Any Korean Films worth watching

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Any Korean Films worth watching

Postby steve_cole1 » Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:12 pm

After watching Shiri , Volcano High, Musa and Takeguki all amazing Korean films i would like to know any other Korean films which are worth watching .
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Postby rarnom » Mon Feb 14, 2005 7:01 pm

'Wonderful Days' is pretty sweet. It is an anime/CGI film. At first the CGI feels a little out of place, but once you get used to it the film is quite breathtaking. It is a great sci-fi story as well.
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Postby magic-8 » Mon Feb 14, 2005 8:35 pm

Try these on for size.

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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:30 pm

Here's a collection of Korean cinema reviews I wrote at HTF. I've noticed at many sites, people often recommend the high-profile arthouse films and high-concept action movies. Which is cool, but Korean cinema seems to thrive on dramas and comedies more than anything else, so this collection features a healthy infusion of those as well. Be aware that some of these are not good films, in my opinion, and the rating at the end of each review will indicate such. Hopefully this gets you started:


BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (AKA: A Higher Animal) (2001) Delightful black comedy with a signature role for Tube’s Bae Doo-na as a plucky girl who witnesses a henpecked student throw a dog that annoyed him off the roof of a neighboring apartment building, and proceeds to hunt him down for the rest of the movie. Things get funkier when the guy realizes he tossed the wrong animal! One memorable scene has crusader Bae, in her ubiquitous yellow windbreaker, chasing the villain across rooftops in slow motion, while in the background, hundreds of imagined onlookers, also in her trademark attire, cheer her on! Many may cringe at the apartment janitor with an affinity for dog meat, but the filmmakers wisely treat this as an everyday occurence - not some shock gross-out thing as most Westerners might be inclined to expect - and acknoledge it as part of the culture. 9

BICHUNMOO (2001) This is a fantastic period swordplay film, based on a Korean comic book, with a nice tragic love story, wicked HK-style choreography, stunning costumes and glossy production values. The soundtrack blends traditional orchestrations with pounding percussive rock beats during the fight scenes and, as such, is surprisingly effective. I'm sure this movie's been written up in these forums before, as it is available in the US (through Tai Seng, I believe), so folks likely found it at their local Best Buy. Leading man Shin Hyun-june has a brooding face that was practically designed for a role like this. The Korean DVD of the film is uncut. 9.

CRAZY FIRST LOVE (2003) Directed by Oh Jong-rok. Typically overblown tragicomedy that signifies much of what westerners find inacessible about Korean cinema and, to some extent, the Korean psyche. Let’s call this lecture Misogyny and the Posessive, Overgrown Man-Child. To protect the virtue of his daughter (Son Ye-jin), an authoritarian high-school teacher (Yoo Dong-geun) sets - and keeps changing - unreasonable standards for the young slacker (MY SASSY GIRL’s Cha Tae-hyn) who has loved her since childhood, then must work with him when she grows tired of their constant meddling and surveillance and becomes involved with another man. Korean men do not come off particularly well in this film (but then,that would depend on who you asked). They’re either shallow gadflies or control freaks with maturity issues. How fitting, then, that the only way the male filmmakers could rationalize their crazed behaviour in the greater social theme of things is to slap the progressive-minded female lead with myelodysplastic syndrome, the same terminal disease - read punishment - that killed her mother at 18. Faced with her own immortality, and in a scene far, far too reminiscent of MY SASSY GIRL, we finally discover why she couldn’t be with the man who has gone to insane lengths to win her affection and why she could be with a lothario who will one day find happiness with yet another woman. While it’s tough to deny the calculation behind emotional scenes like those that end this film - and in Korean cinema scenes like these are legion - one can’t shake the feeling that for Korean comedic cinema - indeed much of Korean cinema in general - to truly move on and perhaps capture a larger international audience, Korean filmmakers may need to dispense with a great deal of the contrived, subtly misogynistic heartstring manipulation that, ultimately, reinforces dated stereotypes about patriarchy, makes childish men look like pariahs and punishes women for thinking outside the box. People crying on mountaintops (and this film is has one!) are starting to wear thin. See also SEX IS ZERO for a similar treatment of these themes. 3

DITTO (2000) If you CAN handle Korean schmaltz and like a good cry, this sorta-sci-fi romance will do the trick. Taking a cue from the Hollywood film FREQUENCY, it deals with a female student who meets a fellow student via her shortwave radio - only he's in 2000 and she's in 1979. This gorgeously filmed story manages to defy expectations twice, first when the guy realizes the girl knows the people who will become his parents and second, at the climax, when the guy decides to see how life turned out for the girl and finds discovers a bittersweet answer. Great date movie, provide your date isn't too cynical. 8

THE HARMONIUM IN MY MEMORY (1999) Sweet, simple tale of a naive country girl who gets a crush on her newly-arrived teacher, an engaged, educated city boy who at first dismisses her silly efforts to impress him as so much childish infatuation, but soon comes to realize, thanks to a convenient development in one of the secondary characters, how much she really cares. 9

IL MARE (2001) Another soapy time-travel romance that, if you watch it in the right frame of mind, could have you in tears. It's about a guy who finds a letter in the mailbox of his new seaside rental house from the previous tenant advising him about little things that haven't happened yet, like the paw prints his dog leaves on the floor days later! In trying to meet the woman who wrote the letter, he come to realize she lives about a year or two ahead of him in the timeline, and lived in the house after he vacated it. He asks her to find him in the future, but she can't... Like DITTO, the film manages to defy conventions on a couple of occasions, and it's internal logic is solid enough that you don't think about it too hard. Another great date film, again provided you're not too cynical about such things. 9

JAKARTA (2000) This one almost never gets mentioned on the Korean film websites, and yet I believe it cracked the top ten that year). It's a twisty comic heist movie about three "teams" of thieves who independently plan to rob the same bank on the same day, which causes no end of pandemonium and confusion, or does it? Clever mid-film twist paints nearly all the characters in a new light and reveals a much more intriguing plot has been afoot all along. Excellent ensemble cast, including SEX IS ZERO leading man Lim Chang-jung. Worth hunting down, and still available at some online retailers. Nice K-pop theme ballad, too. 10

MARRYING THE MAFIA (2002) D: Jung hung-sun is a somewhat-above-avarage romantic mob "Jopok" comedy, made at a time when such films were in vogue (see MY BOSS, MY HERO, MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER, and SAVING MY HUBBY, among others) in which a straight-laced business executive Dae-suh (Jung Jun-ho of MY BOSS, MY HERO) and a somewhat mousy lab tech Jin-kyung (an absolutely charming Kim Jung-eun) wake up in bed together with no recollection of how they got there or what they did. They part company in a rather disgusted huff, but he's soon visited by her three brothers, low class members of a local crime family, who inform him of her family lineage and forcibly encourage him to pursue the relationship with their sister...or else! Meanwhile, the relationship proceed in fits and starts with neither Dae-suh or Jin-kyung aware of the behind-the-scenes machinations that are drawing them ever closer to true love. High-concept, if conventional, story is somewhat undermined by an uninvolving side-story detailing older brother Park Sang-wook's attempts to woo a pretty schoolteacher, as well as the increasingly ubiquitous need in Korean gangster comedies to have a nasty rival gang with which the good guys are forced to wage bloody, baseball-bat-swinging war, this time at a dance club and climactic family event. The situational humour shines through, though, particularly in a scene where Dae-suh's parents meet their soon-to-be in-laws, in another where Jin-kyung confronts Dae-suh's sneaky ex-girlfriend and in various vignettes in which the three brothers go to great lengths to create ideal "romantic situations" to help further the relationship. Overall an enjoyably cute comedy with not-unexpected sidesteps into moderate violence and an overly contrived climax, but also an interesting take on the common Korean filmic theme of "constructed relationships," hardly surpring, once supposes, in a country where arranged marriages were for many years the norm: essentially this film and many like it simply dress up old-school thinking in new clothing, but with a winning wink-wink sensibility. This was the top domestic movie of 2002. 7.

