Archive for September, 2012

Dear Friends (2007)

Rina is a high school student who believes that friends are not necessary and that they can only be used in times of need. Thus, she is unable to maintain a decent relationship with her friends and classmates. She parties frequently in a club where she is nicknamed the Queen and has no respect for her parents. After collapsing at the club, Rina eventually discovers that she has cancer and becomes hospitalised. In the hospital, she is visited by one of her classmates named Maki. Although Maki tells Rina that they were friends in primary school, Rina does not remember her, so Maki takes the opportunity to re-connect with her. A young girl Kanae who is also hospitalised tries to become friends with Rina. During her hospitalisation, Rina begins to lose hope when she is told that she will have to remove one of her breasts and she decides to jump off the hospital rooftop as she feels that she cannot live any longer. However, she is stopped by Maki, who slices herself in the breast with a knife and declares that she will share the same pain as Rina and that she does not want to lose her friend. Rina shows some hope again when she realizes that she can find friendship in Maki. But Maki herself is not a well person and the roles are reversed when the severity of her illness is revealed.

This tearjerker highlights what it means to have true friends, Rina is an individual who only cares for her own selfish needs and fails to see what her actions is doing to the people around her – it is only when she falls ill that she finds what real friendship is all about and she discovers her own true self. Rina is given many offers of genuine friendships throughout the movie but she quickly rejects them all which might suggest that she doesn’t have the willingness to accept emotional growth but of course that does change eventually. The so-called friends that latch onto Rina are only interested in the glory that hanging out with her will bring to them. Take a scene in which Rina’s potential boyfriend – a club DJ called Yousuke who tells her that no matters what happens with her illness he will always love her even if she lost her limbs. However, his true nature is revealed when Rina strips off to reveal the big scar running across her chest after her masectomy. He can only look on in shock and promptly leaves Rina behind all alone which devastates her. There are several scenes showing the mental frustration and anguish that Rina is going through such as when her hair falls out in the hospital and a humiliating experience for her in the club when the wig she’s wearing is taken from her head which reveals 90% of her hair has gone.

Keiko Kitagawa gives us a very good performance as the bitchy and emotionally detached Rina. She’s a person you’ll instantly dislike because of her attitude but you’ll grow to be sympathetic to her plight and how much she has changed by the time the end credits come round. Kitagawa goes through all the emotions of a person associated with having cancer – denial, she doesn’t want to live anymore to finally accepting her condition to fight on to another day. Yuika Motokariya is also fantastic as Rina’s helpful and caring classmate Maki who hides a terrible debilitating illness of her own from her friend.

Dear Friends is a great movie which is well directed by Kazuyuki Morosawa about friendship and how one can change their life for the better. Whilst the storyline might be predictable, it doesn’t hinder it from being a touching movie which will bring tears to many viewers eyes. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Hanging Garden (2005)

Telling the truth to each other with no secrets is a family rule for the Kyobashi’s. The family moved into Danchi, a housing project in a town developed during Japan’s economic boom, believing a bright future was awaiting them at a new place. But with the passing of time, their hope was reduced to a dream long forgotten. They ended up acting as a good family, with each member harbouring secrets. Daughter Mana is habitually skipping classes. She even goes regularly to a love hotel where she was conceived with men she hardly knows. Younger brother Ko is no different. He is always hanging out on the street, trying to beat a sense of frustration that’s been hanging heavy on him for no apparent reason. Father Takashi is busy having affairs, always bossed around by his new lover Mina. Mother Eriko seems to be having a fulfilling life, working part-time at a noodle restaurant and paying frequent visits to her mother Sacchin at hospital. But the fact is Eriko is struggling to find out how to relate to her mother while being haunted by memory of her childhood days which she spent in total isolation from society. Things start taking unexpected turns after Ko meets Mina. Mina becomes a tutor for Ko and gets close with the family. One day the Kyobashi’s throws a birthday party for Mina. That is when their lies are forced to come out one after another. With the family totally fallen apart now, each member begins searching for the door that will open up their hearts.

Hanging Garden is an excellent movie about a dysfunctional family who are hiding behind masks and harbouring some secrets from each other despite the family motto that there are no secrets in their household. It is just so well-directed with an absorbing storyline. The viewer is led to believe that the Kyobashi’s are just like any other normal Japanese family and then each of their ‘skeleton in the closet’ is revealed. The mother Eriko is seen to be a control freak but on the surface seems like a happy and nice person yet one of her co-workers at the soba restaurant has seen through her ‘plastic false’ smile. Throughout the movie the story reveals her sad past and that she’s basically on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A regular daydream she has is of stabbing her co-worker in the neck with a fork. Eriko knows exactly what the rest of her family are up to but she wants to carry on with the illusion of a perfect family life. Her husband Takashi has been forced to have countless affairs as Eriko hasn’t made love to him in 5 years – his latest lover Mina is a dominatrix who soon becomes his son’s tutor. There’s a funny scene where Mina and Takashi are at a love hotel and you can hear Takashi begging for mercy as Mina is whipping him on the bed. Who should come out of the room next door and looking shocked at the noise emanating from the room is none other than the daughter Mana and her latest man. And then during the birthday party for Mina at their apartment the facade that they’ve been playing finally crumbles as the real truth comes out. The lies that they’ve been keeping from each other is finally laid on the table. This is the turning point for them to look inside themselves and try and solve whatever problem they have in their lives. Awesome acting from all of the cast from Kyoko Koizumi as Eriko to the beautiful Anne Suzuki as Mana. It’s the exchanges between Eriko and her chain-smoking straight talking mother Sacchin who’s dying played wonderfully by Asami Imajuku at the birthday party that’s the standout scene as Eriko’s pent up frustration of a lost childhood comes gushing out in a torrent of hate who wishes her mother would die.

This would be director Toshiaki Toyoda’a best movie to date but unfortunately just before this movie was released he was arrested for possession of drugs. He received a 3 year suspended sentence. This incident would have an adverse effect on the box office takings for the movie. Toyoda was exiled from the Japanese movie industry for 4 years before he was back at work in 2009 where he released The Blood Of Rebirth.

