February 24, 2014

Role Play: Three Characters in Search of a Novel

Novelist Jung-ho (Lee Dong-kyu) has an unconventional creative process. He likes to act out and photograph potential narratives as a way to generate new material for each of his books. For his latest pseudo-memoir, he invites Hye-in (Han Ha-yoo), a student who attends the university where his wife Ji-soo (Kim Jin-sun) teaches, to come over and dress up like an orphaned female cousin on whom he had an unhealthy crush and who committed suicide after being raped by local boys. The role playing only gets weirder from there. He insists Hye-in memorize a poem then do certain things to enrage his wife (like having sex while the Mrs. is preparing a meal for the three of them in the kitchen downstairs). Hye-in is surprisingly acquiescent. She's what you might call a seriously devoted fan who'll do anything for an autograph. But even her zealousness pales when compared to that of Ji-soo who, one easily suspects, is gulping down antidepressants largely because her self-worth is constantly being undermined by a husband who demands his muse undergo all forms of psychological torment -- and anal sex -- because that's what leads to his most productive writing sessions out in the country. (He couldn't give a damn that his bucolic existence has added over an hour to her daily commute.)

Is the novel any good? I'm guessing it's pulp. Jung-ho himself admits it's melodrama (and with its penny dreadful ending you'd be hard pressed to disagree). As to Bak Sang-yeol's Role Play, which can feel like the cinematic equivalent of a Russian nesting doll with all its stories within stories within stories, it careens from a self-conscious artiness to a lewd soft-pornography (with soft jazz accompaniment) and from Hitchcockian thrills to Ed Woodsian nonsense. As a representative of a genre best referred to as "titters and tits," Role Play is best viewed late at night with irreverent friends willing to crack wise and leave you alone if you fall asleep. Which isn't to say Role Play will put you to sleep. It just won't keep you awake either.

February 19, 2014

Wolf Daddy: 10 Offbeat Minutes Trigger 10 Earnest Questions

1. What happens to a ticklishly quirky cartoon made by someone who doesn't go on to become world famous?
2. What exposure do a few laurels -- like a Hiroshima Award, a Korean Animation Award and a Tokyo International Anime Fair Award -- bring to an animated short and its creator in the long-run?
3. Who ends up watching a kooky mini-movie like Wolf Daddy after it's made the rounds of the festival circuit and is no longer new or even recent?
4. Are students who attend a university (like the Korean Academy of Film Arts, perhaps) where the animator (like Chang Hyung-yun, for instance) went to school shown works by said alumn in classes teaching animation as a craft/artform?
5. Or, more likely, are these small works of cinematic art simply languishing on YouTube and waiting for someone to type "short, animation, Korean, movie" into the search box field in order to be seen again by an audience of one?
6. How often would someone Facebook like, tweet, blog or email a link for a movie like Wolf Daddy?
7. Wouldn't it be great if alongside kiddie cartoons like The Backyardigans and SpongeBob SquarePants or even more grown-up fare like The Simpsons and South Park, television programmers threw in the occasional art house hit, even one with subtitles like Wolf Daddy?
8. Couldn't the best of the art form of animation find a place on the boob tube as late nite filler for insomniac stoners?
9. Wouldn't people get a kick out of the WTF narrative of Wolf Daddy if they stumbled upon it?
10. Can't you just see fans of Adult Swim and Nick Jr. alike getting a chuckle out of this story about a writerly beast who finds himself suddenly parenting a little girl, a turtle and a rabbit -- with the help of a deer he almost eats?

February 9, 2014

Hide and Seek: The Proper Way to Address a Murderer

One of the unforeseen but enjoyable side-effects of studying the Korean language is being able to spot when characters in Korean movies are speaking to each other with respect. And when they're not! In the serial killer thriller Hide and Seek, for example, there's a scene in which the murderer is terrorizing two children (Jeong Joon-won, Kim Soo-an) trapped in a car. Given the killer's age, expensive coat, and real estate holdings, I would've expected these two kids to speak to their attacker with greater deference. I guess the rule of thumb however is to automatically default to a more casual form of address when screaming at a murderer. I would've missed this nuance in the movie if I hadn't started taking Korean!

It could also be that writer-director Jung Huh is making an intergenerational statement in Hide and Seek. Maybe these two kids don't respect any adults because their parents are so inadequate. Their mom (Jeon Mi-seon) is a negligent whiner who lets them play in a ghetto alleyway while she yammers away with her stateside mother on the phone. Their dad (Son Hyeon-ju) is a withdrawn enigma who exhibits creepy obsessive compulsive behavior and breaks out into unprovoked violence in the middle of the night. Why speak to adults with respect when they're so messed up? Come to think of it, that's a question every generation must ask.

I'm guessing that Pyaong-hwa (Kim Ji-yeong), the pirate-patched daughter of the poor, harried mom that lives next door to the long-lost, potentially-deranged brother (Kim Won-hae) of the OCD dad, already has her own answer. From the looks of it, this little girl has taken it upon herself to is learn English -- and is taking to it quickly -- because the language doesn't require such differentiations in respectful address. She's not about to "sir" or "ma'am" anyone. Everything is casual in the US. Even, some may argue, murder.

February 7, 2014

The Story of Mr. Sorry: No Apology Needed for Good Animation

To the ever-expanding list of kooky movies about strange vocations -- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Air Guitar Nation, The Fluffer, Ghostbusters, and Road Trip: Beer Pong among them -- you can now add The Story of Mr. Sorry. This hour-long animated feature about a professional ear cleaner looks at one downtrodden drone's days slaving away for a large corporation devoted to the excavation of waxy buildup. As you might guess from his name, Mr. Sorry isn't very good at his job. In fact, he's a source of ridicule to his boss, his clients and his fellow employees. But everyone's got to make a living, especially when you've got a pet spider to feed and an agency (hired to track down your missing sister) to pay. Sound pitiable? You're right. Mr. Sorry is that. Poor guy.

Luckily for him, a mad scientist helps turn Mr. Sorry's career around. Whether that's good luck or bad luck though depends on your point of view. Mr. Sorry doesn't make friends or earn more money or find his sister when he becomes a "star" ear-cleaner. But he does gain access to the secret place inside people's heads, where their darkest, most intimate secrets are stored. Traveling amid these gorgeously realized dreamscapes of a gemlike palate, Mr. Sorry realizes that his own life may not be so tragic in comparison. There are worse fates than being abandoned, belittled, sentenced, and executed. Probably the most horrific fate is to be a guest on a TV show that lets the audience vote on whether you're destined for the electric chair. You'll see that play out in The Story of Mr. Sorry, too.

Cryptic and creepy, freaky and stunning, The Story of Mr. Sorry is a truly unique creation that's all the more impressive when you learn that it's the collective effort of five students from the Korean Academy of Film Arts: Kwak In-keun, Kim Il-hyun, Ryu Ji-na, Lee Eun-mi, and Lee Hae-young. I hope the future allows me to see the work of at least one of these talented guys again. A+.