Incidentally, I can't say exactly what has been cut from MARRYING THE MAFIA’s Hong Kong DVD release as I haven't seen the Korean version, but I do know the HK edition omits what I've read is a scene where the older brothers brassy wife beats up a teacher at the local high school, probably over something to do with the son. A scene with the older of the three brothers talking to his son outside the school is still there, as is the scene of the him joining the anti-school-violence protest, yelling to his minions on a cell-phone to "kill the motherfucker," and scaring a couple of the female teachers. This whole section of the film feels like something's missing.

Same goes for the second-to-third act transition, where there's a very abrupt cut from the scene where Dae-suh chases down Jin-kyung, who's running away from all the craziness (and Dae-suh), to the third-act climax that closes the film (which I won't describe since it would be a major spoiler).
In fact, the cut is so abrupt, I actually thought I was watching some kind of fantasy sequence before getting to the real ending!

It actually seems as though some major kiss-and-make-up dialogue between the two leads was taken out of this part of the movie, but I don't know why, considering all the bat-swinging violence was left intact.
I would only recommend the HK version because it's cheap. The cuts, unfortunately, make the director seem like he has a bad sense of pacing, which I highly doubt based on the majority of the film. I would have to think the Korean edition is a much better experience, plus it's loaded with extras.

MY SASSY GIRL (2001) At the time of its release, this was the number two Korean box-office hit of 2001 (after the much gloomier FRIEND). Clever story of a layabout student who briefly looks after a drunken girl who, at first, seems to represent everything he dislikes in a woman, but who's complicated nature keeps him from simply walking away. Very perceptive study of contemporary relationships, particularly in Korea, and surprisingly balanced in light of the uniquely Korean tendency toward hyper-melodrama. Granted, the first climax will have you bawling, while the second nicely folds the narrative back to the beginning of the film. Long, but extremely rewarding. 10.

NATURAL CITY (2003) Directed by Min Byong-chan. Arresting productions design and state-of-the-art visual effects can’t disguise a dull plot that borrows so liberally from BLADE RUNNER and GHOST IN THE SHELL that the word “tribute” wouldn't stave off legal action. To date, this is probably the most beautiful looking AND most vapid Korean science fiction film to come down the pipeline, and one feels almost guilty in knocking it in spite of the undeniable amount of craftsmanship that went into it. Set in a futuristic megacity in the year 2080, it’s about a sullen policeman (Yu Ji-tae) who wants to extend the life of his beautiful android dancer Ria (Seo Rin) by finding a new host for her brain-chip. As she’s nearing her sell-by date, which requires her complete destruction, this puts him at odds with fellow cop Noma (Yun Chan) and evil android Roy Batty...err...evil uber-android Jeon Doo-hong, who has plans on accessing android headquarters and programming a massive robot uprising. Flying police cars, slow-floating dirigibles with gigantic projection screens, rain drenched outdoor noodle stands, endlessly vertical skyscrapers forming a mountain of technology in a post-war wasteland. We’ve seen all this before. And indeed, it all looks amazing here. But what’s missing is any depth of character to make the story more convincing. The leading man is a complete cipher whose motivations for prolonging the life of his robot are never explained or explored, and while his robot clearly has functional difficulties with her impending doom, Seo underplays these scenes to a fault, generating neither tension nor sympathy, only indifference about her fate. To give credit where it’s due, Korean is one of the few Asian countries - and one of the few countries outside of America and Japan - even attempting such high-minded science-fiction films as this, WONDERFUL DAYS, 2009 LOST MEMORIES, and YESTERDAY. One hopes that one day, the quality of screenwriting will improve to meet the superb level of technical artistry already apparent on screen. The 2-disc Special Edition DVD of this film has tonnes of interesting (unsubtitled) materials for those inspired by its technical merits, including an art gallery, a sketch gallery (tres Syd Mead), a 45 minute TV doc with plenty of behind the scenes and FX footage, a 24 minute DVD doc with more of the same, a 14 minute interview with the lead effects man, an 8.5 minute interview with the animator of the opening credits, 6 minutes of deleted scenes, an English language Cannes trailer that pumps up the action quotient, cast interviews and a 20 minute walking tour of the films locations with the director and lead actor. A cool easter egg can be found on disc 2 by arrowing up on the main menu to highlight “*REC”. This will give you access to what appears to be a 7 minute, effects laden music video about the plight of a country devastated by a nuclear attack, which almost feels like the backstory to the main feature. 5.

OH! BROTHERS (2003) Directed by Kim Yong-hwa. The number 6 box office charter of 2003, this is an odd, needlessly complicated tale of a debt collector/blackmail photographer/missing person finder Sang Woo (Lee Jung-jae) learning upon his father’s death that he has a half-brother - mentally deficient man-child Bong-ku (Lee Beom-su) - whose mother, if he can find her, will be legally forced to absolve him of his father’s hefty debt. Not surprisingly, Sang-woo discovers Bong-ku’s creepy affectations and appearance (at one point he’s dressed up like the killer doll Chucky in a dream sequence), make him the ideal “muscle” to have on the job, particularly when a sleazy cop forces Sang-woo to get staged adultery photos of the police superintendent in order to expand the jurisdiction of his extortion program. There’s also a subplot that sees the pair trying to unite a deaf woman, at the behest of her estranged sister, with their dying father and which mirrors much of the boys situation and allows for plenty of tears. Lee Beom-su’s performance as Bong-ku, written as the comedic centerpiece of the film, is largely played as a grown man who ACTS like a precocious ass rather than a grown man with a mental age of 12, thus undermining much of the pathos the filmmakers try to wring from his relationship with Sang-woo. Technical production is superb, with warm cinematography and an inviting production design ultimately servicing a thoroughly constructed central relationship that seems designed to feature as many piano-backed scenes of teary catharsis between sensitive new age Korean males. Moderate, but occasionally serious head slapping rates this a 4 on the Korean Cranial Abuse Scale. The overall movie rates a 4 as well.

OH HAPPY DAY! (2003) Directed and written by Yun Hang-ryeol. Wrongheaded, often irritating “comedy” purports to send up the the ubiquitous, vertically oriented Korean class structure, then ultimately plays by the rules as yet another “constructed romance” movie in which the goal for any girl who knows what she wants is to want a rich, educated prettyboy. Except in this case the gal, by all rights and no thanks to smart screenwriting, should be a secondary character who ultimately gets dumped in favour of leading lady Jang Na-ra, who spends nearly the entire movie looking and acting exactly like Rachel Dratch on Saturday Night Live (and I mean that in the meanest possible way) as a voice actress making life miserable for the shallow Club Med executron (Pak Jeong-chol) who denied her homely friend a spot on a singles group holiday. That he actually begins to fall for her, to the point of ultimately dumping his successful girlfriend - who is never once painted as a bad person, just a bit superficial - is either this film’s most clever bit of dark satire or the most egregiously stupid moment in an ill-conceived screenplay. I’m leaning toward the latter. Korean cultural and cinematic traditions are sometimes cleverly held up for ridicule - Jang’s mother takes physical discipline to room-trashing levels of excess, while Jang’s mid-film collapse beside a blood-filled toilet turns out to be a bad case of hemorrhoids - but in the end, the parents know best when it comes to forcing people together based on status, and a staggeringly contrived scheme is hatched to drive home the point, culminating in - of all things - a big musical number featuring the entire cast! The film is ultimately hobbled early on by relentlessly overblown performances that mistake volume and force for wit - Jang’s scrunchy-faced eye popping grows tiresome very very quickly. We do however, get the following standard Korean ingredients: K-pop, tears, snowfall, and head slapping, the latter mild enough to rate this a 2 on the Korean Cranial Abuse Scale. The picture, however, also rates a 2, largely for the usual glossy tech specs. 3.

