Tag Archives: Next Entertainment World

The Villainess (2017, Jung Byung-gil)

The Villainess manages to be technically superior without ever being technically impressive. Despite editor Heo Sum-mi and cinematographer Park Jung-hun cutting together extravgent action sequences–the finale is protagonist Kim Ok-bin chasing down a bus, jumping onto it, attacking the bad guys within, getting inside, and going through multiple different fistfights. The camera is fluid–with director Jung getting his pointless fisheye lens on again–and the editing is… well. The editing isn’t smooth, because it’s intentionally choppy. Villainess drops frames for mood. The editing is successful; successful is more accurate.

The film starts with a first person action sequence. It’s like watching a video game. It’s amazing fight choreography and so on, but it’s crap narrative. Jung’s an utterly tepid action director. Usually he can at least shoot big set pieces, but sometimes he lets the technical possibilities get in front of the narrative neccessities. Jung’s got no respect for the action itself, just those technical tricks. But he’s fine at pretty much everything else he has to direct in Villainess, whether romance, melodrama, or even tragedy.

In that first sequence, Kim is an unstoppable killing machine. While I didn’t count, she probably kills forty or fifty guys. We don’t know why she’s killing them. They’re dudes, which isn’t hard to stretch into reason enough. It’s a gang of some sort. The eventual motivation given for Kim’s attack is undercooked, but nowhere near as undercooked as some of director Jung and Byeong-sik’s script. They’re much better at flirt scenes than international assassin exposition.

Caught after the killing spree–that apprehension doesn’t make logical sense, with Jung pacing out the sequence for melodramatic effect–Kim ends up in a secret government agency training young women to be assassins. They also learn cooking, stage acting, and something else. It’s basically La Femme Nikita. Kim Seo-hyeong is the strict but fair boss of the agency; it’s a thankless role. The tough assassin boss lady sending her “daughters” to death. Sung Jun is the cute desk agent (all the men are desk agents). He falls in love with lead Kim and gets assigned to be her handler–though she doesn’t know it–and romances her. He’s nice to her kid.

And Sung and Kim are pretty good together. The film’s perfectly well-acted. Whatever Jung’s directing faults, none have to do with how directs the cast. He’s fine at it. Good when it’s the flirty stuff. The Villainess always wants to be cute because then it can tug at the heartstrings. Except the script doesn’t give it any heartstrings.

In flashback, we learn how Kim ended up at the gang headquarters level. Turns out her father was killed in front of her eyes and she was taken by his murderer. Then she’s rescued by “good guy” assassin mastermind Shin Ha-kyun. She’s a kid at this point. He trains her to be his best assassin. Then they get married because she’s fallen in love with him. Then he gets killed trying to find her father’s murderer.

It takes more than half of the film’s two hour plus runtime to get all the back story out. And then, of course, there are further reveals later on because everyone’s been lying to Kim. Except the viewer knows it so you just have to watch her be humilated for her shortcomings. Sometimes it’s her intelligence, sometimes it’s her cooking, sometimes it’s her inability to kill with superhuman ability anymore. There’s no explanation for why Kim goes from super-killer to someone who wants to run run run away. Oh, she has a kid, but it’s a mystery kid and then it gets to be a toddler in no time, as Kim trains to be an assassin.

The movie where Kim learns to be an assassin while being a single parent living in an assassin school with fifty other deadly female assassins, many who don’t like her? There’s a movie. And probably one Jung would direct better.

There are third act reveals, one after the other, big and small. Then there’s the action finale.

The third act’s a misfire and Jung thinks the size of the set piece is going to make all the difference. But it doesn’t. The script’s got too many bad decisions piled up by the end. It’s failed the actors too much. Kim goes from having this great character to being Sung’s girlfriend. He even takes over the child care scenes, so Kim loses her kid’s presence. Instead, Kim goes on missions but never good ones. She always screw up. Because she’s not an unstoppable killing machine.

It’s too bad The Villainess doesn’t work out. It didn’t need to do much, just not get too stupid. Enter the script.

Kim’s good, frequently obviously capable of more. The movie just doesn’t give her scenes. Sung’s a solid goofus sweet nerd guy. Kim Seo-hyeong’s fine as the boss. Shin’s mostly good as the assassin with a heart of gold. The script’s the problem.

And Jung’s direction. If he could direct action sequences instead of just coordinate them, The Villainess might have been able to weather its stupidity.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jung Byung-gil; written by Jung Byeong-sik and Jung Byung-gil; director of photography, Park Jung-hun; edited by Heo Sun-mi; music by Koo Ja-wan; released by Next World Entertainment.

