Saturday, March 7, 2015

New Korean Films: Deadly Sins (2015 Week 9)

Empire of Lust
(순수의 시대)

By Fabien Schneider

In 1398, six years after the founding of the Joseon kingdom that succeeded Koryeo, a struggle for the designation of the Crown Prince pits two of King Tae-jo’s sons against each other. The fifth son, Lee Bang-won, helped his father so much that he got his hands dirty and thus now expects to be appointed as the next king. But Jeong Do-jeon, the King’s adviser who greatly contributed to the establishment of the new kingdom which he sees bound to be governed by ministers, favors Lee Bang-seok, the eighth son who is still a youth. Between them is Kim Min-Jae, the supreme commander of Joseon who owns his rank due to his successful defense of the borders against the Jurchen and the Japanese pirates. His own son, Jin, has become the King’s son-in-law and tries not to get involved in politics as he enjoy the pleasures of a noble life.

The producers and distributors seem to have realized how stupid it was to stack so many period dramas on the same release window in early fall last year. Now we see these films getting released more parsimoniously throughout the year. The craving of Koreans for the dramatic events that took place during the Joseon dynasty seems to have no end, as this film is already pointing toward the 20% mark at the box-office, most of its audience being adult men. Already a success for this third movie by director Ahn Sang-Hoon, whose former feature, Blind (2011), already left a rather good impression. CJ Entertainment must be equally delighted. The Korean title is quite smart, as it can be translated as “The Age of Innocence”, which refers to both the young state of the Joseon Kingdom but also makes an ironical statement about the dubious morals of that time. It’s a pleasure to see Shin Ha-Kyun as the lead actor, a position he recently held in Running Man (2013) while he’s probably best remembered for his impressive acting in classics like Save the Green Planet (2003), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) or JSA (2000). Jang Hyuk, from The Flu (2013) and Windstruck (2004), is the other famous face and plays the aspiring crown prince. Obviously, it will benefit of a massive distribution helped with a massive promotion. Some local critics complained about the excessive dramatization and that it cannot really demark itself from the usual period fare.

Granny's Got Talent

For some reason, a TV show is created around the concept of a competition of swearing. A lot of participants fight each other with curses with the prospect of a lot of cash for the winner. But suddenly a grandmother appears and demonstrates the magnitude of her lexicon.

This movie gets straight to the point. It doesn’t seem to embarrass itself with a lot of personal drama and knows exactly what the audience wants: Kim Soo-Mi being herself without any constraint for two hours. This actress is almost unavoidable provided that you watch Korean movies and/or dramas. She’s been active since 1980 but had to wait the early 2000’s to become acknowledged as the typical face of the “ajumma”. It’s therefore not a coincidence that she appeared in titles like Unstoppable Marriage (2007) or Meet the In-Laws (2011). But she really took her name with the Marrying the Mafia series of films. The director of this movie, Shin Han-sol, debuted with the interesting Art of Fighting in 2005, soon followed by A Tale of Legendary Libido in 2008, and has under the radar until now. This film is expected to be thrid at the box-office, which I think is much more than what NEW, the distributor, must have expected. Local critics have been quite harsh already, most of them noting that it’s not very funny. Probably like the easy pun of the Korean title that mixes the English word “hell” with the Korean word “halmeoni” for grand-mother…

Watch the Korean trailer here.

Dog Eat Dog

While traveling abroad, Korean people are eager to meet and trust compatriots. But some of them are just there to kidnap these trusting people and blackmail their families. Hyeong-sin, Ji-hoon and Doo-jin are one of these gangs and have been quite active in Turkey. When they get back to South Korea, they are chased by vengeful family members who don’t mind doling out their own justice. Doo-jin, who has been kicked out of the gang, decides to go solo and kidnap one more victim.

Difficult to know what to expect from this movie. Both directors, Hwang Wook and Park Min-woo, are rookies and little is know about them, and I had no better luck when I looked for the production company called “Awesome People” (at least they have a great name). The first reviews from critics and movie-goers make a point about the effectiveness of this thriller: it’s really frightening, and it’s helped by good performances. The actors, Kim Seon-bin and Kwak Min-ho, are used to supporting roles, so it’s the first time they can express all their skills. The film will only be screened in bigger cities.

Watch the Korean trailer here.

New Korean Films is a weekly feature which provide an in-depth look at new local releases in Korea. For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time). Reviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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