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Archive for December 4th, 2013

operation_scorpio

Aka The Scorpion King

Fai Yuk-Su is a school pupil who constantly gets into trouble for daydreaming in class that he’s a hero and for drawing manga. One evening he manages to rescue a young maid Siu-Yu from being sold into prostitution by the sinister Mr Wang and his offspring Sonny. Fai’s father sends him to work with his uncle at his noodle restaurant where Siu-Yu is hiding from Mr Wang. In between working for his uncle, Fai is being taught kung-fu at a local school run by muscle bound Jean-Paul in how to build up his strength. Sonny and some of Wang’s goons soon come and trash Fai’s restaurant when he is away from the premises and hurt his father who is visiting. Fai wants revenge and so his uncle who reveals he was a top Triad assassin until he changed his ways teaches him his kung-fu knowledge. The bad guys again visit Fai’s restaurant when Fai is out and Siu-Yu is left in charge. This time they torch the place and kidnap Siu-Yu. Fai and his uncle decide that enough is enough and pay a visit to Wang’s place for the ultimate showdown…….

Not to be confused with the movie starring The Rock, this brilliant period kung fu actioner is chock full of awesome martial arts fights and features a memorable villain with an unusual and unique fighting style, the like of which I’ve never seen before in another movie. The story isn’t original at all and it’s the usual theme we see in numerous martial arts movies of revenge. I know for some people seeing the same plot being rehashed over and over again could be a bit boring but this movie stands out above the rest thanks to the young villain Sonny. Seeing him dropping down on two arms and one leg with the other leg arching back exactly like a scorpion waiting to strike its victim is so impressive that it’s worth just watching the movie for that. The movie on the whole is a bit slow to start off but after the half-way point it gathers pace and it ends in a thrilling 2-on-1 fight between Sonny and Fai/his uncle. By the time the end credits come onscreen most viewers will be getting their breath back after witnessing one of the greatest fights in a martial arts movie.

operation-scorpio screenshot

The majority of the storyline revolves around Fai Yuk-Su which is fairly amusing though the pointless romance aspect between himself and Siu-Yu just distracts the viewer from the main plot. Fai’s antics at Jean-Paul’s kung-fu school where his weedy body looks out of place compared to the rest of the students there generates a few laughs. The training Fai receives from his uncle in the restaurant is reminiscent of The Karate Kid but instead of wax on wax off you have Fai washing woks instead!  It’s all light hearted stuff before things become serious. You can see it coming a mile off that Jean Paul and his muscular students will not be a match for an effective fighter such as Sonny who can think on his feet.  Whilst Jean-Paul does get the upper hand in the initial stages of his fight with Sonny, the tide soon turns. Brains will always triumph over brawn! Now if you think Sonny’s scorpion style is fantastic, Fai comes up with a fighting style of his own – the eel style although it’s more like the breakdancing move The Worm! I thought it looked ridiculous but the technique works remarkably well against the scorpion style.

Korean Taekwondo master Kim Won Jin is simply incredible as Sonny, one of the most agile martial artists I’ve seen. This was his debut starring role in a movie.  For some reason many people think he’s been dead for a number of years (I’m not too sure as to the background of that story) but he’s still alive and kicking. Why he isn’t as famous as other great martial arts movie stars such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung or even his fellow countryman Hwang Jang-Lee I don’t know? He should be a superstar that’s being talked about by martial arts fans but he isn’t. The climatic fight his character has with Fai and his uncle is jaw dropping.  Veteran Lau-Kar Leung performs well in his role as Fai’s uncle especially when he uses a 3 section staff/normal staff during a fight against numerous opponents while Frankie Chin doesn’t do that much apart from flexing his muscles and showing his chiselled body in front of the camera! Chin Kar Lok was OK as Fai Yuk-Su though I think they should have picked somebody with a better screen presence than him.

