November 23, 2010

The Housemaid: Cheating on Your Wife Means Gambling With Your Life

Checking references for a potential domestic hire? If the candidate's name is Myong-ja (Lee Eun-shim), be sure to talk with her former boyfriend as well as her recent employers. This girl's got serious jealousy issues! In Kim Ki-young's kooky melodrama The Housemaid, all hell breaks loose when this saucy servant starts cooking and cleaning... then screwing the master-of-the-house -- a music teacher named Dong Sik (Kim Jin-kyu) who leads a women's choir at the local factory. What's the best way to deal with her irrational behavior? Try to kill her off with the same rat poison she used to kill your bratty son (Ahn Sung-kee) and you'll end up like Dong's wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo ): a slave to her sewing machine and Myong-ja! Try to defuse her when she explodes and you'll end up like Miss Cho (Eom Aeng-ran): at the wrong end of a very long knife! Whatever you do, don't continue to sleep with her!!! In this movie's crazed reality, Dong Sik's last-ditch attempt to get away leads to his loony lover being latched on to his ankle and bumping her head against every stair along his failed escape. As black-and-white middle-class tragedies go, this one is campy, corny and not too credible.

November 21, 2010

Take Care of My Cat: Celluar Disintegration Comes After High School

Oh my God! Ji-young (Ok Ji-young) has the most depressing life ever! She can't find a job. She lives in a ramshackle hut in the slums of Inchon with her grandparents because her parents are both dead. And she's given herself a home-job hair-do that's just one strand shy of heroin addict. When the tin hut in which she's been living collapses and kills what little is left of her family, you're almost glad she ends up in a juvenile detention center. At least, someone is taking care of her and preventing more fashion faux pas. Actually, she's not completely alone even after she ends up on the inside. Her classmate Tae-hee (Bae Du-na) is a bit of a drifter too who, as she's looking for a way out of conventional middle class existence, sees Ji-young as a kindred spirit with whom she can bond. While Take Care of My Cat never ends up as a lesbian coming-of-age story (That one would have a racier variation of the title!), Jeong Jae-un's cell-phone driven movie is poignant nonetheless. As to the titular cat, it's actually a kitten who gets passed among these two ladies and three fellow recent high school graduates: a corporate cog named Hye-ju (Lee Yu-won) and twins Bi-ryu (Lee Eung-sil) and Ohn-jo (Lee Eung-ju) who have a street vending business for cheap jewelry. Caveat emptor.

November 20, 2010

Hidden Floor: Welcome to Your New Home... Time to Meet the Dead Neighbors!

Hmm. Let's see. Daughter Joo-hee (Kim Yoo-jeong) has developed a rash and been caught stabbing her doll with a discarded syringe. Not good. Mother Min-young (Kim Seo-hyeong) is an overworked architect hallucinating her new apartment building as a shabby domicile ready for the wrecking ball. Not good either. What's going on here? It's Kwon Il-soon's Hidden Floor, a pretty good fright flick that's part of 4 Horror Tales, a quartet of low-budget scary movies circa 2006 -- all but one written by Yoo Il-han. Yoo definitely has a classic formula at work here: A horrible crime (in this case the murder of a stubborn tenant and her son) must be uncovered by the living if the latter wishes to escape becoming one of the bitter dead's casaulties. Not that anyone will be believe her! I mean, ghosts... Really? Who believes in such things! You must be joking!!! Equally laughable are many of the performances: Like most B-movies, the exaggerated performances in Hidden Floor underscore how flat the other ones are. The exception? Kim Yoo-jeong. As the troubled pre-schooler who creeps out her babysitter, Kim feels vulnerable and menacing at the same time. You know she knows something about that hidden floor but you don't know whether that's a help or a hindrance to her mom.

