August 29, 2016

Modern Warfare: The Korean War: 38th Parallel Universe

History isn't just in the telling. It's also in the listening. Each time, I hear the details associated with a famous person, a momentous event or an era, I hear them anew. Parts of the story sound like echoes of what I've heard before, parts of it have the less insistent ring of familiarity, and parts of it clang, stunning me with new information that I wonder if I somehow missed earlier or if it were disturbingly omitted from some earlier version. How much of what I'm hearing now is true, for that matter!

With this Modern Warfare documentary on the Korean war, the footage looks largely familiar: men crowded around cannons twice their size that caused the cameras to shake with each kaboom, a stoic-looking MacArthur at the front of a battleship as if posing for a postcard, the dropping of napalm with brief mention of its devastating side effects — yet none of its harms specified! I recognize the names of Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, the battle of Inchon. I even have a vague recollection that the treaty was signed by an American and a North Korean but no South Korean at all.

What feels new is how the Chinese had better aircraft than the U.S., how the Russians were the ones who liberated Korea from the Japanese months before the Americans arrived, how Communist conspirators were forced to wear hoods on their heads then marched through the streets of Seoul. Somewhere along the way, the justice in the action got lost in the need to win.

Running well under an hour, this doc also left me with a few unanswered questions. When did the Chinese start integrating women into the military? What was Rhee Syng-man doing in the United States for all those years in exile before he became President of South Korea? Who was the military official who said the preposterous line: "We're not retreating, we're advancing in another direction"? Maybe, if I'm lucky, the next documentary fill in those blanks.

August 22, 2016

Love Lessons: The Kinky Cure for Writer's Block

Erotica definitely comes with a laugh track. And if you don't believe me, then you really should shut up and check out Ko Kyoung-a's absurd Love Lessons asap. This silly, half-clad skin-flick concerns a dissatisfied, petulant, lascivious, chart-topping songwriter (Kim Sun-young) who overcomes her writer's block by seducing a horny teenage art student (Byeon Joon-seok) who happens to live nearby. That might not sound that ridiculous but when you see her being felt up by her protege on the piano bench while she plucks at the keys on her white baby grand, you'll see exactly what I mean. Find the post-coital cigarette a total hoot? This is definitely your type of movie.

An older woman guiding a younger man into the world of experience via sex... Well, that's nothing new, is it? What may be less tried-and-true are the methods which this cougar employs. First, she entices him with sustained eye contact while being necked by her current flame in an elevator. Later, she teaches her boy toy to kiss tenderly by demonstrating what looks to be a blow job on some soft-serve vanilla ice cream. (And yes, she does end up with milky remnants all over her lips.) Truly this movie would be offensive if you could stop laughing long enough to stomp your foot.

What's the funniest part? I would hazard it's the scene where she's having intercourse with a lover from years ago and the young pup walks in and locks eyes with her even though she's on her back and her head is upside down. (She's too into fornicating to get upset by his interruption; he's too heartbroken to embrace a potential opportunity to jump in.) The saddest part of the movie may be tougher to point. I'm going to say it's that moment you first hear one of her two songs inspired by this love affair. Even knowing that the hired singer (Oh Cho-Hee) is tone-deaf and that the songwriter composed the piece in part on her Casio, doesn't excuse its awfulness. May no one in this movie ever get laid again.

August 12, 2016

Train to Busan: Zombies on Track

People are brain-dead. People might as well be dead for all the meaning their lives have. We can never escape the dead. So many meanings behind zombies in pop culture, right? Yet in a weird way, they're all related in that they all have to do with personal responsibility. If we're brain dead, who's fault is it? If our lives have no meaning, who could best change that? If we're haunted by our pasts, how do we reconcile ourselves to them? Thrillingly, Yeon Sang-ho's Train to Busann addresses those big questions repeatedly instead of just serving us up the ravenous zombie, an image that frankly had started to decay.

What's changed isn't the zombies. Nope. They're still bloodthirsty, dangerous, infectious, crazed, and in this case, fast. It's the humans. In this very well-constructed, multi-layered script, Yeon has assembled a nice cadre of survivors: a ruthless investor (Gong Yoo), his sweet-natured daughter (Kim Soo-an), a big-hearted lug (Ma Dong-seok), his pregnant wife (Jeong Yu-mi), a shy baseball player (Choi Woo-sik), his girlfriend (Sohee) and a homeless guy (Choi Gwi-ha). You'll notice that all the women are defined by the men. A problem, agreed, but they're at least not completely helpless. Just watch that pregnant woman run!

And as the chemically-induced disease (caused by man's greed, what else?) spreads across South Korea (I'm guessing the North is safe), this small group (on a speeding commuter train out of Seoul) must fight with their paranoid peers (especially one deplorable businessman) as well as against the hungry hordes in order to survive. The rabidity of these zombies is something to behold, whether they're literally exploding through windows or racing up escalators, jumping on train cars or grasping on to the caboose (and then grasping on to the guy grasping on to the caboose, and then grasping on to the guy who's grasping on to the guy, etc.). The last time I saw a Korean horror movie this exquisite was Bong Joon-ho's The Host. Yes, Train to Busan is that good!

