July 27, 2008

The Bow: Mind Your Own Business, Whippersnapper

Considered within Kim Ki-duk's oeuvre, The Bow is a fairly gentle fable. Sure, it centers around an old codger (Jeon Seong-hwang) who runs a recreational fishing vehicle and the underage simpleton (Han Yeon-reum) who he's kidnapped then raised for ten years to be his blushing bride but instead of delving into the brutal realities such a love-slave scenario suggests, The Bow turns out to be a peculiar winter-summer romance, and a shortlived one at that. In the end, you're left to figure out for yourself whether the appearance of the cute college student (Seo Si-jeok) is the girl's undoing, her salvation, or even whether it will have any major impact on her life at all. Since she's spent the entire movie as quiet as a dormouse except for a couple of giggles, one crying jag, a few whispered words into the old man's ear, and an orgiastic bit caused by her sexual awakening with a ghost, she's probably going to go through life as silently as she started whether she's surrounded by the clamor of the city, the rhythms of the country, or the serenity of the sea. If that busybody undergrad is a student of philosophy, he's now well prepared to write a paper addressing the following question: Are you responsible for the life you save?

July 22, 2008

Redeye: When the Dream Is Not a Nightmare

If nightmare-causing moments are what you're after, most Korean fright flicks are bound to disappoint. Look at Redeye, Kim Dong-bin's moody spookshow about a phantom train on which deceased passengers share berth-space with the living. It's got plenty of horror movie mainstays: the rainstorm, flickering lights, fog, cobwebs, a random spider, a music box, and an affectless child who likes to draw in red. It's also got some second-tier dependables like dirty mirrors, a late victim's cell phone, a possessed wig, a camera that sees ghosts, and a pair of shiny scissors used repeatedly as a weapon. As a catalogue of creepiness, Redeye is respectable stuff. As a journey into your darkest fears, however, it's more a conundrum. As the runaway train careens towards a terminal of the dead, the heroine (snack bar servant and daughter of the dead engineer) sleepwalks from one disaster to the next. Ghosts may come and go; she may scream and faint. But the dreamlike world isn't terrifying so much as its surreal. That's not a complaint. K-horror often feels like a strange, off-kilter parallel universe. Like many unconscious psychic trips, it's filled with symbols and a cast of characters who rarely ask why anything is happening.

July 19, 2008

Time: Love Me. Love My Face

It took me awhile to come around to Kim Ki-duk. He can be pretentiously affected (Real Fiction) or ridiculously farfetched (Samaritan Girl). But Time, like The Isle and 3-Iron, reillustrates that at his best he's an almost-mystical storyteller. The inverted romance concerns a man and his girlfriend (Park Ji-yeon) who gets plastic surgery to find out if he loves her. Or to keep him interested. Or because she hates herself. Motives are inscrutable: Kim is no Pavlovian! Anyway, just when this nutty girl is about to reveal that the new her (Seong Hyeon-a) is the same person as the old her, the boyfriend (Ha Jung-woo) announces he's still in love with his ex, not knowing his new paramor is one and the same. She goes ballistic. He finds out then freaks out himself. In fact, he freaks out so much that he goes to the same plastic surgeon for help. What the confused loverboy looks like after that operation we never learn. What we do see is she's going crazy trying to find out. Is that guy at the scuplture park him? Or the friendly patron at the neighboring table at Room & Rumors coffeeshop? Or is he, please God no, the fatal victim in a car accident? Whatever! She returns to the beauty clinic for another new face to help her forget or to let her escape or because she's addicted to going under the knife. Hippocrates, where art thou?

July 12, 2008

The Wig: Sister, Don't Mess With My Hair!

Ji-hyeon (Yu Seon) is faced with a serious dilemma in Won Shin-yeon's The Wig. Strange things have been happening since her leukemic sister (Chae Min-seo) returned from the hospital. Ji-hyeon suspects that the cause of this recent downturn of events (e.g., her fiance dumping her and a close friend turning into a homicidal killer) may have something to do with the wig bought for her bald, terminally ill sibling. Yet she also senses that this same purchase has restored her sister's health and imbued her with a bit of friskiness. What to do? Since she can't talk to anyone about the various complications and suspicions because her vocal cords were severely damaged by a steel rod that fell off a truck (more bad luck!), she kind of lurks around looking maudlin. Who can blame her if she squeaks in confusion? By the time she decides to take action (you go girl!), her world has been completely upended. Turns out her former boyfriend was once seriously involved with a trannie; now that same ex-lover wants a relationship that spans the grave. The truth may shock but rejected or not, this is one damsel in distress who is not about to give up on her man after she finds out that he's uninterested, unfaithful, and gay. Horror of horrors.

July 5, 2008

Les Formidables: This Brotherhood Knows No Bounds

Nothing pleases like a tale of redemption. And in Les Formidables, writer-director Cho Min-ho has made an action-packed one in which a degenerative detective (Park Joong-hoon) and a principled criminal (Cheon Jeong-myeong) have a shared lesson in selflessness and the meaning of true friendship. Unlike his earlier buddy flick Jungle Juice (which was a guilty pleasure at best), Cho's Les Formidables wastes no time setting up its story of two men on the run by looking for laughs in dorky adolescent humor. Brutal and spare despite its corkscrew narrative, the movie opens with a spectacular fight scene that leaves Park's cop with a battered head, a loss of dignity, and no partner. Next up is Cheon's just-as-rapid descent from self-employed short-order cook to bloodied, bewildered fugitive. What keeps the heart pounding from then on is Cho's skill in tightening the net around the duo by having one side of the law then the other get closer and closer to capturing and/or killing. That each man has a friend on on the inside and a woman on the outside who'll go to great lengths (one for love; the other, for kicks) ensures that this action movie outpaces its competition in the genre. The bobbypin scene qualifies as a classic.

July 2, 2008

Green Chair: She Sure Likes 'em Young

She's a sexy older woman straight out of prison where she served time for seducing a minor. He's the not-so-traumatized boy on the cusp of manhood who comes to pick her up on the day she's released. High tension? Not a whit. Rather there's a subsequent half hour of soft porn in Green Chair during which the estranged lovers copulate in every position to see if they can exhaust their sexual attraction to each other. No such luck. Afterwards, we're force-fed the fantasized realities of a winter-summer romance which blossoms in the secluded home of the ex-con's best friend, a bohemian artist who makes bad coffee cups for a living. What you'll learn? Pedophilia is so taboo that no one really wants to confront it. Or maybe Age of Consent laws are so controversial, it's best to sidestep the issue. How much easier it is to make a sexy bit of erotica in which a divorcee (Suh Jung) worries about rejection, and a hormonal teenager (Shim Ji-ho) gets trained in the sack where the ultimate expression of love is swallowing. Writer-director Park Cheol-su needs to bone up on his Foucault, his Nabokov, and his Susie Bright.