Reviews written by registered user
|45 reviews in total|
A sparkling, incisive, progressive-minded comedy-drama that leaves much of this genre looking exactly like the disguised condoning of tradition it really is. One can only begin to imagine how entrenched thinkers in Korean society would react to this honest, observant, level-headed look at four late-twenty-somethings for whom life provides obstacles in both career and love that neither regressive-collective cultural thinking nor parents - who barely figure into the plot - can solve. Nan (Chang Jin-young), is a wide-eyed fashion industry drone busted down to Chilli's manager by her sexist middle manager. The shift stings, but also points out realities she's not entirely uncomfortable with. Into her world comes Seo- hoon (Kim Ju-hyeok) a decent-fella securities trader who clearly wants to pursue a relationship despite her reservations. Meanwhile, her best friend Dong Mi (Uhm Jeong-hwa), a web company employee out of work thanks to her own sexist superior, shares a flat with old pal Joon (Lee Beom-soo, in a 180 degree turn from his creepy role in OH! Brothers), who's as unsuccessful at removing himself from bad relationships as she is successful at bringing home a long string of bad boyfriends. That both of these couples should end up together is a given. That the film provides no easy resolutions yet plenty of optimism for these truly modern Korean women is the year's most pleasant K-cinema surprise: it allows the protagonists an honesty and resolve in deciding their own fates that many recent K- comedies seem hell-bent on denying similar characters. Here, marriage to a handsome man and financial success - long the expectations of many young Korean women - are not depicted as an absolute guarantee of security and/or happiness, and turning 30 without being defined is hardly the end of the world, particularly for Korean women who remain adaptable to the changes happening around them, rather than being pressured to fit a mold as their ancestors were. Fine acting across the board, anchored by Chang's captivating, believable performance, raises this far above the low-brow antics too often seen in these kinds of films (CRAZY FIRST LOVE immediately comes to mind). Almost needless to say, but the production design and cinematography are sterling, with warm and inviting environments (including an absolutely gorgeous Seoul) a veritable extension of the optimism with which these characters ultimately face their uncertain future. Must-see contemporary Korean cinema, and easily one against which all similar Korean romantic films should be measured. 10.
You know those moments in American movies about fictional presidents where the heroine (it's almost always a heroine) realizes just what a normal, decent, lovelorn man-of-the-people the president really is, a moment that usually solidifies her love for him? Well, leave it to the Koreans to construct a movie almost entirely out of scenes like those. In fact, this film's President Han (Ahn Sung-ki) is such a man of the people, he hangs out in subways with bums and drives the occasional cab to find out what his citizens really think! His approach to policy amounts to centrist vagaries like "Our policy shouldn't be superficial or formal, but full of hope for the future is most important." Yes, Ahn Sung-ki makes a very cuddly president, which is probably why a no-nonsense high school teacher named Choi Eun-soo (Cha Ji-woo), who takes no crap from his bratty daughter, eventually falls for him after a series of romantic moments (on a city bus, at a jazz festival, in a tavern closet, on a rainy Seoul sidewalk and via a piano serenade of "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" - that in any other cinema besides Korea's would be loosely termed as stalking. If one had to pick a Korean actor to play the Korean president, it would be Ahn Sung-ki, and I'm absolutely certain the dignified, popular actor would top many filmmakers' lists as well. Now if only one of them had thought of the idea before writer/director Jeon, who wallows in candy floss sentimentality that doesn't require much conflict and has little payoff, Ahn could have had the role of a lifetime. Of interest in this film is the fact that the characters discuss (and constantly hear the theme song from) the Hollywood soaper LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, which featured Korean-American actor Phillip Ahn in a sizable role. 3.
Bizarre has aged much more gracefully than one might expect. Sure, it
dates from a time when names like Bella Abzug, Henry Kissinger, Tom
Snyder were punchlines in and of themselves (though barely, and more
often because they simply sounded funny as punchlines), and sure,
host/cast leader John Byner was probably given too many opportunities
to run through a surprisingly (for his talents) limited range of
impersonations that had been serving him well since the Sullivan show
in the 60's (Paul Lynde, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Marlon Brando, Ed
Sullivan, Johnny Mathis, John Wayne to precise, and usually in the form
of "audition reel" sketches for famous movie and TV characters like The
Godfather and Fantasy Island's Herve Villechaize), but having just
transferred several season's worth of old Betamax tapes to DVD for safe
keeping (and with a few more to go), I can safely say I still found
myself chuckling at regular interview despite knowing much of this
material from heart.
