Sunday, December 10, 2006

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003; dir. Kim Ki-duk) 4
How do you pace a movie with no dialog, and still command the audience’s attention? Like this. (Beautiful scenery doesn’t hurt either.) Hard to describe this movie, but there’s a monk, a kid, and a boat.

Address Unknown

Address Unknown (2001; dir, Kim Ki-duk) 3
Despite the director’s disclaimer at the beginning of the international release of this film (do producers have any guts at all?), the only thing I could perceive as “anti-American” was that all of this movie’s American actors were terrible. In this story of the harsh lives of women and children living near a US army base, some of the Korean characters came across as far more disturbing than the Yanks.

Samaritan Girl

Samaritan Girl (2004; dir, Kim Ki-duk) 4
Aside from an annoying impressionist keyboard soundtrack (the same Satie, etc. in most of Kim's work), this is a riveting film questioning either: a) what it means to be a prostitute; b) what constitutes revenge; or c) spending more time with your kids. Strong acting and a good pace squeeze out a “4.”


3-Iron (2004; dir. Kim Ki-duk) 3
I can’t quite identify the reason, but this film fell short of Spring, Summer… for me. Same no-dialog concept and good performances; maybe it was the sudden jumping around from scene to scene that wasn’t working for me.

Quiet Family

Quiet Family (1998; dir. Kim Jee-woon) 4
This is one of the most under-stated comedies I’ve seen, and the performances are brilliant all round. A family tries to run a mountain inn without getting all of their customers killed.
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Good Lawyer's Wife, A

Good Lawyer's Wife, A (2003; dir. Im Sang-soo) 3
I thought this drama film looked good, and its ambiguous ending (after some initial frustration) was one of its strengths. A far cry from President's Last Bang, but the pieces are there, including characters that leave you hovering between sympathy and ambivalence.

President's Last Bang, The

President's Last Bang, The (2005; dir. Im Sang-soo) 5
Politics aside (as difficult as that may be for this film about Presidential assasination), this is one of - if not the - most sharply written, directed, and acted movies I've ever seen: humorous, serious, suspenseful, and just beautiful to watch. I especially enjoyed the acting of Han Suk-kyu as Chief Agent Ju, who I thought played his role to perfection.

Tale of Two Sisters, A

Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003; dir. Kim Jee-woon) 5
Simultaneous multiple plot lines in an eerie house with great acting. It’s a smart, scary movie that forces you to pay attention, and rewards you many times over. The dark visual aesthetic alone is worth seeing.
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Bittersweet Life, A

Bittersweet Life, A (2005; dir. Kim Jee-woon) 3
Kim Jee-woon goes Park Chan-wook in this gangster-revenge-bloodbath. Not sure how badly this movie needed to be made, but it is well-made.
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Duelist (2005; dir. Lee Myung-se) 4
Like Nowhere to Hide (thought perhaps not as tight?), this is not a regular detective movie: this is a film about the art of film making, and creating images that can only be created on film. I especially enjoyed the sort of abstract approach to the music score: it's not about any time-period or setting, but simply about supporting the images produced. Fun to watch, but certain elements (like the music video ending the film) may not be to everyone’s taste; watch Nowhere to Hide before advancing to this one.


Chunhyang (2000; dir. Im Kwan-taek) 4
This cuts back and forth between a pansori theater presentation of the classic story, and a dramatization of the story itself. Somehow it doesn’t feel forced; it helps that the singer (Cho Sang-hyun) is absolutely fantastic. Kind of a must-see for non-Korean audiences, as so many Korean drama characters and plots derive from this legend.
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(2004; dir. Kang Je-gyu) 2
I was really disappointed by this attempted epic about two brothers split by the Korean War. Mostly it hinges on a number of plastic-looking CGI battle scenes that interrupt any character or plot development (not that there’s that much to work with in the first place). It reminded me a lot of Pearl Harbor.

