May 31, 2009

A.F.R.I.K.A.: It Takes Two Guns to Make Four Best Friends

One pretty young thing (Kim Min-sun) has a stalled acting career. Another (Lee Yu-won) has no career to speak of. Bored, cute, and without direction, the two find a couple of guns while on a weekend getaway at the beach then end up car-hijackers/robbers on the run after stealing a vehicle from two guys who've tried to rape them. Soon thereafter, they're joined by a low-rent hooker (Jo Eun-ji) and a high-class ex-con (Lee Young-jin) equally dissatisfied with life and just as eager to run around looking sexy with firearms. More power to them! How these four become a tight-knit girl gang is a direct result of some feminine-bonding activities: pedicures, dancing, cooking, crying, baths with lesbian overtones, group hugs, screaming matches, and even breast enlargement exercises...all made more intense because they're being chased by a bumbling cop (Sung Ji-ru) and his two delinquent sidekicks who lost the guns in a poker game. Shin Seung-soo's A.F.R.I.K.A. is a ballsy chick flick, a reckless romp with gratuitous male nudity. It's completely implausible: No one gets shot despite the endless bang-bang; no one gets caught despite endless video footage of the crimes. Don't hate me for liking it.

May 24, 2009

Daddy Long Legs: Romance Isn't Always Memorable

An unbelievably lucky orphan (Ha Ji-won) finds a place in the world of radio broadcasting thanks to the help of an anonymous donor who has been paying her way, pulling strings, and sending sentimental gifts like a big talking teddy bear to spur her on. Since Daddy Long Legs is a romance, she instinctively knows this benefactor is a real sweetie, not some old lech. And you know what? Against all the odds, she's right! The gentleman-in-question happens to be the cute guy (Yeon Jeong-hun) who works in the library downstairs. (Guess he's a trust fund baby who works just for fun.) What she hasn't foreseen is that this knight in shining armor is suffering from a debilitating disease that will rob him of his memories then his life. That's what makes Daddy Long Legs a tragic romance. And since this poor girl also happens to be cloyingly cute and pretty untalented, it's a treacly, tragic romance that makes you want to puke. The love that develops between her kooky roommate (Shin Yi) and a producer at the station isn't any more heartwarming. It's funny how a really bad romance can leave you feeling cold. Daddy Long Legs left me feeling downright frigid. Brrrrrr.

May 14, 2009

The Tale of Chun Hyang: Ever Hear the One About the Hooker and the Rich Man's Son?

Filmmakers Im Kwon-taek, Han Sang-hun, and Shin Sang-ok each made movies inspired by the tale of Chun-hyang. (In fact, Shin did it not once but twice.) In this North Korean version, director-actor Yu Won–jun puts yet another unique spin on the rags-to-riches fable. The basics remain the same: A prostitute's daughter marries a nobleman only to get dumped before the honeymoon glow has faded from her alabaster cheeks. But Yu has introduced some changes, too. First off, Chun-hyang is now a master weaver from the working class, not just some courtesan's daughter trained in the art of embroidery. Secondly, her rich suitor goes to a heck of a lot more trouble during their courtship which makes his subsequent (temporary) abandonment of her all the more painful. Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, The Tale of Chun Hyang certainly isn't in a rush to make these points. It's also mercifully free of the propaganda that you might expect from a North Korean film. Why the movie chooses to downplay the sadistic behavior of Chun-hyang's second suitor may be because Yu has taken so long to get to this point in the story or because Yu cast himself in the role. Perhaps, he simply didn't feel like being a big screen meanie for any length of time.

May 10, 2009

100 Days With Mr. Arrogant: Teen Romance for the Marquis De Sade

"Your slave becomes your lover, your lover becomes your wife."

That's a pretty dark sentiment to embed in a goofy rom-com mining laughs from nose-picking, one-liners about tampons, and the slapstick of shoving. Be that as it may, this is the core idea of Shin Dong-yeob's 100 Days With Mr. Arrogant. A twee update of The Taming of the Shrew, Shin's sadistic comedy subs in a poor, underachieving high school senior (Ha Ji-won) for Kate and a spoiled rich college kid (Kim Jae-won) for Petruchio but it's a similarly disquieting fantasy about subjugation as a form of courtship. Even creepier, in this case, when the man enslaves the woman (after she accidentally causes a scratch on his Lexus 430), he isn't doing it because he hopes to make her a wife. He's doing it because he's bored with life in general. That she's cute strikes him as an afterthought; initially he's just looking for someone to clean his apartment, massage his back, and belittle on a daily basis. That he's cute undermines her resistance and causes her to fall head over heels. There's a certain you-can't-help-who-you-fall-for principle at work here...combined with lighthearted cruelty.

May 2, 2009

When I Turned Nine: The Crush That Couldn't Crush Him

If I remember correctly, when I was nine, the world was a polarized place. Good and bad were pretty easily differentiated, playground alliances dissolved as quickly as they were formed, and crushes came and went with growing intensity despite being hormone-free. Violence could come out of anywhere. Furthermore, the meaning of life wasn't obfuscated by fancy theories. It just was. Everything had a mystery to it. Yun In-ho's grade school drama When I Turned Nine does a lovely job of capturing that time as it charts the evolving relationship between a noble spirited boy (Kim Seok) and the new girl (Lee Se-yeong) whom he falls for. She's both pretty and pretty awful: She lies pathologically, screams if she doesn't get her way, fake cries if she's losing an argument, and acts like she's better than everyone else. Yet you never question his devotion to her because when you're a kid no one expects your actions to be ruled by logic. (That they do expect that from adults can be a bit baffling.) Maybe she's acting out because of a deep, dark secret. Maybe she's a sociopath. We'll never know. Like our hero's mom (Jeong Seon-kyeong), we're blind in one eye. We know we only see half the picture at any given moment and that the big answers are, most likely, not forthcoming.