June 28, 2009

Chunhyang: Famous Courtesan Returns Better Dressed, Less Tragic

Oh no, not her again. Yes, it's another movie about Chunhyang (Lee Hyo-jeong), Korea's favorite daughter of a hooker, bride of the governor's son. And once again, she's too proud, too loyal, and too good for her own good. Because of that, she's still getting jilted when her young husband moves to Seoul. And she's still getting beaten by cudgels when the new governor (Lee Jung-hun) comes to town. So what does director Im Kwon-taek bring that's new to this torturous romance? A much younger leading man (Cho Seung-woo), lots of fabulous hats and robes, and a singer who narrates the action in front of a contemporary audience that acts like an Evangelical congregation. There's less tension here for both real and filmed audiences, as the director rushes the initial courtship as well as the subsequent punishment. In place of the venial and the penal, Kim shares excessive footage of the characters getting from Point A to Point B, which since they're always splendidly costumed, comes across as a dynastic fashion show in the great outdoors. There's also a strange brief moment when rainbow sperm shoot across the night sky but that aside, Kim's version is adamantly folksy, not flashy. Of the three renditions of this popular tale I've seen, this one's the least popular.

June 21, 2009

Cadaver: Have a Heart; On Second Hand, Have Five

K-horror rarely frightens yet it does regularly disturb. In director Son Derek's Cadaver, the disquieting moments all occur at a teaching hospital where six cocky medical students find their boozy disregard of the Hippocratic oath -- on the eve of getting a corpse for dissection -- will lead to a series of gruesome deaths, all seemingly self-inflicted by a scalpel. As each once-giggly undergrad succumbs to the merciless knife, creepy skeletons emerge from their collegial closets like the inhumane heart transplant done by one student's dad, the necrophiliac longings of another student (who happens to be the mystical son of a funeral director) and the patricide by yet another who has trouble sleeping. (Can you blame her?) As to the inappropriate posthumous grope of the corpse's breast, this may be more medical than criminal. How, after all, does formaldehyde affect the fatty tissue of the tit? Some budding doctors need to know! From what I could tell (and Cadaver can be confusing), one guy (whose worst crime may be two-timing) escapes the curse of the cadaver. As to the rest, they're guilty as charged if less so than the possessed serial murderer among them.

June 13, 2009

Over the Rainbow: Weathering Out Seriously Delayed Gratification

Jin-su (Lee Jung-jae) has one major problem in the Romance Dept.: a lack of nerve. This meteorology student is so damned shy he can't express his feelings for a co-ed (Jang Jin-young) in his college photography club which leaves her to pair off with his best bud (Jung Chan) when this classic deep-and-silent type runs off to join the army. The military doesn't make a man out of Jin-su either. It takes a car wreck causing amnesia to do that. Afterward, super-duper slowly, the now-erratic weatherman rebuilds his memories of some mystery woman named "Rainbow" (actually non-memories of him not saying anything and not doing anything) thereby getting the gumption to finally ask this love of his life on a date. Cue credits! What should be a happy ending is so exasperatingly delayed that you're left raging at the screen about how they're a couple of dolts who don't deserve love, that he's eventually going to get fired from the news station because he's incompetent, and she's going to grow bored with him as well as her job in the lost-and-found section of airport security. Over the Rainbow is written, directed and prolonged by Ahn Jin-woo.

June 6, 2009

Please Teach Me English: No White Actors Speak Korean

I got this Kim Sung-su movie not because of how much I loved his Musa: The Warriors but because I honestly have begun to feel guilty about not knowing any Korean. I thought maybe the classroom scenes in Please Teach Me English would include simple translations like how to say "My name is Drew" or "It looks like rain." (It's "Che eerum-un Drew imneeda" and "Piga ol goht katahyo" if you're curious although I had to look up those two phrases online.) But there was nothing to learn like that here. Not only was I not building my Korean vocabulary but I was repeatedly cringing as actress Angela Kelly (who plays the English teacher) was having her Korean lines dubbed by another performer. Oh, the horror! The shame! With no useful lessons to be found, this hokey film must be judged as rom-com alone. Well, it fails as a romance since there's no chemistry between the pining dork of a clerical cog (Lee Na-yeong) and the cute shoe salesman (Jang Hyuk) who's eager to learn English because his long-list sister is returning from America. And it fails as a comedy since it's laughs are based on the idea that it's funny to see a pretty actress act goofy while wearing eyeglasses. I bet an actual instructional video would be funnier. If I learned the word for love, it would be more romantic too.