PARADISE VILLA (2001) Directed by Park Chong-won. An online gamer geek pops a headvalve when a hacker steals all his character’s weapons, then pops over to the perp’s apartment during a big Korea-Japan Soccer match for some real-time revenge, seemingly unfazed that the place is a bigger moral cesspool than he could ever have hoped for. Obvious social commentary enlivens the otherwise standard B-slasher plot machinations employed here; the whole thing just misses being wicked black comedy, although many of the supporting players give it punch: the illicit lovers who scramble to dispose of the adulterous landlord’s body after a scuffle leaves him dead; the water purifier saleslady who’s secretly polluting the rooftop water tanks to increase sales; the landlord’s son and his pal (the psycho’s intended target), who plot to make hidden-camera sex videos of the porn starlet who lives downstairs. Basically, it all boils down to a fast-paced exercise in contrasting psychoses: while the killer cuts an impartial, linear swath through virtually everyone who gets in his way, the tenants prove far more calculated and oblivious in their own selfish pursuits. Director Park shows some flare for the genre, although his tendency to rely on cliches (like the flickering power supply) is slightly distracting. Lack of anyone to root for may put off some viewers, though it’s quite appropriate for the material. 7.

RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL (2002) An ambitious cyber-punk actioner from the director of 2000's LIES and 1996's A PETAL. It's one of the few Korean films I've seen that has polarized audiences as much as it has. An expensive failure upon its first release, the film has, with a couple of repeat viewings on DVD, started to grow on me, not that I didn't like it in the first place. The narrative has a socially disaffected gamer attempting to make the title game character fall in love with him before she dies while fending off an array of well-armed oddballs. Eventually though, she rebels against the system with a Great Big Gun. There's a tricky blur between real world and game world in this often maddeningly vague film, and I'm still not sure I've read all the director's messages correctly, or if he even makes them at all, but the visuals are so enticing, the action so deliberately overblown, and the philosophy so seemingly just out of reach, it's tough to stop watching (and watching again). I suspect that this film will develop a strong cult following in the years to come, with even many of those who absolutely hated it reapproaching it from different angles and perhaps finding new meaning in it. Despite it's Korean setting and cast, it's probably the least Korean-feeling Korean film I've yet seen, generally eschewing themes of identity and patriotism as well as the maudlin melodramatics so often found in Korean cinema. Somehow, I suspect that was all intentional. Unfortunately, the Korean DVD of this title had no English subs, so most people who've seen it subbed have had to spring for the bootleg. 8

THE ROMANTIC PRESIDENT (2003) Written and Directed by Jeon Man-bae. You know those moments in American movies about fictional presidents where the heroine (it’s almost always a heroine) realizes just what a normal, decent, lovelorn man-of-the-people the president really is, a moment that usually solidifies her love for him? Well, leave it to the Koreans to construct a movie almost entirely out of scenes like those. In fact, this film’s President Han (Ahn Sung-ki) is such a man of the people, hehangs out in subways with bums and drives the occasional cab to find out what his citizens really think. His approach to policy amounts to centrist vagueries like “Our policy shouldn’t be superficial or formal, but full of hope for the future is most important.” Yes, Ahn Sung-ki makes a very cuddly president, which is probably why a no-nonsense high school teacher named Choi Eun-soo (Cha Ji-woo), who takes no s**t from his bratty daughter, eventually falls for him, after a series of romantic moments - on a city bus, at a jazz festival, in a tavern closet, on a rainy Seoul sidewalk (the most popular kind!) and via a piano serenade of “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing,” (the president is known as “The Piano President” for his skill with the ivories) - that in any other cinema besides Korea’s would be loosley termed as stalking. If one had to pick a Korean actor to play the Korean president, it would be Ahn Sung-ki, and I’m absolutely certain the dignified, popular actor would top many filmmakers’ lists as well. Now if only one of them had thought of the idea before writer/driector Jeon, who wallows in candyfloss sentimentality that doesn’t require much conflict and has little payoff, Ahn could have had the role of a lifetime. Of interest in this film is the fact that the characters discuss (and constantly hear the theme song from) the hollywood soaper LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, which featured Korean-American Phillip Ahn in a sizable role. 3.

SAVING MY HUBBY(2002) D: Hyun Nab-seob In Korea, a not-uncommon cash-grab scheme for unscruplous bar owners is to drug already-tipsy patrons, then bill them when they wake up for ridiclous amounts of booze they never drank. On a night out with his new employers, business man Jun-tae (Kim Tae-woo of JOINT SECURITY AREA) is the victim of just such a con, and the only way out is for his wife Geum-soon (Bae Doo-na) - a former volleyball champ sidelined into a domesticity she wasn’t prepared for after a shoulder injury - to stalk through a seedy, after-hours entertainment district, evade the minions of a gang boss she inadvertently pelted with a tomato, find the elusive bar, pay the debt with her fists and drag her childish husband back home before his parents arrive for dinner - all with her chubby little year-old baby daughter (who everyone assumes is a boy, much to her dismay) bouncing on her back in a baby-strap! Winning, high-concept race-the-clock action comedy allows for the heroine to cross paths with many of society’s less fortunate souls and repeatedly outrun a handful of relentlessly altruistic henchmen, and one tellingly wordless encounter with a humiliated PR girl that speaks volumes about the treatment of immigrant bar hostesses in the country. Mild social commentary aside though, there’s much to enjoy here, and though many of the supporting characters represent the broadest mob comedy stereotypes, the entire secondary cast is memorable, right down to the cute old couple that runs the tent bar where Geum-soon spikes one of her husband’s sexist co-workers clear across the room. Bae once again nails another quirky, tough-but-vulnerable role as a woman who battles through hell, often using cinematically enhanced techniques, for the sake of an existence she never truly expected, while Kim Tae-woo essays pitch-perfect man-child naivete as here weak-willed but loyal hubby. Only the ending seems somewhat fantastical. 8.

SEOUL (2002) D: Masahiko Nagasawa. Japanese cop Tomoyo Nagase, on vacation in Seoul is held over for questioning after he foils an armoured car robbery. Meanwhile, Dawn of Nation, a terrorist orgnaization, plots to disrupt the upcoming Asian summit, kidnapping Japan’s Foreign Minister to back up their demands. Tomoyo inserts himself into the investigation of hard-nosed Korean cop Choi Min-soo, an unwavering protocol follower who teaches him the finer points of Korean etiquette along the way, most often at the receiving end of a punch in the face. Choi himself is saddled with obstructve KCIA guys who regularly overrrule his authority. Meanwhile, Tomoyo, against the wishes of his handlers, begins to suspect a link between the terrorists, the robbers and the monolithic Korea Japan Union Bank that could spell a deadly threat to Pan-Asian relationships. Slick, solid actioner with crackling action sequences, a worthy cousin to the seminal 1999 actioner SHIRI, though one rooted less in Tom Clancy-ish techno-fantasy than that film. Writer Yasuo Hasegawa lightly acknowledges Japan’s shameful presence in Korea’s history, largely through the character of a wizened Korean noodle-stand proprietor whose Japanese fluency surprises Tomoyo, but then in the films climactic turning point, in which Tomoyo rescues hostages on a city bus in defiance of Choi’s orders (and is ultimately joined by Choi in his efforts), this act of Japanese redemption on behalf of Korean innocents seems tantamount to the Japanese (historical revisionists with the best of them) telling the stuffy, face-saving South Koreans to remove the stick from up their collective ass and get over themselves. A minor quibble, considering the film’s general intelligence and quality in the face of so many cop thriller genre cliches. Trimming a few of the film’s multiple denouements might have helped, though. 8.

