Few thrillers can pull off the escalating adrenalin that Korean feature, A Hard Day, possesses. Imagine the worst day you could possibly have and magnify that tenfold and you’d get a rough idea of what this film might be all about. A Hard Day is simultaneously exhilarating and surprisingly, a very disarmingly funny movie as well. Any other film may have played this film up as a serious drama (MIFF’s closing night feature, Felony, would certainly attest to this) but A Hard Day brazenly provides a white-knuckled thrill ride full of tension and laughter.
A Hard Day starts with a man, Gun-soo, having just left his mother’s funeral. Stressed by the death of his mother while also having to talk on the phone, Gun-soo becomes distracted, swerves his car to dodge an animal on the road and ends up hitting another person with his car, killing the victim upon impact. Afraid of the repercussions he’ll have to face, Gun-soo tries to hide and dispose of the body which is where his troubles really begin to take shape as the more he dodges questions about the incident, the more trouble he finds himself in. Setting up the film immediately from the get go, writer-director Kim Song-hun, leaves no room for audiences to breathe. The lack of exposition in this instance is quite brilliant in that it drops audiences straight into the film and from there, Kim’s foot is permanently placed on the accelerator. A Hard Day manoeuvres around its twist-filled story with tight precision and at a very controlled speed. And while the situation that the film’s protagonist is undeniably dire, how he chooses to go about addressing the various problems he’s forced to deal with – and their eventual outcomes – is absolute comedy gold. I can’t remember the last time a thriller in the vein of A Hard Day magnificently managed to balance its wealth of black comedy so confidently while also providing genuinely tense, ‘edge-of-the-seat’ experience.
Lee Sun-gyun, a Hong Sang-soo regular, is outstanding as the bumbling detective trying to cover up his tracks. His comedic timing is on point and he also makes for quite the convincing action star should he decide to ever commit to that path. On the other end of the spectrum is the film’s villain, played by Cho Jin-woong. Though largely a one-dimensional character, Cho is fun to watch as well and is enjoyable as the corrupt cop chasing after Gun-soo. And on that note of corruption, while A Hard Day is most certainly a fun thrill ride and a great example of what Korean genre cinema is capable of, its concerning that the authoritative figures in the film are all corrupt cops. Writer-director Kim would have most likely been aware of this which may perhaps give A Hard Day another badge to wear – the badge of satire. Kim’s film mightn’t have much to say about the matter of corruption in Korea’s police force (if there is any as I am largely not privy to this news) but it certainly shines a light on it and brings the matter up front.
For a cracking good time though, A Hard Day is as energetic and frenetic as it gets. It wastes no time in getting into the thick of it and is committed to having its audience to enjoy the film’s excess of thrills and barrels of laughter. A smart, funny and gripping thriller, A Hard Day earns its stripes as a sterling cop thriller and is a great example of why people keep coming back to Korean film.
Celebrated architect, Kang Tae Pung (Kang Ji Hwan), gets into a car accident and suffers an odd aftermath of the event: he sees beautiful women as ugly and ugly women as beautiful. When he meets Wang So Jung (Lee Ji Ah), he is instantly smitten and even goes so far as to prepare to marry her…that is, until his odd side-effect subsides and his vision returns to normal. Returning to his callous, superficial ways, he heartlessly rejects So Jung. By the time he realizes the true meaning of loving a woman, another accident comically gives him a taste of his own medicine.
Problems occured when Tae Pung’s eyesight back to normal. He no longer recognized So Jung. The harsh reality slapped So Jung awake to the reality that she was just an ugly girl and Tae Pung loved “the beautiful” So Jung not “the real” So Jung. Lee Ji Ah’s acting was very natural that viewers would probably get carried away by her character because of So Jung’s personality was very expressive and unique. And for those of Kang Ji Hwan’s fans wouldn’t want to miss this movie because he looked more handsome here. This movie wanted to break the general idea about what beauty really meant for people, that other than a pretty or a handsome face there was something more important to be loved. Outer beauty are important, but not more important than inner beauty. And maybe this movie was sort of a quip for the phenomenon of plastic surgery as a big hit in Korea.
