March 28, 2010

My Father: A Man Without a Country

Warning! Warning! My Father should be watched with a box full of tissues. An issue-driven picture about a Korean-American soldier (Daniel Henney) who leaves the American suburbs -- perhaps because his adoptive father (Richard Riehle) resembles Colonel Sanders -- and joins the U.S. Army as a way to track down his Korean birth father (Choi Jong-ryeol), Hwang Dong-hyeuk's pleasantly mushy biopic is overly packed with weepy moments that find you saying "Awww" out loud even if you're alone in your living room. Is it a work of art? More like a movie of the week. And that makes sense given lead actor Henney's CV is more TV than anything else. Yet while the culture clash between whites and Asians (in both countries) is key to My Father, Henney's character's approach to his problems is stereotypically American. He's a big-hearted, pig-headed savior as he deals with bigotry, fights the death penalty, and expands his idea of what family or dad means. And, since My Father is based on a true life story, you get to see some of the same moments play out again, only this time featuring the film's inspiration in documentary footage that plays right before the credits. That addition helps make a film that could've felt sappy feel kind of cool.

March 21, 2010

Antique Bakery: Cooking up a Sweet Little Mystery

I haven't received many Korean movies recommendations for my blog. In fact, I've received just one: Antique Bakery from a reader named The Purple Girl. Well, I wish more people would share their favorites because Min Kyu-dong's film is a highly enjoyable bonbon, a sweetly fruity comedy about the friendship that evolves between a gay patissier (Kim Jae-wook) with "demonic powers of attraction" and a bakery owner (Ju Ji-hun) struggling with repressed memories of being kidnapped by a serial killer. If that set-up sounds more twisted than twee, take into account that the movie is based on Fumi Yoshinaga's popular manga. Because of its source, snappy irreverence holds sway over psychological derangement; the comic book colorfulness informs everything from the song-and-dance fantasies to the secondary characters like a retired boxer who finds a second life as a baker (Yu Ah-in) and a bodyguard (Choi Ji-ho) whose devotion to his boss extends to serving him hot cocoa in bed. While romance flirts between all four leading men, the only serious man-on-man action comes when the pastry chef re-encounters his mentor (Andy Gillet), a lovely Frenchman with the biggest non-Asian role that I've ever seen in a Korean movie. It's all pretty delicious!

March 14, 2010

The Legend of the Shadowless Sword: Babes Who Take Stabs at Revenge

Way back in the late 900s A.D., only one prince (Lee Seo-jin) survived from the royal family. Lucky for him, a young girl (Yoon So-yi) who he'd rescued during an earlier political upheaval made it her mission in life to reinstate him to the throne. So while he's been making a living as a shady thrift shop owner, she's been mastering the basics of the Medieval bodyguard. You know... Martial arts, sword-fighting and the lost craft of self-propelled human flight. But she's not the only one who's been training like there's no tomorrow. There's also a bloodthirsty guy (Shin Hyeon-jun) with cornrows and his sexy girlfriend (Lee Ki-yong) who favors red. They too aspire to the currently unoccupied throne. Since both pairs are black belts in every form of combat, The Legend of the Shadowless Sword has plenty of riveting clashes in which swords clang, fists thud, and feet skid in the dirt when they're not pedaling their fighters effortlessly into the sky. As historic legends go, director Kim Young Jun's epic is a really good one. He keeps the mysticism to a minimum, preferring instead to fold the magic into the real. If Ancient Peruvians could perform brain surgery way back when, why couldn't the Koreans be able to make each other explode?

March 7, 2010

Woman on the Beach: Writing What You Know When You Know Nothing

Writer's block is a drag. But when the condition becomes the inspiration for a movie, like it does in Hong Sang-soo's arty Woman on the Beach, audiences tend to suffer right alongside the struggling screenwriter. Admittedly, the case depicted here isn't a particularly crippling or painful one: Hong's stand-in (Kim Seung-woo) is able to work through his creative paralysis in less than a week thanks to some trusty tools familiar to many artists (and moviegoers who frequent biopics of same). How's he do it? Well, he betrays his close-friend/producer (an underutilized Kim Tae-woo) by sleeping with his girlfriend (Go Hyun-jung) then betrays his new girlfriend by seducing a lonely divorcee (Song Seon-mi). Blame it on the soju! As portraits of womanizing artists go, Woman on the Beach is fairly tame stuff because the creative cad at its center neither ruins anyone's life nor exhibits self-destructive behavior on a grand scale. He just makes the lives of those around him a little messy and his own life, a little lonely. We can only hope that the art which he produces by stirring up all that trouble is better than this document of his creative process.