Starring Kim Ok-bin (Sook-hee), Shin Ha-kyun (Joong-sang), Sung Jun (Hyun-soo), Kim Seo-hyeong (Chief Kwon), and Jo Eun-ji (Kim Seon).


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The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (2015, Park Hoon-jung)

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale is a rather ambitious piece of work from director Park. Maybe too ambitious. It’s not just about juxtaposing old aged hunter Choi Min-sik against the last tiger in Korea (the film’s set during Japanese occupation when the Japanese were having all the tigers exterminated), it’s also about juxtaposing almost as middle aged hunter Jeong Man-sik against Choi. And sort of the tiger. And then there’s this juxtaposing of Choi’s son, Sung Yoo-Bin, against the military officer in charge of this particular tiger hunt who’s a Korean in the Japanese army. That officer, played by Won Jung-suk, employs Jeong in the tiger hunt.

All of the performances are excellent, including Kim Sang-ho as Jeong’s amusing sidekick. Not particularly funny because there’s nothing funny in The Tiger. It’s about dead wives, dead brothers, dead kids, foreign occupation, starvation. Nothing happy. When Park will do something cute with the tigers, it comes off as fantasy. Similarly, and successfully in terms of the juxtaposing attempts, when the film flashbacks to Choi’s younger, happier days, it also comes off as fantasy. Some sort of idealized memory, with cinematographer Lee Mo-gae letting some saturation into the frame.

It’s a long film and very deliberately told. Only since Park’s busy working up the juxtaposition of the old hunters–Choi and the last tiger–he doesn’t do enough to tie Choi into the main plot. Because even though Choi’s ostensibly the lead, the film plays far more from Jeong’s perspective. Or even Won’s.

There’s also a lyrical quality to the film. Park wants to showcase the majesty of the mountain setting, using CGI to get the point across when need be. He’s pretty good at augmenting with the digital effects, but he and cinematographer Lee don’t have a scale for their exterior shots. They’re far more comfortable in medium shots on the ground than the extreme long shots of the mountains, which may or may not be entirely digital. It’d help if Park could have done the majesty.

Jo Yeong-wook’s score is a great metaphor for the film itself. Jo delivers a fine score with some great moments, but it’s not what the film needs. It knows what the film needs, it just doesn’t deliver it.

The Tiger’s got the performances going for it and some excellent sequences. Park doesn’t get where he’s trying to go, unfortunately. The narrative is methodical and it needs to be jumpy, in a lyrical sort of way.

Very nice digital effects on the tigers too. Not so much on the other wildlife–it’s always fine, but the the tigers are just phenomenal.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung; director of photography, Lee Mo-gae; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Park Min-jung; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Choi Min-sik (Chun Man-duk), Sung Yoo-bin (Suk-yi), Jeong Man-sik (Goo-gyeong), Kim Sang-ho (Chil-goo), Won Jung-suk (Military Officer Ryu), Ôsugi Ren (Government Official Maezono) and Kim Hong-pa (Herbal shop owner).


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The Beauty Inside (2015, Baek Jong-yeol)

Somewhere near the end of the second act, The Beauty Inside internally collapses. The film’s well-directed, well-acted, often quite well-written, but it’s got one heck of a MacGuffin and no one can figure out how to address it.

The Beauty Inside is about a man who changes into a different person every time he wakes up. It’s magic. There’s no logic behind it. If director Baek didn’t fall back on Jo Young-wook’s way too melodramatic, way too saccharine score whenever dwelling on the protagonist’s condition–and at least had that protagonist interested in his condition–well, it would help. The Beauty Inside shouldn’t need the help, but it’s so shockingly detached from itself, it does need it.

Yoo Yeon-seok narrates the protagonist’s role. Baek’s sort of got an awesome setup from a fifties atomic danger sci-fi movie, but he doesn’t do anything with it. Yoo’s narration isn’t a performance, it’s a monologue. The film has three writers and one of them–Noh Kyung-hee–handles the narration. It’s past tense, which begs some addressing of the film’s present action in relation to the narration, but Noh doesn’t. Noh doesn’t do much of anything with the narration. Neither does Baek.

It’s weird. But Baek’s a competent director and Kim Tae-kyung’s photography is nice and the film is able to get past its too summarized introduction. Once Han Hyo-ju, as the object of the protagonist’s affection, arrives and the film becomes a problematic but often charming romantic melodrama–with some sci-fi strangeness, usually handled lightly and genially–The Beauty Inside gets on very firm ground.

All of the actors playing the protagonist are excellent. Han is great. Lee Dong-hwi and Mun Suk are great. Lee Mi-do is great. They eventually don’t have the best scenes, but they’re always good in them. Even in the third act, when the film just tries to wait out of its runtime.

