March 28, 2009

Nowhere to Hide: Look at the Crime; Don't Attend to the Crime

Nowhere to Hide certainly looks good. It's got a grainy black-and-white prelude in which one high-energy police bust periodically freeze frames into Crayola-colored stills. It's got slow, arhythmic pans that slide across glass surfaces reflecting autumn leaves, street lights and garish neon. It's got one extended fight sequence shot in silhouette so that it looks like cool shadow puppetry. All of this is good. It's also got a villain (Ahn Sung-kee) who despite being a murderer doesn't seem to justify the extensive manhunt. It's got a main cop (Park Joong-hoon, a kind of poor man's Song Kang-ho) who's technique is limited to swagger, smile and run. The detective has an ineffective sidekick (Jang Dong-kun); the bad guy, a teary-eyed girlfriend (Choi Ji-woo). All of this is bad. Does it balance out in the end? I'd say Nowhere to Hide is the perfect party video; director Lee Myung-se's movie is the type you want playing on a wall at a nightclub or a rave, its periodically flashy visuals acting as conversation-starters and boredom-preventers. Minus the dialogue (and there isn't much, frankly), Nowhere to Hide is fit to be seen and danced to.

March 25, 2009

Deaf Sam-ryong: He Can't Hear You Say Stop Loving Me

People say you can make your own family but I don't know. I think you're pretty much born with whatever it's going to be and that the best of everyone else is just really good friends if you're lucky. You can't make someone a blood relative aside from marriage. From the looks of Deaf Sam-ryong, director Shin Sang-ok agrees with me. His effective weepie about a servant (Kim Jin-kyu) with no hearing and only half a brain shows that you can be the best-behaved son to the man you wish were your father but he'll always choose his own offspring first, and that you can be the most chaste, self-sacrificing idolizer of a well-bred lady (Choi Eun-hie) but she'll always side with her husband even if he beats her and sleeps with the maid. Maybe if this surrogate son/lover wasn't such a simpleton that wouldn't be the case but poor Sam-ryong has only the cards he's been dealt by life and those add up to a losing hand. Although his performance is painfully over-the-top, Kim creates a sympathetic character eventually. I guess you can't be this downtrodden and not merit a handful of hankies. Choi, for her part, must be credited for keeping a straight face during Kim's shameless mugging.

March 19, 2009

YMCA Baseball Team: This Diamond's for Sports Fans

One of these days, I'm going to get around to reading Pindar. Maybe if I'd read the Olympian odes of literature's first sports fanatic, a don't-think, feel-good movie like YMCA Baseball Team wouldn't seem so mystifying. It's not that I don't get it: Korea's first baseball team (circa 1906) unifies the nation by defeating their Japanese opponent-oppressors; it's not that I don't enjoy it: Is it ever bad to see a film with Song Kang-ho in the lead? It's just that I don't buy it. I never experience an epiphany when an athletic underdog overcomes the odds, in a fabricated context. Sports have neither the drama of theater nor the grace of dance. In short, they're not art...especially baseball which has to be the slowest organized sport out there after golf. The best you can say about a baseball movie is at least it doesn't draw out every inning. Only the final one. And if you're second-guessing who's going to win in the rematch between Korea and Japan here, you've probably never seen a sports movie before. Should that be the case, Kim Hyeon-seon's popcorn confection is a giggle-inducing introduction to the genre. Call it a hit and I'll agree. Call it a home run, and I'll accuse you of fudging stats.

March 15, 2009

Volcano High: The Remedial Students of Chopsocky

I sense two possibilities here. The first is that writer-director Kim Tae-gyun commissioned a storyboard for Volcano High but was given a manhwa (a Korean manga) instead. The second is that he found the manhwa first and used it as his storyboard. Either way, this movie is really just a series of four-color panels in which actors do everything overemphatically as they strive to become cartoons. There's plenty of talk about destiny, screams shouted at the heavens, and even guys with superpowers and Matrix coats. But character development and a nuanced plot.... Well, you'll have to look elsewhere for those. You won't find much comedy either despite all the hammy acting and a ludicrous storyline about rebelious students who want to rule the high school by getting access to a magical scroll. I'll be damned if I could figure out who I was supposed to cheer on: the dorky blonde transfer student (Jang Hyuk), the ice princess (Shin Min-a) who helms the Kendo team, or a group of adult outsiders brought in as disciplinarians. MTV re-edited the film then dubbed it with hip hop artists (Snoop Dogg, Method Man, Mya) and I say why not. For all its excesses, Volcano High has very little to recommend it in its original form. It's hyper-boring.

March 8, 2009

Like a Virgin: He Made It Through the Wilderness

For gay men, Madonna has long one-upped her Biblical namesake in terms of relevance. That's because the pop star and patron saint for homos provides salvation not by promising heaven later but by rescuing from hell today. In the enchanting dramedy Like a Virgin, the singer serves as a secular icon for a transgendered youth (Ryu Deok-hwan) who's struggling to maintain his dignity as he pursues a sex change operation despite the hazing of his peers, the abandonment by his mother (Lee Sang-a), and the physical abuse from his alcoholic dad (Kim Yun-seok). Whenever his situation gets a little too hairy, he retreats to his makeup kit and a poster of the Material Girl as if they could make the world go away until he raised the funds needed to make him a woman. How he decides to earn the money strays far from the cliche, though: He joins the high school wrestling team with the hope of winning the grand prize at the championships. Ridiculous? No more so than real life, really. Writer-directors Lee Hae-jun and Lee Hae-yeong balance the serious with the silly; anguished expressions of alienation are relieved by bathroom humor and messages of acceptance and tolerance are countered by homoerotic gags and dance routines. All this one needs is more Madonna on the soundtrack.