September 26, 2010

Land of Scarecrows: There's No Wizard Behind That Curtain

As a gay man, I hate to come out against experimentation but with Land of Scarecrows, I'll make an exception. A grueling 80 minutes of disjointed, often wordless storytelling, Roh Gyeong-tae's second film hops around topics like poisonous landfills, identity disjunction, and society's outcasts without ever landing squarely on any. His characters are outsiders kept at a distance: We don't enter their world, we stand off to the side -- neither judging nor, ultimately, caring. That lottery-ticket-selling transexual (Kim Sun-young) with the Filipino bride, aside from being completely unbelievable, isn't very sympathetic. She's kooky without being cute, funny, adorable, tragic or weird. She's actually kind of a bore despite her bound breasts. While I'd hardly commend MoMA for screening Land of Scarecrows, I can say I'm glad I saw it in a theater. There's something reassuring about witnessing so many people get up and leave when a movie doesn't deserve their attention. That they were there at all suggests that they're open to experimental film. That they left means they're able to spot when the emperor's new clothes aren't there.

September 24, 2010

A Frozen Flower: This Love Triangle Is a Fading Pink

My heart goes out to this King (Ju Jin-mo). He needs to sire an heir to protect his kingdom but he can't get it up for the Queen (Song Ji-hyo) or his concubines. My heart also goes out to Hong Lim (Jo In-seong), the King's male lover and bodyguard. After being enlisted to impregnate the Queen, he fatally discovers that he's got a taste for the ladies -- as one 69 scene graphically illustrates. And because I've got a big heart, my heart also goes out to the Queen. Horny and unhappy, she's trying to make the best of a bad situation. Which, for a time, she does. (After being pimped out by her Lord and Master, she falls head over heels for the royal sperm donor and demands that they do it again and again in as many different positions as possible.) As love triangles go, Yu Ha's costume-drama/softcore-melodrama is ingenious in how it inverts a familiar forbidden love setup by having the straight couple sneak around while the gay man gets bitchy and suspicious. If A Frozen Flower might seem to side with the straights, it also illustrates that whether you're hot for men or women, everyone loves to kiss with a lot of tongue.

September 18, 2010

Addicted: Self-Denial Can Be a Form of Love

Something undeniably creepy is afoot in Park Young-hoon's Addicted, a transcendental love story about a woman (Lee Mi-yeon) whose comatose husband (Lee Eol) appears to have returned to the conscious world by taking possession of the younger, hotter body of his little brother (Lee Byung-hun). While you could look at this sibling soul-swapping as a form of superficial upgrading for the widow, you do also have to wonder about the morals of a guy who'd evict the soul of his brother just to continue making kitschy furniture and cuddling with his wife. Naturally, the widow is confused and full of questions. Possession's not as commonplace as it once was, though -- in this movie -- the hospital's resident psychiatrist seems to treat it as a rare yet legitimate diagnosis. What the psychiatrist does not provide is a treatment plan. The younger brother's wannabe girlfriend (Park Seon-yeong) takes a stab at an exorcism of sorts by inviting her old love interest to the family farm for some backbreaking labor. All this does, however, is break her heart a little more. He didn't love her before. He doesn't love her now. Like any smart reject of romance, she packs her bags to study abroad. But not before sending those soul-mates to Hell!

September 12, 2010

Arahan: Urban Martial Arts Action: The Karate Kid Grows Up to Be a Cop

I'm coining a new term: Adorkable. Definition? Stupid-cute. Prime example? Ryu Seung-beom, an actor who embodies the idea here via his role as a goofy, rookie cop with unprecedented superpower-potential. The film itself, the martial arts pic Arahan (directed by Seung-beom's brother Seung-wan), is pretty adorkable too. This fabulist tale about Seven Masters guarding a magical, transferrable tattoo has found a way to philosophize about justice and balance without ostentation by keeping the action -- and there are some killer action sequences here -- in a world of black market acupuncture, backfiring self-promotion, and deadly lotus positions. This is The Tao according to Marvel Comics, or a Universal Religion that inserts its message between splashy fights and silly slapstick done with a wink. Sweetening the deal are a supervillain (Jung Doo-hong) who knows great evil requires great abs, and a foxy love interest (Yoon So-yi) who's fierce with her fists but faulty with her palm blasts. (Some superpowers are harder to perfect.) If Arahan has a fault, it may be that to describe it is to demean it. This is stupid-cuteness of the highest order, as adorkable as Old Partner is poignant and The World of Silence is creepy.

September 5, 2010

Popee: All Dogs Go to Hollywood to Die

You'll have to be an ardent dog-lover to get into the spirit of Kim Ji-hyun's pseudo-documentary Popee. A weird mix of "true crime" re-enactments of very un-criminal moments surrounding the death of the family dog ("Popee") and naturalistic interviews with various dog owners who flounder and falter as they discuss animal consciousness ("Do dogs dream? Do they know their names? What are they thinking?"), this hour-long video -- hardly a movie -- holds a small fascination for people who like to see the raw, awkward output of weekend artists committed to decidedly non-commercial, personal endeavors. This is what happens when someone has the power to round up a bunch of friends to man the cameras and stand in front of them, talent be damned. Many of the anecdotes -- especially one concerning a woman who buys a sick German Shepherd from an unsympathetic pet shop owner -- feel overly scripted; others -- like the one about the titular dog mating with all the female dogs in the neighborhood -- reflect poorly on the owners. Evidently, Kim made a sequel called Cats six years later. In another six years, I suppose we can expect the final entry in the trilogy: Birds.

September 4, 2010

Into the White Night: Fashioning an Imperfect Murder

I don't know what to say about this one so how about director Park Shin-woo's mystery is filled with symbols galore: a police detective (Han Suk-kyu) who's slowly going blind, a killer (Go Soo) who wields scissors for art and murder, and a rape victim (Son Ye-jin) who desires nothing more than to launch a line of ugly clothing for men. Fighting interpretation, each lexicon of Into the White Night's cinematic semiotics loses significance as quickly as it gains meaning. The more you study it, the less the movie reveals. So put aside that imagery! You're better off sticking with who kills whom how, when and why as the action rewinds and fast forwards with all the stylishness of a ten-year-old operating a VCR. That same clunkiness trips up most of the characters who feel only half-developed. One of the more complex roles -- a tough private eye (Lee Min-jung) with a good sense of intuition -- gets knocked off too soon; a largely forgettable police chief (Jeong Jin) gets reincorporated too late. Stick around long enough and you'll witness a perverse scene in which the rape victim psychologically victimizes the sexually assaulted daughter of her husband-to-be but I'd rather spoil that plot twist for you here and save you the trouble.