But where do you find a girl who could be that cheerful, confident and optimistic about everything if she’s that ugly? I’m not saying that ugly people should be depressed, lack confidence, and pessimistic, that’s not what I’m trying to say. What I’m trying to say is the message they sent is Lee Ji A’s character looks like an ugly monster when she’s nothing like that nor did she act like that. Things just don’t add up. Writer-nim, I don’t mind leaving my brain behind and just enjoy whatever I’m watching – I did that all the time – but there are things that will bother you no matter how willing you are and how hard you try to be involved in the story.
Granted, I appreciated the critique of the fleetingness of the outer beauty and how it’s really the inner beauty that ultimately matters. I even chuckled at bit at the end when Tae Pung gets a taste of his own medicine when So Jung develops a similar symptom after a bonk on the head. However, the story is told a bit too bluntly for my taste and without very much finesse. Overall, I found my beloved Kang Ji Hwan’s talents unable to compensate for the weak story to lure me back for a second viewing
he girl has mauve hair, an indication of the hipness of this couple who first meet on a smoke break in a Hong Kong alleyway. He’s in advertising; she sells cosmetics. And his shirt is the same color, signaling an affinity this movie seeks to explore. A Hong Kong ordinance prohibited smoking in all indoor areas. Employees began gathering in gathering cliques they called “hot pot packs” to smoke outdoors, talk, and have fun. That’s the starting point. There’s much camaraderie and banter — liberally laced with profanity — among the “hot pot pack” that includes a man with round glasses, a girl with a knit cap, a Pakistani pizza man, a little uniformed hotel bellman — and the couple- to-be, Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah). The movie begins with a dramatization of a shaggy dog story about a man locked in car trunk in a parking lot who turns out to be a ghost. There’s a lot of joking round, and things stay very light, becoming just a little romantic when Jimmy joins Cherie at a costume birthday party at a Karaoke bar — except Cherie turns out to have a boyfriend, KK (Jo Kuk).
Eventually he finds out about Jimmy (and we see how much fun he and Cherie are having together) and he gets jealous. Love in a Puff shows how romantic text messaging can be — and how it can give away secrets if spied on. And when Cherie decides to switch to Jimmy’s network so her SMS fees aren’t too high, Jimmy’s cohorts at work say she’s too aggressive. Jimmy has just had a breakup with a girlfriend at work, and Cherie is older. These are the givens that do nothing but fuel the mutual attraction. This movie excels in its constant interplay of lightness and seriousness, in the way the milieu and the social world is sketched in, and in the great chemistry between Yeung and Yue. Their dialogue is breezy and sometimes touching. Dialogue in group scenes is feisty and provocative by sometimes strict Hong Kong standards; Love in a Puff caused some controversy, which could add to its hip gloss for locals. Some of the whimsy recalls romantic moments in Wong Kar-wai, but it’s all more mundane, but enough to show that Wong’s tropes are far from unique and sometimes come from Hong Kong pop culture. If only Pang had taken more breaks from the sit-com charm and stepped back a bit, he might have created a bit more magic. There is a bit of that with a silhouette-and-full-moon sequence of Cherie at the 80-minute mark, when the story reaches its make-or-break get-serious point. At film’s end, the couple come to some kind of commitment, with Jimmy’s Land Rover stalled on an overpass, appropriately enough by making serious plans to both give up smoking, and focus on each other.
The apparent triviality of the subject matter, along with the modern urban couple’s difficulty with communication (despite multiple platforms) is offset by wit and keen observation of little details every step of the way. This light, cinematic, amusing movie is appealing and fresh — and has an assured polish, along with casual touches, like the little small-screen 16mm interviews that serve as occasional commentary. All in all, Love in a Puff is a delightful little piece of fluff, as casual as its lovers try to be. One online critic listed it as one of his top movies of 2010 and characterized it as “forgettable in an unforgettable way,” and that’s about right. Local commentaries say the film won’t work dubbed in Mandarin because its Cantonese profanities are untranslatable and had the audiences in stitches throughout. Subtleties apart, the English titles give a fair sense of this pungency. Some little SMS tricks emerge too: for instance, if you type “i n 55!W !” it looks like nonsense or code, but turn the phone upside down and it reads “I MISS U!” Of such details are Puff’s flavor and charm made.