SEX IS ZERO (2002) Raunchy comedy/drama starring pop idol Lim Chang-jung (see JAKARTA) as a hapless college schlub who falls for Miss Popularity, who conveniently happens to be dating the biggest prick on campus and is therefore blind to Lim’s hopeless overtures until she gets knocked up and beaten silly by her embarrassed mother. Often feels like an idealized male-centric filmization of the director’s unrequited college romance, except that here the dream girl is made to suffer unspeakable anguish before she wises up to the man who really cares about her (a made-for-the-movies conceit if ever there was one). The dramatic scenes are uncommonly powerful, but they seem almost too heavy in places for a comedy that tries so hard to be base. You may never look at bread or frying pans the same way, though. UNBELIEVABLE FACT: if you watch the making of doc on the Korean DVD, you’ll learn that the scene where a secondary female character throws up on her date WAS NOT FAKED. Man, talk about suffering for your craft: the girl downs two full 1.5 Litre bottles of water, mixed with one cup instant noodle soup and voila! Real barf! Which the actor then has to enjoy while he kisser her in the same take. Probably the most f’d-up thing I’ve ever seen in all my years of movie watching. 8

SHIRI (1999) The one that started it all, reviving a generally moribund Korean cinema into it's high-concept renaissance, turning a sensitive topic political issue into a fantastic action movie as cops Han Suk-kyu and Song Kang-ho race to unmask a band of deadly North Korean terrorists bent on wiping out North and South Korean leaders at a peace-making soccer match, unaware that one "bad guy" is operating right under their noses. Nice to see an action movie where the villains aren't one-dimensional cartoons, which could have been so easy when dealing with North Koreans in the contemporary climate. 10

SILVER KNIFE (2003) Directed by Kim Sung-deok.Written by Kim Hyun-hee and Joo Jung-geun. Smalltown uber-virgin Min Seo (Shin Ae) takes her ferociously traditional family’s long history of virtuous women - each protected by a small ceremonial dagger known as a changdo - to Seoul University, where horny roommates, a horny boyfriend (Ok Gi-ho), and his horny pals lead her into all sorts of temptation, forcing her to face up to modern, liberated sexual attitudes while keeping her prized little blade ever ready to fend of attack. Female writers Kim Hyun-hee and Joo Jung-geun preface the film with a spoken declaration that this is their true story, but it fast becomes clear their rose-colored glasses are darkly tinted for the sake of low-brow comedy. Still, the message is clear, and it’s pounded home in scenes featuring Seo-min’s maniacally authoritarian dad (the same actor who plays fathers in TOO BEAUTIFUL TO LIE and SINGLES), who eats only the yolks of eggs and gives the whites to either his wife or the dog, depending on the mood he’s in. In the end, Min-seo’s ill-preparedness for the real world forces her to return to what she always thought was the comfy confines of home, but her friends soon follow and her mom, fearing history will repeat itself, leads them in literally rescuing her from the clutches of repressive chastity. Character development is minimal (and rather unrealistic) as the filmmakersdrive home their simple message about women breaking with tradition. A choppy narrative structure is heightened by sets that seem designed (and shot) for television sitcoms. 3.

For an interesting history of the changdo ornamental knife, with which women of old were often expected to kill themselves if their virginity was threatened, look here:

SORUM (2001) Written and Directed by Yoon Jong-chan. A young taxi driver (Kim Myung-min) moves into a decrepit tenement building and soon discovers his fifth floor neighbours have a whole bunch of skeletons in their closets, but none, ironically, that can compare to his own! Shades of William Peter Blatty’s NINTH CONFIGURATION, minus all the supernatural religious hooey, permeate this very unconventional horror yarn: measured, contemplative, sometimes pretentious, but always creepy without once copping to the existence of literal ghosts - the spectres here haunt the damaged minds of society’s bottom feeders, who frequently turn on each other as a result. 7.
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Brian Thibodeau
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:34 pm


SINGLES (2003) Directed by Kwon Chil-in. Written by Pak Hyeon-su, No Hye-yeong and Seong Ki-yeong. Sparkling, incisive, progressive-minded comedy-drama leaves much of this genre looking exactly like the disguised condoning of tradition it really is. One can only begin to imagine how entrenched thinkers in Korean society would react to this honest, observant, level-headed look at four late-twentysomethings for whom life provides obstacles in both career and love that neither regressive, collective cultural thinking nor parents - who barely figure into the plot - can solve. Nan (Chang Jin-young), is a wide-eyed fashion industry drone busted down to Chilli’s manager by her sexist middle manager. The shift stings, but also points out realities she’s not entirely uncomfortable with. Into her world comes Seo-hoon (Kim Ju-hyeok) a decent fella securities trader who clearly wants to pursue a relationship despite her reservations. Meanwhile, her best friend Dong Mi (Uhm Jeong-hwa), a web company employee out of work thanks to her own sexist superior, shares a flat with old pal Joon (Lee Beom-soo, in a 180 degree turn from his creepy role in OH! Brothers), who’s as unsuccessful at removing himself from bad relationships as she is successful at bringking home a long string of bad boyfriends. That both of these couples should end up together is a given. That the film provides no easy resolutions yet plenty of optimism for these truly modern Korean women is the years most pleasant K-cinema surprise: it allows the protagonists an honesty and resolve in deciding their own fates that many recent K-comedies seem hell-bent on denying similar characters. Here, marriage to a handsome man and financial success - long the expectations of many young Korean women - are not depicted as an absolute guarantee of security and/or happiness, and turning 30 without being defined is hardly the end of the world, particularly for Korean women who remain adaptable to the changes happening around them, rather than being pressured to fit a mold as their ancestors were. Fine acting across the board, anchored by Chang’s captivating, believable performance, raises this far above the low-brow antics too often seen in these kinds of films (CRAZY FIRST LOVE immediately comes to mind). Almost needless to say, but the production design and cinematography are sterling, with warm and inviting environments (including an absolutely gorgeous Seoul) a veritable extension of the optimism with which these characters ultimately face their uncertain future. Must-see contemporary Korean cinema, and easily one against which all similar Korean romantic films should be measured. 10.

TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) This goes the furthest of any Asian horror film in proving that Asian horror films are the only horror films you really need to watch. As someone whose grown to love Asian chillers, and as someone who lives for those precious moments when a film actually surprises with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming (or at least suspect). The set up is simple. Two girls return from the hospital after an extended illness with their father to an imposing, rural, Korean-gothic house. Almost immediately, their snarky, vaguely condescending and suspiciously omnipresent stepmother (Yeom Jeong-ah, who played a pivotal character in TELL ME SOMETHING) is on them, welcoming them and criticizing them in equal measure (a not-unfamiliar trait my girlfriend tells me, though it deliberately borders on parody here). The tension between the three women only grows thicker from there, as the stronger sister (Im Su-jeong) protects - and increasingly, harmfully, overprotects - the weaker sister (Mun Keun-yeong) from the stepmother, who may be a stronger threat than either of them can handle and who blithley informs them that life’s a bitch sometimes and she ain’t gonna go away!

