Showing posts with label Sci-fi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sci-fi. Show all posts

Friday, March 7, 2014

News: SNOWPIERCER Alert! Mark Your Calendars for June 27th

By Pierce Conran

Snowpiercer is finally getting a stateside release. The internet is saying June 27th but CJ Entertainment is telling me June, with no day fixed as of yet. If it does open on the 27th it will have to contend with the new Transformers film (and my birthday). As previously reported the film will be screened uncut but rolled out in limited release. However, as The Weinstein Company will release through their label Radius-TWC it may well become available on VOD at the same time.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: Bong Joon-ho's SNOWPIERCER Delivers the Goods

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Cinema is a medium of motion and if anyone understands this, it appears to be Bong Joon-ho, whose visionary new work is a demented and stunning thrillride. In his first production outside his native South Korea, Bong has delivered his most ambitious project yet, and proves more than capable of handling an international, multilingual cast and a large budget.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: Time Travel Takes a Siesta at 11:00 AM

"Wait, this is a time travel film?"

By Pierce Conran

Setting aside the barnstorming success of Bong Joon-ho’s new feature Snowpiercer, an anomaly if ever there was one, Korea cinema’s relationship to the science fiction genre has been a difficult one over the years. Successful mash-ups like Save the Green Planet (2003) and The Host (2006) hinted at what the industry might achieve, but by and large, the straight sci-fis that have been produced, such as 2009: Lost Memories (2002), Yesterday (2002) and Natural City (2003), have failed to impress. However, 11:00 AM, a new Korean sci-fi which made its way into local theaters late this year, held the faintest glimmer of hope for what can at times be one of cinema’s most rewarding genres. Alas, this new effort follows previous domestic stabs that fail to grasp what makes the genre work in the first place.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer Delivers the Goods

Cinema is a medium of motion and if anyone understands this, it appears to be Bong Joon-ho, whose visionary new work is a demented and stunning thrillride. In his first production outside his native South Korea, Bong has delivered his most ambitious project yet, and proves more than capable of handling an international, multilingual cast and a large budget.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

PiFan 2012: Young Gun in the Time (영건 탐정 사무소, Yeong-geon Tam-jeong Sa-moo-so) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Aside from technical proficiency, I’m always amazed at Korean filmmakers’ knack for thrift. Their films, compared to Hollywood's output, barely cost a dime. A $10 million dollar budget is enough to put out a film like The Host or The Thieves, whereas similar productions in the States will go for ten times more. The cost of living is cheaper and there are other mitigating factors but the level of these productions’ sophistication is nonetheless impressive.

A look down the ladder at the low-budget fare produced in the country inspires even more awe. The beautiful and languid Bedevilled cost a measly $70,000 and many other films around that budget range feature similarly accomplished production values. Oh Young-doo 2011’s feature Invasion of Alien Bikini made quite a splash on the festival circuit and part of it was because it reputedly cost only $5,000, all of it stretched to a remarkable degree. Though at the end of the day that was still identifiable as an ultra low-budget production. His new film cost $50,000 but from an aesthetic standpoint it puts many commercial features to shame.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Doomsday Book (인류멸망보고서, In-lyoo-myeol-mang-bo-go-seo) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

(by Peter Gutiérrez)

No doubt about it: it’s definitely a cliché to remark on how anthology films can be uneven – in fact, it’s probably also a cliché at this point to point out how commonplace such an observation is. Yet although this assessment applies to Doomsday Book, which gets its North American premiere Wednesday evening at NYAFF, the film is also refreshing in that I could see different viewers holding disparate ideas as to which are the stronger and weaker entries in this ambitious, three-part science-fiction extravaganza.

The opening story, “A Brave New World,” takes what seems like a well-worn zombie formula and, in the hands of Antarctic Journal’s Yim Pil-Sung,  fashions one of those optimal mixtures of the audaciously dark and the goofily humorous that can make Korean genre cinema so wonderful. That’s not to say that Yim’s goals are purely pulply, its ironical tone and light intellectualism are evident from the title. Taking its cue less from Shakespeare, or Huxley, and more from the Bible, this segment looks terrific and boasts some solid storytelling, so you’ll be forgiven for not noticing its more highbrow aspirations. Like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which played for both more laughs and more horror, “A Brave New World” is so adept at grabbing and holding your attention that you may be a bit disappointed when it seems satisfied in leading you into romance (!) territory and leaving you there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part II

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Genre-blending is a very prevalent technique in Korean cinema, the main reasons for this being economies of scale.  The larger a demography you can appeal to, the more likely you are to boost your attendance and therefore revenue streams.  But even in an industry replete with generic hybrids, Save the Green Planet takes the cake.  Korean filmmakers are so good at this technique that they have come close, as I have claimed before, to transcending generic labeling altogether.  Why does a film necessarily need to have labels ascribed to it?  Plenty of reasons, to make them more readily identifiable or targetable for instance, but I appreciate the freedom afforded by splicing so many conventions into long-form that our generic radars become obfuscated and thus we can be surprised again, another rarity in today’s cinema.  Not all appreciate this technique it must be said, even the immensely successful and popular The Host (2006), which is similarly poly-generic, has more than its fair share of detractors, who chiefly cite the film’s failure to settle on any distinct path.  I, for one, disagree with these people:  In my mind such a view is a product of complacency, comfort, and knowing what to expect.  It is also a way to control what we see, as though we can exercise some form of hegemony over what we watch, but that is a discussion for another day.

