July 29, 2009

Marrying the Mafia II: Above the Law and Below the Belt

I watched Marrying the Mafia II, not because I liked the first one but because I wanted to see actress Kim Jung-eum do her weirdo act again. That curiosity had to be shelved though since Kim's role this time is minimal if memorable. In truth, Jeong Yong-ki's MTM II isn't an extension of the first movie; it just reuses the same formula with a stronger cast, tighter storyline, and funnier gags. What happens this time is more or less the same: Two pretty people on different sides of the law fall in love forcing one to change his ways if church bells are going to chime. Here it's a gangster (Shin Hyeon-jun) gaga for a female prosecutor (Kim Won-hie). Far from getting her to marry into the mob, he's doing all he can to clean up his act and marry out of it. Before he gets to the wedding aisle, however, you'll get plenty of giggles from jokes based on Big Big breast cream, a padded penis protector, and his outlandish mother (Kim Su-mi) who runs the syndicate. Many of the devices from the first film are repeated (the observatory courtship, the botched serenade, the numbskull brothers) but what felt stale the first time, feels room temperature for take two. Maybe by Marrying the Mafia III, it will feel inventive!

July 27, 2009

Marrying the Mafia: Lessons in How to Be the Bride of Frankenstein

You'd think a jopok comedy that spawned a few sequels would be pretty good. And if it ended up being that year's most highly attended flick in South Korea then it would have to be really funny, too, even if the jokes were all kind of dumb, no? I mean how bad can it be? Which brings us to Jeong Heung-sun's Marrying the Mafia, a head-scratcher that is neither awful nor awesome. It's a stale confection at best, something you might call sweet but never delectable. It wouldn't merit your time at all if it weren't for actress Kim Jung-eum who plays the female lead, a mobster's daughter suddenly headed for an arranged marriage. Like a show-and-tell of extreme performance, Kim's acting is all wrongs that add up to right: As she struggles with both her white collar fiance (Jeong Jun-ho) and her three thug brothers, she overly indicates instead of acts so that perky, sad and annoyed all come across as neurotic, psychotic, and deranged. That she's surrounded by boilerplate interpretations that can be alternately harmless and charmless works to her advantage. With each glare, grin, and goofball glance, she's like the kid in class who's constantly making funny faces. You may find her irritating at first but eventually she will make you laugh.

July 25, 2009

Hansel & Gretel: The Babies of Beelzebub

Childhood, smilehood. Put it that way, and it all sounds so cloyingly sweet, doesn't it? Well, it's just that kind of sickly preciosity that Yim Pil-sung is scrutinizing in his K-horror remake of the Grimm fairy tale. His Hansel & Gretel is no faithful adaptation, however, dear reader, for despite the title, there are three kids, not two, and the carnivorous witch is long gone leaving the children to lure unsuspecting adults to that cozy-looking house in the woods. Babysitters, beware! The oldest child (Eun Won-jae) has diabolical tantrums; the middle one (Sim eun-kyung) struggles with weird sexual boundaries; and the baby (Jin Ji-hee) vacillates between creepy and cute -- as all tykes tend to do. Since mom and dad can't set proper boundaries in absentia, their latest adopted uncle (Cheon Jeong-myeong) must take on the duties of childcare which here means balancing genuine affection with a growing realization that these three are akin to Satan's spawn. When an ungodly deacon (Park Hee-soon) enters the scene, things go from bad to worse. Suddenly, siding with sociopathic delinquents seems like the lesser of two evils. Wicked comes in all sizes and age groups evidently. Sometimes, you should stab indiscriminately. And run!

