Tag Archives: Lee Jung-jae

Operation Chromite (2016, John H. Lee)

There’s no indication there’s a better movie anywhere in Operation Chromite. Director Lee just doesn’t have a handle on it. The script’s an uncomfortable mix of predictable and manipulative–director Lee and co-writer Lee Man-hee lay on the war movie jingoism so thick, it actually takes a while to realize Lee Beom-su’s giving a legitimately great performance as the North Korean bad guy. There’s too much crap going on with really questionable guest star Liam Neeson.

While the decent parts of Operation Chromite are a South Korean film with actors speaking Korean, there are these horrendous moments with Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur. It’s a terrible performance, the kind you’d think Neeson would only give if he didn’t think the film would get a release in the United States. Sean Dulake did the dialogue for the English language scenes (he also appears as Neeson’s sidekick); it’s awful dialogue. You don’t have any respect for Neeson, but I did feel bad for Jon Gries, who shows up to have an awful expository dialogue argument. I hope Neeson bought something nice with his paycheck.

Worse–sort of–is the digital composites intended to convince the audience Neeson is filming with the rest of the cast. He’s clearly not, as the terrible composites betray. Chromite’s cinematography is weak to begin with, especially since they attempt to match the overblown lighting of the composite shots. As if Lee Dong-joon’s soulful but adventurous, rousing but melancholy music doesn’t slather on the vapid anti-Communism message enough–more on it in a second–with that overblown lighting and Neeson’s porky performance….

Neeson and Lee’s handling of his scenes, not to mention the crappy, manipulative resolution, sink Operation Chromite. Because even though it was a dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, it was a relatively fun one. Sure, whenever the movie tries to juxtapose Communist Lee Beom-su and ex-Communist Lee Jung-jae and their ideologies and whatever, it’s crap. But it’s crap whenever Neeson is around too so it’s a familiar experience. You just wait them out, because otherwise it’s sort of fun. None of the characters get enough attention but they’re at least likable performances, some of them good. Director Lee doesn’t know how to get a good performance–not in English, not in Korean–but he does recognize when he’s shooting one and gives his actors occasional space. The leads anyway.

If Operation Chromite were a completely different dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, with a different script, a different director, no Liam Neeson, but the same Korean cast and the same concept, it’d be better. With an excellent director–someone who knew how to make a war movie (since Chromite goes through various types of war movie sequences, haphazardly stuck together with CG), someone who knew how to balance a big cast–and a better script, the project might deserve the performances Lee Beom-su and Lee Jung-jae put into it.

Lee Beom-su’s evil little North Korean commander is a dangerous person. Even in the exaggerated scenes, Lee Beom-su brings something real to it. Everyone in Operation Chromite is a caricature (at best), but Lee Beom-su makes it feel like his character is pretending to be a caricature. Shame the script can’t keep up.

And Lee Jung-jae’s great as the soulful ex-Communist turned action hero. It’s not a deep role, but it’s got some details and Lee Jung-jae’s able to make it work. He’s got some excellent scenes in the film, even if his character’s way too thin.

The most disappointing thing is, after a rocky start, Operation Chromite gets better. The less Neeson, the better. Then he comes back. And down it all goes. But it’s not just him–it’s got a weak third act. Chromite is a mess with occasional smooth patches.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John H. Lee; written by Sean Dulake, Lee Man-hee, and John H. Lee; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Lee Dong-joon; produced by Chung Taewon; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Jang Hak-soo), Lee Beom-su (Lim Gye-jin), Jin Se-yeon (Han Jae-seon), Park Cheol-min (Nam Ki-seong), Kim Hee-jin (Ryu Jang-choon), and Liam Neeson (Douglas MacArthur).


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New World (2013, Park Hoon-jung)

It never occurred to me there might still be significant mileage in the undercover cop melodrama. Or, for that matter, in the gangster melodrama. New World proves me uninformed on both points. Writer-director Park mixes both genres, somewhat unequally, and creates this unbelievably good film.

I use the adjective “unbelievably” because, for the most part, Park isn’t doing anything new. Sure, it’s modern and set in Korea, but there’s a lot of gangster standards at play. He just remixes them perfectly–there are a couple new features, of course–and has an amazing cast act them out.

For about half the film, Lee Jung-jae’s the lead. But then it switches over to Hwang Jeong-min, who kind of runs off with the picture. A lot of it is him facing off against villain Park Seong-Woong. Watching these two makes one forget Lee’s even in the picture–much less Choi Min-sik as the cop out to take down the gangsters–but director Park is able to bring it all back together.

Park never gets particularly showy with the direction. Beautiful photography from Chung Chung-hoon too. They’re both very controlled, making World an exceedingly measured, precise picture.

It’s hard to say who gives the film’s best performance. It wouldn’t work without Lee’s quiet turn as the primary lead, but it also wouldn’t work without Hwang’s viciously affable performance. And Park Seong-Woong just oozes controlled evil.

New World takes a while to get there, but it’s revelatory.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung; director of photography, Chung Chung-hoon; edited by Nam Na-yeong and Moon Sae-kyung; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Kim Woo-taek and Park Min-jung; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Lee Ja-sung), Hwang Jung-min (Jung Chung), Park Seong-woong (Lee Joong-goo), Choi Min-sik (Kang Hyung-chul), Song Ji-hyo (Shin Woo), Kim Yoon-seong (Seok-moo), Na Kwang-hoon (Yang Moon-seok), Park Seo-yeon- (Joo-kyung), Choi Il-hwa (Director Jang Su-gi), Jang Gwang (Director Yang), Kwon Tae-won (Director Park), Kim Hong-pa (Director Kim) and Ju Jin-mo (Police commissioner Go).