The obvious problem is the MacGuffin. The film is constructed to emphasize the fantastic, which it’s able to visually convey effectively and efficiently. There aren’t any special effects to muddle through, just careful filmmaking, careful editing from Yang Jin-mo. But there’s no story to the fantastic. Once the protagonist gets interesting, the film cuts away from him. It goes straight to Han doing the inexplicable past tense narration.

What’s so bad about the narration is there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation available in the film. It just never acknowledges that explanation’s existence. The Beauty Inside is an obtuse film. It’s a well-made obtuse film with some great acting. Han deserved a far better script than the one she gets here.

It’s frustrating and it doesn’t succeed, but it’s far from a failure. Even if any number of little changes would have made it a lot better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Baek Jong-yeol; written by Kim Seong-jeong, Park Jeong-yu and Noh Kyung-hee; director of photography, Kim Tae-kyung; edited by Yang Jin-mo; music by Jo Young-wook; production designer, Lee Ha-jun; produced by Syd Lim; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Han Hyo-jun (Yi-soo), Park Seo-joon (Woo-jin 60), Ueno Juri (Woo-jin 65), Lee Jin-wook (Woo-jin 84), Kim Ju-hyuk (Woo-jin 109) and Yoo Yeon-seok (Woo-jin 123). Also starring Lee Dong-hwi (Sang-baek), Lee Mi-do (Eun-soo) and Mun Suk (Woo-jin’s mother).


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Northern Limit Line (2015, Kim Hak-soon)

Northern Limit Line opens connecting the historical events portrayed in the film directly to the World Cup. Frustratingly, in 2015, I can’t determine whether or not Chol Soon-jo’s source book also has the connection to the World Cup. As literary flourish–and to make the book resonate (it’s also unclear if it’s a novel or book) with a general readership–the connection makes sense. Actually, thinking about it now, it makes more sense for it to have been in the book, because director Kim doesn’t do anything with it. The World Cup is a plot point; the characters in the film–the crew of a South Korean patrol boat–are invested in the Cup, but there’s no attempt to weave the actual games into the narrative. That aspect of them isn’t important.

What is important to Kim is getting across the characters. He works and works at it. He’s invested and he follows through with it. There are titles explaining the film’s historical content and there’s a brief flash forward opening the film as well, but Kim puts the battle off. He keeps a fair distance from the characters too, even though he shows their personal lives, their personal struggles with their service in the Navy and so on, but he never lets the viewer get too close.

That distance helps a little, as Kim knows where the story–and the characters–are going, but it also walls off the film too much at the end. Kim’s tied to history for how the film is going to on fold, but he doesn’t do anything with it. He doesn’t exactly go for the melodramatic, but he does go for the heartstrings. There’s no filmmaking in the last third, no decisions. Tragedy gets displayed in standard tragic tropes, right after Kim cuts to actual historical news footage, which–as always–breaks the film’s conceit.

That problem aside, Northern Limit Line is a good film. Kim’s a restrained director; he changes when for the battle scene, becoming far more expressive. The film’s extremely violent and should always be hard to watch, but Kim finds a way to keep it open. He doesn’t desensitize though (or attempt to do so). He’s playing on the audience’s strong connection with the characters, which he’s been building up for almost an hour (or maybe even seventy minutes). Kim goes for perseverance to get the viewer connected, not blunt force.

Good acting from all the principals–Kim Mu-yeol, Jin Goo, Lee Hyun-woo. Jin’s the connecting element in the relationships between the crew members, something the film rushes through establishing. Kim (the director) has a problem relying too much on dates on screen, not in the story; time doesn’t progress well enough from scene to scene.

Really good photography from Kim Hyung-koo and Bill Kim too. There’s a lot of digital composites (especially when at sea) but, even when the composite isn’t great, the effect comes through.

As a director, Kim’s sincerely invested with Northern Limit Line, but he lets that investment constrain him too much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kim Hak-soon; screenplay by Kim Hak-soon, based on a book by Choi Soon-jo; directors of photography, Kim Hyung-koo and Bill Kim; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Mok Young-jin; production designer, Shim Jeom-hui; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Jin Goo (Staff Sergeant Han Sang-Kook), Lee Hyun-woo (Medic Park Dong-hyeok), Kim Mu-yeol (Captain Yoon Young-ha), Lee Wan (Major Lee Hee-wan), Lee Chung-ah (Captain Choi), Chun Min-hee (Ji-sun), Kim Ji-hoon (Jo Chun-hyoung), Jang Joon-hak (Hwang Do-hyun), Joo Hee-joong (Seo Hoo-woon) and Kim Hee-jung (Mrs. Park).


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