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In his explanation of the auteur theory, Andrew Sarris talked about the interior meaning of a film as being extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material.
Rules of Dating, which is director Han Jae-rim’s debut feature, has been listed and marketed as a romantic comedy, and it is anything but. We don’t do comments anymore, but you may contact us here or find us on Twitter or Facebook.
Not Coming to a Theater Near You is a film resource that assumes a bias towards older, often unpopular, and sometimes unknown films that merit a second look. Are you watch the Other Episode?, Click here~,You will be choose the other episode list below. The latter part of the year might be considered a recovery of sorts, although producers and investors continued to fret about sinking profitability.
A socialist student activist named Hyun-woo and his colleagues are on the run from the police in the months after the Gwangju Massacre. Im's adaptation of Hwang's novel of the same name boasts some very strong casting, with Ji Jin-hee maintaining a nice air of unpredictability around the character of Hyun-woo, and Yeom Jung-ah being given the best opportunity to showcase her acting abilities since A Tale of Two Sisters. The film as a whole has been warmly received by local critics, but it has generated some negative reviews abroad, and its festival career has not matched that of its predecessor The President's Last Bang. Director Im's rebel streak -- which has given us bold sexual talk in Girls Night Out, teenage delinquency in Tears, family scandal in A Good Lawyer's Wife and political intrigue in The President's Last Bang -- manifests itself here in quieter ways: in the cat-who's-eaten-the-goldfish sparkle of Hyun-woo's eyes, or in the way the director toys with viewer expectations and sets up striking but awkward contrasts in mood. It may be presumptuous of me to say this, with my imperfect knowledge of Korean, but there's a real elegance to the dialogue in The Old Garden that one may not feel when watching the film in translation.
Yet despite all its strengths, the film began to lose me as it moved towards its conclusion. So-yeon (Kim Bo-kyung) is taking a break from studying in France and juggling two men at home in the interim. And I want to close this chapter on another important South Korean film for me by coming to So-yeon's statement about what is and isn't "Korean" that caused such laughter to arise in the screening I caught at PIFF.
It is exactly these moments alone with the characters that allow for reflection on my life, how it affects those around me, and how their lives affect mine.
Soo-hyun (Seo Jang-won, The Unforgiven), a Catholic seminary student, is going through a personal crisis. Grapevine is an overwhelmingly sincere film, well-mannered and respectful, that takes its subject, the quest for genuine faith in God, absolutely seriously. Viewers who cannot quite accept the theological premise of the film might still be drawn in by Min's astute and patient directorial guidance that keeps the narrative humming, albeit on a low octave. Without giving anything away, I can report that the mystery of Soo-ah's Doppelgänger is resolved through the display of a kind of karmic symmetry, too strange to be a coincidence, too natural to be a deliberate act. Pruning the Grapevine, completely indifferent to the thematic obsessions and consumer fads that dominate mainstream Korean cinema today, is a richly rewarding film to open-minded viewers, dramatically powerful and authentically spiritual.
There's a 'twist' involved in the plot that I won't go into, but most will be able to pick up on it early within the film.
Yet another Korean film that toys with genre, The Show Must Go On follows In-gu, played brilliantly by Song Kang-ho, through a series of ordinary and not-so-ordinary days. In his debut feature Rules of Dating, director Han Jae-rim transformed a relationship drama into something unexpectedly real and frank, while also exploring issues of power, gender and sexual harassment. In-gu's actions are familiar to us from any number of previous gangster films: he uses crude violence to force a hostage to sign a contract, he bribes people in positions of power, and calls in a group of stick-wielding thugs to break up a protest by striking workers. Most hilarious is the scene where In-gu decides to get tough with the striking construction workers -- who turn out to be at least as tough and twice as clever as the gangsters themselves (and with an attitude to match). It's hard to imagine another actor in the role of In-gu -- not that it strains the imagination, it's just that Song performs it so well, it seems unfaithful to imagine anyone in his place. Ultimately The Show Must Go On seems a bit noncommittal on the issue of organized crime, moving at the end to focus on In-gu's role within the family, rather than his effect on society. Essentially a variation on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" with a handful of supernatural red herrings thrown in, the film does a good job of playing with audience expectations. The veteran Choi Joo-bong (Please Teach Me English), the always reliable Park Won-sang (R-Point, The Big Swindle) and the currently ubiquitous An Nae-sang (Marathon, Someone Behind Me, Desire) all provide solid supports as the village notables.
Taken as a whole, however, Paradise Murdered is one of the best thrillers to come out of Korea in 2007, supported by solid performances by mostly talented actors and endowed with a real mystery plot and a satisfactory resolution.
Kim Tai-shik's debut film premiered at the 2006 Pusan International Film Festival before going on to screen at Sundance, Rotterdam, Buenos Aires, and other festivals.
Great casting goes a long way towards making up for what is a fairly thin premise for a film.
Dong-gu's father, played with eccentric charm by Jeong Jin-young (King and the Clown), has other worries too, including his landlord's intention to sell the house from under his feet. Before making his debut with this film, director Park Kyu-tae was best known for being the screenwriter of the 2001 gangster comedy Hi, Dharma! Victorian-era poets, tormented by doubts that life might hold no meaning, could at least turn to nature. Secret Sunshine is about a woman named Shin-ae who moves with her young son from Seoul to Miryang, a nondescript little city in southeastern Korea.
