November 17, 2018

Intimate Strangers: Fickle iPhones

How dumb is it to play a tell-all smart phone game with your nearest and dearest? Pretty dumb if you've got anything to hide, as do all the vivacious guests at this increasingly tense housewarming party where each has foolishly agreed to share any incoming messages or calls with everyone else at the table. They're not the first to make this mistake either. Director Lee J. Q.'s Intimate Strangers was inspired by Paolo Genovese's award-winning Italian movie Perfect Strangers (2016) which already had Álex de la Iglesia's Spanish variation of 2017 to its credit. (An American remake seems inevitable!) So if these old friends in South Korea had simply had a regularly scheduled movie night, they might have avoided a series of life-changing tragedies. Instead, they're about to have their real selves exposed in a single evening.

The big-hearted plastic surgeon (Cho Jin-woong) is involved in dicey business propositions; the brittle psychiatrist (Kim Ji-soo) is estranged from her teenage daughter; a bossy lawyer (Yoo Hae-Jin) is having a virtual "fling"; an amateur poet (Yum Jung-Ah) has a serious drinking problem. Et cetera, et cetera. Not everyone feels like a liar and a cheat. A sensible veterinarian (Song Ha-yoon), though the youngest, seems the most mature of the bunch while the one stag member at dinner, a quintessential drop-out (Yoon Kyung-ho) has been living a lie. Spoiler ahead: He's gay!

Winning attributes aside, none of them is particularly likable. Perhaps that's because they're way too real! A deflating ending in which we see what their lives would have been like if they had not accepted the far-from-innocent smartphone challenge undoes much of the power of what's preceded. Is screenwriter Bae Se-yeong telling us that we're better of not being honest with each other? I would have preferred he had pursued another question he introduced early in the movie. Are women more like iPhones and men more like Androids? As for me, I oft times feel like a Blackberry.

November 5, 2018

Rampant: Fighting the Mob Mentality

Don't get sucked in by the tantalizing promotional material. Kim Sung-hoon's Rampant isn't a movie about demons or spirit possession by a long shot. It's a zombie movie, and a very traditional one at that. Infection is spread by biting. Conversion from human to zombie can take some time or be fairly quick. To kill a zombie, nothing is more effective than chopping off the head. True to form, the actual cause of the zombie epidemic is unclear and only ill-fated fools think they can use the disastrous outbreak to their political advantage. The one thing unique to this particular zombie flick is that it's in period dress for the Joseon Dynasty.

Which mean that we're dealing with kings and princes, royal courts and invading armies who wear some pretty fancy duds alongside the scrappily dressed peasants and bloodthirsty undead. Our hero is a reluctant one: the self-exiled Lee Chung (Hyun Bin), next in line for the crown but more concerned with getting in women's drawers than getting to sit on the throne — a relief to his dad, the king (Kim Eui-sung) — a gluttonous man-baby who has basically abdicated in favor of feasts and concubines. Respected by no one, the monarch is secretly being undermined by his scheming Minister of War (Jang Dong-gun) who probably would make a better leader. But divine right has sway with the masses so the master archer (Lee Sun-bin) and her patriotic pals are going to side with the royal blood despite many good reasons not to.

On paper, it sounds okay but Rampant never quite works for me. The hero's queeny sidekick (Jeong Man-sik) fails to amuse despite hitting all the tried-and-true notes; the principled brother (Kim Tae-woo) isn't around long enough to earn your respect or your sympathy. At best, Rampant registers as a timely political parable — when it comes to those suffering from a mob mentality, it's best to move on to a different neighborhood. You can't convince a zombie of anything! Reason is powerless with the brain dead so don't waste your breath, don't argue. Just run. Or fight. You can always fight.