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Siti hyunteo (2011)
Korea has given us some amazing films over the past 15-20 years, and being a big fan of their action-thrillers, I decided to check out their TV programmes... Wow, are they bad.
The first thing noticed with Korea TV shows is that they all look cheap and quickly made. Yes, there is crane and dolly work, and they seem to frown on the detestable shaky-cam that plagues Western TV nowadays, but it's as if somebody said, "Hey, I have a 4K camera, let's make a TV programme," and to hell with aesthetics.
The second thing - which is also quickly noticed - is how bad the dialogue is. Films are seemingly honed to near perfection, whereas dialogue in Korean TV programmes (or, at least, in the handful I've tried to watch), meanders, repeats itself and is plain corny.
City Hunter, unfortunately, isn't an exception to the above. I got one and a half episodes in before I had to question why I was subjecting myself to such nonsense!
The plot plays out like a teenage melodrama disguised as an action-thriller, but ridiculous coincidences, bad characters, slow pacing and action sequences massively below the level I was expecting (not to mention how infrequently their occur), soon nailed its coffin shut. There's also the tiny factor of complete implausibility, as some kid who was effectively raised in the jungle somewhere near Cambodia, is speaking with modern Korean dialect and accent, and posing as an American computer genius... despite not being able to speak a word of English or having ever seen a computer!
Oh, and working for and interacting directly with the Korean president is a given, when you have a fake degree from MIT.
So, if you're a fan of Korean TV already (not that I can fathom why), you may be able to overlook all the stupidity and badness and enjoy the tall lead with his spiffy hair, or the admittedly gorgeous character of Kim Na Na, regardless of how preachy and imposing she acts, but for those who love Korean cinema and are looking to give their TV a go, look elsewhere (and I hope that you find higher quality programmes than all the "recommended" ones that I did).
Sing the praises
Let me start off by saying that I HATE all those singing competitions on TV... so my initial thoughts were, "Why on earth would I want to sit through an animated X Factor?"
Luckily, my little girl wanted to see it, and reluctantly I took her, making note of the Just Dance-inspired soundtrack and Blake Snyder style storytelling-by-numbers. Suddenly though, despite all the clichés, typical Hollywood plot beats and predictability, I found that I actually cared what was happening. No, it was more than that, I was completely engrossed - and I don't even know how or when it happened.
Sing is a unique and bizarre film: it's the perfect example of stars aligning to turn even the most sceptical viewer into a sniffing, pumped-up fan of song, dance and being just alive. It's the kind of film that says, "Wow, there really is still magic in Hollywood."
I've never been a fan of Elton John and my knowledge of Taylor Swift began at ended at her being a pop singer, but each song fitted perfectly and to see my little girl stamp her feet and clap was worth the admission price alone! Sing is the ultimate feel good film; we left on a high and it lasted for days afterwards.
In this age of Netflix, where the concept of owning DVDs is quickly becoming obsolete, here is a film well worth the purchase when it becomes available. Fantastic.
Superb fights, but just missing that something
The son and daughter of a falsely-accused North Korean traitor are imprisoned for their father's crime; one day, the son is given the chance to not only earn their freedom, but to erase the stain on their family name by becoming a spy.
Sparing us the needless training scenes, our anti-hero enters the South, the Republic of Korea, as a refugee, where he is "adopted" by North Korean handlers (despite being an adult) and sent to school. Okay, so I've no idea at what age Koreans leave school, but this seemed weird... but not as weird as teachers bullying pupils with a wooden cane before leaving them unsupervised. Still, carry on...
The lead soon develops an attachment with a classmate, and even though there's never any romance per se, there is a genuine chemistry, which makes their relationship feel more meaningful than just two horny teens bonking. And this is important, because we already know she'll most likely be kidnapped - but certainly used against him - later on by his enemies. This is an action flick, after all.
But what's this? As our spy sets about his duty, a rival faction's bumping his fellow spies off as a major player seeks to usurp power in the North.
Yeah, I really liked this part of the plot, just as I really liked how our young spy understood none of it, being naive to the ways of the world. Anyway, the story twists and turns, there are shoot outs, plenty of kick-arse fights scenes and then we get to the ending, which is either going to be the typical Hollywood ending (the hero rides off into the sunset with the girl) or the typical Korean one (i.e. everybody dies), because so far, the film hasn't broken any seriously new ground to elevate it beyond being a merely good action-thriller. And South Korea knocks them out by the dozen.