What strikes you first about this film is how true to life it feels, even in the somewhat over-the-top second half. Shin-ae is played by Jeon Do-yeon, and as I write this she is only a few hours removed from receiving the Best Actress award at Cannes. Considering its subject matter, the film's theme would seem to be about despair, and the process of working through that despair. Hoo boy, did I just write "shocking truth?" Let me speculate: I venture to guess that at one point The Evil Twin was supposed to be a straightforward retelling of a traditional ghost story, usually a young virgin wronged by the Confucian family system and blamed for sins she did not commit. Instead, Evil Twin is yet another lugubrious, preachy genre film that takes itself way too seriously and loses sight of its primary objective: to scare and entertain its viewers.
The young actors and TV veterans work rather well together (one of the film's few pleasures is to spot recognizable veteran faces among the cast, such as Yang and Hong Seong-min, who has a brief cameo as So-yeon's physician) but they are mostly defeated by catatonia-inducing dialogue and characterization.
Given such enervating examples as Evil Twin, even a die-hard horror film fan like me must take the news that the 2008 summer season will be devoid of the usual glut of K-horror as a positive development. Hwang Jin-yi, who allegedly lived in mid-16th century Korea, is probably the most famous courtesan in Korean history, but aside from several works of (high-caliber) poetry and a few episodes involving her legendary wit, pride and glamour, nothing much is known about her life. Unfortunately, Hwang Jin-Yi, while not a hideously self-righteous train-wreck like Hanbando, is still a chore to sit through. On the plus side, Hwang Jin-Yi is attractively filmed by DP Choe Young-taek (Volcano High, Hanbando) and carefully designed by art director Kim Jin-cheol and costume supervisor Jeong Jeong-eun (Red Eye, TV's Coma). I am not sure why Hwang Jin-Yi's rather obvious problems had escaped the veteran Jang Yoon-hyun's notice: perhaps he let his better judgment slip, excited by an opportunity to closely collaborate with North Koreans and to show his film to the Northern viewers. The Wonder Years (another misguided English title—this movie's about as remindful of the popular-in-Korea, Fred-Savage-starring '80s TV series as Twyla Tharp is of Michael Flaherty in Lord of the Dance) is a debut feature from director Kim Hee-jung, an alumna of the Lodz Film School and winner of the Wide Angle Prize at PIFF for the short Once, Someday (2001).
One thing Korean cinema has done rather well in the last fifteen years is its continued support for, and introduction of, female directors with strong personal visions, beginning with Lim Soon-rye (whose Forever the Moment is shaping out to be 2008's first big Korean hit), Jeong Jae-eun (The Aggressives) and Byun Young-joo (Flying Boys). It would surprise no one that Lee and Choo are two principal reasons for anyone to check out The Wonder Years. Korean-American Andrew and White-American (of nondescript ethnicity) Sophie are a married couple who live a life of upper-class signifiers.
Stumbling upon Ji-hah (Ha Jeong-woo - The Unforgiven, Time), a Korean immigrant in financial straits after overstaying his visa, Sophie takes advantage of his predicament and proposes a verbal contract.
Although always happy to see portrayals of non-Asian-American women involved romantically with Asian-American men since my U.S. One of the more interesting aspects of the film outside of the secrets that secrete their way above the surface is the presence of Christianity in the form appropriated by a subset of Korean-American churches.
A Kadokawa-CJ Entertainment co-production, Black House is based on the Japanese writer Kishi Yusuke's award-winning early hit, concerning an insurance claim adjuster who gets sucked into a terrifying web of deceit, mutilation and murder spun by a psychopath who makes Norman Bates look like Sponge Bob Squarepants. Let me get this out of the way first: as an adaptation of Kishi Yusuke, whom I am a big fan of, the Korean version Black House leaves much to be desired. Despite these weaknesses, however, Black House works as an effective psychological horror film, miles ahead of the usual PSC (Pointless Sadako Clone)-infected summer season drudgery. The film culminates in a series of rather preposterous but extremely suspenseful Grand Guignol confrontations, which, to my surprise and sigh of relief, do not lead to surreptitious "rehabilitation" of the main villain through the intrusion of melodramatic conventions. Cadaver, scripted by Jeon Sun-wook (Vampire Cop Ricky), and adapted and directed by Son Tae-woong (best known as the co-screenwriter for Bong Joon-ho's Barking Dogs Never Bite), is a fairly ambitious horror film that traverses several sub-genres: medical thriller, slasher film, ghostly horror and even a bit of Cabinet of Dr.
