November 25, 2007

Champion: The Man Who Wears Gloves

If you've ever seen a championship boxing match, then you know that while the lightweights certainly can't beat the heavyweights, they're nevertheless a hell of a lot scrappier, tougher, even scarier since they haven't got an ounce of fat to cushion any of the furiously thrown blows. Champion, Kwak Kyung-taek's biopic on South Korea's world-class contender Kim Deuk-gu, doesn't tell one fighter's rags to riches story, or traffic in his poetic inarticulacies of rage, though it could have done either given its subject matter. Instead, the flick relates the ascent of a fairly likable, none-too-bright pugilist who seems motivated by cultural imperatives and grounded by the respect that accompanies accomplishments which garner you a big fat wreath and a bloody nose. It's hard to tell whether actor Yu Oh-seong is doing a bad job or a solid one as he represents a man with little depth, not much smarts, and a boy's undeveloped philosophies. There's a lot of blank stares and looks of incomprehension. That might be the brutal truth. Ultimately, he's easy on the eyes and his tightie whities are always spotless. While the actual matches could've gone on much longer, his flashbacks are kept to a minimum. Kindly so.

November 17, 2007

The Ghost: Ring-a-ding-ding

What's the most influential horror movie ever? Psycho? Halloween? Frankenstein? In recent history, at least in Asia, the answer would definitely be The Ring. And for The Ghost, writer-director Kim Tae-kyeong trots out his own facsimile of that landmark movie's creepy dead girl. Why is the image of a silent young woman with straight, dirty black hair hanging in front of her face so unsettling? Even now, after having seen various incarnations of this demon-spawn in a half-dozen flicks, she's still got a certain undeniable power. Maybe it's the idea of a battered woman or an abused child who refuses to be beaten coming back from the dead to right wrongs. (The catch is she's got so much justifiable anger that she's a little out of control.) Woman as victim becomes woman as vengeance. Having the spirit inhabit different bodies, as Kim does here, just makes her transformation that much more universal. Like any decent fright flick, The Ghost also throws out a number of existential questions like if our memories were erased would we become someone else or who is responsible for an accidental death? I think I like amnesiacs! They're so open.

November 10, 2007

Shiri: She-bang She-bang

Shiri, Kang Je-gyu's enjoyable political thriller, has a riveting opener: With barely a word of dialogue, an extended montage of shooting, stabbing, screaming, running in the rain, and eating slop introduces us to the dehumanization undergone by a North Korean rebel military outfit. Yet the star pupil of this factional force isn't Pyongyang's answer to Sylvester Stallone; it's Kim Yunjin, the same lovely actress who made a splash stateside with her role in the cult series Lost. To call her character in this film a femme fatale strikes me as missing the point. Such an assertion just cheapens her antiauthoritarian convictions...or the effectiveness of the brainwashing. (That's your call.) But as she kill, kill, kills, she's destined to break as many hearts as she shoots because she can't shed her convictions as easily as her disguising wig. Though this flick has some slow sections before the big shoot-em-up in the stadium, it's also got some unexpected treats like a makeout scene in an aquarium and an excerpt from a Korean production of Guys and Dolls. The light military protection of a newly discovered, scent-free liquid bomb is an improbable plot point but from the looks of the resultant explosions perhaps that material was overhyped.

November 3, 2007

A Tale of Two Sisters: Lights! Camera! Inaction!

As far as symbolist family sagas involving ghostly multiple personalities go, I suppose A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the less hermetic ones. By the end of this atmospheric mystery (which is another way of saying that it's not that suspenseful), everything except for the creepy critters has pretty much been explained. Frankly, I would have preferred a bit more head scratching. I like the lizard creatures, the child crawling out of the woman's crotch, and the big bloody bag. Who cares what's in it? That's scary! But most of the time Kim Ji-woon's film has you watching anticipatory tableaus cheapened by the nagging question is this happening in the stepmom's head, the daughter's head, or the little sister's head. Why none of the characters chose to bash in the father's head may be the greatest mystery of all. Though he's somewhat peripheral to the action, his very coolness is so inappropriate that I kept hoping he'd turn out to be a modern version of Ted Bundy or Dr. Frankenstein. No such luck. Lots of nice haircuts shot so the face is somewhat obscured like in The Ring. But not nearly as riveting.