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Archive for April 4th, 2014

a man once superman

Soo-jung is a television programme maker who decides to quit her job due to her hatred of people and for not being paid for a couple of months but also to save her sanity as her hair is beginning to fall out and she is hearing the voice of the narrator of the fake tear jerker documentaries she produces in her sleep. Taking a small video camera from her workplace and aiming to head for Africa to film some lions and eventually joining her boyfriend in Mongolia, she makes a mistake in falling asleep at a train station. Her bag is snatched by a thief and she gives chase to the culprit. She is almost run over by a truck but she is saved by a strange man in a Hawaiian shirt who gets her bag back as well. When she asks who he is he says he is Superman and his mission is to save the planet. He claims that a bald villain has put a fragment of Kryptonite inside his head which has nullified his powers. Soo-jung thinks the man is a nutjob and arranges for the men in white coats to pick him up. Upon his arrival at the hospital, doctors are amazed to discover that there is something stuck inside his head but what it is they don’t know? Then Soo-jung investigates the man’s background and finds out about his tragic past.

This is a very good and moving tragic comedy drama which tugs at the heartstrings. To those that are familiar with Korean comedy dramas you should know the structure of these kind of movies – the first half will contain all the humour then it gets thrown out of the window during the second half when the heavy stuff gets thrown in the viewer’ faces. It is said that the movie is based on a true story. Anyway, for the first 50 or so minutes the viewer follows Soo-jung as she starts filming this man who thinks he’s Superman going about his business in saving people. To be honest even viewers watching the movie will think he’s a deluded individual who isn’t doing anybody any harm but then you’re hit with who this man really is in that he had a nice happy family and how his world was destroyed in a car accident which claimed his wife and young child. What’s even worse is the viewer sees him desperately trying to save his injured family from the upturned car which is leaking fuel and there are scores of people watching from the sidelines. Nobody lifts a finger to help him. I was appalled that these people were content with watching two people die. The experience changes something inside him. There is also a revelation about what is the root cause of the seizures that come over him all of a sudden. You won’t be surprised to find out that it isn’t kryptonite that’s stuck inside his brain after all. With this movie being about Superman, there are of course plenty of references to the real DC Comics superhero dropped here and there in the script including a scene where the man is day dreaming that he’s Clark Kent working for the Daily Planet.

A man once superman screenshot

Hwang Jung-min is superb as the hero with a heart. He’s an infectious character that you can’t help but you warm to easily especially when you see the joy on his face when he is able to help somebody so you really feel for him when his backstory is finally revealed. As his health becomes worse, the memories of his past that he had kept locked away come back and his personality changes because of it. The happy person who was full of life disappears to be replaced by a distraught individual who has overwhelming feelings of loss and being helpless. He keeps talking about a final mission that he has to fulfil and Soo-jung has no idea what he’s talking about until there’s a terrible fire in an apartment building. A little girl is trapped with no way of escaping until the imaginary Superman appears. Knowing that he failed to save his own family, he feels compelled that this time he won’t let an innocent die and so he dives into the burning building. What happens next I won’t spoil but it’s really sad and heartbreaking though you could see this coming a mile off.  There are sequences where you think the imaginary Superman can really fly and use his powers until you realise they are only in the man’s mind. The aftermath of the fire is a good example where you believe everything has worked out OK but the reality of the situation is completely different. Jeon J-Hyun also pulls off a great performance as Soo-jung. At first she can’t believe what this man is doing but once she finds out his real name and background she warms up to him and she understands the man’s behaviour. They become friends and his empathy is passed on to her. In a way through their interaction with each other, both characters find meaning to their lives especially so with Soo-jung who only cared about herself before.

Overall, this is a brilliant character study of a man that has been deeply affected by a traumatic experience. It’s poignant, sad but also full of hope and the scriptwriter has to be congratulated for coming up with a heart-warming story despite it ending on a downer. Korean cinema at it’s best. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Inugami (2001)

Inugami-dvd

Akira Nutahara is a teacher that’s starting a new post in a small rural community near a mountain somewhere in Western Japan. When his mode of transport (a motorbike) runs out of fuel, he catches a lift into town by Seiji Doi and the pair quickly become friends. Seiji’s family runs a paper making business and the person with the leading role of making paper is Miki Bonomiya as nobody else is capable of doing the task. She’s a woman that has spent all of her life in the village. Akira starts to fall for Miki but even though she initially keeps her distance from him they soon become lovers. What Akira doesn’t know is that the Bonomiya family is hiding a dark secret. The women in Miki’s family have been given the task of guarding the Inugami (dog spirits) and keeping them happy. Should the women fail to appease the spirits with the loyalty they deserve, they will break free from their bonds and kill somebody. As Miki and Akira’s love deepens, strange things start to happen in the town and the townsfolk are starting some rumours. Miki’s appearance grows youthful as the days go by and there is concern about Akira. Will Akira discover the secret about the Bonomiya family as the Inugami spirits are let loose in the town?

Inugami is a story split into 5 chapters about an ancient myth and superstition, shocking taboo family issues and of the modern world encroaching on the old ways. The first thing you’ll notice about this interesting and slightly supernatural movie is the beautiful cinematography on display. It is visually impressive and director Masato Harada’s use of the camera is superb as he swoops above the top of trees, tracking a path inside a forest and drifting through the mists. To be honest with you I was more entranced with the cinematography than the actual story itself! Those with an interest in Japanese culture will find the process of producing rice paper by Miki fascinating to see (you don’t get to see the whole process though just bits and pieces).  For those thinking this is going to be yet another gore laden J-horror you couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a slow burner with a sedate pace and a storyline that gradually unravels over the course of the movie. It needs a patient viewer to watch it and I’m sure it deserves to be seen more than once because you may not pick up little clues that give an overall understanding on what the story is trying to tell you.

inugami_screenshot

This isn’t so much a ghost story about dog spirits but about religion and how it fares in modern society so you can’t really classify this movie as being a proper J-horror, there isn’t any jump out of your seat scares in it at all. The women of the Bonomiya family are ruled by the men who make sure they carry on the tradition of looking after the spirits of the forest. Each generation of women is made to stay put in the village but now some of them are thinking of leaving and exploring the outside world and the patriarch of the family – a gruff gentleman by the name of Takanoa who is also a hunter does not like this at all and will do all he can to make sure they stay where they are. Coupled with this, the family hide a deep and dark secret. Incestuous relationships have been taking place over the years and this comes full circle with a devastating revelation near the climax involving Miki and Akira. Another part of the traditional vs modern aspect of the story involves plans for the forest to be cut down to make way for a new country resort. Miki’s paper making business would be dissolved and the Bonomiya family would have to be moved in the process but that may be the only way for the townsfolk to be freed from all the superstitious claptrap that is making them fearful of the Inugami.

If like me you have an interest in Japanese mysticism you’re bound to like how Harada has weaved those elements into the story. This isn’t a movie for everybody though and some will no doubt find it boring. Overall, I thought it was an absorbing, atmospheric, unique and moody movie with great acting from the entire cast.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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