Unfortunately, Cadaver crashes and burns in the last third, never recovering from a "plot twist" revelation that establishes a blood relation between two seemingly antagonistic characters. Like Antarctic Journal, (2005) another misfire with a clearly talented director at the helm, Cadaver leaves the viewers in the dust, so busy trying to spin its yarn that wrapping itself up into an inert cocoon by the last reel. Yun-hee (Jo An, Wishing Stairs), a writer who got her big break with a viciously gossipy "novel" about her party crowd, has run out of ideas. Finally Koreans, now comfortably ensconced in one of the most consumerist nations in the world, not to mention Asia, are getting themselves into making the kind of "exotic" horror-fantasy films that the British used to make about their old colonies: in this case, the exotic foreign land of choice is Viet Nam, presented as a luscious tropical paradise, overflowing with beautiful young women dressed in the magnificently figure-flattering ao dai, where a barely-out-of-her-teens Korean heiress can keep a spacious, majestic villa all to herself.
Jo An and Cha Ye-ryeon try gamely to muddle through the crudely concocted screenplay by the director and Ji Jak (Soo). Muoi is a serviceable horror film with two or three effective jolts, but the real reason for any viewer to watch it to the finish is to gawk at its two incredibly beautiful lead actresses.
I could talk about the long delay of D-War's eventual release, increasing its ledger to the point of becoming the most expensive South Korean film. Some of the computer imagery is decent, such as the King Kong moment or the speedy, street-slithering.
Let me state explicitly that I am not implying here that Shim's Bruce is a consciously racist portrayal. In the end, D-War is more valuable as pedagogy for globalization than as entertainment, demonstrating how the new Hollywood stereotype of the black body in the black box has returned to LA in the form of a monster movie from South Korea.
An old doctor, circa 1979 (the year President Park Chung-hee was assassinated: Park's Japanese moniker, Takaki Masao, is the same as that of the doctor), discovers that the Ansaeng (Safe Life) Hospital, one of the most modern medical facilities in the colonial period, is about to be demolished. Epitaph has a convoluted (but currently fashionable) multiple flashbacks-and-time lag structure, but does not devolve into a confusing mess, which is a huge relief.
In my opinion the second episode, while expertly directed and most effective as a horror film, seems to play at a different emotional pitch, and interferes with the integration of all the other elements into a coherent whole.
The cast, including reliable supporting players like Kim Eung-su (a super-veteran somehow typecast as a Japanese these days) and Ye Soo-jeong (the mother in Save the Green Planet), deliver good to terrific performances for the most part. While Epitaph does engage in the requisite Tale of Two Sisters-like "plot twist," it is at least done in a way that makes some sense in terms of the characters in question. Epitaph, while not quite as grandiloquently entertaining as Black House, nonetheless will make a significant contribution to rehabilitating K-horror's international reputation. The film is divided into three distinct chapters taking place in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and a remote village in Alaska with an opening and closing scene in the countryside of Korea. Gina Las Vegas, or a thirty-something year old Gina (Elizabeth Weisbaum), is much more hardened but still holds onto some impossible dreams.
It would be equally fascinating to watch a movie about the character of K as it is to watch Gina struggle through her life. Gina Alaska (Susie Park) is a woman in her forties who has traveled as far north as she could in the hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis. Wide Awake takes one of the real-life medical mysteries -- patients who remain fully conscious (and responsive to pain) but paralyzed during operations, called "intraoperative awareness" -- and weaves a revenge-motivated mystery plot around it.
Even though a similar-themed Hollywood film (Awake, with Jessica Alba) was released a few months after it, the long shadow cast on Wide Awake is in fact that of the ultra-popular, Japanese-novel-based medical drama White Tower, through which Kim Myung-min was finally launched into the stardom that he had so far found elusive.


The filmmakers, including newcomer director Lee Gyu-man and co-screenwriter Lee Hyun-jin, spin their yarn as a straightforward whodunit: a crime has been committed, we are given clues to the possible motive, a load of technically complicated but authentic-sounding information regarding the exotic methods of murder are provided, and all this is nicely resolved at the end with the minimum of "what the heck?" confusion. He was referring to directors like Hitchcock and Preminger who often worked with scripts from a variety of writers but managed to stamp each of their pictures with an unmistakable visual style.
It tells the story of a student teacher at a junior high who is pursued relentlessly and inappropriately by her superior, one of the school’s teachers. She finally exposes him for what he is, and he is fired from his teaching position, giving her vindication and the audience a little relief. About to take the vow of life-long celibacy, he has a bad break-up with his girlfriend Soo-ah (Lee Min-jung, Someone Special). His previous feature films, Flight of the Bee (1999) and Let's Not Cry (2002), were set in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, respectively, and were made with a local cast. He eschews overt dramatic gestures or button-pushing tactics but all the same extracts superbly nuanced performances out of not only the young leads but also veteran Ki Joo-bong, who invests Father Moon with his customary endearing qualities as an archetypical Korean patriarch as well as a measure of contemplative wisdom. I can hardly wait for Min Boung-hun's next project, supposedly a taboo-breaking love story, and only hope that we get to see it before 2011. Writer-director Kim Han-min places various institutional activities of the tiny Paradise Island in the larger context of military dictatorship and political corruption, through subtle signs such as Sang-gu's arrogant behavior as a local "New Village Movement" leader, and provides the characters with realistic, non-over-the-top dialogue. Seong Ji-roo (unforgettable in A Good Lawyer's Wife) is appropriately menacing and pathetic in turns, although director Kim seems to largely leave him to his own devices by the slightly overcooked climax. In these times of dreadful mutual cannibalization of ideas on a global scale, with endless remakes, retoolings, copycats, rip-offs and spin-offs colonizing not only movies but all creative media, even a little originality goes long way.
