Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: V.I.P. Is D.O.A.


By Pierce Conran

Following his period epic The Tiger, director Park Hoon-jung scales down his ambitions for the North Korea-themed investigative thriller V.I.P., a brooding procedural that lumbers its way through a serial killer tale mired in political intrigue. Much like his hit gangland opus New World, several (male) actors share top billing but each struggle in cliche-riddled roles.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

News: Song Kang-ho Drives into 10 Million Viewer Club for 3rd Time with A TAXI DRIVER


By Pierce Conran

Jang Hoon's Gwangju drama A Taxi Driver drove past the 10 million viewer mark ($69 million) this morning (August 20), on its 19th day of release. It's the 15th Korean film to do so (19th overall) and the only one this year.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News: Fox Resuscitates A BITTERSWEET LIFE Remake with Michael B. Jordan


By Pierce Conran

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before but a remake of A Bittersweet Life is reportedly coming together at 20th Century Fox with Michael B. Jordan taking on Lee Byung-hun's classic gangster role and former animation director Jennifer Yuh Nelson filling Kim Jee-woon's shoes in what is tipped to be a franchise-starter.

Friday, August 18, 2017

News: Lee Chang-dong Gears Up to Film BURNING, Based on Murakami Short Story


By Pierce Conran

We haven't had a new Lee Chang-dong film since 2010's magnificent Poetry but we got our hopes up last year when his new project Burning was announced, only to have them savagely dashed when a copyright issue stalled the production. That snag has now been resolved and production is set to begin on his new film in the middle of September.

Review: OKJA Will Make You Jump for Joy and Burst into Tears


By Pierce Conran

An endearing family adventure, a bitter ecological plea and a rousing action film all rolled into one, Okja proves once more that Bong Joon Ho is a master of twisting something new out of the familiar. While Netflix's gamble screams to be seen on the big screen, this colorful fantasy should be warmly received by global subscribers when it goes live on June 28th.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: THE MIMIC, A Slick and Spirited Addition to K-Horror


By Pierce Conran

Four years after his strong debut Hide and Seek, director Huh Jung returns to a mid-August release date with his follow-up The Mimic. With better-than-average casting, this chilling and polished countryside take on a local urban legend may be the best Korean horror film in several years yet due to a problematic script it falls short of the genre’s heyday over a decade ago.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: ANARCHIST FROM COLONY Gets Lost on the Way Home


By Rex Baylon

Lee Joon-ik’s latest film Anarchist from Colony is a continuation of the director’s fascination with the grand events of Korean history. From King and Clown, a film about the relationship between a Joseon dynasty king and a troupe of street performers, to Blades of Blood, about a Zatoichi-esque character during the early days of the Imjin War, Lee has focused on the perspective of the marginalized. This continues with the story of Park Yeol, a Korean anarchist who had grand designs on killing the Japanese emperor Hirohito, all in the hopes of freeing Korea from Japanese control, but was arrested and tried for treason before he could put his plan into action.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: THE VILLAINESS Shoots and Chops Her Way to Bloody Revenge


By Pierce Conran

Korean action cinema bursts through to new horizons in the hyperkinetic pulp blade and bullet ballet The Villainess. Equal parts Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry and HK-era John Woo, the second film from Confession of Murder director Jung Byung-gil is an inspired but exhausting entry into this year's Midnight Screenings lineup at the Cannes Film Festival.

Monday, August 14, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: RYEOHAENG Casts Abstract Light on NK Refugees


By Pierce Conran

Director Im Heung-soon returns for his third feature, casting his artistic light on another under-served segment of the population with the documentary Ryeohaeng. Focusing on the lives of several female North Korean defectors in Korea, Im contrasts talking heads positioned in some unusual locations with dreamy reveries and musical sequences.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: THE FIRST LAP, Stellar Cast Warms Up Strong, Low-Key Drama


By Pierce Conran

Director Kim Dae-hwan builds on the strengths of his debut End of Winter with another character-driven drama dominated by family gatherings, long takes and strong performances. One of this year's Jeonju Cinema Projects, The First Lap debuted in Jeonju this past spring and is having its international premiere in the Filmmaker of the Present competition in Locarno.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: MIDNIGHT RUNNERS Reaches Finish Line with Gags, Brawls and Thrills


By Pierce Conran

Koala director Kim Joo-hwan graduates to commercial cinema in fine form with the entertaining youth cop comedy-thriller Midnight Runners. Featuring heartthrobs Park Seo-joon (Chronicles of Evil) and Kang Ha-neul (Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet) in roles that are equal parts cute and heroic, this slick bromance should prove particularly popular with young women at home.

