January 29, 2011

Daytime Drinking: Beneath Every Rock Bottom Is Another Rock Bottom

Eight telltale signs that Hyuk-jin (Song Sam-dong), the protagonist of Noh Young-seok's Daytime Drinking, is severely depressed and in need of therapy:

1. He watches long stretches of mindless television alone while eating instant noodles.
2. He drinks and smokes even when he doesn't really want to and actually wakes up after a blackout in a completely different town.
3. He's an easy target for a pimp (Tak Seong-joon) and his drunk, good-time girl (Kim Kang-hee).
4. His best friend Ki-sang (Yuk Sang-yeop) thinks he's a downer and procrastinates meeting him, even at a time of need.
5. He's unable to clue in to the fact that the jolly trucker (Shin Woon-seob) -- who gave him a lift when he was stranded in his underwear on the highway -- is looking for sex, not for Good Samaritan points.
7. He has psychosexual nightmares involving some crazy poetess (Lee Lan-hee) whom he met at the bus terminal.
8. His life is spiraling so out of control that if he isn't severely depressed at losing his girlfriend in the beginning then he definitely should be after being screwed left and right by the movie's end.

If ever there were a movie that reinforced the idea that drinking won't solve your problems, this one is it. With every drink, Hyuk-jin's life gets worse and worse. What's weird is at the end, you sense he might be about to embark on yet another bender!

January 22, 2011

Lament / Elegy of the Earth: As Queer as a Three-Dollar Bill Named Jong-man

I'm pretty sure Kim Hee-cheol's Lament is a tragic gay love story. But I'm not totally sure. I mean the two main guys never kiss but cute, stupid Jong-man (Lee Byung-hun) who works in a beer hall definitely appears to fall in love-at-first-sight with alcoholic composer Kwang-su (Shin Hyeon-jun) who's just found out that his crazy brother committed suicide. But is it love just because the two guys shack up together in an apartment then move into an abandoned house to escape the cops? or because they run through a field while screaming something about escaping their pasts? or because the composer sobers up and sweetly ties the waiter's tie in the morning? Actually, Jong-man's not a waiter. He's an aspiring actor-screenwriter who videotapes himself engaged in mundane activities like eating and making funny faces before faxing his script -- a Meg Ryan vehicle -- repeatedly to Hollywood. He's a man with big dreams, my friend. As to his crush, Kwang-su would be happy enough to attain more modest goals, like staying out of the hands of the corrupt police force and maybe cuddling with not-too-successful, nearly mute independent business owner Se-hee (Jeong Seon-kyeong) whose music shop is always full of musical instruments but never customers. It's hard to imagine this movie getting many customers either, gay, straight or otherwise!

January 16, 2011

The Pot: The Holy Ghost Isn't Supposed to Be Scary Or Is He?

Goodbye, Age of Anxiety. Hello, Period of Paranoia. As all serious discourse on subjects like art, pornography and spirituality-nee-religion is watered down to "I know what I like," "I know it when I see it," and "I know what I believe," assertions about being an artist, judging intent, or subscribing to any system of belief besides science are too scary for most people afraid of risking ridicule by stating an opinion outside the noncommittal norm. Organized religion has been especially hard hit with Christianity, in particular, constantly debunked as creepy mumbo-jumbo. Playing upon that spooked out view of spirituality, Kim Tae-gon's largely effective horror movie The Pot presents a deaconess (Kil Hae-yeon) and her evangelical church's congregation as Satanic ne'er-do-wells with duplicitous motives when it comes to helping a struggling businessman (Im Hyeong-gook), his pregnant wife (Yang Eun-yong) and their daughter (Ryu Hyeon-bin), a little devil herself who's got no truck with punching her mom's pregnant belly as a way to demonstrate that she, for one, has no interest in having a baby brother. That the Church ends up not being the bad guy in this movie comes as a shock later on. And frankly, a disappointment. Blaming the devil for bankruptcy, miscarriages, and badly behaved children is so much more interesting than faulting an unhinged man. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

January 15, 2011

Missing: You Should Never Call a Woman a Dog, Pet Owners

So you're one of those people who equate owning a dog with rearing a child and believe that pooches are really people in fur, eh? Well, have I got a Korean movie for you: Missing. In Kim Seong-hong's twisted little fright flick, the serial killer kidnaps young women then forces each, in quick succession, to be his dog: keeping her in a cage, spraying her down with a hose, getting her down on all fours for some doggy-style. The idea of canines as humans doesn't sound so hot when you reverse the direction, now does it? And I'm sure Hyeon-ah (Jeon Se-hong) and Hyeon-jeong (Chu Ja-hyeon) -- one a brutalized victim, the other her sister survivor -- would heartily agree on all counts. Being treated like a dog is a bitch, especially if your owner is Pan-gon (Moon Seong-geun), a devoted son and deranged serial killer who spends his time in between torture sessions playing harmonica or spoon-feeding gruel to his invalid mother (Son Yeong-soon). Missing was inspired by a true story of a septuagenarian fisherman who killed four women in Bosung. That character doesn't show up until the movie's end; the villain in this movie -- with his axe, birthday cake, and egg delivery service -- is really more of an original.

January 10, 2011

Another Public Enemy: Revenge of the Nerds Who Work for the Law

Justice prevails! What a square sentiment. And what a satisfying one to see played out in a cops-and-robbers movie. In Kang Woo-suk's Another Public Enemy, you're never quite sure if that's going to happen though, whether Public Prosecutor Kang (Sol Kyung-gu) is going to nail his childhood nemesis Han Sang-woo (Jeong Jun-ho) or whether that sneering sociopath is going to abscond with millions after killing his brother and father then dissolving the family estate. What you do know is that the poor-boy-made-good versus rich-boy-so-bad scenario is hard-to-resist if you secretly suspect all wealthy people -- and especially their children with entitlement issues -- are inherently evil. With two killer gang fights within the first half hour, you might expect this action pic to have more physical conflict than it does but Another Public Enemy is really an homage to its hero -- an upstanding, rule-breaking guy who'll go to any length to catch the criminal. He's got no wife; he's got no life. But what he does have is moral integrity and a support team that will put their lives and reputations on the line for him. It's all work and no play but the cause of justice is not such a bad raison d'etre.