Reviews written by registered user

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52 reviews in total 
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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
And then a slaphappy K-pop song was played in the church and everyone danced..., 7 November 2006

Really hard to keep that expectation buzzer turned off when stumbling upon these romantic comedies that subliminally whisper to you that this one could be special, funny and even heartfelt without becoming nauseatingly teary and making you thankful of the invention that is the fast forward button.

I think 2003 and 2004 were particularly great years in Korean cinema, so from time to time I head back and try to find some features that I might have missed and could be worth the while. From the initial looks, the premise seemed somewhat fresh. An opposites attract story of a dedicated seminarian on his way to becoming a priest, encountering a girl doing her best impersonation of Lindsay Lohan stranded in a small village.

Sang-woo Kwone plays Kim Gyushik, who gets sent to a parish with his troublemaker friend, where he stumbles upon Yang Bong-hie, played by the statuesque Ji-won Ha of Sex Is Zero shame-fame. He doesn't necessarily fall for her at first sight since she acts rather rudely and proclaims that she's got a boyfriend. Few drinks later, he gets to carry her to a motel room in a scene either set to play as a homage to MSG or show disregard for imitating, resulting in a successful transition of them suddenly becoming nice to each other the next morning. Instead of strengthening the bond between these characters with a sensible dialogue and situations worthy of being called 'romantic' in a such unorthodox setting, more time is stretched with them tugging at each other with overly self-excruciating and teasing phrases. Acting wise, Kwone did everything he could for his character, while Ji-won Ha was a joy to watch purely for her looks.

In the end, a film which had a nice start with some promise, but decided to hold on tight to the same old formula of comedies gracing the Korean theaters on monthly basis. There will always be a market for it, but it doesn't mean there aren't better films of the same genre to choose from. If I had to recommend something of similar mold with a layer of creativity it would be Someone Special and Rules of Dating. Films that weren't afraid to stray from the dotted line.

6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Fangs, but no fangs, 6 November 2006

How far did I have to look for a vampire-themed action/comedy with a touch of romance you might ask? Only as far as I usually look when I'm in need of my fix of cinematic bliss. So came Ricky, a boner-fide vampire cop, in a not all too familiar setting, that most would have associated with such a person, South Korea.

All of this with the help of a single mosquito, that got the best of a certain Dracula of Transylvania. Ricky, which is the commercial name of the character played by Su-ro Kim of the Volcano High fame, portrays a crooked cop, that gets bitten by this very mosquito. The crookedness and the basic transition in the main character was somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Chow's never ending recipe of a misguided good guy mingling with the wrong kinds, until the inevitable turn for the bright side. Ricky's turn is anything but bright, as the symptoms become very visible and his hunger for blood rises. One thing that gets Ricky's blood pumping is rage, but so do good looking women, as he explains to a priest "I turn into a vampire whenever I get hard".

All of this might seem like throw-away humor but it's not, it's actually good when it gets the time on the screen, but this being a Korean comedy, issues like buddy-cop drama, girlfriend that wants him to turn his life around consume their share of the film and humor is sometimes put on hold. Now the action was the least impressive to me. The whole Bruce Lee mannerisms and 'one punch and you're out' fighting style have been done to the death and beyond, so here it felt as a cover up to avoid coming up with fresher fighting sequences. The actors do a fine job, considering how much is asked from them. The flamboyant villain, played by the veteran actor Byung-ho Son adds a new spin on the crime lord persona, but the entire film stands on Su-ro Kim who avoids exaggerations and plays his character out with adequate vigor both in comedic and dramatic moments.

But, because the film stood at 2 hours, it left itself with as many good parts as it did with not so impressive and useless parts, however it at least tried to inject some drop of creativity into the old formulaic fusion of comedy, drama and romance, even if the comedy was its strongest and limited value. So with the sequel somewhere in works, I don't know what to expect, but because the win some lose some attitude will never disappear in the money driven film industry, it is anyone's guess how much better or worse the next feature will be.

