Showing posts with label ha jung-woo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ha jung-woo. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review: ASSASSINATION Shoots Up a Storm With Stuffed to the Gills Spy Yarn

By Pierce Conran

After what had been a slow year Korean cinema received a huge shot of adrenaline with Assassination, the latest from Choi Dong-hoon, which ushered in the high season at the 2015 box office. A considerable chunk of the country's biggest stars throw themselves into the director's high octane Colonial Era action-thriller that swaps out his usual caper shenanigans for an operatic espionage yarn.

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, July 5, 2018

Review: THE HANDMAIDEN, Park Chan-wook's Deeply Engrossing and Highly Sexual Tale of Female Sexuality

By Pierce Conran

Following his Hollywood foray Stoker, Park Chan-wook returns to (mostly) home soil for his sumptuous and sensual adaptation of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith. Transposing the novel's setting from Victorian England to 1930s Korea and Japan, when the former was a colony of the latter, The Handmaiden is a deeply engrossing, highly sexual and at times darkly humorous tale of female sexuality brought to life in spectacular fashion.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: 1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES Offers Timely and Powerful History Lesson

By Pierce Conran

Save the Green Planet director Jang Joon-hwan mobilizes dozens of familiar faces, including The Chaser and The Yellow Sea stars Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo, for a weighty and powerful dramatization of the birth of Korean democracy. Following a slew of other politically-minded films, the sprawling protest drama 1987: When the Day Comes caps off what has been a tumultuous year for Korea that began with millions on the streets and resulted in the scandalous downfall of a polarizing head of state.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS, Ambitious Fantasy Epic Indulges in Cheesy Backdrops and Melodrama

By Pierce Conran

Riding in on a wave of curiosity and anticipation, popular webcomic adaptation Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, the opener of Korea's first simultaneously filmed two-part series, represents one of the biggest gambles in Korean film history. No Korean film has ever relied on so much VFX work and at a cost of roughly $36 million, failure would spell certain doom for the people behind it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: TUNNEL Excavates Thrills, Drama and Politics Galore

By Pierce Conran

Last year's peak summer box office season wound down with Tunnel, a disaster film from A Hard Day (2014) director Kim Seong-hun. Featuring superstars Ha Jung-woo and Doona Bae in a powerful tale combining humanity and social commentary, this big-budget affair executes a effective two-handed play by suffusing its narrative with obvious melodramatic hooks while maintaining a restrained, clear focus throughout.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

News: Choi Dong-hoon's Period-Thriller ASSASSINATION Wraps

By Pierce Conran

Choi Dong-hoon's much anticipated period action-thriller Assassination wrapped its shoot on January 31st in Paju, Korea, after having begun in Shanghai back on August 27th last year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: CHRONICLE OF A BLOOD MERCHANT Favors Strong Cast Over Plot

By Pierce Conran

Outside of indie cinema, actors directing themselves in leading roles are quite rare in Korean films,  making Ha Jung-woo’s Chronicle of a Blood Merchant something of an oddity. One of the country’s biggest stars, Ha surrounds himself with a wealth of acting talent in an unassuming period-set comedy-drama that ultimately steers into histrionics. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Busan 2014 Review: Cool KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT Has Some Swagger In Its Step

Part of MKC's coverage of the 19th Busan International Film Festival

By Pierce Conran

With big stars and a hefty budget, Kundo: Age Of The Rampant marches into theaters with confidence and tongue planted firmly in cheek. This hybrid period film owes more to spaghetti westerns than the history of its Joseon Era setting and some may take umbrage at the film's excessive running time, but with a raucous charm and an array of well-mined genre tropes, it's sure to keep most spectators satisfied.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

News: Choi Dong-hoon's ASSASSINATION Assembles Killer Cast

By Pierce Conran

Following 2012's blockbuster caper hit The Thieves, director Choi Dong-hoon is back at it with the new period action-thriller Assassination. What's more, he's bringing his The Thieves stars Gianna Jun, Lee Jung-jae and Oh Dal-su with him, along with more star wattage in the form of Ha Jung-woo and Cho Jin-woong.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review - Cool KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT Has Some Swagger In Its Step

By Pierce Conran

With big stars and a hefty budget, Kundo: Age Of The Rampant marches into theaters with confidence and tongue planted firmly in cheek. This hybrid period film owes more to spaghetti westerns than the history of its Joseon Era setting and some may take umbrage at the film's excessive running time, but with a raucous charm and an array of well-mined genre tropes, it's sure to keep most spectators satisfied.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

News: Ha Ji-won Cast in Ha Jung-woo's CHRONICLE OF A BLOOD MERCHANT

By Pierce Conran

Before he makes a decision on his offer to potentially star alongside Lee Jung-jae and Jun Ji-hyun in Choi Dong-hoon's 30s-set blockbuster thriller Assassination, Ha Jung-woo is going to spend some time both before and behind the camera with his sophomore directing gig Chronicle a of Blood Merchant. Joining him in this adaptation of a 1995 novel by Chinese writer Yu Hua will be Ha Ji-won, the actress known for her spunky action roles in Duelist (2005) and Sector 7 (2011).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

