September 24, 2019

An Early Rain: Who's the Drip?

The giddy excitement a new raincoat elicits from spacey hired domestic (Mun Hie) seems like that of a child. "What should I do? This raincoat is changing my life?" she queries after a frolic at the local nightclub where she finds herself the somewhat improbably unparalleled object of desire for all the suits and the musicians on site. The one who continues in hot pursuit of her is a womanizing mechanic (Shin Sung-il), who — mistaking her for the daughter of the French Ambassador — dumps his sugar mama, hustles his former flings, and gets himself a new suit so he can... take her to a bar for a televised wrestling match?

Not exactly the ideal date but she seems to like it well enough. Hell, she even stays in good spirits when, on the way back home, the stolen car gets a flat tire and the engine conks out. Is it love? A mutual infatuation? Or two young people projecting their fantasies of a better life on each other's mistaken identities? I suppose for some people that might pass for romance and could even end up in troublesome marriage if neither party gets found out.

But the opportunities to find out are somewhat limited in Jeong Jin-woo's An Early Rain because their dates are dictated by the weather: These two only meet when there's a downpour. Are gray skies ahead for this pair of pretenders? Of course, they are... which leads to fun times at the roller rink, the amusement park, the horse track, and a boat ride. And less fun times, that remind you that though money can't buy you love, it can purchase something more disturbing and more violent.

September 11, 2019

The Wrath: Some Ghosts Need Compassion

When a rich residence gets possessed by a determined dead lady during the Joseon era, the harried homeowners can afford the very best exorcist (Lee Tae-ri) in the region. But what if that shaman-for-hire recommends a kinder, gentler approach to the vengeful spirit? What if he argues for compassion instead of immediately banishing the murderous ghost to the netherworld? Would you keep him on retainer? Based on The Wrath (Yoo Young-sun's 2018 sartorially lavish remake of 1986's Woman's Wail), I'm guessing most of us would. Especially after watching this supernatural life coach vomit black blood profusely before giving sound advice to his clients instead of running for the hills. Perhaps his stick-to-it-ness is a sign of the times.

Because no one flees the palace in The Wrath. Not the servants. Not the wives. Not the shaman's extensive support network. There's a real sense of "We can handle this" at work for these people despite the proven track record of their unforgiving terrorizer. A trail of corpses isn't about to stop the returning son (Kim Ho-chang), the self-satisfied step-mom (See Young-hee), or the pregnant widow (Son Na-Eun) from believing they can take on this grudge-bearing ghost. Clearly, since this is a fright flick, not everyone who thinks they can outwit the family curse proves to be correct. Delusions of grandeur are par for the course. But hey, someone's got to do it. Or at least die trying.

Where to Watch: The atmospheric The Wrath isn't playing in a theater near you. It's streaming on Shudder.

September 8, 2019

My Sister Is a Hussy: Actually, She's a Tomboy

Han Hyeong-mo's hilariously named My Sister Is a Hussy is one of those strange films that can't decide whether it's for or against female empowerment. On the pro-woman side, you have two daughters raised by their judo instructor father to be masters of self-defense. And so we get to see martial arts battles that show these young ladies beat up a pair of self-styled studs cruising in the park, an abusive husband who wants a maid for a wife, a young man practicing at the dojo, a small gang of hoods seeking revenge, and a burglar with a gun and a thirst for new clothes. These scenes are unquestionably fun. But on the anti-woman side, we have to witness the more independent older daughter body-slammed into submission by her father, accidentally punched in the face by her husband, and roughed around by that aforementioned gang of hoodlums because she's worn down and devoid of self-worth.

Even the end of the movie feels unclear in its messaging for while the female protagonist (Moon Jeong-suk) is now dressed in traditional Korean garb and playing the submissive wife seeing her husband (Kim Jin-kyu) off to work, we're also aware that the night before when their house had an intruder that her husband would've died — and the criminal would've escaped — had not this fiery young wife awakened from a knock-out punch and jumped back into the brawl. In a way, My Sister Is a Hussy wants to have it both ways: It wants the "weaker sex" to act as such even if we all know that they're stronger, smarter, and sassier. It also thinks that there's nothing more appealing than a woman who knows how to fight back. is the idea to appeal to everyone?

September 2, 2019

Our Twisted Hero: The Loneliness of Outrage

Political art always gets a bad rap. That bias is based on the idea that social commentary, like a critique of fascism for instance, is inherently didactic, that informing us about power structures is somehow a lesser goal that sharing insights about Life or Love or Loss. In reality, great political art still does that too: Through a discourse on society, we can learn about our own inadequacies or the fallacy that the pursuit of happiness is even possible in the purest sense when other oppressive factors come into play. Look at Park Jong-won's Our Twisted Hero. The film is a detailed analysis of fascism as it plays out among a classroom of boys at a country public school but it's also a poignant examination of how even righteous, rebellious spirits can be broken down and seduced by corrupt power systems in ways that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

By not following the classic underdog narrative and having its infuriated 5th-grader eventually triumph over the class bully, Our Twisted Hero is a painfully accurate recreation of how hard it is to topple corrupt systems of thought and behavior and the lasting damage that's done when you try to stick up for yourself or an ideal only to encounter indifference, shame, betrayal, and ostracism. To actually combat the bullies one needs a commensurate strength, whether that comes in a collaborative groundswell or in a greater hierarchical ally. The lone wolf is an incredibly rare phenomenon, one which Hollywood likes to pretend is — secretly — each and every one of us but which is probably more like one in a million. Still, you gotta admire the chutzpah of anyone who breaks from the pack (even temporarily) to fight the good fight. We're all capable of that and that's no small thing either.