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The Thieves (2012, Choi Dong-hoon)

The Thieves doesn’t try to redefine the heist genre. Instead, it shows the genre’s possibilities. The film has the traditional flashbacks, double crosses, triple crosses and so on, but it also brings a tenderness. And it’s a sincere tenderness; the film resonates because of its characters, not its spectacles. However, director Choi does everything he can to make the film viewing experience spectacular. When the film achieves its singular successes, it’s because how of he mixes the ingredients.

There are a lot of characters in the film. Ten thieves and some (mostly) comic relief supporting cast. Choi opens establishing the Korean thieves–they team up with a Chinese crew for the heist–before moving into the film’s central heist. And it’s a central sequence. The Thieves is a never boring 136 minutes and the heist sequences come relatively early. Once it’s done, Choi then moves into the film’s most surprising turn. It becomes an urban adventure thriller. There’s some astounding sequences, which shouldn’t work because of tone, but Choi and his actors bind the everything together seamlessly.

There are showy performances–Kim Yun-seok, Lee Jung-jae and especially Oh Dal-su–and there are quiet performances– Kim Hye-su, Kim Soo-hyun and Simon Yam–and there are quiet performances masquerading as showy ones–Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Hae-suk. They quietly collide and create wonderful energy.

The Thieves isn’t perfect–Choi never finds the right way to end it–but it’s excellent and a lot of fun.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Choi Dong-hoon; written by Choi and Lee Gi-cheol; director of photography, Choi Yeong-hwan; edited by Shin Min-kyung; music by Jang Young-gyu; produced by Ahn Soo-hyun; released by Showbox.

Starring Kim Yun-seok (Macau Park), Lee Jung-jae (Popeye), Kim Hye-su (Pepsi), Jun Ji-hyun (Yanicall), Kim Hae-suk (Chewing Gum), Oh Dal-su (Andrew), Kim Soo-hyun (Jampano), Simon Yam (Chen), Angelica Lee (Julie), Tsang Kwok Cheung (Johnny), Ju Jin-mo (the chief inspector), Choi Deok-mun (the casino manager), Yee Soo-jung (Tiffany) and Shin Ha-kyun (the art gallery director).


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Il Mare (2000, Lee Hyun-seung)

In graduate school, one of my classmates (or is it colleagues in graduate school?) was having trouble figuring out how to convey the fantastic, but not do magical realism. Another of my classmates (colleagues) recommended she watch Field of Dreams. Everyone was a little thrown by the comment, including me, but then I realized it made perfect sense. Field of Dreams conveyed the fantastic and the magical, but free of genre (in that It’s a Wonderful Life manner).

Il Mare has the same success integrating the fantastic without letting the narrative get swept away by the fetishizing of that element. Boiled down, Il Mare‘s really just about a couple lonely people. Sometimes it’s about the two of them together, but in a lot of ways, it isn’t. It’s two separate–but criss-crossing–narratives, informing one another, affecting one another. The greatest successes come from the raw emotions in the scenes where the leads–Lee Jung-Jae and Jun Ji-hyun–are alone. Jun was only nineteen when Il Mare came out, so she could have been younger when it was filmed, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a young female actor do such fine dramatic work.

But the film, for the majority of it, belongs to Lee. He does a great job driving the film. His story features less establishing narrative than Jun’s–his melancholy is never really defined, but still has to be palpable for the film to work. Whereas Jun’s melancholy is defined and explored, she has to express a silent self-realization in the midst of a big narrative revelation. It’s really impressive to see her pull it off too, given just how melodramatic the scene could get.

Melodrama has an interesting place in Il Mare. At first glance, the film reeks of it–Lee Hyun-seung has some wonderful, emotive shots. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography is strangely (for the content) free of high contrast sumptuousness; instead it’s matter of fact and still affects. The film’s loneliness theme works with those grayish skies. The music also plays toward the melodrama–Il Mare‘s music is nearly flawless (there are some bad vocal song choices, particularly an English one… sounding like something out of a mid-1980s TV movie). But even with those poor song choices, the music makes the film work. Il Mare makes an agreement with the viewer early on–through the music, the direction, the photography–and then kind of slips the fantastic in after he or she is already a willing participant.

This Il Mare viewing is my second. The first time, I judged the film’s conclusion rather harshly. To achieve its full potential, the film has to do one thing and it does not. It does something else instead. While it doesn’t break the experience, it’s an obvious thing it needed to do and I think it really pissed me off the first time through.

Il Mare is, on the first viewing, about experiencing the narrative (that initial agreement sort of forces the situation); my reaction was emotional and a tad juvenile. On this second viewing, well aware of the final misstep, I could appreciate a lot more. Jun’s performance, for example, really wowed me. But there are also a couple dozen exquisite sequences, which I was able to enjoy without concerning myself with their ramifications for the plot.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lee Hyun-seung; written by Kim Eun-jeong and Yeo Ji-na; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Lee Eun Soo; music by Kim Hyeon-cheol; produced by Cho Min-hwan; released by Sidus Pictures.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Han Sung-hyun) and Jun Ji-hyun (Kim Eun-ju).


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