What I love about Save the Green Planet is its boundless energy and unchecked ambition.  It must be said that not everything works, to be honest, for some viewers maybe very little works, but rookie director Jang Joon-hwan doesn’t seem to have worried too much about what stuck and what didn’t, he was just having too much fun with the material (which he wrote) to worry about being measured or diplomatic.  The end work reflects this style as Jang’s filmmaking exuberance is infectious and the fun transmits directly to the viewer.  There’s no question that we share in his experience of having made this film.  The danger of course is that Jang’s film may have been a flash in the pan, it’s been eight years already and he has yet to tackle a sophomore feature though he did participate in 2010’s omnibus Camelia which I haven’t seen but have not read any great notices for.  More than anything, these days he’s know as successful actress Moon So-ri’s (Oasis, 2002) husband.

Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes in aliens, not only that but he believes that they are planning to destroy the planet and that he is the man to stop them.  Armed with pepper spray, a helmet and garbage bag garb to block alien brain waves, and his unwavering purpose, he and his tightrope walking girlfriend kidnap Man-shik, the CEO of a major corporation.  Byeong-gu believes that Man-shik (Baek Yoon-shik) is an alien and is determined to extract information from him in his isolated hillside lair in Kangwon province.

Essentially the film is a B-movie that splices in many cultish and violent elements to mount a frenzied and anarchic narrative.  For much of the film this is what Jang achieves but he does so with much more care and skill than we expect from other films of the same ilk.  The film immediately opens up with comedy and sci-fi before quickly moving on to what is tantamount to horror and torture porn.  Soon Jang throws in some procedural elements as the hunt is on for Man-shik’s abductor.  However it is at the two-thirds point that the film truly shows us what it is.  Its scope, which was already substantial, takes on voluminous proportions as we are filled in on Byeong-gu’s backstory and his connection to Man-shik, not to mention what may be behind his paranoia.


Like many a Korean film before it and just as many that followed, Save the Green Planet delves into its protagonist’s past and weaves the narrative threads together with melodrama.  Seemingly a tough proposition, this actually works remarkably well in the form of a well-edited montage, aided by a moving and lush string theme led by a melancholy cello.  If this weren’t enough our quick journey through Byeong-gu’s life serves as a searing indictment of society and authority in recent Korean history.  Suddenly what seemed like a curious oddity, albeit an exhilarating one, is infused with purpose.  But Save the Green Planet is an especially special kind of film so woe betide it to stop just there as Jang punches into high gear with a big leap up to the macro level.

When Man-shik finally confesses his origin a new montage unfurls which hurtles us through an alternate history of our entire civilization.  It’s a witty and crafty story but it too hides an ace up its sleeve as Man-shik recounts the atrocities of human civilizations, accompanied with footage of some of our unbecoming history’s most infamous acts of iniquity.  Jang is lamenting the violent gene inherent in our species but it’s a double-edged sword as he fully recognizes and embraces its existence in his own DNA, as evidenced by the violent nature of his film.


It should be a priority for anyone serious about Korean cinema or indeed cinema in general to take the time to watch this film.  Easily one of the most innovative works made in the last ten years, Save the Green Planet is a veritable tour-de-force that almost redefines the purpose and possibility of cinema.  Out of the many trips I’ve taken to the theater, which stretch well past a thousand, the midnight screening of Jang’s film is still my fondest silver screen experience.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part I

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Once upon a time during a cold, wet winter’s night, my tattered shoes leaking, I trod the murky streets of Dublin for an hour on a rainy Saturday night.  At the time I had only just moved to the Emerald city and though I knew many people in town I rarely fraternized with anyone on the weekends.  It wouldn’t take long for this to change but it didn’t really make me feel lonely, in fact I felt liberated.  After six years of boarding school a few miles up the Liffey River and fifteen of holidays and odds and ends locked away in a remote village in the xenophobic Swiss Alps, my wet feet and permeable clothing didn’t bother me as much as they might have.  The best part of my newfound freedom was that I could go to the cinema however often I pleased, better still was my unlimited membership to the local UGC cinema.  For a few quid a month I could indulge in a wealth of cinema spread across seventeen screens.  My weekends were spent living in the theater and I would often watch four or five movies on the trot.

