Saturday, March 23, 2024

Capsule Review: MISSON: POSSIBLE, Slapdash Spy Action-Comedy Lacks Spark

By Pierce Conran

Mission: Possible is a third-rate spy action-comedy starring Kim Young-kwang and Lee Sun-bin as a mismatched duo who both pretend to be NIS spies as they hunt down a group of gun smugglers. Despite threatening to, the film never quite edges into romcom territory, but given the lack of sparks between the leads, perhaps this was for the best.

I was having some harsh thoughts about this film during most of its running time. Partly due to the dodgy script, definitely owing to the weak cast, but especially since it looks so damn cheap.

Capsule Review: HONEY SWEET, as Sweet as Promised

By Pierce Conran

When we talk about Korean directors, Lee Han isn’t a name that comes up very often, but over the last 22 years, through eight films (including a few others he has written or produced), he has forged one of the most surprisingly consistent filmographies in the industry.

It was a pleasure to catch up with his latest confection, the delightful and easy-going romantic comedy Honey Sweet, in which he teams up with hit director Lee Byeong-heon (Extreme Job), who provided the script.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Revew: MY NAME IS LOH KIWAN, Defector Drama Devolves into Misguided Romance and Crime Mashup

By Pierce Conran

“My name is Loh Kiwan.”

There is confidence in that statement, but the same thing could not be said about the film for which it is the title. This is a film that has absolutely no clue what it wants to be. What begins as a serious and hard-hitting examination of the plight of a North Korean defector fending for himself in Brussels as he embarks on the long process of gaining asylum status soon devolves into a messy patchwork of different genre threads. By the end, the film has completely abandoned its hard-hitting social drama in favour of lumpy romance and gun-totting gangsters.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Review: EXHUMA Digs Up Ghoulish Thrills in Spades

By Pierce Conran

In the smash hit Exhuma, four people dig a hole. Things don't turn out well - digging up corpses can do that - so they keep digging themselves in deeper. Unsurprisingly, things go from bad to worse.

A rich Korean family in LA fly in a pair of young shamans (Kim Go-eun and Lee Do-hyun) to solve their supernatural woes but when the pair connect the bizarre events to the family’s buried ancestor back in Korea, they return and team up with a grizzled geomancer (Choi Min-sik) and a wily undertaker (Yu Hae-jin) to dig up and burn the corpse and bring the supernatural happenings to an end.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT, Ma Dong-seok Knocks Out Crowd-Pleasing but Safe New Instalment

By Pierce Conran

While The Roundup: No Way Out doesn't quite match the raw force of previous instalments Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) packs a mighty punch once again as his burly big screen alter ego Ma Seok-do in the third of a promised eight ‘Crime City’ films (with some spin-offs touted to boot).

The jokes are there (in an even more abundant supply) and the punches are as thunderous as ever, but what this third film lacks is a compelling villain and the same calibre of colourful side characters. Lee Joon-hyuk is all cold stares and whispery baritones, and guest Japanese star Munetaka Aoki grows and slices his way through the screen, but both lack the charisma of Yoon Kye-sang or Son Sukku. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

KILLING ROMANCE Will Make You Fall in Love with Korean Cinema All Over Again

By Pierce Conran

Almost 20 years ago I walked into a theatre in Dublin, taking a chance on a strange-looking movie that no one had heard of. I was rewarded with one of the best cinema experiences of my life. I grinned from ear to ear from start to finish, as I laughed, and cried, and marvelled at the constant madcap ingenuity rocketing from the screen into my bewildered eyeballs. That film was Save the Green Planet.

I’ve been fruitlessly searching for that feeling ever since, until now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review: SEIRE, Ace Horror Debut Plunges Us into Korean Superstition

By Pierce Conran

Superstition and fatherhood collide in Park Kang's crisply staged and chilling indie horror debut Seire, which had its world premiere in the New Currents competition at the Busan International Film Festival. Channeling Rosemary's Baby and The Wailing, this low-budget gem is one of the standouts from last year's edition of the festival.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Top 40 Korean Horror Films

By Pierce Conran

Korean horror isn't what it used to be. But it was never any one thing to begin with.

For many years it was unfairly seen as the poor cousin of J-horror in neighbouring Japan, but K-horror, as it has come to be known, has roots stretching back 60 years. Influenced by local folklore and urban legends and shaped by a society that teeters along sharp divides between tradition and modernity, and shamanism and christianity, it has continually evolved during that time.

Filmmakers like Lee Man-hee and Lee Yong-min were jolting audiences all the way back in the early 1960s and local folklore gave us the templates for the Korean horror films of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, whether through mythical creatures like the Gumiho (aka 'Nine-Tailed Fox') or folk tales like 'A Tale of Two Sisters'. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Top 10 Korean Films of 2020

By Pierce Conran

Korean cinema reached its peak in 2020, but, as it turned out, it did so far too early, and the rest of the year… well, I suppose we’ll have to put a big asterisk over it.

Parasite (2019) made history as the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but that now feels like a lifetime ago, as just a fortnight later the Korean film industry almost ground to a halt, with the rest of the world not far behind. The last 10 months have been a slow, never-ending grind, with a global pandemic lapping up against the peninsula in consecutive waves.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: SELF-PORTRAIT 2020, Long yet Riveting Odyssey of a Drunk Savant

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

I’ll admit I went into Self-Portrait 2020 with a fair amount of trepidation. Here is a nearly three-hour documentary that follows a man who has given up on life, turned to the bottle and now roams the streets of Central Seoul, drunkenly rambling about whatever strikes his fancy. Little did I know what a fascinating journey I was about to embark upon. This sophomore feature effort from young non-fiction filmmaker Lee Dong-woo is overlong to be sure, but it’s also a rich portrait of a confounding individual and the surprising and alarming path his life has taken.

Busan 2020 Review: STEEL RAIN 2: SUMMIT Dives into Thrilling and Surprisingly Funny Geopolitical Waters

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Released three years, ago, the geopolitical action-thriller Steel Rain (2017) was a solid success on the charts but one that was completely overshadowed by two films that hit theaters within a fortnight of its release, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and 1987: When the Day Comes. Given its closed narrative and what was a positive but muted reception, it hardly seemed a likely candidate for the sequel treatment, still a rarity in the Korean film industry. Yet, three years later that’s exactly what we got, but what’s even more surprising is that despite returning with the same director, stars and theme, Steel Rain 2: Summit completely reinvents itself and manages to surpass its predecessor in almost every way.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: LIMECRIME Tunes Up Coming-of-Age Drama with Sick Beats

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Sometimes all you need is a beat and a rhyme. Based on the past experiences of its first time directors, Limecrime is a winning coming-of-age drama that largely sticks to the basics as it confidently explores a youth underground hip hop scene. Measured performances and rhythmic rap scenes allow it to overcome its more prosaic elements, such as a tepidly explored class divide.