So, if you're new to Korean cinema, you'll likely love this flick, but for fans who have seen it all before, there's really not enough here to recommend, even though it is very enjoyable while it lasts.
Jing wu feng yun: Chen Zhen (2010)
Imagine that an amateur screenwriter shat out a vomit draft and said, "That's Oscar-worthy!" Well, that pretty much describes this mumbled action flick.
In fairness, the script - or final cut - could have been messed up by anyone, so I won't blame the writer, but as an espionage-cum-action thriller, the film is a total dud.
If you're a fan of Donnie Yen (like me!), you'll watch this regardless of how bad anyone tells you it is, and where the big fight at the end nets it an extra star, please don't let the 4/10 fool you into believing that this is half-way decent, because it really is one of the worst Donnie films I've sat through. Which is a shame, because Shu Qi looks as gorgeous as ever and really pours a lot of emotion into her role... which only further highlights how badly the final film lets down both of its main stars.
Tai Chi 0 (2012)
A whole lot better if you "get" Chinese humour
The above just about sums it up: if you dig the film's sense of humour, you'll enjoy it so much more. Alas, most western viewers probably won't, so will brand its uniqueness simply as a "mess".
To be fair, this is a very "seen it all before" story, but with warp-speed cuts, great use of SFX, above par wire-fu and superb cinematography, the flick is elevated way beyond its humble plot. I think that when film fans talk about "vision", they mean something like what the director managed to convey on screen in this very film.
So, what's it all about?
A kid with the mark of a born kung fu legend is exploited into fighting for a cult, until a doctor warns how such violence will lead to his death and that he needs to learn the passive art of tai chi in order to live a happy life... as opposed to plain dying. Naturally then, our somewhat dim-witted lead ventures off to Chen village to learn, only to be constantly turned away, as the art isn't taught to outsiders. And on it goes...
With eye-candy galore, this film truly caters for men! I mean: a fast-paced kung fu flick full of gorgeous women? Yep, Tai Chi Zero ticks all the boxes, but again, it's that sense of humour that'll make or break the film for you, and for me, despite all its positives, there was only so much enjoyment from this that I could get.
It seems obvious, but I'll nutshell anyway: others will call Tai Chi Zero "dumb" or "awesome", but the only real way to determine if you'll enjoy this film for yourself, is to watch it.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
The boring hunt for Bin Laden
With someone being tortured every five minutes in the first half an hour, I was amazed at just how dull this film was. An hour in, I suggested that we turn it off, but the person I was watching it with wondered if it got any better - after all, we'd both heard good things about it.
Unfortunately, the film really didn't improve and she played with her phone during its entirety, whereas I was left to stare out the window, go to the toilet, make tea and wonder what I'd cook for dinner.
Yes, boring just about sums this mess up.
Apparently, the film is about the hunt for bin Laden and the "war on terror", but as the CIA go about kidnapping, torturing, imprisoning people for life without trial and simply executing suspects, I was left more curious as to just who the real terrorists were. After all, don't terrorists terrorise?
Then again, the way this film terrorises through boredom, I'd have to question if everyone involved in its making isn't also a damn terrorist!
So, to nutshell: some ginger bird flies around the globe, talks to people, has a couple of hissy fits, comes to the conclusion that all Arabs look alike - even to other Arabs - and that, by operating on false assumptions, they'd missed their man. A crack team of elite killers is then flown into Pakistan, Osama meets fate and the film ends.
Sh*t wrapped up in a shiny Hollywood box. If it wasn't for the nice camera work, I'd have given this a 1.
Do NOT believe the hype. AVOID.
Shin Gojira (2016)
Remember the god-awful, Godzilla: Final Wars? Well this is worse.
Actually, that's unfair, as Final Wars truly was god-awful. What Shin Godzilla is, is an incredibly novel take on monster flicks, and it deserves recognition for that... even if it'll strain most viewers' patience and have them struggle to keep up with all the talking, since it's so difficult to have to pay attention to. Let me explain that...
