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Ah, Paris! City of love and fashion
FAREWELL opens with actress Yeong-ok (Kim Ji-mi) lost in downtown Paris. Apparently not a patron of taxis, Yeong-ok walks around (from the airport?!) and tries to get directions to her destination from the locals. Not speaking French is causing some problems as she is forced to rely on broken English. Finally giving up, Yeong-ok places a call to the Korean embassy to get some help. An employee at the embassy, Catherine (Oh Su-mi) discerns her location, picks her up and takes her to the hotel. Before leaving, she promises to take Yeong-ok on a tour of the city the next day.
Alone in her room, we learn the reason to Yeong-ok's trip to Paris. She is looking for her ex-husband, Ho-il (Shin Sung-il). Their separation had not been easy for Yeong-ok who could best be described as 'clingy'. During her flashback where Ho-il walks out on her, she is lying on the floor with her arms wrapped about his knees, pleading with him not to go. This does not seem to be the best method to keep someone who claims they are feeling suffocated in a relationship and Ho-il quickly leaves.
Catherine shows up the next day to give a tour of the city as promised. Later, she leaves Yeong-ok in the care of her beatnik friend while she prepares for her date with her fiance. If you cannot guess who her fiance is, you do not watch enough melodramas. Yes, Catherine is preparing to marry Ho-il. When the ex-spouses are introduced at Catherine's home, they pretend not to know each other for her sake and the sake of her parents. However, when Ho-il later shows up at the hotel, it takes less than 5 minutes for Yeong-ok to seduce him. It seems as if Yeong-ok has won her husband back. That is, until Catherine is in a car accident. Then Ho-il is forced to choose which woman he pities enough to marry.
The story of FAREWELL is not bad, but it does drag in parts. This is especially true of the travelogue segment. When Catherine shows up and gives Yeong-ok a tour of Paris, the viewer is advised to make a sandwich, brew some coffee, and maybe clean the floor. By the time you are finished, the tour of Paris will just be ending. I was unaware of this and watched more than 20 minutes (of a 92 minute movie) showing footage of scenes of the Eiffel Tower, scenes of the Louvre Museum, scenes from the Eiffel Tower, scenes of the Arc de'Triumph, scenes of the Eiffel Tower....
However, more than compensating for the boring packaged tour is the mirth I received from the parade of hideous fashions foisted on the lead actors. Kim Ji-mi and Oh Su-mi seem to be in competition as to who can wear the ugliest bell-bottomed jumpsuits. I haven't seen anything like them since I was a kid watching the Donnie and Marie Hour. And the unsuspecting viewer may be blinded by Shin Sung-il's retina-searing all-white suit. The colors of the clothes were not random however and serve multi-purposes. First, they made it very easy to locate the cast in the on-location crowded Paris street shots. The clothes were also used for contrast such as when Yeong-ok goes to Catherine's home wearing a hanbok and presents Catherine, who at the times is wearing a midriff-revealing outfit, with her own set of traditional clothes. And finally, one of the most artistic shots in the movie is greatly enhanced with a bright blue velvet bathrobe which 'accidently' gets shed and used as a blanket.
For the most part, the acting is good. Kim Ji-mi overplays her role a bit and it makes Yeong-ok seem rather pathetic and irritating to the modern audience instead of gaining the viewer's sympathy as was intended. Oh Su-mi steals the show however with her rendition of the Korean-French girl, Catherine. Unfortunately, Miss Oh's career in films was rather limited, appearing in less than 30 films. Her most recent film was 1986's EMPEROR OF SEOUL (sometimes listed as JESUS OF SEOUL).
FAREWELL inspired a supposed sequel, FAREWELL 2 (1974), but it was a sequel in name only. None of the same characters appear or are referenced in any way. The basic plot of FAREWELL was used in PARIS AEMA (1988). This, apparently enjoyed more success as it was released in Japan and Taiwan and one website claims that it was presented at the 39th Berlin Festival and the 42nd Cannes Film Fesitval! FAREWELL was directed by Shin Sang-ok, produced by Shin Sang-ok, and had cinematography by Shin Sang-ok. Shin Sang-ok let Hwang Mun-pyeong do the music.