Love/Juice (2000)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
"We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl...", 5 November 2006

One of those films which I had in my possession for quite sometime but never got around watching. It starts out with two friends who enjoy the night life and live together in a tiny apartment. At first it's not made clear as to why, but soon it becomes obvious. Partly due to the scarcity of cash, but mainly for a fact that Kyoko and Chinatsu are very close friends. The music and the overall atmosphere paint a quirky facade of an otherwise complicated relationship between the two girls.

Chinatsu is a tomboy, wishing she was born as a man and has trouble keeping her dates, while Kyoko is a happy go lucky free spirit of sorts, that enjoys painting, flirting up with guys and even sporadically leading Chinatsu on. Kyoko's mood swings keep Chinatsu entertained as much as they drive her mad and jealous. Especially when she tries to get her feelings across and answered in return. The ever changing wave of both characters' emotions, at first feel disjointed, but as the dialogue sets in, their misunderstandings feel sincere. The acting and confinement of the director create a genuine feeling of eroticism with a layer of sophistication, as supposed to silliness or raunchiness.

Thankfully Love/Juice avoids pulling something like the terminal illness card to set the intended mood of gloominess and instead depends on the raw collision of these imperfect, confused personas. A good offering from a young director, who obviously has a lot more to say. A film which might make you reflect on your life and relationships, or it might not, but it will surely make you want to see what will happen to these two characters.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Just cashing a check, 4 November 2006

Another heist comedy from Japan, this one based on a novel, circling on a cunning foursome that likes to rob banks. Though it's not really made clear what drove them there, they all share the same passion. The youngest is Kuon, who is a master pickpocket with a desire to go off to Mexico. Naruse is a soft-spoken figure who can detect if people are telling a truth or a lie. Kyono is a philosopher of sorts who likes to marinate the bank captives with entertaining speeches while the rest take care of the cash. Their driver is played by the stunning Kyoko Suzuki, who's character has a precise biological clock inside her, in other words she's a time nut.

After successfully stealing enough load to possibly retire, they themselves become victims of a robbery, but other motives soon come to light. The film starts out at a fast pace and what the characters say doesn't quite disappoint, however the middle becomes inevitably duller as the story tries to aimlessly bide time before the finale, which unintentionally resembles a poor man's spoof of Usual Suspects with even poorer villain in place of Keyser Soze.

I know that lightheartedness and fun of this film was already glowing in its title, but I'm growing tired of recent comedies that settle for less and have nothing new to offer. It was not a film that necessarily made me cringe, but I don't get why the directors in Japan can't put as much effort into comedies as they do into other genres. If I had to recommend something in place of this film, it would be Sabu's Hold Up Down, which offers a similar theme with more physical gags and clever characters.

So with CGI-ed car chases, a fun cast (whatever that really means) and a harmlessly twist-less ending, this movie will still manage to cater to some fans, but not without disappointing a few along the way.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Hollow times for a hollow mind, the story of Shinji Muroi, 24 April 2006

Out of the entire, frenzied Bayside Shakedown cast, I honestly thought that Muroi would be the last character that would get his own big production, but I guess the saying, 'if you film it, they will come', proved right and for some reason I decided to come. Not only is Muroi the film's main character, but the whole flow of the movie takes after his heavily confined, borderline depressive characteristics that worked in small doses, and which Toshiro Yanagiba has so dauntingly copyrighted from the past two films.

Like BS this film got right into the crime at hand. A young police officer becomes a suspect in a murder case and as he's being questioned by the fellow officers, he suddenly decides to run for his life. Through the busy streets and intersections with 30 or so officers behind him on foot, Muroi makes a critical decision and orders his men to engage the suspect who soon finds himself under the wheels of a moving truck. Long story short, Muroi gets jailed and finds himself in the center of controversy as he tries to uncover truth behind the murder, but tensions rise as shady works of higher powers come into suspicion as well.

