Tag Archives: Yeong-wook Jo

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019, Lee Won-tae)

According to the opening titles, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is based on a true story, which is—I assume—why it takes place in 2005. The story, about a cop (Kim Mu-yeol) and his least favorite gangster (Ma Dong-seok) teaming up to take down a serial killer, comes off like a seventies update of M. But not for any good reasons. I mean, Park Se-seung’s cinematography is fine but the piss yellow lighting on the night scenes (and the film’s got a lot of them) would look better if it were set in the seventies. Along with Jo Yeong-wook’s score, which is so generic it sounds like they bought a bunch of royalty-free music tracks. Though maybe if the direction was better it wouldn’t matter. A lot of the time during the film, you wonder what it would be like if the direction were just a little bit better.

As a director, Lee is a low mediocre. There are a few times, especially with car shots for some reason, he dips below mediocre and you can’t tell if the shot’s his fault or if it’s Park’s fault. Doesn’t really matter, because as a writer Lee is a low mediocre too. Devil runs a somewhat lengthy 109 minutes. There are long unpleasant stretches; not when Lee’s establishing a high level of violence in the first act (which he then never matches or even approaches again), but when there’s a lot of exposition with the cops. See, Kim is a super cop but only because he’s not on the take like his boss (Yoo Seung-mok, who does better work than the role deserves). It’s not like he’s smart. He only figure out there’s a serial killer because everyone else is stupid and lazy and besides maybe he wants to impress CSI Kim Gyu-ri, who’s in the movie to give it a single female character. There’s so little chemistry between the two they could be siblings (I came up with that joke before I realized they had the same surname). Actually, outside their credited character names, there’s nothing in the film to disallow that relationship—Lee’s a really, really low mediocre writer. 109 minutes and there’s not an ounce of character development in the script. Bit players with funny lines have more depth than the main cast.

But it doesn’t matter because it’s got a good hook—the killer, played by a really effective Kim Sung-kyu, is scary and dangerous. See, he rear ends cars and then kills the drivers. Cop Kim figures it out because CSI Kim isn’t good enough at her job to notice the scuff marks on the back of the car. It’s okay because neither are any of the male cops. Only Kim is good enough. Because he’s better looking than everyone else and he’s not on the take. And he’s likable. He’s not charming, not with Lee’s writing and direction, but he’s likable. Kim can handle the trifling super cop bravado stuff. He just doesn’t have a character.

Pretty soon after the serial killer gets started and Kim’s ideas get shot down, gangster Ma gets attacked. By the serial killer. Only Ma is a kickass fighter, built like a tank, and able to throw people around. Now, during the attack sequence, it should have been clearer but Devil’s secret power is editors Heo Sun-mi and Han Young-kyu. It isn’t clear because Ma’s such a badass you think you’re just watching this great action scene but then, later on in other action scenes, it becomes clear Heo and Han are doing a beautiful job cutting it. And somehow Lee, who’s got some super bland Panavision composition during the exposition (it shouldn’t have been shot so wide but it’s now the norm since it no longer takes work or talent to shoot so wide), knows what shots to get during the action scenes to allow Heo and Han to make it pretty.

Very strange.

But good, because it pays off in the third act, which goes on way too long. And in the second act, when there’s a great fight scene with Kim and Ma teaming up. Really good fight scene.

The film’s super power—not it’s secret power, but it’s obvious power—is Ma. He’s great. Even with a razor thin part and a questionably competent director, Ma turns in a phenomenal performance. Sometimes you just sit and wonder what it would be like to see Ma directed with ability. He knows what he needs to do in a scene, even if Lee seems to have no idea.

Still, while Ma’s great, it’s not a great part. Devil shortchanges him. Ma’s a super star without a super star part.

So there are some significant caveats, and it goes on forever because Lee’s narrative storytelling chops are rough… but Devil’s fine. It’s engaging thanks to its cast and the plot hooks. And that editing. That gorgeous, gorgeous editing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lee Won-tae; director of photography, Park Se-Seung; edited by Heo Sun-mi and Han Young-kyu; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Jang Won-seok and Seo Kang-Ho; released by Acemaker Movieworks.

Starring Ma Dong-seok (Jang Dong-soo), Kim Mu-Yeol (Jung Tae-seok), Kim Sung-kyu (Hong Gil-dong), Choi Min-cheol (Kwon Oh-sung), Yoo Seung-mok (Captain An), and Kim Gyu-ri (Cha Seo-jin).