Attack the Gas Station

Attack the Gas Station (1999; dir. Kim Sang-jin) 4
One of the biggest challenges of slapstick comedies is maintaining consistency, and this film succeeds when a gang of wayward youths take people hostage at an all-night gas station. I thought it was hilarious from beginning to end (and I’m not fluent in Korean so I’m probably missing half the jokes).

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

(2002; dir. Park Chan-wook) 4
An all-around great movie – directing, writing, acting, etc. – which can be said of the entire “revenge trilogy” (with Old Boy and Sympathy for Ms. Vengeance). I especially enjoyed the subtle plot twist at the end of this one.

Old Boy

Old Boy (2003; dir. Park Chan-wook) 4
Another all-around great movie, with an especially unusual plot and band of characters. This film takes its time, but doesn’t feel slow.
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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005; dir. Park Chan-wook) 3
Maybe the novelty of the trilogy’s style has worn on me, but I was less impressed by this one. Although well-made (and featuring an unusual interpolation of flashbacks), I thought the last half of the film moved too slowly.
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(2001; dir. Kwak Kyung-taek) 3
This is a plain old solid gangster epic a la Goodfellas, Scarface, etc. It’s a standard plot, following a group of kids as they grow into careers of crime and power, but held up by good acting and well-paced action.


(2000; dir. Ahn Byeong-ki) 2
A not-too-terrible horror film with some good character tension between a group of student friends … until the outstandingly lame ending.

Another Public Enemy

Another Public Enemy (2005; dir. Kang Woo-suk) 4
Sol Kyung-gu returns in a different protagonist character, a DA trying to take down a corrupt “pillar of society.” Although the plot was even more cliché than PE 1, I thought the character development and acting were much more engaging, and really made the film a pleasure to watch.

Public Enemy

Public Enemy(2002; dir. Kang Woo-suk) 3
Fairly straightforward cop-who-plays-by-his-own-rules-versus-psycho-killer movie, but with an exceptionally pitiful hero character portrayed by Sol Kyung-gu.

Two Cops

(1993; dir. Kang Woo-suk) 3
A virtual anthropological/historical relic, the melodramatic acting and slapstick physical comedy of Ahn Sung-ki and Park Joong-hoon turn this film, years later, into a fascinating parody of Hollywood buddy-cop movies. It’s a harmless ‘80s-style B action genre-flick (it looks like they spent about fifty bucks on the entire production) that somehow manages to maintain respect by not taking itself for anything but what it is.

Tale of Cinema

(2005; dir. Hong Sang soo) 2
Same as The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well.

Woman is the Future of Man

(2004; dir. Hong Sang soo) 3
Same as The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well. The main character is exceptionally disturbing.

Power of Kangwon Province, The

(1998; dir. Hong Sang soo) 3
Same as The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, but not as much sex, and maybe a slightly more engaging story.

Day a Pig Fell into the Well, The

(1996; dir. Hong Sang-soo) 2
This is a typical Hong Song-soo art film featuring asshole male characters, desperate women, French-style improvi-dialog, and plenty of graphic sex. (American critics seem to love his work, making his films more available here than most.) Fine if you’re in an art film mood.

Friday, December 08, 2006


(2006, dir. Kang Ji-eun) 1
Unlikely romance fairy tale with an “extra-terrestrial” ending as cheap as it was predictable. The little girl was annoying.


(2006, dir. Andrew Lau) 2
The director introduced a lot of fascinating devices in this film: unfortunately, the final product just wasn’t very good. A plot reminiscent of Woo’s Hard Boiled/Killer series, an assassin and cop compete for the same woman in Korean-gangland Amsterdam (?).

Ssunday Seoul

(2006, dir. Park Sung-hoon) 3
Comprising of three different shorts, critics have complained about this film’s inconsistency; we generally agreed, although it made the good parts (which were quite clever) all the more enjoyable. Two comedies (a werewolf story and a kung fu parody) sandwich a ghost story. Nice soundtrack.


(2003; dir. Lee Eon-hee) 2
This was a well-made film, if you can put up with the predictable and super-syrupy plot featuring terminal illness, pet turtles, frolicking in fountains, and personal discoveries (and of course the requisite solo piano track). Features Im Su-jung (Tale of Two Sisters).

