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Archive for the ‘Korean’ Category

My Way (2011)

My Way poster

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, young Jin Suk and his family begin working for a Japanese farmer. The farmer has a son the same age as Jin Suk by the name of Tatsuo. The two boys share a love of marathon running and soon become bitter rivals as they grow up which culminates in Jin Suk being wrongly disqualified from a qualifying race to appear at the Tokyo Olympics after he has won. Tatsuo is named the winner instead. This act of injustice angers the Korean crowd who start a riot which is quelled by the Japanese soldiers. Jun Sik and the men of the riot are imprisoned and then conscripted into the Japanese army at the start of WWII to fight the Russians. He finds out that the man in charge of his unit is none other than Tatsuo. When the Soviet army attack his unit, he and Tatsuo are captured by them. On arriving at a labour camp, Jun Sik finds an old friend is in charge of them but he finds that his friend has changed for the worse when he betrays a fellow Korean who is then shot. Jun Sik and Tatsuo manage to escape from the Russians but find themselves drafted into the German army just as the Normandy landings are about to take place.

This excellent Korean movie can quite rightly stand alongside many Hollywood blockbusters such is the epic sweeping scope about it. It was all done on a modest $26 million budget – proof that you don’t need to waste over $100 million dollars like Hollywood to make a good movie. I think it was the biggest amount of money ever spent on a Korean movie. It’s directed by Je-Kyu Kang who knows about making good war movies as he was the man who also helmed Taegukgi – Brotherhood Of War (if you like your war movies definitely do not miss this movie). The premise about two Asian men fighting the Allies during D-Day might sound far-fetched on paper until you discover that the movie is actually loosely based on a true story about a Korean man, Yang Kyoungjong, who was forced to fight for the Japanese, Soviet and German army. He was captured in Normandy after the US Army overran the German defences. I loved the idea of a Korean and a Japanese man having their fates tied together from the time they were kids right into adulthood and how their relationship changes over the years from being rivals in marathon running to comrades in arms hoping that they’ll find a way back home.

The blend of war scenes with that of the rivalry between the 2 main characters is perfect. The running time motors along at a brisk pace and before you know it you’re at the breathtaking climax. Even though the movie is over two hours long, it is always interesting and never boring with plenty of incidents taking place although I did find it sometimes ridiculous how things panned out for the two foreigners. Take this scenario in the final third of the movie as Jun Sik and Tatsuo have planned to sneak off the front line in Normandy to catch a boat to go home but just as they’re about to make their escape the Allies start bombarding the Normandy coastline and storm the beaches. The two soldiers are forced to man the heavy guns to repel the American invaders off the beach. There’s a great twist right near the end which I won’t spoil for you and it is quite unexpected.

my way screenshot

The battle scenes in the movie of which there are 3 are well executed, realistic, brutal and intense. One of them has the Soviets attacking the Japanese army by tanks. The Japanese soldiers (some of which are Korean prisoners) with Tatsuo as their commander have been ordered to go on a suicide mission to destroy the tanks. The Normandy beach landings is also exhilarating to watch. It’s as good if not better than Saving Private Ryan with the camera taking you right into the heart of the action. The battle scenes does not shirk from showing the horrors of war. The cinematography is fantastic taking us from the Far East, snowy Siberia and finally to the shores of Northern France. It is spectacular and stunning. The filmmakers couldn’t have picked two better actors to play the two main characters in Dong-gun Jang and Joe Odagiri. They’re the biggest assets this movie has and their performances are faultless. In Joe Odagiri as Tatsuo we see his character begin the movie as an arrogant nasty person who changes over the years into being someone the viewer can warm to.

As this is mostly a testosterone movie, the only female with a small role as a Chinese sniper is Fan BingBing. It’s such a shame she’s not in the movie for long as I liked her character. The only gripe about this movie is it skipped certain things such as how the two men joined the German army. The viewer sees the pair escape from the Russians into the snowy wilderness and the next thing we see is Tatsuo as a German soldier. I would have liked to have seen the circumstances of how the pair became German soldiers.

Overall, My Way is a movie that has it all from superb battle scenes, well developed characters and an incredible story spanning the whole of WWII. It is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Monster (2014)

Monster-Movie

Lowlife Ik-Sang is hired by his uncle to retrieve a mobile phone which contains evidence of him assaulting a woman. She has threatened to blackmail him for money. If he was prosecuted by the police it would stop his demolition schemes from taking place. Ik-Sang hires his adopted brother Tae-soo to carry out the job. Tae-soo is a cold and ruthless assassin who promptly murders the woman in her apartment but fails to find the mobile phone. The woman’s 10 year old sister Na-ri who has seen everything escapes from the apartment with Tae-soo in hot pursuit. Na-ri comes across Book-soon who runs her grandmother’s vegetable stand in the street. Book-soon has a reputation for being a bit of a local nutcase where she lives with her cleverer younger sister Eun-jung out in the country. Book-soon takes in the scared Na-ri. During a walk in the nearby woods, Eun-jung who is with Na-ri is murdered by Tae-soo. When Book-soon finds her sister has been murdered, it puts her on a collision course with Tae-soo. She’s not the only one who wants to settle things with Tae-soo. Ik-sang dispatches a number of thugs to kill Tae-soo. Will Tae-soo catch up with Na-ri and Book-soon and kill them both or will Ik-sang’s thugs get to Tae-soo first?

This is a great Korean serial killer thriller which is slightly odd in that in between the nasty brutal murders and bloodshed that takes place there is also some dark humour. Personally I thought the humour looked out of place within the context of the plot and it should have been left out altogether. Perhaps the Korean viewing public likes this type of genre mashing but it didn’t sit too well with myself.

