Pieta is latest movie from exceptional and famous Korean director Ki-duk Kim, known for such tranquil and dramatic masterpieces as 3-Iron, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, Samaria and many more that I had no opportunity to watch yet. He is no stranger to Cannes and Venice film festivals, however this particular movie triumphed at Venice film festival earning most prestige award there, Golden Lion.
Gang-Do (Jeong-jin Lee) lives in a small once blooming industrial district known for it's crafty metalworking, that now is laying down in poverty and is slowly being swallowed by the big city. People leave, and the ones that stay are unable to make ends meet. Gang-Do is a cruel, heartless debt collector for a local loan shark. One day he encounters a woman, who claims to his own mother whom abandoned him at birth. Thinking it's some kind of cruel joke, he rejects her claims, but she doesn't let go and is tenacious so eventually after some times passes they start to bond together. But who she really is? What are her reasons for appearing so sudden?
Recently there has been big influx of fantastic Korean movies whose central theme revolves around mother figure. Almost all the influential Korean directors have made a movies about it, such as Mother, Poetry, Secret Sunshine. Which in itself is not a surprise, considering that every living person in the world has a mother, so the story possibilities are quite extensive. Now it was Ki-duk Kim's time to make one.
It's a bleak, and sad movie, devoid of any lasting happiness. Jeong-jin Lee's character is cruel, cruel to his new found mother, to creditors, to himself. The world that raised him was cruel too.
What grabbed my attention is interesting camera work that was present in the movie, almost all the shots were filmed with hand held camera, even the static close ups, which made for some shaky, and at times amateurish experience, which might be what director was going after.
Ill be honest, this so far is my least liked Ki-duk Kim's movie. While it was quite gloomy and brutal, I felt it somehow lacked that realism which I love in movies, the feeling that such people exist and such events might happen to them. It felt more like theater performance on the big scene with set pieces instead of actual world out there. Maybe it was intended to be in a such way, isolated, out of this world experience like famous Michelangelo's sculpture Pieta, an artwork to be displayed and seen alone, by itself. To capture a moment of life.
Nonetheless, it didn't win Golden Lion for no reason, so while it may not be to my liking, definitely watch it and be a judge for yourself.
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Peppermint Candy (Bakha satang) is yet another piece from our old friend director Chang-dong Lee, a talented novelist, scriptwriter, teacher and former Culture Minister of South Korea. This, his second movie, was his first award sponge and the one that launched him into elite of Korean movie-makers.
On a bank of small river in some rural area, there is a small reunion of group of students taking place. Soon a man arrives, who was once a part of this group, but his behavior is irrational and confounded, even hysterical. He without saying much wrecks the party and then proceeds to nearby train tracks where he stands and faces oncoming train. In a manner, his live flashes before his very own eyes.
And we as a viewers are invited to see important events of his live that lead him to where he is standing.
A really sad story of a man, a series of a flashbacks that go deeper and deeper into his past. 20 years of a one mans life, and 20 years of entire country's turbulent history.
Masterfully crafted series of flashbacks, that each could deserve it's own short-film. And each meant to evoke certain emotions into viewer regarding the man we observe, his ambitions, and to explain why he is what he is and where he is. Fear, anger, hate and love.
Captivating performance by Kyung-gu Sol which enhances the almost flawless narration of the director. A must see struggle with life for every drama fan.
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Bleak Night (Pasookkoon) is what you might call an indie film that started out as graduation project, made by young director Sung-Hyun Yoon and young actor crew, that gained many praising critic reviews and awards in local movie scene.
Big thanks to reader who goes by nickname poolfish1 for bringing this one to my attention!
As the movie starts, we follow a disheartened father (Seong-ha Jo), who is now alone in his family. His wife, mother of his son has died long time ago, and his son recently committed suicide. Looking for answers and trying to understand reasons of his sons demise, he seeks for classmates and friends of his son.
The premise of this movie really simple. After the questions are being asked, the focus of movie entirely shifts to the boys, son and his friends. The narrative of the movie follows two paths, one of present time, and one of reminiscing past, where complicated relationships of these highschool boys are show, and these paths intersect each other in artistically seamless way.
