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Areumdawoon naldeul (2001)
Perhaps the best of the love triangle Kdrama series
Beautiful Days was my first watched and my most liked Korean drama series. It may not be appreciated by a Western audience - the implausibility, the reliance on extreme coincidence, and the heavy fringe hairstyles may also be a bit amusing, too. At first, I was also thinking that way, but the longer I watched the seductive charm of Lee Byung Hun's main character, Lee Min Chul, as I happened on the TV channel each night of the series' run, I was hooked.
Lee Min Chul meets many women's fantasies about how their dream man should be: wealthy, successful in business, impeccably dressed around the clock, handsome and strong. You can watch him and be completely overwhelmed. Many of the scenes rely on subtle poses. Lee Byung Hun has great talent for posing, so this production was ideal for his model looks. His co-actress, Choi Ji Woo, also played her role superbly.
It's nearly impossible to explain any of the story without spoiling it. Suffice to say that there is romance, illness, ambition, rivalry, and a complex web of connections between the characters. The actual ending differed from the producer's intended ending as a result of audience pleas while the first screening of the show got underway. Consequently, you can notice a somewhat strange and abrupt ending.
The soundtrack to this series was also good quality, too. Ryu Shi Won, an actual Korean pop singer, who played the other lead male character, recorded several soundtracks. There is also that lovely guitar number, too.
I can recommend this drama to anyone who has a soft heart for romantic dramas. Probably not for any male viewers - they'll just giggle at the melodrama.
Don't take it too seriously
Perhaps scoffed at by Western movies, the idea of reincarnation and second life is in fact a common theme in Korean productions. No surprise when it rears itself again, then...
Knowing in advance what was going to happen after I read a plot summary elsewhere, I was so disappointed in how the plot consequently unfolded. There was so much potential for suspense and drama - who was the younger brother? what was his motive? how had he gone about assuming a hidden identity? - but it didn't materialize until the very end. Why couldn't the director have turned this into a great movie and used more subtle nuances combined with more staggered chunks of revelations to the mystery that was unfolding? Arrggghhh! This movie will probably only please Lee Byung Hun fans. Western audiences will probably loathe it as it doesn't fit their cultural expectations of how a movie should unravel.
All In (2003)
Another Kdrama series - but tries to break out of the mold and appeal to a wider audience
Lee Byung Hun, my Korean movie idol, manages to sustain a great performance based on real-life gambler Kim In Ha. I think it's only thanks to the skills of Lee Byung Hun, that this series managed to be so good. Although there were also some genuinely mean performances by a couple of other villain characters, as well as a couple of slightly farcical and not so good characters.
Usually, the romance thread is the main point of the Korean drama series. They introduced the fictional romance between Lee Byung Hun's character and that of Song Hye Gyo against the gangster backdrop. The 2 became real life lovers during the production of the drama - now broken up. You can see on screen that the two really like each other, but as for Song Hye Gyo's character of 'Angela' on screen, she didn't seem to have a lot of substance and I wasn't convinced why Kim In Ha should go nuts for her. You also have to believe in the nature of extraordinary coincidence - a common feature of Korean drama series - to be convinced that the couple should be reunited on SO MANY occasions in various parts of the world.
For me, the stronghold of the series was the rivalry and backstabbing between the gang members. I especially cheered at the fate of the vampire-esquire Dae Soo character. Such a theme attracted a lot of male members to the audience - not something typical of most Korean drama series. I also think the series can appeal to many on an international level. They have on-location scenes in Las Vegas including some foreign actors. The gambling skills picked up by the actors was also impressive.
All In is a great drama series to get started in.
Nuguna bimileun itda (2004)
Ironically, seemed to be a bio of the lead actor!
I will watch any movie that stars Lee Byung Hun because he is the most handsome Korean actor, and he does actually have genuine acting ability. However, this was a movie in which he wasn't really allowed to reveal his range of acting skills, and is largely a disposable movie which will probably be long forgotten in years to come.
This movie essentially fits in to the current Korean fad for 'romantic comedies' with added inspiration from the U.S. series Sex and The City. (In fact, I couldn't really see why this movie wasn't just made as a TV production rather than wasting good money as a movie format.) The lead actor played by Lee Byung Hun plays around with 3 sisters of very differing personalities. We get to see him pair up again with the actress Choi Ji Woo, who plays one of the sisters. Previously, Lee Byung Hun had starred in the highly successful TV drama series Beautiful Days with Choi Ji Woo. In that drama series, Choi Ji Woo played a very quiet, ailing, angelic figure. It was therefore quite surprising to see her play a comic role in Everybody Has A Secret so well. As a result, I thought Choi Ji Woo's character was the strongest in the whole movie, and not only that, but even perhaps the ONLY personality in the movie. Everyone else was a rather two-dimensional cut out figure. I felt I couldn't really care about the fate of any of them overall. In fact, by the end, no character has achieved anything worthy of note. I couldn't even possibly remember any of the character's names, too. That says a lot for the impact of the film.
I think this is only a movie for die-hard Lee Byung Hun fans or for someone who desperately needs to get through a rainy afternoon. It's purely an excuse to ogle at him for an hour or two. It's not a movie about acting standards. Anyone who knows Lee Byung Hun's reputation amongst Koreans as a 'player' will start to wonder how much they see on screen might ironically be some reflection of Lee Byung Hun's real life. That was the only thought that remained with me after the movie finished.
Dalkomhan insaeng (2005)
A hot actor, but film nothing special.
I lived in South Korea for 3 years, and Lee Byung Hun who play Sun Woo is my favorite Korean actor - admittedly, I think he's very handsome, but I also think he has some genuine acting talent too - and that's why I had high hopes for Dalkomhan Insaeng. I was also hoping for improvements on Byung Hun's previous two movies of one year earlier, which didn't really do anything to raise his acting stakes.
