When people ask me what it is I like so much about Korean movies, I sometimes get tongue-tied. I may cough up a pat answer about '70s noir and nice clothes and strong women or I may talk about when my obsession started nearly ten years ago while covering the New York Korean Film Festival for The Brooklyn Paper. But it might be easier in the future to tell them, "Just watch Head" and leave it at that. Jo Woon's dark comedy about a reporter (Park Yeh-jin) desperate to trade a famous scientist's severed head for the return of her kidnapped younger brother (Ryu Deok-hwan) has pretty much all the elements that keep me coming back to Korean movies week to week. This is the sensibility that intoxicates. This is what I connect to. This is the key. Here's a simple breakdown.
I like how Head challenges authority (the church, the police force, the workplace, your elders). I like the movie's morbid sense of humor (the funeral home setting, the running gag of the head in a styrofoam cooler, the way the kidnap victim's body is marked up like a cow for slaughter then redressed in a pregnant woman's housecoat that's too small). I like Head's physical extremes, its quick shifts from comedy to thriller, its refusal to fall into a sappy romance, the way it builds stories within stories within stories.
And yes, I like that there's a resourceful woman at Head's center, a feisty bitch dressed to the nines who fights back when attacked, who screams from frustration more often than fear, who's a competitor as well as a kook, an underdog that never feels like a victim. That she has a cute younger brother and an even cuter rival reporter with whom she shares a intimate past -- albeit probably not much more than a one night stand -- also helps.
Head isn't a perfect movie. But it's a really, really fun one and it embodies what I've come to see as the Korean POV. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know what's so great about Korean film. In fact, if you haven't figured it out, I'm recommending it to you right now!