Mr. Quiz King (a.k.a. Mr. Housewife)

(2006; dir. Yun Seon-dong) 3
This is another genre-solid feel-good family comedy, featuring Han Suk-kyu, who manages to keep things from getting too syrupy. It looked like there may have been heavy editing (there are a couple of subplots that were never flushed out), but it felt like this film achieved what it was trying to do.

My Scary Girl

(2006, dir. Son Jae-gon) 3
Park Yong-woo gave a strong performance in this romantic comedy/serial killer movie. It got a little long towards the end, but with enough avoidance of clichés to maintain some level of unpredictability.


(2005; dir. Jeong Yun-cheol) 3
A solid genre-piece, this is an inspirational story of an autistic marathon runner overcoming his handicap, along with standard characters like the grizzled, washed-up trainer and the over-protective mother (everyone learns a lesson, etc.). Still, the movie kept a good pace (no pun intended) and its popularity with Korean audiences is deserved.

Last Witness

(2001; dir. Bae Chang-ho) 3
This action thriller about events from the Korean War coming back to haunt the participants had an exceptional plot, with plenty of historical skullduggery and suspense. Unfortunately, there’s not much else; Jang Dong-gun’s (Typhoon) central character was disappointingly uninteresting.

Geochilmaru: The Showdown

(2005, dir. Kim Jin-sung) 3
A disparate crew of martial arts characters (all real fighters, no big-name actors) set out to determine who deserves to face off against the mysterious title character. With no reliance on special effects, aerial choreography, or even much of a plot (the scenario almost resembles a video game), this simple, low-budget film is just plain fun, with a retro ‘70s-style soundtrack adding to the Bruce Lee vibe.

Rules of Dating (a.k.a. To Do or Not to Do)

(2005, dir. Han Jae-rim) 3
A number of spots in this film felt slow, but this drama-romance (and comedy?) about school teachers caught up in a scandalous relationship is saved by its unconventional characters and storyline. Great soundtrack by Lee Byung-woo (Tale of Two Sisters).

Unforgiven, The

(2005, dir. Yoon Jong-bin) 2
Hong Song-Soo joins the army? This art-drama about sexual tension and hazing in the Korean military has its moments (ranging from humorous to violent) before its laborious ending.

King and the Clown, The

(2005; dir. Lee Jun-Ik) 3
Another too-long movie, Gam Woo-sung stars as part of a minstrel duo entertaining their emotionally unstable king. This film was fun most of the time, although some of the tight-rope melodrama stretched far beyond credibility.

Acacia Tree

(2003; dir. Park Ki-hyung) 2
This was some sort of cross between a horror film and an installation-art exhibition. The possessed child, psychotic tree, and dark rainy nights produced a couple of interesting moments, but nothing to stab yourself in the neck over.

See You After School

(2006; dir. Lee Seok-hoon) 2
Passable comedy about a high school loser getting revenge on the bullies; predictable formula-piece with just enough funny spots to keep it going.

Innocent Steps

(2005; dir. Park Young-hoon) 1
The script and acting weren’t quite as bad as the concept and direction: jerky film cuts, poor pacing, and uninteresting characters. Not kitsch, just (another) bad ballroom dancing film.

Lost in Love

(2006; dir. Choo Chang-min) 1
Accurate title for this off-beat drama (?) that revels in its own boredom.

Crying Fist

(2005; dir. Ryoo Seung-wan) 3
If you can put up with the boxing movie clichés (life-on-the-streets prologue, music video training montages, etc.), you may find this a pleasant twist on the genre. Solid acting creates two emotive characters destined to face off in the ring.

This Charming Girl (a.k.a. Woman, Jeong-hae)

(2005; dir. Lee Yoon-ki) 4
More art film than drama, Kim Ji-soo stars as a sad loner who is barely able to overcome the traumas of her life. Really depressing, but well-executed with a deliberate pace that adds to the pathos.