Three struggling musicians find success with the help of a mysterious woman, but she may destroy them as well
The story of Mi-in, opens with three struggling rock musicians pounding the pavement looking for work. They search the streets of modern Seoul, but are ejected from every night club, cafe, and bar they visit. It is apparent from their conversation that they are accustomed to this kind of rejection. It also becomes apparent that they have not worked in awhile as their landlord kicks them out for non-payment. Broke and wandering the streets with their meager possessions, they eventually give in to hunger and are at the point of trading their instruments for food when they meet an unnamed young woman (Kim Mi-yeong). She overhears their plight and pays for their meal. She reveals that she lives in the same boarding house as they did, and she squares things with the landlord, paying their rent for a month. Naturally, the men are grateful. However, the band's leader, Shin Jung-hyeon (playing himself), takes the woman's kindness to have deeper meaning. He begins fantasizing scenarios where he confesses his love to her and she shyly admits her attraction to him. Shortly thereafter, the band lands a job and rather quickly become the hottest attraction in Seoul. The men celebrate their first paycheck by preparing gifts to thank the woman to whom they credit their success. However, they are disappointed to learn that she has apparently moved out of the building. Their meteoric rise continues but Jung-hyeon's fantasies have become an obsession that threaten to destroy the band. Composer and musician Shin Jung-hyeon did an adequate job in his big screen debut but he was no stranger to movies, having written musical scores for the films such as The Blue Apple (1969) and Oh My Love (1970). His plain and rather dumpy appearance lent believability to this role where a simple act of kindness is interpreted as much more. His character is not well acquainted with women and all of his fantasies are re-creations of movie scenes. I recognized Love Story, Romeo and Juliet and the Graduate among them. Kim Mi-yeong, who previously appeared in One-Eyed Jack In Hong Kong, also does well with what is given her. The actress was required to develop two distinct personalities for the character--one for the fantasy life created by Jung-hyeon, and one for reality which is revealed near the end of the film. Performances by supporting actors Lee Nam-yi and Kwon Yong-nam as the base player and drummer are good. I was surprised to learn that this was their only movie credit so they may in fact have been musicians not actors. So Yeon, who played the band's vocalist Kang-hie, appeared miscast as the role required a much younger woman, however one must assume that she was chosen on account of her singing voice rather than her age or acting ability. Lee Hyeong-pyo was a prolific director of the late 1960's and through the 70's with about 60 films in his filmography. Many of his other movies focus on redemption and the correction of one's faults. Mi-in differs in that the main character is mired in his imaginary world which eventually threatens his success, friendships and sanity but when reality rears its ugly head, he makes no attempt to recognize or correct his mistakes.
Be warned, however, that the 70's rock music dubbed in and overly used throughout the movie, is not for everyone and the sound, as usual for the older Korean movies, is not in synch with the images which can be very distracting.
Eonu yeobaweooui gobaek (1967)
Melodramatic movie of the making of an actress
The movie opens on Kim Jin-gyu walking the streets of Seoul. In this film he plays a once well-recognized actor because people whisper about him as he walks by and others ask questions like "Didn't you used to be...?" However, perhaps more disturbing to him is the fact that most people take no notice of him. He is aging and has not worked in quite awhile. He happens upon a movie being shot and as he watches the young actor and actress at work, his mind retreats to a happier time when he was in their place and deeply in love with his co-star.
He is brought back to the present by the arrival of an old friend, Hwang Jeong-sun. With the introduction of this second character, I realized that keeping track of the character's names was going to be simple. All the actors in this film are playing themselves--or at least using their real names. Ms Hwang will act as our designated expository device and they rehash old times ending their discussion with the tragic death of Kim's true love. However Hwang Jeong-sun is not finished yet and tells Jin-gyu about a daughter that was kept a secret from him.