Overall, this is a superb character driven drama of a family struggling to find the way to happiness which comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Hazard (2005)

Shin is a 20 year old university student who feels trapped and bored with his life in Japan. He’s desperate to break free from the contraints of Japanese society. Seeing a book about the most dangerous places in the world, he finds himself wanting to go to New York so he quits university and hops on a plane to the Big Apple. Upon walking around Manhattan he sees a T-shirt which sports the word ‘Hazard’ on it. He buys it, gets inside a taxi and tells the driver to take him to Hazard. The driver gets annoyed and throws him out of his car. Taking the subway, Shin makes the mistake of asking 2 black American hustlers how to get to Hazard. Sensing an opportunity, they tell him to follow them where he is promptly robbed of his money and belongings in Harlem. Wandering the streets and contemplating robbing a store for food, two Japanese people roughly the same age as Shin – motor mouthed Lee and slow witted Takeda take him under their wing and bring him back to their place. Lee who is only half Japanese runs an ice cream business where he sells a special kind of ice cream which is laced with speed. When Lee and Takeda aren’t selling ice cream, they rob stores and their customers of money with some guns they have in their possession. Shin whilst initially being confused as to what’s going on soon joins in with their activities and the three amigos are having the time of their lives. What they do might be all fun and games in their drug induced state but it carries consequences and soon catches the attention of a New York police inspector. Their playtime is about to come to an end…..

Shot a year after his breakout movie hit Suicide Club but not released until 2005, Sion Sono’s brilliant Hazard follows the story of a naive Japanese tourist who slowly transforms into a street hoodlum thanks to the 2 associates he meets on the streets of New York. The inseperable trio doesn’t commit crime because of a need for money, they do it for the thrill and the risk of being caught by the cops or shot at by shop owners. Everything is done for fun and they live for the moment – carefree and rebellious young people high on drugs thinking they’re invincible. We are whisked away on a journey with the trio as we follow their anarchic antics around the Big Apple with some narration spoken by a young female child from time to time. Hazard was initially going to be a completely different movie about a murder of a woman in Tokyo with the main character reminiscing about his time in New York but when Sono arrived there just to film flashback scenes and thought about all the danger that was associated with the city he ditched his original storyline, filmed the entire movie there and changed it into a youth-in-revolt one instead. He also shot this movie guerilla-style with a hand held camera in long one-take scenes and without a permit to shoot on the streets so it has got a cheap look about it.

Jo Odagiri is excellent as Shin. A young man who has no direction in life and is fed up with Japanese society, feels like he’s a robot and just wants to escape the monotony. Making a brave decision to quit everything and come to New York, he finds out that the American Dream as seen in the movies is different in reality. Faced with racism and injustice he finds out the hard way that New York isn’t quite a nice place as he thought it would be. His performance is really impressive as Shin’s introverted nature is eroded away by the bad influence of his 2 new friends and by the climax Shin is a completely different person from who he was at the beginning. He has even eclipsed what his 2 friends had ever done with several murders now on his resume. Jai West is on a par with Odagiri in the acting stakes as he gives a wonderful performance as the wild and unpredictable Lee, the Walt Whitman loving leader of the trio.

I was very impressed with Hazard, it’s an incredible little movie with outstanding performances from Jo Odagiri and Jai West and it has an engaging storyline to boot all skilfully directed by Sion Sono. Fans of Sono should definitely check it out. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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BECK (2010)

Koyuki is a bullied teenage boy at school whose life changes when he meets an ultra talented guitarist named Ryosuke whilst trying to defend a dog from a bunch of American thugs. Ryosuke has just returned to Japan with his half sister Maho after living in New York for a while. Ryosuke has formed a rock band named BECK and after witnessing Koyuki and his friend a drummer go through their paces he recruits both of them into joining the group. After a quiet start to their career as a band, their popularity soon begins to increase. When they release their debut CD which hits the shops and perform plenty in live houses, BECK’s popularity skyrockets. Even Koyuki who has new found confidence being in the band lends his vocals to one song which stuns everybody. But just as things are going great, there are problems on the horizon. A rival band Belle Ame and their producer Ran are determined to grind BECK to the ground by making sure their CD is taken away from being in the limelight in the shops and promoting themselves instead. Another hitch in the works is a face from Ryosuke’s past in New York as a dangerous gangster Leon Sykes who is also a powerful producer is after him for stealing a bullet ridden guitar named Lucille which is worth a lot of money and his dog. To compound their situation even further, a slot at the prestigious Greatful Sounds Festival is cancelled thanks to the meddling of Ran. Things are looking bleak for the group and in-fighting threatens to split them apart. Even Koyuki’s relationship with Ryosuke’s sister Maho is on the rocks. But then something extraordinary happens and BECK are back in the lineup for Greatful Sounds Festival but with an unusual stipulation thanks to a deal Ryosuke has been forced to make with Leon Sykes. If BECK can’t top the audience for Belle Ame and another artist on 2 of the festival stages they have to dissolve for good……

Based on the long running manga by Harold Sakuishi comes this live action movie about a rock band’s rags to riches story. Having never heard about BECK before, I can’t judge whether this adaptation to live action is on a par with the manga or not but all I can say is I really liked this movie from the characters to the storyline and the outstanding rock music on show. Despite the rather long 2 and a half hours running time, I become engrossed in the band’s long road to performing at the Grateful Sounds Festival and the bumps along the way they encounter. The mix of comedy, drama and music make for such an entertaining story. 3 members of BECK are given adequate sub-plots as they have to deal with demons from their past with plenty of screen time dedicated to their struggles. The movie provides the viewer with 3 belting songs by the band and by the end you might end up being a fan of them if you like their style of music that is. You’ll root for them as they head towards their goal and cry when the pressure starts to mount and they could split up at any moment. A nice touch by the director I felt was when Koyuki sings for the band. We don’t get to hear his voice which is seen to make people gasp in awe. It is muted. Instead we hear the music for the song he is singing but not his voice so it is left to our own imagination how his voice would actually sound like. Some might be disappointed by that but I thought it was different. The director might have given the viewer a huge favour by doing that as there is an unmuted version of actor Takeru Satoh singing and some have said it’s a bit underwhelming. Filming for the scenes of the Greatful Sounds Festival I believe took place at the annual Fuji Rock Festival but I’m not sure if camera trickery was used to show the band on stage performing to a huge audience. This brilliant movie finishes with Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger being played over the end credits. A perfect ending to what was a hugely enjoyable experience for me.