The show's writers, directors and cast had a remarkable collective ability to spin old jokes into seemingly fresh full length sketches that would usually feature heavy padding via Byner's antics and asides. Distill just about any sketch down to it's raw elements - minus sets, cast, and the usual digressions for time - and you've got jokes that had been done on any number of variety shows in the decade before this one - Bizarre reformulated the brew in large part by added healthy doses of cynicism, sexism and slapstick violence - and of course the naked women (an earlier poster was right in noticing a thankfully mute Ziggy Lorenc as a piece of furniture, but failed to point out she was wearing a bikini like four other "pieces" placed in a slum apartment rented out by crotchety landlord Byner).
The cast list here fails to give credit to the contributions of many bit players who went on to greater things, most notably Canada's own Mike Myers (as Byner's nephew in a show closer in which Byner reacts to a review that claims he stuffs the audience with relatives, only to learn that all but one audience member is family!) and future Crow villain Michael Wincott (look closely at the Mexican Nephew seated beside Luba Goy in the legendary Bigot Family sketches). Donnelly Rhodes, another Canadian mainstay who had a memorable run on the U.S. sitcom Soap, plays one of Super Dave Osborne's stunt coordinators in a second-season sketch involving a mechanical bull. There were others...Someone here earlier pointed out the early, popular appearances of a young Howie Mandel, though guest stand-ups were generally more along the lines of Willie Tyler and Lester.
In the first and, to a lesser extent, the second seasons, Bizarre would include sketches filmed outside of Toronto, including an amusing bit filmed in an L.A. cemetery in which "priest" Redd Foxx sends bad TV shows to their rightful resting places surrounded by a platoon of Let's Make A Deal contestants), and a peculiar filmed segment where a gorilla holds up a grocery store and speeds off in a stolen Mercedes.
When something clicked on Bizarre, viewers could rest assured the idea would be tweaked and repeated on a future episode. Witness the ever-increasing insanity of the Super Dave Osborne stunts, or the "Byner Originals," in which the host would claim to be introducing some new comedy creation - Boy John, Johnny Jackson - that were blatant ripoffs of actual personalities of the day which would prompt producer Bob Einstein to interrupt the sketch, calmly berate Byner, and then suffer a litany of insults in return ("it's called the wandering Jew and it'll be here in about 5 seconds", went one memorable line from a similar sketch). The aforementioned Bigot Family proved popular enough to fill several repeat sketches with well-delivered ethnic humor (although 90's syndication episodes oddly removed what few Asian gags there were and cut several watermelon gags). Other popular returning characters included the Reverend T.V. Seewell, who broadcast from the Enzlo Veal Animal Healing Pavilion (the location of which changed from bit to bit), a Yoga For Health instructor with fake stretchy legs who invariably closed his sketch to Devo's Whip It, and a perennially bottom-rated news team featuring a sportscaster who only favored black athletes, a drunken film reviewer (Saul Rubinek in some sketches) kept on a leash, a clueless weatherman (Don Lake) with an atrocious toupee and a lead anchor (Byner) who took exception to his female co-host's bitter digs by punching her out of her chair. Another great repeat gag was often played on regular Tom Harvey, who would be whisked from a sketch to correct a makeup problem, only to return to the re-shoot and discover doors nailed shut, breakaway furniture and real booze in the glasses. Audience members were often used to supplant "under whelming" actors, or to heap further indignity on Tom Harvey. And finally, long before Conan O'Brien thought he came up with the idea, the creators of Bizarre used the process of superimposing real lips over cardboard celebrity cutouts to often delirious effect (politicians of the time singing cheesy love ballads, for example)
Bizarre's peak seasons were probably 1982, 1983, 1984 and even most of 1985-86, after which other comedy shows on then burgeoning cable networks (and regular broadcast TV) started to steal their thunder, signaling and end to the sketch comedy format as many had known it throughout the 60's and 70's. Nonetheless, these shows represent one of the last bastions of political incorrectness in broadcast comedy, particularly for something shown on a major Canadian network during early prime time hours!
The show today, were it to be released on DVD, might not provide the hearty laughs it once did to those of us who were there to witness it during its initial run, but there are still many fondly recalled laughs to be savored.
OH HAPPY DAY! (2003) Directed and written by Yun Hang-ryeol.