After its initially rocky debut in Hong Kong due to its profanity and heavy nicotine use, Love in a Puff has breezed along the festival route, appearing in Seattle, Melbourne, Tokyo, Palm Springs, landing in April 2011 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. The original Chinese title is Chi ming yu chun giu, which means simply Jimmy and Cherie. I was not previously familiar with the work of this prolific 2000′s Hong Kong director.
Year 2084, humans are fighting a bloody war against an alien species known as “Daggra”, the war is coming to an end and it seems as if the human race will lose it. The human race however has managed to build a time machine, and in the dying seconds of the war they manage to send a girl, “Milly”, back in time. Her mission is to locate and kill the first alien to land on earth, hoping that this will prevent the future war. There is never any doubt where this movie has picked up its inspiration, movies like “The Terminator 1/2″, “Independence Day” and “The Matrix” are quite obvious in the movie, but that isn’t necesarrily a bad thing, all movies pick up inspiration from somewhere. The storyline isn’t very original, but still in a way original. Problem with it really is that it lacks some depth, and also the 82 years war feels a little unrealistic, however the storyline is driven enough, just nothing special, nothing that will make this movie stand out, even though I think it had a lot of potential. There are also moments of the movie where the story feels a little too weak, especially the very end I disliked, just the way it went, reminded me too much of E.T, and the sentimental point of view should have been kept out of this movie.
Now to draw out the positive sides of this movie. The action scenes are great, even though they are very inspired by The Matrix they are still very good and enjoyable. I never found myself getting boring, and I think the action scenes are definitely one of the things that makes this movie worth watching. Some people say that the effects here are worse than in Hollywood, to be quite honest, I don’t believe they are. I didn’t find them unconvincing at all, especially the scenes with the Cyborgs were well done, the bullet-time scenes were also good, but we’ve seen that a lot of times before after “The Matrix” was released. The movie ends with a small twist, a twist I personally felt didn’t belong to the movie at that point, the clues given were a bit weak, and I think it was just generally a weak attempt to create a shocking end, opening your eyes, which it didn’t for me, at least not when he woke up again. Had he died, then I would have been shocked and amazed.
Another problem with the movie is the lead characters. Anne Suzuki is cute, yeah, but she lacks depth and her performance never feels real. Her character felt kind of empty and that also damaged the chemistry with co-lead actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, who in the personal scenes neither was very good and convincing, but I must admit that he was fantastic in the action scenes, a 50/50 performance from him, although his character never were very believable. The star on the acting side is the guy playing the notorious bad guy, Goro Kishitani had a magnificent performance playing mr. Evil himself, Mizoguchi. This is a character I most definitely hated, and definitely one of the characters that brought life to the story. Takashi Yamazaki obviously had a good hand on things while directing the action scenes, and also the movie contains some good cinematography. Sadly Yamakazi didn’t manage to control the personal scenes of the movies as well as the action scenes, truly sad, because the movie could really have been at a higher level if the personal scenes had felt more convincing. The script also lacked some depth for each of the lead characters, the idea of the movie could actually have been a lot better.
An excellent movie, with a lot of Japanese clichés, like transforming robots, ninjas, and strange new technology. I swear, this must have been the best bullet time I’ve ever seen. It’s even better than The Matrix. No only do you see the bullets, but also the streamers of air coming off of them, and they can be moved if something passes through them. Also, it accurately shows bullets going though flesh, and many other cool things in bullet time. The ending was strong, and tied up many plot holes and paradoxes. The ending was very surprising, yet touching. Overall, excellent film, with unique storyline, cute aliens, realistic special effects, and believable action.
When A Girl at My Door debuted at Cannes earlier this year, it was welcomed with wide praise and reportedly received a standing ovation. The first film from Korean director July Jung, this A Girl at My Door’s story of abuse, led by the sensational Bae Doona, is one that bares an immediate resemblance to the films of Lee Chang-dong. While fans of the famed auteur will have to wait just a little bit longer until they’re able to truly see his next film, A Girl at My Door in the meanwhile can stand in as a worthy substitute. But does being comparable to Lee help Jung’s case as a filmmaker?
