May 23, 2010

Murder, Take One: There's No Reason to Take a Second Shot

My friend Graham suggested early on that I stop watching Murder, Take One and ask the readers to tell me the ending. It was that boring. But I stuck with it, and writer-director Jang Jin's police procedural did finally pick up with the late entrance of a motherly exorcist (Lee Yong-lee) and her child sidekick. Prior to that, I was basically wondering how tall is that dashing detective (Cha Seung-won) -- He's 6'2" according to Wiki -- and why has he agreed to have his interrogation of the main suspect (Shin Ha-kyun) videotaped for prime time? Can the resultant program possibly be getting good ratings? Who are the sponsors? They weren't questions I felt deeply. Just things to think about while I clipped my toenails or nibbled on a frosted strawberry pop tart. But ghosts can make a movie more interesting. What had been a not particularly suspenseful murder mystery wrapped in a bland TV news special now became a ticklishly spooky character portrait about a cute cop who may have some connection to the other side. When the cocky television producer got possessed by the victim's spirit, I had to confess: This wasn't the worst Korean movie I'd ever seen. Up until then, it had been in the running.

May 16, 2010

The Good, the Bad, the Weird: Let's Assume You Can Drawl in Korean

The Ramen Western, like its forebear the Spaghetti Western, fetishizes the genre. All the period details -- the opium pipes, the sweeping leather coats, the aviator goggles, even the rotten teeth -- don't ground the action in reality. They tickle us with their particularity. That's especially true in Kim Ji-woon's vintage piece of filmmaking The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Here actors Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Jung Woo-sung seem to be playing cowboys in a tribute to a Sergio Leone homage more than performing in a movie indebted to John Ford or Sam Peckinpah. Consider this flick a hall of tarnished, sometimes cracked mirrors reflecting dusty cowboy hats, galloping horses and a big Montana sky. You'll be as pleased when you get the expected (like the climactic battle involving cannons, the Japanese militia, and scores of rebels on a desert landscape) as the unexpected (Song absurdly running around with a diving helmet straight out of Jules Verne). There's plenty of blood -- some of it splattering on the camera lens -- and more than a little sadism (one stabbing scene leading to the slicing off of a finger is particularly gruesome). Neither ever feels gratuitous. Much of it's pretty fun.