As Aristotel had said once:
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.Important theme in the movie is said friendship. How our actions form grudges and they in their turn form cracks in foundation of this trust of most importance that's given to people close to us. And how this abusing this trust may lead to bleaker consequences. It also provides insight into what may lead a person to suicide.
The cinematography of this film is gorgeous, I absolutely adore the visual style used in it. The sound is perfect. The actors, a performances of highest levels, not a single miscast. I hope they along with director of the film will have bright future in cinema world.
A slow paced, even meditative film, full of sadness and regrets. Some may find it uneventful and boring, some will love it. In my eyes, it's a masterpiece. Highly recommended (but not for everyone).
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No Mercy for the Rude (Yeui-eomneun geotdeul) is movie written and directed by Cheol-hie Park, so far his only one, which is a shame, because judging from this work, he is really good at what he does.
A chef who dreams to become a matador. Embarrassed to talk, playing mute since childhood because of his tongue deformation, he decides to fix this, but a lot of money is required for corrective operation. Unable to provide it with usual means, he becomes a hitman for local crime organization. A hitman who vows to kill only ones whom he consider rude.
But good things usually don't last... bad fortune smiles upon him, just few jobs short to his goal, he makes a mistake during hit and gets into a huge mess with local crime figures.
The cinematography is brilliant, soundtrack is absolutely amazing, featuring latin rhythms and mesmerizing use of Anita Lane cover of Bella Ciao.
But the strongest part it's the actors performance. Starring Ha-kyun Shin whom is fantastic actor, known for many famous Korean movies. His narration and portrayal of this difficult character, who imposes himself to be a real macho, wearing leather, and sunglasses, while overdoing it, even at night, while underneath being and dreaming something entirely different.
This movie carries that character archetype, seen in movies like A Bittersweet Life, The Man From Nowhere and Leon: The Professional which I absolutely adore.
I really hope to see more from this director in future. Highly recommended.
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Who said that master of vengeance Chan-wook Park can't film romantic comedies? I don't know, but if someone did say that, I'd present to him I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha) and ask to check again.
Cha Young-goon (Su-jeong Lim), a young factory worker that is sent to mental institution, because she think's shes a cyborg. She refuses to eat food and constantly attempts to expose herself to electric shocks, believing that it will recharge her instead.
Park Il-sun (Rain), a young man, that's hospitalized for his antisocial behavior and schizophrenia induced kleptomania tendencies. He also believes that he can steal and posses other people souls, often mimicking their manners of behaving.
Park Il-sun takes interest in Cha Young-goon well being after her condition gets even worse after medical electroshock treatment. Both of them start spending their time together, living though their own weirdness and the ones of other patient that surround them in this asylum.
The structure and narrative of the movie is quite bizarre and at times confusing, but so is minds of the characters portrayed in it. Even though these characters are complex and puzzling, the story told is quite simple.
Visually really colorful and robust movie deals about darker and familiar to Chan-wook Park themes, workings of human mind, but this time he is taking it a little bit lighter, tying to fix it instead of damaging.
Korean pop superstars Rain's first role in movies that many thought was only a marketing ploy to promote himself and film, not expecting young star to perform well, but they were wrong, he's not only a good (I suppose) singer, but a good actor as well. Su-jeong Lim should too be complemented on her acting abilities. Being crazy is not that simple.
A little bit of comedy, drama and absolutely crazy fantasy sequences, directed by Chan-wook Park, whats there not to see? It's worth watching even if only to check out a different side of this famous director.
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Voice of a Murderer (Geu nom moksori) is attempt at crime genre from a director who is mostly known for his romance and drama movies - Jin-pyo Park, and it's quite a successful attempt at that, a highly grossing and recognized at many movie festivals effort.
Han Kyung-bae (Kyung-gu Sol) is a famous TV news anchor, who enjoys his fame and because of his success is preparing to take large steps forward to significantly advance his career. While all of his focus is shifted to work, his family, a beautiful wife and not so perfect son, is put on hold.
It all changes when one evening his son doesn't come back home from playground. A phone rings, and conversation begins that will control Han Kyung-bae and his wife's life for many tiring and sorrowful days.
In a similar manner (especially the ending if I might point it out) to remarkable Memories of Murder this film tells a story based on a true events that happened in South Korea. Movie deals with kidnapping and devastating emotional effect it produces on family members, parents in particular, also touching on ineptness of police force that is commonly displayed in oh so many Korean movies.