Obviously, relationships in the household have deteriorated to the point of open hostility and mindgames to which only the puzzlingly sedate father seems immune. Just when one wonders how much better - or worse - things were before the girls were sent away, the filmmakers drop the first of two twist-bombs that instantly provides clues to the pre-story, hints at a possible murder in the very recent past and makes the viewer replay the preceding hour in their mind from a whole new perspective. Absolutely brilliant, but it doesn’t end there.

The feud continues - and the hints at prior foul play multiply - until the father decides enough is enough and finally turns to outside help to smooth things over.

I can see where just about anyone reviewing this film has to remain frustratingly vague in regards to its psychological underpinnings, so solid is its construction, so consistent is its tone and so beautifully paranoid and disorienting is its atmosphere that upon a second viewing, you’d be hard-pressed not to stare at your companion’s face (or the collective faces of an audience, preferably) instead of the screen as the realization sets in.

Structurally, comparisons could be made to similar supernatural American thrillers (one in particular from recent vintage) where the ending forces you to reevaluate all that has gone before - and, of course, to rescreen the film to see if the director was sharp enough to include the visual cues you obviously missed. Only this time out, supernatural explanations are not required to understand the bizarre, seemingly paranormal goings-on inside the house. Quite the opposite, really, as suspension of the audience’s belief in the supernatural is the film’s ultimate goal (after gleefully, necessarily trading in spook show delights for the better part of two hours, no less), and a more clever mechanism by which to do it I’ve yet to see, even in the consistently intelligence-rewarding pantheon of Asian horror.

Truly a fantastic, artistic piece of moviemaking. Highly recommended. 10.

(Incidentally, if you purchase the Korean Special Edition DVD, there's a lengthy series of deleted scenes that, while fascinating and informative in their own right, ably demonstrate how tricky this film must have been for the director to pull off . Though several of the scenes clearly give away just a teensy bit too much information, once you've seen the film, it's nice to see how they actually further support the psychological intentions of the filmmakers yet, at the same time, had to go.)

TOO BEAUTIFUL TO LIE (2003) Directed by Bae Hyeong-jun. Written by Park Yeon-seon. When a double mixup onboard a train from Seoul to Pusan finds recently paroled fraud artiste Young-gu (Kim Na-heul) in possession of small-town pharmacist Hee-chul’s (Kang Dong-won) engagement ring, her attempts to lie her way out of the situation only draws her further into his doting, presumptuous family, who quickly convince themselves that a) she was the intended recipient of the ring and b) Hee-chul never introduced her because she’s pregnant. When Hee-chul finally returns from Pusan at the behest of his increasingly angry family, and decides not to return an important handbag she left on the train to pursue the theif, Young-su warns him about screwing with her, then uses her prison-perfected martyr routine to turn his family even further against him. As you might expect, the family grows to love having her around while their son desperately searches for evidence to prove she’s a hustler. A convenient wrench in the works comes when two of her ex-cellmates show up with plans to rip off the annual Pepper Festival, at which Hee-chul has been forced to compete in the Pepper Boy contest. Very sweet, slightly overlong romantic comedy - set in a refreshingly modern rural town called Yonggong - rises above tired Korean cinematic conventions by not having the secondary characters seek to control every aspect of the relationship - in this case, it’s all they can do to find out the truth from their hitherto secretive, untraditional son - and by ending the movie with the hope-filled beginning of a beautiful friendship. Kim Na-heul is an absolute delight (one almost hopes this is a breakout role) as a woman whose crocodile tears - a well-honed act that secured her parole (and probably got her through life), are replaced by the real thing when she realizes she must leave her newfound family. And wide-eyed Kang plays Hee-chul in a way I’ve rarely seen in these fluffy comedies: he’s bound by filial piety and the vertical relationship model to a point but prefers to go about dating both his ultimatum-wielding girlfriend early on and Young-su as the film progresses as far from the madding family crowd as possible. There’s little doubt that these two might eventually fit the societal model, but kudos to the filmmakers for at least giving them an open ending and the dinstinct possibility of deciding their own fates. One of the better Korean romantic comedies to date. 9.

TUBE (2003) While I can't highly recommend it, it is kind of fun, provided you don't think too much about the plot, which has a walking stereotype loose-canon cop (Kim Seok-hoon) battling a terrorist (Pak Sang-min) onboard a hijacked subway train. The terrorist is a former government eraser that the government tried, but failed, to erase, and he's taken the train, and Seoul's mayor, hostage to uhh, well, to apparently have the plan be doomed from the start. Equal parts SPEED, MONEY TRAIN and DIE HARD, the film has few pretentions, which make it easy on the derriere. Poor Bae Doo-na gets one of the stranger film roles in film history, as a pickpocket who apparently knows she must love the hero even before she KNOWS the hero, and creates all the necessary Korean histrionics along the way (as well as almost bearing more physical brutality than the hero!) while our glowering protagonist poses with a series of unlit cigarettes in his mouth (and which only one person will ever be allowed to light, care to guess who?). American DVD is cut by about 6 minutes. 3

2009 LOST MEMORIES (2002) Fantastic action thriller set in an alternate future in which Korea is just another Japanese state, and Koreans have largely lost their identity. A Korean-blooded, Japanese-named cop slowly realizes that the terrorists he's paid to wipe out are actually Korean freedom-fighters trying to restore the timeline to its proper state. This film gets slagged nearly everywhere, so I defend it whenever possible. It's a big, loud, arguably overblown "blockbuster" that deals with a very sensitive subject: Korean identity. People have, I believe, unfairly examined and criticized this film on two fronts: one, it's inherent patriotism, which is an element of Korean cinema that seems to alienate so many non-Korean viewers and yet is a fundamental part of the culture, probably more so than in any other Asian country (let alone much of the world). And two, the historical events behind its "science fiction," which nearly everybody I've read gets wrong. The key plot device of the film is NOT simply that Japan won World War II, but that the legendary Korean patriot Ahn Chung-gun FAILED in his assassination of Japanese foreign minister Ito Hirobumi in China in 1909 (thus, sort of, the point of the title being 100 years later). This single event is extremely important to the Korean culture and not only is their a gigantic memorial named after Ahn, but also a form of Tae Kwon Do. Looking these two names up on the internet greatly aids in understanding the deeper messages this film offers. 9

THE WAY HOME (2002) I'll heartily second Angelo M's recommendation of this one. A low budget tale of a terrifying little brat sent to live temporarily with his ancient grandmother in the country while his single mother looks for work in Seoul. Hollywood would turn a movie like this into pure sap, but director Lee Jeong-hyang doesn't offer any easy solutions to the ever growing disconnection of modernized, urban Korean young people from their traditional ancestry. The film often feels like some big catharsis is just around the corner, but wisely never delivers one. The boy changes a bit by the time his mother returns, but he only, suddenly, becomes aware of it when it's too late. And thankfully, NO ONE DIES in this movie, which is usually the case with dramas dealing with the elderly. Definitely leaves you thinking about things, though. Paramount has released this on DVD in North America. 10