Taking place in countryside Korea, a newly stationed police officer strikes up a friendship with a local teenage girl after protecting her from school bullies. It is soon learned that the teenager is a regular victim of physical abuse where she routinely receives beatings at the hands of her alcoholic father and grandmother. Doing what she can to protect her, the police chief takes the girl in to spare her from her abusive carers but the girl’s safety soon becomes threatened when her father learns of the police chief’s reason for being reassigned.
Taking obvious cues from Lee Chang-dong (who not only served as the film’s producer but mentored Jung while she was studying filmmaking) it’s hard to determine just how much of the film is a product of Jung’s. Where Jung’s film feels like it lacks the graceful pacing and subtlety of Lee’s films, the filmmaker makes up for in the film’s concern for its female characters. In what can be considered her first truly ‘adult’ role, Bae Doona presents her character, Young-nam, with the clarity and poise only a seasoned actress could convincingly display. Playing a woman of contradictions – for exampling protecting Dohee (Kim Sae-ron) from her alcoholic carers yet is someone who is also quite dependent on alcohol herself – Bae is in top form and turns in an understated performance. Kim Sae-ron is also quite exceptional as the damaged Dohee. The young actress exudes the confidence of someone years older than her and is certainly memorable as the damaged and potentially sociopathic teenager. Jung’s recurring use of point of view shots – another aspect of her film that feels separate from Lee’s – also is quite interesting though other than to put the audience in the shoes of its characters, it feels difficult to extrapolate Jung’s possible other intentions to use these perspective shots.
As for its thematic qualities and general presentation, A Girl at My Door’s intended look feels a little too polished, given its serious subject matter concerning abuse and alcoholism, and lacks the novelistic insight a greater filmmaker might have. While the film does a great job of building drama, a lot of its momentum begins to peter out towards the latter portion of the film. As a result, oftentimes the film can feel a little drawn out and stretches out longer than it ought to by tipping the film towards revenge territory and succumbing to a conclusion that’s terribly obvious. A Girl at My Door is by no means a bad film though. Despite Jung’s shortcomings and the cloud of Lee Chang-dong hovering dangerously over the film, Jung’s debut feature stands as a largely impressive work that adds a much needed feminine eye over its brave heroines. July Jung is certainly on to something with A Girl at My Door but time will tell whether or not the Korean filmmaker can truly break away from the shadow of her former mentor.
“009-1″ is a horrifically violent but very stylish film. Blood and gore is rampant and can very off-putting. So, if you don’t like all the violence, then it’s certainly NOT a film for you. I am just warning you about this up front, as the film is a 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 for violence! Because of this, and a bit of nudity and sexuality, it’s probably NOT a good film to watch with your kids, your mother or Father O’Reilly! The film is based on an older manga series from Japan. Back from 1967- 1970 the series ran in serial form and it made a brief re-appearance in 1974. Then, much more recently, an anime version was made.
The film begins with a prologue telling the audience that the film is set in some dystopic future–where evil and greed are rampant and the poor are treated pretty much like animals. The opening scene in the night club pretty much sets the stage for the violence you’ll see, as a complete scum of a guy kills for no reason. And, after brutally murdering someone, he turns his lustful eyes to a gorgeous woman–a woman who just happens to be 009-1. However, it turns out that 009-1 is a secret agent–a cybernetic one! She has little in the way of past memories and is full of amazing gadgets, as she was created to serve her ‘side’ in some seemingly meaningless battle between rival countries. In addition to being able to regenerate, dodge bullets, seduce men and kill with ease, this robotic lady also has boobs which are, well, booby- trapped! You’ll just have to see the film to understand what I mean. But of course, she kills this scum-bag–as well as most everyone in his entourage. Such goings on are pretty much the ENTIRE film–with 009-1 going from one boss battle after another and killing. However, during the course of 009-1′s violent missions, she starts to remember more and more bits of who she might have been before she was made into some sort of killing machine reminding me of the excellent sci-fi book by Joe Haldeman, “All My Sins Remembered”). Additionally, she begins to show some independence–such as choosing in some cases NOT to kill as she seems to be developing some compassion. I really liked this aspect of the film–a blurring between the line of what it is to be a machine and what it is to be emotionally human (sort of like a rated-R version of “Wall-E”!).