He goes to school every day, but the only task he is able to consistently fulfill is to fetch the other kids water during break time.
On exam days, his teacher urges him to stay at home, so that he doesn't pull down the class's average score.
But at last a bit of good news shines through: the school's struggling baseball team, which will be disbanded if it loses any more students, has accepted Dong-gu. However in recent years, trends in theatrical attendance have been changing, and it has become much more common to see families taking a weekend trip to the multiplex. He wrote the script for Bunt as well, with some assistance from screenwriting phenom Choi Seok-hwan (King and the Clown, Radio Star).
So-yeon (Park Shin-hye, Love Phobia), a teenage daughter of a moderately powerful yangban family, awakens from a ten-year coma, following a drowning accident that took the life of her twin sister Hyo-jin. Alas, the only carryover from that type of classic Korean ghost story is the long-haired, white-clad visage of the vengeful spirit. Director-writer Kim Ji-hwan seems to think that his film has some serious moral lessons about motherly love and sibling jealousy to impart.
This movie is a particularly galling experience, since a simple, no-bullcrap retelling of a Tale of Two Sisters-like classic ghost story would have been many times superior to it.
This lacuna has allowed modern artists to creatively re-imagine her in many different ways.
Surprisingly, the movie's problems can be reduced to essentially two issues: its incomprehensible decision to make the sub-standard (and completely fictional) character of Nomi (Yoo Ji-tae, Oldboy) into its de facto protagonist, and its terrible miscasting of Song Hye-gyo in the eponymous role. The film's uniquely dark and subdued color scheme that eschews primary red and blue and envelopes the characters in shades of damson, dark olive and ashy-black has received some criticism for being too dour but I found it rather striking. My unsolicited opinion is that, if he had wanted to make a movie that North Korean viewers could truly enjoy, he should have made a comedy with an early '60s sensibility.
Thirteen-year-old Soo-ah (the original Korean title), played by Lee Se-young (the childhood Geum-young from Daejanggeum), is a shy, borderline-autistic girl living in a small Cholla Province town. The story arc is rather predictable and ends in a disappointingly conventional resolution regarding the identity of Soo-ah's real mom. The novel has already been filmed once in 1999 by the star director Morita Yoshimitsu (Family Game, Lost Paradise), a not-bad adaptation with a rather strange, serio-comic tone featuring a bravura performance by Otake Shinobu and unusual tools of bodily harm such as a yellow bowling ball covered with glass shards. Especially in its first half, the movie tastes too much like processed cheese: indeed, in some aspects it has the outlook of a Hollywood remake of an Asian genre film, with the level of gore and violence cranked up but much of the appeal of the original's characters and twisted narrative turns compromised.
The monster remains the monster to the bitter end, and there is no sexual abuse, Freudian complex or the "unrequited desire to be loved" to explain away why it became the way it did. Along with a typical bunch of slasher-flick's-potential-victim cast members, including Ki-beom the Boyfriend (O Tae-gyung), the Nerd (Soy), the Fatso (Moon Won-ju), the Slut (Chae Yun-seo) and the Weirdo (On Joo-wan), she is initiated into a harrowing dissection class, overseen by arrogant hard-butt Dr. The story performs several gymnastic feats of bodily contortion, until it shakes the audience's emotional investment loose like a medicated mutt would do with fleas.
She is contacted by Seo-yeon (Cha Ye-ryun, Bloody Aria, Voice), her old friend now living in Viet Nam, and is told of a local piece of folklore involving a cursed portrait of a woman named Muoi (Anh Thu). Director Kim Tae-kyung, responsible for Ryung aka Ghost (2004), one of the lamest Korean horror films in recent memory, is thankfully not so all-thumbs with Muoi, which is not to say that the latter does not display that unrefined, beat-the-audience's-head with-a-blunt-object sensibility of his.
Jo An is very attractive in a tomboy-ish get-up and as usual emotes with great enthusiasm and conviction.
Don't expect anything like a thoughtful, self-reflexive take on the (potentially ironic) position of Koreans now exploiting Viet Nam as an exotic land of the ghosts with unrequited love.
This sets off reminiscences of his internship days at the hospital in 1942, when he got caught up in a number of supernatural episodes. The key to the Jeong Brothers' success is that they do not overreach: they are ambitious--aesthetically and dramaturgically--but only within the confines of a world carefully molded to retain its artifice. Jin Ku as the young protagonist is perhaps a little too subdued to carry the film, but Kim Tae-woo has little problem conveying the happiness, anxiety and eventual terror of a mild-mannered neurosurgeon married to a talented and devoted wife. Most important of all, unlike most Korean horror films of recent years, Epitaph is genuinely scary, without resorting to the usual PSC (Pointless Sadako Clones) tactics: one sequence in particular, in which Asako's dead mother, looking like a Barbie squished by a steamroller, gargles and screeches what may have been intended as a lullaby to her frightened-out-of-her-mind daughter, made me want to hide under the seat.