The plot of this fast paced movie is pretty straight forward in that it pits a cold and ruthless killer against a grieving family member who is out for revenge but also wants to protect a terrified little girl from being murdered as well. The viewer gets some background on how the young Tae-soo began his descent into darkness after witnessing his violent father beating up his older brother as he hid in the attic. He makes a deal with his brother that if he kills his father Ik-sang will play with him. When their axe wielding father is killed by Tae-soo whilst trying to attack Ik-sang again, a monster is born. There’s a scene at a bar which shows how emotionless and efficient the adult Tae-soo is as a killer when a noisy patron bothers Ik-sang. Tae-soo without any prompting from his brother kills the person. As the viewer learns later on in the movie Ik-sang and even his adopted mother doesn’t really want anything to do with Tae-soo. He may be useful in helping Ik-sang out at times but he wants him out of the way permanently because he is basically scared shitless of what he is. On the other hand Book-soon might not be a murderer as Tae-soo but she does has some issues with her temper. Dropped on her head by her mother when she was a child, the viewer soon discovers that she’s one card short of a full deck and flies off into a rage at times. Her tag of being called a “psycho bitch” by the neighbours is justified! Get these two to confront each other and you have a death match made in hell!!

Monster 2014 screenshot

After numerous chases which are really tense involving Book-soon and Na-ri with Ik-sang planning Tae-soo’s death, the climax of the movie has all parties concerned converging on Tae-soo’s mothers’ restaurant in Seoul in which Ik-sang has prepared a surprise for his brother but he’s not as stupid as they think he is. At the same time Book-soon also arrives there to rescue Na-ri. It culminates in a messy and blood splattered finale. Those who have a hard time with bloody scenes may have to turn their heads away from the screen such is the amount of gore that’s involved.

Lee Min-ki plays the role of the icy killer Tae-soo extremely well. The handsome character seems to enjoy his killings and likes his red wine. He does look rather cool. Tae-soo does have to get physical a couple of times in the movie resulting in some tough bone-breaking quick fights and not all of these scraps are easy for him to overcome either. Kim Go-Eun takes on the role of Book-soon in quite a manic performance which sees her screaming and crying a lot. It’s a bit off-putting to say the least and I’m sure other viewers will perhaps get annoyed of Book-soon as well. The only likeable character the viewer comes across is that of the little girl Na-ri. She’s played by the adorable and cute Ahn Seo-hyun. You do begin to care for her and hope she comes through this traumatic experience unscathed. I hope to see more of this promising young actress in the future.

Monster is a movie I found to be entertaining despite the strange bouts of humour and the strong bloodletting. It’s got a good storyline and great performances from the cast. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes though especially with the violence inflicted on women which runs throughout the movie and is rather unpleasant. Still worth taking a look if you enjoy your Asian revenge thrillers.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Flu (2013)

The Flu movie poster

A container which is full of Hong Kong illegal immigrants arrive at a port in South Korea. When the smugglers open the container the people inside are all dead except for one survivor who flees from the scene. The man is infected with a deadly variant of the bird flu virus and soon the virus starts spreading all over the city of Bondang, a rich suburb of Seoul.  As thousands become infected with the disease, the government orders the army to lock down the city in order to contain the virus. Extreme measures are put into place which angers the citizens of the city. Anarchy and chaos soon takes over. Dr Kim In Hae is a part of the scientific taskforce charged with trying to find a cure but first they must find the survivor and hope his blood contain antibodies.

This is a cracking South Korean apocalyptic blockbuster disaster/thriller. It shows the terrifying consequences of what happens when a variant of the bird flu virus is released and it spreads like wildfire amongst the population. There is no cure and the fatality rate is 100% within 36 hours. The plot contains a lot of edge-of-your-seat drama and it has a good pace about it. It’s true that comparisons to Outbreak and Contagion will happen but I thought that this movie was much better and more enjoyable than either one. The story concentrates on 3 individuals – a rescue worker, a female doctor and her cute young daughter. The rescue worker falls for the female doctor after saving her from a car accident. The female doctor has a personal reason than most to find a cure for the flu as her daughter has been infected. What the movie also does well is show how the government tries to contain the epidemic with many difficult decisions having to be made. You can feel their helplessness as the disease threatens to get completely out of control and perhaps engulf the world. The sense of magnitude of what is taking place is shown in all of it’s gory detail with dead bodies scattered around and sick people coughing up vast amounts of blood. There’s a horrifying scene as the viewer is shown the eventual fate of anybody who’s got the flu virus. They are to be thrown into a mass grave where they’ll be incinerated by flame throwing military personnel. Ji-Goo bravely rescues Mi-reu before she’s about to be torched. There’s a bit of a sly dig at South Korea’s ally in the US as the villainous advisor to the Korean Government who orders a missile strike at the climax to wipe out Bondang by fighter jets is American.

The Flu screenshot

The emotional side to the story is mostly carried by the young daughter Mi-reu who is separated from her mother and she finds a friend in the noble hero Ji-Goo who becomes sort of like a surrogate father to her. The rapport between the two characters is touching. I’m sure there’ll be some tears from some viewers during the climax when Mi-reu reunites with her mother in a zone where anybody crossing from the quarantine district into the non-infected area is shot on sight if they go over an orange line. There is more than a fair share of melodrama introduced during the second half as Asian fans are known to like this sort of thing in their movies. It’s not all doom and gloom in the story as the comedy relief is provided by Ji-Goo’s co-worker.

Soo-ae and Hyuk Jang give convincing performances in their roles but it’s the plucky little actress Min-ah Park that stands out. She is incredible as Kim Mi-reu. She’s definitely one of the best child actresses I’ve seen. I may not be a parent myself but I so wanted to protect that little girl from all the horrors she was exposed to during the movie. You start to care for the 3 main leads as to what will happen to them.

This is a fantastic disaster movie which joins numerous others that Korea has produced over the last couple of years. It’s well written with just the right amount of tension and suspense, it has a terrific pace about it and has superb acting from all the cast. This is a great comeback movie from director Kim Sung-su whose last movie came out 10 years ago. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Oasis (2002)

Oasis movie dvd

Jong –du Hong is a man that could be tagged as a simpleton. He’s released from jail for killing a man in a car accident and his family are none too happy that he’s going to be a burden on their lives again. He decides that he wants to say sorry to the dead man’s family even though he has been forbidden from contacting them. Turning up at the family’s apartment, they are furious at him and send him packing but before leaving he sees someone there that pricks his interest. Gong-Ju Han is the family’s disabled member who has serious cerebal palsy. He sees the family leaving her alone at the apartment for most of the day before they come back in the evening. He also watches where they hide the key to the place in the flower vase outside. One day after the family has left, he grabs the key and goes inside.  Although surprised by Jong-du’s intrusion in her apartment, Gong-Ju Han develops a friendship which turns to romance with him. Their happy relationship though is destroyed when Gong-Ju’s family come back early one night and finds the pair of them having sex…….

