March 31, 2011

Five Senses of Eros: Speak No Hot Sex, See No Hot Sex, Hear No Hot Sex

Memorable short films? I don't know many. Memorable short erotic films? I don't know any. The enervating anthology Five Senses of Eros didn't change that fact either, especially since there's actually not an arousingly erotic short in the bunch. The opener, Byun Hyuk's "His Concern," is a grating voiceover accompanied by images charting the first stage of a romance resulting from a chance encounter at a train station. (She's way too good for him even if he is played by matinee idol Jang Hyuk.) Number two -- Hur Jin-ho's "I'm Here" -- isn't much better: a twee 20 minutes of a husband (Kim Kang-woo) and wife (Cha Su-yeon) playing hide-and-seek even after she ends up dying of something or other. (This woman likes to spoon even when she's gone!)

On to the third mini movie "33rd Man" which gets more pornographic by kicking off with a naked humping couple undone once the ghost (Kim Gyu-ri) appears. She's not really a spook, mind you, she's simply an actress on a shoot with a frustrated director (Kim Su-ro) and an experienced leading lady (Bae Chong-ok) who oddly enough happens to be a bisexual vampiress. By film four, things get weirder and dykier. With Min Kyu-dong's "The End and the Beginning," now we've got a bitter, horny widow (Eom Jeong-hwa) who decides to shack up with the magician-girlfriend (Kim Hyo-jin) who her hunky husband (Hwang Jeong-min) was banging when he got killed in a car accident. (Just wait until she finds those S&M videotapes.)

Last and least erotic if most interesting is Oh Ki-hwan's "Believe in the Moment," a fragmentary little flick about six incredibly edible young things who confusedly swap partners as they struggle to find out the meaning of intimacy. Lots of kissing! No nudity! I've actually seen previous films by many of the writer-directors featured herein but I don't feel that any of them qualify as an auteur just yet. This project probably appealed to them as something to do before they got to work on a more serious project. Maybe they're auditioning actors. Maybe they're testing out cinematographers. Maybe they're trying to flesh out an idea about carnal desire or the eros-thanatos connection or a dream they once had but don't remember too clearly anymore. Maybe that's it. But only maybe.

March 27, 2011

See You After School: The Bottom of the Barrel Lands on Top

I always think that I'm indifferent to the charms of the high school comedy but then once I start watching one, I start to think, hmm, maybe I'm not so immune to the genre or so above it all. Lee Seon-hoon's See You After School is typical fare: Transfer student and all-around reject Dahl Nam-koong (Bong Tae-gyu) is released from an international, slapstick medical study about lifelong losers just in time for the fall semester. At his new school, he immediately comes into conflict with on-campus bully Jae-koo (Ha Seok-jin) who is harassing the crush-worthy Min-ah (Jeong Koo-yeon) because that's what tough boys do to pretty girls when they're both 17. By defending her budding womanhood, however, Dahl lands himself in a heap of trouble. Now he's slated to get his butt whooped at the end of day for not knowing his place. As the hours diminish before his hopeless rooftop showdown, Dahl's attempts to get a suspension, detention, or medical leave as a way to escape yet another of life's humiliations (as well as death) inadvertently push him higher and higher in the school's seemingly unscalable hierarchy. Come the final bell, he's actually considered a serious contender as he squares off with the martial arts master. Look how far Dahl's come!

The Loser's Club has embraced him as their savior and leader; fellow outcast Yeon Song (Kim Tae-hyeon with a ludicrous coif) is willing to put his own life on the line in the spirit of wimpish solidarity; best yet, the prettiest girl in his class gently tries to dissuade him from fighting. (Who'd want to see that slack jaw punched?) Yet Dahl's greatest fear has evolved into a challenge he can't bypass without completely sacrificing his self-esteem It's one thing to get beaten up (again) and another thing to see yourself as trash. Aside from one major leap in logic which insists we believe that one toughie has inexplicably found religion and collegiate sweaters, See You After School teeters on the plausible throughout. Screenwriter Lee's balancing act of the real and the fantastic is commendable. I particularly enjoy the darker part of the movie that finds Dahl entertaining the idea of becoming the oppressor, even if it costs him a newfound chubby buddy. The devil is always offering you opportunities to sell your soul and there's something beautiful in an adolescent romp that reminds you that you can always buy it back.