The cast of characters are great and in some you will find some characteristics from real life rock stars. Kayuki adopts former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher’s style of holding his own hand behind his back whilst singing, Taira the bass player is modelled after the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea and Ryosuke’s American friend who is in another band looks like a young Kurt Cobain. What I find a little bit unbelievable is Kayuki is seen to not understand a word of English yet he can write lyrics and sing in the language. There’s a good balance inside the group as we have a couple of quiet personnel such as Kayuki which is countered by the loud antics of the band’s rapper Chiba who certainly knows how to rouse a crowd and is the movie’s main source of humour. His vocals for the band’s song Evolution is intense! The roles for each of the band members were well cast and Kamen Rider Kabuto fans will recognise Hiro Mizushima as the band’s leader Ryosuke.

BECK in my opinion is one of the best Japanese movies to be released in 2010 which should appeal to rock fans and those that don’t like rock. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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To Walk Beside You (2010)

A 17 year old boy Norio elopes with his 34 year old teacher Akemi Tanaka from their rural location to Tokyo. Norio’s parents hanged themselves at their home and Norio was destined to do the same until Tanaka saved him and they embarked on a love affair. In Tokyo, Tanaka wants Norio to study as hard as he can in order he can become a lawyer. Tanaka is forced to work in a dead end job handing out flyers outside a karaoke bar where her low enthusiasm for the work makes her boss angry. Life isn’t easy for the two lovers and funds are running low despite Tanaka insisting they have plenty of money. Norio befriends a 9 year old baseball fan who thinks that Norio looks like a player that has never scored a home run in his career. The two have plenty in common as they have both lost their parents. When Norio confronts Tanaka’s boss at her workplace after witnessing her being bullied, he can’t make himself punch him out and can only hit the baseball cap he is wearing on his head before running away. A young pregnant schoolgirl who also works at the karaoke bar gives chase. After a heart to heart on a park bench, Norio decides to help the girl out despite Tanaka thinking he is cheating on her with this girl. She wants to keep the baby but her mother wants her to have an abortion. Tanaka insists that if she and her boyfriend love each other, the best thing to do would be to elope. Tanaka hatches a masterplan for the two to run away on a boat but can the girl escape from her home with her mother keeping a close eye?

This is nothing like the couple on the run from the law movie that you’d expect it to be from the summary mentioned above, it’s more like a dark drama comedy of sorts. I did actually think this was going to be one of these romantic weepies but what we have instead is a quirky movie where the director turns the genre on it’s head and gives us something quite unexpected. There is none of the slushy stuff you might find in a typical romance movie, everything is very much in tone with Yuya Ishii’s previous works featuring outcasts in society doing some odd things. It’s mainly lighthearted stuff with some absurd scenarios and funny dialogue. There’s plenty of off-the-wall humour such as two of Norio’s classmates having sex with a homemade doll they’ve done or Norio being sexually propositioned by a woman who gets turned on when he helps her scoop up her dog’s turd into a bag! Even an impromptu dance number is performed in a small factory by Norio and his boss. It also touches on what many Western audiences might not know about in Japanese society in that when you hit a certain age (around 30) in the country you’re labelled as being old and over the hill. I know that might sound far fetched but it’s the truth! In between the humour, we see the two main characters trying to find some meaning to their relationship by figuring out their individual lives. Some viewers might think it is wrong that Tanaka is taking advantage of her position as a teacher and Norio’s condition to fulfill her own need for affection. Somehow it didn’t feel to myself that the two was in a relationship. Apart from one scene when they holds hands at a remote bus station in the countryside, that’s as close to a romantic scene you’re gonna get. Great performances from the two leads (Ryu Morioka and Maki Meguro) who grow into their roles throughout the movie.

To Walk Beside You will appeal more to those with a broad sense of humour than mainstream Asian movie fans. Give it a whirl and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Guard Post (2008)

Aka GP506

In the heavily fortified DMZ between the two Koreas, the South’s Guard Post 506 has experienced mystifying events on a cataclysmic scale. 20 soldiers are reported dead, leaving one sole survivor at GP 506. Higher level military authorities scramble to uncover the mysteries behind these deaths and appoint Sergeant Noh, considered the best in the military, to lead the investigation. The deaths are particularly sensitive, because one of the victims is thought to be Lt. Yoo, the son of the Army’s Chief of General Staff. Making things more difficult for Sergeant Noh is that the Army has given him until 6 AM to finish his investigation. The investigation group arrive at GP 506 under torrential rains, resulting in the investigative group becoming trapped within GP 506 themselves. They find a comatose Corporal Kang with an axe in his hand. A video tape is also discovered of Corporeal Kang stating his intentions to kill the entire unit at GP 506. Then, Lieutenant Yoo is found alive but severely traumatized. The minutes tick away, 6 AM is quickly approaching , while the investigation team at GP 506 uncover even more startlingly secrets.

From the director of R-Point comes another army platoon in peril horror movie. Although I found R-Point to be rather muddled, this movie is a lot better and far more entertaining although the running time has been pushed too far at 2 hours long. It could have been cut by a good 30 mins and it wouldn’t have affected the movie at all, in fact it would have made the story run more smoothly. Don’t be misled by some people or the trailer into believing this is a zombie movie because it isn’t. The movie starts with a bang as the soldiers find the lone survivor of a massacre at GP506 all bloodied and holding an axe. From the opening frame, the story is tense and nerve racking as the viewer is gradually shown the horrifying secrets of the base and what is happening to the soldiers. The story is well written and cleverly structured with some flashbacks weaved into the main plot that keeps the viewer enthralled. There’s an oppresive and menacing air to the guard post location and the director uses light and darkness to create an atmosphere of dread to the viewer. Thankfully there are no cheap scares included and while some Asian horrors build up to a somewhat disappointing conclusion, I can safely say that nobody will be disappointed by the suspense filled and gripping finale in this movie. The second half of the movie is just an unrelenting trip into terror. As this is a horror movie there’s a fair amount of blood spilling with many unpleasant situations that make this quite a visceral experience. It has a very good balance of using psychological scares and gore to create one of the best Asian survival horror in recent times.