July 18, 2009

The King and The Clown: A Daisy Chain of Tops and Bottoms

Indigent circus performers strike it rich. Now that's a cause for celebration, right? Sure, it is. But for some lucky clowns, it's also a cause for consternation. You see, when this particular tightrope walker (Kam Woo-seong) and his cross-dressing sidekick (Lee Jun-gi) find favor with a somewhat crazy, petulantly sadistic emperor (Jeong Jin-yeong), they also find themselves drawn into more than one troubled love triangle and some life-threatening political intrigue. But can the rope-walking acrobat help caring so deeply about his cross-dressing cohort? And can the cross-dresser help inspiring lusty thoughts in that kooky king? And, for that matter, can the royal courtesan (Kang Seong-yeon) help being jealous of that role-playing pretty boy who's also good with puppets and has a unique calligraphic style? No. No. No. A magnificently told tale based on a true story from the 16th century Chosun dynasty, The King and the Clown is a topnotch, romantic costume drama that knows when to be comic even if it's headed for tragedy. The performances are uniformly excellent, right down to the minor characters. Needless to say, I'll be checking out other collaborations of director Lee Jun-ik and writer Choi Seok-hwan.

Yesterday: Tomorrow Is Looking Doubly Depressing Today

The year is 2020 and two kindred spirits (Kim Seung-woo and Kim Yunjin) raised during the 1980s are having a rough time of it. Consider the headaches, the memory lapses, and their inability to have a sparkling conversation. A desperate, combined search for their father and a serial killer (Choi Min-Su) isn't about to make their lives easier. And despite all the years that have passed for them (and for us), tomorrow looks suspiciously like yesterday. Cops still fire machine guns, fat girls still sing in discos, and everyone still loves their cellphones -- which now come with constant advertising! In this all-too-familiar future, the most screenworthy character is secondary, a tough lady cop named May (Kim Seon-a) who likes to shoot firearms in a short sporty haircut and a tight-fitting leather tanktop. Maybe in some alternate universe, audiences will get to learn her storyline too and movies -- like video games -- will come with multiple plots we can follow and not just the one chosen by director-writer Jeon Yun-su. For today, we were stuck with Yesterday, his middling scifi flick about three siblings drowning in a messed up gene pool. For something more buoyant, check out Jeon's delightful comedy Le Grand Chef.

July 7, 2009

Voice: Ghost Girls Gone Wild

Complain all you want about the misery of the paper cut. In Choe Ik-hwan's horror movie Voice, pretty young thing Young-eon (Kim Ok-vin) has her throat slit by a flying piece of sheet music. Now that stings! And before you have time to question whether that's even remotely possible, this fourth installment in the Whispering Corridors series will have you completely wrapped up in its strange tale of lesbian girl ghosts and Darwinian power struggles. And it's not just dead dolls doing battle either. You see, Young-eon's gal pal Seon-min (Seo Ji-hye) is being lured away from a posthumous romance by the high school's resident kooky girl Cho-ah (Cha Ye-ryeon) who, as luck would have it, shares Seon-min's recently acquired ability to hear voices from the grave. Cho-ah at least has the sense not to chat with spirits in front of her classmates -- a year in the madhouse provides useful life tools -- and now she has to impart that wisdom to her new BFF before some angry phantom shoves the two girls down an elevator shaft. So who do you trust? Your old best friend who never invited you over her house but has a promising future in opera or you new best friend who's clearly crazy? Which one would benefit your own career in radio?

July 1, 2009

S Diary: Love Is Tragic, Love Is Funny, Love Is Something Else

Sheesh. S Diary is one strange hybrid. Half romance, half comedy, the movie doesn't congeal as a romantic comedy because it tends to keep its genres separate. The first half is lightly serious stuff: a doleful tale of a young woman (Kim Seon-a) out to make boyfriends of three men she's perhaps not suited for. And as she gets closer to something deeply romantic, the movie gets slightly heavier with each subsequent rejection carrying with it a deadlier, more debilitating sting. By the third heave-ho, this unlucky lady is a real casualty of the heart. That's also when the writer-director Kwon Jong-kwan defies expectations and jumps tracks by turning what was a melancholic romance into a humorous revenge fantasy. Gone is the sat-upon sad sack unable to get a guy; in her place is a willful nut job determined to get financially recompensed for the emotional expenditures visited upon her by the choir master (Lee Hyeon-woo), the cop (Kim Su-ro) and the graffiti artist (Kong Yu). Kwon doesn't leave the weightier first half behind entirely though. There's a nice coda too in which our protagonist, a budding authoress, learns that you can't rewrite your past and that love is something best experienced in the moment. Try as we might to define our lives, we're better off just experiencing them.