Tag Archives: Showbox

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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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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Daisy (2006, Andrew Lau), the director's cut

Here’s a rule: if you’re going to have your three principal characters each narrate parts of a story (the first act, for example), make sure they keep doing it through the rest of the drama. Multi-character, scene-specific narration is a terrible idea, but at least stick with what you set-up. Not surprisingly, Daisy doesn’t stick with it. Watching the exceptionally long first act (I’m guessing forty-five minutes), I kept wondering how these narrated storytelling would work once the film–presumably–stopped being told in summary. Once it switched over to scenic storytelling, the narration stopped… so much so, at the end, I couldn’t remember the last narration I’d heard. I think there was some from the girl–Daisy is sort of a love triangle, but not really–through the second act, but definitely not in the third. She’s mute by this time and has been for quite a while, so it would have been nice. In the third act, the film makes its second attempt (the first being the relationship between the two suitors) at something interesting. It reminded me, for a minute, of Hitchcock, when the woman discovers her man isn’t the man she thought.

Korean romantic comedy–well, he’s too old to be a wunderkind, but think a late forties wunderkind–Kwak Jae-young wrote Daisy. His regular lead female actor, Jun Ji-hyun, is in the film and so I was really looking forward to it. He didn’t direct it (Chinese director Andrew Lau directs the Korean actors in the Netherlands), but if he had, Daisy wouldn’t have been any better. It’s an attempt at a tragedy. I say attempt because it never really connects enough to achieve that label. The narration keeps the characters distanced from the audience and Jun’s muteness keeps her distanced from the other characters. The long first act makes it boring and the short third act makes it unbelievable. There’s still a few good things about the film, but nothing to particularly recommend it. Lau’s direction is fine. His editing is occasionally fast in a good way, using the film to create connections in the viewer’s mind. Neat stuff. Of the two suitors, Jung Woo-sung and Lee Sung-jae, Jung is better. He’s the bad guy. He also looks a lot like Skeet Ulrich, but he can act. He can’t surmount the impossibility of the script however.

I’ve read Jun described as Kwak’s muse, but Daisy is no example of that relationship. If it had been one, she’d have been in the film enough to make an impression. Kwak didn’t like her character more than any other ones and he didn’t like her character at all, which explains everything faulty in Daisy.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Lau; written by Kwak Jae-young; directors of photography, Lau and Ng Man-Ching; edited by Kim Jae-beom, Kim Sang-beom, Wong Hoi and Chan Ki-hop; music by Chang Kwong Wing and Shigeru Umebayashi; produced by Teddy Jung; released by Showbox.

Starring Jung Woo-sung (Park Yi), Lee Sung-jae (Jeong Woo), Jun Ji-hyun (Hye-young), Jeon Ho-jin (Detective Jang), Dion Lam (Yun Joon-ha) and David Chiang (Cho).


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Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005, Park Kwang-hyun)

Welcome to Dongmakgol is about an idyllic village in the midst of the Korean War. Two soldiers from the South, three from the North, and an American flyer end up there. Obviously, they learn people are just people and wars are a bad idea, but Dongmakgol revels in itself so much, it’s impossible to dismiss the film as commonplace. It starts strange, with the American crashing. Good CG has obviously made it to Korea and director Park Kwang-Hyun uses a lot of it in Dongmakgol, trying new things with it, fully utilizing it as a storytelling device. Even though the crash looks good, I was unsure of Dongmakgol, since I really didn’t know what it was about. Sometimes not knowing is good, sometimes it’s bad. Immediately following the crash, there’s a standard stand-off when the Communist officer proves himself a decent guy. Again, something else I was worried about. Then, horribly, a battle scene straight from Saving Private Ryan. It’s apparently become the standard for battle scenes.

But once they get the village–which isn’t a Shangri-La aware of its blissful isolation, just ignorant of world events–the film starts to get better and doesn’t stop improving. The Northern and Southern soldiers take time working out their differences, starting with their personal problems first. The pacing is methodical, which hurts the film scene-to-scene, but nurtures a more rewarding experience overall. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Park goes for broke with a three or four minute action sequence done in the studio. It’s a surrealistic CG scene and he pushes it too hard, making the proposition of the scene work better than the scene itself, but it’s done with so much enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to enjoy. Once the film gets back on a more predictable path–it veers again, of course–Park treats the audience to some more exuberance. The end sequence features some great CG and gives the film a great, unexpected, wrap-up.

However… the music, by Joe Hiaishi, almost does the film in. Park’s creating an audio and visual experience with Dongmakgol and Hiaishi recycles one theme over and over again (it sounds like a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol). Stylistically, the music’s out of an episode of “Magnum, p.i.” or “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s far from good enough and doesn’t even achieve a solid mediocrity.

The acting in the film is all high quality. Best is the Communist officer, played by Jeong Jae-yeong, as he’s got the most to do for most of the film. His Southern equivalent, played by Shin Ha-kyun, is good too, but his character’s internally conflicted so he mopes for a lot of it. Ryu Deok-Hwan’s character learns the most about himself in the film, so he’s probably the most interesting. The American, played by some guy named Steve Taschler, is okay. Taschler looks like a cross between Hugh Laurie and Michael O’Keefe, only young, and he’s fine in most of his scenes, especially when there are other people around. I’ve never seen an American actor incorporated so well into an Asian film before (the Godzilla films usually do it to great comedic success, but nothing else).

Dongmakgol is Park’s first film–something almost unbelievable given how well he uses that CG–and it sets him up for one heck of a sophomore slump. It’s an impressive film and Park’s a visual filmmaker, something rare (in quality anyway) these days. I’d probably be calling it one of the best films of last year if it wasn’t for that music.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun; screenplay by Park and Kim Joong, from a play by Jang Jin; director of photography, Choi Sang-ho; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Joe Hiaishi; produced by Choi, Jang, Ji Sang-yong and Lee Eun-ha; released by Showbox.

Starring Jeong Jae-yeong (Chief Comrade Lee Su-Hwa), Shin Ha-kyun (2nd Lt. Pyo Hyun-Chul), Kang Hye-jeong (Yeo-il), Lim Ha-ryong (Jang Young-hee), Seo Jae-kyeong (Army Medic Mun Sang-sang), Ryu Deok-Hwan (Seo Taek-ki) and Steve Taschler (Smith).


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