Sunday, December 09, 2007

Totem (a/k/a Heavenly Path)

Totem (a/k/a Heavenly Path) (2006; dir. Kim Eung-su) 2
This was a strange documentary: with a subject clearly taking an interest in the production, the expected objectiveness of the camera’s eye (and the films other participants) quickly falls by the wayside. Often—if unintentionally—more focused on the subject’s character than her craft, the film follows a shaman attempting to induct a new recruit into the demanding tradition. It’s an interesting character study, if not particularly engaging.

The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On (2007; dir. Han Jae-rim) 3
This Song Kang-ho vehicle fell a little flat for us; perhaps the gangster-genre characters were just too worn out. A down-on-his-luck gangster, trying to support his family, goes down an increasingly dark path of desperation and violence towards an all-too-inevitable conclusion. The music score left one wondering whether the film was a comedy or a drama: its heavy-handedness failed to achieve any intentions of ambiguity.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Silk Shoes

Silk Shoes (2006; dir. Yo Kyun-dong) 4
We thought this was a thoroughly entertaining film, well acted and directed. Even the typically over-the-top ending didn’t seem to force things too much in this comic drama. A film director is charged with creating a fake pilgrimage to North Korea for a gangster’s dementia-ridden father.

Voice of a Murderer

Voice of a Murderer (2007; dir. Park Jin-pyo) 3
This was far from a masterpiece, but it held together well enough to pull off its intentions. This “based on a true story” plot pits a desperate couple (the father is played by Sol Kyung-gu) against the kidnapper of their son; the continual escalation of outright comical incompetence on the part of the police still managed to create a growing intensity.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cruel Winter Blues

Cruel Winter Blues (2005; dir. Lee Jeong-beom) 3
Sometimes too much of everything is a bad thing, as exemplified by this gangster-goes-soft-in-the-stix story that left a lot of promising characters abandoned. With impressive performances, interesting characters, and occasionally brilliant directing, this could have been a really great film—but somehow the pieces didn’t add up.

Over the Border

Over the Border (2006; An Pan-seok) 2
Solid comic performances by the leads, but I got the feeling the ending was decided on at the last minute. The triangle-interest of the Southern wife was underdeveloped, and not very convincing as plot motivation; had trouble staying awake through the second half of the film. A North Korean couple tries to rebuild their lives in South Korea.

Old Garden

Old Garden (2007; dir. Im Sang-soo) 2
Im Sang-soo goes through the motions in this history-inspired tear-jerker. Flashback transitions that tried too hard to be clever, not enough editing, and the (unfortunately) requisite over-the-top ending with evening snowfall.
Gwangju massacre nostalgia, if there can be such a thing.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Family Ties

Family Ties (2006; dir. Kim Tae-Young) 3
Three shorts of overlapping storylines provide a clever plotline for this drama, though the film is primarily an acting vehicle for the star characters. The complex family relationships of a young boy, his sister, and his later girlfriend provide ample material; in the dramatic tradition, things get a bit over-the-top at points. Excepting the exceedingly cheesy final sequence, this is an enjoyable production.

Tazza: The High Rollers

Tazza: The High Rollers (2006; dir. Choi Dong-hoon) 3
While the plot and characters of this gambling genre movie are certainly tired (young apprentice, aging master, comic sidekick, femme fatale, gangster nemesis, etc.), the directing and performances are strong enough to keep the action moving … mostly. The main character is a little dull, and the director took their time laying out the non-surprise ending. But the gambling scenes are spot-on.

D-Day (a/k/a Roommates)

D-Day (a/k/a Roommates) (2006; dir. Kim Eun-kyung) 3
It appears that producer Ahn Byeong-ki’s name is indeed capable of being attached to a horror film that’s not a complete dud—by wisely leaving the directing to someone else. There’s still a heavy reliance on jarring (or just loud) sound effects and visuals borrowed from other films, but the plot holds up: a bunch of students are cooped up in a college entrance-exam prep school and gradually go berserk.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Host, The

Host, The (2006; dir. Bong Joon-ho) 4
This all-star cast blockbuster lives up to the hype (mostly) with good performances and quick-paced action; the special effects alone are well worth watching. A zany family battles a water monster and Korean authorities through various urban landscapes; the use of bridges was especially creative.

City of Violence

City of Violence (2006; dir. Ryoo Seung-wan) 4
This was a fun martial arts/gangster movie with a great sense of humor, including a number of references to cult films like The Warriors. Highlights include some beautiful street-fighting choreography, and even some good acting. The only disappointment was that there weren’t more action sequences (though the last thirty minutes is basically one extended rumble).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bloody Tie

Bloody Tie (2006; Choi Ho) 2
A sharp looking and smartly edited film about the gray-area between cops and drug dealers in late-‘90s Pusan. Unfortunately, the hip style couldn’t overcome the predictable plot, tired characters, and uneven acting; the ending was especially laborious as it plodded through the requisite car explosions, multiple gun-at-forehead standoffs, etc.

Dirty Carnival

Dirty Carnival (2006; dir. Yu Ha) 3
A gangster epic with a twist: a film director attempts to document an old school buddy who is rising through the ranks of a local gang, resulting in simultaneous mockery and fulfillment of the familiar gangster film genre, on multiple levels. Jo In-seong gave a convincing performance as the film’s main character in this often clever, but far too long, film.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Puzzle (2006; dir. Kim Tae-Kyeong) 2
An interesting combination of Usual Suspects and Reservoir Dogs (and that description is to be taken quite literally), this film came across as a well-executed study by an aspiring film director and/or the result of a conservative producer who wants to know exactly what they’ll be getting. Nothing too exciting here (unless you’re into the re-staging of scenes from the two films mentioned above), but I would look forward to future works by this director.

Radio Star

Radio Star (2006; dir. Lee Jun-ik) 3
Ahn Sung-ki and Park Joong-hoon reunite in this comedy about a washed-up rock star and his life-long manager moving to a small town; there are a number of sparks of life in a few of the scenes. This isn’t a great comedy—a few hits, a few misses—but I’ll give this film a “3” for not trying to be anything other than the minimal effort it is (no expectations, no disappointments…).