Director Kong Su Chang has come up with a great horror movie which delivers good acting from the cast, nice direction and a solid atmosphere. Asian horror fans will definitely find much to enjoy here.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Aka Iron Angels and Fighting Madam

The HK Government lays waste to Thailand’s Golden Triangle poppyfields’ production which was worth $30 million dollars. The drug lord and his executives are furious for this disruption by the police and seek immediate reprisals against them. One of the executives Madame Sue, a ruthless killer starts murdering the police personnel involved in the Thai raid as revenge but refuses to listen to orders from her boss to stop. She kills him and takes charge herself. Enter The Angels – a specialist highly skilled team consisting of Moon – a secretary during her offtime, Elaine, Saijo, the new recruit Alex and their boss John Keung. Their job is to take down Madame Sue and her cronies who are looking to expand their empire abroad.

This is a mixed bag of a movie. Whilst it has many incredibly exciting action sequences that you normally associate with this kind of genre from HK in the mid 80’s, it is hampered by the fact that it’s a stop/start affair. If you come into this movie expecting an all out action movie you’re going to get disappointed as the movie is partly a spy thriller too which slows down proceedings. There’s a little bit of comedy as well but mostly this is a straight forward action/spy movie. The action you do see however is probably one of the best in the girls-with-guns genre (it has been called the defining movie in the genre) and features some brutal martial arts action especially the short fight between Moon Lee (in her breakout role) and her usual nemesis Yukari Oshima at the climax. The raid on Madam Sue’s HQ by The Angels is particularly memorable with guns blazing in all directions and explosions going off capped off by two of the main characters leaping off the top of a house through some pine trees which breaks their fall. HK action at it’s very best. The sequence even has Saijo dangling one handed on a helicopter ladder whilst mowing down Madam Sue’s goons with a machine gun.

There’s an excellent cast in this movie. The pick of the bunch has to be Yukari Oshima who is on top form as a cruel sadistic villainess who enjoys torturing her prisoners. She comes across as an icy cold and a not-to-be-messed person, even punishing her own workers if they’ve failed her. We don’t usually see her sexy side but here we see her in a swimming costume and even being sexually aggressive. Fans of Moon Lee will love her kick ass role in this movie. Whilst she had been in several movies previously as a minor character, this would the one that would make people sit up and hail her as one of HK’s newest female action star. She’s her usual cute self in this movie and shows her fantastic nimble and acrobatic fighting skills. It was nice to also see Hwang Jang Lee in this movie who is best known in the West from being in Jackie Chan’s movies Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. I have to mention that the rest of the cast are no slouches in their roles either.

Whilst this movie isn’t one of the best in the genre thanks to it being bogged down at times by the script, it does have plenty of intense violence to satisfy the action junkie. It’s certainly worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Shiro has graduated from high school, but he’s still not sure what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to go to college so Shiro makes the unusual decision to work at a gas station until he can figure out what he wants to do in life. Shiro’s parents are firmly against his decision to work at the gas station, but Shiro has a secret weapon: his free-spirited grandmother. At the gas station, Shiro meets Noriko (Erika Sawajiri) who is a newcomer to the workforce. Shiro has seen Noriko before as when he was cycling home he chanced upon Noriko giving her ex-boyfriend a hard slap in the face. Shiro didn’t expect to see her again at his workplace. As they become closer, Shiro realizes that he is in love for the first time in his life and the two move in together to share a flat. All seems fine and the two are extremely happy but problems soon occur when Noriko’s ex-boyfriend enters the picture and tries to woo her back. Will Shiro manage to win Noriko’s heart in this battle or is her wealthy ex-boyfriend destined to take her back?

Based on the novel by Eimi Yamada, this isn’t your typical romantic drama although it does have the usual boy-meets-girl who then loses girl and tries to win her back. The reason this is slightly different is because it takes a look at somebody on the receiving end of a rebound and to some viewers it might hit a raw nerve especially if you have been through the same unfortunate situation as Shiro in this movie. The first half of the movie plays out just like any romantic movie – it’s all smiles and we witness how happy the couple are around each other. It is in the 2nd half that things get interesting as Shiro goes through the joy and pain of first love and the agony that Shiro is experiencing is heartbreaking to witness. It is his cool grandmother who dispenses some timely advice to him on how to move on with his life. Basically the message by her simply says that nice guys finish last and although its perfectly OK to be a gentleman, Shiro has to learn to become tough at certain times as well.

At the time this movie came out in Japan, Erika Sawajiri was still one of the country’s beloved teen actresses. Her sulking scandal at a press conference for the movie Closed Note would curtail her career for a good couple of years. The Japanese people which had made it clear through polls in various magazines that Sawajiri was public enemy number one are at last willing to accept her back from the wilderness and her latest movie Helter Skelter has garnered plenty of positive reviews. Erika looks so young and pretty in her role in this movie but she doesn’t have a lot to do though. Unlike Shiro where we get some background to his character, there’s none to Erika’s role. Noriko is a likeable character at first but it’s easy for the viewer to turn against her once she breaks Shiro’s heart. You wonder if she only latched on to Shiro just because he was conveniently available after coming from quite a rocky relationship. Yuya Yagira is fine as Shiro. He displays an innocent and boyish charm about him – then again his character is quite naive in love. I wouldn’t say his performance is special or anything but he does more than enough to make us care for him during his troubled times. Perhaps the best character in the movie is Shiro’s grandmother. A 70 year old free-loving, eccentric hippy who runs a bar and has a young toy boy as her lover. Mari Natsuki is brilliant and steals nearly every scene she’s in.