Personally, not the best crime scenario that I've come around in recent years, but that was the least of the problems in the film. The pacing of the film is understandable slow as I believe that crime dramas are all about detail and build up, but this film just decided to slither along for two hours with dreary and unconvincing settings, and characters that left nothing memorable behind their lines. In BS such frailties were bearable because of the lively cast and overall busy-bee atmosphere of the film, but here there was neither subtle or wacky humor nor the much needed grittiness, which failed to achieve any grounds for emotion. Rena Tanaka was probably the only, dare I say, uplifting character in the film, despite being clouded by Muroi, who was trying his best to impersonate a wandering ghost .

Perhaps this was the film's intent to provide a harmless and an empty experience, even though I saw some potential in the director with his last year's fantasy thriller Makoto, but this was a lukewarm production, that surely had a certain "legacy" to live up to, although I don't think it packed enough punches to fully cater to both the die-hard BS fans or garner those looking for an engaging criminal drama a la Kamikaze Taxi or Memories of Murder.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Maybe next year..., 4 April 2006

I first saw this film some years ago, vaguely remembering its premises, and perhaps due to my age and other untimely factors, I wasn't moved or impressed with it back then. Recently I felt inclined to watch it again for some reason.

The story, based on a comic by Akimi Yoshida, surrounds a group of girls of a strict all-girl school, where each year to celebrate their anniversary the students, with the help from their teachers, stage plays. This year they decided on Anton Chekhov's the Cherry Orchard and after vigorous rehearsals the play fell in jeopardy of facing cancellation because of one student getting caught smoking after school. The film itself heavily mirrors a stage setting as a big classroom with 30 plus students serves as a theatrical podium for girls to prance in and out of the spotlight, gossiping and discoursing about the smoking incident affecting their months long dedication as well as other issues regarding boys and family. For a film dealing with a story of one particular day in their lives, it felt as if the director wasn't looking at his watch and knowing little bit about Shun Nakahara, the voyeuristic approach of shooting in this film wasn't all too surprising.

The young actors here didn't have to dive deep to intensify their dialogue, because the story was in content with flowing on the same stream of minimalistic events, never sidetracking, nor seeking for more stronger dramatic consequences. Sometimes I'd forget that the girls were acting as the camera would often sway in the big room, from one conversation to another, with little regard to completion of each sentence caught in the long shots. Obviously there was a forefront of certain characters, from the talk of the day about one classmate named Yuko getting curls and possibly facing a penalty from school officials, to Yuko's almost Sapphic infatuation with Chiyoko who had a history and preference of playing male parts in past productions. Their scene together in early 20th century gowns, taking shots together is probably one of the most beautiful and effortlessly sensual scenes shared by two women on screen without the unnecessary glorifications.

The transformation of these characters nearing the play at the end of the film, in full make-up, was truly applaudable as the actors felt more natural in them than without them. The final 15 minutes breathed the life into the otherwise mundane, low-tempo film. The ending was non-climatic as expected and many aspects were left untouched. After all, these characters were too real and unpretentious to have left us fully satisfied in a story trailing them for only one day, and perhaps just like the cherry orchards their full blossom was yet to occur. In the end I'm glad I watched this film again and even though it didn't caused a great impingement on me, I gained certain admiration for it which I didn't attain in the past.

27 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Fighting Bullies 101, 23 March 2006

A fighting movie from Korea, not the first one nor the last, but one which didn't wish to be entwined within a fluffy romance angle or a heavily calculated action caper. A tightly cast film about a young student name Byung Tae (Hyun-kyoon Lee) facing hard times in a school where he is mercilessly bullied by the fellow students.

