October 25, 2015

The Target: You Better Run

Someone needs to make a movie that's basically one, long extended chase. Not predominantly a chase. But only a chase. They can have characters rest to catch their breath and get wounds attended to but that would be it. No other scenes would be permitted. That's essentially the first hour of the one-named director Chang's crowd-pleasing The Target, in which we watch a man (Ryu Seung-ryong) chased through an office building then chased down an alley until he ends up almost dead in a hospital where he reawakens only to be chased down the halls, chased down the stairs, chased in a mall, chased in a parking lot... Sometimes he's alone when he's being chased. Sometimes, he's accompanied by a frantic ER doctor (Lee Jin-wook) whose pregnant, psychoanalyzing wife (Jo Yeo-jeong) has been kidnapped by the main guy's brother (Jin Guo) who happens to be suffering from Tourette's Syndrome. But it doesn't matter whom is being chased or where the chase is happening. It's always exhilarating.

The second hour of the movie has somewhat less chasing, and switches the pursuit from "on foot" to "in car." But by this time, we're also into punching and shooting and crowbarring and even using the top of a toilet tank to slam into somebody's apparently cast iron head. It's still action — happily, much of it is hand-to-hand combat — but nothing thrills in a thriller quite like the chase. (Integrated marketing idea here: Brought to you by Puma.) Which isn't to say that The Target gets boring. Far from it! Bad-ass lady cops, creepy detectives-on-the-make, shady prison lawyers, and a grand shootout in a nearly abandoned police station that's epic in the best way possible will keep you thoroughly entertained. Whether it's as good as (or better than) Point Blank, the 2010 French film on which it's based, I don't know having never seen the original but it's definitely good enough for me.

October 17, 2015

The Attorney: Let Justice Reign

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun's life was certainly worthy of a movie. The youngest of five kids in a poor, small-town family, he often had to leave school to help out at home. Despite never going to college, Roh passed the bar and became not just a self-taught lawyer but a judge, although it was in the former capacity that he did the civil rights work that became the core of his career. Eventually he was elected to the highest office in the land, at which point he was indicted then reinstated. After leaving that office, he was embroiled in a few controversies around bribery and political corruption. Eventually, he committed suicide by jumping off a mountain. That's a pretty compelling life story!

Yang Woo-seok's The Attorney doesn't follow that biography to the letter of the law but even though the lead character is named Park Byung-ho (Song Kang-ho), and his backstory is somewhat recast as that of an apolitical opportunist who has an ennobling epiphany about his profession when the faultless son (Yim Si-wan) of a big-hearted cafe-owner (Kim Yeong-ae) is illegally held prisoner and tortured for being part of a harmless book-reading group, we know this is about Roh. But stripped of his official identity, the movie also allows us to embrace Roh's accomplishments without being burdened with the sad details that followed his ascent to the presidency. All of this helps make The Attorney a feel-good story.

We like seeing the self-taught litigator outwit his snobby colleagues to become a successful self-made businessman. We like seeing him move into an apartment that he helped to build back in the days when he was doing construction to make ends meet. We like seeing him rise to the occasion when injustice suddenly pops up in his inner circle. And we love his refusal to compromise when the insider deals are offered as if justice could be meted out that way by a stuffy judge (Song Young-chang) with no conscience! That may be the way, people like Park's greedy sidekick (Oh Dal-su) and his stone-faced nemesis (Kwak Do-won) want things to go, but in this Capra-esque tale, no can do!

October 8, 2015

End of Animal: The End of the End of World Movies as We Know Them

Doomsday scenarios tend to be big-budget affairs in the movies which makes writer-director-editor Jo Sung-hee's bare-bones End of Animal something truly unique, a catastrophe flick unconcerned with grandiose visuals, a low-budget Last Judgment pic that looks so familiar that you really do feel that the Final Days are just around the corner. This is an Armageddon without fire and brimstone. Instead of the four horseman, you've got a child-molesting taxi driver (Kim Yeong-ho). Consider this the reckoning that happens when the lights go out, there's no more electricity and you're left fending for yourself amid a greatly decimated population peopled by antagonistic survivors with no fashion sense.

Apropos of a 21st Century End of Days, you've got plenty of latter day Christian imagery throughout: a long-suffering Mary (Lee Min-ji), single, pregnant and looking for a place to rest; a mean-spirited angel/archangel (Park Hae-il) who communicates via walkie talkie; and a few small, strange miracles like a candy bar that appears from out of nowhere and a cute yet ominous, fluffy white dog that shows up just in time to be barbecued.

Everyone seems somewhat shell-shocked in End of Animal because instead of grappling with the larger reality (life as we know it is damn well over), they're fighting over the smallest of necessities: a middle-aged bicyclist (Yoo Seung-mok) just wants to get laid or sucked or jerked off; a stranded woman (Lee Min-ah) covets then steals a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

Having suffered endless indignities — many of them from a bullying traveling partner (Park Sae-jong)— the young woman is invited by her guardian angel to say what she wants to which she belatedly replies "a nice apartment, a new car, etc." She's clearly learned nothing from surviving one disaster after another, which leads you to wonder if we're living in a Heaven we don't recognize or suffering in a kind of Purgatory from which we'll never escape. Never. At least, not like we'd imagined or hoped. Or prayed.