June 22, 2014

A Tale of Legendary Libido: Dick Jokes and Slowpokes

Jeon Soo-kyeong stars in a number of empty-headed movies but whenever there's a vacuum, she expands to fill it up. In the middling comedy Little Black Dress, she's a hack writer dropping zingers like the best of screwball Hollywood's peroxide blondes. In the even worse The Perfect Couple, she plays an amoral journalist whose mastery of slapstick is equally vintage. This time around in the raunch romp A Tale of Legendary Libido, Jeon plays a lecherous bar owner who's one of many townswomen who go from ridiculing rice-cake street-peddlar Byeon (Bong Tae-gyu) for having a small penis to pining for his shlong once it's miraculously enlarged. Amid sight gags of cascading pee-streams and Three Stooges-style violence [like when Byeon has a fire on his crotch stomped out by his brother (Oh Dal-su)], Jeon milks the comedy for all its worth. As per usual, she doesn't have many lines but she gives great reaction-face and when she gets a moment to sing, she sends chills up and down your spine.

Bong isn't quite as effective at making the most out of a little. As the bumpkin cursed with a tiny dick, he's a bit clueless and so emotionally scarred by his tryst with a cackling, nymphomanical harridan (Yoon Yeo-jeong) that instead of giving us permission to laugh at him, we're stuck feeling pity at first, and indifference soon after. Later, he doesn't make the most out of a lot either. Magically transformed into the neighborhood stud, he's just as sullen and just as dull. You never witness his delight in finally being hung. You never find satisfaction in watching him over-pleasure women who spurned him in the past. His heart (and his hard-on) ultimately belongs to another (Kim Sin-ah) -- a nearly brainless former sex slave whose sad history is unexplored and whose skill at synchronized swimming is unexplained. As sex comedies go, writer-director Shin Han-sol's A Tale of Legendary Libido barely gets to first base. It has the feel of a comedy at most.

June 15, 2014

Hahaha: Taking a Page Out of Woody Allen's Book

I don't know why the similarities between Woody Allen and Hong Sang-soo never occurred to me before. They're both directors who crank out a movie a year, and primarily focus on troubled romances -- sometimes seriously, other times comically, oft times of the summer/winter variety, occasionally triangles. They're both critical darlings who have won more than a handful of awards -- both nationally and internationally -- yet neither could be called a box-office goldmine. They also have a small group of actors they reuse in multiple movies then were drawn to casting bigger names later in their careers. For Hong, that last bit has led to Isabelle Hupert in In Another Country and pop star Rain in Soar Into the Sun. Since Hong is a master of naturalistic acting, neither celeb upstages his or her co-stars.

One way that Hong differs from Allen, however, is in his constant use of drunk scenes. In Hahaha, not only is the framework a drunk scene -- two friends recount their overlapping weekend in a small coastal town called Tongyeong -- but so are about a quarter of the events they recount: failed filmmaker Moon-kyeong (Kim Sang-kyung) taking Seong-ok (Moon So-ri) back to a hotel room, depressed critic Joong-sik (Yu Jun-sang) taking his mistress (Ye Ji-won) to meet his uncle, Moon-kyeong's mother (Yoon Yeo-jeong) drinking with all of the above at some point or another. Because it's a Hong Sang-soo film, the drunk scenes are universally good. No one facilitates as many riveting naturalistic performances as Hong.

Both Allen and Hong are experimenters with form, too. Here in Hahaha that manifests itself with the framing conversation that takes place in the present being merely a voiceover to a black-and-white slideshow of Moon-kyeong and Joong-sik toasting, talking and saying "Cheers!" But unlike Allen, Hong isn't one of the leads nor does he cast himself in a cameo. He's got a history of having stand-ins for the alcoholic, womanizing, deluded artist we assume him to be and here he does it in triplicate, the third version being a fickle poet (Kim Kang-woo) who's not only the best friend of pill-popping critic Joong-sik but also a surrogate son to man-child Moon-kyeong's mom who gives the poet a free apartment once Moon-kyeong turns it down.

This is the 10th Hong Sang-soo movie I've seen! (I'm ready for more!)

June 8, 2014

To Catch a Virgin Ghost: Diamonds Are a Ghost's Best Friend

I've seen great horror movies that aren't necessarily scary (Thirst, The Soul Guardians, Terror Taxi). I've seen plenty of comedies I enjoyed that didn't necessarily have me laughing out loud and were probably more strange than funny (The Story of Mr. Sorry, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, Couples). I've even seen crime pics with overcomplicated plots that I forgave in the end. (Girl Scout, Tazza: High Rollers). And then there's To Catch a Virgin Ghost, Shin Jeong-won's triple-genre-hybrid that failed to provide the minimal atmospherics of middling horror, the occasional chuckle of mediocre comedy or the temporary tension of an uneven thriller. Talk about a dud in triplicate. No screams, no laughs, no gasps. You almost wish the creators had thrown in sports, biopic, musical, mockumentary, scifi and western, just to see them fail at those genres too.

I'm not sure what the primary genre was supposed to be either. Is the important part of the story have to do with the stolen diamonds that are swallowed by two of the hoodlums or the romance that unexpectedly blooms between one gang-leader (Lim Chang-jung) and a lovely, insecure young spirit (Shin Yi) whose beauty is only marred by her creepy white eyes. The latter tale in particular has a lot of novel possibilities in terms of where it could go but To Catch a Virgin Ghost is written by screenwriters with Attention Deficit Disorder. They never stick to any storyline for long, meaning that chase scene are interrupted, conflicts never build and the final resolution has more loose ends that a fringe tablecloth.

The inability to settle on a plot, a conflict or a genre has ironically extended to the title as well. In America, the movie has been released under the titles Sisily 2km and To Kill a Virgin Ghost as well. Might I suggest an alternative? To Romance a Virgin Ghost When You're Smuggling Diamonds Near an Orphanage Where Everyone's Been Murdered. Or simply Dead Girl, Kooky Crimes. It took me a full week to watch this movie in its entirety because I would grow so impatient at each viewing. Maybe someone can make a better version of it by turning it into a seven-second montage for Vine. I am currently available to pen a Twitter script of 140 characters or less, hashtags included. All I require for payment is the return of the 109 minutes spent watching this movie.