Archive for May 2nd, 2012

Breathless (2009)

Sang-Hun works as a low-level gangster collecting money for his longtime loan shark friend. Sang-Hun seethes with rage due to his troubled childhood and abusive father. At any moment, Sang-Hun can lash out at relatives, friends & strangers with the only way he knows how to solve problems – savage violence. One day, Sang-Hun walks along a residential road and spits on the sidewalk. He unintentionally hits a brash young high school student named Yeon-Hee. When Yeon-Hee tells Sang-Hun to clean up his mess, he knocks her out with a punch to the face. Sang-Hun then sits across from her until she regains consciousness. He offers to buy the girl a beer and the beginnings of an unusual friendship occurs……

Breathless is an unrelenting movie from the start – the main male character Sang-Hun dishing out two aggressive beatings – it doesn’t hold back on the punching and kicking. Filmed in a docu-drama style, there’s no glorification of the violence – this is all nasty stuff. Violence is never far in every frame. The structure of the movie may seems repetitive, moving in circles, as if to mirror the circle of violence that the characters are trapped in. The bullied child becomes the bully in adulthood; the victimised mother produces a traumatised daughter, a beating follows another beating and so on. Director Yang Ik-Joon (also the writer, producer and lead actor!) has crafted a movie that explores themes of domestic violence and its effects on people. After an uncompromising first hour letting the viewer astonished and weary of Yang-Ik Jook’s shock and awe approach, the director suddenly introduces a sentimental edge to the movie with an unexpected touching montage of the two main characters (the thug and the high school girl) taking the gangster’s nephew to the fair, where he can, at last, be a child again. The movie seems a bit loose and unfocused in the middle but it is a powerful movie for those who manage to reach the end. The ending works superbly in a series of flashbacks leaving room for hope. The transformation of Sang-Hun is quick, but remains believable. A martyr of child abuse, his will to change his ways and break the cycle will eventually kill him but save his family. It is a powerful conclusion to an overly brutal movie that leaves bruises like a punch in the face, but also handles its gentle moments with a disarming sincerity.

It’s got extreme and brutal violence on screen with more swearing than Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Every sentence that utters from Sang-Hun’s mouth contains some colourful language! A powerful first movie with amazing performances from Yang Ik-Joon and Kot Bi-Kim playing the school girl with attitude. It seems that there’s a glut of amazing young Korean actresses that have been popping up in K-movies over the past couple of years. Kot Bi-Kim is another who excelled in her role as Yeon-Hee and was so impressive.

This movie is dark and uncompromising and comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Martial artist Billy Lo is dismayed that younger brother Bobby is neglecting his studies and spending all his time looking at porn. Meanwhile a friend of Billy’s, Kung Fu master Chin Ku, dies under mysterious circumstances. Billy heads to Japan to find May, Chin Ku’s daughter, now a singer at a club in Ginza.  Later, at Chin Ku’s funeral, a helicopter appears out of nowhere and with its dangling steel claw snatches the kung fu master’s coffin. Billy latches on to the helicopter, but is shot with a dart and falls to his death. Bobby, shocked back into reality by his brother’s death, is determined to get revenge. He’s soon off to Japan himself, where he learns a sadistic foreigner/martial artist, Lewis, had associated with Chin Ku in the days before the latter’s death. Bobby visits Lewis’s palatial estate, determined to uncover the secret of the “castle of death.” But when Lewis is brutally murdered, Bobby must investigate the mysterious Fan Yu temple, where he must enter an underground pagoda and face off with the most terrifying of enemies.

So Game of Death II isn’t actually a proper Bruce Lee movie. The filmmakers might say it was done as tribute to him but the majority think it was more of a shameless cash-in on his name. The Bruce Lee footage on show here is leftover material taken from his other movies and 2 doubles (Yuen Biao for the acrobatic fights and Kim Tai Chung for the rest) takes his place in the new footage shot. So I would advise viewers to forget about this being a Bruce Lee movie. To be perfectly honest, once the footage of Bruce has finished and his character Billy Lo dies from a dart to the neck, the movie actually gets better and is actually a very good martial arts movie although the plot is barely passable. For those who just want to see the martial arts that won’t really matter. This movie is in fact better than the first Game Of Death which was a bit of a mess. There is one laughable sequence which is simply embarassing to watch and that’s Bobby Lo being attacked by what’s supposed to be a lion (but it’s obviously a man in a lion suit). Did the filmmakers actually believe they could get away with that and that people would think it was a real lion? With Yuen Wo Ping as the fight choreographer you know you’re gonna get some great stuff and this is true in this movie especially during the climax as Bobby makes his way into the underground Tower Of Death which looks more like a villain’s lair from a James Bond movie and has to fight the various opponents on offer there.  Kim Tai Chung does OK as Bobby Lo. Hwang Jang Lee makes a very good villain so it’s a pity you only really get to see him at the beginning and the end of the movie.

Overall, a solid if unspectacular martial arts movie which doesn’t really stand out from others in the same genre made around the same time. Still, it’s a lot of fun and I would recommend it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

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