November 11, 2010

Saulabi: I Only Regret That I Have But One Head to Get Decapitated for My Country

According to legend though refuted by Wikipedia, the "saulabi" is the Korean antecedent of the Japanese samurai. Fact or fiction, this continental counterpart to Japan's noble warrior comes with an identical code of honor demanding duty, loyalty, and -- if the movie that bears its name is any indication -- a great deal of patience, too. A clunky recounting of yet another war of independence in which a ragtag group of Korean underdogs must overpower a larger group of tyrannical Japanese, this martial arts costume drama celebrates, in particular, the revolutionary diligence of expatriate Woo-do (Sang Hyun-lee) who must work for decades at forging a sword so powerful that it will cut through steel. Once he's done that, he knows (as does everyone around him) that victory will be assured. But until then, heads will roll because even blades that can't cut through steel nevertheless can cut through the vertebrae that connects the head to the torso. While pursuing his career-making goal as a sword smith, Woo-do makes a little time for play and ends up bedding local girl Osame (Uenemya Masako) who, lucky for him, will do anything to learn how to play the Gayageum -- basically a zither. For some girls, mastering the Koto just isn't enough.

November 7, 2010

This Is Law: Some Days, Blood Red Can Be a Pretty Color

The beginning of This Is Law moves at such a clip, that you fear the movie's murderer is going to go through an entire Tarot deck since he's leaving bloodied cards at each and every one of his kills. But is he even one killer? And when he stops leaving cards, what does that signify? Whoever is doing it and for whatever reason, Homicide Detective Bong (Lim Won-hie) is out to find out before his rival Pyo (Kim Min-jong) from the Special Task Force does. While he's at it, Bong's going to win the affections of his competing officer's partner Kang (Shin Eun-kyung), too. Where's there's time for crime, there's time for romance, I say. Predictable? On paper, yes. But running a sprawling two-and-a-half hours with random quick edits, evaporating subplots, and periodic misdirects that sometimes inexplicably entertain, you'll probably forget which way Min Byeong-jin's crime pic is inevitably headed. Then once you finally get there, you'll be doing double-takes at your television. Really? Is this how it all wraps up? Flashy without being the least bit artful, This Is Law is a souvenir of Korean cinema. It's shiny and made from the basest materials and like most trinkets, it's perfectly harmless. Watch it. Discard it. Pass on to a friend.

November 6, 2010

Asian Queer Shorts: Neither Asian Enough, Nor Queer Enough, Nor Short Enough

Looking to get a glimpse of gay culture in various Asian countries? Then look elsewhere. This compilation, called Asian Queer Shorts, is neither very good nor strictly from Asia. One featurette (Yellow Fever) concerns a Brit of Chinese descent who must overcome his internalized racism to forge a relationship with his adorable neighbor downstairs; another (Dissolution of Bodies) concerns two hot Asian guys rolling around in an American bed while discussing Foucault and Bataille as foreplay. Talk about a softening effect! A third entry (Still) is a rootless silent that speaks to the notion that sexy guys in wifebeaters look yummy no matter what their nationality. As to the two other flicks, which actually reflect gay culture in Asia, the first is a fairly chaste piece about a man-boy romance (Last Full Show) that develops at a cruisey movie theater in the Philippines while the other (A Crimson Mark) is a Korean pageant drama in which robed men testily argue about what the proper length of time is for the queen mother to stay in mourning, while a splinter group of two generate a royal hickey. The only cockfighting in this collection takes place between two roosters in a short scene in the Filipino flick. The rest is for the birds.

November 2, 2010

With the Girl of Black Soil: Here We Go Again... Being Poor Is Terrible

In neo-realist films, Murphy's Law applies with a vengeance: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and then some. Yet as a slice of bleak life, With the Girl of Black Soil's bad news buildup never really rings true. Why is that? The circumstances are plausible enough: Single dad (Jo Yeong-jin) loses job in a down-on-its-luck mining town. Mentally-challenged son (Park Hyeon-woo) wrecks a rich man's car then disappears. Rats eat the family's eggs. Pile on the problems: This little family's dire straits never elicit more than a shrug from me. Life sucks. Yeah, and? Frankly, I wonder if I'd like Jeong Soo-il's oh-so-sad movie better if someone turned it into a musical. The material already comes with a few ditties built in: a kiddie song sung by father and daughter (Yoo Yeon-mi) during a car ride, a lip synched pop hit performed by both children over a meal, a worker's sing-a-long belted out at the bar. You can get away with maudlin moments that don't feel that real when you're more entertaining. Writer-director Jeong needn't sacrifice the more depressing aspects of the story either. I'm willing to sob over a self-sacrificing girl who poisons her dad's ramen if you set her not-so-thought-out actions to a really catchy tune. "Eat it! Just eat it!"