August 30, 2011

Marine Boy: One Man Goes Underwater Just So Someone Can Get High

I'm trying to remember if it's ever actually specified, what kind of drug is being trafficked in Yoon Jong-seok's enjoyable crime pic Marine Boy. Is it heroin? Is it cocaine? I know it's a contentious white powder that has rival gangs and cops all vying for its possession but, for all I know, it could be talcum powder, a product which also strikes me as worth fighting for given the recent advent of cornstarch within the Johnson & Johnson empire. There is some mention early in the film of benzodiazepine, I believe, in relationship to the film's femme fatale Yuri (Park Si-yeon), a nightclub singer who likes to croon in Paul McCartney's "No More Lonely Nights" in English and clock men with her surprisingly lethal purse. But since we never see anyone pop pills, shoot up or snort lines, Marine Boy almost feels like a stylish agit-prop piece against drugs filmed in a country where depicting drug use on the big screen is illegal.

And it's not the only vice under attack here either: Former swimming-champ-turned-drug-mule Chun-soo (Kim Kang-woo) never would've gotten involved with the backstabbing world of black market narcotics if he hadn't incurred a gambling debt by misreading an ace for a four in the mirrored surface of an opponent's lighter. Has he been framed? Can he escape? Is there anyone to trust among this den of thieves that surrounds him? Or is the only way out to shove a sausage full of the aforementioned but unspecified drug up his butt and then to swim underwater from one ship to another in the un-patrolled waters between Japan and Korea? Well, at least he looks good in a rubber wetsuit. Really good. And if he's fallen for Yuri, despite having seen her last boyfriend beaten to death by her surrogate father, frenemy and drug kingpin Kang (Jo Jae-hyeon) who also just happens to be the man pimping out Chun-soo's large intestine as a storage locker, maybe that's because he knows that if Yuri sees him often enough in that wetsuit, she'll double-cross anyone who stands between the two of them and their fantasy getaway on the island of Palau. Don't be jealous of two beautiful young people who end up shacking up on a picturesque beach front property with quick access to world-class surfing. Neither has enrolled in a 12-step program for gambling or drug addition yet.

August 21, 2011

Breath: Kim Ki-duk Makes a Musical (in His Own Strange Way)

I used to hate musicals. But that's because I used to think musical meant Oklahoma, Cats, My Fair Lady and Xanadu. But once I broadened my definition a bit, and started to think of any movie with a number of songs sung by the cast as being a musical, I realized that I actually liked some musicals very, very much. In that spirit, I'd call Kim Ki-duk's Breath a musical. Sure, there are only four songs -- and they're all sung by Yeon (Gang In-hyeong), the depressed sculptor who courts imprisoned murderer Jang Jin (Chang Chen) after she finds out her husband (Ha Jung-woo) is cheating on her -- but each of these numbers is integral to the story and three of them involve special costume changes and strangely elaborate sets. Since this is a Duk film, you can bet your bottom dollar that these conventions are executed in an unusual way. (Think less Busby Berkley and more performance art.) And since every Duk film has at least one mute character, you can also guess who is listening attentively while Yeon is belting out her pop tunes.

The first three numbers are set in the prison's visiting room where Yeon has painstakingly papered the walls with colorful scenery enhanced by well-chosen props like a vase of flowers, a fan, and a boombox which she uses as her karaoke machine. Her final song -- for which she's joined in a sing-a-along by her reformed, now-harmonious husband -- is performed in a car (the site of many an impromptu duet) and doubles as the soundtrack for Jang Jin's strangled death at the hands of three cellmates, including one who appears to have deeply passionate feelings that rival those of Yeon, who earlier tried to kill Jang in coitus but failed. In the immortal words of singer Pat Benatar (who really should write a musical), "Love is a battlefield."

Click here to see a list of Kim Ki-duk's Top Ten Movies.

