Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: ISLAND, An Elegiac Arthouse Mystery


By Pierce Conran

A man travels to Jeju Island, planning to kill himself in his grandparents' abandoned home, in the most intriguing Korean film to grace the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2015. A lushly filmed and thoroughly engrossing mystery channeling local family melodrama norms along with surprising genre tropes and themes of the loss in a hermetic urban society, Island is a deliberately paced and ambitious arthouse production from sophomore auteur Park Jin-seong.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: THE DEAL, A Serviceable But Generic Korean Revenge Thriller


By Pierce Conran

Korea delivers yet another serviceable revenge thriller with The Deal, a well-oiled but overly familiar addition to the longstanding local genre staple. With young women violently murdered during downpours and Kim Sang-kyung once again playing a hapless detective at his wit's end, the film immediately calls to mind modern classic Memories of Murder, an inevitable comparison but a tough act to live up to.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review: THE HANDMAIDEN, Park Chan-wook's Deeply Engrossing and Highly Sexual Tale of Female Sexuality


By Pierce Conran

Following his Hollywood foray Stoker, Park Chan-wook returns to (mostly) home soil for his sumptuous and sensual adaptation of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith. Transposing the novel's setting from Victorian England to 1930s Korea and Japan, when the former was a colony of the latter, The Handmaiden is a deeply engrossing, highly sexual and at times darkly humorous tale of female sexuality brought to life in spectacular fashion.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: YOURSELF AND YOURS Finds Hong Sang-soo in Wry and Perplexing Mood


By Pierce Conran

Celebrated indie auteur Hong Sang-soo returns to Toronto with his 18th film Yourself and Yours. Once again featuring artists boozing their way through a series of eateries as they lament over their personal woes, his latest work echoes the themes he's repeated throughout his career. Yet there's a darker than usual tone and less humanity on display here in a duplicitous narrative that appears to deliberately toy with its audience.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: THE WAILING, A Bone-Chilling, Thunderous Descent Into Hell


By Pierce Conran

After turning the Korean thriller on its head with The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, director Na Hong-jin has reinvented himself again, aggressively pushing against the boundaries of genre cinema with The Wailing. A deafening descent into hell, it may also be the best Korean film since Lee Chang-dong's Poetry.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: KARAOKE CRAZIES Kills It


By Pierce Conran

In Korea, few things are more important than karaoke. With thousands of karaoke bars, open all hours, littering every corner of the country, it's an activity that reaches every part of society, servicing hoards of stressed salary workers, bored teenagers or oftentimes a more licentious clientele. Karaoke is a frequent feature of Korean films, but in Karaoke Crazies, Korea's national pastime comes out front and center, serving as the focal point of an infectious blend of drama, comedy, thriller and absurdity.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: THE HIMALAYAS Swaps Snowflakes For Tears


By Pierce Conran

For those looking for an expedition drama, be warned that despite its title, The Himalayas is first and foremost a melodrama. One concerning brotherhood, family and, above all, coping with grief. Himalayan expedition films seem to be in vogue at the moment, with 2015 already yielding Baltasar Kormákur's Everest and Japanese drama Everest: The Summit of the Gods due out in a few months, but Lee Suk-hoon's picture is more concerned with relationships than it is with the technicalities of mountaineering.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: THE TIGER, A Gory, Gorgeous Battle To The Death


By Pierce Conran

Following the record-breaking success of Roaring Currents, Choi Min-sik returns to screens in another big-budget period epic, this time hunting down the last Korean tiger (as opposed to the last tiger in Korea, because this feline clearly has a national identity) in Park Hong-joon's end-of-year release The Tiger.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: THE BACCHUS LADY Gracefully Explores Bounty of Taboo Subjects


By Pierce Conran

Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung, star of such classics as Kim Ki-young's Woman of Fire and The Insect Woman, takes on perhaps her boldest role yet in The Bacchus Lady. Directed by E J-yong, appearing in the Berlinale program for the fifth time, this surprising 3D drama was made within the sanctuary of the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: INSIDE MEN, A Political Thriller That Goes For The Jugular


By Pierce Conran

The year is almost up, the box office has been tallied and the people have spoken. Stories of greedy corporate heirs, crooked clergy, conniving journalists and dirty politicians have risen to the top of the pile, each more acerbic than the last. But 2015 ends with a bang and one of the darkest, most fiercely critical mainstream Korean films of recent memory. Woo Min-ho ably surpasses his previous efforts with third feature Inside Men, which also marks a comeback of sorts for the embattled star Lee Byung-hun, who has spent much of the year in tabloid columns for the wrong reasons.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Busan 2017 Review: HOME Settles in for Pleasant if Predictable Family Drama


By Pierce Conran


Busan-set family melodrama Home doesn't stray from stock themes of Korean dramas yet its endearing young cast and genuine feelings make it a pleasant debut from newcomer Kim Jong-woo.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Busan 2017 Review: BLUEBEARD, Ambitious Chiller Lacks Tension


By Pierce Conran


Much like her debut The Uninvited, Lee Soo-yeon's latest film Bluebeard teases a dark genre storyline before turning off into more psychological territory through several layered images and a protagonist who isn't quite what he seems, played by Cho Jin-woong of A Hard Day. Unlike her impressive 2003 horror film, her second work feels less fresh and a lot more contrived.