September 29, 2009

Il Mare: Postal Disservice for Two Pitiable Pen Pals

My heart doesn't go out to women who sleep with teddy bears or run around with a sparkler on an abandoned beach. Nor does it go out to men who think throwing pasta strands is a cure for depression and keep their pet fish in the bathtub. (That's a guy who doesn't bathe often enough in my book.) So I guess I'm not the intended audience for Lee Hyun-seung's Il Mare, a romantic fantasy about a magic mailbox that sends love letters, used headbands and a pair of new red mittens across the time-space continuum, albeit one limited to a two-year stretch. I find it strange that Hollywood greenlit an American adaptation of this piece of melancholic schlock. (Title: The Lake House) In the U.S. version, Sandra Bullock steps in for Jun Ji-hyun (and smartly changes the part from a secondrate voice actor to a heartsick doctor). As the love interest lagging two years behind Keanu Reeves subs in for Lee Jung-jae. Having not seen the latter, I can nevertheless assure you it's probably better because I can't fathom how it could be worse. No one sends a photo back or forward in time; it takes them years to figure out how to meet; both are emotionally stunted and the woman seems untalented as well. Maybe something was lost in translation. Maybe the movie's real name is Il Merde.

September 19, 2009

Holy Daddy: Reincarnation Puts Juvenile Delinquent Back on Track

The time has come to designate a new sub-genre in Korean cinema: the comedic weepie. Kwon Seong-gook's Holy Daddy will serve as our shining example. How does it qualify and quantify? That's easy. A lifeless stretch of exposition establishes the comic situation. A convict (Lim Ha-ryong) who dies the day before his release from prison is reborn as an ingratiatng groupie (Ha Dong-hoon) out to bond with his lawbreaking son (pop star Lee Min-woo) and thereby curb his crime-ridden ways. Exactly how this particular soul has come back mid-life instead of as a newborn isn't quite clear. Perhaps getting a soul is simply another part of puberty for Korean men, like body hair and a deeper voice. Regardless Ha's performance as the middle-aged man in the adolescent body is so sweetly silly that you forgive the improbability that's preceded. As for the weepie part, that's even easier. Who wouldn't cry if he found out his new best friend was doling out posthumous parental advice before returning to the other side? A subplot involving an angel (Kim Sang Jung) and his daughter the nurse is really the same story in miniature, intended to make you cry twice as much. Oh Daddy! Don't leave me! Stay and be my lover!

September 13, 2009

The Restless: The Official Language of Purgatory Is Mumbo Jumbo

Ah, the weird logic of fantasy worlds. In the Midheaven of The Restless, for instance, the recently departed pray to be reincarnated in human form instead of heading directly for those Pearly Gates. Guess Heaven isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or maybe that magical bath they take to cleanse them of memories has this Medieval crew forgetting that Nirvana was supposed to be the posthumous goal! Whatever their reasons for wanting a one-way ticket back to Planet Earth, Purgatory's in trouble. The once-serene resting place of in-transit souls now finds it's got some rebel spirits among their ranks who want to open up the doors between Earth and Inbetweenland. Sounds like desegregation to me so I'm not sure why "white reaper" So-Hwa (Kim Tae-hee) is so dead set against it. Population control? Elitism? Real estate regulations? Regardless of why or who's right and who's wrong, Yi Gwak the demon killer (Jung Woo-sung) is going to fight alongside her because he loves her as much as he loves turning bad guys into burnt marshmallows with a magic sword that only human hands can handle. Can love triumph over evil? Is it really evil to want to change the world and not just protect it? And what is it with the Korean fascination with computer-generated fireflies? Now that's weird!

September 6, 2009

She's on Duty: High School's Undercover Lovers

No one wants to relive their high school years, least of all Jae-in (Kim Seon-a), an undercover cop whose single accomplishment then may have been to head up an all-girl gang on the playground. But duty calls, so she'll have to put her personal feelings aside in order to infiltrate the student body and cozy up to the shy daughter (Nam Sang-mi) of a mobster (Kim Kap-su) who the police hope to get under their protection so he can rat on the head of a crime ring that promotes dog fights and enslaves Korean girls as prostitutes for the Japanese. That she'll fall in love with a fellow student (Kong Yu) -- who is equally good at Taekwondo and also happens to live next door -- complicates her assignment and confounds her ethical code. All that confusion probably fuels the rage that comes into play whenever she gets in a fight with school bullies, sparring partners in gym or run-of-the-mill thugs in the abandoned backlots where so much crime takes place worldwide. A woman warrior to be sure, Jae-in can singlehandedly overpower gangs of all ages, sizes and gender to jig music no less. Park Kwang-chun's She's on Duty is no masterpiece but it's an enjoyable after school special that teaches girls rock, smoking is bad, and listen to your elders.