July 25, 2016

Hearty Paws 2: Doggone It, That Pooch Can Run

A few things I can watch for hours at a stretch: championship tennis on television, the ocean in winter, dogs playing and running anywhere, anyplace, anytime. Director Lee Jung-Chul's Hearty Paws 2 delivers a lot of that last simple pleasure (if not much else). When a Labrador Retriever's runt puppy is stolen by bumbling brother jewel thieves who want to gut it and put diamonds in its eye-holes, that mama dog is seen chasing a truck down Seoul's highways and byways, scampering through the halls of an abandoned building, racing through the woods and an adjacent snake-infested field, and galloping down the freeway in a rainstorm until she collapses from exhaustion (only to be ignored by a passing car). Then after our heroic dog has been rehabilitated by a vet, she's back to running again. She's a beautiful creature, and seeing her in motion is never boring. You sense that she's an incredibly well-trained animal following commands and enjoying every minute of it, even when she's fake-limping after getting shot in the hind quarters. Some dogs really love to act!

But not all dogs. For example, her on-screen offspring, a real fur-ball of unbearable cuteness, isn't relishing his role's requirements as the kidnapped puppy who must suffer all types of indignities. Disturbingly, I sensed that the shivering fetal position the runt takes on numerous occasions wasn't trained so much as induced. And did we really need to see one of the bad guys hold the little doggie by the scruff of its neck. Yuck, that made me wince. The scene between a wild boar mom and the Labrador mom made me wish that either the movie had no human beings in the cast or that all the animals had joined forces to take on mankind. What I feel: In the outside world (outside the movie), people frankly aren't doing such a good job taking care of all God's creatures or the planet which we all inhabit together. It's time for the animals to challenge the hierarchy. Let's let the dogs run the world for a change. Wild boar for vice president.

July 18, 2016

Compassion: I Saw What You Did Last Summer and Videotaped It on My iPhone

Here's a theory: The reason we look back at our teen years with such longing is that this was the exact time when the polarity became clear. By which I mean, this is the age at which we realized that there is an "us" versus "them" at play in the world and while now, as adults, we pretend that there isn't, maybe in truth, there really is. Maybe nostalgia is just missing our own ability to accept a debilitating truth. We like to look back fondly on simplicity over recognizing its continuity; we'd prefer to retreat from acknowledging a wrong-and-right morality because owning it would require us to take a stand. There really are good guys and bad guys, bullies and victims, alpha dogs and runts in the litter, enemies and advocates. That's one thought that came from watching Compassion, writer-director Shin Sung-sub's straightforward drama about a bright, high-school student named Ha-na (Lee Cheong-mi) who suddenly discovers the world around her is populated by a shrewish mother (Jang Seo-i), a wife-beating father (Jang Woo-jin), a superficial best friend (Lee Soo-yeon), and a mean girl (Jeong Seong-hee) who's threatening to release a graphic cell-phone video of a statutory rape that Ha-na survived but can't remember. Human beings are despicable. Well, most of them, anyway.

The two exceptions are a classmate (Jo Jeong-yoon) and a teacher (Jeong Mi-seong). The former is a singer-songwriter who's been abandoned by his parents and now cashiers at a donut shop and delivers newspapers to make ends meet. The latter is a member of a Christian support group, and has some guilt to be worked through regarding another student who killed herself earlier in the year. Far be it from me to belittle an ethical Christianity but watching Compassion, I could easily picture a gloomier outcome if Fate hadn't intervened as well as this couple of do-gooders from a The Church of Good Works. I guess we can only do our part and it's our job to do it. Change starts here. You can either fight the good fight or exit among the beaten.

July 17, 2016

Revivre: Who Has Time For a Life?

On the surface, Oh Sang-moo (Ahn Seung-kee) is a devoted husband. When his dying wife (Kim Ho-jung) gets yet another brain tumor, he's the one who shaves her head at home then spoon-feeds her gruel in the hospital. But to a certain degree he's just going through the motions. At the funeral home, he doesn't cry — simply asks his daughter to donate mom's clothes to a charity — and seems more focused on the cleavage of his new coworker Choo Eun-joo (Kim Gyu-ri) than on his dead wife's portrait at the wake. Well, everyone grieves in their own way. Oh does it by cold-bloodedly having his wife's perfectly healthy dog put to sleep shortly after her death. (It was her wish!)

Which isn't to say that Oh is not there for his wife throughout her time of need. He changes her diapers then deodorizes the room, catches her vomit in a pail then wipes off her comforter, takes a Viagra pill so he can get it up when they're having sex. (Although he'll be fantasizing about Choo for that last bit, truth be told.) No one is going to accuse Oh of being a poor caretaker. And how many times can you indulge in emotion when your daily lifting someone up onto the toilet then rinsing off their privates afterwards? Don't you eventually have to detach? Otherwise, there's crazy time ahead.

The casket scene in which the recently departed's daughter (Jeon Hye-jin) and sister (Sin Yeong-jin) make a hell of a lot of noise merely points out that the ones who grieve most effusively may be the people who have been less a part of the dying process, which can prove messy and exhausting? (Did the son-in-law feel anything at all?) Should we really think less of Oh simply because he's answering his cellphone while the casket is being wheeled to cremation? In Im Kwon-taek's Revivre, there's business to attend to as a marketing executive. Who has time for a life?

Baek Sang Art Awards: Best Film and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Ho-jung

July 16, 2016

Kim Jong-Un: The Unauthorized Biography: Far From Scary, Further From Enlightening

Tom Cruise's unauthorized biography claims Katie Holmes had to audition to be his wife; George Bush's unauthorized biography digs up his family's history with Adolph Hitler; Frank Sinatra's unauthorized biography His Way enraged him so greatly, he supposedly wanted to put a hit on its tabloid author Kitty Kelley. Whenever you see the word "unauthorized" next to the word "biography," you can be damned sure that the life story revealed isn't going to be overly flattering. Which is what makes this documentary from director Anthony Dufour such a curiosity. We already know that Kim Jong-Un, North Korea's current dictator, had his uncle assassinated, is developing a nuclear arsenal, and palled around with former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman. Why exactly doesn't this unauthorized biopic heighten our fears about the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea? What gives?

Much of the new news here is actually not so heinous as what we already know: He got his education in Switzerland; he appears to have a good relationship with his wife (and women in general); he didn't try to hide his health issues and has, to the contrary, worked for greater transparency in certain aspects of his rule. The lack of info regarding the prison camps, economic disparity across the country, and Kim's own personal excesses is frankly dumbfounding. Yet even without that, Dufour still intercuts gloomy music between his interviews with public figures such as Joseph R. DeTrani (the former president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance), Victor Cha (the former Director for Asian Affairs for the National Security Council), and Jang Jin-Sung (a former officer of the Korean Workers' Party). They definitely sound as if they're trying to scare us about Kim but none of them does so. Is Dufour only pretending to demonize Kim? Is he, in fact, a tool of Kim and subversively singing his praises? Does anyone truly believe that North Korea is responsible for hacking Sony's computer network in protest of the stupid satire The Interview, because of its tasteless plot point about assassinating Kim? I don't.