Wrongheaded, often irritating 'comedy' purports to send up the the ubiquitous, vertically oriented Korean class structure, then ultimately plays by the rules as yet another 'constructed romance' movie in which the goal for any girl who knows what she wants is to want a rich, educated pretty boy. Except in this case the gal, by all rights and no thanks to smart screen writing, SHOULD be a secondary character who ultimately gets dumped in favour of leading lady Jang Na-ra, who spends nearly the entire movie looking and acting EXACTLY like Rachel Dratch on Saturday Night Live (and I mean that in the meanest possible way) as a voice actress making life miserable for the shallow Club Med executing (Pak Jeong-chol) who denied her homely friend a spot on a singles group holiday. That he actually begins to fall for her, to the point of ultimately dumping his successful girlfriend - who is never once painted as a bad person, just a bit superficial - is either this film's most clever bit of dark satire or the most egregiously stupid moment in an ill-conceived screenplay. I'm leaning toward the latter. Korean cultural and cinematic traditions are sometimes cleverly held up for ridicule - Jang's mother takes physical discipline to room-trashing levels of excess, while Jang's mid-film collapse beside a blood-filled toilet turns out to be a bad case of hemorrhoids - but in the end, the parents know best when it comes to forcing people together based on status, and a staggeringly contrived scheme is hatched to drive home the point, culminating in - of all things - a big musical number featuring the ENTIRE cast! The film is ultimately hobbled early on by relentlessly overblown performances that mistake volume and force for wit - Jang's scrunchy-faced eye popping grows tiresome very very quickly. We do however, get the following standard Korean ingredients: K-pop, tears, snowfall, and head slapping, the latter mild enough to rate this a 2 on the Korean Cranial Abuse Scale.
The picture, however, also rates a 2, largely for the usual glossy tech specs.
WHEN I TURNED NINE (2003) Directed by Yoon In-ho. Korean drama films
set in public or high-schools often make me uneasy for I know there
will be severe Korean Cranial Abuse, played completely straight, as
this is one of the many liberties apparently afforded teachers (among
other authority figures) in Korean culture. Westerners will no doubt
react with horror at the relentless, wordless beating young Baek
Yeo-min (Kim Seok) endures from his stone-faced teacher for dunking the
shoes of snooty new classmate Woo-rim (Lee Se-young) in retaliation for
an earlier slight. Not only do the very real looking blows eventually
start knocking him to the floor, he gets back up and faces into yet
another one because, well, that's just what you do. Yeo-min is the
defacto Big Boss of his public school social order in the early 1970's.
He takes his licks, defers without issue to his elders and their rigid
disciplines, and is actually quite attracted to the Woo-rim, a Seoul
transplant who's prone to inflating the wonderfulness of her possibly
broken family, lies like a rug, plays favourites in the playground
pecking order and will make you very tempted to call her something that
rhymes with 'bitch.' But Yeo-min sees beyond all that, even if he
doesn't understand why, and much to the chagrin of his female friend
Keum-bok (Jung Sun-kyung). Meanwhile, on the home front, Yeo-min's
greatest desire is to buy a pair of sunglasses for his mother, who was
blinded in one eye by a factory mishap and now spends her days a
recluse at home, and who ultimately teaches him the error of his weak
thinking by whipping the back of his calves with a reed in yet another
scene of heart wrenching realism that may put off those who don't read
up on the culture. He also becomes acquainted with the town
philosopher, whose inability to connect with a local music teacher
echoes the potential social problems of Yeo-min's attraction to
Woo-rim. Ultimately, this plays like one big ode to Korean strength
through suffering (an understandable facet of the country's cinema),
and though I'm willing to allow for my own ignorance of other cultures
when something doesn't quite sit right with me, much of the melodrama
in this film seems a tad disingenuous, particularly the dialogue
written for these wise-beyond-their-years youngsters. Now I'm aware
from the books I've read, that the harsh living conditions for the
Korean under classes from the 50's to the 70's were enough to make
anyone grow up fast and hard, I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with the
sight of an ten-year-old standing before her bawling classmates and
owning up to a laundry list of 'issues' as though it were her final day
in rehab seems just a little bit phony. Director Yoon In-ho and
screenwriter Lee Man-hee, working from a novel by We Kee-cheul, know
just what buttons to push to get the tear ducts welling up, but I'm
afraid they don't know how to push them lightly.
From a technical perspective, the film looks stunning, with the barren poverty of the small town beautifully captured through several seasons by cinematographer Chun Jo-myoung.