August 9, 2016

The Beauty Inside: I Love All of You

We like to think there's an essential "me" inside of each of us, a self that exists free of the superficialities and realities and randoms that are our actual bodies, our haircuts, our bank accounts, our bloodline. Some call this "our true selves." Others, a soul. So it goes to follow that a soulmate is someone whom we connect to from this deepest place inside ourselves without regard to how we look and what we do. Kind of.

Baek Jong-yeol's marvelous The Beauty Inside both challenges and supports these ideas by having the male romantic lead, a furniture designer named Woo-jin, suffer from a condition that causes him to wake up in a new body every day. I guess you could call it, multiple body disorder. His mother (Mun Suk) -- wisely -- doesn't take him to a doctor. His best friend (Lee Dong-hwi) thinks it's a hoot. Longterm dating is off the table. That is, until he meets Yi-soo (Han Hyo-ju), a furniture salesperson who connects with him from that very special place within. Home decor does tell us a lot about a person, scoff if you must.

That means she's willing to stick around and cuddle even when he wakes up as a middle-aged bald guy (Kim Sang-ho), an attractive young woman (Ko Ah-sung), an old lady (Lee Myeong-ja), a child... Fortunately, she gets a number of handsome men (Lee Dong-wook, Lee Beom-su, Lee Jin-wook) to tide her over but a love that keeps changing its face, its voice and sometimes its language is definitely be hard to sustain. That Yi-soo is game to try speaks volumes about her integrity and her sense of adventure. There's a few asides that suggest Woo-jin tried initiating a relationship with other women prior to her but once you've found your soulmate, let's face it: All the others just disappear.

Awards: Han Hyo-ju was rightfully nominated as best actress for the Baek Sang Art, Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards. But that Yang Jin-mo didn't win the Grand Bell for editing, despite also being nominated, is the real crime here! At least Baek Jong-yeol won best director.

August 6, 2016

Nineteen: Shh! No Imagining!: Six Tales of Copulation

The recurring motif in five out of six of the rom-com shorts in Nineteen is a pair of fancy panties being hungrily pulled down a pair of shapely legs. Nuff said.

Ep. 1: While Pile Diving
Graphic design class is cancelled this afternoon so eight students play a version of Rock Paper Scissors with increased physical contact. Erections. Beer. Love equals animated hearts layered over your eyes.

Ep. 2: At Girlfriend's Place
Do you prefer a woman who offers her straw to sip or one who force-feeds you popcorn? Or whichever one invites you to her parents' pad for sex then bangs you in a stairwell on your 100th day anniversary.

Ep. 3: While Playing Jenga
Don't have a deck of cards handy? Play a game of strip Jenga. Every time someone removes a block from the precariously stacked tower successfully, an item of clothing comes off. Socks included. Then poke her.

Ep. 4: On Emergency Stairs
Nerdy high school virgins, especially those with bowl cuts and thick glasses, can get distracted during foreplay by seeing the opposite sex's genitalia for the first time. Not to worry. Eventually, college gets them laid.

Ep. 5: With Best Friend
You can have a best friend who's the opposite sex but if you're both good looking, dress up like sushi together, and then get drunk, then you're likely going to end up renting a hotel room for the night.

Ep. 6: At Movie Theater
You have a few choices when fellow moviegoers start having sex in the theater: giggle uncontrollably, masturbate or have sex with whomever is sitting next to you.

August 1, 2016

Miss Granny: Oh to Be Young (and Hilarious) Again!

There's something irresistibly sweet about movies such as Big and 13 Going on 30, movies where the main character is a child transported into the body of an adult, from where they look at the world through the most innocent eyes. Even so, for me, I prefer the somewhat jaded age-swapping comedies which go in the other direction, movies like Peggy Sue Got Married and Miss Granny, movies with lead characters who wake up to find that they're young again (at least physically) while burdened with the wisdom of age. Because the wisdom that comes with age really is laughable, isn't it? What do we learn? How little we actually know? The lessons of time may ensure that we don't make certain mistakes again but it won't save us from all of our erroneous ways. We're never free of our shortcomings, even when we're given a chance to do it all again. Contrary to popular belief, hindsight isn't always 20/20 after all.

Hwang Dong-hyuk's Miss Granny is funnier than Francis Ford Coppola's heartbreakingly nostalgic Peggy Sue however. For in Peggy Sue, the leading lady (Kathleen Turner) is caught in an emotionally raw flashback whereas in Miss Granny our heroine is a much older woman (Na Mun-hee) who while likewise gifted with the body of her teenage self (Shim Eun-kyung) is experiencing her transformation in current times. Literally born again, she pursues her long-abandoned dream of being a singer even as she works to help realize the dreams of her grandson (Jung Jin-yeong), a guitarist in a failed heavy metal band. Should she start a new life or mend the problems embedded in the one she escaped? It's not an easy choice. As for Shim, she's a revelation — her comic impersonation of a grandmother is physically and vocally astute whether she's reveling in neo "Audrey Hepburn" fashions or scolding a fellow bus passenger for having water-y milk in her breasts. But Shim isn't just a comic wonder, she can also sing like an angel. Her rendition of songs like "Raindrop" and "White Butterfly" especially make you think that Shim has an alternate career as a chanteuse if she ever tires of being an actress.