Friday, August 11, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: SUDDENLY IN DARK NIGHT Goes Bump in All the Right Places


By Pierce Conran

From Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid in 1961 all the way to Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden last year, Korean cinema has delighted in torrid tales of disruptive house servants. Whether as a way to contrast social classes or explore illicit sexuality, it has remained a compelling source for bold filmmakers. Ko Young-nam’s 1981 erotic psychodrama Suddenly in Dark Night, though less complex than the aforementioned, is another fine example of the sub-genre.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: THE MERCILESS Punches Up Familiar Gangster Tale


By Pierce Conran

After helming a low-key music drama (The Beat Goes On) and a romantic comedy (Whatcha Wearin'?), director Byun Sung-hyun finally shows off what may be his true colors in the brash and confident half gangster thriller, half prison drama The Merciless, the second Korean film to be featured as a midnight screening in Cannes this year.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: COFFEE NOIR: BLACK BROWN Brews Fresh Prohibition Drama with a Bitter Kick


By Pierce Conran

An intriguing concept can be enough to pull you into a film but what keeps you there is a sense of purpose and steadfast execution. Korean indie Coffee Noir: Black Brown, the third film from emerging talent Jang Hyun-sang, which premiered last month in competition at Bucheon, delivers on all three counts. This delightful and odd prohibition drama is grounded by Jo Soo-hyang, whose performance remains unwavering, even when some of the story threads around her don’t quite mesh.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: THE DAY AFTER Offers Bitter Portrait of Infidelity


By Pierce Conran

Returning to black and white for the first time since The Day He Arrives (which screened in Un Certain Regard in 2011), Hong Sangsoo returns to the Cannes competition section with The Day After, a focused rumination on love and betrayal which is, much like his other 2017 films On the Beach at Night Alone and fellow Cannes-invitee Claire's Camera, an act of bitter self-reflection.

Monday, August 7, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: ROOM NO. 7 Gets A 6 At Best


By Pierce Conran

Following his acclaimed indie 10 Minutes, director Lee Yong-seung once again examines the plight of the working man in Korea with his commercial debut Room No. 7, which serves as the opening film of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan). Shin Ha-kyun and new star Doh Kyung-soo partner up for the pressure cooker comedy with a hint of genre flair.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: REAL Makes Korean Noir Gloriously Camp, Weird and Amazing


By Pierce Conran

In the same week that a new release was embraced by the media (Bong Joon-ho's Okja), another was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. So strong was the vitriol for Real, a vehicle for Asian superstar heartthrob Kim Soo-hyun (Secretly Greatly), that lambasting it on social media quickly turned into a sport.

Friday, August 4, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: BEHIND THE DARK NIGHT Swedes Its Way to Victory


By Pierce Conran

Low-budget, semi-autobiographical indies about young men trying to make their feature film debuts have been done to death in Korea (Cheer Up Mr. Lee, We Will Be OK and Director's Cut come to mind), so expectations were muted for Behind the Dark Night, a new Korean competition film in BiFan this year. However, any negative assumptions were quickly dashed as this mockumentary of student filmmakers proved itself to be the most endearing debut to be seen in BiFan since Baek Sung-gi's riotous Super Virgin in 2012.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: A TAXI DRIVER Rolls Up to Korean History with Grace, Humor and Tears


By Pierce Conran

History and commerce combine to terrific effect in the protest drama A Taxi Driver. Song Kang-ho is remarkable in his second film with director Jang Hoon, following Secret Reunion, while German star Thomas Kretschmann delivers what is probably the best performance by a major western actor in a Korean film. Despite some slight overreach in its final act, this is Korean blockbuster drama done right.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: THE BATTLESHIP ISLAND, Impressive Action Torpedoed by Nationalism


By Pierce Conran

UPDATE (Aug 8): Following a rare change of heart after seeing the film a second time, I've decided to change my original star rating The Battleship Island. I can't say that my criticisms are any different, but watching the film without having to sort through the dense story and its characters allowed me to appreciate many of the film's impressive details.

Following a pair of blockbusters, action maestro Ryoo Seung-wan aims to outdo his past successes with The Battleship Island, the biggest Korean release of the year. Set on a Japanese labor camp island, this star-driven, big-budget period escape drama strives for greatness but falls short, with a harried narrative too consumed with nationalist sentiment. That said, a bombastic climax sees Ryoo and his team put their best feet (and fists) forward in an impressive display of choreography and staging.