Unfortunately, as the film progresses, I got a very strong feeling that there were two big problems with the film. First, while the ideas in “009-1″ are really neat, there simply are too many pieces of plot all shoved into the film. This movie is definitely a case where more is less–the more plot points they cram into the movie, the more you get overwhelmed. It feels as if they put too much of the old series into one film instead of letting it unfold like a serial. A mini-series or follow-up films would have probably worked better. It just overwhelms you with all the plot twists and exposition. Overwhelming is also what I felt about the violence. I will admit that I am not a huge fan of violence unless it is handled well (such as in the wonderful Gina Carano films). Here, you get one killing after another after another and after a while I just found it a bit boring. Had the film progressed slower and focused much more on a central plot, the more it would have entertained. As it is, it is a very unique film but one I cannot wholeheartedly recommend unless you want mindless violence–much like if you are playing a video game. An interesting idea but one that leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Han Gong-ju, the debut feature of Korean filmmaker Lee Su-jin, is one of the best debuts of any filmmaker in recent memory. An extraordinary film that cuts deeply into the core of its issues, Han Gong-ju, is both a carefully observed character study of its title character, Gong-ju, (a teenaged girl reassimilating into normal life after a traumatic experience renders her incapable of social interaction) as well a biting piece of social commentary. In discussing Han Gong-ju, however, not openly talking about the horrific circumstances that Gong-ju must live with helps to benefit the film’s cause.
Part of the film’s magnificence lies in how director Lee opts for a non-linear progression with the film’s story as he cleverly withholds just the right amount of information from the audience. Because of this, Gong-ju’s relocation to a new school and her questionable behaviour towards fellow classmates is made all the more confronting with each new reveal. As a point of comparison, Han Gong-ju, is strikingly similar in terms of its narrative trajectory, to the 2007 English film Boy A, starring Andrew Garfield. Though Garfield’s character in that film and Gong-ju operate on different sides of the same coin, both are reasonably presented as people who have survived hardship yet have been made to feel shamed and guilty as a result of the heinous actions of others. And it is in that light that Han Gong-ju also works as a stunningly realised condemnation of a society that forces victims of abuse to feel ashamed of the actions that have befallen them. Like Pluto, a Korean film that criticises the pressure of Asian education, Han Gong-ju presents an unjust system that protects the capable and represses the weak.
For a first time feature filmmaker, Lee’s control over the film is also surprisingly more nuanced than one might imagine. Visually, Lee’s film is appropriately dark and moody, with fine handheld camerawork and lighting that brings to mind another independent Korean feature, Bleak Night. Chun Woo-hee, who plays the titular character of the film, delivers an emotionally wrenching performance as the mistreated teenager. It’s one thing for an actress to shout their way to an award nomination; it’s another for her to restrain emotions and deliver the quiet intensity that Chun projects in the film. And taking into consideration the film’s serious issues, Lee treats his subjects with the utmost of care – maneuvring around its narrative and characters with delicate precision and sensitivity. After seeing Han Gong-ju, it really isn’t hard to see why an established name like Martin Scorsese would praise the film for its attention to detail.
Few debut films make a startling impact the way Han Gong-ju does, especially given how amazingly sensitive the film is towards its victimised characters and the situation that befalls them. In light of recent events, Han Gong-ju is an important film that will no doubt drum up further conversations regarding penal justice. Though many films have tackled the subject matter that Han Gong-ju has presented in the past, especially across a handful of recent Korean films, few (if any), have effectively presented such a scenario from the primary perspective of its victim so convincingly. David Fincher once said he was more interested in films that scar over ones that entertain. Han Gong-Ju is just that – a film with an indelible effect and leaves something behind that can’t easily be forgotten.
Sometime in 2001, local police and the media in Minnesota reported on a missing Japanese woman who was found dead, her body supposedly found on the side of a road. Baffled as to why a Japanese woman’s body would be strewn in the middle of nowhere, it would be later reported that the woman’s death may have possibly been as a result of the movie, Fargo. It was said that she had travelled to America in search of the money that Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers’ classic had buried, though whether this is a fact remains uncertain. The story itself remains a myth though much like the Coens did in Fargo before them, Zellner brothers, Nathan and David, make the disclaimer that Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is too based on a “real” story.