With this fastidious, refined yet emotionally satisfying Gothic horror piece, the Jeong Brothers have successfully proven that they are talents to watch out for in the future, their debt to Park Chan-wook notwithstanding. Films like David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, Vera Chytilova's Sedmikrasky or David Lynch's Eraserhead can continue to captivate you for hours or days after viewing while you try to sort through what you just saw. The Gina(s) that we meet are each filled with hopes of impossible dreams and with a quirky love of ice cream. The fantasy element of her dreams is shown in how she waters her long-dead roses with the most unusual liquids in the hope of restoring them to life.
K is seemed to be full of dreams but in his case he is clearly on the verge of abandoning them and the torment of his life is causing his character to change in a direction he does not want. She seems to be doing this for self-validation as she claims the aurora will only appear to those who are pure.
It is intentionally full of stereotypes and some of the most non-politically correct statements come out of the most surprising places. It is not accidental, therefore, that the "medical drama" aspect of the movie is many times more fascinating than the murder mystery. When that style helped expose a theme or message that was at odds with or otherwise unexplored in the screenplay, Sarris considered it a triumph of the director. His advances are blatant, despicable, and culminate in a disturbing rape scene the characters in the film seem to forget immediately afterwards. That they get back together afterwards is either honest and daring, or morally disgraceful. He confesses to the dean that he wishes to leave the seminary, but the latter instead assigns him to a monastery in a remote countryside, supervised by the terse but warm-hearted Father Moon (Ki Joo-bong). This is the first time Min has directed a Korean cast with a screenplay written in Korean language (authored by the director and Yoo Dong-shik).
I might add, too, that Catholicism has been around in Korea for 230 years and has produced 103 officially canonized saints: if Catholicism is not "Korean" then the pork-potato stew accompanied by shots of soju is sure as heck not Korean either. Obviously an unassuming low-budget production, Grapevine still features strikingly beautiful cinematography by a team of young camera-men (Kim Jeong-won, Kim Jae-gwang, Lee Byung-hoon and others), particularly impressive in its use of sunlight. Park Hae-il (The Host) was also an inspired choice for the ostensible protagonist, projecting fatigued compassion and cold calculation in equal measure, his obsidian pupils glistening with streaks of chilling obsession. When another student drops a frog in the water kettle and blames it on Dong-gu, parents are outraged and the principal tries to persuade Dong-gu's single father to send him to a special school. Although he has no understanding of the rules, Dong-gu enjoys his newfound hobby, and he will be allowed to continue attending school for as long as he remains on the team.
Bunt is targeted at this audience, and it managed to sell about 400,000 tickets on its release in April 2007 (not a great score, but not bad either). The end result is surprisingly effective, even if it never attempts to transcend its genre. So-yeon's mother (veteran TV actress Yang Geum-seok) is ecstatic, and aggressively orchestrates a marriage with Hyun-shik (Jae Hyuk, 3-Iron), the twin's childhood friend and So-yeon's betrothed.
They talk like 8th-graders enrolled in a chi-chi South-of-River junior high arguing over who's got the cooler-looking cell phone. Why give a film a Korean title like Heartland of Myths, if you are not going to live up to the expectations it brings? Not surprisingly, she has proven to be a popular subject for cinematic and TV adaptation, from Do Geum-bong's quasi-burlesque turn in the 1957 version, to Jang Mi-hee's prim and proud interpretation in Bae Chang-ho's 1986 take, and to the athletic and supermodel-like one embodied by Ha Ji-won in the 2006 TV drama.
Nomi's disastrous intrusion into what should have been Hwang Jin-yi's own narrative might owe its origin to the honored North Korean writer Hong Seok-joong's novel, on which this film adaptation is based: he is clearly conceived of as a proletarian bandit-hero in the mold of Im Kkeok-jeong (Hong was the one who completed his grandfather Hong Myeong-hee's massive, unfinished novel about the famous bandit). Song is a radiantly beautiful actress, captivating and attractive in her various TV drama roles, but her sensibility and looks are nearly totally mismatched to this role: it's like Mila Jovovich being cast in the role of Desdemona in Othello. Production quality is very high, and the climactic vista of Diamond Mountains is indeed breathtakingly majestic, some obvious CGI tweaking notwithstanding.