Having faced problems in the past, Byung Tae's father, a policeman, has brought him down to a tech school, where the closest thing to the "project-based learning" is the excruciating, army-like push up discipline conducted by the class instructor. Not the best environment for the already angst ridden troublemakers, but a learning experience nonetheless. Mostly silent, soft spoken Byung Tae, loosely resembling the much subtler character Hyun-kyoon so greatly portrayed in 3-Iron, is tired of being on the losing end of every fight so he frantically looks for a martial arts teacher. Bring forth Pan Su, played by the always engaging Yun-shik Baek (the President's Last Bang and Save the Green Planet), who isn't the biggest of guys, but a man of few words and a walk-through the walls type of attitude. Byung wastes no time and asks Pan Su to become his master to which Su replied that Byung better have a wealthy family to pay off the victims' hospital bills, along with the usual jazz on how martial arts aren't meant to serve purely as a fighting weapon but as a mind temple. Still this didn't stop Pan Su from teaching Byung Tae the deadly skill of coin throwing and a head-butting technique which he probably should have figured out himself after all the collar nagging he received in school.

All of this is presented in a comical manner mixed with a few dramatic sequences, which I guess a film dealing with this subject matter couldn't have fully avoided, although I hoped it would. Nothing too sentimental though, but the transition from one to another still felt rather unorthodox, if not a bit irregular and disarming. Regardless, don't expect gravity defying action and wacky humor, as the poster might have suggested. Also nothing groundbreaking in regards to the teacher/student relationship which has been done numerous times and various ways. But some good laughs along with some more realistically choreographed fight scenes and no unnecessary subplots, made watching this film an effortless and an enjoyable experience. The ending reassured me that this film's intent wasn't to promote the art of tear-jerking and sadness, but instead it settled on delivering a rather benevolent message that all you need is a rule-breaking martial artist with a criminal past to teach you how to disregard pain and unleash a proverbial beating that would paint happy faces on bullied boys all over the world.

10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Power of the wind, 16 March 2006

I don't know of too many actors who take part in so many films a year as Asano has been doing so intrepidly since 2003, yet end up featured in as many remarkable films with equally engaging performances as him.

In the Portrait of the Wind, Asano, sporting a ponytail plays Tamio, a low-key photographer working out of his late father's photo studio. In a small town where everyone knows each other, Tamio meets Ayako through his childhood, but much younger friend Mari. Apart from her wholesome good looks, there was a certain notion of vacancy and loneliness about her. Tamio didn't come off too different himself, since after working as a photographer in Palestine where he saw the many deaths, the effects attributed to him losing some part of himself and even the fear of dying. Perhaps to fill a certain mutual void they started spending more time together. Having grown up in a broken home Ayako lacked confidence in the family life, but after falling for Tamio, starting a family of her own became inevitable.

A premonition of something unpleasant happening was all too obvious as things between Tamio and Ayako couldn't have been any better. A three month pregnant Ayako abruptly fell victim to a troubled youth, who followed her home one day. At first Tamio's reaction felt minimal as the film omitted tearful moments that some viewers might have considered essential, but with growing months of longing her and the news of the boy gaining his freedom gradually evoked frustration inside him. The strenuous attempts to confront the killer and attempts to move on with his life filled the second half of this film with few flashbacks of Ayako that Tamio had attained in their short time together.

A film which may have lacked the explosive performance that we are used to seeing from Asano's more famed films, in part due to his constrained character, was nonetheless touching and tragic. Topped with a good score from Akiko Yano's playful and heartfelt melodies, this slightly slow paced drama avoided the benevolently romanticized characteristics of more commercially successful films, but moved at a captivating pace. Asano, featured in the cast with mostly young(er) actors, effortlessly delivered exactly what was asked of his character. The ending was abrupt and inconclusive of some signifying matters, but it avoided coming off pretentious and overly puzzling. A sad film about a simple misfortune with subtle yet prolific symbolisms entwined, that at the end left it up to its viewer to envision the final portrait or accept it the way it was, just like the headless statue of goddess Nike in the Louvre museum.