It may not contain masterful execution and brilliant touch for visuals that director of Memories of Murder Bong Joon-ho and his team posses, but nonetheless it's a solid and suspenseful thriller. Backed up by really solid cast choice of talented Kyung-gu Sol as a father in distress.
A good movie for fans of crime genre, a bit on a long side, but well worth a watch.
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Castaway on the Moon (Kimssi pyoryugi) was a positive surprise to me when I saw it, coming from quite unknown director Hey-jun Lee for whom this movies so far is the biggest and most recognized work that gathered some amount of awards in Asian region.
A man burdened by debts, failed relationships and job that drains him has had enough. He makes suicide attempt jumping from the bridge into river Han. But by accident he survives and wakes up being washed upon a shore of small uninhabited island in the midst of river. Finding himself in silly situation, where civilization is all around him, yet he cannot escape. He tries to find a way to leave the island and still is determined to end his life, but slowly as he adjusts to peaceful rhythm of the island, his resolve changes. He finds reasons to continue.
While obviously those of you who watch a lot of movies, will make a connection to famous movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, title and even the plot outlines are very similar. You might even think it's a remake of said movie with added a bit of Korean twist, but I assure you it's not. It's genuinely good movie able to stand on it's own.
A touching story of two troubled people who by chance make a connection. Both are taking a break from the outside world. Both are damaged in their own ways. And while dealing with hard issues, it's essentially a positive movie that emphasizes importance of hope. To call it simply a love story would do no justice for it attempts to expand on many other matter.
Essentially this movie is two actor show (Jae-yeong Jeong & Ryeowon Jung) as we see only them for most part of the movie, but what a great job they did, believable and enjoyable performances, supported by excellent cinematography and enhanced by directors skillful ability to bring out raw emotions from the viewers.
Highly recommended. Black bean noodles.
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DVD (R3) from YesAsia
Yellow Sea (Hwanghae) is second, and so far his latest, movie from director Hong-jin Na set in similar dark tones as his brilliant debut The Chaser.
In China, near the boarder of North Korea, lives Gu-nam (Jung-woo Ha), a poor taxi driver whose has amounted large debts due to his gambling habits. His wife has left to work in South Korea with promise to send back money, but he hasn't heard from her for half a year. Worried about her, sinking deeper in debts and being pushed around by debt collectors, he takes onto local gangsters offer to come to South Korean and kill a local businessman for mere $10000
Upon arriving, unwillingly he finds himself in a tight spot where police, local gangs and international mafia want to have a word with him. Still, he has to find his wife amid all that mess.
Coming from his fame of The Chaser, a lot was expected from Hong-jin Na and with Yellow Sea he has proven that he is capable director with bright future ahead.
In middle of all that, there is a lot of politics and ethnic commentary from director, as the main character is Korean immigrant, citizen of China, living near North Korea, and finding his luck in South Korea. Thus the name of the movie Yellow Sea - a sea that connects all of this.
Dark and grim. Movie about a running man with no way out. Recommended.
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Friend (Chingoo), award winning movie that set off Korean box office records at the time it was released, and is most famous movie of relatively unknown director Kwak Kyung-taek whom since then has been unable to surpass it by his other works.
Despite big differences in their lifestyles and families, four friends spend their time together while growing up in late 1970's South Korea, that was very different to Korea we know now.
As the time passes by, their paths in live gradually become separated, each takes their own, easy or difficult way forward. Two of the friends, Sang-taek (Tae-hwa Seo) and Jeong-ho (Un-taek Jeong) apply for a university to get good education, while other two, Lee Jeong-suk (Oh-seong Yu) and Dong-su (Dong-gun Jang) choose the path of crime and become involved in gang business, while being affected by things that usually accompany such activity, prisons, drugs, and death.
However, their lives still cross each other occasionally, while undergraduates are finishing their last years of study, Lee Jeong-suk and Dong-su have become gang leaders...
A tragic story about friendship and lives of four people. A really personal movie from Kwak Kyung-taek as it is semi-biographic movie loosely based on early part of directors life. Already really emotional movie, whose impact is just magnified by these memories and recollections about his friends and their fates.
Excellent and credible actor performance, that manages to capture with great detail all the events that occur in the movie.
