With a subplot involving a gay Elvis impersonator (Park Min-hwan) and a stocky transvestite (Kim Jin-soo) dressed up like Marilyn Monroe, this movie certainly isn't asking anyone to take it overly seriously. Yet while there's outlandish behavior and preposterous role reversals ad infinitum, writer-director Jung Rain approaches his material as if it were a soap opera with a couple of kooks thrown in. Kim Su-mi as a braying mother makes picking hair off the floor with packing tape funny while Lee Ah-rin, as Kim's roommate, constantly looks as though she's about to say something amusing but never does. Ahn Seok-hwan hams it up as the one-eyed food tent-owner but he too never gets a truly good one-liner or a scene that builds up to hilarious slapstick. Which leaves me with a big question mark as to why Jung decided to shape his material as a comedy in the first place. Here's my guess. Sometimes you come up with a funny idea. Then you come up with a number of supporting ideas that are kind of funny. Then when you try to string them together, you get all serious because you're trying to make it work. You lose your sense of humor and that seriousness never leaves you when you're casting the roles and directing the movie. So what started off as a funny bit is now a workmanlike product. In Shotgun Love, the serious idea is this: Shallow people can only discover deeper feelings through personal tragedies. Here's what I think about that. Could someone please make it funny?
July 31, 2011
And what does Lee get for all her camouflaged efforts? The privilege of singing a misogynist marching song while being surrounded by shirtless men; the honor of defending the reputation of a slimy back-stabber who's getting the promotion she deserves; and a sense of self-respect rooted in the fact that she didn't get discharged like her daddy once did. That might sound like awfully depressing stuff but in actuality, writer-director Jo Myeong-nam has an incredibly light touch and this chipper movie is so tongue-in-cheek about sexism that you'll likely find yourself succumbing to the feel-good aspects of his underdog story. It's a tough cookie who won't route for Ms. Lee both the actress and the real life woman she plays as she overcomes each obstacle in her way. When the lady-in-uniform picks up a surrogate father in Sergeant First Class Kang Cheol-in (Son Byung-ho), you realize anyway, this isn't about the real struggles that accompany breaking through the military industrial complex's glass ceiling. It's a silly, sentimental, sweet-natured story inspired by a real trooper who deserves more than a little respect.
July 29, 2011
Yes, the movie has a tutor but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Gone are the romantic leads. Gone is the central class struggle. Gone are the protagonist's aspirations for a better, more meaningful life. What you get in My Tutor Friend 2 instead is a lovestruck Japanese student (Lee Cheong-a) who goes abroad to stalk a cute guy but ends up finding a sourpuss soulmate (Park Gi-woong), a boxer who all-but-killed his last opponent and now fights with everyone, verbally at least. She doesn't resist being tutored; he doesn't want to teach. How they end up together is that she's renting a room from his dad and he's been coerced by his father into helping her study. Not that he ever teaches her anything useful, just a lot of ghetto speak that alienates her from her teachers and her peers.
Why she ends up falling for him I'm not sure. Maybe the movie's one fantastical sequence which illustrates slang by having characters at a cafe literally "hit" phones, "catch" customers, and "shoot" the bill is supposed to be some sort of shared hallucination that only these two can see... much like the shooting stars they end up catching in their shot glasses one crazy, drunken night. But even that magical night of revelry leads to hangovers not lovemaking. What should've been the great turnaround — a contest for foreign exchange students that comes with a 300,000 won prize — doesn't reveal how his unconventional teaching methods have led to unexpected payoffs so much as it points out his complete nincompoopery and her newfound potty mouth. To use the parlance of the My Tutor Friend 2's foul-mouthed tutee, this movie is "crappy."
July 8, 2011
All that studying until midnight has clearly dulled the wits of the braniacs. And unlike the maniac in the first Death Bell movie, the sequel's mass murderer is not self-congratulatorily clever: He doesn't set up a cruel riddle for the students to unravel to save their lives. His "clues," if anything, only make them feel stupid and hopeless: "memory" stitched into a young girl's face; a series of jumbled letters spelling out "memento mori." You can almost hear these youngsters worriedly saying to themselves: Okay, I'm supposed to remember something in order to survive... but what? As hints go, these pointed shocks are hardly helpful. As much as terror has muddled the minds of its victims, resentment has stifled the killer's creativity. His evil-genius machines-of-revenge are uninspired: a motorcycle rigged with blades on its tire; an automatic nail gun aimed at a single target; a vial of lethal hallucinogenics... And while they'd never figure it out if this killer's clues were all they had to work with, what eventually comes to light is that a former classmate, now dead, was the victim of an attempted rape by a gaggle of giggling peers. How they were supposed to remember this, considering that they were neither present nor aware of its existence, is just another prime example of the unrealistic demands often made by the criminally insane. Speaking of crazy, Death Bell 2 has one of kookier outtakes on record for its final credits: multiple shots revealing the film's hero histrionically rehearsing CPR on a dummy. Get ready for Death Bell 3: Bloody Bloopers.