Tag Archives: Kang-ho Song

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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The Foul King (2000, Kim Ji-woon)

The Foul King is supposed to be a comedy, but I only laughed once, about an hour in. It’s not about South Korea’s leading stand-up comedian (which I thought it was). It’s about a wrestler who cheats (and gets fouls for that cheating). The film’s structured not around a traditional sports movie, instead it’s about a bank teller who finds himself in the wrestling ring. Except we don’t really know he finds himself, because the film’s storytelling is so distant, it’s hard to care about him.

The first hour of the film is spent abusing the narrator–he’s got a boss who beats him, he gets beat up by thugs, his father can’t stand him, his only friend avoids him, he’s no good at his job–all the time building toward his wrestling success. The wrestling success may or may not get there in the end, it’s not clear. From what I can tell, the audience is supposed to be laughing, not particularly caring about the characters or the film’s content. Song Kang-ho is a big Korean star, but his performance is adequate at best. There are no good or bad performances in Foul King, actually. The film doesn’t care about having good or bad performances, it cares about surveying its “story.” If it weren’t for the measured film editing–shots last twenty seconds or so–Foul King would run about thirty-five minutes. There’s an entire subplot involving the boss trying to corrupt the friend, which may or may not be an attempt at juxtaposition, but it’s so poorly handled–it’s a strain to figure out what’s going on–it fails miserably.

I just realized I’ve never seen Song in a good film, in fact, he’s in about thirty percent of the bad Korean films I’ve seen. I wonder if there’s a connection. At least the final wrestling match moves, as the rest of the film doesn’t.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kim Ji-woon; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Goh Im-pyo; music by UhUhBoo Project; produced by Oh Jung-wan and Lee Mi-yeon; released by bom Film.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Dae-ho), Jang Jin-young (Jang Min-young), Kim Su-ro (Yu Bee-ho) and Shin Goo (Dae-ho’s father).


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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).