This is an outstanding romance story with a difference, one that breaks down boundaries and makes for uncomfortable viewing at times but you have to admire director Chang-dong Lee for having the balls to put together a brutally honest story about two outcasts of society who find solace in each other. It’s a thought provoking piece of Korean cinema about how love comes in all shapes and forms and is not just between physically abled people. It can also be seen as a social commentary on how disabled people are viewed by society.

oasis screenshot

The pair are badly treated and ostracised by their respective families. Jong-du gets nothing but contempt whilst Gong-Ju is more or less abandoned by her family.  Even though Jong-du is a man that doesn’t know right from wrong and has a mental illness, he is the only person that treats Gong-Ju Han as a normal human being despite her disabilities. He can look beyond her physical handicap and give her the respect and closeness she desperately needs. The discrimination that the pair endure from society is shocking – none more so than a scene in a restaurant in which the pair are asked kindly to leave. This prejudice culminates in a big misunderstanding when the pair are caught ‘at it’ in Gong-Ju’s bed by her next-door neighbour and her family who think Jong –du is raping her. The viewer knows this isn’t so but as Gong-Ju cannot communicate properly with them it’s an open and shut case for all involved including the police. They cannot comprehend that their love is quite innocent. In their eyes it is sick and twisted. Their blinkered views will make you angry.

The poignant performance of the two leads is nothing short of brilliant. Kyung-gu Sol and So-ri Moon carry the entire movie and deserve nothing but praise for portraying two difficult characters. So-ri Moon’s acting in particular is exceptional. I really did think she was a real disabled actress with cerebal palsy until the viewer is shown a dream-like sequence showing what Gong-Ju would be doing if she wasn’t disabled. The way So-ri Moon is able to show Gong-Ju’s emotions through her facial spasms is nothing short of amazing.

This is yet another excellent Korean movie I’ve seen recently that has blown me away. It’s a classic movie with a compelling storyline and is unlike any romance you’ve seen before.  The movie might make some people feel uneasy (and believe me there are certain scenes which are disturbing) but if you’re a true movie fan this is something you should see and experience. The story will leave an impression in your heart and mind long after the end credits has finished. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Failan (2001)

failanposter

Kang-Jae is a lowly member of a gangster organisation who has seen his best days gone by. He and the boss of the organisation who is Kang’s best friend built up the company but has seen his status change over the years. He is seen as a washed out member of the gang by his young peers. One night Kang’s boss murders a person in a parking lot and rather than going to prison, Kang volunteers to go to jail instead as a favour for his boss. Some months previously, a young woman from China named Failan comes to Korea after the death of her parents to look for work. Her aunt whom she was supposed to be staying with has moved away to Canada. However, because she has no family there now, it will be difficult for her to get a working visa……although there is one way of getting around this. She would have to get married. Kang-Jae who is after some money agrees to marry Failan without having seen her properly apart from a quick glimpse. Failan is sent to work to a small coastal village as a laundry assistant where despite the language barriers at first she is seen to be a valuable worker to her boss. Fast forward to the present day and just as Kang-Jae is about to turn himself in to the police, they come knocking on his door to tell him that Failan has died. In order to go through all the paperwork following her death, Kang has to go on a trip to where she lived and worked. After being handed some letters that Failan had written to him, Kang learns more about her and realises just how grateful she was to him for marrying her. Even though Kang never met his late wife, he begins to develop some feelings for her………

There may be some of you out there that really like romantic dramas and seen plenty of them in your time but I guarantee you won’t have seen an original romantic drama such as this one in which the 2 leading roles share a love for one another but never meet or even speak to each other. All the usual clichés you’d expect in a drama such as this is thrown out of the window to create a unique heartbreaking story which will make a lot of viewers cry. It’s hard for anybody not to be moved by the end credits. It’s a romantic tragedy about two lost souls which really hits you hard in a way that can’t be easily shaken off but I should tell you that it’s not a tearjerker in a normal traditional way.

Failan screenshot

The story is told in a series of flashbacks relating to Failan’s life in Korea and Kang-Jae’s journey to identify her body after her death in the present. The first part of the movie introduces the viewer to Kang-Jae’s seedy world after he’s released from jail for selling porn videos from his shop and the 5 members of the gang he is associated with. Kang-Jae’s life has been in free-fall for some time which is why he’s now just a lowly gangster. He is looked down by fellow gangmembers and even his boss abuses him. He’s what you might call a born loser who thinks by swaggering around acting all tough and being loud that people will respect him. A change occurs in Kang-Jae when he learns of his wife’s death – a person he’d forgotten that he married (he only did it for money after all). He doesn’t seem to care at first but by visiting where she worked, talking to people that knew her and reading the letter she wrote to him, Kang-Jae gets a picture of who Failan was. By learning how she appreciated being given the chance to work in South Korea by Kang-Jae, we see him beginning to develop some feelings for her. His transformation is complete though when a second letter is given to him after Failan’s cremation. It is this letter that finally hits home to him just how much he liked her. But by this time it’s too late and the person he never even met, who gave him the dignity he wanted is dead and he realises the opportunity he’s missed. The term “two ships passing in the night” comes to mind.

If Kang-Jae represents the dark side of life, Failan is the pure and good side. Her shy, quiet and innocent charm will endear you to her and the tragic plight that befalls her will have you in tears. She is probably one of the sweetest female characters you’ll ever see in an Asian movie. It is shown early on that Failan is quite ill but it isn’t explained until much later on in the movie just how seriously ill she is. Her experiences as she tries to fit into her new surroundings with only a very basic grasp of the Korean language will captivate and make you care for her. Failan has no comprehension what kind of a man Kang-Jae is so based on a small photo she has of him smiling and thinking he was so kind for marrying her she assumes he’s a good man. If only she knew the truth about him! It’s because of her beautiful personality and the undying gratitude to the husband she never met that makes her death even harder for viewers to comprehend. I’m not ashamed to say I had tears in my end right at the end of the movie.