Makoto (2005)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Spirits unrest, 14 March 2006

This was one of those films where twenty minutes in, I was aimlessly trying to figure out where it was all heading, in terms of its reoccurring shots of ghosts, standing as a group in a morgue, gazing upon an autopsy performed on a newly deceased human being. I knew this wasn't going to be a typical ghost storied drama, or whether the presence of these ghosts was just apart of one character's imagination.

The story is centered in a medical facility which performs post mortem on the deceased, with a crew of medical students and crime solvers at hand - it runs a tight ship. A range of characters and the busy bee staff atmosphere was reminiscent of the director's past films Bayside Shakedown, however characters here were much more confined, much less humorous, if not a bit one dimensional and disconnected from the outside world. One man who everyone looks up to for expertise is Makoto, a gloomy doctor who spends as much time at cutting up the bodies as he does at looking for clues around the areas where the bodies were found. By the way, the autopsy scenes are not nearly or at all visceral as ones seen in Vital, so don't be alarmed.

Makoto has lost his wife to a automobile accident and finds himself in great solitude, as he leaves work for his empty condo day after day, where everything reminds him of his lost love. But that's not all, Makoto sees her every night, illuminating in a dark corner of his living room, lingering at him, expressionless. Halfway through the film we discover his gift and the curse and how it ties with his unfortunate duties of investigating deaths of both young and old as well as of his wife. After shelving the deep scars and the mystery of his wife's death, Makoto finally decides to confront the past and ultimately face the present.

This film moves at a very slow pace, with a pleasant use of exaggerated cinematography of nature's different scopes as well as accommodating music and fine performances. However Makoto will still persist to challenge viewers favoring faster paced fantasy thrillers and mystery dramas dealing with the supernatural. And with an almost two hour stretch, this film, just like the spirits within, often drifted from touching to dull, from dark to vacant, sporadically gripping my attention.

Unfortunately the ending left me in a hollow, unaffected state, which may or may not have been its sole purpose all along. This did not overshadow the process, which I vastly enjoyed. A hard genre to find an all round satisfaction in, but with the popularity of a recent hit Be With You, the writers will keep trying to come up with more clever and harmonious tales of lost love in the parallel worlds of the living and the dead.

3 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Lightweight absurdity, 28 January 2006

I've seen a handful of unusual comedies from Japan and the most recent one being the Calamari Wrestler followed by Cromartie High School which also featured two well known wrestlers; Takayama and Hashimoto (RIP), playing complete opposites of their fighting characters of course, but in a script that would make the Power Rangers' screen writers shake their heads in disbelief.

The film opens with the purposely lengthy lesson of the school's chaotic legacy. The school in the present time looked like a strong candidate for the Battle Royale competition (which I thought the film would eventually rib, but never did). The main character, a composed young man decides to enroll despite possessing higher education, but soon regrets after his not-too-bright friend flunks the 'subtraction exam'. Some promising sidekicks get introduced, including Takayama's character who hates all types of transportation and decides to help the hijackers of a plane just so they wouldn't fly. The film showed much potential, but sidetracked twenty minutes in after shelving these winning characters and spending way too much time with the intros of the gorillas and the "Hard Gay" man who ended up offering very little throughout the film. And where the hell were the Freddie Mercury impersonations?

Yes the film needed such off the map characters (like the depressed Pootans), that was a given, but it failed to realize what direction to go with and what characters/situations to stick with in its full feature form. A perfect example of film-making where it seemed like the direction had no working script, just sketchy gags thought out by the crew late at night. Simply putting a blonde wig on an evil alien ape and calling the duo, Gori and Lla wasn't enough to tickle my funny bone. Spoofing of the Exorcist with a possessed robot, revealed to have only been infested with a cat was just a wasted, lazy attempt at parody. Again, I wasn't looking for sensible comedy or in-depth characters here, but even as a sleazy, low budget com-oddity, this film failed to keep me laughing and to exceed the wacky goods and true characteristics of the anime show. But, if you find these types of films irresistible and are a die hard fan of the show then I guess you'll watch and enjoy this movie regardless, as it was mainly aimed at its fan-base.

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