Showing posts with label gangster comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gangster comedy. Show all posts

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jopok Week: Conclusion and Korean Gangster Films on the Horizon

Kang Ji-hwan and So Ji-sub in Rough Cut (2008)

The gangster film has been a staple since the early days of cinema.  It's heady, larger-than-life blend of action, drama, and thriller tropes as well as the myriad of themes it can explore, makes it a natural fit for the silver screen.  Throughout the last century the genre has travelled across the globe, peaking in different places at different times.  For the last 15 years, one of the most prolific producers of gangster pictures has been Korea:  arguably it has been the most successful.  In their home market, Korean gangster films have enjoyed unprecedented and sustained popularity though the genre has changed in the industry over time.  

One of the aspects that was most discussed this week (chiefly by Connor McMorran and Darcy Paquet) was the Korean gangster comedy, which reached an early high in 2001, when six of the top 10 films of the year were mobster themed features.  Much was said about the reasons for their enormous success as well as the inherent flaws within the sub-genre which lead in part to its early demise.  They eventually receded from the marquees near the end of the decade.  While the odd one is still made today, they do not attract near the same audiences as they did.

Kim Yun-seok in The Yellow Sea (2010)

Darker thrillers with gangster tropes may not have had the same dominance as their comedy counterparts had in certain parts of the last decade but their prevalence and popularity has remained constant throughout the resurgence of Korean cinema.  They have been used as a template to explore the changing landscape and society of Korea as it has become a developed nation and also as a means to consider questions regarding the Korean male in modern times.  In her piece, Rowena Santos Aquino gave us a lot to think about regarding masculinity and beauty in 'jopok' films.

A lot of ground has been covered during 'Jopok Week' and I am absolutely thrilled about the positive response that the many reviews, features, and analyses have received.  Including these closing comments, 17 articles have been published as part of Jopok Week, totaling an enormous 22,500 words.

Cha In-pyo in Mokpo, Gangster's Paradise (2003)

I want to express my sincere gratitude to Connor McMorran, Rowena Santos Aquino, Kieran Tully, and Darcy Paquet who contributed such wonderful pieces on various aspects of Korean gangster cinema.  A huge thank you is also in order for every one of you that took part in, or helped promote the features through umpteen tweets, likes, follows, shares, subscribes, or comments on the various social media platforms.  And of course none of this would have been possible without you, the reader, so thank you so much for taking the time to visit!

After the success of this week, I am keen to do a similar feature in the near future.  Perhaps we can take a look at horror or melodrama in Korean cinema next, or even expand on 'Jopok Week' a year down the line.  I hope you will join me when the next feature does get underway and if you any ideas or would like to collaborate on something, do not hesitate to get in touch (pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com)!  

I will leave you with a recap of this week's articles and a taste of what's to come for 'jopok' films in 2012:

(by Kieran Tully)


Too Many Villains

The debut film from Kim Harry, who was previously an assistant director on Ha Yu's brilliant A Dirty Carnival (2006), will be released next week in Korea and I think it looks fantastic.  In Too Many Villains, Kim Joon-bae plays an ex-gang member trying to gain custody of his daughter.  Kim is a veteran and has been exceptional in a number of small roles including Romantic Heaven (2011) and last year's Moss but judging by the trailer, this may be a big break for him and I hope it will be.  His look, swagger, and especially his voice feel spot on for this type of role.  I have a good feeling about this one and I hope I get a chance to see it early in 2012.  One of my must-sees for next year!

Nameless Gangster

Yoon Jong-bin's third film (he's still only 32) is a gangster tale set in the early 90s starring Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, 2003; I Saw the Devil, 2010) and Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser, 2008; The Yellow Sea, 2010).  Nameless Gangster has a great look and feel to it and Choi, a consummate actor, seems to have completely immersed himself in the role.  There have been a number of great stills relying on the evocative force of the production design and costumes, which works for me.  Comedy looks to be part of the mix but this is a far cry from the gangster comedies we've been discussing this week.  The trailer looks promising and this is one the films I'm most curious about in 2012. 

The Thieves

Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jeong-jae, Oh Dal-su, and Jeon Ji-hyeon in The Thieves

Choi Dong-hoon's fourth feature has blockbuster written all over it.  The big cast features Kim Yun-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Jeon Ji-hyeon (aka Gianna Jun), Lee Jeong-jae, and Oh Dal-su, and the production was pan-asian and included shoots in Macau.  The Thieves (formerly known as The Professionals) is Choi's third film dealing with professional thieves/gamblers and while no trailers or posters have been revealed yet, the pedigree looks strong.  Kim Yun-seok is on such a roll that it's hard to imagine that he won't bring it home again here.