It is too bad this particular telling of the famous courtesan's life ended up being the kind of highly intellectualized, deadly serious and ultimately soporific "literary" adaptation that the real-life Hwang Jin-yi would have had a laugh at the expense of. Deeply unhappy, she believes that a popular singer Yoon Seor-yeong (Kim Yoon-ah, a real-life vocal artist) is her real mother, to the bafflement of her working Mom, Young-joo (Choo Sang-mi, A Smile, Turning Gate). Her Wonder Years is a gentle, composed character study that will probably bore viewers expecting either a well-heeled, cliche-bound melodrama wherein copious amounts of tears are shed, or an adolescent phantasmagoria with surrealistic flights of fancy. It is to her (and director Kim's) credit that the latter's terse (but often amusing) responses to the efforts by the adults to "make conversation" with her never once strike us as "precocious." Choo Sang-mi, one of the most skilled and naturally talented actresses working in Korea today, is brilliant as usual, conveying, for instance, Young-joo's lifetime of remorse and pain, but also the spiritual courage mustered by her to overcome them, in the brief moment of hesitation regarding where to hang a mirror. More seriously, director Kim's interpretations of Soo-ah's imaginary universe are surprisingly lackadaisical. Overall, it was not a bad thriller, but apparently neither the original author nor Kadokawa honchos liked it. Lee Young-jong's screenplay invents a rather hackneyed childhood trauma for the protagonist Jun-o (which predictably gets resolved in a cliffhanger finale), while reducing one of the novel's most fascinating and complex characters, the company "enforcer" Miyoshi, into a crude thug with fondness for dental floss. The psychopath's lair, with its makeshift abattoir-operating room ambiance, smeared with blood and filth, is impressively frightening and gives the actors ample room to realistically portray their ordeals at the hands of the villain.
By honoring Kishi's pitch-dark conclusion and putting the utterly conscienceless (but not unattractive) monster at the center of the movie, Black House ultimately manages to recover much of the good will initially lost by the rather slapdash way it chose to adapt his novel.
Son demonstrates directorial sensibilities attuned to visual flair and economical presentation of character traits via sharp dialogue. Yeah, we do find out what the ghost's slow gesticulations are supposed to mean, or who the heck that one-eyed surgeon is, if we are patient enough: I seriously doubt anybody would care by that point.
Intrigued and more than a little desperate, Yoon-hee decides to stay with Seo-yeon to further research the story. Some of the gags in the movie are so artlessly done they become unintentionally hilarious or simply just annoying (How about the wallpaper that peels off with a noisome bubbling sound? Unfortunately, her character is obviously engineered to placate internet-obsessed young girls among the viewing demographic and is about as intelligent or perceptive as a plastic bottle of Corn Whisker Tea. Epitaph, the debut film of the Jeong Brothers (Jeong Beom-sik and Jeong Sik -- "Jeong Brothers" is how they prefer to be listed in the credits), is a refined, intelligent and surprisingly effective Gothic horror.


Unlike Black House or The Cut, there is little here that reminds one of a Hollywood blockbuster or a mainstream action thriller. Nonetheless their acting thunder is stolen by the ridiculously pretty Ko Joo-yeon, another Korean child actress who we dearly hope continues her film career. Is this story about one woman named 'Gina' at various decades in her life, or is this the story of four different women with similar destinies and unfulfilled dreams?
The first Gina that we spend any amount of time with is Gina Los Angeles (Kim Hye-na) whose naivety and lack of English have led her into a hard life of abuse and sex, but still continues to have great expectations in this new land of opportunity she finds herself in. She also, supposedly, longs to be a fashion designer but we never see her working towards that end. K wanted to be an artist but has nearly given that dream up due to a lack of confidence in his old work. We know for a fact that the alcoholic woman staggering through the snow is anything but pure as she posts her business card depicting a beautiful, half-naked woman all over town--including on the door of the church. However, it is also a movie of lost souls and broken dreams that will leave you with a lasting impression. He adjusts well to the austere monastic life, until one day he runs into Helena, a young nun who is a dead ringer for Su-ah (Lee Min-jung again). Whatever his interpretation of this experience may be, the film suggests, he is now happy with the knowledge that his faith has been tested and proven to be real.
On the other hand, the schoolteacher character played by Park Sol-mi (TV's Winter Sonata and All-in) is poorly conceived, and Park is simply awful in the role. But Dong-gu simply smiles back at them, and he seems to genuinely enjoy the classroom and his daily run to the outdoor faucets to fill up the water kettle.
Dong-gu's poor father, who scrapes together a living by running a fried chicken restaurant, has only one wish, and that is for Dong-gu to graduate from a regular elementary school without any trouble. Thankfully, the film provides enough vivid characterization, humor and effective storytelling to make it enjoyable for older viewers too. Choi Woo-hyuk, the child actor who plays Dong-gu, is especially convincing and natural in his role. The village community, however, is soon plagued by mysterious deaths: So-yeon also seems to suffer from strange memory lapses and mismatched recollections of the drowning.
