Nobody’s Daughter Haewon – After Frances Ha and Our Sunhi, I chose to watch yet another female-fronted film thoroughly immersed in mid-20s ennui, the reasons behind my decision only natural as I am in the same mess myself, it seems. Those who are familiar with Hong Sang-soo’s style won’t be surprised by the slow, repetitive rhythm of the movie, as it leads the audience into the same world of confusion its characters are placed. After witnessing recurring conversations, coffee shops, acquaintances and passers-by, the results of characters’ mindless quests remain ambiguous, while some still appear none the wiser. The protagonist Haewon, much like Sunhi from Hong’s following film, is as (paradoxally) lost as she is determined, and it would be all too easy to dismiss her as a character (like some critics have done) if she wasn’t so endearing and so easily relatable in her aloofness. Falling asleep in libraries, thoughtlessly picking wrong men, wondering how everyone else has it better – that’s what 20s are for, right?
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Our Sunhi (2013) – True to his directorial manner, Hong Sang-soo once again places the prodigal son (or daughter, in this case) as the protagonist of the story, in a world made up of art students and filmmakers – undoubtedly close to his own.
When Sunhi returns to town after a few years of absence and lack of contact with any of her past acquaintances, she encounters three men: an ex-boyfriend, a fellow filmmaker and an old professor. Through idle scenes of friends and former lovers sitting in cafés, where they talk about their past and future, Hong Sang-soo invites us to explore the nature of relationships and personal identity, as Sunhi is in search of her own in return. One might find the repetitiveness and frivolousness of their conversations a bit pointless, but it is in fact those that make Hong’s movies so charming and, to some extent, even philosophical. Our Sunhi might not have resonated with the cinematic cynics out there, but for those who happen to be in any sort of post-graduation, quarter-life crisis or any other forms of soul-searching phases, this movie might provide a temporary relief – cluelessness is a universal feeling, and sometimes the only appropriate one.
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Commitment (2013) –Choi Seung Hyun, better known by his stage name T.O.P, has many talents: rapping, acting, being fashionable, suggestively tilting his head to the side, referencing Dadaism and various other artistic motives in 3-minute long videos, name-dropping obscure and unlikely bands as his favorite, covering No Diggity without looking like a complete ass, subtly paying homage to Prince, effortlessly carrying a perfect set of eyebrows on an equally perfect face.
Unfortunately, one of the talents T.O.P doesn’t posses is picking decent movies to star in, but because of the aforementioned reasons, myself and other admirers of his life/work/existence still choose to watch it. Commitment successfully manages to contain every known cliche in the favorite cinematic dichotomy that is North vs South. We have an undercover spy pretending to be a normal functioning member of the society, love interest that is never (explicitly) materialized, innocent family member left behind used as a means of coercion, ominous “meanwhile-in-Pyongyang” scenes, you name it. Going in with little or no expectations from this movie, I could only be met with a positive surprise, which is kind of what happened when I realized that, yes - even though a bit trite, this movie is still very watchable and, at times, even exciting. It might be for my own perfectly shallow reasons, but by the end I found myself pretty invested in it, to the point of letting out a little gasp when
unexpected turns took place. Bottom line, even if you’re not into K-pop idols you might enjoy the cheesy, but alright action/drama - for everyone else, treat yourself with this little T.O.P gift that contains actual substance.
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I definitely will! I’ve seen it mentioned pretty much everywhere, so I’m expecting something epic. However, it’ll have to wait while I suffer through Commitment first, my unapologetic T.O.P fangirling won’t allow me to watch anything until I finish it.
(Also, Tumblr never seems to bother with notifications for asks, so I apologize in advance if I’m 432 years late with the response!)