The acting by the leading pair is superb. I’m not going to praise Choi Min-sik again because I’ve done it before from other movies I’ve watched him in but I have to say he really is superb here. He gives a faultless performance in this movie and seeing him break down after reading Failan’s 2nd letter it’s difficult not to become emotional yourself. It is Cecilia Cheung though that will surprise many people. I know she’s a good actress and has starred in many HK productions but this role is probably the best thing she’s done over the years. She shows another side to her acting here. Her portrayal of a sad and lonely young woman trying to find her place in a foreign land is stunning. I was astonished just how good she could be given the right role.

All in all, Failan is a remarkable, touching and extraordinary movie with a wonderful plot and excellent acting from everybody involved. Despite the long running time, this is absolutely necessary to develop things in the plot for the big impact near the climax. Don’t miss out on watching this classic movie. It’s as close to perfection as you’ll ever get. Very highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Castaway on the Moon poster

Seong-geun is ready to kill himself by jumping off a brudge into the Han River. His life has fallen apart – everything has gone wrong. He has lost his job when his company went bankrupt, he has a huge debt and his girlfriend has also left him. He jumps off the bridge but doesn’t die. Waking up, he finds himself on what he thinks is a desert island but in reality he is only a few hundred yards from the bridge he jumped and he can see buildings from across the river. He tries to swim to the other side but he’s not very good at it and has to turn back and even signalling for help to the passing pleasure boats doesn’t help his situation. To make things even worse, his mobile phone battery has died so he can’t call anyone. He is well and truly stuck on an island in the middle of Seoul! He tries to kill himself again but he fails once more. The only thing he can do is try and survive on the island by using whatever resources he can find which is a lot as a ton of rubbish has been washed up. To try and attract attention he writes HELP in the sand, not that he’s confident that anybody will see it. Meanwhile in an apartment, a young woman Jeong-yeon who has locked herself in her room for 3 years and whose hobby is taking photos of the Moon spots Seong-geun’s message on the island using her camera. In her mind she thinks he’s an alien. Wanting to respond to his plea for help, Jeong-yeon ventures out of her apartment in the dead of night to deliver a message in a bottle by throwing it from a bridge.  Seong-geun responds by writing more messages in the sand and Jeong-yeon writes back every time. How long can Seong-geun stay on the island? The answer may not be too long as a typhoon threatens to destroy the shelter and everything Seong-geun has built on the island. Will he also manage to find out the identity of his mysterious messenger?

I’d heard some rave reviews for Castaway On The Moon a couple of years ago but because I had so many other movies to check out first I put watching it on the backburner until now that is. Hands down, this is one of the best Korean movies I’ve ever seen and I can understand why it’s been wowing viewers all over the world. Let’s get one thing straight as I’ve seen many people saying this is some kind of rip-off of Tom Hanks’ Castaway. Yes, there are a couple of similar things between the two movies in that it’s about a man cut off from society on an island but as far as I’m concerned they’re two completely different movies because Tom Hanks’ character is stuck on an island far away from civilisation and you can’t say that about Kim’s situation as he’s just stuck on a small island in the middle of Seoul! I think this movie is far superior to Castaway as well.

This is an original romantic comedy about isolation and loneliness between two people at their lowest ebb and how they connect with each other through the strangest of circumstances. In turn they begin to learn about enjoying life once more. You’ll never be able to look at black bean noodles again without thinking about Seong-geun’s experience on the island and how he manages to change from being a loser to somebody that is able to adapt in his environment and create his own little paradise by using things that regularly washes up on the shore. A discarded pedal duck boat for example is used as his sleeping shelter. Gradually he learns new skills such as ploughing a small patch of land to grow black beans from a discarded seed packet and catching fish from the Han river. Soon enough all thoughts of wanting to be rescued disappear from Seong-geun’s mind. On the island he is King and free from society that pushed him to the edge of despair he is content with himself.

Castaway on the Moon screenshot

Jeong-yeon’s story is equally as brilliant as Seong-geun. Here we have a young woman who in Japanese terms is a ‘hikikomori’ (not sure if there’s a Korean term for people like that?). Everything she needs is supplied by her mother who drops it next to her bedroom door. Why Jeong-yeon has shut herself from the outside world is never explained but it could be something to do with the burn mark that is on one side of her face. Perhaps she didn’t like people staring and commenting about it whenever she went outside. Although I may have seen some Japanese movies with people such as Jeong-yeon changing for the better, I don’t think I’ve seen a more interesting portrayal of a ‘hikikomori’ before. You instantly feel for her and don’t even think for one instance that she’s a weirdo but of a vulnerable person that’s been hurt by the world.

The relationship between Seong-geun and Jeong-yeon is very unique and I liked how they came to rely on one another and overcome their fears and issues but you have to ask yourself why did they communicate in English – maybe Jeong-yeon thinks he’s a foreigner! There is some wonderful comedic moments that take place such as the take-away delivery man who brings some food over to the island to Seong-geun after Jeong-yeon has ordered them for him. The last third brings more drama than comedy to the movie as Seong-geun’s time on the island draws to a close. You sort of hope that both characters will eventually meet up with each other and start a proper relationship as they are so likable but does that happen? You’ll just have to watch this movie won’t you to find out!!

Overall this movie is very funny, charming, full of wit and depth with excellent acting and a perfect script. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve seen this movie. It’s easily one of the best movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Truly amazing. Go see it now. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Antarctic-Journal-dvd

A 6 -man Korean expedition team are trying to reach the ‘Pole Of Inaccessibility’ which is in a remote part of Antarctica. Only one other team (a Russian one) has ever reached the place. The team have a couple of months of daylight to try and reach the location before darkness falls across the land for 6 months. Things start to go wrong from the beginning with various mishaps with communications and bad weather hampering them and the team leader isn’t that stable in his mind. An old tattered black flag is found and hidden close by in the snow is a journal which belonged to a British expedition from 80 years ago. The journal recounts the things that happened to them during their mission and the same events seem to be happening to the Korean team now. As tensions mount between members of the team with some thinking they should turn back, the slightly deranged team leader insists they should plod on to their target. He is so determined to reach the P.O.I he sabotages the only communication link they have with their base camp.  Will the team ever reach what they set out to do or will illness and the hidden dangers in the harsh environment they’re trekking in finish them off?

