses that CG–and it sets him up for one heck of a sophomore slump. It’s an impressive film and Park’s a visual filmmaker, something rare (in quality anyway) these days. I’d probably be calling it one of the best films of last year if it wasn’t for that music.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun; screenplay by Park and Kim Joong, from a play by Jang Jin; director of photography, Choi Sang-ho; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Joe Hiaishi; produced by Choi, Jang, Ji Sang-yong and Lee Eun-ha; released by Showbox.

Starring Jeong Jae-yeong (Chief Comrade Lee Su-Hwa), Shin Ha-kyun (2nd Lt. Pyo Hyun-Chul), Kang Hye-jeong (Yeo-il), Lim Ha-ryong (Jang Young-hee), Seo Jae-kyeong (Army Medic Mun Sang-sang), Ryu Deok-Hwan (Seo Taek-ki) and Steve Taschler (Smith).


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Rules of Dating (2005, Han Jae-rim)

Rules of Dating opens with an incredibly sexist and funny scene. The film establishes itself as a sexual harassment comedy with that opening scene–it doesn’t keep that genre long (though I think it’s the first time I ever thought of calling a film a sexual harassment comedy), but that opening also has quick edits, jump cuts, and lots of Steadicam one and two shots, giving it the neo-cinema verite look. It’s off-putting, while not poorly done, because the film can never decide how seriously it wants to be taken….

Soon, it becomes a drama and it stays a drama for most of the remainder, veering occasionally into romance but never too much. In the end–before the emotionally invalidating epilogue–the film comfortably assumes a sexual harassment drama classification. After sitting through the first act, before the romance between the harasser and victim, this conclusion is somewhat welcome. It’s unexpected surprise, because Rules of Dating is particularly deep. The male “protagonist” goes from being a sleaze to being a romantic hero. The female lead, played by Kang Hye-jeong is excellent (continuing the Korean tradition of actresses playing characters older than they are, something America hasn’t got much apparent interest in doing). The guy’s all right. As the comedic sleaze and the romantic hero, he’s good, but when he’s being the sleazy sleaze and the drama guy, not so good. Both these characters have significant others who, toward the end–after the leads spend ninety minutes either cheating on or thinking about cheating on them with no guilt–are revealed to be rather shitty people, simplifying the audience’s emotions.

In the end, Rules of Dating has the opportunity to be incredibly complex, then flushes all down the toilet to provide a happy ending. This happy ending, of course, was not in the film’s “contract” with the viewer. After the first fifteen or so minutes, after the first time the guy tries to force himself on the woman, any happy ending expectation disappeared. Since it was well-acted (enough) and the direction was nice–I think it’s the first Korean Panavision film I’ve seen and the director knew how to use the wide frame–I was incredibly hopeful. But… there were about seven minutes and it’s hard to crap something up in seven minutes, but managed to do it. Without a surprise ending even. Just a dumb one.

For a movie about teachers, there were no scenes in a classroom for ninety minutes, maybe a hundred. That omission should have told me more about how Rules of Dating was going to turn out than it did.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Han Jae-rim; written by Han and Go Yun-hui; director of photography, Park Yong-su; music by Lee Byung-woo; produced by Cha Seoung-Jae; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Park Hae-il (Yoo-rim) and Kang Hye-jeong (Hong).


Antarctic Journal (2005, Yim Phil-sung)

I guess this film has gotten some bad reviews. Or just excessively mediocre ones. It’s not quite populist enough–it sets itself up as a supernatural thriller set in Antarctica, but it’s all really about internal human conflicts and some creepiness sure. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it and I suppose the best way is… imagine one of John Carpenter’s “horror” movies from the 1980s (They Live and Prince of Darkness). Now imagine it’s decent. Antarctic Journal is not bad. At some points, it could have gone either way. Respectably uncanny or human conflict. It didn’t need to have both and using the uncanny to fuel the human conflict, well, it’s cheap. I don’t if that’s why the film wasn’t successful. I doubt it. Emotional cheapness is highly rewarded by film-going audiences.

As a “box office failure,” Antarctic Journal is a bit of filmmaking achievement. It’s beautiful–snowy New Zealand fills in for Antarctica–it’s well-directed, the plotting isn’t bad, but the characters never gel. We don’t care enough about the ones who die first (it’s Korean, so it’s not Ernie Hudson) and we don’t worry enough to fuel that internal human conflict I mentioned early. The characters just aren’t full enough. They serve the filming location. The acting is good, even when you expect them to go overboard, the characters keep it under check.

I was fully expecting to turn Antarctic Journal off. I was going to watch the other night’s episode of “The Office,” maybe “Boston Legal” too, if I had time. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped a Korean movie. (The place isn’t called The Stop Button for nothing). That says a hell of a lot about a film industry….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yim Phil-sung; written by Yim and Bong Joon-ho; director of photography, Jeong Jeong-hun; edited by Kim Sun-min; music by Kawai Kenji; produced by Lim Heui-cheol; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Choi Do-hyung), Yu Ji-tae (Kim Min-jae), Kim Kyeong-ik (Yang Geun-chan), Park Hee-soon (Lee Young-min), Yoon Jae-moon (Kim Sung-hoon), Choi Duek-mun (Seo Jae-kyung) and Kang Hye-jeong (Yoo-jin).