Kim Jin-gyu is ecstatic and is determined to help the girl in any way he can. He uses his connections to get the girl an audition. She takes the stage name Nam Jeong-im and quickly becomes the most popular new face on the silver screen. After her success is assured, he disappears from her life without revealing their relationship. Nam Jeong-im, however, has discovered who he is and sets out to locate and assist him with plans of a come back.
Kim Jin-gyu gives a good performance-I cannot say I liked his character much, but that has no bearing on whether I appreciated the acting. Mr Kim began acting in 1943 and continued working in films until the early 1980's, but enjoyed the height of his success in the 50's and early 60's.
Nam Jeong-im and Hwang Jeong-sun would have been instantly recognizable to a movie-goer in Korea in the 1960's. Hwang Jeong-sun was by far the more accomplished actress and appeared in over 300 films in the course of her more than 40 years of acting. She had very distinct features that set her apart from most other actresses and her solid figure often landed her roles that were often more interesting than the romantic lead.
Two of the supporting actors who deserve mention are Heo Jang-kang and Han Seong. Mr Heo has appeared in many of the older films that I have seen and always turns out an entertaining performance. In this movie, he plays the president of the production company. While I can easily trace Heo Jang-kang's career, I am more curious about actor Han Seong who gives an adequate performance as Nam Jeong-im's co-star and love interest. His credits seem to be limited to 8 or 9 movies made between 1967 and 1969 when he vanishes from film.
Director Kim Soo-yong, recently honored at the 2002 Pusan Film Festival, has made a total of 109 movies and one several awards for his works in the 60's. I wonder how he could keep track of what he was doing, at times he was directing nearly a movie a month. Perhaps his most famous movie is A Seaside Village (1965).
For me though, the joy of watching this film is not really in the story. It is the posters. A lot of time is spent in the production office and movie theaters. In the backgrounds, we can see a variety of different posters from movies of that era. It only increased my desire to see as many different movies from the Golden Age of Korean cinema
Hayan miso (1981)
A young teacher wins over her students with her dazzling smile and good nature
The 1970's saw a rise in the number of movies aimed at the younger generation in Korea. Many of these were in the form of Hong Kong-style "kung-fu" movies. The number of B-grade horror films increased and underwent an explosion in the 80's. But this time also saw the growth of the dramas written for and starring teens. Among the most successful of these was THE HIGHSCHOOL JOKER (1977) directed by Seok Rae-myeong and starring Lee Seung-hyeon. While it was not the first of its ilk, it was the most popular and others followed in rapid succession MARCH OF A JOKER, TOMBOYS, TALL BOY AND SHORT BOY, etc. These movies were alike in that the protagonists were allegedly the 'bad' students but were actually just mischievous or misunderstood. According to movie logic, these boys and girls just need a personal tragedy and/or an accomplishment of some form or another to prove themselves responsible and valuable members of society. WHITE SMILE fits firmly within the above genre definition. In this film however, the students seem even less like problem children than usual. True, the had prepared first-day pranks for their new teacher, but when she responds to them with a dazzling smile, most of the class is quickly won over by her good nature. One girl is so overcome that she bursts into tears out of guilt for passively participating in these tricks. So much for behavioral problems... However not all the students are immediately won over. There is still the class tough-guy who resists the teacher's charms. He acts sour and belligerent in school, but it is actually to mask a secret wound. He wants to be a boxer, but his jailed father forbids it. The rest of the story involves bad boys from a rival highschool, a budding romance, the tragic death of a classmate, the organization of a school band, a boxing match, and a happy ending. One point that sets this movie apart from some of the others in this genre is that the teachers were each given slight physical defects. The teacher whom the movie focuses on, Miss Yu Seon-hie (Geum Bo-ra), walks with a slight limp and her male counterpart stutters. (I have to note that there is really only one scene where the limp is pronounced enough to notice). These physical traits may have been added to humanize the teachers for the target audience in mind. The teachers in this movie never argue amongst each other or with the administration. This style of movie in its basic form can still be seen today. HARMONIUM OF MY MEMORY follows many of the rules of this genre and the movie ZZANG seems to have lifted its plot directly from WHITE SMILE, merely updating the characters for the late 90's. The majority of the cast went on to rather undistinguished careers, but writer Jeong Ji-yeong became very active in films, directing and producing some fairly recent movies including THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE HOLLYWOOD KID, WHITE BADGE and NAKED BEING.