WHEN I TURNED NINE (2003) Directed by Yoon In-ho. Korean drama films set in public or high-schools often make me uneasy for I know there will be severe Korean Cranial Abuse, played completely straight, as this is one of the many liberties apparently afforded teachers (among other authority figures) in Korean culture. Westerners will no doubt react with horror at the relentless, wordless beating young Baek Yeo-min (Kim Seok) endures from his stone-faced teacher for dunking the shoes of snooty new classmate Woo-rim (Lee Se-young) in retaliation for an earlier slight. Not only do the very real looking blows eventually start knocking him to the floor, he gets back up and faces into yet another one because, well, that’s just what you do. Yeo-min is the defacto Big Boss of his public school social order in the early 1970’s. He takes his licks, defers without issue to his elders and their rigid disciplines, and is actually quite attracted to the Woo-rim, a Seoul transplant who’s prone to inflating the wonderfulness of her possibly broken family, lies like a rug, plays favourites in the playground pecking order and will make you very tempted to call her something that rhymes with “bitch.” But Yeo-min sees beyond all that, even if he doesn’t understand why, and much to the chagrin of his female friend Keum-bok (Jung Sun-kyung). Meanwhile, on the homefront, Yeo-min’s greatest desire is to buy a pair of sunglasses for his mother, who was blinded in one eye by a factory mishap and now spends her days a recluse at home, and who ultimately teaches him the error of his weak thinking by whipping the back of his calves with a reed in yet another scene of heartwrenching realism that may put off those who don’t read up on the culture. He also becomes acquainted with the town philosopher, whose inability to connect with a local music teacher echoes the potential social problems of Yeo-min’s attraction to Woo-rim. Ultimately, this plays like one big ode to Korean strength through suffering (an understandable facet of the country’s cinema), and though I’m willing to allow for my own ignorance of other cultures when something doesn’t quite sit right with me, much of the melodrama in this film seems a tad disingenuous, particularly the dialogue written for these wise-beyond-their-years youngsters. Now I’m aware from the books I’ve read, that the harsh living conditions for the Korean underclasses from the 50’s to the 70’s were enough to make anyone grow up fast and hard, I’m still somewhat uncomfortable with the sight of an ten-year-old standing before her bawling classmates and owning up to a laundry list of “issues” as though it were her final day in rehab seems just a little bit phony. Director Yoon In-ho and screenwriter Lee Man-hee, working from a novel by We Kee-cheul, know just what buttons to push to get the tear ducts welling up, but I’m afraid they don’t know how to push them lightly. From a technical perspective, the film looks stunning, with the barren poverty of the small town beautifully captured through several seasons by cinematographer Chun Jo-myoung. 6.

I also really enjoyed WONDERFUL DAYS (2003), directed by Kim Mun-saeng,a stunningly designed and rendered flat animation/CG/model hybrid that only wants for a better story. Despite it’s box office failure (still the most successful Korean animated film to date I heard), it’s bodes well for future endeavours in the genre. At it’s core, its about the “haves” in an environmentally-polluted future world plotting to wipe out the “have-nots” so they can replenish the dwindling energy supplies to their self-contained megacity. Fortunately, the have-nots have a brooding outcast on their side who knows how to put things right. ADV has picked this up for distribution in North America as SKY BLUE, so hopefully they might include the impressive extras on the 2-disc Korean DVD. 8
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:37 pm

...and, last but not least, an excellent, frightening documentary:

Director: Park Ki-bok
Cast: various
Running Time: 100 min.
Rating: 12+ (Korean rating)
Region Code: Marked as 3, but all-region
Subtitles: English, Korean, Script
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Company: Premier Entertainment

One of the more disturbing film experiences I’ve had this year would be a documentary by Park Ki-bok called MUDANG: RECONCILLIATION BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

MUDANG is the Korean term for a shaman, essentially a human conduit between the living and the dead, a performer of ritualistic rites to guide the deceased to the othweworld and a very important part of Korea’s cultural landscape, though in truth a practice that is often forgotten, ignored or treated with more cultural than religious significance by a majority of modern Koreans. Viewers of the Korean horror film NIGHTMARE will have noticed a Mudang trying unsuccessfully to rid the world of an evil spirit. A good background on Korean shamanism is probably appropriate before viewing the film; otherwise the uninitated (myself included) will be hit hard by equal feelings of fascination and disgust. Here’s a brief overview:

from that site:
Korean shamans can be roughly divided into two types: possessed, or charismatic shamans and hereditary shamans.

The former, called NAERIM MUDANG, are typically found in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. After suffering from SINBYONG, an illness which is generally interpreted as a sign of a shamistic calling, a potential NAERIM MUDANG apprentices herself to an established shaman from she acquires the knowledge and skills appropriate to her new occupation. The two Woman establish a 'spirit mother'-'spirit daughter' relationship, the spirit mother later conducting the initiation rite which transforms her apprentice into a full-fledged shaman. In the course of their rites, these shamans not only become possessed and experience ecstatic trance states themselves but may also induce their clients to do the same.

The hereditary shamans, called TANGOL MUDANG, are found in the southern half of the Korean peninsula. They are recruited not through possession sickness but simply by being born into a shaman's family. Though this type of shaman does not undergo trance possessed and herself, she may cause of a rite.

Director Park presents this ancient tradition - and its dwindling but resolved practitioners - without prejudice, instead allowing the audience to decide for themselves. Perhaps owing to the fact that I’m neither Korean nor overtly religious, and have in fact come to regard most world followings as extraordinary mass delusions, so I couldn’t help but be frustrated at the sight of these “healers” actually amplifying the grief of those in mourning. Obviously, this is more a criticism of the practise than of the film for depicting it.

The movie presents a handful of Mudang, but one in particular, a young woman, a charismatic shaman, features in the film’s most troubling scene. In it, a family that allegedly ignores her prophecy that they would experience mourning (for at the time it made no sense to them, nor could it) loses a son soon after in a construction accident. Coincidence? Obviously. But the family is not without its traditional beliefs, so they bring her back for a Chinogwi Kut (a ceremony in which she channels the dead boy on his way to the other side, among other things) that sends everybody into hysterics and the guilt-ridden mother off the deep end. Rarely have I seen something so compelling, so culturally intriguing, so emotionally draining, yet so downright appalling. For not only does she play on their grief, she indulges in precisely - I repeat precisely - the same kind of serene, obviously vague, feel-good belief reinforcement (based on the flimsiest of proofs) that have long been exposed as the tricks of the trade of psychics, mediums and fortunetellers in the west. “I’m not in pain anymore,” “I forgive you,” “Mom, I love you;” these are the kind of generic peace offerings supplied only AFTER the Mudang has driven the mother to a quivering, shaking lump on the floor, childishly wailing and swinging a sheath of sacred flowers back and forth across the floor. Ironically, the viewer won’t suspect for a second that the Mudang doesn’t believe in her own abilities; this woman so strongly believes in the magic that she can’t see the harm she’s doing

I’ve always been intrigued reading about the rites and rituals of cultures not my own, but sometimes seeing them filmed in an unbiased light is a frighteningly sad experience in our supposedly enlightened times. My admittedly unscholarly research on this particular subject confirms time and again that the Mudang and their practises were - and are - popular with the lower, uneducated classes, and this film, in presenting both charismatic and hereditary shamans in two geographically separate but beautifully rural regions of the country, would appear to back up the claim, as what could loosely be termed a, shall we say, agrarian clientele routinely pays hard-earned money for the services of the shamans. In one scene, an elderly lady insists on paying the younger Shaman mentioned above with a near-constant stream of lettuce from her market stall. When the shaman tells her she should instead sell the lettuce and use the money for her sustenance, the lady, in that inimitably Korean method of deference, initiates a back-and-forth round of insistence and hand waving.

