Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: THE SPY GONE NORTH, Bold and Sumptuous Espionage Yarn Eschews Action for Geopolitical Intrigue


By Pierce Conran

Following his period action blockbuster Kundo: The Age of the Rampant in 2014, Yoon Jong-bin is back in the summer season lineup with his 90s-set espionage drama The Spy Gone North, which bowed earlier this year as part of the midnight lineup of the Cannes Film Festival. A timely though occasionally dense tale of covert agents and behind-closed-doors deals, the film employs detailed production values and a fascinating geopolitical context in a year that has seen the present-day Koreas draw closer than ever before.

Review: INTIMATE ENEMIES Marks Low-Point For Im Sang-soo


By Pierce Conran

In a bid to branch out to a wider audience following the tepid critical and commercial response to 2012's The Taste of Money, director Im Sang-soo returned with the spirited but borderline incoherent action-comedy Intimate Enemies in 2015.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Locarno 2018 Review: HOTEL BY THE RIVER, A Wonderfully Performed New Drama from Hong Sangsoo


By Pierce Conran

Six months after the premiere of Grass at the Berlinale, prolific auteur Hong Sangsoo is back with another black and white drama which once again reunites him with his leading actress Kim Min-hee. Having just debuted at the Locarno International Film Festival, where it picked up the Best Actor Award for lead Ki Joo-bong, Hotel by the River employs less narrative trickery than most of the director's films and builds from a series of slight vignettes into a moving story of an ageing poet trying to take stock of his life in what may be his waning days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

BiFan 2018 Review: BEAUTIFUL VAMPIRE Bites Into Endearing and Quirky Horror Romcom


By Pierce Conran

Combining the stylings of a young Park Chan-wook with the emotional sensibilities of the Korean drama world, debut feature Beautiful Vampire stood out from the crop of local indie genre features making their debuts at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival this year (BiFan). Director Jude Jung imbues a playful style into a low-budget if thin genre comedy that features a compelling turn from rising name Jung Yeon-ju.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE LAST 49 DAYS Sacrifices Focus for Franchise-Building


By Pierce Conran

I'll admit that eight months ago I may have brought a certain amount of prejudice with me when I went to see Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, the fantasy epic blockbuster that would become the second most successful Korean film of all time. Rewatching the film earlier this month, I realize my initial assessment was a little harsh and that it was more effective and engaging than I initially gave it credit for. This time around I went in with an open mind, twice, before collecting my thoughts. So I feel quite confident when I say that, sadly, Along the the Gods: The Last 49 Days is the bigger but far less successful half of Korea's first two-part blockbuster (though this may not have much of an impact on its financial prospects).

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: THREE SUMMER NIGHT Strips Down To Bikinis And Cheap Jokes


By Pierce Conran

Bikini bods, thugs and knuckleheads cross paths under the summer sun in the latest from Korean comedy maestro Kim Sang-jin. Just as chaotic as his earlier output but with less of an edge, Kim brings his trademark cause-and-effect comedy brand to Three Summer Night, a diverting yet forgettable spin on The Hangover.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: INSANE Shoots Down the Middle


By Pierce Conran

Released early in 2016, the surprise hit Insane is the sixth film from versatile director Lee Cheol-ha. Employing a less than original premise, this thriller turns out to be a middle-of-the-road attempt that pales in comparison to a slew of stronger titles in what was a strong year for Korean thrillers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review: UNWANTED BROTHER Puts Onus On Characters In Familiar Setting


By Pierce Conran

After nearly a decade away from the director's chair, Shim Kwang-jin returned with an unhurried take on a common tale of a lowlife manipulating those around him to pay a debt. Propped up by a few fresh spins on the well-trodden material and some earthy performances, Unwanted Brother is a worthwhile character study with subtle yet clear social overtones which debuted at the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2015.