October 27, 2016

Twilight Gangsters: Old Girls Just Want to Have Funds

Getting old can suck. Partly because, to much of society, once you reach a certain age, you become quaintly irrelevant. Additionally, if you ever fall into any kind of financial conflict with a major corporation — like a bank, for instance — they can take you to court and just wait it out. What's a girl to do? Well, the three grandmothers in Kang Hyo-jin's Twilight Gangsters go rogue. After years of shoplifting then hawking the goods on the street to raise a little extra cash for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii, they turn to robbing banks to get the airfare. Time is short. Waikiki, here they come!

Or so they hope. There's a lot to learn for these three lifelong friends, not the least of which is how do you hold up a bank, anyway? Sage old ladies that they are, they pressure the bank robber (Lim Chang-jung) who's partly responsible for their financial woes to act as their mentor/coach/advisor. Roles are assigned. Jeong-ja (Na Mun-hee) will be the diversion. Shin-ja (Kim Hyeo-ok) will carry the gun. Yeong-heui (Kim Su-mi) will be the "boss" shouting out demands. Their first hold-up lands them something like $80. The second hold-up covers the airfare costs to Honolulu but will they be able to get to the airport in time. (Ten to one they're flying coach.)

Nothing turns out as planned exactly but on their side is a homeless woman (Byeon Shin-ho) they once gifted shampoo and a geriatric flirt who likes to wear white suits. On the other side, unfortunately, is the entire police force of Seoul. Even with the addition of some sympathetic hostages and a senior center that won't be disrespected, the odds are not in these ladies' favor. How do you flee from an entire police force? Three on a motorcycle, of course. But how do you get in the air? Who'll fly the plane? Can you pare down to carry-on? And what about that corrupt cop whose gun you've inadvertantly borrowed? Those are much tougher questions. Sometimes the best you can hope for is someone to offer you tofu when you get out of jail.

October 22, 2016

Kundo: Age of the Rampant: Our Friends and Family on Screen

I'm not above having imaginary relationships with movie stars. I may not put posters on my bedroom walls or gossip about my celluloid boyfriend but there are definitely performers I've enjoyed meeting and looked forward to seeing again; actor whom I wanted to be a bigger part of my life; actors who I miss after I haven't seen them for awhile and greet with pleasure when they reappear. Ma Dong-seok fells into this category: He's in my inner circle, I mean I frankly adore him, although that wasn't always the case.

Over the years, our paths had crossed numerous times: He played the gang boss in Rough Play, a section chief in New World, and an ineffectual detective in Azooma. So sure I kind of knew him but honestly, we didn't really get that close until just very recently. His role as a lovable lug with a pregnant girlfriend in Train to Busan and now his turn as a rebel-thief in Kundo: Age of the Rampant has really brought us much closer than I'd ever expected. People are funny that way. Mind you, he's not the lead in Kundo, Yun Jong-bin's crowd-pleasing, action-packed historical drama about revolutionaries fighting a corrupt government in 19th-century Joseon.

That honor (or responsibility) falls to Ha Jung-woo who plays a politically enlightened butcher with a debt to settle and two cleavers to do it with. And Ha's great. He really is. So are co-stars Yun Ji-hye (as an archer with a low tolerance for bullshit) and Kang Dong-won (as the bastard son who takes his grudges a little too far). But I only had eyes for Ma. I guess that's just the kind of friend I am.

It's so nice to make new friends but you know what? Now I need to find out if Ma is in a film with my other buddy Song Kang-ho. It would be so great if there was a way for the three of us to hang out together for a night. Life is short. Way too short. So spend it with the people you love, right?

October 11, 2016

Gifted: Unemployment As a Choke

Hunky actor Kim Beom-joon has a challenging task in front of him with Gifted. For writer-director Juhn Jai-hong's tawdry thriller, he must make us believe that his Everyman character Min-soo, a fired corporate drone unable to find a new job, is going to go from an introverted boyfriend with a Crossfit body to a murderous car thief who self-induces eye-rolling orgasms whenever he strangles someone to death. The switch-over from nebbish to sociopath happens after a very long day during which he's worked two menial jobs — manual labor at a chicken processing plant and temporary chauffeur for responsible drunks seeking a lift home in their very own cars. When an inebriated former coworker gets a little nasty and belittles his intelligence from the back seat, an enraged Min-soo pulls over then chokes his old colleague to death. After a before-bed spritz with bathroom disinfectant followed by a good night's sleep, Min-soo realizes that stealing cars may be good for his wallet but killing their owners can do wonders for his self-esteem.

I'm not going to point out the obvious flaw in the logic here, absurd as it is, because I'm more concerned right now with why none of his victims scratch him or knee him or bite him or poke him in the eye. Sure they're all three sheets to the wind but is no one capable of leaving a scratch on their attacker? Could he really survive all these murders and strut around in his designer underwear without a single mark on his Chippendales bod? And what is his ultimate goal? Once he's paid off the loan for the coffee shop recently bought by his girlfriend (Jeong Soo-jin), couldn't he give it a rest for awhile? Especially considering the box filled with money he finds in the trunk of one car! Or does strangling release endorphins like any strenuous exercise? Does he continue to choke simply to keep his arms in shape? It's not a good idea! Because you can see his violent ways creeping into his sex life — his mercenary girlfriend's acceptance of his asphyxiation kink is particularly disturbing. Juhn doesn't seem to have a bigger message here. We're basically disturbed then the credits roll.

October 6, 2016

The Age of Reason: A Good Song With Not Enough Lee

How big a fan am I of actor Song Kang-ho? Well, I went to a midnight screening at AMC's dilapidated Empire 25 Multiplex in Times Square just to see The Age of Shadows this past weekend. That's pretty devoted. But you know what I realized in the process? I'm also a big fan of Lee Byung-hun his costar in Shadows and The Good, the Bad, the Weird and JSA: Joint Security Area. In fact, I'm such a fan of Lee that I felt incredibly glum after his character dropped out of the movie in the first few minutes. I know he's crossed over to Hollywood now —the G.I. Joe franchise, the Terminator reboot, The Magnificent Seven remake — but please people, don't tease me with a Lee cameo. Not at 12 a.m.!

So I'm just going to talk about the movie post-Lee, okay? (Not that this makes a difference.) My beloved Song plays a Korean cop who's sold his soul to the occupying Japanese but may find redemption with the resistance. He favors black leather jackets with a long cut and epaulets that are embroidered with gold thread. He's got a mustache that R.W. Fassbinder would've loved and speaks in a low gravelly voice that suggests an artist trying out something new. He's delightful. So are his costars: Gong Yoo plays a revolutionary leader who's still finding his legs; Park Hee-soon, a wiser elder; Han Ji-min, a tough-as-nails lady spy; and Foster Burden, a European sympathizer.

The Japanese, as you might expect given the subject matter are heinous. (Both Tsurumi Shingo and Um Tae-goo seem to relish playing sadistic baddies, with one egging on the torture of a female captive and the other slapping the hell out of an underling's face.) And while we know that the fight for freedom will prove victorious, there's still plenty of tension and suspense in The Age of Shadows. It's not Kim Jee-woon's best flick -- that's probably I Saw the Devil -- but it's a nice addition to his ever-growing oeuvre, which now includes at least one pic with exquisite 1920s costumes.