The majority of Mudang presented in the film are elderly, life-long practitioners. Thus, we’re also introduced to two very elderly sisters, both hereditary Mudang if I recall correctly and a couple of endearingly lovable old-maid curmudgeons who form the spiritual core of the movie, particularly after the oldest passes away (after working the fields right up to her death!) and the younger performs a hauntingly beautiful service to send her off. The emotions run high, but the ceremony - involving symbolic paper money and a paper boat to send the spirit on its way - is a haunting reminder of how survivors will likely always be bound by tradition to turn the passing of a loved one into a thing of drama and catharsis.

One of the film’s more humourous sequences, perhaps unintentionally so, comes in the form of a late-60-something Mudang who channels the spirit of her nagging mother on what is revealed to be a regular basis. The problem is, the “mother” -supposedly speaking through the daughter - conveniently (and nearly exclusively) nags her about what a loser her husband is and how much he makes her work - right in front of the poor guy! A fantastic exercise in avoiding responsibility for one’s own dissatisfaction with life’s choices (although in this case, the marriage was probably arranged by Korean tradition) by inventing a third party to do the bitching is undercut by a bittersweet interview with the husband outside, not long after her latest performace, in which he admits to being bothered by the constant spectral harassment yet confesses that his love for his wife makes it impossible to do anything but stand by her. One doesn’t have to read deeply between his lines to realize the depth of his commitment in the face of his own doubts about her abilities.

Director Park keeps his camera objective throughout, letting a rich, shamanistic heritage, albeit one teetering on the verge of extinction in the Korean rush toward Christianity and other, more new-agey religions, speak volumes about the people of this unique land. Burned-in vertical explanatory subtitles in Korean augment the sparse narration by actor Sol Kyung-gu (JAILBREAKERS, PUBLIC ENEMY, I WISH I HAD A WIFE). On the DVD, English subtitles for BOTH these Korean subtitles and the onscreen dialogue appear on screen at the same time, top and bottom, which may necessitate pausing from time to time to take in all the information.

The disc also contains a trailer, some still photos, a terminology (available in English) and a director’s biography.

Highly recommended to believers and non-believers alike; believers to get insight into one of the thousands of religious practises they too-often brush off in pursuit of their own, and non-believers to see that such rites and rituals can not only potentially be a source of great embarrassment in an age of enlightenment but also a source of great beauty and communal bonding when practised with dignity.
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Postby hoppingghost » Tue Feb 22, 2005 3:10 am

MUDANG Played in NYC and I unfortunately missed it on the BIG screen I like the article you wrote thanks.

Heres some Korean Takes of mine:
(final US version DVD review HAS NOW BEEN POSTED at above url)
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Thu Mar 03, 2005 3:30 pm

In case anyone's still reading, I'd second the following from Jon's list as I've seen them. The only reason they don't show up in my reviews above is because I never had an opportunity to write anything about them:

ATTACK THE GAST STATION. Probably the third Korean movie I ever saw, and a fantastic comedy of escalating nihilism. Love how the power structure shifts every few minutes as both the thugs and the hostages discover ways to empower themselves.


FRIEND: Like this once, but not sure if I need to watch it again, although it is an amazing film. Quite dark and depressing. And I've always questioned whether the director, who I believe based the story on his real-life experience, was viewing his youth through rose-coloured glasses in spite of all the gloom on screen.

OLD BOY: If you're a fan of thrillers, you just know almost from the beginning that you're gonna get a big sucker punch at some point in this film. I'm sure some people might smell it coming, but I didn't. And when the twists and turns are all said and done, the thing still makes sense, something that often can't be said of films in this genre. I've read the director is being attached to some big American project (hopefully not a remake of this), but I doubt we'll see him top this. Choi Min-sik once again proves he's the God of Korean Actors. By the by, my girlfriend thought this was an amazing and engrossing film until she got the sucker punch. She's Korean who comes from a very conservative family, and I suspect a lot of Koreans were probably given a jolt by this film that they hadn't expected. She doesn't recommend the film to people, and admits its based on her personal bias with its less tasteful moments, while I wholeheartedly suggest it to people who don't mind a good challenge to conventional thinking.




are all quite good. I haven't seen the others on Jon's list yet, although most of them are sitting in my Korean "to-watch" pile.
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Postby john_larocque » Sun Apr 17, 2005 11:19 pm

magic-8 wrote:Try these on for size.

Fighter in the Wind

I'm a big fan of Park Chan Wook. Anything he's done lately is worth a look. His segement of "Three Extremes", "Joint Security Area", and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance". He also wrote the script for "The Humanist." Tarantino raved about "Oldboy" at Cannes, and it was one of my personal highlights from last year's Toronto film festival.

As war movies go, I'd toss in "Tae Guk Gi" (haven't seen Silmido yet). For actoin fare, "Shiri". For thriller Basic Instict material, "Tell me Something." Chihwaseon (Painted Fire) is one of the better films of Kwon-taek Im (a pre-New Wave film-maker).

And as for Kim Ki-Duk, I've caught nearly everything he's done since "The Isle". "Spring, Fall, Winter and Spring Again" virtually put him on the map worldwide on the arthouse circuit, and is my current favorite Buddhist-themed movie, displacing the earlier Korean "Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?"

Kim Ki-Duk likes to write movies with angry silent male characters with bottled-up rage, though his focus has been shifting lately. In 3-Iron, he spends most of his time with a pair of characters who make fun of typical Kim-KiDuk angry-male. Maybe the Buddhism was a catharsis for him.

In Samaria, a Christian-fixated father goes on a murder spree after his daughter - emulating a Boddhisattvha of compassion, enters the world of teenage prostitution, her attempt to heal the bad karma left behind by the death of her friend (victimized by this source of quick money). He is forced to "let go", and gives himself up.

A couple of his other films (Coast Guard, Address Unknown) take potshots at the negative effects of the American military presence in South Korea.

"Spring, Winter etc..." however is still tops on my Kim KiDuk list. He has problems securing film financing at home, but enjoys the fact that his films are beeing seen abroad, and funded with foreign money, which allows him a level of control unheard of if he restricted himself to domestic financing.

Needless to say, of all the Korean film-makers, Kim Ki-Duk is my favorite, followed by Park ChanWook.
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Postby vikungfu » Mon Apr 18, 2005 3:46 am

The Ginko Bed II is along the lines of the movies you've seen. You'd probably enjoy it.
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Postby garycheah » Tue May 10, 2005 7:35 am

-Old Boy
-2009 Lost Memories
-Sex is Zero
-Wet Dreams
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Postby Big Boss » Wed May 25, 2005 6:19 pm

Besides all that great movies (Old Boy and Taegukgi are my favs) there are some of movies worth watching

"Strokes of Fire" with Min-sik Choi (Old Boy) is one of the cool painter biopic.

"R Point" - it's not great but funny horror flick.

"Some" - fresh cop action/mistery flick.

"(The) Dollmaster" - a good horror, but with a little (and sometimes big) american-horror influence

"Nowhere to hide" - great noir cop/thief flick with Dong Kun Jan (Friend, Taegukgi). Visual style of the final rain fight was taken to The Matrix:Revolutions ending fight.
I'll fight for the ones who can't fight
And if I lose at least I tried

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Postby evirei » Mon Jul 25, 2005 2:05 am

Well.... I kinda go for shows like
1. My sassy girl
2. Windstruck (sequel to my sassy girl)
3. Oldboy
4. Shiri
5. 100 Days with Mr. Arrogant
6. Too beautiful to lie
7. Oh! Happy Day
8. Fighter in the Wind
9. 2009 Lost Memories
10. Bichunmoo
I believe in destiny, but forsee possibilities.
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Postby CoolRob » Thu Jul 28, 2005 4:37 pm

Here are what I like:

2009 Lost Memories
The Phone
She is on Duty
Sex is Zero
Vanishing Twin
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Postby ganzikim » Tue Dec 27, 2005 10:53 am

gganh peh su up(gangster lesson) l,ll,and lll

jang gun eui ah deul(son of the general)

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Postby *FLO* » Mon May 01, 2006 1:07 am

Just picked up shadowless sword and loved it.
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Postby chiangkamfan » Wed May 10, 2006 11:03 am

-Struggle for Death and Life (1978)
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Postby Kieran » Wed Jun 21, 2006 8:39 pm

Welcome to Dongmakgol is a breathtaking Korean film.
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Jun 21, 2006 8:50 pm

Welcome to Dongmakgol is a breathtaking Korean film.