Although the movie runs just a touch over 2 hours, it’s never boring and the story is actually quite good. It kept me glued to the screen. The awesome soundtrack which features Oasis was fantastic and made me smile.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Young-Gun is a virgin who always tries to do the right thing. He wanders around the city every night as protector of the people. Nobody asked Young-Gun to do this and he doesn’t get paid, but he risks his life for the common good and also picks up trash along the way. One evening, he hears a woman screaming. After fighting with 3 mysterious men, Young-Gun saves her and takes her back to his house. Her name is Ha-Monica. Young-Gun has a crush on her, but she is an alien who has been sent to Earth to increase her species although he doesn’t know that. Before dawn, she has to find the best sperm and become impregnated. Young-Gun has taken a vow of chastity until marriage, so he can’t give the alien what she wants. Throughout the long night the beautiful alien tries to get his sperm. Can the thirty something virgin Young-Gun overcome tempation from the alien? Can Young-Gun save Planet Earth?

Before I do the review let me just say that there is no alien bikini in this movie at all. An alien female in some underwear maybe but no bikini! Got it, OK let’s get on with the review! I came into this movie thinking it was some kind of comedy and whilst the first half of the movie has some comedy it moves into darker territory by the 2nd half with some blood being spilled. You may have read the movie summary thinking this is like the sci-fi horror movie SPECIES and you’d be right about that except there’s no nudity, nasty horror or any action. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag and considering it only runs for 75 mins that may have been a blessing in disguise. The majority of the movie is set in Young-Gun’s apartment. Both Ha-Monica and Young-Gun are quite awkward around each other at first with Young-Gun really shy as he’s never had a woman in his apartment before. A game of jenga soon settles their nerves. The by-now flirty behaviour by Ha-Monica on Young-Gun progresses into something very sexual as she uses her feminine ways to try and get him to have sex with her. It’s quite funny seeing Young-Gun being sexually tormented by Ha-Monica. Which hot blooded male wouldn’t get turned on by the very beautiful alien but Young-Gun is adamant not to break his vow of chastity. The tone of the movie so far had been lightweight and fun but then it veers dramatically into a battle between the two as Ha-Monica resorts to various torture methods by tying Young-Gun up to extract the sperm she requires. She tries to rape him and even attempts a blowjob which results in her mouth being bloody. It goes even further into the dark side when Young-Gun breaks free and repeatedly punches Ha-Monica in the face thanks to a flashback sequence which showed that Young-Gun had suffered abuse at the hands of his father when he was younger. The torture by Ha-Monica has triggered something inside Young-Gun reminding him of the past and he snaps. It’s quite disturbing seeing this young woman being smacked about and badly treated. I don’t know if seeing the flashback sequence is supposed to make us feel sorry for his violent behaviour but I thought it was a bit too much. What’s more strange is after Young-Gun comes to his senses and sees the bloodied face and unconscious body of Ha-Monica on the floor of his apartment he decides to have sex with her triggering her pregnancy. The movie ends on a weird note with the alien offspring which has grown into a male adult and looking like a younger version of Young-Gun in the space of a few hours somehow managing to change Young-Gun into an old man who dies. There’s no resolution of any kind and I just found it all a big cop-out.

There’s no denying that Ha Eun-jeong as Ha-Monica is a very attractive woman and the fact that she spends around half of the movie in her underwear will no doubt find many men enjoying this visual treat. Young-Gun as played by Hong Young-Guen on the other hand is a strange little character. Why he goes around the city being a vigilante crimefighter is never explained or why he has to don a silly Mario moustache on his face. It can be said that he’s a card short of a full pack in the head! There are two quite good fight sequences featuring Young-Gun kicking the crap out of 3 secret service agents who are after Ha-Monica.

Overall I found this movie to be a bit flat, unbalanced and very deceiving for people who might come into this movie thinking it’s a comedy when it becomes a nasty exercise in violence during the 2nd half. It does raise a few chuckles during the first 30 mins but that tone quickly evaporates soon after. It had the potential to become a great little comedy movie had it not been for the story changing from light to dark.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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From Me To You (2010)

Sawako Kuronuma has a gloomy appearance and because of this is nicknamed Sadako from the Ring movie by her peers. On the other hand her personality is bright and caring. Her favorite motto is do one good thing once a day but she cares too much about others and cannot express her thoughts. This has made her somewhat of an outcast at school. Shota Kazehaya is classmates with Sawako. Unlike Sawako he is outgoing and popular with all the students. He is even polite with Sawako which makes Sawako respect him and even admire him. Kazehaya has developed special feelings towards Sawako from the moment he met her. He notices the look of respect that Sawako gives to him and suppresses his own feelings for her. With help from Kazehaya, Sawako gets better at interacting with her classmates and even makes friends with Chizuru Yoshida and Ayane Yano. However there are some girls in school spreading some rumours about Sawako in that any person associating with her is going to get their reputation tarnished. Sawako tries to distance herself from the girls and they don’t understand what the problem is until there’s an altercation in the girls toilet at school. Another problem facing Sawako is about a two-faced girl who pretends to be her friend but is using her in order to get closer to Kazehaya and is trying her utmost to break the close friendship between two of them. As the Christmas season comes around, Kazehaya plucks up the courage to confess his feelings to Sawako but she is very confused about this, having never had somebody do this kind to her before. She rejects Kazehaya. Will the two of them ever manage to get together or will Sawako’s difficulty in expressing her feelings towards him stop this love relationship from blooming?

Based on the manga by Karuho Shiina, this is a typical girls-meets-boy love story of which I have seen many times in Japanese movies over the years. You’d think I’d be a little bit bored (same old same old) but I confess to quite liking this movie. The unlikely love story between a very popular boy and a socially awkward girl has been done to death. The main problem I found with this movie is that it’s just so predictable and cliche-ridden. You simply know that certain events will happen at some point in the movie. There’s the obvious obstacles that usually happen with these kind of movie before the eventual alls-well-that-ends well scenario. Of course to the young teenage girl whom this movie has been targeted to it probably doesn’t matter. They like this kind of thing and can identify with the characters. This movie will bring nostalgic feelings to adults who recall how they went through the same thing at school in their younger days. I expected maybe that the pattern of the movie might be broken by something new and refreshing that could be added to the genre but no, it sticks to the tried and tested formula. I did like the friendship story between the 4 main characters. Whilst the character of Sawako is sympathetic to the viewer as she’s a nice polite person who is simply misunderstood and has been made a loner by her peers thanks to her name, one wonders if she’s been hidden away from people over the years by her parents as she has no knowledge on how to interact with humans properly. I found it very hard to believe that a person has no idea about the meaning of love. There’s another fault with the running time and pacing of the movie. A good 20-25 mins could easily have been cut from the movie without really affecting the plot at all. The story also moves quite slow to begin with but does pick up speed during the second half. It sounds from the above summary that I’m only criticising the movie but there is plenty for viewers to enjoy in this movie even if there’s hardly any character development apart from watching Sawako coming out of her shell into a somewhat confident person by the climax.