Marrying the Mafia 2: Enemy-in-Law

(2005; dir. Jeong Yung-ki) 1
About as good as the title would suggest (thought not the worst film on this list), MM2 is a collection of crude humor with a predictable plot. Gangster falls in love with prosecutor, changes his evil ways, etc.

Mapado: Island of Fortunes

(2005; dir. Choo Chang-min) 3
The ending's reliance on cheap pot jokes was a bit weak, but fortunately most of this movie centers on a hilarious bunch of old village women hosting some bumbling gangsters. Definitely not a "must see," but a successfully constructed comedy with more hits than misses.

Dance With the Wind

(2004; dir. Park Jung-woo) 1
This film about ballroom dancing gigolos spends its first thirty minutes as an unfunny comedy before nosediving into a complete disaster.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Natural City

(2003; dir. Min Byeung-cheon) 2
This is a surprisingly fine-looking movie (on a fraction of the budget of many lesser-looking Hollywood films), and even if it is half Bladerunner, I thought the visuals alone could have almost carried this film. Except for a script that gives the actors nowhere to go, and some cheesy rock ballads thrown in at the end, this wasn’t too far away from being a completely serviceable sci-fi genre-piece.

My Little Bride

(2004; dir. Kim Ho-joon) 3
Although this romantic comedy was constructed competently enough, we had a really hard time overcoming the film’s underlying legitimization of the forced marriage of a 15-year-old girl to a family friend’s son against their will (yes, this is a contemporary setting). The unequivocally happy ending left us feeling more than a little nauseous; based on other reviews I’ve seen, I guess it works as a conversation starter.

Blue Swallow

(2005; dir. Yun Jong-chan) 2
This is an extremely Hollywood-style nostalgia epic (“loosely” based on a true story) about a pioneering Korean female airplane pilot, set during the Japanese occupation of the 1920s-30s. Mildly entertaining on a surface level (some of the cartoonish airplane CGI is fun, if not particularly realistic); the music was awful.


(2001; dir. Kim Sung-soo) 4
Middle-ages mayhem: I thought this was a solid period action movie with a clever plot and a good pace. The set piece Foreign Legion ending was a bit cliché, but the road there is filled with terrific battle sequences and landscape shots.

Antarctic Journal

(2005; dir. Im Pil-sung) 2
Another horror movie that seemingly had potential; comparisons with R-Point are apt. This is an Antarctic expedition ghost story/psycho drama (a la The Shining) that could have used a lot more editing.

Git (a.k.a. Feather in the Wind)

(2005; dir. Song Il-gon) 2
Heavy art-film aesthetic, every once in a while threatening to veer into a Hong Sang-soo flick. Nothing really happens in this movie, but if you’re in the art film mood…

Murder, Take One

(2005; dir. Jang Jin) 3
All the ingredients were here for a great movie (featuring a murder mystery plot based around “reality” television), but it gradually slows down, and the over-stated ending was disappointing. I thought Park Jung-ah gave a notable performance as the prime suspect.


(2001; dir. Yoon Jong-chan) 3
I thought this was a fairly decent horror movie with dark characters all around (though all these films tend to fall apart at the end). A haunted apartment building terrorizes the guy from The Immortal Lee Soon-shin (Kim Myung-min).

Save the Green Planet

(2003; dir. Jang Jun-hwan) 4
A remake of Misery that I thought far exceeded the original. The plot premise was more engaging, the characters more dynamic, and the dark comedy much more prevalent.

Wedding Campaign

(2005; dir. Hwang Byung-kuk) 4
This was an excellent romantic comedy (that’s something I don’t find myself saying very often) about small-town hicks going to Uzbekistan on a travel package to find ethnic-Korean wives. Jung Jae-young excels in his slapstick lovable loser role; Yu Jun-sang is hilarious as his carefree friend.

Mokpo, Gangster’s Paradise

(2004; dir. Yun Jun-hyeong) 2
A passable comedy about cops befriending gangsters; the title’s Mokpo location manages to be completely irrelevant.