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Cold Eyes (2013) – The remake of the Hong Kong crime film Eye in the Sky this time comes in a slick, modern package, placed in the busy and chaotic streets of Seoul. In the center of out story, we find Ha Yoon-joo, the ditzy, but hugely perceptive newbie to the highly-trained surveillance branch of the Korean police forces. She and her team are set to track down the main players of an armed robbery organization, led by a criminal mastermind going by the code name “Shadow”. Their chase is made more difficult by the fact that the surveillance team has to keep close without ever revealing themselves, always keeping a safe distant from the target. This provides a tense experience for the audience and the movie doesn’t fail to keep the atmosphere dramatic at most times.
However, the major downfall of this movie, the one that might prevent the audience to become invested in the story beyond the surface, is the lack of character development, resulting in failure to portray any of their dimensions beside the professional one. That is why the tragic events aren’t as poignant and the victorious ones aren’t as cheerful. Other than the team leader (played by Sol Kyung-gu), whose personality is somewhat worked out, it’s easy to not care about the rest of the characters. That said, Jung Woo-sung makes an amazing villain (who knew?) and his performance does conjure the cold-blooded, frighteningly precise criminal he is supposed to be. In a nutshell, a decent espionage thriller that had potential to be more compelling, but fell short somewhere along the way.
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The Master - What? A new proper Hollywood-type release? Yeah, but I have an excuse which, among all my fangirling over Korean and Russian cinema, you might not have noticed - and that is my everlasting love and respect of everything Phillip Seymour Hoffman chooses to be.
Think of Paul Thomas Anderson what you will - genius, boring, pretentious crap, but I guarantee there must be a movie in his opus which you’re a fan of - be it the surprisingly satisfying Punch-Drunk Love, always-appropriate-for-quoting Boogie Nights or just BIG HOLLYWOOD movies like There Will Be Blood. The Master has received so much praise before it even was even properly released that I couldn’t help but be super-pumped for seeing it. Critics called it a return to the 70s era films, claiming that it should undoubtedly become most important one of the year, if not for a longer period of time.
So I guess it didn’t come as a surprise when I was left in my seat not knowing what to think when it didn’t meet my average-viewer expectations. Not failed, but turned out to be something different than expected. It starts off beautifully, with perfectly shot scenes which introduce us to the disturbing side of Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell. The film continues its fine character development when he encounters a charismatic cult leader, Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and we are witnessing the intense beginning of their complex dominant-submissive relationship in an incredibly gripping scene which shows Phoenix’s first “processing”, a form of questioning used in Dodd’s cult, The Cause. Soon, the film kind of loses its track, intentionally or unintentionally, I’m not quite sure. Unlike the epic ending we see in some of earlier Anderson’s movies, this one just stops, rather than having a meaningful closure. Some reviews say that it has no pretense other than pure observation (in which case it works well) and certainly, one should keep in mind that it is definitely more thematic than story-driven - however, it might turn out to be slightly underwhelming for those who are anticipating something else.
On a more positive note, it was masterfully (couldn’t resist) directed and in 70mm, every shot looked like a piece of art. The two leads have, in my opinion, reached perfection and could be on par with whomever is your pick of classic Hollywood actor. Characters were so well-rounded and real - the scene where Dodd snaps at Laura Dern’s character portrays exactly how an egotistical person who is completely calm and under control would react when his own words are being questioned.
I do have to say that, despite its flaws (or what I considered to be flaws), this movie will probably spark discussion among those who choose to view it. Personally, I am eager to see what the reactions will be like once it gets a wider release.
Reblogging because I can’t seem to put into words how important PSH is for me, but I seem to have made an attempt at it two years ago here, so it’ll do for now.
Leviathan (2012) – I wish this movie had given me anything to work with, after all the praising reviews I read about it, but nope. Instead, I was presented with a ramshackle of GoPro footage (mostly comprised of decapitated fish, close-ups of fishermen’s faces and repetitive clanking of heavy fishing machinery), utter lack of context and an audience desperate to figure out any sort of meaning that wouldn’t seem like a total personal construct (the few that didn’t leave the screening room, anyway). Unfortunately, I think the very conscious aim of this movie was not to have one.
Unless you’re a Mastodon fan with a massive attention span, I’d suggest you pass this one.
