September 27, 2011
September 17, 2011
Her co-star Ahn Jae-wook isn't quite as nuanced as paramour-savior Dr. Choi but at least he shares Lee's complete lack of concern with tugging heartstrings, despite their being endlessly ready for plucking. Ahn appears to have turned his charisma down for Garden of Heaven. The quartet of nurses who worship the ground he walks on are inexplicably blind to the cruel rebuke he levels at a mother who's just lost her child ("Let's get the death certificate now!") and his complete disregard for professional ethics as he falls for the prettiest patient on the ward. A rather tearless tearjerker, Garden of Heaven pushes the expected buttons in the disease-romance genre without triggering the de facto response. Think of the fundraiser near the end of the movie: A filmmaker who's dying at the hospice makes a short documentary about Dr. Choi that lauds him as an Angel of Death then a lineup of patients play a melancholic tune with handbells that create sounds that don't sync up with the soundtrack. That constant sense of something off make Garden of Heaven something you should turn on.
September 9, 2011
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it's more than a little weird to watch Yu Yong-sik's The Anarchists (a.k.a. Anakiseuteu Anarchists) because this historical bromance about Korean terrorists who assassinate Japanese oppressors in 1920s Shanghai is so little about politics and violence and so much about brotherhood and youthful aimlessness. With a screenplay by none less than Park Chan-wook, The Anarchists isn't shy about slaughter. Men are stabbed, shot repeatedly, slit in the throat... Even women get tortured. But most of the time, this movie's all about male bonding, how young revolutionary Sang-gul (Kim In-kwon), once rescued from the gallows, comes to love and respect his mentors in the revolution. They're a likable bunch: a nihilistic opium addict named Seregay (Jang Dong-gun), a hotheaded prankster named Dol-suk (Lee Beom-su), a bespectacled didact named Myung-Gon (Kim Sang-jung) and a wannabe radical named Geun (Jeong Jun-ho) who never really seems to have his heart in the cause even as he's willing to sacrifice his life to it. Though the characters never break into a chorus of "Friendship / Friendship / Just a perfect blendship," you do get the feeling that they're humming it when the camera pans away.
Platonic loyalty is hardly unique to Park's canon. Think of the absurdly devoted women in Lady Vengeance or the extreme devotion among the soldiers in J.S.A.: Joint Security Area. But the camaraderie shared by characters written by Park but directed by others always feels more palsy-walsy than sealed in blood. In both Yu's The Anarchists and Lee Mu-yeong's The Humanist, the extremism that defines unconditional love is tempered, leaving something more like chumminess in its place. Admittedly, few directors can match Park's ability to glamorize violence without losing its grotesqueness. De Palma and Scorsese immediately come to mind. And Yu, admittedly has one scene that comes close: A slow-mo bit in which Seregay gets a bullet hole in the head then falls backwards, his descent captured at various camera angles heightening the surreality of the cigarette still smoking between his now-dead lips. But that's an isolated moment. Most bloody encounters in The Anarchists are a little too tamely respectful of the audience to actually achieve something that would earn the audience's wildly undying respect.
September 3, 2011
They meet in a park. They write each other anonymous notes sent via carrier pigeon. He keeps pining for her even as she stalks him. He can't see the obvious and she won't announce her identity — maybe because she can't comprehend why he can't pull together all the freaking clues she puts in his way. After awhile, you get the feeling in White Valentine, that this morose duo isn't unlucky so much as they're unsure. Sure, they're stunted beings unlikely to take big risks. But maybe, just maybe, they're also circumspect cynics who are looking at each other and thinking, "Hmm, maybe this one isn't what I"m looking for." On that count, they may both be right. She's able to turn her inner frustration into a piece of kiddie lit. He turns his angst into a coffee table book of bird photographs. Can you really fault love lost when it gives you each a book deal? And when, years later, he discovers the children's book that she's illustrated and recognizes the cover artwork (and the truth that comes with it: It was HER after all!), does he race to find his secret sweetheart? No. He moseys over to the store that her just-as-evasive grandfather (Jeon Mu-song) once ran then shuffles outside the train station where she's about to embark to other climes. When suddenly he makes a mad dash for the tracks, I, for one, was left fantasizing that he'd thrown himself on the tracks. I can't imagine eternal bliss for these two. I see a house filled with melancholia. Boo-hoo and then boo.