I thought that this movie was going to be one of these supernatural thrillers in which the story is moved into the wilderness of Antarctica rather than the usual locations we’re used to but it turned out to be more of a psychological horror in the end. There’s plenty of promise during the first 30 mins with some hints given that something unearthly or supernatural may be following the team with even a ghostly hand jutting up from the snow which turns up on videotape but all of this is dropped as the more psychological aspect of the plot comes to the fore . You just know after discovering the journal from the ill-fated 1922 British expedition that the Korean team are doomed to fail as they soon make the same mistakes and then things get worse when two of the members disappear. The first hour of the movie is fairly mundane and just shows the growing tension between the team members as they trudge across the ice and have arguments. Although things improve a little bit in the second half I’m sure if the first hour hasn’t perked the viewer’s interest I think the majority will have switched off and to be honest I wouldn’t blame anybody if they did.

Antarctic Journal

The story focuses mostly on one character – the team leader. A veteran of various expeditions, he is haunted by his son who fell to his death and he is slowly becoming insane. Driven by a need to reach the target destination, he doesn’t seem to care for the wellbeing of his team. It is never explained fully if it’s the visions he is seeing that is making him mad or the reason why he has to complete the mission? Even though you might think that the team leader is the villain of the movie, the truth is there’s nobody amongst the characters you can sympathise with so you don’t really care for anybody’s fate by the end. It doesn’t help that there’s hardly any character development taking place and that some red herrings are put in the movie but if you don’t try and explain even just a tiny bit of what’s going on it’ll just confuse the viewer and that’s what it did with me anyway. The source of the leader’s insanity should have been explored more. Was there a supernatural explanation as to why all of the team suffered mental breakdowns – again the viewer never knows.

The cinematography though is fantastic and is the highlight of the entire movie. New Zealand doubles up as the Antarctic and the snowy landscape is captured very well by the director. It shows the viewer that it really is a harsh place to be stuck in and that it takes no prisoners. There’s also a nice soundtrack accompanying the movie too. As this isn’t an out and out horror movie there’s no gore at all apart from one scene that is. One of the team members foot is shown to be suffering badly from frostbite and the leader decides to saw part of the man’s leg off. It is quite a gruesome part of the movie and it doesn’t shirk in showing the aftermath of the amputation. The movie unfortunately also goes on for far too long. Just shy of two hours, a good 30 mins should have been cut which would have improved the pacing a little bit as well.

In the end, it was a decent try by the director to create something different from your usual Asian horrors and with more work on the script it could have been better but in the end I was frustrated more than anything else by the story. Just average for me.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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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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no-mercy-for-the-rude-dvd

Killa is a mute assassin who was born with a short tongue and is saving all the money he earns from killing to have surgery to correct his tongue which will cost $100,000. Killa loves seafood and watching bullfighting on the TV. He dreams of being a famous matador even though there are no bulls in South Korea. As he was a chef before, he prefers to use knives when he kills and only murders those who he sees as being rude. Killa is getting closer to reaching his target for his surgery but his life is about to change. In a bar that he frequents, a women starts to become attached to him and he also takes in a young street urchin. Things are to become even more complicated when he botches up on one job and some gangsters come looking for him. It puts himself and his new surrogate family in big trouble.

This is a dark South Korean comedy which surprised me in how good it really was. It’s written extremely well and directed competently by Cheol –hie Park. Even though he’s a mute, Killa provides narration throughout the movie which has got a wry sarcastic edge to it. It’s got a nice balance between comedy and action though some of the violence is very graphic and bloody. All of the characters are fleshed out well explaining their motivations through back stories. It seems that Killa is a part of a group of assassins that meet regularly for food and drink from his best friend, a former ballet dancer who turned to killing after his career was cut short through injury and a martial arts instructor who couldn’t make ends meet. They might not look as cool as Killa in his black attire and shades but they’re certainly not buffoons when it comes to killing either. The interaction between this league of assassins is funny to watch and they’re all likeable characters.

No-Mercy-for-the-Rude screenshot

The movie starts out as more of a comedy but gradually more dramatic elements are thrown into the plot which provides suspense but even then it still maintains a black comedic edge to proceedings. The peril that befalls Killa and his new makeshift family as they fall foul of some gangsters thanks to a job that goes wrong due to mistaken identity makes for interesting viewing. It’s all the more gripping to watch as we’ve started to care for Killa and it inevitably leads to a melodramatic and tragic conclusion. The title of the movie is straight forward enough as it’s Killa’s motto and he only offs those that deserves it. Maybe that’s how he justifies himself being an assassin in that no innocent people are targeted and only the bad guys are killed.

I already knew that Ha-Kyun Shin was a great actor having seen him in Save The Green Planet and he pulls off another great performance in this movie. He manages to strike a fine balance between being silly and serious. Coincidentally he also played a mute character in Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. Yun Ji-hie is the aggressive woman at the bar who forces herself in Killa’s life. There’s a good twist right at the end of the movie when it is shown that both Killa and the woman had a link in the past when they were both growing up.

All in all, an impressive movie. There has been numerous movies with mute assassins over the years but I thought that that this one stood out from the rest. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The King Of Pigs (2011)

King-of-Pigs-2011

Two men who haven’t met in 15 years get together over a drink. Kyung-min and Jong-suk who are going through some problems reminisce about their high school days and the boy that changed their lives forever. In their youth, the two were constantly bullied by the gang in their class. The gang consisted of boys that had rich parents and the teachers allowed them to do as they pleased. They called themselves The Dogs. Everyone else was deemed lower than them and were called Pigs. The gang loved to humiliate their fellow pupils. Then one day somebody challenged their authority. Chul was a boy in their class who resorted to violence in order to stop the gang. He befriends Kyung-min and Jong-suk and says the only way to beat the gang is to even more violent and evil. To demonstrate to the pair how to combat the gang, he meets them up at the place where he is staying. He pulls out a knife and stabs an angry cat that he has chained up and tells them this is the only way to get them back. He offers them his knife and to go ahead with stabbing the cat. Jong-suk is fine about this and takes out his frustrations on the animal but Kyung-min isn’t quite so sure. The tit-for-tat violence continues at the school until Chul goes too far and he is expelled. With Chul out of the way, the gang continue to attack Kyung-min and Jong-suk. They still meet Chul outside of school.  He proposes a plan to the pair that will mean The Dogs will never be able to remember their school days with any joy or happiness. Will Chul go ahead with his plan and why has Kyung-min mysteriously asked to see Jong-suk after all this time?