August 15, 2011

Chawz: Like Jaws But Less Scary and More Hairy

The following statement was issued on behalf of some wild boars subsequent to the release of the B-horror movie Chawz:
"For Immediate Release: Alert! Writer-director Shin Jeong-won is demonizing us in his porcine version of Jaws. We are hereby compelled to proclaim that we are omnivorous beasts who feast on berries, grass, bugs and small lizards (but never to the point that we weigh 400 lbs.). Furthermore, human beings are not a part of our daily diet. In fact, should we attack people, we aim only to dismember or maim. We are peace-loving animals. If we should tusk your ass (as in Chawz), it's because you're irritating (as in Chawz). Like the title character, we are indeed seeing red!"
A second anonymous statement quickly followed purportedly from a member of the local police precinct, though this one too was unsigned:
"Dear Mr. Shin, Having just seen Chawz, we would like to remind you that we devote our lives to protecting the public and therefore deserve respect, not ridicule. Why do you make us out to be a bunch of Keystone Kops? It's one thing to satirize the law; it's another to show cops spilling down hills, shirking duties, and running away from adversity at every turn. Couldn't you make us fearless? If not, couldn't you make us funnier? What gives?"
While we are unable to trace either letter to its source for further comment, we did watch the creature feature in question to evaluate the expressed concerns. This is our assessment and reply:
"Boars: Fret not. The steroid monster in the pic causes more giggles than screams. You're safe from instantaneous extinction by frightened Koreans. Boys in blue: Relax. In Chawz, you're no dumber than the local farmers and only slightly less resourceful than the Jane Goodall wannabe (Jeong Yu-mi). As to fellow Netflix subscribers, Chawz is a novelty, a quirky little fright flick that teeters on being truly funny and never really tries to be really scary. You almost wish that the boar was twenty times bigger and the local cops ten times dumber. As it is, Chawz feels like it sort of wants to be real, despite the kooky characters. It's weird that way."

August 6, 2011

Windstruck: He Died Then Went to Heaven on a Breeze

When you watch movies via websites like Mysoju, Todou or YouTube, they're often broken up into chapters, which alters your viewing experience for better or worse. With Windstruck, writer-director Kwak Jae-young's 2004 romance, serialization works in its favor. Here are eight mini-reviews encouraging you to view this feature as a web series.

Episode 1: First Encounter
Kooky cop Kyung-jin (Jun Gianna) mistakes Myung-woo (Jang Hyuk) for purse-snatcher then hauls him to station to charm coworkers by sketching portraits. Kyung-jin's clobbers Myung-woo then schoolkids. Love blooms

Episode 2: Hand in Hand
Handcuffed, Kyung-jin and Myung-woo land in middle of huge shootout. Back at the police station, Myung-woo goes ballistic, pretending to be crazed criminal to save Kyung-jin's rep. Love to the rescue!

Episode 3: Sudden Changes
Kyung-jin and Myung-woo become boyfriend and girlfriend while carrying groceries upstairs. While playing house, she reveals that she's an identical twin and her sister is dead. Meals are shared. Love deepens.

Episode 4: Drive
Myung-woo gets a jeep so they can bond to oldies music. Kyung-jin relates origination story of the pinky swear. An avalanche sends jeep into deep waters where Myung-woo drowns and Kyung-jin cries. Love's tragic.

Episode 5: Baby, Come Back
By pounding (in frustration) on his chest, Kyung-jin revives Myung-woo. When he's shot again as she's chasing bad guy Chang-soo (Jeong Ho-bin), Myung-woo dies again. Kyung-jin considers suicide. Love defies death.

Episode 6: Punk to the Rescue
Two runaways convince Kyung-jin to treat them to pizza instead of killing herself. She tries suicide afterward by jumping off a building yet survives. A paper airplane announces Myung-woo's soul. Love knows no boundaries.

Episode 7: A Second Chance
Kyung-jin tracks down Chang-soo then gets shot. Myung-woo's ghost re-appears minus one lung. He instructs her to go on without him. She agrees because she believes in reincarnation. Will love be reborn?

Episode 8: Wind
In a house filled with pinwheels, Kyung-jin and Myung-woo's ghost say good-bye so she can meet a new cutie (Cha Tae-hyun) on a subway platform. Love, baby, love!