Still hoping to get my hands on that one soon. Got SHADOWLESS a couple weekends ago, but still haven't had time to watch it. Saw it playing on a TV in Koreatown and was rather impressed with what little I saw.
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Postby ewaffle » Thu Jun 22, 2006 4:07 am

Watched 301, 302 recently--a combination of horror and suspense with some heavyhanded but still well done discussion of the plight of women in modern Korean society--it was made in 1995. All the reviews I have seen say not to see it on a full stomach--some say not on an empty stomach.

The reason for this stomach discussion is that one of the women portrayed is bulemic and does a good bit of vomiting while the other is obsessed with cooking and tries to force her to eat.

There are some very disturbing images of rape and incest, although they are not lingered over. What is drawn out are the shots of Song-hee (played by Pang Eun-jin) cooking and Yoon-hee (played by Hwang Shin-hye) looking confused and frightened. Both actresses are excellent with Pang Eun-jin playing part of her role in a fat suit.

The ending is not surprising but is still shocking. Directed by Park Chul-soo with deliberate intensity, the movie gives us a good idea what will happen from the very first scene but still keeps us interested. Both women have huge, gorgeous apartments (the title refers to the apartment numbers). It is in the apartments that all the current action takes place, with flashbacks to earlier times for each of them.

Good movie, well worth seeing. Available from Netflix and, I am sure, other outlets.
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Thu Jun 22, 2006 4:46 am

THanks for the good words on 301,302. I've had that in my pile of K-films for a good year now. I first heard about it in Lee Server's book Asian Pop Cinema in 1997. At that time, Korean cinema wasn't as trendy as it is now, and you could forget about finding any of it on DVD, so 301,302 was one of the more prominent films in Server's chapter on Korean cinema, and it remained in my "gotta check that out" list until the R1 DVD was finally released. Might move it up in the pile now!
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Postby dandan » Thu Jun 22, 2006 8:04 am

ewaffle wrote:301, 302

yep, it's a little gem...
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Postby Taijikid » Mon Nov 20, 2006 12:29 pm

Because of the general excitement over the U.S. debut of the Korean blockbuster The Host, I decided to purchase Bong Joon-Ho's first feature, Barking Dogs Never Bite; and last night I finally got around to watching it.

I don't usually find myself moved to go to bat for a (mostly) underappreciated movie, especially in a dead thread like this one; but I couldn't resist letting the good folks on this forum know that BDNB is one of the best movies that I have seen all year.

The plot engine depicting some very questionable treatment of man's best friend has been discussed in other posts, so I won't go into that here. But, just as The Host is apparently more than just a monster movie, BDNB is more than just a black comedy.

It is a movie about two losers whose life trajectories cross for a moment and then move apart, based on their moral responses to the circumstances in which they have found themselves. At the end of the movie, the young man has begun his way up in the world, but at the cost of his humanity and his dreams. On the other hand, the young woman has lost her job and the recognition that she so clearly longs for, but she has stayed true to her moral compass and has shown herself far more capable of courage and compassion than the other protagonist. The coda at the end of the movie, comparing their situations as they both start out on their new life paths, was as quietly moving as anything I've seen in recent memory.

Anyone interested in the brouhaha over The Host owes it to him/herself to check out Barking Dogs Never Bite.
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Postby Brian Thibodeau » Mon Nov 20, 2006 2:37 pm

Couldn't agree more with you about BARKING DOGS. Still on of the better Korean movies I've seen to date. In fact, if someone put a gun to my head and said I could only choose either that film or THE HOST, I'd probably go with BARKING DOGS, although they both run a close race. BARKING DOGS is full of quirky little character flourishes that actually ring true. I particularly remember the bit where Bae Doo-na, in her yellow rainslicker, is chasing the dog-killer across the rooftops and we see imaginary crowds—also in yellow rainslickers—cheering her on atop the neighboring buildings, a note-perfect representation of her growing internal sense of empowerment at that particular moment.

(And this is hardly a dead thread, just an intermittent one. Personally, I haven't had a lot of time recently to post thoughts on several K-movies I've seen, but I'd like to get back to it once things have settled down a bit here!)
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Postby pat00139 » Mon Jan 29, 2007 12:25 am

I pesonally love Voice. A couple more that are amazing:

A Bittersweet Life
Save the Green Planet
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Based on the list of movies you mentioned at the star, these might be worth watching. :)

(and for clarification... Windstruck isn't really a sequel to My Sassy Girl... it just had the same star and director)
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Postby Taijikid » Fri Feb 16, 2007 12:41 pm

I took advantage--twice!--of the sale at Poker to pick up some relatively pricey Korean movies, including Christmas in August (1998). Although I had seen no reviews of the movie, I had seen enough forum references to get the gist of the plot, which is basically dying man meets woman and they fall in love.


Having seen a lot of films with a similar plotline, I was expecting the usual emotional setpieces, with the man agonizing over whether to reveal his illness and her conflict over whether to become involved with someone who was dying, and then the music swelling at the end as he dies in her arms or in some faraway place with only her memory as solace. So I was pleasantly surprised when the movie refused to follow the usual pattern. Rather than giving the viewer the gratification of overwrought emotion and its catharsis, the movie proceeds with the little details of the dying man's final days, building to a quiet resolution where no words of love are spoken, but the bond between the two leads is clear.


I was very confused while watching the movie, certain that at any moment a get-out-your-handkerchiefs scene was about to transpire. That payoff never came, and instead I found myself thinking about the film afterward much more than I would have if my expectations had been satisfied.
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Postby Mike Thomason » Wed Feb 28, 2007 7:19 am

Of what I've seen out of what I've got (on DVD) these are the ones I'd feel happy recommending:

2009 Lost Memories
3 Iron
Antarctic Journal
Art Museum By The Zoo
Bad Guy
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Bet On My Disco
The Big Swindle
A Bittersweet Life
Bloody Tie
Boss X File
The Bow
Christmas In August
Crying Fist
Double Agent (aka: Comrade)
Family: Action Vs Love
The Foul King
The Ghost (aka: Dead Friend)
A Good Lawyer's Wife
Holiday In Seoul
The Host
Hypnotised (aka: Faceless Beauty)
The Isle
JSA: Joint Security Area
Love Phobia
Love, So Divine
Lovely Rivals
Mapado: The Island of Fortunes
Marrying The Mafia
Memories of Murder
Murder, Take One (aka: The Big Scene)
My Little Bride
My Sassy Girl
My Tutor Friend
My Wife Is A Gangster 1 & 2
No Blood No Tears
Old Boy
Please Teach Me English
Plum Blossom
Princess Aurora
Public Enemy
The Red Shoes
Rules of Dating
Samaritan Girl (aka: Samaria)
Sex Is Zero
Spider Forest
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
Summer Time
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance
A Tale of Two Sisters
Welcome to Dongmakgol
Who @re U?
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