April 27, 2019

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days: What the Hell!

A movie can take its inspiration from anywhere: a great book, a bad book, a play, a graphic novel, or in this case, a webtoon. As you might guess given this particular source material, Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days isn't exactly realistic. Director Kim Yong-hwa's episodic tale of the underworld is instead a combination of video game action, Medieval redemption, and modern-day dramedy.

It's a complicated plot full of flashbacks and flashbacks in flashbacks, a story in which you may struggle to reconcile financially struggling humans on earth with costumed judges in the Hells of Filial Impiety, Indolence, Deceit, Betrayal, Injustice, Violence, and Murder. So many hells! So many green screens!

None of these hells are scary, mind you. The ravenous raptors and the firey Go-Bots, much like the CGI wolves and the animated tiger, are creatures more likely to surface via your PG-rated Xbox than by way of your worst nightmares. The closest thing this flick has to a real threat is the dwindling value of the mutual funds which the caretaker-grandfather (Nam Il-woo) and his guardian angel (Ma Dong-seok) pray will provide for the future of their young charge's future. As for the corny jokes and silly gags we've come to expect in action pics, one grim reaper (Ju Ji-hoon) does drink a chamber pot of urine. But overall, the comedy is more tonal than actual. So what's the point? "No one is innately bad. There are only bad circumstances," quips someone near the end. You could say the same about many movies.

April 11, 2019

Choi Eun-hie's Top 10 Movies

The best way to ensure a rich career as an actor may be to fall in love with a great director. That strategy sure worked for Gena Rowlands, Giulietta Masina, Anna Karina, and even Mia Farrow — though that last one didn't end so well. Add to this list Choi Eun-hie, the Korean actress whose partnership with Shin Sang-ok produced a number of unforgettable films (and even more not-so-memorable ones). Not all the movies below are their collaborations — Yoon Yong-gyu directed A Hometown in Heart; The Lovers and the Despot is a doc about their crazy abducted lives — but if you're no fan of Shin, you're likely no fan of Choi. For the record, I enjoy them both.

10. A Broad Bellflower (1987): While in North Korea, Choi actually directed as well as acted. This anti-romance is icy cold!

9. Seong Chun-hyang (1961): There's been a number of biopics about Chunhyang but Shin's sadistic version is so far my favorite.

8. The Money (1958): This early Choi pic reminds me of the Italian neo-realist films like Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D.

7. Madame White Snake (1960): I'd re-watch this fantasy about a reptile disguised as a woman for Choi's entrancing dance of seduction alone.

6. A Reluctant Prince (1963): Scenery-chewing Choi and co-star Shin Yeong-gyun are having so much fun as a king and his concubine that you forgive every excess.

5. My Mother and Her Guest (1961): I've got a soft-spot for this flick which finds Choi once again playing a woman choosing status over pleasure.

4. Evergreen Tree (1961): Perhaps Choi's most noble role is this one — a self-sacrificing instructor who devotes her life to teaching the children in a small country village.

3. The Lovers and the Despot (2016): Considering how many melodramas she made, you may be stunned to learn that her real life was even more dramatic.

2. A Hometown in Heart (1949): An orphaned child monk in search of his mother bonds with a widow in search of a purpose. Choi at her most understated.

1. A Flower in Hell (1958): This wartime pic finds Choi playing a completely amoral prostitute whose transgressions only get worse once she falls in love.

April 10, 2019

Romance Gray: Two Old Men, Two Young Ladies

The movies of Shin Sang-ok are the cinematic equivalent of summer stock: You see the same actors over and over: sometimes with bad age makeup and powdered wigs; more often in typecast roles they've played before. Here Shin regulars Han Eun-jin, Shin Yeong-gyun, Kim Seung-ho, and Choi Eun-hie are all back on board for Romance Gray (a.k.a. Love Affair), a lighthearted melodrama about a pair of philandering husbands, who get caught by their dowdy wives, in affairs with two women who hustle at the local bar. The initial advice proffered at the sewing bee is that cuckqueans need to spend more time on their appearance. But these two ladies escape a fate worse than divorce by unexpected means outside the powder room.

For the wife of the college professor, the plot will involve extortion, a fake mustache, an instant photo, and some martial arts moves. For the wife of the company president, the resolution will follow a forgotten pajama top, a righteously smashed-up apartment, two boozing broads, and some runaway kids who may or may not return. Yet despite all the drinking and shouting, most folks do get back together. Just not all... And that one loose thread is what makes this a pretty darned good genre picture.

Footnote: Romance Gray's screenwriter Lim Hee-jae also wrote the scripts for Madam White Snake, My Mother and Her Guest, and Seong Chun-hyang. Kudos to him!