The acting is mostly good. The 4 leads carry the story well and come across as charming. I did like Mikako Tabe as Sawako although I did get confused with her. I thought it was idol Mano Erina that played Sawako. They both look very similar. I did find it annoying that Sawako breaks down a little bit too much over the course of the movie. I found the two girls Chizu and Yano who befriend Sawako to be more interesting. The very attractive Natsuma Watanabe who plays Yano in what was her first movie role would go on to better things last year in the two Gantz movies. I’ve enjoyed Miura Haruma’s performances for a while especially his role in the drama Bloody Monday. Miura’s breakout movie role was in the 2007 popular high school love story Koizora. His character in this movie is a cheerful and happy guy who’s admired by all his classmates although many people might say he’s better suited to angsty roles. I don’t think he put a foot wrong as Kazehaya. Apart from Arata who doesn’t come across as a believable teacher due to his behaviour, the acting didn’t disappoint at all.

This gentle high school romance story isn’t too taxing on the brain and it will entertain the majority of viewers. Just don’t expect to see anything new to come to the table with the plot.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Caterpillar (2010)

During the Second Sino-Japanese war, Lieutenant Tadashi Kurokawa returns home to his village and to his wife Shigeko having been horribly maimed and burned and also without the ability to speak and hear. Shigeko struggles at first with the plight of her husband but due to the villagers honouring him as a ‘War God’, Shigeko looks after him like the dutiful wife she’s supposed to be. She has to take care of him day and night – clothing him, feeding him and even attending to his sexual appetite. This cycle continues for a while with Shigeki even sacrificing her own food to give to her husband. Before the war, Tadashi was a vicious man to his wife but now the tables have been turned and Shigeki takes out her frustrations on her helpless husband who is powerless to do anything. She humiliates him by parading him around the village in a trolley. A different kind of war is brewing at home between husband and wife in which she is becoming increasingly angry and tormented. Kurokawa is haunted nightly by a heinous crime he committed during the war that led to him losing his limbs. Will this nightmare that runs over and over in his mind make him insane?

This anti-war movie by director Koji Wakamatsu based on a short story by Edogawa Rampo has been critically acclaimed around the world though not without some controversy in Japan itself. Wakamatsu makes it clear from the onset that war doesn’t bring any glory and certainly no heroes. It only creates victims and this movie is all about what the effects of war can bring. How can you call somebody a hero when being that means killing a fellow human being? And what good is being labelled a ‘War God’ when you cannot do anything by yourself and you’re basically at the mercy of others such is the case with Kurokawa. Many viewers will perhaps think that what’s happened to Kurokawa is karma for the despicable rape he committed on a Chinese girl before murdering her and also for the awful treatment he gave his wife before going off to fight for his country. Shigeko was subjected to a daily beating because she never gave Kurokawa the heir that he so desperately wanted. Now with Shigeko having the upper hand he doesn’t like what she’s doing to him. He’s nothing more than a dependant insect. Shigeko’s revenge on her husband is long overdue and she dishes it out both psychologically and physically. Director Wakamatsu also takes pot shots at the ridiculous and absurd patriotism that the villagers portray in the movie in that whenever a male is chosen to fight for the Emperor, it’s shown as the ultimate honour for him to die for his country. It’s quite a strong critical statement from him. In the end Wakamatsu also shows us some startling statistics of how many people died in the Asian campaign during World War II. He’s not taking any sides but implicating that both the Allies and Japan were guilty of carnage.

A lot of the movie is quite claustrophobic as the story takes place in the home that Shigeko and Kurokawa share. The acting by the two leads is superb. Shinobu Terajima is excellent as Shigeko. Although we sympathise with her situation for what she had gone through in the past but does it justify the cruel methods she employs on her husband? Keigo Kasuya has the more challenging role of the two and he peforms exceptionally well as the limbless Kurokawa who can only express himself through his eyes. The viewer will be left to make their own minds up whether the tragic event that befalls Kurokawa at the climax was to end his own personal torment or was it a sign of remorse for what he did in China?

Caterpillar is a hard-hitting movie with a message that will live long in your memory after you’ve watched it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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21 year old Suzuko Sato is an unremarkable young adult that has trouble fitting in. While her younger brother is often praised for being intelligent and smart, her family neighbours have nothing to say about Suzuko. One day at work Suzuko’s co-worker offers to become roommates with Suzoko. Suzuko jumps at that chance to move out of her parents house and they set out to find an apartment. Unfortunately Suzuko’s friend never mentions her plan to have her boyfriend Takeshi live with them until after they sign the lease on their apartment. Making matters worse on their big moving day Suzuko finds her co-worker a no-show but her boyfriend Takeshi sits glumly in the apartment. It turns out that the couple recently experienced a falling out with the boyfriend still intending to move into the apartment without his girlfriend. Things then hit the boiling point when Takeshi throws out Suzuko’s cat which is found dead in the road. Suzuko retaliates the next day by throwing away all of his belongings and then quickly moves out before Takeshi returns. The next day at work Suzuko is visited by detectives who ask Suzuko to come in for questioning. It seems Suzuko broke the law by throwing away Takeshi’s belongings and because of this she is fined, jailed and receives a criminal record. When news of this spreads to Suzuko’s neighborhood Suzuko suddenly feels even more alienated and the whispers and gossiping begins. Feeling that if she stays around her family will be shunned by their neighbours, Suzuko packs her bags and takes a road trip of sorts. Arriving at a new location, she stays at the place until she reaches 1 million yen by doing various jobs before moving on to somewhere else. After staying at several places, she reaches a town just an hour out of Tokyo where she gets work as an assistant in a gardening centre. She and a male co-worker Nakajima become friends and eventually fall for each other. Will the prospect of having found love prevent Suzuko from packing her bags and leaving once she reaches a million yen once more or will she stick around for good?

