Flying kites in Rio, breaking hearts in Korea, patching things up in Chinatown, and learning to pray all over the world. An eclectic mix for sure kicks off a (hopefully) periodic series of short reviews for those pressed for time.
Ten years after his flamboyant debut, director Joon-Hwan Jang steps out with a much tighter and straightforward crime saga. While it isn’t Save the Green Planet II, Hwayi stacks up well against other Korean vengeance thrillers. In a genre crowded with first rate films over the past decade, Hwayi shows that there can always be room for another.
Jung-woo Ha and Dong-won Kang shine in this period-action film about a clash of two men cast aside by Joeseon society. Director Jong-bin Yoon pulls Kundo together from a mix of styles, heavy on the Spaghetti western, but true to contempory Korean martial arts action. Overall, the film stays light and fun, but the slow exposition over the 137 minute run time keeps this good film from greatness.
Action-drama-action-drama-action-drama. Given the choice of following a policeman on his last days before a sex-change operation or mind numbing mayhem, Man on High Heels offers too much tragic-action for my taste. Seung-won Cha is great playing the lead with as little irony as possible. It is overall a much more humane treatment of the transgender role than expected. But after awhile the burden everyone carries is too much, and the action too cruel for the movie to elicit more from me than a blank stare and a shoulder shrug.
Palace intrigue and bureaucratic reform in 15th Century Korea are deftly handled in The Face Reader. Kang-ho Song as always is fun to watch as the titular character, who winds his way from poverty and disgrace to the heights of power and back again. Director Jae-rim Han keeps the story simple enough for non-Korean audiences to follow this Korean period drama, which makes it a good introduction to the genre.
The comic book origins of the story are never more apparent than in the clashing final confrontation scenes of Secretly, Greatly, Chul-soo Jang’s action-comedy-drama about North Korean super spies. The different cinematic requirements of drama and action are kept in check until the final 20 minutes, when they stumble over each other, making for a relatively disappointing finish to an otherwise entertaining film.
The trailer I found actually isn’t very helpful to understanding REC, Joon-moon So’s 2011 short film about two men on their fifth anniversary. Young-joon (Sam-dong Song) and Joon-seok (Hye-hun Jo) have rented a hotel room and in their own little world, make a video recording of their night. They joke that in gay-relationship years, one year equals ten years of heterosexual marriage, so in a sense, they have outlasted most marriages. In the first half of the movie, they are happy, a little too playful, even. Beyond a record of their sexual encounter, they interview each other about their feelings. Joon-seok’s disappointment with his partner is that he never gives in for choices of restaurants and movies, a fairly common complaint for all couples. His biggest fear however comes from the fact that even after five years, Young-joon still believes that this relationship is only temporary. That offhand joke about gay relationship equivalent years isn’t actually so funny in that context.
Hee-il Leesong directs films about tumultuous relationships between pairs of men that swing from romantic love to contempt and violence. He is one of the best directors of films about same sex relationships working today. His films may be aimed at his local Korean audience, but his storytelling and technical skills can easily be appreciated outside of that country. He is probably best known for No Regret (2006), which was the first gay film released widely in Korea. That film centered on an orphan and an wealthy man swept up in a tempest of obsession, disdain, romance, revenge and finally love. If you asked me what a hero was in a Leesong movie, it would be a man who refuses to be heartbroken without first putting up a fight. White Night and the two companion short films, Going South and Suddenly Last Summer, follow up on that idea through the parings of an expatriate flight attendant and a messenger, a private and his former sergeant and a teacher and pupil, respectively.