The film borrows its Korean title from the extremely popular TV program, Jeonseor-eui Gohyang ("The Heartland of Myths"), virtually the only anthology horror show in '70s and '80s Korea (and recently revived with better special effects but not necessarily better teleplays), but do not expect any purposefully retro look or gently satiric take on old things-that-go-bump-in-the-night cliches. The dialogue is atrocious, sub-TV drama-level stuff, the pace is as slow as a cart pulled by a grazing mule, and the occasional outbreak of para-MTV editing hustle-bustle miserably fails to camouflage the fact that the story sucks like a leech lying in a flooded rice paddy. Park and Han are reasonably cute, and the latter has at least a chance to run around fetchingly dressed as a young man: on the other hand, Han also has to suffer the humiliation of having to act enraged while covered with open sores and black sesame seeds?Eeew, don't even ask what I am talking about. This latest cinematic incarnation, played by the popular TV actress Song Hye-gyo and directed by Jang Yoon-hyun (Tell Me Something, Some), is also noted for its collaboration with North Korean filmmakers, which included location shooting in the hitherto verboten regions. Even then, I find it difficult to believe that Hong's source novel might have portrayed Hwang as such a passive, boring, rescue-me-I-am-only-a-woman dullard as presented here. To be fair to Song, the hopelessly lugubrious screenplay gives zero room for her to display wit, charm or any hint of joie de vivre. The movie truly excels when director-writer Kim observes the seemingly mundane details of Soo-ah's life with a compassionate gaze, letting the girl's slouched, awkward walk or her disappointed expression at a broken VCR player -- rather than spurious narration or distracting mise en scene -- speak for the character's feelings. Truth to be told, both actresses are so ridiculously beautiful that we at times have trouble seeing Soo-ah and Young-joo with the contemptuous eyes of other characters in the movie. In particular, the musical interludes, featuring Kim Yoon-ah belting out torch songs amid confetti and amber floodlights, look rather cheap and poorly choreographed. Realizing that they had good source material that could be exploited further, Kadokawa decided to hand the tale over to CJ and producer Yu Il-han (himself a horror writer) for a Korean take. Director Shin Terra, previously responsible for the ultra-low-budget sci-fi Brainwave (2006), is clearly an inventive filmmaker but has some way to go before mastering storytelling skills.
Hwang Jeong-min, one of the most reliable character actors working in Korea today, makes for a thoroughly believable and sympathetic hero, even when he seems to function as a mouthpiece for (again) a Hollywood-style liberal faith in the essential humanity of the monster. She notices an attractive cadaver with a rose tattoo on her breast, but thinks little of it, until her classmates begin to be murdered one by one.
The film's thin narrative simply cannot sustain all the things-go-bump-in-the-night stuff that also must double as clues for the viewers to piece together the "mystery" plot, which does not make any sense anyway, except on a literary-symbolic level. What she does not realize is that there are creepy parallels between Muoi's tragic life and that of a certain friend of hers.
You certainly don't buy that she is a professional writer who gets paid for her scribbles, but then again, would you buy that from any among Korea's "internet novelists?" Ah, it must be a cultural thing: let's leave it at that. Well cast and acted, Epitaph is particularly notable for its close family resemblance to the slightly pale and artificial exquisiteness of certain Japanese genre films: it in fact can be favorably compared to the high-end Japanese adaptations of the willfully perverse but sparingly beautiful Edogawa Rampo mysteries (Tsukamoto Shinya's Gemini, Kawashima Toru's The Man Who Travels with Picture Relief). The second segment, flagrantly influenced by Oldboy (it even repeats a key line of dialogue, "I love you, Ajjeossi" -- a generic Korean word for a man some years older), is a tale of Asako (Ko Joo-yeon, Blue Swallow), the only survivor of a fatal car crash. In contrast, quite a few scenes evoke the milieu of an old RKO studio production or a modern Japanese theater, dressed with the state-of-the-art visual effects only when needed. The fact that her dreams are unrealistic is represented by her hope to witness coconuts growing on the palm trees of LA--even after she is told that they are the wrong kind of trees. He is a romantic, but disappointment in love has been turning him bitter and his encounter with Gina may have been the final straw. She comes to the bitter conclusion that the days of selling her body are over when one client asks where the hot, Asian woman is upon meeting her.
The script and impressive acting from Park He-il and the tiny, beautiful Kang Hye-jeong both portray a devastating scenario: a pitiable, disturbed man using his influence and position to seduce his teaching assistant, and all the complicated human emotions that go along with such a situation. Whenever she mouths her dialogue in that over-emphatic, strenuously earnest "I am in love with you, dammit" Hallyu-drama-beachfront-confessional style, the movie's fragile wall of believability comes crashing down. Never pandering to the camera, it is his determined face - and that of his devoted father - which sticks in the memory after the closing credits are through.
Her childhood rival Seon-young (Han Yeo-woon) is convinced that So-yeon not only killed her own sister but is behind the recent murders as well. There is zero creativity in the way the ghost is presented, too: despite her traditional Korean imprimatur, she is just another PSC (Pointless Sadako Clone), complete with the awkward, in-need-of-a-chiropractor choreography. To cap it all off, the film rips off the finale of the dorky Macaulay Culkin (remember him?) vehicle The Good Son (1993) and splashes it all over the audience as if it were a big, original plot twist. Aside from the very occasional flashes of literary acumen and haughty attitude, this Hwang Jin-yi demonstrates little reason for anyone, a drunken yangban clientele or not, to find her enticing, much less admirable.
Indeed, it's even worse when she has to weep or swoon in despair, often in dreary slow motion: such antics merely emphasize the clumsy artifice of the melodramatic setups. Indeed, Lee's face positively glows whenever the camera focuses on it: she is like a Winona Ryder going on 18 trying to play Ugly Betty.
Those who have not read the novel might be befuddled by sequences that are in turn confusingly presented, inadequately explained, or simply illogical (Why does the dead boy's father bite his thumb off in one scene but is shown to have chopped it off in another?).