Yeolahob sunjeong (1971)
Honest and hardworking Han-il finds a puppy has followed his dog home. Attaching a note to the puppy's collar, he sends it back to where it came from. The next day, the dog returns with a thank-you note from the girl who owns it. Thus begins Han-il's and Ji-ae's correspondence via puppy-mail. Eventually, they meet and it is love at first site for the pair. However, Ji-ae parents are very protective of their daughter and she has to sneak out to meet Han-il.
There is a reason for Ji-ae's parents to be worried about her. She is dying of cancer and everyone around her knows of the fact except Ji-ae. When the puppy-mail system finally fails and the dog delivers Ji-ae's letter to her father instead of to Han-il, her parents do their best to drive him away from their daughter. All differences are set aside however when Ji-ae must have an operation that may prove fatal her.
Director Kim Ki-duk has about 70 movie credits to his filmography, and was at his best with his war movies, 5 MARINES (1961) and SOUTH AND NORTH (1965), and his sci-fi movie YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (1967) may have been the earliest widely exported Korean movie to the west. In PURE AT NINETEEN, he does manage to create some memorable moments in its final 15 minutes and even to generate some suspense, but by then it is too late. Nothing in the film gets more creative than the improbable puppy-mail system. (Given the implied distance between the couple's homes, that puppy must have been part homing pigeon)
There is a missed opportunity to examine class differences when Han-il jumps to the conclusion that Ji-ae's family does not like him because he is not wealthy, but the audience and Han-il quickly learn that her parents are treating him badly because of her disease. The entire film is an inoffensive and rather bland romance which, unfortunately means it will probably remain among the forgotten movies of the pre-SHIRI age of Korean films
A haunting to remember
There is nothing subtle about ghost in the movie Phone. No slow build up of atmosphere or gradually letting its presence be known. This ghost is direct, purposeful and terrifying.
The first 40 minutes or so of this movie kept me at the edge of my seat and I was more frightened by this movie than I have been in a long time. Unfortunately, once we learn the identity of the ghost and we think we have discerned its motives, it takes some of the impact away. The movie cannot maintain the tension it set up at the beginning of the film and the ending seemed somehow tame compared to the scares of the first half..not to say that it isn't scary..just less so than what came before.
I don't want to give away too much before it has been seen by a wider audience, but if you enjoyed Ring or Gawi, you will like this movie as well. A special Kudos should be given to Seo-woo Eun, the little girl who plays Young-ju. While she is possessed by the ghost, this little girl will terrify you with the looks of pure hatred and the aura of menace she generates. She manages to be more frightening without an ounce of make-up than any CGI ghost or squib-soaked demon I have ever seen on screen. Linda Blair, eat your heart out.
A movie from behind the DMZ!
Since I began living in South Korea several years ago, I have always been curious about what life and art would be like in the isolated North. The educational channel in South Korea (EBS) has a weekly show that gives us clips of North Korean newscasts, movies, music, dramas and animation.
When South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung visited North Korea last year in the first step toward normalizing relations and possible (albeit future) unification, we learned that the North Korean supreme leader is something of a movie fanatic. He has been secretly receiving western movies and monitoring South Korean tv dramas. It is not surprising to learn that he apparently ordered Pulgasari be made. Like every other artform from the North it can only be broadcast or shown if it matches the philosophy of the state. Pulgasari is a metaphor. The evil king represents the feudal government of the Chosun Dynasty which ended at the beginning of the 1900's. The monster, Pulgasari represents capitalism. It arrives apparently to help the people, but soon grows out of control. The heroes in the movie are the peasantry, the common people who must fix everything that people with power have wrought.