This is a very good movie about a journey made by a young woman who only wants to live in anonymity having been jailed for an unfortunate incident. Her feelings and thoughts are shared through a voiceover narrative from what she’s written on a postcard she sends every now and then to her younger brother at her parents’ place. In order to protect herself from more misery, she tries to keep her distance away from people so that they don’t discover her past. It’s strange then that the jobs she takes always involve her interacting with people! Furthermore she doesn’t plan on staying in one place for long as she moves on to another town once she reaches 1 million yen. Suzuko is basically running away from others and you could say from reality as well. In each place she stops, some unwelcome attention makes her pack her bags once more where she continues on to a new location. She learns many lessons on her self-journey and likewise her younger brother also learns and matures. I loved the way how she and her younger brother became closer over the course of the movie through their correspondence. At the beginning of the movie we can see that Takuya more or less despises Suzuko – insisting her imprisonment has ruined his chances of passing an entrance exam for a private school but suddenly after witnessing Suzuko turn on 3 of her former classmates who are mocking her criminal record he starts to admire his older sister. It is only after Suzuko leaves and we follow Takuya’s sub-plot that we find he’s being bullied at school and he was taking his weakness and frustrations out on her in order to feel better.

I actually thought this was going to be a comedy drama but it wasn’t. It’s a typical slow paced Japanese drama which I seem to always enjoy watching. It might drag for some people but the 2 hour running time was fine for me. I thought the movie had a perfect climax in that it teases us with a fairy-tale ending which thankfully doesn’t happen. It’s got a nice open-endedness to it. Director Yuki Tanaka weaves an interesting tale for the viewer. I found myself wanting Suzuko to end up somewhere where she could be happy for a sustained period of time but of course life is never that easy. The cinematography of the movie is also great with a mixture of beach, mountain and urban location shots.

Yu Aoi delivers a brilliant performance as Suzuko who considers herself an outsider. As most of the movie features her character Suzuko, Yu Aoi carries the movie extremely well and as this was her first leading role by herself and not as a part of an ensemble group I thought she was great. She portrays a rather reserved, fragile, distant and awkward character who barely smiles but even so I believe the majority of viewers will find her to be an endearing person. We watch as she grows from being a frail person to somebody that’s able to finally stand up to the world. The supporting cast who play the people that Suzuko meets on her journey contribute hugely to this pleasant movie.

Thanks to Yu Aoi and her wonderful acting, this was a movie that whilst I didn’t expect much out of it, I ended up really enjoying. It certainly warrants your attention. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Fallen Angels (1995)

Ming is a suave but lazy assassin who receives his orders from a mysterious woman known as The Agent. She’s a beautiful, melancholy, chain smoking person who’s obsessed about Ming – she’s cleans his place up before he comes home but has yet to really meet him even though they’ve been working together for three years. After a close shave, Ming decides he no longer wants to be an assassin and tells The Agent that he wants to terminate their business relationship but only after he does one last job. He meets a woman called Baby who hides her loneliness by exuding a crazy personality. Meanwhile Qiwu is a mute man and has been like this since the age of five when he ate a can of expired pineapple chunks. He has no job but likes to reopen various shops after they’ve closed in the evening and forcing passerbyes to eat his food whether they want to or not. Qiwu lives with his elderly father. Whilst conducting business, Qiwu meets Charlie – a woman who is angry and out for revenge on a person named “Blondie” who has stolen her man. Qiwu likes Charlie but she is so single-minded that she fails to notice his interest. How will the lives of these characters pan out over the course of the movie?

After being slightly disappointed with the last Wong Kar-Wai movie I watched (In The Mood For Love), I’m pleased to say I was more than happy with this one. It’s more in spirit with my favourite movie by the director – Chungking Express and even has countless references to that movie. I don’t think it’s a sequel per-se as there’s no crossover of any sort between the two movies but still many people seem to think it is. However they do compliment each other very nicely as they share many characteristics such as the method of filming. Whilst many have said that this movie is superior to Chungking, I can’t agree to that at all. Don’t get me wrong I really like Fallen Angels a lot but Chungking is a very special movie to me. Even though the story about 5 lonely people is terrific, it’s the cinematography that’s the star of the movie courtesy of Christopher Doyle. There are numerous examples of excellent mesmerising visuals such as a long black and white scene showing two characters sitting in a cafe as the viewer watches them through a rain drenched window or Qiwu going on his motorcycle through a green lit neon tunnel. It really is a superb movie to look at. There’s a potent mix of action, drama, humour, love and music in this movie that just gels together so beautifully. The soundtrack is also incredible and I didn’t expect to hear a British classic 80’s track Only You by The Flying Pickets during the last scene and end credits. It kinda took me by surprise when I heard the opening bars of the song. I cannot fault the stylish directing by WKW, it’s outstanding.

The acting by the main 5 characters is top notch from Takeshi Kaneshiro as the free-spiritied loose cannon Qiwu to Michelle Reis as the enigmatic Agent. Just watch one of her scenes when she chooses a song from a wurlitzer jukebox machine which shows the pain and confusion she’s going through. The rest of the principal cast – Leon Lai as the assassin, Karen Mok as Blondie and Charlie Yeung as Charlie are all unforgettable in their roles.

This is yet another must-see movie by Wong Kar-Wai. If you’ve enjoyed some of his previous work then you’re bound to like this one. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

PS – Thanks Jason aka Genkinahito for recommending this movie to me.