South Korea isn’t renowned for it’s anime movies having only released a handful of them so far. This is a violent and hard hitting award-winning anime on bullying. The story is mostly told in flashback and returns every now and then to the 2 men talking in the present day. It is certainly not an anime for kids and even though it is about two boys reminiscing about their high school days it has a dark and depressing storyline which doesn’t shirk away from portraying the brutality that takes place in Kyung-min and Jong-suk’s school. A school which turns it’s back on vicious bullying and lets students who have rich families to do as they please. The pair are humiliated several times during the course of the movie by a gang of rich boys in their class. It is obvious that the violence the pair were subjected to has haunted and shaped how their lives are run in the present as adults. It is assumed but never confirmed right at the start of the story that Kyung-min has killed his wife by strangulation and as for Jong-suk – before heading out to meet Kyung-min he beats up his wife so the 2 men have a lot of issues stemming from their past.

The king of pigs screenshot

This isn’t the easiest of anime to watch because of the raw violence that’s shown which only gets worse once Chul comes on the scene. Chul is a loner who decides that enough is enough and he dishes it out to the bullies with a ferocity that’s unflinching. His doling out of pain to the bullies provides a respite to Kyung-min and Jong-suk who becomes friends with him but seeing them aligned with Chul gives the bullies an even more reason to target them. Chul’s reasoning to combat the bullies is to fight fire with fire and even take it a step further! It’s disturbing to see Chul showing the pair on getting their own back by killing his chained pet cat with a large kitchen knife. Although Kyung-min runs out of Chul’s place after witnessing Jong-suk copy Chul in stabbing the cat, he comes crawling back and vents his fury on the poor defenceless creature. It’s all fine for the pair when Chul is around but once he’s expelled that protection is gone and the bullying goes from bad to worse for them. This bullying mirrors allegedly what really takes place in South Korean schools where this type of behaviour is rife.

Just when you think that this anime movie is about to conclude without anything major happening, there’s a huge twist which takes the viewer by surprise. Chul has a plan to make the bullies never forget their schooldays. It involves him going to the school roof and jumping off but he chickens out at the last minute until Kyung-min sees Chul’s body falling from the roof and hitting the ground in front of the whole school. Everybody thinks it’s suicide until Kyung-min notices a familiar figure pushing Chul off the roof. He never mentions anything to anybody but this secret that he’s kept for 15 years is about to be unveiled and it is the main reason why he has tried to seek Jong-suk after all this time.

Unlike Japanese anime, the style of animation in this movie especially on the faces of all the characters is different and whilst a lot may not like it, it made a nice change. This movie only had a small budget so the backgrounds are quite limited and simple. It was good enough for me.

This anime won’t be for everybody’s taste and makes for unsettling viewing because of the grimness of the storyline but I liked it’s depiction of harsh real-life situations and hierarchical Korean school society where the downtrodden and weak are targeted mercilessly. Debutant director Yeun Sang-Ho has done a remarkable job on this anime. It’s well worth checking this anime out if you’re after a realistic storyline.

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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Silmido (2003)

silmido-poster

The year is 1968 and a 31 member crack commando team from North Korea has covertly crossed the border over to the South to carry out a mission to assassinate the South Korean dictator President Park Chung-Hee but they are discovered and killed. The South decide to retaliate and carry out a mission of their own to kill the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. The 31 member team will comprise of criminals on death row who will be trained by the army on the secretive island of Silmido and have the code name of Unit 684. 2 years of intense hard training takes place on the island and the date on which the mission takes place is set but just as the men who are eager to put into practice what they’ve been learnt are ready to go the mission is scrapped as relations between the North and South get better. The government decides to abandon the project leaving the men effectively prisoners on the island. There are darker plans to kill all the men in Unit 684. Failure to do so would mean the deaths of all the training officers. The men revolt, kill their training officers and make their way to the South Korean mainland. Their plan is to try and talk with the President to air their grievances. They steal a bus full of passengers and head for Seoul but will they reach their objective of seeing the President?

This is a brilliant movie based on a real incident which has become a stain in South Korean history that would have otherwise been swept under the carpet and forgotten about had it not been for a prisoner who became intrigued by a fellow inmate’s story about Silmido. The prisoner dug a little more into the story and this eventually spiralled into a best-selling book about a top secret government project.  This movie is a story about the controversial project. Naturally it isn’t 100% historically accurate as the filmmakers have used some dramatic licence to make it more interesting. If this movie makes you think it’s a little bit like The Dirty Dozen you’d be right about that but this is so much more. It’s a historical story about what was going on in the Korean peninsula at the time. South Korea had a military regime in charge during the 60’s, 70’s and part of the 80’s. Their attitude was to try and destroy their communist neighbours at all costs without taking up arms and declaring war of course. These days South Korea is a successful democratic nation but the people still remember the dark days of the past.

Silmido screenshot

This is a mostly male testosterone/patriotic movie with hardly any females featured. The first half of the movie brings the 31 criminals together and their harsh training on Silmido. We’re talking hard, intense, gruelling in-your-face stuff here where the weak don’t survive and this does happen when we see one of their members die (in fact 7 of the company eventually die).  The brutal training is all for the sake of creating the perfect soldier. Any ill-feeling that any of the members have with each other gradually disappear over time as they begin to bond and form a tight unit who are all united and are prepared to sacrifice themselves if necessary for the sake of their nation. The word “loyalty” gets spoken a lot throughout the movie. The team are shown improving their skills in all aspects such as being hopeless in shooting guns to becoming experts at hitting targets with deadly accuracy. They are now a highly polished killing-machine who are desperate to go on their mission more than their superiors so when it is scrapped all that training goes down the tubes. Discipline becomes ragged among them and it’s as if they don’t give a damn anymore and who can blame them. There’s a rather unsavoury scene as two of the soldiers disappear and rape a nurse which I think was a bit unnecessary and it’s made worse by the fact that one of the characters was rather likeable. The movie veers toward the dramatic in the second half as the unit break free from their imprisonment on Silmido island and head for Seoul. It ends in a shootout between government forces and the soldiers on a bus which is full of passengers. It was shameful that the soldiers had been pushed into this situation thanks to their own government who thought they could be gotten rid of easily as if they didn’t exist in the first place. Their attitude was eliminate them all and nobody will know anything about it and that’s what would have happened if it wasn’t for the book which exposed everything.