On this particular Saturday night near the end of 2004 I caught a late show at around ten o’clock but I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw.  But what I’ll never forget is what I watched next.  In those days while the distribution company Tartan was still solvent, they used to stage an ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow which, according to Film Cut, “toured then UGC cinemas (now Cineworld Cinemas) around the UK with the programme of films that Tartan considers to be the most daring examples of ‘extreme cinema’.”  I had seen a funny-looking poster of a grinning man wearing a garbage bag while riding planet Earth and I decided to watch this film based solely on the fact that it was Korean.  Back then I had only dabbled in Korean films but what I had seen had left a strong impression on me.

My first introduction to Asian cinema came when I was researching some versions of Macbeth I could watch for my English class in secondary school.  Having already got my hands on Orson Welles’ and Roman Polanski’s versions I dug a little deeper and heard about an old Japanese film called Throne of Blood (1956) by some guy called Akira Kurosawa.  The title seemed a little silly to me but I’d heard it was quite good so I tracked down a BFI copy on Amazon and popped it in the player.  I think it’s fair to say that the axis of my life shifted somewhat that day.  Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare was brilliant, it was magnificent, it was mesmerizing, and I was in awe.  Completely forgetting about my English class I delved headfirst into Japanese cinema and I rarely came up for air for months.

A while later I was browsing through the Asian film section of my local FNAC (a French media retailer) in Switzerland when I came across a really nifty deluxe, embossed, double-DVD package.  It was green, there was some shiny blood on the cover, it looked kind of out there, and it had a really cool name so I picked it up thinking it might be somewhat akin to a Takashi Miike film, whose catalogue I was raging through at the time.  The film was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and it was nothing like all the Japanese films I had seen because of course it was Korean, but I hated it.  It was unremittingly bleak and gratuitously violent, which I was no stranger to, but in a manner that was so downbeat and realistic that I was traumatized by it for a week, until I was compelled to watch it again.  During the second go-round, once again my axis shifted ever so slightly.  I was beguiled and repulsed at the same time, anger and sadness coursed through me but it was not my own.  Though I would not know it for a while, I had stumbled upon ‘han’, the melancholy which permeates so many of the very best Korean films.  For the time being I was electrified and I needed more, so back to the shelves of FNAC I went.  This time I came back with a double bill of Peppermint Candy (1999) and The Isle (2000).  The former taught me infinitely more about Korea than I had ever known and the latter shocked and impressed me.  This introductory triptych of Korean film already had me drawing parallels and marveling at how an emerging national cinema could be so fresh, self-aware, and successful.

It was this feeling that led me into the theater that was exhibiting a midnight séance of Save the Green Planet (2003), despite the tacky poster.  I was the first person there so I had my choice of seating, as I always do I opted for dead centre in the middle row.  As it turned out I was the only person who came in for this screening but that was fine by me.  I had no expectations for the film and I certainly didn’t think it could match any of the three Korean works I had already seen but then the projector started rolling.

It’s a funny thing to be surprised these days, more and more we are trained to expect things.  We witness events and minutiae unfold in an infinite cycle of cause and effect.  When we walk into a theater we are loaded to the gills with expectations.  In the grand scheme of things there is actually very little that we don’t know regarding what we are about to see.  We know it’s a film, we assume there will be images projected on screen and that some combination of dialogue, music, and foley sound will blare out from the sound system.  We’re fairly certain that there will be people, a story, relationships, props, locations, and much, much more.  All that even before the media barrage that we are relentlessly subjected to in the digital era.  We may know the actors, the director, the writer, the genre, the plot summary, or the country of origin.  We may have seen the poster, the trailer, clips, seen reviews, or even read the book that the film is based on.  Every so often I like to walk into a film with zero expectations, besides those very first ones I’ve listed, but increasingly it’s become very difficult to do this.  Given how much I read online about films I can’t really stroll into a multiplex and not know something about every film on the marquee.  The best place to do this is film festivals, even the most well-informed and up-to-date cinephile is not privy to information regarding absolutely every film on a reputable international event’s program.

On this occasion I was at a multiplex but the Tartan ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow served as a kind of mini festival and in any case I was not familiar with a number of the films, including Save the Green Planet.  The only things I knew about it were that it was Korean and that it looked weird, after a few minutes I also ascertained that Shin Ha-kyun was in it, as I knew him from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  But before recognizing him, I was already hooked.