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Concrete (2004)

aka Concrete Encased High School Girl

Osugi is a youth from a broken home. He lives with his mother who he doesn’t respect and he beats her up regularly. He drops out of school and works for a local construction firm. When a yakuza group turns up at the firm demanding money from the owner, one of the yakuza underlings Shimada recognises him from school and tells him there is money to be made by joining them. Osugi is courted by the yakuza and eventually joins up. Realising that he’s in too deep after a couple of days he tries to quit but is threatened that they will kill him if he does thus he continues with them as he knows if he tries to escape they’ll hunt him down. The boss asks Osugi to create a gang of youths to do his bidding in which they threaten and steal money from people. It is named the Ryujin Gang and has 4 principal members. Their base is in the bedroom of one of the members – in a house in a nice respectable neighbourhood. Aside from petty theft, they progress to cruising around in a car and kidnapping schoolgirls in order to rape them. One night they kidnap a young schoolgirl and take her to their HQ where she is tortured, repeatedly raped and beaten up. The parents of one of the gang members knows what’s going on upstairs in their own home but are too afraid to do anything. The schoolgirl tries to escape from her captors on many occassions but is recaptured every time. Her ordeal only ends with her tragic death. The gang try and get rid of her body by encasing it in concrete inside an oil drum and dumping it on some waste ground.

Let me tell you right off the bat that this movie will make you angry due to the fact that this movie is actually based on a real-life murder that shook Japan (a relatively crime-free country) to its core in early 1989. 16 year old Junko Furuta was subjected to what can only be described as a horrific experience during 44 days of captivity before her death. This is quite a harrowing and depressing movie and it gives a fairly accurate account though some facts have been omitted of what happened to the poor girl. Before we get to the kidnapping of the girl, the movie focuses on the leader of the Ryujin gang Osugi as we see him progress from becoming a budding yakuza member to raping schoolgirls before he set his sight on victimising a single young girl. It is shocking to read the true facts of what the 4 youths did to their victim – she was raped 400 times, foreign objects were inserted up her vagina, she was made to eat cockroaches and drink her own urine, used as a punching bag so her face was a mass of welts and bruises and lighter fluid poured on one of her legs which was set alight. And there was even more atrocities committed which thankfully isn’t shown in the movie. What is shown in this movie is enough to make you weep. The youths are seen to actually enjoy torturing the girl. How the parents of one of the gang members could live with themselves knowing this appalling catalogue of torture was taking place under their own roof and not even contacting the police is unbelievable and only adds to the outrage of this sickening crime. Although the movie serves to show that it was the yakuza’s influence on the boys that made them the way they were, it makes no excuses for what they did. God knows what unimaginable pain the girl went through and I really felt sorry for her. The director does a good job in explaining the background of how the crime took place. The acting by all of the young cast is very good.

What will make you even more angry is the failure of the Japanese courts in properly punishing these punks because they were all minors at the time. The leader Osugi who was the biggest scum of all in this heinous crime was let out of jail after only serving half his 17 year jail sentence in the late 90’s. The rest of his cohorts got off lightly too. They are still free and roaming around in Japan today. Who knows if they ever felt remorse for what they did. What kind of human being does this to an innocent person?

Be warned that this movie is graphic and it does not hold back on the sadistic violence inflicted on the victim. It’s not a nice movie at all and it’s so heartbreaking to watch.

There’s no trailer I can find but here’s a video about what happened to Junko Furuta.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Bad Guy (2001)

Thug Han-Gi is walking along the streets of Seoul when he claps his eyes on pretty college girl Sun-hwa sitting on a bench and waiting for her boyfriend. He is obviously smitten with her and walks over and sits down beside her, not saying a word but just observing her. Sun-hwa notices that he is staring at her and moves away to another bench. Her boyfriend arrives and Sun-hwa says something about Han-Gi to him. Just as both are about to leave, Han-Gi grabs Sun-hwa and forcefully kisses her as her boyfriend grabs a steel bin and continously smashes it against Han-Gi’s back but he doesn’t flinch. After he finishes kissing her, he tries to leave but is stopped by a couple of Korean soldiers who try and make him apologise to Sun-hwa. He doesn’t so the soldiers beat the crap out of him. As a parting gesture, Sun-hwa spits on his face before leaving with her boyfriend. You’d think that Han-Gi would have learned a lesson here but he still wants Sun-hwa so he decides to follow her the next day. Sun-hwa makes a fatal mistake of tearing a page out of a book at a store and stealing a big fat wallet that’s been left behind in the store (it’s all a big setup to snare Sun-hwa). All of this is done whilst Han-Gi is watching. The guy who has lost his wallet finds out about Sun-hwa stealing his wallet and corners her in the toilet. He wants $10,000 of his money back but she can’t afford that so he roughly takes her to a loan shark to sign an agreement. She has to pay the loan back by using her body with Han-Gi forcing her into prostitution. She tries to escape but has nowhere to go. Through a two way mirror Han-Gi watches as Sun-hwa loses her virginity to a forceful client. Will Sun-hwa manage to thwart her captors and escape?

This excellent movie from South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk delves into the underworld of prostitution but also the unconventional love between a pimp and a prostitute. It’s an original story which is well told with some fascinating characters who display the good and bad side of humanity. It’s quite a dark story with some sex, voyeurism and numerous acts of violence thrown in. The transformation of a young innocent woman into a cheap $50 whore is sad and believable and the fact that she starts to enjoy her work makes it a little bit heartbreaking. Possibly some viewers might find it harder to understand why Sun-hwa would actually fall in love with the man who forced her into prostitution in the first place. It’s all about a relationship that becomes emotionally dependant between the two.

The viewer will hate Han-Gi at first but will gradually be forced to like him at some stage. Jae-hyeon Jo gives a superb performance as Han-Gi and the fact that he doesn’t have any dialogue except a couple of lines near the end makes it even better. You’ll wonder why he never speaks and then when he does speak you’ll understand why he keeps quiet. It’s through his eyes we can tell the way he’s feeling and not by any words. Seo Won is also fantastic as the college girl turned whore Sun-hwa. A very beautiful young actress who captures the downfall of her character so well.

There are some questions arising from the movie such as why is nobody looking for Sun-hwa. Surely her boyfriend, her college or even her parents would notice that she is missing yet we never see scenes of any policemen looking for her. Have they forgotten about her? It’s odd. Also why doesn’t she try harder to escape as she gets plenty of chances.

Bad Guy is a gem of a movie with many twists and turns before it ends on an unbelievable note. You can’t go wrong with any Kim Ki-Duk movie, they’re always very entertaining. This movie might not be to everyone’s taste with its subject matter as it can be a little bit uncomfortable to watch. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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