June 26, 2008

My Little Bride: Sixteen Going on Ten

What does it take to get a bratty, egotistical teenager (Mun Geun-young) to realize that the man her grandfather has tricked her into marrying happens to be the cutest, sweetest, most loyal guy this side of the 38th parallel? Evidently, enough evidence to solve all the mysteries of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen combined. This guy (Kim Rae-won) never demands sex, lets her tell the neighbors he's gay, goes on his honeymoon alone, doesn't try to kiss her, lets her date a swoony guy on the high school baseball team, stays up until all hours of the night to finish her art project without her knowing it, and won't let a soul criticize his little woman along the way. Clearly, a virgin wife is prized by this man. I guess he figures that he's going to get a satisfying payoff in the end. That she's a fairly unlikable young lady with little charm and prone to make ugly faces makes his patience with her misbehavior a strain to credulity. It also gives this romantic comedy a schizoid edge that prevents it from ever feeling like treacle. An effective comic turn from Ahn Sun-yeong as the lecherous spinster who teaches the class where the groom serves his internship brings some legit laughter to My Little Bride. Odd but not bad.

June 22, 2008

Nightmare: Laughing at Death

You have to slog through a morass of mystification before Nightmare takes off. But the last 20 minutes are the kind of crazy, nonsensical, campy shenanigans that have kept me a horror fan in between the actually scary movies. Furthermore, you can probably fast forward to this part and not lose anything in the process. The fun starts when an incrimating videotape reveals the crime that's been the cause of all the murders which have preceded. While there's definitely a relief to learn the why behind it all, what's more entertaining is to see a killer pussycat attack the man who ends up being the villain. That guy (Yu Jun-sang) goes on to give what could be a career-defining performance: He laughs insanely, he grins demonically, he stares moronically, he strangles with videotape. Where's the acting school that teaches this extreme form of expressiveness? As he batters the two surviving ingenues—a mental institute patient (Choi Jeong-yun) and her insensitive friend (Kim Gyu-ri) who's continually cursed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—Yu breathes new life into the expression "so bad it's good." Director-writer Ahn Byeong-ki improved with later efforts Phone and Bunshinsaba. Here is his humble beginning.

The Butcher: Definitely Not Approved by the FDA

Independent cinema. Attach those two words to a low-budget movie and you're making a promise of a fresh perspective, some groundbreaking material or one original thinker behind the whole thing. But Kim Jin-won's indie horror flick The Butcher delivers on none of these promises. The script is insipid, a tediously pointless bit of torture porn filmed sea-sickeningly by a camera attached to the primary victim's head. The dialogue is fifty percent inarticulate expressions of pain (screaming), fear (panting), and defeat (whimpering from behind a ball gag). The other fifty percent is self-conscious lowbrow structuralism, some of which is spoken, appropriately enough, off-the-cuff while smoking a cigarette. Like many a hack before him, Kim is subconsciously aware he's making a piece of crap. He may try to dress up his pseudo-snuff with shockery like urinating, vomiting, the gouging of an eye, and the sodomizing of his hero by a man wearing a pig's head, but he eventually let's his self-important mask slip when he has his stand-in -- the director of the video within the film -- proclaim, "I know we can sell this to the U.S. They're always looking for more bloody things. But this ain't art at all." Truer words were never spoken. At least not in The Butcher.

June 19, 2008

The Quiet Family: Shhh! No Laughing Allowed

Bad dramas make me angry. Bad comedies leave me bored. In keeping with that, Kim Ji-woon's flat farce about a family who falls into the habit of killing guests at the inn they've recently bought didn't irritate me with its implausibility. It left me comatose. Not many comedies elicit no laughs, no titters, no smirks, no half smiles, no slightly internal feelings of amusement without any outward expressions at all, so I suppose The Quiet Family is something of an acchievement in how purely it fails. When's the last time you saw a film in which every comic set up fell short of the mark. From the initial suicide of the first customer to the mass burning of dead bodies in the warehouse out back, the crimes get more and more extreme without ever feeling outrageous. You feel the actors playing the macabre scenario for all its worth; you also feel Kim's script has nothing amusing to say. Maybe this isn't a comedy. Maybe this is a murder mystery and the part of the detective has been pretty much left on the editing room floor. Or maybe this is a horror movie in which the ghost is invisible and it's our job to insert his spooky presence. It certainly feels like work watching it.

June 11, 2008

The Soul Guardians: Jesus Christ, That's Scary

I've seen Catholicism rear its Romanesque head before in Korean films but never as gorgeously as it does in Park Kwang-chun's The Soul Guardians. This K-Horror classic's got a madonna who weeps blood, a child prodigy of white magic, and a succubus who holds her lover literally by the bleeding heart. Talk about imagery! Talk about mysticism! Talk about heavy metal! Bring on that pentagram mapped out in candles already! The Satanic cult has birthed a dear-if-dim soul who only needs to take off her crucifix and lie down on the table to officially become Satan's bride. Subplots involve a trampy roommate doomed to coitus interruptus, a cop so unaware of the other side that he accidentally opens the Gates of Hell, and a flying dagger with abandonment issues. This is an alternate reality to rival Narnia in terms of converting Christianity's battle between Good and Evil into something a little more cinematic than The Bible. (Does anyone really want to see a filmed version of Chronicles or Psalms?) It may be sad that knifethrower Hyun-am (Shin Hyeon-jun) has to stab his soulmate (Chu Sang Mi) to save the world, but sometime a knife isn't just a knife. Symbolism people!

June 7, 2008

Jungle Juice: Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Take out all the curse words in Jungle Juice and you'd be left with a silent movie colorized with Dayglo spraypaint. This cornball comedy's two numbskull-punks (Jang Hyuk and Lee Beom-su) cuss if they're bragging, cuss if they're clowning around, and cuss if someone's smacking them silly...which happens pretty often. The non-stop profanities and the aggressively bloody slapstick which, true to the word's roots, really does involve equal parts slap and stick, quickly gets tedious given the lack of plot in the meandering first half. By the time an actual story emerges -- involving stolen cocaine, intra-gang warfare, and a prostitute who goes by the name of Meg Ryan (Jeon Hye-jin), writer-director Cho Min-ho has his work cut out for him in terms of winning over an audience. That he does even partially is kind of amazing. The final halfhour is tight: multiple storylines intertwine and the goofy highjinks take on unexpected gravitas. In the end, it's still a stupid buddy pic with yuk-yuk gags and actors making silly faces but you're also clued in to the fact that Cho's capable of much more. He's the class clown who's smarter than he'd like to admit. Hey Cho! There's nothing wrong with being brainy. Try it sometime.