March 26, 2011

My Friend and His Wife: Never Sell the Truth Short

And now, a few words about the workaholic at the center of My Friend and His Wife... If there's a more blistering portrait of the self-centered businessman (Jang Hyeong-seong) who takes responsibility for little else than financial profit, none comes immediately to mind. Shin Dong-il's dour domestic drama is a heart-stopping look at how one well-dressed heel's me-first money-making mentality inevitably stomps out the inner lives of everyone who tries to get close to him; in this case, the foolhardy offenders are a cook (Park Hee-soon) and his beautician wife (Hong So-hee). At different points in the movie, both halves of this almost-happy couple have fallen painfully in love with the careerist-capitalist because he seems to promise a better future and a stronger sense of themselves. He loves them too in return — something he shows with increasing dividends — but he's habitually unable to emotionally invest in either relationship. No level of intimacy is more valued than a phone call from the boss; no date can't be canceled once hedge funds go in flux. Because of that, both parties get psychically shortchanged, even as their bank accounts thrive. The husband goes to prison then gets released to find himself the owner of a questionably self-sustaining eatery for fried chicken; the wife loses her baby but eventually helms a high-end hair salon. Neither is near contentment when the riches start pouring in. Which finally prompts them to re-evaluate their feelings for the sharpest point of their costly love triangle. And while they realize something interesting in the process, the biggest lesson is reserved for the biggest offender: A moral debt is the hardest to pay off. Sometimes, it's almost impossible.

March 19, 2011

The Man From Nowhere: An Action Movie to Answer My Prayers

God, I love a good serious-faced kid actress (Kim Sae-ron) who's got a drug-addicted mom (Kim Hyo-seo) who calls her "garbage" when she's not working as a stripper or getting slapped around by her no-good boyfriend/pimp. And God, I love an emotionally numb but physically sexy assassin (Won Bin) who develops a fondness for little, helpless waifs without ever losing his ability to disarm and maim a whole gang of thugs even if they're equipped with knives, pipes and guns and he's got nothing but his flying fists and feet. I just love him! Especially, when he stands shirtless in front of a mirror and gives himself a stylish haircut with a bare razor blade and a handy electronic clipper that just happened to be lying around. And while I'm at it God, I also love a skinny, effeminate villain (Kim Seong-oh) who gets wigged out when blood unexpectedly splatters on his white Dolce & Gabbana ensemble even as he's torturing someone for his less-pretty-but-just-as-amoral brother (Kim Hee-won) who specializes in donor harvesting. I even love a greedy, guilt-free hag (Baek Soo-ryeon) who kidnaps motherless children then pimps them out to run drug deals or credit card scams. And while I don't necessarily love the assassin's soul mate (Thanayong Wongtrakul) who really just wants to have a fair fight with our hero because his mirror image is so hotly efficient, I can at least get into the homoerotic aspect of their brutal embraces and animalistic sparring. Oh, maybe I do love him, too, God. Maybe I do! And because of that, I definitely love Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere. Thanks God! I really appreciate it!

March 13, 2011

Dasepo Naughty Girls: Grease Was the Word

I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a sunny teen sex comedy that built its humor around venereal disease, prostitution, S&M, incest, transvestism, transsexualism, statutory rape, and masturbation without any mention of alcohol or drugs? The only equally innocent adolescent romp that comes to mind as a possible American counterpart is Grease, -- also a musical featuring a girl with bubblegum-pink hair -- but that comparison doesn't extend far since Grease includes neither a cyclop (Lee Kyeon) who can't get laid nor a high school principal possessed by a demon who's turning the slutty student body into born again virgins so she can become a dragon once and for all. In short, Lee Je-yong's Dasepo Naughty Girls is in a class all its own. As such, it's hard to judge it too harshly even if it's never laugh-out-loud funny or jaw-droppingly shocking. It's cute yet surreal, with its female protagonist (Kim Ok-bin) suffering a series of indignities -- such as being forced to do an erotic dance for a polyamorous secret society -- that propel her to stardom and out of poverty (represented by a featureless gray doll that clings to her back for much of the movie). Whether Dasepo ever ends up a cult classic is anyone's guess. If director Lee can produce more films like his previous hit Untold Scandal then this movie's chances would definitely increase.

March 5, 2011

Tell Me Something: Serial Killer on the Loose Leaves Questions

Tell Me Something? Okay. How about I first saw this serial killer thriller over five years ago yet this viewing proved super suspenseful? How about a number of scenes are so gruesome, you'll need to turn away from the screen? How about actor Han Suk-kyu is perfect as Detective Cho, the lead investigator with a shady past of his own? How about deadpan actress Shim Eun-ha is infinitely more intriguing here than she was in that sickly sentimental Christmas in August? How about the soundtrack is great, and not just the public domain-sounding music but the Foley art as well which heightens agitation by periodically upping the volume on footsteps, doors shutting, and other environmental noise? How about I don't understand why director Chang Yoon-hyun hasn't written another mystery since this one from the late '90s? How about Jang Hang-seon and Yum Jung-ah both turn in compelling performances as a police officer and a student doctor respectively? How about this is exactly the kind of slick, atmospheric flick that made me fall in love with Korean movies? How about Tell Me Something might leave you with questions but they won't interfere with your enjoyment? How about it's good to have questions that can't be answered? How about the best movies aren't flawless? How about that?