Tag Archives: Kyeong-yeong Lee

The Prison (2017, Na Hyeon)

The Prison takes place in 1995. Is it because smartphones would ruin the execution of the premise? Or maybe something has changed in the South Korean prison system to no longer make the premise plausable? I don’t know. It’s a pointless and somewhat distracting detail.

The premise pretends to be high concept. Han Suk-kyu is the boss of The Prison. Not just the inmates, but the guards and the warden. He’s a crime boss, he orchestrates hits, he puts together heists, he just does it all from inside The Prison.

Disgraced ex-cop Kim Rae-won has just arrived. He immediately gets into a fight with Sin Seong-rok’s fourth tier thug. Kim arrested Sin. There’s a number of well choreographed fight scenes between the two of them throughout the film. But it puts Kim in Han’s orbit and pretty soon Kim is slowly becoming more and more important in the prison crime empire.

Sin stays present throughout, occasionally as comic relief, and there are subplots involving the corrupt warden (Jeong Woong-in) and some of Han’s gang. Something is always happening in The Prison. Keeping it busy means writer-director Na doesn’t have to worry about character development. The Prison’s real simple, it’s an action thriller set in a prison, it’s not supposed to be taken too seriously. Han hints at some depth in his performance, but there’s nothing supporting it in the script. Kim has a bigger backstory, but it eventually just makes a mess of the present action. Simply, Na’s storytelling instincts aren’t good. He thinks The Prison needs a gimmick to be engaging. It doesn’t, of course, it has Han and Kim.

Despite a thin character, Han gives a great performance. If the writing were better, Han would be better. Instead of excelling thanks to The Prison, Han just holds it together. Kim’s a lot broader. He doesn’t encourage stability or investment–his writing is bad too. Na’s problem is he doesn’t have any idea what to do with Han or Kim after establishing their both great at their jobs. Han is a great crime boss, Na just doesn’t give the character enough backstory for the narrative to be plausible. Ditto Kim. He was a great detective, idealistic in his corruption, who ends up in jail and finds himself applying his existing skills to help criminals. There’s even dialogue about it in the script; Na can’t figure out how to show it.

The third act feels way too rushed, way too contrived. There’s a lot of varied action; Na and editor Kim Chang-joo do fine with the individual action scenes, just not with stringing them together. Bang Joon-seok’s score doesn’t help matters, especially not in the third act.

Fine cinematography from Hong Jae-sik. Na’s a more than competent director, he just didn’t write well enough to end up with anything at the end of the film. Kim’s likability matters a lot more than it should. Na leverages the whole movie off that likability; otherwise, Kim’d be so thin he’d get stuck on the wall.

Most of The Prison’s solid though. It doesn’t even start to feel long until the epilogue.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Na Hyeon; director of photography, Hong Jae-sik; edited by Kim Chang-joo; music by Bang Joon-seok; produced by Lee Sung-hun and Choi Ji-yoon; released by Showbox.

Starring Han Suk-kyu (Jung Ik-ho), Kim Rae-won (Song Yoo-gun), Jeong Woong-in (Manager Kang), Jo Jae-yoon (Hong-pyo), Sin Seong-rok (Chang-gil), Kim Seong-gyoon (Dr. Kim), and Lee Kyeong-yeong (General manager Bae).


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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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