Overall, Operation Scorpio would have been just a generic martial arts movie if it wasn’t for Kim Won Jin and his skills. He’s the one that shines the brightest and is easily the best thing about this movie. The story does retread old ground but it is still very entertaining, has got some good characters and the martial arts is amazing. Definitely catch this movie for the final 20 mins.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Bow (2005)

The Bow

On a large fishing boat floating in an unnamed ocean lives a sixty old man and a young teenage girl. They are not related. He found (or maybe kidnapped?) the girl 10 years previously when she was 6 years old. She is now 16 years old and the man is counting down on his wall calendar until she hits 17 when he plans to marry her. They seem to live a happy, isolated and peaceful existence together. They make a living by inviting men over to his boat to fish. The men like to leer and even touch the young girl when she’s serving them beer but this is usually stopped when the old man takes his bow out and fires a warning arrow shot towards them. The bow has another strange use for telling fortunes – the method used is for the girl to be put on a swing whilst the old man fires 3 arrows at a Buddhist painting on the side of his boat. The girl’s loyalty to the old man is put to the test when a young man comes to fish on the boat and he falls for her. She too seems to be smitten by him and this makes the old man insanely jealous. The young man accuses the old man of keeping her prisoner on the boat and tells him that her parents have been looking for her. He vows to take her away so that she can see the world. Tensions begin to escalate between the girl and the old man as the wedding day comes closer. Will their wedding go ahead or is the young girl destined to leave with the young man?

This is another beautiful movie by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk and it follows his other movies about human nature but without the sadistic side of things.  The story takes elements from another one of his movies The Isle and some aspects of Buddhist theology. Symbolism is a big part of this movie but that’s the norm with Kim Ki-Duk. It explores the complex relationship that exists between the old man and the young girl. I’m sure many viewers will think this movie borders on being very offensive considering the girl is a minor and the obvious large age gap between herself and the old man. There is no hint that the old man has or is having sex with the young girl in case somebody is thinking that and besides they sleep in separate bunk beds though the old man feels the need to hold her hand every night. The old man is more like a protector in that he bathes, feeds and tries to stop the perverted fishermen from hitting on her. What’s more surprising about the relationship is neither speaks to each other. The dependence that exists between the two is never in doubt due to the knowing looks and gestures that they give and it’s obvious they do care for each other so when the young man appears on the scene that balance is tipped over. I did find the relationship to be a little disturbing if I’m being honest, I mean what kind of man raises a young girl for the purpose of marrying her when she comes of age. There’s definitely some awkward questions that can be raised by viewers who watch the story but anyway I won’t ramble on about that!

The_Bow-screenshot

The viewer is made to judge who is right to take the young girl’s affection – the young man who feels he can give her more of a life or the old man? Is it morally right for the old man to keep her on the boat? Does she want to be rescued? Things do come to a head and the climax has an almost supernatural feel to it which I don’t want to spoil but it’s open to interpretation to viewers.  This movie has that kind of story which makes you want to ask questions because so many things can be interpreted in a certain way by one person but it could be read differently by another person. That’s what I like about Kim Ki-Duk and his movies. The cinematography is exceptional and the ocean landscape in this movie is beautiful, tranquil and peaceful.  Visual poetry at it’s finest. The soundtrack by Eun Il-Kang is wonderful and suits the story well. When it comes to his movies, you can never say that Kim Ki-Duk isn’t original and the style and flair he uses in his works makes them so interesting even if the storyline is rather simplistic. One of his strengths is how he manages to tell a story which has only minimal dialogue. Not many directors could pull something off like that but Kim Ki-Duk can. On saying that, his movies do not appeal to everybody but I certainly find them appealing. He is very much a maverick and visionary director in my eyes.

Han Yeo-Reum is captivating in her debut role. There’s something quite alluring and cute about the young girl, a magnetism that draws people towards her and you can understand why the fisherman that come onboard the old man’s boat can’t take their eyes away from her. Maybe it’s the naïve innocence about her that does the trick? Seong Hwan-Jeon is also brilliant as the old man. It’s quite sad seeing him trying to cling on to the girl when her mind is set on leaving with the young man. In his heart, he knows he can’t compete with him. The chemistry between the two of them is superb.

The Bow is another excellent masterpiece by Kim Ki-Duk with some striking imagery, an evocative soundtrack, brilliant acting with a simple and powerful story. If you love his past work you’re bound to enjoy this one too.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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