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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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Tell Me Something (1999, Chang Yoon-hyun)

Tell Me Something is, for a graphically violent serial killer movie, kind of goofy. It mixes genres–well, but it leads to the problem–starting off a straight cop movie, moving to the serial killer, then bringing in Shim Eun-ha as the damsel in distress. The serial killer aspect slows over time (especially since the killings, all related to Shim, disqualify the killer from actually being a serial killer). Where it gets goofy is in the conclusion, the surprise ending. None of it makes sense and not an after watching the movie senseless, it’s obviously problematic when it goes on, because once it stops being about a serial killer (or close to it), the question of motive comes up. And that question is never answered. Now, ending without revealing the motive is fine, but here the big problem is the lack of explanation for the murders starting. That detail, the impetus event, needed addressing if the utterly goofy conclusion was going to be palatable.

Besides the plot, it’s a decent movie. It moves real well for a two hour thriller, even if another five or ten minutes would wrap up all the first act loose ends (the straight cop stuff) and maybe have a nice bridging scene for one of the big discoveries. The acting from the leads–Shim and detective Han Suk-kyu–is fine. Unfortunately, their chemistry isn’t what it could be… another genre-mix problem. The first act establishes Han one way and, when Shim enters, it’s clear they aren’t going to have much deep interaction. Shim’s playing the riddle in the mystery in the enigma, which closes her off a lot too. The gore factor and the imminent danger do a bit to make them sympathetic, but there’s very little development. Jang Hang-seon plays the personable sidekick cop and does a great job.

The most interesting part of Tell Me Something is the music. While I’m guessing the Nick Cave is in there for a Scream reference, all the music is excellent. The direction’s adequate, but when the music fits well, it makes for some great sequences. There’s one in particular–the cop racing through traffic jams, down hilly streets, et cetera, et cetera, and the music really makes it pay off cinematically. The music’s even good enough to make the conclusion effective, if not particularly well thought out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chang Yoon-hyun; written by Chang, In Eun-ah, Kim Eun-jeong, Kong Su-chang and Shim Hye-weon; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Bang Jun-seok and Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Chang and Ku Bon-hau; released by The Klock Worx Company Ltd.

Starring Han Suk-kyu (Detective Cho), Shim Eun-ha (Chae Su-yeon), Jang Hang-seon (Detective Oh), Yum Jung-ah (Oh Seung-min), An Seok-hwan, Park Cheol-ho, Yu Jun-sang (Kim Ki-yeon) and Lee Hwan-Jun.


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Some (2004, Chang Yoon-hyun)

I love genre-breaking. It doesn’t happen much in film. Something like Blade Runner mixes genre, but little ever really breaks the genre mold anymore. I mean, the American romantic comedy has been around since in 1938 with The Cowboy and the Lady. I’ve seen strict genre films from Korea and I’ve seen loose ones (comedies with severe dramatic turns, for example), but Some sticks out. It’s kind of cute and light-hearted, but never comedic, but still violent and dark. I suppose it’s like an early color Hitchcock, which were still fun, but somebody could, conceivably, die.

More surprising is that Some has a huge gimmick. A huge precognition gimmick. I don’t know how well the film would have worked without the gimmick, because by the time it was fully defined, I was already wrapped up in it. The two leads are great and elicit concern early on–through extreme peril, another Hitchcock method–and I was already committed to the film, so I just let the gimmick pass. I’m not advocating such gimmicks, but the gimmick doesn’t run Some, even though it… kind of does. The film’s focus is on its characters and their immediate danger, not the gimmick, which makes the film an example of a gimmick working (to some degree, the film still only gets a one, I mean, it’s a cute, light-hearted cop movie set in twenty hours).

Not surprisingly, however, Some is from the writer of Il Mare, which failed because it got too wrapped up in gimmick. I guess she’s gotten better. I mean, I support this film even in light of its stupid teenager gangster subplot… but that’s probably just because the acting is so good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chang Yoon-hyun; written by Kim Eun-jeong and Kim Eun-shil; director of photography, Kim Seong-bok; edited by Nam Na-yeong; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Kim Hye-suk; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Go Soo (Kang Seong-ju), Song Ji-hyo (Seo Yu-jin), Lee Dong-kyu (Min Jae-il), Kang Shin-il (Chief Oh), Kang Seong-jin (Officer Lee), Jo Kyeong-hun (Officer Chu), Jeong Myeong-jun (Chief Kim), Park Cheol-Ho (Kwon Cheol-woo), Kwon Min (Jong Chan) and Jo Mun-hong (Black King).