I think Byung Hun played the gangster part quite nicely. He has the right poses and skills to be convincing. Do you know he has a 2nd dan black belt in Taekwondo, and a racing driver's license? Both skills were utilized in the movie. He also already had experience in a gangster role to much better effect in the successful Korean TV drama series, All In. Dalkomhan certainly didn't suffer by casting him in the lead role.
Whilst the attempt at creativity and an aspiration for the cutting edge was in evidence, it didn't quite pull off as a truly memorable movie, however. Many reviewers here are saying how great the backgrounds and subtle effects were. Quite frankly, you can find such similar effects in quite a few other movies. I was just not convinced that there was a real point for this movie other than to make an action movie. I think there needed to be more twists and more original purpose to the thrust of the story. I also wasn't convinced at how Sun Woo could resurrect himself from near death several times and take on so many gangsters single-handedly. Also, the fixation with the girl developed too suddenly. Her stature in the movie just didn't entrance me.
If you want to see an even better Korean movie about revenge, may I suggest my favorite Korean movie to date: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance.
Tom yum goong (2005)
Tom Yum Goong a second rate follow up
I am a BIG fan of Ong Bak. Tony Ja and his production team were the most talented and refreshing bunch to appear on the martial arts movie scene in recent years. I only just got my hands on the Tom Yum Goong (TYG) video with much excitement, only to be disappointed with what I saw. Ong Bak had cutting edge underground shots and acidic soundtrack. The fight choreography was superb. In TYG, the whole of the first half lacks any of Tony Ja's real skills. One really disappointing scene,for example, was when he ascended the stairs of a restaurant/brothel building, merely throwing his fists out...1 man down, 2 men down, 3 men down... with a real anti-climax in effect. The final scene, taking on all those bodyguards in a single room went down with similar predictability and relative uninventiveness. As an actor, if anything, Tony sadly regressed. No real dialog; didn't do anything to change his appearance; just a one-dimensional look. He didn't do anything to expand upon the promise of Ong Bak. TYG just looked like the regular days of Jackie Chan, but at least Jackie Chan demonstrated better scripting line and dialog. Tony Ja, please don't rest on your laurels with the success of Ong Bak. Come back and really show that you could be an all time movie martial art legend!
The Goddess of 1967 (2000)
I don't have time to go into in-depth considered praise for this film, but it's a film I have watched several times, and feel it deserves a pat-on-the-back. Although some of the underlying issues that the main characters have gone through are in many respects very serious and macabre, I don't think it was the director's intent to make this a depressing movie which dwells on those issues alone. Goddess is an art movie. It's designed to be visually different and controversial for its handling of subject matter. Blindness, incest, murder, dysfunctionality. An unexpected combination of events against the spectacular backdrop of the Australian outback. Ironically, the central character is blind, and cannot see all this visual beauty directly. But, she somehow finds a strength and sensitivity amongst the far from beautiful physical abuse she grown up with. Somehow with this is intertwined an ex-fashion model from Japan, and a cult car. It's an artistic celluloid canvas. I don't think an average director could put all these elements together and come off with a really watchable and intriguing movie. I love the central character's feisty, yet carefree independence. Free-spirited female viewers will love this. I think most male viewers will miss the subtlety of the movie's intent, and will therefore not enjoy it so much. Makes a really refreshing change from your regular Hollywood flick.
Yee do hung gaan (2002)
a moderately good scare
I've just completed watching all of Cheung's films now, phew....
Yes, it's true that there are many echoes of this film already out there, but I guess it's hard to be unique when producing a ghost story these days!
I thought the film had a reasonably plausable plotline. But most of all, I thought the main actors gave a thoroughly good performance. It's not always easy to discuss the topic of mental disorder in Asian societies, and you also felt that the two main protagonists were quite isolated from everyday events around them. Everything that goes on revolves around them and they have a powerful story to tell.
Cheung is looking more mature than in most of his other roles. He is not a happy-go-lucky comic playboy any more. In fact there is no humour in this film at all, and the tone just gets darker and darker as it progresses. It's a little sad to see how the fate of Cheung's character came to perhaps resemble the final moments in Cheung's real life. I would have loved to see Cheung continue playing in film roles for ever and ever.
A proud career end for Leslie Cheung.
Session 9 (2001)
Feels like a film student's grade A entry
Just finished my second viewing of Session 9...
Sometimes this film feels like it has the stamp of professionalism all over it, sometimes you don't really know what you're in for, since none of the actors were familiar to me.
I had no idea where the plot was going from the start - hey, a film about asbestos decontamination didn't initially seem to contain much inticement to stay glued to the film. But then you see the real life abandoned penitentiary (did I spell this right?) centre which I've seen featured on a few haunted house documentaries, then you get the idea of things.
Session 9 has clearly taken elements of real life patients in the centre and threads it around the fates of the film's present day characters. I thought it was generally quite well done, although if you're hardened to ghost stories, it's not immensely chilling. And the ending I felt was a bit too hastily wrapped up (literally?) for the viewer to feel the full force of events. Session 9 is an entertaining watch, but not a classic.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
A bit of a drag...
This film takes a particular type of person to see it all through. Personally, I'm not very into musicals; never watched The Rocky Horror Show, to which this film is compared to. When the music is also not my style, I found this film really rather tedious and a complete headache - just like many of the US diners who unexpectedly stumbled on Hedwig's roadshow and decided to get out quickly.
I think the storyline has some strong points, and would be willing to follow it if it cut out the music stage scenes. I was interested in the theme of confused genders against an East German background. I also thought the Jonny Gnosis as a nemesis theme was psychologically strong. But overall, too much annoying music to support the interesting threads. Cannot watch this again.