Movies You Should See Vol 3

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It is no secret (in my house) that I Love Korean Films. I started in China, and then meandered into Japanese films, but when I got to Korean cinema....Oh. I had found my place.

I also have to confess a huge fan crush on one specific actor. So large was this fan crush that when I had finished watching The Host, I immediately starting back tracking ALL of his movies so I could gaze upon him more.

Yes, it is Kang-ho Song. I have now faithfully tracked down every movie in which he has acted and been entranced.  As an actor, he is without equal. From his first supporting roles in movies like The Quiet Family in which is a son in a family who gets caught up in a darkly funny comedy of errors that just keeps getting a bit worse, but is  somehow made better by using Early Stray Cats as the soundtrack to his bust out performance in Memories of Murder, one of the best and most nuanced movies about the search for a serial killer in a rural police outpost, to  The President's Barber, in which he portrays the Barber for the South Korean President and the things he both hears and experiences. He also is amazing in JSA (Joint Security Area) a fictionalized story of soldiers across the DMZ and the unlikely friendship they develop, as well as the consequences of such a friendship or as the Leader of a doomed expedition in Antarctic Expedition.

Possibly one of the best Westerns I have seen in recent memory is a South Korean movie modeled on the classic Westerns of Hollywood - The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. Ok, Yes. It is true that Kang-ho Song plays "The Weird". But the whole movie is just so FUN. The panorama's, the costumes and the fight scenes? Just FUN.  Sure, it may not be super historically accurate, but sometimes you just want a movie where the action is clever and the joy of the actors enjoying their craft floods out over he viewer.

Back to The Host. Disguised as a quasi-monster movie, this film at heart is a commentary on the effects of pollution on the environment and the way a family pulls together in a crisis. And All right, you got me. Kang-ho Song plays the father.

Released in 2009, The Thirst gives a different vampire story. One in which the infected in a Priest.  Who retains his morality while trying to figure out what to do about his condition. Chan-wook Park directed this movie. He also directed Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,  Lady Vengeance and OldBoy - so this is a man who tells a good story. Critics didn't love this one. It is a slower movie and it doesn't have flashy and spectacular vampires. But I loved it. I loved the colors and the shift in palate. I loved the love triangle. I loved the idea of "spectator" of the mother in law, and the transformation, in character, of the female character. *cough*cough. Yes, Kang-ho Song plays the Priest.

OK. My little love fest with Kang-Ho is done. I promise.

Mother is a film that I didn't expect to like, despite it being the film made by the director of The Host and Memories of Murder. It is a film that beguiles you, from the opening scene of the mother dancing in the field to the final moment when you realize everything this woman has done to protect her son. In essence, a murder of a local girl occurs, and the police decide that this slightly mentally challenged young man MUST be at the heart of the matter. The older actress who portray the Mother in this movie acts her ass Off. Everything she does in this movie reflects a tremendous commitment to both the character and the story, which at heart is a single mother who has sacrificed everything to try to provide for her son, often at her own expense.  Why this didn't get some kind of nod as an Oscar worthy film is beyond me.  And Kudos to the Director for using a talented older actress who doesn't need to look 20.

Here are a couple of other gems from Korea.  This country does Thrillers like no body else. Seriously.

The Chaser was one of those movies that I held my breath through nearly the Entire performance. When I heard that it was optioned to be re-made by Hollywood, I was indignant. This movie was perfect - right down  to the ending. If Hollywood does this movie they are going to Surely screw it up. In sum, a pimp ( who is a disgraced former police officer) realizes several of his "girls" have gone missing. He assumes that they have just ducked out on him and sets out to find them...and his money.  Slowly he realizes that his prostitutes have gone missing after One particular client has called.

A movie in the same vein ( without the Killer) is HandPhone. A Business Man loses his phone with some incriminating video on it of a client he represents. A mysterious Other finds the phone and sees his chance to extort some money.  Yes, it is a TERRIBLE title.  But a fun movie.

Spider Forest is a movie that took me AGES to get a hold of, as it seems to not be in huge distribution, but it is another romping thriller - a man is drawn to a cabin in the woods, and seems to be connected to murders committed here - but can't quite remember how or why. He continues to have deja-vu through the whole film, until the web is complete and he sees the whole picture.

I'm going to end with two "horror" genre. The thing is that Korean Horror, or K-Horror, shares some attributes of it's more famous cousin "J-Horror".  However, I find that Korean horror films are somehow more  delicate than many of the Japanese Horror films.  There is more left to the imagination...more to figure out.

One of the paragons of Korean Horror would be A Tale of Two Sisters. Yes, Hollywood made some god-awful remake which has Nothing to do with this film. Put that monstrosity out of your mind.

This is a story about two sisters who come home from spending time in a mental institution. They have a new step-mother, who doesn't seem quite right. The sisters Love and protect each other - except when they can't.

I was crying by the end of this film. The acting - particularly by the actresses portraying the sisters, is exquisite. The cinematography? Flawless. Everything from the location to the colors used in the film are clearly planned out carefully and completely.  The horror part of this movie isn't in your face, but lingers like a visitor in the hall. You know something is wrong....but never quite what. It is only at the end that you put it all together, which makes it all the more crushing.

Hansel and Gretel is my last choice for this MYSS edition. First, the colors in this film are amazing. And I mean amazing.  Super saturated and eye popping.

It is also a movie that both uses and changes the basis of the original fairy tales. Yes, there is a House. But it is the children who lead the adults there. No, the kids aren't vampires. Or werewolves. Just kids. But they are in charge - kind of like portion of Twilight Zone:The Movie - the portion that Terrified me far more than the other two stories where the kid has trapped the adults in the house.

During the movie, you come to understand how the children came to this house and how they came to be in charge of their "Story" - that of Hansel and Gretel.

I love when stories use fairy tales, but use them in a way that is clever and thoughtful. Children who just want adults to love and protect them and what happens when they don't.

I've got several more in my queue - I saw the Devil which is supposed to be THE movie of the year with the actor who played OldBoy, and I have it ready and waiting to be viewed. The Housemaid and a BUNCH of others ( including the latest Kang-ho Song movie, Secret Reunion).  Also, I admit that there are genre's that I don't really watch too much, and have vowed to try to remedy that - Romantic Comedy, Drama, etc. I don't tend to choose those so in the interest of You, the reader, I am going to make an effort.

Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you think. Terrance doesn't love these films, so he prefers that I choose others if we are watching together, so Usually I end up gushing to myself about the quality of the story.

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