Art Museum by the Zoo

(1998; dir. Lee Jeong-hyang) 2
I felt this fairly routine romantic comedy had high aspirations that weren’t achieved. The weaving into the main plotline of the dramatized fictional story being written by the two main characters had much more potential than was realized, and the conclusion seemed rushed.

Take Care of My Cat

(2001; dir. Jeong Jae-eun) 3
Drama about high school friends splitting apart after graduation. Dark, lost-generation theme featuring Bae Doo-na; the energy is in the angst.

Art of Fighting, The

(2006; dir. Shin Han-sol) 3
Great acting and a well-made film, although the cliché plotline (even if that was its intent) of wanna-be-badass-learns-truth-about-the-initially-alluring-street-violence-lifestyle could have used a little more originality.

Wolf Returns, The

(2004; dir. Ku Ja-hong) 2
The comedy is fairly offbeat here, but I felt this country cop/city cop story still moved too slowly, and the sudden environmentalist twist at the end wasn’t very convincing. Some funny spots, but I never cared about the characters one way or the other.

Diary of June (a.k.a. Bystanders)

(2005; dir. Lim Kyng-soo) 1
I thought the opening plot had some potential, but this cookie-cutter detective-versus-serial-killer movie bit the dust long before the disappointing ending.

301, 302

(1995; dir. Park Chul-soo) 3
A movie about cooking neighbors. More art film than detective story, well done.

You Are My Sunshine

(2005; dir. Park Jin-pyo) 2
There are some weird edits that made the ending seem rushed and hard to follow (I’m still not sure about what exactly happened at the end), otherwise an interesting drama about AIDS and small town life.

Unborn but Forgotten (a.k.a. Unborn but Not Forgotten)

(2002; dir. Lim Chang-jae) 1
I just read a synopsis of this film which confirms that I have no recollection whatsoever of this B horror flick (I saw it within the last year), except for its screwed-up English title(s).


(2004; dir. Kwon Jang-kwan) 2
Comedy vehicle for Kim Suna, who plays a woman getting revenge on the men who used her. The pace really slowed down by the end, but priests are always funny.

My Teacher, Mr. Kim

(2003; dir. Jang Kyu-seong) 3
A genre-solid feel-good family-comedy vehicle for Cha Seung-won, needlessly marred by a gratuitous cry-fest ending that drags on forever.

Spider Forest

Spider Forest (2004; dir. Song Il-gon) 3

One of the better mystery/horror films, interestingly derivative of David Lynch. Gam Woo-sung does a good job as the main character, just disturbed enough to keep things uneasy, but never going over the top.

She’s On Duty (a.k.a. Undercover)

(2005; dir. Park Kwang-chun) 2
This seems to have been conceived as a quick, low-budget feature for comedian actress Kim Suna, portraying a cop going undercover as a high school student. There’s not much else going here (and the level of violence gets a little weird at the end), but Kim does succeed in carrying the film through the back-to-school clichés.

Blood Rain

(2005; dir. Kim Dae-seung) 2
I felt this was trying to be a Korean version of Brotherhood of the Wolf: two old-time-yet-modern detectives go to distant lands to investigate a murder, at first suggesting supernatural elements, eventually uncovering a local conspiracy, and ending in a sci-fi technological exposition by the villain. Disappointing.

Memories of Murder

(2003; dir. Bong Joon-ho) 4
This was one of the most blatantly Hollywood-style Korean films I’ve seen, but it worked and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Song Kang-ho proves his reputation as one of Korea’s top actors in this based-on-a-true-story detective movie.

Welcome to Dongmakgol

(2005; dir. Park Kwang-hyun) 2
(Are there no decent white male actors in Korea?) I thought this movie was a disparate slapping together of Taegeuki’s cheap CGI battle effects, and Amelie’s cutesy “magic innocence” vibe (especially via the deaf village girl character); it wasn’t convincing on either level. And the ending was way too long.