And brilliant cinematography just completes the package. A huge recommendation.
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Thirst (Bakjwi) is a vampire movie by one of the best South Korean directors - Chan-wook Park, famous abroad for his Oldboy. This horrific love story earned director prestigious Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) is a well liked and devoted catholic priest who is helping at local hospital, providing reconciliation to patients at their last hours. While appearing strong on outside, Sang-hyeon is internally hurting by the suffering in the world and his inability to help. Giving everything, he participates in risky medical experiment to find a cure for deadly virus. Things go wrong and he (nearly) dies, but is saved by blood transfer, and quickly recovers fully.
A days pass and he became aware of changes that happen in him, physically and psychologically. After these event, he is being viewed as messianic figure in his town. People flock to him for some kind of salvation. Among them is his childhood friend, and his wife that he fells in love with. Struggling with what little of humanity is left in him, being used by the wife and others, doing things he would never have imagined doing he tries to make it right.
Another great work from Chan-wook Park, having excellent cast at his disposal, he makes a different kind of vampire movie, trademarked by his use of excessive violence an beautiful cinematography. Some unseen and impressive displays of supernatural powers of creatures of the night.
Abusive and grotesque love story, full of (blood) lust, sex and violence. Where everything ends in a beautiful sunrise in a memorable finale.
Exceptional. Highly recommended.
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Blu-ray (UK) | DVD from YesAsia
Poetry (Shi) is latest film by director Chang-dong Lee who is not a stranger on pages of this website, he has brought us such marvels of film-making as, exploration of unusual and tragic love in Oasis, and equally lurid story touching on impacts of religion on persons life after suffering a deep loss in Secret Sunshine. And now he is back to tell us a story about old woman. A story that has solid 100% critic approval rating on Metacritic and Best Screenplay Award from Cannes Film Festival 2010.
Mija (Jeong-hie Yun), a woman in her 60's, living with her disobedient grandson in small town, while her daughter is away, working in big city. Life is hard, but she is getting by with help of government welfare and by part time job of taking care of semi-paralyzed elderly man, who despite his health and age, still manages to make advances to her. Despite of all of this, she still manages to store away a bits of inner happiness, and has a positive outlook on passing days. By chance, motivated by memories of her youth, she joins poetry class, run by local community center. She then takes on a task to write her first poem.
However, she is faced with crime that her grandson and his friends committed. A diary of local girl, who recently died by suicide revealed that she was repeatedly abused and raped by them for many months. Families of boys want to protect futures of their offspring's, and settle the matter with single mother of the girl financially, without the involving authorities. With all of this burden upon her, she gets more bad news after visiting her doctor. But even then, she doesn't bulge.
A poem is to be written.
This movie in a way is really similar to Mother, that was released just a year earlier. Both feature strong female leads and fantastic performances by respective actresses, and even the plot and setting share a lot of similarities, but nonetheless each of the movies stand on their own, equally similar in their excellency.
As for actress, Jeong-hie Yun, director Chang-dong Lee has stated that he wrote whole role with her in mind, she was a huge star in Korea back 1970's and this film was her first role since 1994. And what a comeback it is! It was a pleasure to watch her acting on screen, a joys and hopes of elderly woman who is facing a tragedy, being strengthened by words from within.
A visual poetry. Must see.
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Blu-ray (UK) | DVD (UK) from YesAsia
Shiri (Swiri) by director Je-kyu Kang is one of the most recognizable South Korean movies from past decade. It was one of the first big budgeted blockbusters produced in South Korea in late 90's and immediate hit in box office, domestic and abroad. Borrowing production values from Hollywood and action from popular Hong Kong movies, it's a vigilant mix of both. A movie that dethroned Cameron's mighty Titanic from it's position of most viewed movie in Korea.
As two of top agents Jong Won Yu (Suk-kyu Han) and Jang-gil Lee (Kang-ho Song) are investigating this matter, it appears that the enemy is always one step ahead, and suspicions arouse among them of possible mole inside the agency.
Director Je-kyu Kang like in his next, famous war movie Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War likes to hint at closeness of both Korean nations, even tho they are enemies, in short breaks between violent fighting, he adds a dramatic layer to it, showing that divide is artificial, and on human level, relationships are possible between the two. Moreover, the movie name itself, Shiri, strongly confirms directors opinions, in a monologue by one of the characters in the movie, it explains that Swiri is a fish, that lives in rivers that flow across the Korea, and the fish doesn't know of South or North, it just swims in a water.
