April 24, 2013

The Day He Arrives: Drink, Eat and Be Melancholic

Dear Hong Sang-soo,

I'd like to offer you a public apology. After years of bad-mouthing your films and trashing them through reviews on my website and elsewhere, I've come to see the error of my ways. You are indeed a great filmmaker and if I don't like all your movies, the ones I do like, I do so with unrestrained enthusiasm. Count The Day He Arrives in this latter category. Much like the heart-wrenching Woman Is the Future of Man and the despairing The Power of Kangwon Province, your 2011 pic The Day He Arrives is an exquisite picaresque in which a seemingly directionless narrative somehow leads us to a greater appreciation of the inherent tragedy of life.

That you're able to convey such depths of emotions from chance encounters, that you consistently pull such naked performances from your actors, that you can revisit your ironic stand-in, the cad-director (an ingratiating Yu Jun-sang), and make him feel fresh... All these things delight me even as they catch me off-guard since the first few movies of yours I saw repeatedly drove me to fits of rage.

Was Song Seon-mi as good in Woman on the Beach as she is here playing a fawning cineaste? Was Kim Ee-seong as natural in The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well as he is here playing an embittered actor? In short, the pleasure I'm getting from your films now makes me doubt my assessments before. Should I retract the savage comments I made on your other flicks? Maybe Night and Day isn't a piece of crap. Maybe your short "Lost in the Mountains" isn't half-baked.

I'll have to go back to those and re-watch them some time. For now, I'll just recommend The Day He Arrives, your flawless, black-and-white meditation on coincidence, love, bromance, loneliness, and the art of creation itself. Well done Director Hong and please, forgive me.


Drew P.

April 22, 2013

The Unjust: Apparently, Every Side of the Law Is the Backside

A rapist-murderer is on the loose in Seoul, South Korea. But that's of little concern to anyone in The Unjust, a wobbly crime pic in which cops frame mentally deficient suspects, real estate moguls back stab each other to death, and public prosecutors wear their bribes as badges of honor while the psychopath molests and kills another young girl in the city. Apparently, law officials are too obsessed with getting promotions or a new set of golf clubs to be bothered worrying about the sex criminal headlining the nightly news.

It's as if writer Park Hoon-jung (I Saw the Devil) and director Ryu Seung-wan (Crying Fist) are suggesting that a sociopath is nothing compared to the unsavory types employed by the legal system. Prosecutor Joo-yang (Ryu Seung-beom) is more amoral as he extorts public figures and bullies co-workers with his shit-eating grin; big businessman Jang (Yu Hae-jin) is more corrupt as he wheels and deals for supremacy in real estate, with an even shittier grimace; and detective Choi (Hwang Jeong-min) is more desperate as he vies for a supervisor position, his face neither grinning nor grimacing but staring deadpan at the world as if life were a poker game.

The only really pitiable character is convicted child-molester/prime-suspect Lee Dong-seok (Woo Dong-gi), with his missing half-finger. And since he's a child molester, the pity only goes so far. Actually, the one character to elicit true sympathy is Lee's wife. Played by actress Lee Mi-do with startling realism, this mentally incapacitated woman appears to have walked out of a documentary into a so-so thriller. Lost and bewildered with a child by her side, she gapes at terrors and complications she can neither overcome nor understand. I wish The Unjust had justified her look of woe.

April 15, 2013

Vanishing Twin: Sisterly Rivalry Continues Even After Death

Before this movie, I'd never heard the term "vanishing twin." A poetical pairing of words, this medical anomaly (also known as "fetal resorption") is what happens when a fetus dies in the womb and then is absorbed by the surviving twin. It's also the only fact I was able to glean from writer-director Yun Tae-yeong puzzling movie of the same name. Because Vanishing Twin, the movie, has strictly less-than-absorbing realities. Is what we're seeing the life of dissatisfied novelist Yu-jin (Ji Su-won), her dream, her awakened imagination, or a re-enacted scene from her novel? Nobody knows. Nobody cares. As to the protagonist, she's unhappy with her husband, her suicidal sister who inspires jealous feelings even from the grave, her brother-in-law (Kim Myeong-su) who may have killed said sister, her perhaps imagined lover (Koo Pil-woo) and her novel, which likely is drawing on her various discontents as she nears her book's completion. For the record, she seems to have an okay relationship with her daughter (Choi Ji-eun).

One excerpt from her book, which we can safely assume is not reality, is presented as a bit of animation. In this retelling of a supposedly Native American folk tale, a lazy dog's penis detaches itself from its owner and goes for a walk only to get stuck on a thorn bush. When the dog awakens ready to pee but with his penis gone, he searches for it, finds it and reattaches it. All is not well, however, since his crotch itches terribly. So he prays to the goddess of the desert and... Oh, who cares. The story's a metaphor for sex. And the sex in this movie is really bad. It's weird to see a woman comically faking an orgasm over and over and a man making love to her over and over with complete indifference. Acting schools don't teach lovemaking, which means you have to learn it on your own. Considering the inordinate amount of time spent describing the lower lip as a sexual reveal, screenwriters don't learn much about lovemaking either. Everyone involved with this project needs to get laid.