Man on High Heels (Korea: 2014)

 

Cha, looking exhausted. You may be, too.


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.

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The Face Reader (Korea: 2013): Kang-ho Song as 15th Century Detective

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.

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Secretly, Greatly (Korea: 2013): Identity-crisis and action genres step on each other in otherwise entertaining film

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Brief Review

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.

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Library Wars (Japan: 2013): Tales of war, stacks and romance

Library Wars is one of those Japanese pop phenomena that appears in all formats in rapid succession. It started its life as a light novel series, then a manga, then an animated TV series, then an anime feature film two years ago, followed by the live action film that I am reviewing today. If the process goes on, there will be a live action 10 part drama, followed by a live action film of that drama, followed by another TV series. I guess we do something similar here in the USA with comic book heroes and Star Wars, but we really don’t have the habit or process in place to release the same story in various formats so swiftly. When this rapid fire process happens in Japan, it usually means that we are dealing with a product aimed at younger audiences, and in this case, younger female audiences. With that in mind, I will review the Library Wars live action movie with a bit of caution. Not being Japanese, a teenager, or a woman of any sort, I’m not the target market. Is this a movie worth watching?

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Why Don’t You Play in Hell (Japan: 2013): A light comedy served with 1,000 gallons of blood

Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell traces its roots back to yakuza films, kung fu classics and light romances. It tells the story of a group of guerrilla film-makers fated to make one masterpiece together. That the film is about two yakuza gangs fighting a final battle with each other would not be noteworthy, except that the film is financed by the one of the gangs and involves an actual raid and fight to death. Beyond the buckets-of-blood stylings of the film, there is a little something for everyone, and as far as Japanese comedies go, it is accessible to western audiences.

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Gerontophilia (Canada: 2013): The Subtle Side of Bruce LaBruce

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To start with, let’s dispel the idea that Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia is somehow the “Gay Harold and Maude.” Since there aren’t that many comedies, or dramas for that matter, about the subject of young men romantically linked to senior citizens, I can see why looking for a comparison to the best-known example on film would be natural, but these really aren’t the same film. I guess one can say that in both films a rather distant young man learns about life from an a senior citizen lover so they are loosely equivalent. But I think that the fact that we make such comparisons points to the fact that there aren’t many films out there on the topic. Just because the pairing of Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) and Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden) happens to be of two men doesn’t diminish or increase the unease we may feel about their relationship. LaBruce isn’t making a “gay” anything here. Instead he’s making a fairly straightforward film about a type of relationship that isn’t often put on film. Unlike Harold and Maude the young male isn’t learning to appreciate life, but trying to understand and act on his desires and learn how to deal with the trials of dating men in their 70s and 80s.

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Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (China: 2013): Demon Hunter Hustle

Stephen Chow returns to the director’s chair for the first time in seven years to create a prequel to the oft-filmed and always beloved Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West. Chow is probably best known outside of the China-zone for Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and Sholin Soccer (2001), but he has had a long career portraying comedic heroes. After Kung Fu Hustle, he surprisingly went relatively quiet, with only 2008’s CJ7 on the docket as a starring vehicle. I was pleased to find out that he was back, although he doesn’t make an appearance in the film. Last years Journey to the West is apparently the all time box office record holder for a Chinese language film, and I probably would have sought out the movie because of that. However, Kung Fu Hustle established Chow as a comedic director worth watching and I was curious to see if he would showcase those skills again and if he’d spent that time off extending himself.

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REC (Korea: 2011): The night belonged to them

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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.

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White Night, Suddenly Last Summer and Going South (Korea: 2012): The costs of leaving when leaving is easy

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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.

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