Tag Archives: Kang-ho Song

Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-ho)

Metaphor is a luxury item in Parasite. First act lead Choi Woo-sik excitedly talks about the metaphorical when things are still going well. Choi, a floundering, unemployed early twenty-something from an unemployed floundering family, lucks into the perfect gig—tutoring a rich teenager with her English. Choi’s great at his English, he just doesn’t apply himself. Or he’s really bad at math (he didn’t go to college, despite acing his English language tests over and over). Even better, the mom (Jo Yeo-jeong) is a bit of a bimbo. A very well-spoken, well-informed one, but not someone who, you know, reads. She knows how to talk about reading though. It’s a very interesting part; Jo’s great. Probably giving the film’s best performance, which isn’t an easy task, but the script never turns her into a caricature. It’s weird watching her at first, because you’re waiting for director Bong and co-writer Han Jin-woo to go for some easy bit and they never do. The film’s got a very particular narrative distance with wealthy Jo and her husband, Lee Sun-kyun. See, Choi and his family come to see Jo and Lee as the caricatures, while….

And I’m ahead of myself.

On his first tutoring lesson, Jo tells Choi about how her other kid—Choi’s tutoring the teenage girl, played by Jung Ji-so—but Jo’s other kid, the younger boy (Jung Hyun-jun) he’s actually an artistic genius. Well, Jo’s convinced herself he’s an artistic genius, anyway. And Choi sees the chance to get his artistically talented sister—so good she faked his college transcript for the job interview—a gig tutoring the clearly not a next level genius son. Park So-dam is Choi’s sister. Once she gets into the house and is able to manipulate Jo better than Choi can (or thought to), it’s time to get dad Song Kang-ho and mom Jang Hye-jin gigs too. They just need to get rid of the other servants to make vacancies. Because Park and Choi have a whole plan worked out, complete with role-playing lessons to get Song and Jang ready for their parts. Choi’s lucked the whole family’s way into full employment.

Something Bong and Han carefully foreshadow.

They’re similarly careful about how they juxtapose the two families. Because, obviously, they don’t let on they’re related. Becausee they’re being very safe about how they’re conning and exploiting Jo and Lee and with some empathy—to protect them from getting exploited by someone else. Song’s gone positively soft for the family and what he thinks is their naiveté, Choi’s got a crush on his inappropriately young tutee; they’re all in on the con, with Choi and Park starting to work out plans for the future. Only Choi and Park are inexperienced kids and even though Song and Jang are ready and willing with the con, they’re not any more experienced in this world either. Jo and Lee live in this distinct, gigantic literal architect’s dream home. Bong has these great shots of how much area Choi and his family have to walk to get around. They live in a basement apartment where drunks piss on their windows. There’s not room in that apartment for a long shot, there’s not enough room for Bong to pan the shot to follow them. Everyone’s got their own kind of naiveté in Parasite; the audience can’t necessarily see into the characters’ blindspots either. Bong and Han don’t exactly have any mysteries, but they’ve got some Brobdingnagian surprises.

Sometimes those surprises impact the epical narrative, sometimes they impact the subtext. Parasite says a lot, looks at a lot. Bong never forces it, some of he and Han’s moves so subtle you don’t catch on to when they started laying the groundwork until they’re ahead a couple more reveals. Kind of like the aforementioned metaphor as a luxury item. They’re already two or three metaphors in between they reveal they’re metaphors. It’s so good. Sometimes watching Bong pull it off, thanks also to Hong Kyung-pyo’s photography and Yang Jin-mo’s editing—sometimes it gets distracting, how well this scene or that scene works. How ably Bong is accomplishing with the film. And it doesn’t take until the the third act for that feeling, it hits in the early second. Parasite’s great from really, really early on.

The acting helps with that early success. Everyone’s excellent. They’re different kinds of excellent, because no one’s got the exact same kind of function in the script—mom Jang’s got a great long sequence where she’s never the focus of a scene but how she’s moving through the background is the actually important thing going on. Meanwhile, Song’s got a very different kind of part; his part changes the most throughout, and not just because he and Jang start the film more in supporting roles. It takes a while. Bong and Han never hurry it either. There’s not a wasted moment in the film.

The best performances are Jo, Sang, and probably Lee Jeong-eun (the kindly housekeeper who could foil Sang and family’s plans). Jo and Sang have a handful of scenes together and they’re always so great because Jo and Sang are giving such nuanced, guarded performances. The script demands it, more than for anyone else, and seeing them acting together is something special. Because they’re doing separate things, which are then informing the scene in how they spark off one another.

It’s fantastic to watch.

Park and Jang are both really good. Park’s got the hardest part in the first act—she’s got to be the most different between home and work—and she’s great. She gets less later on, but when it’s all on her, Park nails it. Lee—the rich husband—he’s good. Choi’s really good. Parasite’s just really good in general; also specific to its many parts. Bong sets up the film as an experience, something for the audience to go through. It’s not an inaccessible experience. In fact, what makes it so impressive is how often Bong and Han just go for their big symbolism and such. Bong’s fearless.