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The Terror Live (2013) – ”Holy shit, this is like Speed in a newsroom!”, said the person I was watching this movie with. And they were kinda right.
The story begins when Yoong-hwa, a fallen news anchor star, now a radio show host, receives an unsettling phone call from a distressed listener who is threatening to blow up the Mapo Bridge. When his devious plans come to fruition shortly after, the audience is taken on a dramatic roller coaster ride, lasting no longer than your average (fictional) working day. However, instead of having a classic hero, who in theory should do anything in his power to prevent the sociopath on the phone from doing any more harm to innocent people, Yoong-hwa sees this unfortunate event and the frenzy around it as a lucrative opportunity to boost his ratings and hijack his radio station, turning it into a makeshift TV studio. As the tensions escalate and the tragedy obtains more hostages, victims and blackmails, the lines of morality become increasingly blurred, only to become completely shifted once this chaotic broadcast reaches it (somewhat ridiculous) pinnacle.
Anyway, The Terror Live might not be the most original movie out there, but it definitely offers a fresh perspective, placing the media (with all its flawed and unpredictable characters), and not the heroes or perpetrators, in the center of the story. As a side, it also offers an enjoyable hour-and-a-half thrill for all of you Speed/rolling news fans out there.
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Hide and Seek (2013) – Having noticed that this movie got mentioned a lot during the London Korean Film Festival (which, sadly, I haven’t been able to attend this year… I’ll be back some day, damnit), naturally I got pretty excited when it finally became available online. It started out as a promising little mystery film, one of those that provide the right amount of psychological build up without ever succumbing to displays of full-on violence or gore. However, as it dipped into the characters and the plot some more, it became obvious that it would be a painfully predictable thriller-by-numbers, where the seemingly well-off character actually has dark past/long-lost relatives who might be out to get him/psychological disorder that are all suddenly reappearing on the surface. The movie further disappoints once it reaches its “twist”, when, in fact, you come to realize what unnecessary lengths it had gone to mislead its viewers - to the point that it developed a whole different sub-plot, which ultimately, served no purpose and was left there standing like a dead branch in script as a whole. I’m not even getting into what might be the moral of the story: “poor people, know your place”? Don’t know, seems like this one could be it - in which case, I dislike this movie even more.
Still, good points: furniture, everything Jeon Mi-Sun is wearing. All of it.
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White Night (2012) – There are two things I’d like to (without any previous knowledge) assume about this movie: a) that the title/basic premise is a reference to a similarly named story by Dostoevsky (possibly true) and b) that some scenes, especially the first snow one, were ever so slightly influenced by Tony Kushner (probably not true).
Either way, this was my first encounter with Leesong Hee-il works and, to be quite honest, I had no idea what to expect. My initial reaction was one of surprise, as I’d never seen LGBTQ issues so openly tackled in Korean cinema (well, at least not in a way that isn’t overly exaggerated and caricatured way that cannot be taken seriously - I’m looking at you Personal Preference). It only got better from there, as the film was revealing itself as incredibly bare, both in terms of storyline and atmosphere, completely deprived of those corny elements which, for movies of this type, sometimes present a too easy trap to fall into. More often than not, it felt more like a stage play than anything. Namely, the story is comprised of only two characters, as we follow them around the streets of Seoul, where they play a cat-and-mouse game, from passing each other without acknowledgment at one moment, to major outbursts of emotion (in form of fighting or sex) the next. This chase doesn’t ever get dire, as the beauty of it is in the details - Won Gyu’s chewing gum, Tae Jun abruptly stopping and moving his bike, little actions telling us much more than an elaborate dialogue ever could. Soon, it becomes clear that sexuality isn’t the only topic explored here - there are also subtle musings on class, leaving vs. staying, violence vs. compromise - all very universal in character and relatable to anyone who feels as placed in an environment that sometimes may seem hostile to them. All in all, wholeheartedly recommend it - I’ll be on a lookout for other movies from this director.
NB: Don’t worry, there are still iron bar fights. Always with the iron bars.
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