Kim Yun-seok in The Thieves

That's it for 'Jopok Week', hope you've enjoyed it and thanks again!

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.

Jopok Week: Marrying the Mafia IV (Ga-moon-eui Yeong-gwang 4 – Ga-moon-eui Soo-nan) 2011

To wrap up the film reviews for 'Jopok Week', what better way than to take a look at the latest Korean gangster film to hit theaters, the fourth entry in Korea’s longest running franchise (I think), the Marrying the Mafia series.  There has not been a very high-profile Korean gangster comedy since 2009’s Jeong Joon-ho starrer City of Damnation which was met with middling success.  I must admit that I can’t really remember what happened in the previous installments of this franchise bar the first one but I’m quite sure that they employed the use of some kind of story.

You see, Marrying the Mafia IV (bewilderingly subtitled Unstoppable Family) does not seem to feature any discernible story.  It is a supremely lackadaisical and episodic film that throws together a veritable panoply of minor Korean film stars in an attempt to dazzle us with its sparkling dialogue and zany set pieces.  The problem is that the script is a soporific slapdash of sketches that seems to have been cobbled together by a bunch of babbling baboons.

Earlier this week, Darcy Paquet of contributed an insightful piece entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Korean Gangster Comedy’ which laments that producers of gangster comedies often “don't consider them worthy of good craftsmanship.”  There may be no better example of this than this turgid continuation of an already tired franchise which doesn’t attempt to respect its audience (which was significant as it currently ranks as the 10th highest grossing Korean film of the year) with even a semblance of a narrative.

Essentially, the mother of the Marrying the Mafia clan (Kim Soo-mi), which is now running a food business instead of engaging in organized crime, goes to Japan on a business trip and brings her three vain sons and the family’s idiotic assistant along.  What ensues is a series of puzzling vignettes in a forest, a bathhouse, a gas station, a bank, and a Laundromat that don’t even follow each other in any logical fashion.  The loose thread that jumbles all these episodes together is their search for the bank robber who took their money.  They don’t really go looking for him, they just walk around with no aim in mind and bump into him numerous times in different locations.

What you do get is a lot of repetition but nothing clever.  Characters frequently see people but can’t quite recognize who they are and this is presented as a sort of running gag.  Some of the most insufferable elements are the perpetual costumes changes which of course involve men in drag.  Marrying the Mafia IV looks more like a Lady Gaga concert than a gangster film.

The film’s writers gleefully laugh in the face of plot contrivances then have the gall to have their characters reference the laziness of the writing “Dang, we’re pretty lucky.  A bathhouse when we’re dirty, and a Laundromat when we need clothes.”  Subplot (if you can call it that) with Jeong Woong-in and Kim Ji-woo is a total waste of time but is supposedly parallel with main narrative (again I use that term loosely).  The purpose of these scenes is incomprehensible and worst of all, they’re not funny.

Beside Kim Soo-mi’s matriarch, women are portrayed in a very unflattering fashion.  Hyeon Yeon plays a ditzy sexpot who throws herself at Shin Hyeon-joon’s character and prances around in skimpy outfits.  Her presence among the core group makes no sense and once again the writers reference their refusal to put together a logical story by having Kim’s character ask her why she’s even there in the first place!

Connor McMorran, in his 'Comedic Representations of Gangster Culture in Korean Cinema' piece posted earlier this week, points out that it’s “possible that in castrating the masculine aspects of gangster culture, either through male-orientated comedy or by placing the concepts in a female body with franchises such as My Wife Is a Gangster (2001-2006), it allows society to escape from the realistic threat that gangster society potentially poses.”  I would tend to agree with Connor’s assessment and thought about it throughout this film.  They are a particularly non-threatening group of tough guys that would most aptly be labeled sissies.  The biggest laugh for me was in the opening scene when Shin’s character is knitting in a board meeting, talk about a non-threatening gangster!

I can’t really recommend Marrying the Mafia IV to anyone but whether you like it or not will largely depend on what you think of the performances of the ensemble cast.  Kim is pretty good but then again she’s a first class actress, a lot of the other performances were grating for me.  I won’t lie though, I was able to enjoy some moments of this, if only a little.  Then again I can be very forgiving when it comes to Korean cinema plus I was watching a gangster film after a full day of research, writing, and editing for 'Jopok Week'.  If I was ever going to be able to find something interesting in this film, this was the right time for it.

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.