Yoo Sun, who previously starred in the interesting misfire The Wig, was a surprise choice for the handicapped mother of the dead boy, but is very convincing as a woman with an eerie emptiness in her gaze that men mistake for numbness induced by grief or emotional exhaustion. Apparently the perp is highly skilled in surgical techniques (the victims are discovered with hearts removed).
Special makeup on the actors playing cadavers are not grossly overdone, and meticulous replicas of dissected bodies are sufficiently realistic, although not as graphic as in, say, Anatomie (2000).
Vengeance is best served cold, like a spring roll wrapped around mint leaves and fresh shrimp, no?
Or the strangling-by-silk-scarf-caught-in-a-bike-wheel death that may or may not be a reference to Isadora Duncan?).
Cha Ye-ryeon comes off much better, looking decidedly otherworldly, with her cat-who-ate-your-canary-and-goldfish-too smile and preternaturally thin limbs swathed in the white ao dai, even though she is saddled with reams and reams of utterly boring expository dialogue. Production design by Lee Min-bok, Kim Yoo-jung, Hae Jae-min and others, in its quasi-minimalist way, is impressively detailed and textured.
She is hostile to anyone and everyone she encounters but this seems only to be a defense mechanism against her own shame and self-loathing. What is most interesting is that he professes to be in love with Gina, waiting hours for her to show up, but when they finally meet he does not know who she is, simply assuming that she is one of the many prostitutes that work in Las Vegas. However, what she also fails to realize is that her would-be client (Chris Devlin) appears to really care about her and wants to be her friend and viewers will quickly come to the see that what he is offering could be more as the tattoo he on has on his arm is exactly the same as one Gina Los Angeles saw on a man she expected to be her soulmate. Ryu Jae-woo (Kim Myung-min, Sorum, Into the Mirror), a conscientious surgeon happily married to the beautiful Hee-jin (Kim Yu-mi), begins to suspect the operation-traumatized boy from his childhood is behind these deaths. Rules of Dating feels a little like what would happen if the script for a Lifetime television drama about harassment in the workplace fell into the hands of one of the lesser French New Wave directors. But the editing, music, and design of the film suggest something completely different: that these two people are simply having an innocent love affair. More seriously, by making Hwang's descent into sexual servitude, her subsequent tug-of-war with the Governor of Song-do (a Jang Jin regular Ryoo Seung-ryong) and her death all consequences of her (semi-) unrequited love with Nomi, Jang deprives her of agency as the protagonist in her own film. Others, such as a major scene where the protagonist discovers the hanged body of a young boy, lack both the shock value as well as the kind of phlegmatic, deliberately paced terror that we see in high-end Japanese genre literature or film.
Soon it is uncovered that Seon-hwa's friends are sharing a nightmare involving a really ticked-off-looking one-eyed surgeon. There are a few nimble and imaginative sequences, including the long take with swishing camera movement that captures the outbreak of psychological panic in the med school dorm, capped by an explosive fit suffered by one character, and Seon-hwa facing a dream-vision of the mysterious cadaver in broad daylight. The best part of the movie is actually the substantial flashback sequences involving Muoi's back-story, which provides the necessary frisson as well as a sense of emotional involvement, missing in the sections set in present day. The Viet Namese actress Anh Thu and newcomer Hong So-hee (My Friend & His Wife) also leave strong impressions in their generally underdeveloped roles.
We know she is ashamed of herself when she refuses to meet a man, called only 'K' (Karl Yune), who professes to have fallen in love with her.
It is dark, shot with a shaky hand-held camera, and uses frequent jump cuts to break up conversation, sometimes well and sometimes overzealously. So begins the murder mystery Paradise Murdered, which was one of the surprise hits of the early summer season, selling more than 2.2 million tickets before being decimated by Spider-Man 3 and other summer blockbusters. Perhaps out of insecurities, he tries to lure the viewers in by adding some totally unnecessary John Landis-like buffoonery and comic "recreations" of the crimes in the early part. Convinced that the dead woman with the rose tattoo has something to do with supernatural goings-on, Seon-hwa and Ki-beom start an investigation to uncover her identity. Yoon Nam-ju's cinematography carefully maintains the faded-photograph tone, while playing with the viewer's vision via deliberately out-of-focus visuals and other techniques. Ryu for failing to save his wife, and the seemingly unhinged Uk-hwan (Yu Jun-sang, Tell Me Something's second victim). Frankly this "funny" intro led me to expect nothing other than a usual high-concept mock-Hollywood "thriller" with bumbling cops, a lumbering sub-Michael Myers serial killer and gore galore.
Kim Dong-won (Kim Tae-woo, Hypnotized, Woman on the Beach) find themselves wrapped up in some serial murders of Japanese soldiers. The hypnosis specialist Oh Chi-hoon (Kim Tae-hoo, Epitaph) also seems to be on to some information about the culprit. While clunky in certain respects, however, Paradise Murdered turns out to be a decent mystery, a rare Korean whodunit (in this case, also a whodunwhat) with the plot that actually makes sense, and good clues available for sharp viewers to put it all together before the curtain comes down.



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