Heaven’s Soldiers

(2005; dir. Min Joon-ki) 1
Despite a couple of funny spots (like the perception of “whitey’s” frustration at a supposed reunification of North and South Korea), this Lee Soon-shin celebration is mostly just low-budget time-travel crap, with a bizarre (and, even more intriguingly, meticulously done) gore-fest ending the film for no apparent reason. Big-name actors like Park Joong-hoon should be kicking themselves.


(2005; dir. Kong Su-chang) 3
Low budget aside, like many horror movies I’ve seen, this could have been a really good film (the “3” rating is for effort), as ghosts terrorize a South Korean Vietnam War platoon. Horror producers can’t seem to understand that the more things are spelled out for the audience, the less frightening they become.


(2004; dir. Yu Sang-gon) 2
One of the less terrible Korean mystery/horror movies I’ve seen; predictable, but I thought it succeeded in creating a dark enough mood while leaving enough questions unanswered to not make the inevitable conclusion too corny. Any plot centering around hospitals is money in the bank. (Or was that Tell Me Something?)

Tell Me Something

(1999; dir. Chang Yoon-hyun) 2
I saw this murder mystery, but have almost no recollection of it; may be confusing it with Face, which I saw around the same time. At least I don’t remember hating it…


(2002; dir. Lee Jong-hyuk) 1
Bad rehash of Silence of the Lambs – emphasis on bad.

Untold Scandal

(2003; dir. E J-yong) 2
I don’t remember much about this film (and I didn’t see it that long ago), a period rehash of the Dangerous Liasons plot (and sorely lacking the Thelonious Monk Quartet’s soundtrack from the 1959 French version). Still, I had trouble following the plotline through several leaps-of-faith, etc.

Wig, The

(2005; dir. Won Sin-yeon) 3
I thought this was one of the better Korean horror films I’ve seen: a wig crawls around and causes trouble. There's some quality gore/fright moments, including an unbelievably violent scene involving a hand-held camera.


(2006, dir. Yang Yoon-ho) 1
Loosely based on a true story of a media-circus standoff between cops and criminals, this film combines the prison-break genre with a bunch of other stuff. The one-dimensional characters were developed too late, when they were developed at all; a one-hour documentary on the actual event (not included here) was much more interesting to watch.

Formidable Enemy (a/k/a Les Formidables)

(2006, dir. Cho Min-ho) 2
Park Joong-hoon stars in this competently executed (including a good car crash) but immediately forgettable action flick. A cop with a death-wish teams up with a misunderstood criminal to take down the bad guys, but after awhile we just stopped caring.

This Is Law (a/k/a Out of Justice)

(2001; dir. Min Byeong-jin) 2
A convoluted ending capped off this no-brainer low budget cop movie. All the elements were here, and the movie doesn’t disappoint terribly: it only lacked that certain extra something that might make it memorable

Flower Island

(2001; dir. Song Il-gon) 3
The opening public restroom abortion scene is about as cheerful as this film gets, following three women with troubled lives on a road to self-discovery. The characters were flat at times, but the directing was quite clever with video diaries and the like.

Terror Taxi (a/k/a Ghost Taxi)

(2000; dir. Heo Seung-jun) 2
This was a refreshingly bizarre film about gangs of taxi driver ghost/zombies causing havoc on Seoul’s highways. The sub-plots and supporting characters were much more interesting than the primary story, which inevitably became moralistic and tried to make sense of everything.

The Uninvited (a/k/a Four-Person Table)

(2003; dir. Lee Su-yun) 3
An architecturally-inspired ghost story of the “I see dead people” genre. Korean men get so emotional.


(2005; dir. Lee Woo-chul) 1
Assembly-line horror film featuring a possessed child and a lot of cello playing, plus shards of glass to the jugular, bodies stored in the basement, bodies hung outside windows, family pets being the first to go, etc., etc.

Phantom the Submarine (a/k/a Ghost)

(1999; dir. Min Byung-chun) 2
If you’re looking for a solid Crimson Tide rehash, look no further: this film looks good, and the action sequences are worthy of Hollywood’s best (for whatever that’s worth). But don’t expect anything more.