If you judge the movies by cast, finest to this day actors Kang-ho Song and Min-sik Choi, beautiful Yunjin Kim, best known in west for her role in popular TV show Lost, will guarantee that you won't be dissapointed.
Splendid spy action thriller, that won't let you get bored. Good dose of action and drama. Recommended.
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Director Jeong-beom Lee took a huge bite out of Korean box office with his high octane action thriller The Man From Nowhere, but what about his earlier works? As it turns out he's made only one feature film prior to this, and his debut movie is called Cruel Winter Blues (Yeolhyeol-nama). Also a movie revolving around gangsters, but more tame and personal than his new blockbuster.
Seasoned, but still small time, gangster Jae-Mun (Kyung-gu Sol) takes gang's newcomer Chi-Guk (Han-seon Jo) under his authority and leaves for a small provincial town. There, soon set to arrive, attending his hometown's sporting event is influential businessman Dae-Sik (Je-mun Yun) who few years ago murdered Jae-Mun's friend. Unable to shake the guilt of his friends death, Jae-Mun in his own way is finally ready to settle this old matter once and for all.
While waiting, he befriends mother (played by Mun-hee Na) of Dae-Sik who is owner and sole worker of a small dining place. As she starts treating him like her own son, Jae-Mun who is abusive and disrespectful to his underling, captured by her influence slowly starts to enjoy quiet and leisure life that this, imperfect in it's own way, dusty and crumbling town provides. His will to vengeance slowly starts to fade away. Change is happening somewhere deep inside of him.
If you are expecting a gangster movie involving lot's of gunfire, fights, or other violent means of mutual destruction, this film is not for you. As opposite to The Man From Nowhere, which had plenty of aforementioned stuff, this is much slower paced, personal drama. But still it's a gangster drama, obviously a popular sub-genre to explore in Korean movie circles, so there will be blood.
First class performances by all of main cast, great direction and cinematography. A great take on genre by Jeong-beom Lee. Engaging, heavy and personal story. Definitely worth a watch.
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One late autumn night, the disciple awoke crying. So the master asked the disciple, "Did you have a nightmare?" "No." "Did you have a sad dream?" "No," said the disciple. "I had a sweet dream." "Then why are you crying so sadly?" The disciple wiped his tears away and quietly answered, "Because the dream I had can't come true."
Before I write anything more about A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) I have to say that it is one of my most favorite movie ever, not just from South Korean, but cinema in general. A masterpiece by Jee-woon Kim that made me fall in love with his work, and opened my eyes to many amazing films his countryman produce. It swept away awards from many Asian film festivals and got positive critical response from western audiences, but still remains unknown to most viewers that are unfamiliar with Asian cinema.
Sun-woo (Byung-hun Lee) is right hand Mr. Kang (Yeong-cheol Kim), who is a boss of major crime syndicate. For years he has served loyally and without a fault to his employer, and now he has high level hotel complex under his strict management.
During one meeting, Mr. Kang, reveals to him that he has a mistress, a young girl named Hee-soo (Min-a Shin), and while he goes on a trip, he asks for a favor from Sun-woo, to keep an eye on a girl, and see if she is cheating on him. A seemingly easy task that goes sour, when Sun-woo discovers that she is in fact unfaithful to Mr. Kang. Unsure what to do, as his loyalty starts to crumble, Sun-woo decides to keep his findings secret...
Movie so full of style and coolness factor, carried by it's star, brilliant and famous Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, yet it has so much substance beneath it all to think about when credits roll. Suspenseful crime thriller, with noirish undertones, featuring that type of lone protagonist, found in many great movies like Le Samurai with Alain Delon.
Director Jee-woon Kim doesn't just stop there, fantastic cinematography, amazing camera work, with many new takes on action scenes, that all feature brilliant choreographing. A memorable scenes, characters, and bit of directors trademark brutal violence to make it proper gangster movie. And to seal the deal, incredible soundtrack, that I find myself listening to quite often.
A gem of Korean cinema. Must see.
DVD from Amazon
Blu-ray (Directors Cut) from YesAsia