Nobody can claim that Pulgasari is state-of-the-art. Even by rubber monster standards, this movies special effects are poor. It does help to consider that the budget for this movie was probably around what we spend on lunch in a year. But for me, the true fascination of a movie like this is the chance to see how another culture, living under a completely different philosophy, sees the world.
Surprising twists at every turn
During the first 20 minutes of watching Jakarta, I was disappointed. It seemed like it was going to be a typical gangster/hostage film. Three sets of thieves plan to rob a bank. The robbery seems to go horribly wrong. But then, slowly--through flashbacks, the director reveals that the movie you think you are watching is totally different from what you are watching. It was a pleasure to be watching a film and thinking about each action, trying to find hidden meanings and connections rather than just having everything handed to me. It was a nice change to have a film, especially of this genre, treat the audience as intelligent adults. The criminals plots and counterplots will keep you guessing and the outcome is brilliant. The entire cast does an admirable job especially Lim Chang Jung. If you are looking for something a little different, give this a try. Your patience through the first part will be well rewarded.
Sae-yi yaeseu (2001)
This movie begins well as the young couple are tricked into giving a ride to a sullen, brooding man. Tension mounts as the man is apparently stalking them after they finally get him out of their car. However, once it has been established that the passenger is dangerous--which happens within the first 30 minutes of the film, the movie is unable to maintain any real suspense. In lieu of suspense, we are given graphic violence. The torture scenes are extended, disturbing, and unnecessary and the battle that should have been the climax of the film comes 30 minutes to early. Everything that happens after that, which is meant to be shocking, comes across as anti-climactic and predictable. The final scene also seems so out of character for the person involved that it is ridiculous and should have been omitted. I left the theater with a headache.
An exciting and beautiful epic
From the opening shots of the struggle through the Gobi Desert to the final battle at the fortress by the sea, this movie consistently captivated me with its intelligent action, beautiful cinematography, and likable, well-developed characters. The two-and-a-half hours spent watching it flew by. I was very impressed with the characterizations in this movie. Each character served to advance the plot. Despite coming from and representing a wide variety of social backrounds and occupations, the characters never fall into cliche. Each is also a well-rounded individual whom you feel you know by the end of the movie. The movie itself is almost two distict films. The first half is the flight from China and the second is the stand at the fortress, reminiscent of Zulu but with more style. If you have the chance to see it, don't pass it up.
Nae maeumui punggeum (1999)
Heart-warming story of life
I am not generally a fan of romantic movies, but there are exceptions to every rule. For me, this movie is it. The romance between the two leads is not contrived or forced in any way. It develops naturally between two people who meet together daily. Anyone who has ever experienced a crush can identify with Hong-yeon. She searches for hidden meaning in her teacher's every action which she happily interprets to suit her fantasy. This movie is filled with warmth towards all of its characters. There is no enemy per se, just every day people. The scenery is memorable and matches the emotions of the film well. Watch the ending carefully as the credits begin to roll. It is there you can find the true conclusion to the film.
Spiders II: Breeding Ground (2001)
Bad writing, acting, and effects unite to kill Spider ll
The biggest problem with this movie is its simplistic dialogue. One example is when the made scientist gloats "Spiders are carnivores. Did you know that?" It makes one wonder if the writers added that for the 3-year-olds who may be watching. It also lacks creativity and fails to create any suspense or scares. The actors also fail to generate any sense of urgency. Lines such as, "This is creepy" are spoken in the same tone you might use to say "We need milk." If the characters on screen are not afraid of their situation, why should the audience be scared? The spiders themselves never seem very real. There is no sense of scale or consistency. (One spider chasing the heroine seems to change size constantly--almost as if the animator couldn't get it quite right) They have a trumpeting roar that sounds suspiciously like an elephant and which detracts from any realism they may have had. (When was the last time you heard a spider say anything?) If you can see it for free, give it a try. But don't waste your money on this film.