The opening montage, with a frenetic voiceover explaining a ludicrous theory about a businessman posing as an alien, was exuberant, wacky, and completely unexpected.  It was breathlessly paced, hilarious, and featured some strong mise-en-scene which included brilliant editing and an expertly placed swell in the score.  The hooks were in and I was ready for and thrilled to be on this ride.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Haunters (Cho-neung-ryeok-ja) 2010

Science fiction is a genre that hasn’t gotten too much play in South Korean cinema, outside of monster movies (The Host, 2006), and disaster films (Tidal Wave, 2009) there are perhaps only half a dozen films that could be categorized as science fiction. One, 2009: Lost Memories (2002), is set in the near future but in an alternate universe where Japan sided with the allies in World War II and kept it’s prewar colonies, which include Korea. The only other prominent example and certainly the one that is best known to Western audiences is the delirious, deranged, and brilliant Save the Green Planet (2003), while not a strict sci-fi, as it is equal parts horror, detective thriller, social commentary, romance, and comedy, it plays with the tropes of sci-fi in a remarkably clever fashion. Another genre that has not been seen often in Korea in superhero film, granted this is an American specialty and is a relatively recent branch of cinema. Examples in Korea include Descendants of Hong Gil-dong (2009), Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard (2009), and A Man Who Was Superman (2007). Woochi was a remarkably successful action-comedy about a chosun-era wizard who ends up in modern day fighting creatures from the past, on the other hand Superman is a comedy drama that has a big emotional punch and features all the Superman imagery while featuring a protagonist who doesn’t actually have any powers it acts as a a superhero film as only a South Korean film could. Comic book movies however, are quite popular in Korea and include the immensely popular Oldboy (2003) and even different styles of film such as the recent romantic comedy Petty Romance (2010).

Reminiscent of 'Cinema du Look'
Haunters is all of the above and more, it is a clever sci-fi, an off-kilter superhero film, a stylish comic book movie, and an intermittently effective horror. The story is relatively simple, it starts with a dark, brooding, and malevolent prologue that shows us a child in a broken home who has the ability to control minds and does so to horrifying effect. In present day we are introduced to Gyoo-nam, a young man working in a salvage yard with his two foreign friends, after an unfortunate accident he must find new work and does so at Utopia, an oddly-named pawnshop run by Jeong-sik (played by the brilliant Byeon Hee-bong) and his daughter. Meanwhile the child from the opening, Cho-in, is now grown-up and uses his powers to live a quiet, but luxurious life. One day he robs Utopia, while everyone, including Gyoo-nam’s friends, are there. Suddenly he notices something, Gyoo-nam is immune to his power and then all hell breaks loose. The film then focuses on Gyoo-nam as he pursues Cho-in in a series of explosive set pieces.

The Last Supper
It’s a fun story if somewhat thin and features a seemingly bottomless amount of plotholes and inconsistencies but with two engaging leads, strong supporting characters, and a terrific mise-en-scene, it can excused most of its errors. As I watched it I was reminded a lot of the Cinema du Look of the 80s and 90s in French cinema, a set of fiercely contemporary, visceral, aesthetic, and post-modernist works that came from young directors such as Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beinex, and Leo Carax. These films favored style over substance and spectacle over narrative, equipped with visual flair they featured young, alienated characters who symbolized the marginalized youth Francois Mitterand’s France. I feel that Haunters emulates this brief movement of cinema (there were only 7 films) and as a result could probably be excused its flagrant disregard for logic as it seeks to win us over with style. One scene in the film that reminded me of the Cinema du Look was early on at the salvage yard where all the multi-cultural workers sit down for lunch in a Last Supper tableau and when asked by the lunch lady who has produced their lunch ticket, it is the Jesus stand-in who gets up. It is an odd scene that doesn’t add to the narrative but is a stylish visual reference that is in line with the aforementioned French film movement. Most of the film is also played out in seedy backwater Seoul locations, and most often at night, this mimics the Cinema du Look’s propensity for shooting in the Paris Metro in an effort to symbolize an alternative society.

Standout supporting cast
While the film always looks great, if a little dark at times, it does begin to spin its wheels a little as Gyoo-nam always goes after Cho-in, who is clearly a superior opponent, without any plan. Since this blind and frankly stupid bravery leads to the death of a lot of innocent people, it is difficult to root for our hero at times. He is a simpleton who has a good heart but seemingly little brains. Haunters features good performances from its leads (Ko-soo and Kang Dong-won of Woochi and Secret Reunion) as well as its supporting characters, especially from Abu Dod and Enes Kaya who play Gyoo-nam's Ghanaian and Turkish friends. The film is Kim Min-suk's debut work and exhibits a lot of promise for good things to come, perhaps next time he will focus a little more on the narrative. Previously he collaborated with Kim Jee-woon on the script for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (2008), a delightful action romp which also suffers from some loose plotting. Haunters will infuriate a lot of viewers due to its inconsistencies but if you can look past the plotting there is a solid Korean multi-genre film to be enjoyed.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.