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Travis Betz the director has much more talent than Travis Betz the writer.
As many of you probably did as well, I stumbled on this film while scouring Netflix Instant View. There is a lot to like and a like to dislike with this film -- the creature design, vision and overall story are all quite interesting, but the story falls flat and the written dialogue doesn't work in whole. I really like some of the artistic choices that Betz made, turning a really interesting, deep tale and telling it in a really simplistic way. Stylistically, you can see influences from major films. But the major problems with the film, and the reasons why I can't get totally behind it, is the dialogue, which is far too sophomoric and jokey for the interesting style. Because of its simple nature, the film has to rely far too much on the dialogue, and the interplays between the young man and Lo just don't work for me.
Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo (2004)
It's NOT Saving Private Ryan
Taegukgi, a film displaying events during the Korean War, has been drawing a lot of comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, and rightfully so. However, in no way should anyone believe that this film blatantly copies or steals from Saving Private Ryan.
Obviously, the use of the shaking hand held camera is taken from Saving Private Ryan, but this is because Ryan's trend setting use of the camera style became the new wait to exhibit realism in a War film. Just as the CGI boom and certain action styles was seen in many action after the Matrix and other films, without using the hand held camera, the audience won't believe in the film. Also, people cite the use of gore and violence is too similar to Saving Private Ryan. But, the director of Taegukgi often makes violent action films. And, did Saving Private Ryan establish that warfare was a violent and bloody event? I don't think so.
Instead, Taegukgi does something which Hollywood War films often do not. The great character development and story of the two brothers and their family is above and beyond any Hollywood character development. Yes, we know the characters in Saving Private Ryan, but the direct statement of the film is the importance of the mission. We learn snippets about the lives of each soldier, but they could be any fill-in, really. In classical War films, each platoon was always filled with someone from the "big city" (New York), small town America and a minority character (usually either Jewish or Hispanic). Hollywood still does this, although not at the same degree. But, Taegukgi is really a film about a family and how they are effected by a war, not really about the War itself.
Failan is the first movie out of Korea I had ever seen. As I sat down to watch the film, I didn't know quite what to expect, although I have seen plenty of American melodramas and other Asian films. Simply put, I was blown away. I can't really describe why I am still so touched by this movie, but I think that is part of the beauty of it.
I have had discussions with others about the film and the biggest qualm seems to be that the first half's violence doesn't quite work with the second half's intense drama. I wholeheartedly disagree. It is important that Kang-jae's development as a character comes quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. Without him being set up as such a despicable personality in the first half of the film, the power of the film completely misses. Is his transition too unbelievable? Although under false pretenses, Failan is the first and only person who has ever cared, trusted and believed in Kang-jae. Would this not change you? The film constantly beats on Kang-jae through most of the film (a role typical for Choi Min-sik), so this really sets up the tragedy at the end of the film - with Kang-jae forever unable to fulfill his second chance.
A Happy End...?
Happy End is a wonderful, yet frightening, look at what a love triangle does for the people involved. Noted for its twist ending, the film begs the question of whether the drastic choices we make (although in very painful situations) really benefit our lives in any way. Ji-woo Chung's intimate approach to this film lets the viewer really look inside the characters and their motivations. Choi Min-sik gives a great performance, right up there with Oldboy and Failan. I don't know if there is another actor in the world that can get so much sympathy from his audience. A really great film, coming from a country that makes one great film after another.