The acting from the cast is very good with the movie focusing on 2 individuals in the unit more than any of the others namely gang-leader Kang In-Chan and Han Seung-Pil. You will see some stock characters amongst the unit as well that you’ve probably seen in many war movies. I felt that it wasn’t the soldiers that stood out in the movie but the character of Choi Jae-Hyun, the head of the training officers in charge of shaping the soldiers . Don’t expect to see any character development taking place in the movie.

I thought this was a fantastic historical movie which was brilliantly directed by Kang Woo-Suk. The mix of drama and action works well. It’s a tragic tale set amidst the political machinations of South Korea during the late 60’s. This is high quality cinema and if you want to learn something about Korea’s sad past then go and check it out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Yellow Sea (2010)

The Yellow Sea (2010)

Gu-nam is an immigrant living in China with a job as a taxi driver but he spends all of his wages at a gambling den in order to pay off his debts that have built up since his pretty wife fled to South Korea. With his debt growing and with some hoodlums after him for not paying them back, a local crime boss Myun-ga offers Gu-nam a chance to settle everything but to do so he must travel to Seoul in South Korea to kill somebody on his behalf. He’s reluctant at first but seeing as this is an opportunity to track down his errant wife he takes up the offer. He has a number of days to carry out his task, find his wife and he must cut the person’s finger off as proof that he’s successfully completed the murder. Gu-nam once in Seoul checks out where his target is living and what time he goes off to bed before planning the murder carefully. On the night he hopes to kill the man, he finds a rival gang has already beaten him to it but still he goes ahead and cuts the man’s finger off before fleeing. The police after seeing some CCTV footage name him their prime suspect and hope to capture him but Gu-nam has another problem as well as the rival gang also want to track him down. With so many obstacles in his path, will Gu-nam be able to find his wife and manage to get back home to China safely?

Coming from Na Hong-jin who directed the brilliant The Chaser movie is this awesome and expertly crafted thriller. It’s good to see that he’s managed to maintain the high standards in that movie and woven another gripping storyline which is full of brutal hardcore violence involving knives. The movie is broken down into two parts: the first deals with the grimy and depressing background of Gu-nam and why he’s forced to take Myun-ga’s job. Gu-nam is a man you’re not sure which side of the fence he’s sitting on – is he a decent man or a nasty person? But even if the viewer questions his dodgy beliefs he’s still someone you root for in the movie especially when he is betrayed. Whilst the first part is important for us to know what kind of a man Gu-nam is and the circumstances for taking on the killing job, it’s after he travels to Seoul and sets on working out his plan to assassinate the man that the excitement and suspense for the viewer begins. It’s a movie that starts out slow enough but builds up very nicely to an incredible finale. The pacing is perfect and you will be left on the edge of your seat when Gu-nam’s well laid plans go awry through no fault of his own. It’s just that other people also have their eye on Gu-nam’s target and beat him to the punch.

the yellow sea screenshot
There’s no shortage of exciting and nail-biting chase sequences to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. The director uses hand-held camcorders to put you right into the heart of the action. I don’t really mind this method if it works incredibly well and the results in this movie speak for themselves but I’ve read from other movie fans that hate this technique. I’ve mentioned above that there’s some violence in this movie and I suppose I’d better warn those who hate the sight of blood should be prepared to some major bloodletting. The knife/hatchet fights that take place is incredibly violent and it doesn’t shirk from showing it in all its visceral glory. This is a very long movie. The running time is just over 2 and a half hours but because the storyline is totally engrossing and hooks you in, I doubt you’ll even notice that so much time has passed from the start of the movie to the end credits. It’s credit to the fantastic script that’s been written and the first rate directing ability of Na Hong-jin for giving the viewer such an unforgettable and rewarding experience. There’s a bit of history to this story too as Gu-nam is a Joseonjok. They’re people of Korean descent who live in China and they suffer all kinds of abuse due to their feeling of not belonging and unwanted by Korean people. This ill feeling against the Joseonjok people by the Koreans is allegedly on the rise. And for those wishing to know about the title of the movie – it describes the stretch of ocean between Eastern China and the Western Korean peninsula that Gu-nam travels on to his mission.

The cast for the movie is excellent. If you’ve seen The Chaser you’ll see that two of its stars have reunited with the director for this movie although they’ve switched good guy/bad guy roles this time round. Ha Jung-woo is superb as Gu-nam who is rather a tragic figure. A man out of his depth as things go pear-shaped with the authorities and the villains out to get him so he has to use his ingenuity in order to survive. Kim Yun-seok also gives a wonderful performance as the larger than life crime boss Myun-ga who also knows how to survive against overwhelming odds.

