February 28, 2010

Barking Dogs Never Bite: In the Beginning, There Was a Genius

Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae) leads a cheerless life. His domineering, pregnant wife (Kim Ho-jeong) has him cracking walnuts on a whim and his teaching career looks bound for nowhere if he doesn't raise $10,000 fast as a bribe for his professorship. Save the pity party for someone else though because Yun-ju's way of dealing with the chip on his shoulder is to kill the yapping lapdogs in his apartment building. Once you've seen him off a beribboned terrier and a toy doberman, you're kind of glad that he's got it so bad. And anyway, someone else is in greater need of your sympathy. That's Hyeon-nam (Bae Dun-na), the management company's spacey bookkeeper who's on a mission to find the dog-killer and a purpose in life (with a gal pal played by Go Su-hee). Because this is a Bong Joon-ho film, the narrative ends up being much more than those two intertwining tales. There are also subplots involving an indiscriminate janitor who tells good ghost stories, a crazy old lady who dries radishes on the roof, and a homeless man whose bad luck ends up seeming to work in his favor. When you consider that Barking Dogs Never Bite is Bong's feature film debut, you realize that he hasn't got better with each successive movie. He's always been great. He's just been great in different ways.

February 27, 2010

My Sassy Girl: She's Tough to Love in a Good Way

"I want to meet a girl like the ones in romantic comic books."

There's plenty of guys out there who fantasize about that sentiment, about the hot chick who's gonna kick their ass with the promise of sweet love afterward. In Kwak Jae-young's My Sassy Girl, that adolescent dream is exactly what draws the self-effacing Kyun-woo (Cha Tae-hyun) to bossy Jun Ji-hyun (Jun Gianna), a hard-drinking, emotionally unstable young woman who likes to slap him around and bark out preposterous orders. Otherwise, he'd never put up with her irrational demands which include wearing her high heels and carrying her piggy-back to yet another hotel after yet another night of binge-drinking. That these two cuties are destined for each other seems inevitable at first but is it? My Sassy Girl teeters between romantic comedy and tearjerker because you're never quite sure if he's going to be her permanent boy pal or if she's harboring a secret that could drive them apart. Naturally, they'll survive the deranged army guy who's gone AWOL but whether they'll find true love with each other is another matter. Until you find out, you'll be treated to quite a few highly effective sight gags based on vomiting. I'll drink to that!

February 21, 2010

Righteous Ties: Ganging up on the Gang With a Giggle

It's great to be popular whether you're in high school or in the slammer. You'll always have friends to sit with during lunch and someone to confide in should times get tough. The major difference between the two is that when someone back-stabs you in the latter environ, he'll be doing it with a rusty spike. That's what Chi-sung (Jeong Jae-yeong) finds out in Jang Jin's lighthearted prison-break movie Righteous Ties. Serving seven years for attempted murder, this loyal mob goon develops a close-knit clique of prison pals who help him escape and exact revenge on the mafia Don who's done him wrong. Chi-sung is especially lucky because he happens to have two best friends, too: One on the outside -- Joo-joong (Jeong Joon-ho) -- who defies code and informs him of the big betrayal; the other on the inside -- Soon-tal (Ryoo Seung-yong) -- who has some payback issues of his own. (Chi-sung's girlfriend provides him with cash and a cellphone. Really, some guys have all the luck!) True to form for a jopok comedy, the violence of Righteous Ties can be jarringly brutal as fight sequences forgo slapstick for deft choreography. Overall, this pic is funny without being a true comedy. That's it's hard to classify may be its greatest appeal.

February 13, 2010

No Regret: Rent-Boy Comes With Serious Asking Price

Cute, spoiled rich kid (Kim Nam-gil) stalks cuter male prostitute (Lee Young-hoon). In Leesong Hee-il's homo-drama No Regret, the hustler learns halfway through the movie that this is love. Initially his reaction is the justifiable "Back off or I'll kill you!" But after being lured to yet another hotel room, the rent-boy asks somewhat frustratedly, "Of all the cocks I suck every night, why should yours be special?" The reply catches him off-guard: "Because it's one-of-a-kind...and so is yours." Personally, I'm skeptical as to how good one cock can be but for this hooker that ridiculous line turns out to be a persuasive argument. Shortly thereafter the two become a couple! Well, the rich boy's mom doesn't like them apples. Nor does the call-boy's pimp (Jeong Seung-kil) who shouts to his departing breadwinner: "Give me a screw before you go, bitch!" Since this love-that-dares-not-speak-its-name also dares not make any sense, the rich boy's temporary abandonment of the hired help drives the latter to binge drink, drunk dial, then attempt murder. There's nothing a guy won't do for a man who's declared, "I'll think of you every morning I wake up with a hard-on." Evidently, that's like saying "I love you to death" to a whore.

February 6, 2010

The Curse of February 29th: The Horrific Toll of Bad Acting

Working in a tollbooth sounds like a nightmare to me. The car exhaust, the cramped quarters, the endless monotony would drive anyone over the edge. And it appears to have done just that to poor Ji-yeon (Park Eun-hye), a lowly, low-paid worker stuck with the late shift and suffering from insomnia. She blames her aural hallucinations and bad driving on a bloody ticket that a driver handed her right before (when else?) February 29th; Detective Park (Im Ho) and his partner think she's criminally insane with problems rooted in her childhood. My vote goes with the cops. Anyone who pops pills and babbles about a woman who dresses up like her (in cheap outfits ordered off the internet) sounds suspect. You can sympathize with Ji-yeon for acting out. She's got a dead-end job, a blandly furnished apartment, and a serious case of chapped lips. But while you feel for Ji-yeong, you'll more likely relate to the reporter who visits her in the mental ward then ends up doodling a shark on his notepad. She's crazy, not fascinating. If I was going to get meta, I'd say director Jung Jong-hun has asked his lead actress to play it like a toll booth worker acting like an actor instead of vice versa. That is the true Curse of February 29th.

February 4, 2010

The World of Silence: Thank Hell for Stalkers of Little Girls

There's something so perfect about making a photographer a pedophile. After all, a man who takes pictures is a man who likes to watch and voyeurism is inherently sexual. And while The World of Silence ends up retreating from that particularly icky association by the time of its literally fiery climax, the movie nevertheless plays that shuddersome perversion for all its worth. You may know that the fatalistic shutterbug (for National Geographic, no less) would never kill the understandably depressed orphan (Han Bo-Bae) who's become his charge and caretaker but you'll also recognize that there's something twisted about their relationship, even at its best. That disturbing tension goes a long way to making Jo Ui-seok's serial killer thriller more than just your everyday police procedural. So squirm as you learn who's going to catch the predatory criminal responsible for the string of murders of little girls. Is it the guy (Kim Sang-kyung) who has a suspicious hobby of taking snapshots of Lolitas or the disheveled cop (Park Yong-woo) with no hobbies at all? Neither, you fool. Only one thing is certain: Everyone involved with this case is going to lose their taste for mushroom soup.