NATURAL CITY (2003) Directed by Min Byong-chan. Arresting productions
design and state-of-the-art visual effects can't disguise a dull plot
that borrows so liberally from BLADE RUNNER and GHOST IN THE SHELL that
the word 'tribute' could warrant legal action. To date, this is
probably the most beautiful looking AND most vapid Korean science
fiction film to come down the pipeline, and one feels almost guilty in
knocking it in spite of the undeniable amount of craftsmanship that
went into it. Set in a futuristic megacity in the year 2080, it's about
a sullen policeman (Yu Ji-tae) who wants to extend the life of his
beautiful android dancer Ria (Seo Rin) by finding a new host for her
brain-chip. As she's nearing her sell-by date, which requires her
complete destruction, this puts him at odds with fellow cop Noma (Yun
Chan) and evil android Roy Batty...err...evil uber-android Jeon
Doo-hong, who has plans on accessing android headquarters and
programming a massive robot uprising. Flying police cars, slow-floating
dirigibles with gigantic projection screens, endlessly vertical
skyscrapers forming a mountain of technology in a post-war wasteland.
We've seen all this before. And indeed, it all looks amazing here. But what's missing is any depth of character to make the story more convincing. The leading man is a complete cipher whose motivations for prolonging the life of his robot are never explained or explored, and while his robot clearly has functional difficulties with her impending doom, Seo underplays these scenes to a fault, generating neither tension nor sympathy, only indifference about her fate. To give credit where it's due, Korean is one of the few Asian countries - and one of the few countries outside of America and Japan - even attempting such high-minded science-fiction films as this, WONDERFUL DAYS, 2009 LOST MEMORIES, and YESTERDAY. One hopes that one day, the quality of screen writing will improve to meet the superb level of technical artistry already apparent on screen. The 2-disc Special Edition DVD of this film has tonnes of interesting (unsubtitled) materials for those inspired by its technical merits, including an art gallery, a sketch gallery (tres Syd Mead), a 45 minute TV doc with plenty of behind the scenes and FX footage, a 24 minute DVD doc with more of the same, a 14 minute interview with the lead effects man, an 8.5 minute interview with the animator of the opening credits, 6 minutes of deleted scenes, an English language Cannes trailer that pumps up the action quotient, cast interviews and a 20 minute walking tour of the films locations with the director and lead actor. A cool easter egg can be found on disc 2 by arrowing up on the main menu to highlight '*REC'. This will give you access to what appears to be a 7 minute, effects laden music video about the plight of a country devastated by a nuclear attack, which almost feels like the backstory to the main feature. 5.
OH! BROTHERS (2003) Directed by Kim Yong-hwa. The number 6 box office
charter of 2003, this is an odd, needlessly complicated tale of a debt
collector/blackmail photographer/missing person finder Sang Woo (Lee
Jung-jae) learning upon his father's death that he has a half-brother -
mentally deficient man-child Bong-ku (Lee Beom-su) - whose mother, if
he can find her, will be legally forced to absolve him of his father's
hefty debt. Not surprisingly, Sang-woo discovers Bong-ku's creepy
affectations and appearance (at one point he's dressed up like the
killer doll Chucky in a dream sequence), make him the ideal 'muscle' to
have on the job, particularly when a sleazy cop forces Sang-woo to get
staged adultery photos of the police superintendent in order to expand
the jurisdiction of his extortion program.
There's also a subplot that sees the pair trying to unite a deaf woman, at the behest of her estranged sister, with their dying father and which mirrors much of the boys situation and allows for plenty of tears. Lee Beom-su's performance as Bong-ku, written as the comedic centerpiece of the film, is largely played as a grown man who ACTS like a precocious ass rather than a grown man with a mental age of 12, thus undermining much of the pathos the filmmakers try to wring from his relationship with Sang-woo.
Technical production is superb, with warm cinematography and an inviting production design ultimately servicing a thoroughly constructed central relationship that seems designed to feature as many piano-backed scenes of teary catharsis between sensitive new age Korean males. Moderate, but occasionally serious head slapping rates this a 4 on the Korean Cranial Abuse Scale. The overall movie rates a 4 as well.
