April 30, 2017

A Good Rain Knows: Love Is in the Air

Director and co-writer Hur Jin-ho's wondrous little romance A Good Rain Knows wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter: Former lovers Dong-ha (Jung Woo-sung) and May (Gao Yuanyuan) are meant for each other but first they'll have to put aside any old resentments or reservations and rediscover those purer versions of themselves they were so many years ago. He's got to shed that unfeeling corporate skin and reconnect to his inner poet; she needs to forget getting dumped then ignored and deal with some PTSD caused by a fairly recent earthquake in Szechuan.

The acting in this film is exquisite. You can sense that both characters are fully aware of their attractions to the other so the flirting is at once calculated and earnest. Each wants to entice their ex- yet they're both scared too. What starts as a chance encounter at a scenic historic site devoted to the great Chinese poet Du Fu (where May works as a tour guide while finishing her dissertation) builds into a whirlwind courtship of sorts (accelerated by the severe time limitations of Dong-ha's business trip from South Korea). But how much passion can be rekindled in a couple of days, especially when you're dealing with a tactless business associate (a comic Kim Sang-ho) who appears to want to have an affair with May and to be best buddies with Dong-ha? Doesn't this guy understand three's a crowd?

Happily, A Good Rain Knows keeps the comedic interference to a minimum and chooses instead to focus on the increasing intimacy of its two leads. Since most of the movie is performed in English — the two lovebirds met previously while undergraduates in the United States — this little film feels primed for a bigger American audience. If this modest review can help in that regard, I can consider my good deed as done for the day. You can call me your online movie matchmaker.

April 23, 2017

The Exclusive: Beat the Devil's Tattoo: So Silly, So Serious

A tragicomedy veers from the heavy to the hilarious and sometimes manages to be both at once. A dramedy — a much lighter form — periodically upends the overriding seriousness with well-timed punchlines. A black comedy takes a completely irreverent approach to something not typically seen that way. But what of director Noh Deok's The Exclusive: Beat the Devil's Tattoo? How should this one be ultimately classified? Well, despite the nuanced vocabulary at my disposal, I admit I find myself at a loss for words. It is a light-hearted satire that periodically feels accidentally grim. What do you call that? Neologists, please step forward and speak!

The plot certainly lends itself to tragic and farcical interpretations: Recently single and unemployed, reporter Heo Moo-hyok (Jo Jung-suk) stumbles on a lead for a murder story that ends up putting him back on the map, professionally and to some degree romantically. The catch? The breaking news is actually misinformation. As is his follow-up. As is his forged cover-up. This is a slippery slope story set in the world of fast-paced journalism. (Side note: An alternate title of the film is Journalist.) Can Moo-hyok escape his mistaken if well-meaning deceptions? Not if his media empire's General Manager (Lee Mi-sook) has anything to say about it? Indeed, the killer himself buys into Moo-hyok's perjured fiction, literally drawn from the novel Liang Chen Murder Record. How that comes about is amusingly troubling. Um. Troublingly amusing?

To say that The Exclusive has a cynical view of the media, law enforcement, and the working class would be an understatement. Indeed, a subplot involving a scam artist who undermines the reputation of the gallery where the reporter's wife (Lee Ha-na) works makes clear Noh's got a cynical view of the art world as well. Is it all despairingly laughable? Wryly painful? I simply cannot report with accuracy what it all means. Not at all.

April 8, 2017

Red Carpet: From XXX to XOXO

I put off watching Park Bum-Soo's impossibly delightful Red Carpet for weeks if not months because I figured it was a low-budget, mildly titillating, soft porn skin flick pretending to be legit. Sometimes, these type of movies can be fun diversions but you have to be in the right mood to watch them and keep the sound low so as not to disturb the neighbors. One day in March 2017, I was finally bored enough and let 'er roll. Well, Red Carpet was not what I expected. Not by a long shot. Far from being some pervy misogynist director's poorly acted, barely scripted excuse for some gratuitous nudity, Red Carpet is an incredibly wise romantic comedy that knows how hard it is to shrug off imposed shame and stay true to your heart, especially when that involves defying convention and the establishment.

Admittedly, there are plenty of gags about erections, sex, porn actors, and secret identities. But Red Carpet is actually a very sex-positive movie. There's nothing wrong with acting, writing or directing porn for the participants here. Any judgment suggesting as much comes from the buffoons outside the biz. Indeed there's a sweet camaraderie among the cinematic sex workers that manifests in unexpected ways, like when the performers and crew members put on corporate drag so that the lead stud can video chat with his wife from a makeshift conference room. As acts of deceptions go, this one is awfully cute.

Playing the role of the young porno director with non-porno dreams, Yoon Kye-sang is utterly lovable while Koh Joon-hee does a deft job at showing a former child actress's development from an insufferable attention-seeker to a young woman who knows success is irrelevant in a world where we deny ourselves the room to feel deeply. The entire supporting cast is spot-on, although Hwang Chan-sung was probably my favorite as the bumbling new crew member whose passion for Godard doesn't stop him from working on a very different kind of art film.