October 30, 2010
Four gal pals with dreams of a better life. No. It's not Sex and the City, it's My Bloody Roommates (a.k.a. D-Day), Kim Eun-kyung's K-horror flick about four young ladies sent by demanding parents to a fascist prep school to improve their academic standing and thereby gain access to choice universities. In this sadistic pre-college program, the pressure to perform is great... as is the severity of the hairstyle and disciplinarian methods of the school's hall monitor (Yoon Da-kyeong). Of her charges, the bitchy girl (Yoo Joo-hee) cracks first and hangs herself; the brainy one (Kim Ri-na) gets knocked off her rocker next and starts hallucinating blood; the third girl -- a self-effacing dork (Heo Jin-yong) with a pet hamster named "Happy" -- seems imbalanced from the start so her going off the deep end is inevitable. The one survivor (Eun-seong), who is neither bitchy nor bright, neither bold nor bonkers, ends up with a leopard print scar on her face, a pair of sensible shoes, and a fairly interesting story to tell at cocktail parties should she get invited to any. I'd toast her resilience. (This movie is part of 4 Horror Tales, a series of fright flicks that also includes The Curse of February 29th, Forbidden Floor and Dark Forest of Death.)
"Cheap" can mean quite a few things -- inexpensive, shoddy, ashamed, even mean -- and Paradise Villa, the low-budget slasher flick from director Park Chong-won, certainly takes on every definition. Shot in washed-out video and set in a run-of-the-mill apartment building where lights flicker on and off, the movie certainly looks cheap. It feels cheap too with its meaningless dialogue leading to gratuitous nudity or soft core sex nearly as often as explosions of violence. There's something mean (i.e., cheap) about the violence itself, too. The sick-o psycho (Jo Han-jun), who's bloodying room after room, is a dubiously distressed video gamer who sees every tenant as an uncooperative gaming competitor. Since no one knows what he's talking about, he slays them. Not that these neighbors would be safe if he'd never arrived. There's murder and mayhem throughout the complex with the coitus-interruptus killing of the landlord by a man who's having an affair with his mistress, and the bottle-smashing head-bashing of a soccer fan who won't stop singing when the power goes out. It's worth adding that "cheap" can be fun when it's this unashamedly tawdry. For me, watching Paradise Villa was time well-spent.
October 25, 2010
Twins in a thriller is a lazy conceit. Well, a half-hearted thanks then to Soo, a movie which has the decency to introduce the lookalikes early on then kill one off fairly quickly. No, the uncanny resemblance in this Sai Yoichi crime pic doesn't play out as a case of mistaken identity but instead as a case of an assumed one. You see Brother A (Ji Jin-hee) has decided that the best way to track down the killer of Brother B is to impersonate the murdered sibling (same actor, of course). For A to pass as B completely, he gets a new haircut (a salon-caliber home-job) and a fresh, cool scar sliced into his chin. The corpse's not-so-helpful girlfriend (Kang Seong-yeon) knows this new guy's an impostor but she's willing to move in with him, hoping to have sex with him, and seeking to pick up where the last relationship left off. Why complain that you've lost your boyfriend if a facsimile shows up at the police prefecture where you both work? Plus, he's three seconds faster at running the 100-yard dash and can defend himself with a can of hairspray and a lighter. This guy rips off ears and tears out eyeballs. That's how tough he is! As for his victims, they all go down with the same scream whether they're being stabbed or strangled or shot or all of the above.
October 9, 2010
Tonight, I'll probably have nightmares. That's what happens when you watch a stomach-turning thriller like Shin Terra's Black House over a bowl of Raisin Bran in the morning. You may think you have a whole day ahead of you to forget about the stabbings and the dismemberments, but this freaky little film about a female psychopath (Yu Seon) and the busybody insurance agent (Hwang Jeong-min) who foolishly gets between her and her money is, in a nutshell, unforgettable. In many ways, Black House is a Korean variation on Silence of the Lambs, a suspense-horror hybrid in which a serial killer is being pursued by someone who's got a few issues of his/her own. The fact that here "the good guy" is a bespectacled, chapped-lipped claims processor instead of an inexperienced-but-attractive FBI Agent is actually all to the good of the movie because it makes the hero a little less sympathetic and the conflict a lot more problematic. He may be working for justice, but he's also a tool of the machine. She may be incapable of feeling remorse, but she's also hardly living the high life and she's stuck with a limp. As the killer kook, Yu turns in one of those bone-chilling performances in which the eyes become the gateway to no soul. She's so riveting, you almost want her to win or at least luck out with parole.
October 3, 2010
When life gets you down, go to the movies. If you're lucky, you'll see smart escapist fare like Choi Dong-hun's Woochi and be reminded that existence is an adventure and many worlds reside in this world -- not just the oppressive one that's put you in a funk. Woochi is cinema as anti-depressant, a preposterous, uplifting fantasy about a baby-faced wizard (Kang Dong-won) who fights a rodent-faced gremlin (Kim Yun-seok) in order to protect a wooden recorder that accords its possessor universal control. As the battle between good and evil rages on, this action-adventure shuttles between opposing realities -- medieval days and modern ones, dreamscapes and nightmares -- all of them magical. Are we living in a classical watercolor, a poster for an energy drink, an elliptical eternity, a video game? Blink your eyes and whatever it was that you were living in will be gone as something disorientingly new takes its place. And since your surroundings are so unstable, follow Woochi's lead and surround yourself with cool people like a trusty sidekick who's really a dog in human form (Yu Hae-jin) and a pretty damsel-in-distress (Lim Su-jeong) who's actually a reincarnated former flame. Yes, you'll still have to deal with pesky evil spirits and unreliable gods, but at least you'll be with your friends!