CRAZY FIRST LOVE (2003) Directed by Oh Jong-rok. Typically overblown
tragicomedy that signifies much of what westerners find inaccessible
about Korean cinema and, to some extent, the Korean psyche. Let's call
this lecture Misogyny and the Posessive, Overgrown Man-Child. To
protect the virtue of his daughter (Son Ye-jin), an authoritarian
high-school teacher (Yoo Dong-geun) sets - and keeps changing -
unreasonable standards for the young slacker (MY SASSY GIRL's Cha
Tae-hyn) who has loved her since childhood, then must work WITH him
when she grows tired of their constant meddling and surveillance and
becomes involved with another man. Korean men do not come off
particularly well in this film (but then,that would depend on who you
asked). They're either shallow gadflies or control freaks with maturity
issues. How fitting, then, that the only way the male filmmakers could
rationalize their crazed behaviour in the greater social theme of
things is to slap the progressive-minded female lead with
myelodysplastic syndrome, the same terminal disease - read punishment -
that killed her mother at 18. Faced with her own immortality, and in a
scene far, FAR too reminiscent of MY SASSY GIRL, we FINALLY discover
why she couldn't be with the man who has gone to insane lengths to win
her affection and why she COULD be with a lothario who will one day
find happiness with yet another woman.
While it's tough to deny the calculation behind emotional scenes like those that end this film - and in Korean cinema scenes like these are legion - one can't shake the feeling that for Korean comedic cinema - indeed MUCH of Korean cinema in general - to truly move on and perhaps capture a larger international audience, Korean filmmakers may need to dispense with a great deal of the contrived, subtly misogynistic heart string manipulation that, ultimately, reinforces dated stereotypes about patriarchy, makes childish men look like pariahs and punishes women for thinking outside the box. People crying on mountaintops (and this film is has one!) are starting to wear thin. See also SEX IS ZERO for a similar treatment of these themes. 3
RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL (2002), an ambitious cyber-punk
actioner from the director of 2000's LIES and 1996's A PETAL. It's one
of the few Korean films I've seen that has polarized audiences as much
as it has. An expensive failure upon its first release, the film has,
with a couple of repeat viewings on DVD, started to grow on me, not
that I didn't like it in the first place.
The narrative has a socially disaffected gamer attempting to make the title game character fall in love with him before she dies while fending off an array of well-armed oddballs. Eventually though, she rebels against the system with a Great Big Gun. There's a tricky blur between real world and game world in this often maddeningly vague film, and I'm still not sure I've read all the director's messages correctly, or if he even makes them at all, but the visuals are so enticing, the action so deliberately overblown, and the philosophy so seemingly just out of reach, it's tough to stop watching (and watching again). I suspect that this film will develop a strong cult following in the years to come, with even many of those who absolutely hated it re-approaching it from different angles and perhaps finding new meaning in it. Despite it's Korean setting and cast, it's probably the least Korean-feeling Korean film I've yet seen, generally eschewing themes of identity and patriotism as well as the maudlin melodramatics so often found in Korean cinema. Somehow, I suspect that was all intentional. Unfortunately, the Korean DVD of this title had no English subs, so most people who've seen it subbed have had to spring for the bootleg.
SAVING MY HUBBY(2002) D: Hyun Nab-seob In Korea, a not-uncommon
cash-grab scheme for unscrupulous bar owners is to drug already-tipsy
patrons, then bill them when they wake up for ridiculous amounts of
booze they never drank. On a night out with his new employers, business
man Jun-tae (Kim Tae-woo of JOINT SECURITY AREA) is the victim of just
such a con, and the only way out is for his wife Geum-soon (Bae Doo-na)
- a former volleyball champ sidelined into a domesticity she wasn't
prepared for after a shoulder injury - to stalk through a seedy,
after-hours entertainment district, evade the minions of a gang boss
she inadvertently pelted with a tomato, find the elusive bar, pay the
debt with her fists and drag her childish husband back home before his
parents arrive for dinner - all with her chubby little year-old baby
daughter (who everyone assumes is a boy, much to her dismay) bouncing
on her back in a baby-strap! Winning, high-concept race-the-clock
action comedy allows for the heroine to cross paths with many of
society's less fortunate souls and repeatedly outrun a handful of
relentlessly altruistic henchmen, and one tellingly wordless encounter
with a humiliated PR girl that speaks volumes about the treatment of
immigrant bar hostesses in the country.
Mild social commentary aside though, there's much to enjoy here, and though many of the supporting characters represent the broadest mob comedy stereotypes, the entire secondary cast is memorable, right down to the cute old couple that runs the tent bar where Geum-soon spikes one of her husband's sexist co-workers clear across the room. Bae once again nails another quirky, tough-but-vulnerable role as a woman who battles through hell, often using cinematic ally enhanced techniques, for the sake of an existence she never truly expected, while Kim Tae-woo essays pitch-perfect man-child naivete as here weak-willed but loyal hubby. Only the ending seems somewhat fantastical. 8.
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