Parasite’s outstanding.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong and Han Jin-won; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Yang Jin-mo; music by Jung Jae-il; production designer, Ha-jun Lee; produced by Bong, Jang Young-Hwan, Moon Yang-kwon, and Kwak Sin-ae; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Kim Ki-taek), Choi Woo-sik (Kim Ki-woo), Park So-dam (Kim Ki-jung), Jang Hye-jin (Kim Chung-sook), Jo Yeo-jeong (Park Yeon-kyo), Lee Sun-kyun (Park Dong-ik), Jung Ji-so (Park Da-hye), Jung Hyun-jun (Park Da-song), and Jeong-eun Lee (Moon-gwang).


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The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008, Kim Ji-woon)

The Good, the Bad and the Weird, if the title is any hint, is an homage to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Kim Ji-woon borrows liberally from all three of the Clint Eastwood films, taking a scene from one then, a little later, one from another. He takes it further than just a cheap reference–at one point, Song Kang-ho ends up in a deep sea diver helmet, which isn’t a reference (to my knowledge) but it fits rather well, stylistically.

What’s most striking about the film isn’t those references or homage. Instead, it’s the film’s place as a singular action movie. It’s set in Manchuria during Japanese aggression with a trio of expatriate Koreans living, albeit with more technologically, a life very similar to the characters in a Western. Even with the gun fights, the horses and the train robbery, the film isn’t actually a Western. It’s a war film, only it’s told from a Western point of view, which means there are long stretches without any reference to the spaghetti westerns it emulates in the first act.

These long stretches are instead action sequences. They’re magnificently choreographed–Song on a motorcycle being chase by one set of bad guys on horses and another set of bad guys on horses and the Japanese army and then another guy on horseback. It’s set across the Manchurian desert and with the humor and the skill, it feels more like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Road Warrior. One of those films where large scale action scenes constantly surprised.

As a director, Kim doesn’t emulate, say, Leone’s style (until the end, which I’m sure I won’t forget). Instead, he has his own approach to the material and he’s fantastic. It’s a nice wide frame, filled with content and movement. At times, it’s hard to follow the film–there are so many different gangs of gunmen, it’s hard to keep them straight–but Kim’s direction is never confusing, even when he’s got an intricate moving shot (the first half of the film is full of them, for example, the camera moving between six people–one take–for reaction shots to what the first person sees). As a visual experience, the film’s a constant joy.

But then there’s the end. The end is when the film has to live up to its title–following that fabulous desert chase scene and a hilarious escape sequence, which kind of elevate the film to a higher plane. It can’t win. By falling into genre requirements–the wrong genre–The Good, the Bad and the Weird becomes an awkward, self-aware, pseudo-hip (the music never goes for Morricone, but the end’s got some hip hop, which really doesn’t work) fake spaghetti western. Instead of a singular war movie about countrymen–something the film has going for it almost until that point–it then collapses, even if the big reveal is hilarious.

As the titular weird, Song’s a delight. Good guy Jung Woo-sung barely has a character, but he plays well with Song so it doesn’t matter. Lee Byung-hun’s bad guy has almost as much style as Prince and watches American gangster movies. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It plays into the film’s lunacy, but Lee never lets the absurdity run rampant. He keeps it in check.

The film’s incredibly violent, which differentiates it as well. Westerns tend not to be anti-violent, but again… it isn’t really a Western. There are some really nice narrative tricks, ones requiring the viewer to be on his or her toes. It’d be hard, given all the action, for the film to be a passive viewing experience, but a couple of the sleights were extreme.

It’s a good movie, but it could have been so much better.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kim Ji-woon; written by Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk; directors of photography, Lee Mo-gae and Oh Seong-chul; edited by Nam Na-young; music by Dalparen and Chan Young-gyu; production designer, Cho Hwa-sung; produced by Choi Jai-won; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Yoon Tae-goo), Lee Byung-hun (Park Chang-yi), Jung Woo-sung (Park Do-won), Ryu Seung-su (Man-gil), Zhang Qi (Deligeer), Yun Jae-mun (Byeong-chun), Son Byeong-ho (Seo Jae-shik), Song Yeong-chang (Kim Pan-ju), Kim Gwang-il (Two Blades), Ma Dong-suk (Bear), Ryu Chang-suk (Granny) and Lee Chung-ah (Song-yi).