With a quick pace to all the cuts, in an effort to keep a high tempo/urgency, the chatter comes thick and fast, which is great if you're a native Japanese speaker, but a proper pain if you're struggling to keep up with subtitles at the same time as actually watching the film. Unfortunately then, this is where the director - who did a great job IF you're a native Japanese speaker - loses foreign audiences. And with something as big as Godzilla, foreign audiences should very well have been taken into account. With the film hard to follow, it soon begins to get tedious, especially when considering how little of it is about a giant dinosaur-esque creature destroying Tokyo.
Reading this "review" (I prefer to label my blurbs here as "opinions" or "comments"), it's easy to dismiss my opinion as that of someone who just couldn't keep up with the sub's, but alas, the real problem is that a Godzilla film should be about GODZILLA (damn it!), and this is more a mockumentary of bureaucracy.
Verdict: hats off for originality, but not really what I want from a Godzilla film. In fact, it's not anywhere close.
Sin-ui hansu (2014)
A professional Go player is asked by his brother to help him win a rigged, high-stakes underground match and things go bad quickly.
Sent to prison (I'm still not quite sure why), the humble Go player uses his skills to win favours from the gambling warden, and he soon uses those favours in exchange for fight training, so that he can become an absolute killing machine when he gets out! Yeah, it all sounds pretty dumb but it's a film, so carry on...
Having served his time, our Go master - now a kung fu-fighting master to boot - doesn't waste time in tracking down the men who killed his brother and swiftly exacts revenge on one... it's then that the tone of the film changes, taking a potential 8 star flick down a couple of notches.
See, so far the tone had been very dark and gritty, but the Go player opts to put a team together, woo the hot chick who plays secretly for the gangsters and the realism really goes out of the window. Had it either been somewhat lighter from the beginning or stayed bleak, this could have been really great, but with the tone hovering from this point onwards between the white-toothed smiles and happy endings of Hollywood-type films, and classic, gritty revenge thrillers, I was never quite sure what I was watching... but that doesn't mean to say it's a bad film, as I did enjoy it (it just could have been a lot better).
I'll admit though: I've never played Go and dismissed it as just an Asian version of draughts (checkers, to Americans), but the love for the game is clear in this film and might just change a few people's preconceptions. That said, please do NOT read this as being a sports film, because Go is just the unique backdrop that this unbalanced thriller has to separate it from the pack.
The tide will change
One of the best war films I've seen in years, The Admiral may take time to get going for those who love CGI crap like 300, but when the final battle kicks off, it's a certain victory!
With the Japanese Prime Minister (or the equivalent) eager to conquer Korea before illness takes his life, scores of thousands of men seek to finally crush a nation kept alive almost solely by the genius of its naval Admiral, Yi Sun-Shin. The film begins after Korea's navy had suffered a massive defeat and the nation is on the verge of capture, with 12 ships all that stands in the way of 330 Japanese vessels sailing into the Korean capital of Joseon and wreaking havoc.
Faced with an impossible task, the Emporor orders Yi Sun-Shin to disband what remains of the navy and make every man available for a last stand on dry land, but The Admiral knows that this is to invite defeat and devises a way to oppose their enemy...
I mentioned that this film may seem slow, but I didn't find it so: with a ruthless villain quickly established, the plight of the nation portrayed dramatically and not via some cheap voice-over, spies building up the tension and facing a potential mutiny, Yi Sun-Shi is brilliantly acted by a Oldboy star, Min-sik Choi, who perfectly captures the stoic suffering of a man who carries the nation's only hope on his shoulders.
The film effectively being in two parts: the build-up and the battle - which is edge-of-your-seat stuff full to the brim with emotion - there will be some who'll complain about the first hour, while still rating the film highly because the battle is so damn excellent! Those with more patience, however, will get the most out of the historical epic, and will almost doubtlessly look up Yi Sun-Shin afterwards, as it's just that much of an awe-inspiring flick.
Hit men, an ex-special forces operative, tough cops, a mentally-challenged kidnapper, a doctor and his pregnant wife...
Well, it certainly sounds frenetic, and in a whirlwind of violence, that's exactly what was intended in this action-thriller, but in order for it all to work, we have to care a little about the characters and that, unfortunately, is where the film started to fall flat. Throw in a few dumb moments to spoil the intensity that's built up and The Target really misses its mark.
A remake of a French film I've not seen, I can't compare the two to say which is better, nor could I genuinely recommend this to fans of Korean cinema or action, because there are so many better titles out there more worthy of your time... though, that doesn't mean that you need to change the channel should it ever be on TV.