Starring Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi, the Zellners offer a version of the story that, despite its kooky outline, is steeped in reality, turning the purported myth into something that sounds weirdly plausible. Kumiko is an office lady who works a menial administrative gig to get by. She’s a miserable human being – her colleagues disassociate themselves from her, her boss treats her with disrespect and resents her mother for expecting everything of her. Finding solace in a waterlogged VHS copy of Fargo that she discovers one day, Kumiko becomes obsessed with the buried treasure in the film which leads her to abandon Japan for a treasure hunt in America.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter certainly has a very intriguing hook but one of the things that keeps the feature from becoming a more focused and potentially better film is its insistence to create cultural barriers between Kumiko and the American characters of the film. Though oftentimes funny (one such instance sees a police officer who, bless his heart, takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant to try and get the staff to translate for her) these moments feel a little too forced upon and act as distractions, doing little to service Kumiko as a character. Additionally, being that the common themes of loneliness and isolation are so commonplace among independent Japanese productions, it makes Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter all the more comparable to other films of its ilk. Still, despite being rather flat and ordinary, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, does do one thing interesting and presents what may be interpreted as a study of depression. Kumiko’s behavior and life before her tour to America suggests as much and in that instance does give the film something more substantial for an audience to bite into.
Regardless of whether or not this is indeed a true story, the Zellners provide much to make the audience question whether or not something like this could have happened. They were certainly onto something when they laid out the groundwork for the film but unfortunately the final result seems a little too familiar. The light-hearted flair of the film works from time to time but altogether feels like a big hindrance on part of the film, especially given how dark it really is. And it shows as somewhere along the way, they’ve inadvertently picked up a film that offers a glimpse into a variation of depression that’s substantiated by a noteworthy performance from Kikuchi.
Catch Me is a cute little romantic comedy from South Korea whose plot makes absolutely no sense. So, provided you can ignore the impossibility of just about everything in the film, you’ll probably enjoy the movie. It has cute characters and some occasionally wacky moments that will catch you by surprise. All others who want a film that makes sense are advised to proceed at their own risk!
Ho-Tae (Joo Won) is a brilliant young criminal profiler. However, his attempt to capture a serial killer is not quite the success he hoped it would be. Although he was able to perfectly predict who the killer was and where he would be, just as the police are about to capture him, an errant driver runs over the killer—killing him in the process! Believe it or not, this is a very funny scene. However, now Ho-Tae has to locate the hit-and-run driver, as she sped away and the cops couldn’t catch her. Ho-Tae quickly locates the criminal but is shocked to see that she is his lost love—a woman he hasn’t seen nor heard from in a decade. And, because he has so much old baggage surrounding this lady, he can’t bring himself to arrest her and looks for excuse after excuse to delay the inevitable.
During this lengthy period, he even lets her stay at his house and Ho- Tae assumes that Yoon Jin-Sook (Kim A-Joong) is the sweet and innocent lady you see in his flashbacks. However, over time, he comes to realize that she is not quite so innocent. First, he learns that she doesn’t even have a driver’s license. But, more importantly, it turns out she’s already a wanted woman—and is a master thief. In fact, she’s so good that she even offers classes to would-be thieves! Although much of the film made little sense so far, once Ho-Tae realizes she’s a career thief he STILL hides her. And, in the process of trying to reform her, he ends up getting drug into her world of crime. Soon, the police are not only looking for her but her male accomplice…a man who looks just like Ho-Tae! In fact, it IS Ho-Tae but his co-workers haven’t come to realize this. How all this eventually works out makes zero sense—zero. But, if you suspend your brain and only look at the film as a slight rom-com, you probably will be able to wade through all the insane plot twists. Just don’t think about any of this, as you head just might explode!!
The actors and director (Lee Hyun-Jong) did a fine job with what they were given to work with. However, Lee Hyun-Jong ALSO wrote the film. He had a great eye for dialog but the plot often made little sense and, to me, would have been a much better film had some of the weird story elements been worked out better—such as Ho-Tae’s promotion at the end (huh?!?!). Not a bad film at all but not one that without problems.