The Yellow Sea is a masterpiece and close to being a perfect movie and it really does give the viewer a great example of the movies that have been coming out of South Korea during the past couple of years. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and I would recommend it to anybody who likes gritty engaging thrillers. It’s well written and well acted. I look forward to seeing the next movie from Na Hong-jin. Don’t miss it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Here we go with last month’s movies that I checked out. Those that I’ve reviewed will not be in this list:

Kamen_Rider_W_Forever_A_to_Z_The_Gaia_Memories_of_Fate

Kamen Rider W Forever: A To Z/The Gaia Memories of Fate
3 stars out of 5

The Isle 2000
The Isle
3.5 stars out of 5

Satan Returns 1996
Satan Returns
2.5 stars out of 5

Ah My Goddess movie
Ah! My Goddess! The Movie
3.5 stars out of 5

BladeOfFuryCover
Blade Of Fury
2.5 stars out of 5

Riding Bean
Riding Bean
3 stars out of 5

Utsushimi
Utsushimi
3 stars out of 5

Boukenger vs Super Sentai
GoGo Sentai Boukenger Vs Super Sentai
3 stars out of 5

CopsVsThugs_DVD
Cops vs Thugs
3 stars out of 5

kamen_rider_agito_project_g4
Kamen Rider Agito: Project G4
3 stars out of 5

hunter-x-hunter-phantom-rouge
Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge
3 stars out of 5

Sailor Moon S The Movie
Sailor Moon S The Movie: Hearts In Ice
3.5 stars out of 5

Stone Age Warriors
Stone Age Warriors
3 stars out of 5

intoadream
Into A Dream
3 stars out of 5

Hot For Teacher
Hot For Teacher
4 stars out of 5

Street Mobster
Street Mobster
4 stars out of 5

Wolf Children
Wolf Children
4 stars out of 5

Megalopolis Expressway Trial
Megalopolis Expressway Trial
3.5 stars out of 5

pleasure-kill-poster
Pleasure Kill
3 stars out of 5

Labyrinth of Dreams
Labyrinth Of Dreams
3 stars out of 5

Sixty-Million-Dollar-Man
Sixty Million Dollar Man
4 stars out of 5

redpeonygambler
Red Peony Gambler
3 stars out of 5

About Her Brother
About Her Brother
3.5 stars out of 5

Eros High School
Eros High School: Feels So Good
2.5 stars out of 5

samuraisentaishinkenger
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger vs. Go-onger: GinmakuBang!!
3 stars out of 5

Charisma
Charisma
3.5 stars out of 5

girl-boss-crazy-ball-game
Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game
3.5 stars out of 5

origin_-_spirits_of_the_past
Origin: Spirits Of The Past
2.5 stars out of 5

Girl-Boss-Blues-Queen-Bee_s-Counterattack
Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Counterattack
3.5 stars out of 5

mardock-scramble-the-first-compression
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression
3.5 stars out of 5

Mardock Scramble Second Combustion
Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion
2.5 stars out of 5

alone_across_the_pacific_masters_of_cinema_series_uk_dvd
Alone Across The Pacific
3.5 stars out of 5

late-chrysanthemums-movie-poster-1954-1020233480
Late Chrysanthemums
2.5 stars out of 5

Planzet
Planzet
3 stars out of 5

Guzoo
Guzoo: The Thing Forsaken by God – Part I
3 stars out of 5

angel-s-egg-mystical-egg-of-the-angels-1985
Angel’s Egg
2 stars out of 5

Raise The Red Lantern
Raise The Red Lantern
4.5 stars out of 5

red-spell
Red Spell Spells Red
3 stars out of 5

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Die Bad (2000)

Die-Bad-2000

Park Sung-bin is a part of a teenage gang. At a pool hall an argument breaks out between his gang and another from an art school which turns into a full scale fight. It results in him grabbing a bottle and smashing it over one boy’s head. As the boy falls to the floor, his bloodstained head hits a pool table very hard. He is dead on hitting the floor. Sung-bin is sent to jail. 7 years later he is released and a plain clothes policeman is charged with keeping an eye out for him in case he reoffends. His father isn’t proud of him due to the social stigma of having an ex-con as a member of the family. He manages to get a job though in a local garage thanks to his older brother but he starts getting visions of the boy he killed all those years ago. As he is walking home one night he sees a man being attacked by 4 thugs. Sung-bin is hesitant at first to assist as he doesn’t want to get into trouble with the law but in the end he does. The man he has saved Kim Tae-hoon is a gangster and he takes Sung-bin under his wing and back into the world of crime. As time goes by, Sung-bin is unaware that a gang of youths he’s recruited are about to be used by his boss as knife-fodder in a horrific battle and he’ll come face to face in a showdown with a police officer who he will recognise as an old friend who was involved in the fateful fight at the pool hall all those years ago.

South Koreans like their gangster movies a lot. They usually make pots of money at the box office. It makes you wonder just why they find these types of movies so fascinating. Is it something to do with the romantic image that gangsters have in the country I wonder? This is one of the better efforts from South Korea and it is stylishly directed by Ryu Sung-Wan (on his debut) who made this movie on a shoestring budget and employed friends and family in the production. The story is broken down into 4 parts:

Rumble – two school male gangs start fighting each other at a pool hall which leads to Sung-bin killing somebody.

Nightmare – this segment fast forwards 7 years on as Sung-bin is released from prison and his descent into crime after rescuing a crime boss from a beating.

Modern Man – the viewer is introduced to Suk-Hwan, an old friend of Sung-bin who is now a police officer. He is staking out Sung-bin’s boss. This segment is interspersed with Suk-Hwan talking to the camera as if he’s being interviewed.

Die Bad – Sung-bin’s teenage gang is involved in a brutal fight unaware that they are being used and two former friends in Sung-bin and Suk-Hwan face off in a showdown.

Die Bad screenshot

As per usual in Korean gangster movies, this is a gritty and very violent movie. We’re talking proper brutal stuff on display. It’s lucky that the final segment which is a short film-noir is mostly in black and white as there is a lot of bloodshed and stabbings galore during the gang fight melee that takes place. It’s the different camera techniques that the director uses which makes this stand out from other Korean gangster movies. It has a washed out and grainy look about it. I loved how Ryu Sung-Wan has managed to piece together these 4 segments into one seamless story that takes place over a decade. It’s a well thought out story full of energy and great performances from the cast and what may surprise you is no guns are used at all. When you think of gangsters you think of people with guns but not in this movie. Lead pipes and knives seem to be the favoured weapons in this movie. The fights are realistic. They might not be pretty to watch but that’s how fights are in real life. The director makes it clear to not glorify the violence that’s seen during the movie. It’s a dark story highlighting the grimier side of Seoul and with characters that don’t have many options in life but follow a life of crime.

Die Bad provides a refreshing new look on the gangster genre. It’s a great showcase for highlighting the innovative ways that the director has used to convey the story.  Ryu Sung-Wan would go on to direct such great movies as Arahan, City of Violence and Crying First (all 3 are well worth watching btw).  This movie was a fantastic debut from a promising director at the time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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