August 21, 2010

My Tutor Friend: Teacher's Pet Is Also Her Pretty Boy Peer

My Little Bride. My Mighty Princess. My Sassy Girl. You'll find no scant supply of possessively titled rom-coms in the K-pop movie canon. So consider Kim Kyeong-hyeong's My Tutor Friend part of a tried-and-true tradition. Here's how the films work: On one side, you've got a bossy, egocentric rebel. In this case, it's Ji-hoon (Kwone Sang-woo), a dreamy flunky who's too busy primping and punching to pass 11th grade despite his 21 years. On the other side, you've got a self-effacing brat who'll act as his unknowing mentor and unlikely love interest. For this installment, her name is Su-wan (Kim Ho-neul) and she's got a thing or two to teach that young man about respect, verb conjugation, and idiomatic expressions in the English language. Rich boy, poor girl. Cool kid, square chick. Once these two learn to deal with his catty girlfriend (Kim Ji-woo), the school bully (Kong Yu) and the local gang, they'll drive off into the sunset on his motorcycle. But there's mayhem and misfires until then plus an improbably erotic scene in which she bandages the knife wound on his six pack abs as if they were making love and another queerly sexy moment in which he licks the blood off her paper-cut finger. Why kiss when you can nurse each other's wounds?

August 19, 2010

Shadows in the Palace: A Slow Death

There's a half-decent murder-mystery/costume-drama to be salvaged from the grandly shot footage of Shadows in the Palace but as a too-slow burn deadened by a supernatural black fog that kills off suspects one by one, Kim Mee-jeung's pretty-looking period piece is instead a lame anti-suspense with weird horror F/X that reminded me of the inky squirt of a panicked squid. After awhile, I stopped caring if Chosun dynasty nurse-to-the-courtesans Chun-ryung (Park Jin-hie) was ever going to find out who the murderer was and started thinking that the movie was just plain odd. All the quippy bitchery I expected from a thriller set in a gynocentric society of maids and female medics never came to fruition. All the plot twists and sudden revelations that should've led to my involuntary gasp in the living room caused nothing of the sort. As art, this one didn't work. As pulp, it didn't work either. Neither sassy nor nasty, the film needs to flash B-movie tit or unfurl melodramatic claws to get my sisterly praise. (On the plus side, it does show one woman getting her hands chopped off.) Beautiful and bland, Shadows in the Palace only triggers one helluva classy yawn. Hee-bin (Yun Se-ah) can scheme to make her son a crowned prince all she wants. I'm still looking for the queen!

August 16, 2010

Dream of a Warrior: Your Past Life Is on a Distant Planet

Usually, movie characters who time-space-jump end up in costume-rich eras: the 1920s or some century with powdered wigs perhaps. In Park Hee-joon's Dream of a Warrior, the time-travelers ditch earth completely and head for Dilmoon, a sword-and-sorcery planet where people wear neutral-colored Arthurian capes and black leather halters while warriors prove their mettle via mixed martial arts and a variation on football owing something to mud wrestling. Adept at both sports is Dean (Hong Kong pop star Leon Lai Ming), a lower class type who's contemporary counterpart is a soft-spoken cop with rare brainwaves that facilitats intergalactic adventures. He's been enlisted today to rescue Princess Rose (Park Eun-hye) of yore but first he needs to relive their entire romantic story as research. (Cue the sappy score for a flashback that lasts nearly the entire movie.) In this earlier courtship, Dean gets help fending off bad guys from tough chick ShoSho (Lee Na-yeong). By the time he returns to unfreeze Rose, ShoSho is dead so he's stuck fighting solo against Rose's betrothed who's got a better bloodline, bigger biceps and the supernatural powers that come from selling your soul to the devil. Lucky for Dean he can make a clone of himself!

August 14, 2010

Tazza: The High Rollers: Don't Test Your Luck Against This Double-Crossing Dame

All hail the dragon lady! As played by Kim Hye-su, this ruthless cardshark and resplendent clotheshorse may not be the movie's lead character but she sure steals every scene she's in. Give her a second of screen time, and she'll flash her panties at a neighborning player or shoot her onetime lover (Cho Seung-woo) after he's screwed her out of a wad of cash. Then again, maybe she's spreading her legs and wielding that pistol because her co-star got better billing. Kim is evidence, if any more was ever needed, that there are no small parts, only lesser actors in the same movie. Choi Dong-hun's slick crime pic may be about vengeful gamblers so crazed with greed and thirsty for blood that they're willing to bet a limb once the funds run out is for Kim, an alternately sadistic and sentimental backdrop for a fabulous wardrobe, a stylish haircut and a series of poses with attitude. Let the talkative sidekick (Yu Hae-jin) ham it up. Let the pretty young thing (Lee Su-kyeong) win the hero's worthless heart. Let one oldtimer-bigtimer (Baek Yun-shik) retreat into the scenery. By the time the last hand's been dealt (and severed), Kim will emerge victorious, even as her winnings go up in flames. Did you ever doubt her, fool?

August 8, 2010

The Power of Kangwon Province: Rejection Involves a Loss of Color

Hong Sang-soo's The Power of Kangwon Province is two pretty good movies in one. The first concerns a recent high school graduate (Oh Yun-hong) who joins two friends for a short, frankly miserable vacation at a beachfront tourist trap, where she has a botched romance with a married local cop (Kim Yoosuk). The second half-a-movie focuses on a struggling professor (Baek Jong-hak) with whom the young woman recently had an affair and who happens to be simultaneously taking a much more decadent trip to the same subpar resort. Although the two narratives tie together quite nicely come the final scenes, all of The Power of Kangwon Province feels so infected with melacholia that even tangential asides never feel that disconnected. Mood is everything here. A background story about a man who may have pushed his wife off a cliff only heightens the pervading sense that love is disappointing at best, fatal at worst. As someone who has found Hong's later efforts (Woman on the Beach, Night and Day) to be affected dreck, The Power of Kangwon Province proved unexpectedly moving. This flick has an earnest directness that makes its washed out palette feel like an honest manifestation of the colorlessness of the heart's despair.

August 1, 2010

The Divine Weapon: God, It's a Long Time Before The Rebels Rise to Glory

Personally, I have a hard time getting revved up for a movie about the development of the first multiple rocket launcher and the first missile (even if it's interesting to learn that both were developed in Chosun in 1430). Hearing female warrior Hong-ri (Han Eun-jeong) bark orders then pull her hair out as she tries to figure out how many millimeters an injector hole is supposed to be just isn't gripping drama to me. I prefer seeing her suitor, crafty merchant Seol-joo (Jeong Jae-yeong), in an endless series of "one man vs. a hundred soldiers" street fights. Now that's cool! And while there's plenty of kicking and sword clanging, The Divine Weapon's only really glorious match up comes at the end when the scrappy Chosun renegades -- who've been slaving over their weapon of mass destruction for two hours -- stab, slice, kick, pierce then mass slaughter their way to freedom while battling an army ten times their size. In that climactic scene, director Kim Yu-jin taps into the magnificent awe and terror that the first exploding mega-weapon must have produced among soldiers who thought, until then, that arrows were as far-reaching as you could get. For that scene alone (and you can fast forward to it if you like), The Divine Weapon is worth seeing.