May 23, 2010
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 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.