April 27, 2014

The Evil Twin: A Washed Up Horror Movie

After nearly drowning as a child, So-yeon (Park Shin-hye) is rescued by her mom then has a really good nap -- which some might call a coma since it lasted ten years. But everyone treats it like she's just had a long rest. No one's particularly shocked that she's awakened after a decade. She herself, aside from some amnesia -- which some suspect is feigned -- doesn't appear to be lagging behind her peers. She can walk and talk with the best of them and if anything, her embroidery skills have improved. She's just a pretty young thing whose expressionless face can be attributed to years of rest. And consider what a nice surprise she's awakened to. The young boy to whom she'd been betrothed has grown up to be a handsome man (Lee Hyun-kyoon). You could call him the man of her dreams except she's not sleeping anymore. And when she does, she has the worst nightmares.

You see, while So-yeon survived drowning all those years ago, her twin sister Hyo-jin wasn't half so lucky. As per usual in horror films, sibling rivalry continues beyond the grave as dead Hyo-jin sabotages her revived sister's engagement, her relationship with their mom, and her reputation at large with the community. Everyone hates/fears the revivified So-yeon because locals have been dying unexpectedly ever since her resurrection. Naturally, no one is going to finger the corpse as the culprit, especially one hiding behind three feet of filthy black hair. (While scientists claim hair can grow a couple inches after death, K-horror and J-horror flicks alike suggest it grows as much as two feet.)

Be it posthumous hair growth or post-traumatic stress disorder, nobody seriously considers cause and effect in The Evil Twin. In a way, writer-director Kim Ji-hwan is aligning himself with the dimwitted family servant who preens in the handheld mirror gifted to her by her mistress and who likes to hang outside to heat her ass over a bonfire. Looking at your own reflection. Warming your bum. Could anyone ask for a better life? Yes, they could. And they should start by requesting much better horror movies.

April 16, 2014

Oki's Movie: Hong Sang-soo's Echo Chamber

Oh, Hong Sang-soo. Here you go again, you myopic auteur, with your tried-and-true tropes: The philandering filmmaker who drinks too much, the winter-summer romance that doesn't add up, the backstabbing frenemy who for awhile takes the lead, the love triangle that breaks apart then forms anew with somewhat interchangeable people. And also once again, from me, a lot of eye-rolling that culminates with a double-take caused by a narrative twist or a genius piece of dialogue or a stretch of naturalistic acting that really is without peer in Korean cinema, all of which makes me second guess myself and you and what the whole point of movie-watching/making is.

In short Oki's Movie feels both like standard Hong fare and a fresh experiment. A collection of faux student shorts examining the ever-changing relationships of a college film professor (Mun Seong-kun), his protege (Lee Seon-gyun) and the young woman (Jeong Yu-mi) having affairs with them both, Oki's Movie initially feels like typically Hong Sang-soo in the worst way and ends up feeling like typical Hong Sang-soo in the best. The change of heart in the viewer comes late in the game, thanks to two scenes: One, in which the two students -- arriving late to class on a snow day -- are encouraged by the teacher to ask whatever they want which they do with hilarious results; the second, a longer sequence in which a walk in the woods, taken by the young woman first with the professor, then with the student, is compared via short back-to-back footage that, in a very telling way, illustrates what Hong is a master of -- showing the significance of the most seemingly insignificant moments and actions.

As much as I eventually came to appreciate, even like, Oki's Movie, I admit there's still a part of me that wishes that Hong came up with a different plot more often instead of treading familiar ground. But given how prolific he's been of late -- three movies in 2009, two in 2010, two in 2011, one in 2012, and three in 2013 -- I suppose it's inevitable that he repeat himself. To his credit, he does so inventively.

April 10, 2014

Friend: The Odds are Four to One Against You, Kiddo

At first you might puzzle over the singularity within this movie's title. Why Friend instead of Friends? After all, this pic is about a quartet of boys whom we watch mature from adolescence to adulthood. But as the cinematic years (and the real-time minutes) roll by, you realize there's only one relationship that counts to writer-director Kwak Kyung-taek: The one between Sang-taek (Seo Tae-hwa), a cowardly nerd who goes on to earn his PhD, and Jeong-suk (Yu Oh-seong), the son-of-a-thug who becomes a thug himself. The other two pals -- Dong-su (Jang Dong-gun) and Jeong-ho (Jeong Un-taek) -- are there for local color. At least in theory. The catch is that the camera adores Yu, who practically makes the screen burn, and doesn't care about Seo, who fades into the background, like a set piece. For all I know that could've been writer-director Kwak Kyung-taek's intent. Since the film is semi-autobiographical, maybe he finds the more conventional middle-class life less thrilling than the dangerous and violent world of Jeong-suk and his sidekick Dong-su, the undertaker's son who ends up a formidable gangster himself.

The life of crime has more action, whether it's fighting with a crowd of high school kids while using anything within reach as your weapon, or giving a knifing master class that addresses both tools and methodology. Blood spills in movie theaters, back rooms, restaurants, karaoke clubs, and rainy streets. But the cruel impact of the mob's dog-eat-dog ethic is ancillary here as the fragile kinship between Jeong-suk and Dong-su ultimately says more about Jeong-suk's friendship with Sang-taek than anything else. Which isn't a bad thing. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with Dong-su getting repeatedly dismissed, belittled and humbled then watching him rise in power in Busan's ruthless underworld where he ends up Jeong-suk's rival. I was particularly taken with how Jeong-suk holds on to the past and wants to minimize their rivalry while Dong-su seems to embrace it, to heighten the tension. Old grudges die hard for those who get the short end of the stick -- which can be used to knife you.