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Bun-no-ui Yun-ni-hak (2013)
Nice directing effort and unique characters
In a year filled with lame dumb unoriginal flicks dominating the box office in Korea, this was a fresh and really solid effort of new direction.
The topic isn't for everyone's taste as this is cruel, violent and very disturbing. However, the characters are very unique with some excellent performances. Rising star Lee Jae-Hoon plays a police officer by day and screwed-up wiretapper by night. This is a character unseen in any other Korean films of the same year. He has the most screen appearance, but isn't the hero. In fact, there is no hero in this. There's only bad and the dead.
With each classic musical number another character linked to the whole incident is introduced. I felt like the characters revealed got more and more *beep* up, but that is up for debate. There is a whiny professor who has committed adultery, A philosophical gangster boss with a knack for foot fetish, The stalker who actually killed the dead girl, and an angry woman who wants to cover it all up. They are all linked to a woman who is dead during the film.
The direction was innovative and it was unlike any other money-making idiocies. At points, it's very (blackly) funny especially with the gangster who is played by Cho Jin-Woong. The story is a bit far-fetched but the dialogue funny and perfectly delivered ("Hey miss, call an ambulance..." "I'll hit everywhere except your hands" "You know I exercise a lot... Especially my lower body.").
Unfortunately, the marketing was poorly done (mostly because the distributors didn't spend enough money for it) and the trailers made it look like a thriller with R18 sex scenes. It's a shame.
In the end no-one gets away clean and that's something not many Korean films dare to end themselves with.
Yi dai zong shi (2013)
Starts with a Pumping Pulse and Arrives to a Halt.
The Grandmasters has too many soft spoken words, too many slow camera movements, too many close-ups, too many backsides of actors, too many shadows, too many blurred vision and most horrifyingly, too little action. I didn't get the full grasp of the story as it leaps through time and characters and was bewildered by its lack of coherence. The precious few action scenes are good, but oh boy oh boy, what are they fighting about?? For me, Wong Kar Wai's direction for the story of Yip Man, is all wrong. Yes, it can be artistic, yes it can have visuals so gloomy and shadowy its hard to make out what we are seeing. But wouldn't it helped if all these were, you know, engaging and entertaining?
To be sure, Tony Leung makes a fantastic Yip Man. Better than Donnie Yen's version, Leung has a charisma and laconic charm with the character. One glance at his eyes, I'm drawn into this man. So imagine my pity as the film never gives chance for him to really act nor really fight until he runs out of breath. It's all so suave, all so elegant and all knowing. The dramatic high point for the acting is during the hard times, but it passes on quite quickly because the film has more uninteresting things to throw at us. It certainly takes a different direction to Donnie Yen's Yip Man series, and its for the worse. Instead of making sensible situations for the hand-to-hand combat, Yip Man here searches for the mysterious legendary martial arts moves only Ziyi Zhang knows. And the two characters have love affair of sorts despite Yip Man already having a wife. All this heavy focus on martial arts gets me to wonder, are there still modern day audiences for this film who knows all the ancient/traditional martial arts moves and feel compassionate towards them to actually care for it?
One merciful element was its choice not to concentrate on Yip Man beating up Japanese soldiers in an overly dramatic fights. Although this saps the film of its possible actions, compared with the government propaganda scene in recent Chinese action films, in which the baddies are almost always Japanese soldiers and/or Whites, the film doesn't put much focus on Japanese invasion. Just the period itself. But I guess with a film this dull and light on action scenes, a few clobbering of Japanese soldiers could have been fine.
Wong's direction has no sense of fun, and its all gloom. The actors do what they can, but the script they are given didn't tick my interest. I really looked forward to this film, interested to see Wong's take on the legendary Kung Fu master, but I guess his interest in him differed with mine.