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The Host (2006, Bong Joon-ho)

If the original Godzilla (the Japanese version, before Raymond Burr) was about the United States as a nuclear power, The Host is a metaphor for the United States as a terrorist state. Or maybe it’s not a metaphor. It’s just about a situation involving Americans and they act with complete disregard for the safety of people and then go and terrorize them for no reason… Yeah, a metaphor suggests it’s coy. The Host is very straightforward in its portrayal of the United States and its foreign policy, which makes the film’s upcoming U.S. release a mystery to me. It’s a release for critics mostly, some way to get knowledge of Korean films out there. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

But the politics aren’t the center of The Host, they’re just reality. People who’d seen it at festivals touted it online as the superior giant monster movie, but that blurb is a bit of a misnomer. While the film does feature a giant (well, not too giant, about the size of a bus) monster, it’s not really a giant monster movie because it doesn’t follow the rules. With the exception of that original Godzilla, these films tend to fetishize the monster, because it’s the special effects feat. This fetishization goes back to the 1925 Lost World, because the monster was the deal. The films are about seeing what the monster will do. Deviations from this norm are usually considered failures (and sometimes, to be fair, are failures). The Host isn’t about what the monster’s going to do–seeing that exciting special effect–but about the effect of the monster. The Host is one of the most sensitive films I’ve seen–probably the most sensitive Korean film I’ve seen. It’s almost indescribably affecting. From maybe thirty minutes in, there’s one thing going on and the film drags you through it.

I’ve seen director Bong’s other big film, Memories of Murder, and while it’s a good film, The Host is far beyond my expectations. As a director, Bong is quiet and direct. He’s delicate, actually. The Host is a delicate film, not because it might break, but because it might break you. At times it’s a father-son film, a brother film, a father-daughter film, a comedy, an action film, but it mixes all these elements without detriment, because they’re the traditional terms for things like what is going on in The Host. It’s its own film, so I’m sort of handicapped by the terminology. Korean films tend to defy easy genre assignment (my favorite new genre from Korean films, however, will always be the sexual harassment comedy) and, while The Host is no different in that respect, it takes it to a new level. It is, as I said before, indescribable (in a very, very good way).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong, Baek Chul-hyun and Ha Won-jun; director of photography, Kim Hyung-ku; edited by Kim Seon Min; music by Lee Byung-woo; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Choi Yong-bae; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Kang-du), Byeon Hie-bong (Hie-bong), Park Hae-il (Nam-il), Bae Du-na (Nam-ju) and Ko Ah-sung (Hyun-seo).


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Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)

So all Song Kang-ho needs is a good movie… Well, not quite. In my Foul King post, I accused Song of being the weak link in Korean cinema and maybe he’s not. Maybe he just makes some bad choices. Still, in Memories of Murder, he plays a well-intentioned buffoon of a detective facing a rural serial killer. Memories runs strong for the majority of the film, but it’s based on a true story and that reality mucks up the denouement. It’s a mix of a mystery, thriller, and a comedy, but in the end it needs to be a drama about men working together and the film hasn’t been building for that conclusion.

Bong Joon-ho is a wonderful director and his sense of composition and timing makes Memories work, then he goes and breaks a big rule. Never have someone look into the camera unless it’s going to work. He does it and it doesn’t work and it hurts the film. Otherwise, he’s great. Memories has a quietness about it when it’s among the rice paddies or in the fields or anywhere in outdoor rural settings. When it gets to the town or city, Bong loses the film. For example, the rural town is never visually defined. It doesn’t seem too rural, as it’s got a huge factory district and such. The lack of establishing shots only becomes a problem when he’s moving from country to town.

The script is a more complicated matter. The film has two and a half protagonists, Song, a city detective played by Kim Sang-kyung, and another rural thug cop played by Kim Roe-ha. The thug cop is hardly a character at times, more just a reminder of Song’s character’s mindset before he realized his tactics weren’t going to stop the killings. The real killings took place over five years. In the film, it seems like six months at best. There’s never any look at the city detective–who the film follows once he arrives–outside his police work and there’s never any hint he exists outside the police station.

While inside the police station, everything–writing, directing, acting–works great. When it’s about the investigation of the crime, it works great. But when it gets to cinematic moments (except a great chase scene), Memories of Murder trips. It’s a slick looking film–lush colors and perfect film stock–so any grittiness has to come from the characters, and the actors don’t really have any to offer. Kim Sang-kyung is fine through most of the film, but when it’s most important for him to be really good, he isn’t. He doesn’t have any subtext (which, oddly, Song does).

In the end, the film can’t escape the realities of the actual murder investigation. While it doesn’t let the audience predict (unless the viewer knows something about the case), Bong doesn’t prepare the film for where it goes. The end is a disconnect from what came before and it’s too bad, because until the third act, Memories was going to be outstanding. Instead, it’s just really good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong, Kim Kwang-rim and Shim Sung Bo; director of photography, Kim Hyeong-gyu; edited by Kim Seon Min; music by Iwashiro Tarô; production designers, Ryu Seong-hie and Yu Seong-hie; produced by Cha Seoung-jae, Kim Moo Ryung and No Jong-yun; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Detective Park Doo-Man), Kim Sang-kyung (Detective Seo Tae-Yoon), Kim Roe-ha (Detective Cho Yong-koo), Song Jae-ho (Sergeant Shin Dong-chul), Byeon Hie-bong (Sergeant Koo Hee-bong), Ko Seo-hie (Officer Kwon Kwi-ok), Park No-shik (Baek Kwang-ho), Park Hae-il (Park Hyeon-gyu) and Choi Jong-ryol (Du-man’s father).


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