News: Ha Jung-woo, Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae Circling 30s Thriller ASSASSINATION

By Pierce Conran

Korean hitmaker Choi Dong-hoon is back at it again with a new 1930s set action thriller purported to be in the $12 million budget range. Titled Assassination, the project is eyeing some big talent for leading roles. Ha Jung-woo, Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae are also considering major parts in Choi's follow-up to The Thieves, the 2012 hit caper film that became the second most viewed Korean film of all time by accruing almost 13 million admissions domestically.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

PiFan 2013: The Terror Live Can't Quite Go the Distance

In an era of oversaturation at the cineplex, with countless retreads and follow-ups dominating the marquees, sometimes a gimmick is just the trick to freshen things up. A clever and well-executed hook can seem fresh and original, but if poorly done, it can easily torpedo a film. In the case of new Korean action-thriller The Terror Live, a chamber piece that takes place entirely in a radio recording studio, the gimmick in the premise is both its saving grave and its downfall.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Edinburgh 2013: The Berlin File (베를린, 2013)

Part of Connor McMorran's coverage for MKC of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 19-30, 2013).

Writing in his book 'The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema', Kim Kyung Hyun discusses the male-centric narratives found in Korean cinema of the 1980s and 90s. Discussing the film Shiri (1999), he argues that “The masculinity of Shiri’s protagonist veered away from the Korean male icons of the 1980s, but it did so by simulating Hollywood action heroes.” Shiri could easily be argued as the breakthrough moment for both commercial Korean cinema and genre cinema in general, creating a wave of films which heavily copied its style. The mainstream Korean film industry has thrived off genre cinema for the past decade, with the occasional ‘well-made’ film (films which are both commercially successful and show clear artistic intent, a perfect example being Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder from 2003) thrown in for good measure.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Love in the Time of Debt: My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루, Meotjin Haru) 2008

Part of Rex Baylon's ongoing feature on director Lee Yoon-ki.

To speak about love in a contemporary real world setting and ignore the logistics of survival has been the bane of the romance genre. In order to sidestep these problems filmmakers in the past have either focused their eye to the upstairs-downstairs drama of the 1% or offered up sentimental stories of shopgirls being wooed by nebbish young suitors. Modern day romantic comedies haven’t fared any better since most are concerned with merely finding one’s true love and quickly fading out once our two lovers are finally together. The romance genre’s evolution through the years has ignored the economics of love in favor of offering up quirky characters in contrived situations.

In Lee Yoon-ki’s My Dear Enemy money is the impetus for the two ex-lovers reuniting and the reason why they spend the entire day together. Instead of cloying attempts to tell a story about two people falling in love again while draped on all sides by a scenic urban backdrop we get tense scenes where petty grudges are rehashed and even the happier moments of the past are remembered through a cloudy veneer of regret and nostalgia. Far from offering up an affected view of modern day relationships My Dear Enemy is a realistic character study of the ways that hate and love are used to mask one’s insecurities, it’s a travelogue, a visual and aural document, of Seoul at the cusp of a worldwide economic recession, and a charming romantic comedy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁, Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng) 2012

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

Korean cinema is filled to the brim with genre offerings and one of its most successful areas is with the gangster film.  These are called ‘jopok’ films, which is a Korean word for gangster and we did a whole series on the genre here on MKC not so long ago called ‘Jopok Week’.  Clearly I’m a big fan of gangster films and like many others I grew up on the likes of the Godfathers (Part II is my favorite if anyone cares to know) and Goodfellas (1990) but it didn’t take me too long to get turned onto more far-flung examples of the genre, ranging from Brazil’s City of God (2002), Italy’s The Conformist (1970), France’s Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur, 1956; Le Samourai, 1967) and Japan’s Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, 1973-76).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Korean Cinema News (05/17-05/23, 2012)

Some sales in Cannes this week but not too much else to report though there are some great interviews and a new trailer for incoming summer zombie feature Deranged.  Next week should yield some more Cannes news and hopefully a Korean film will pick up a prize though at this point I don't think they'll get anything in the main competition unless The Taste of Money suddenly received a better welcome than in Korea where it opened last week.


Korean Movies Sell at Cannes
A number of high-profile pics have sold at Cannes, including the hotly anticipated The Thieves which was bought by firms in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.  The year's biggest local hit to date, Nameless Gangster, also secured distribution in some territories such as Japan, China and Hong Kong in Asia as well as Eastern Europe, Spain and the French-speaking portion of Europe.  So Ji-sub's hitman film A Company Man, which is scheduled to open next month, was sold to Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and French and German-speaking Europe.  The Scent was also taken by a few Asian markets, including Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.  Lastly, Love On-Air, the first wide Korean release of 2012, was sold to Thailand.  (Modern Korean Cinema, May 23, 2012)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Yellow Sea (황해, Hwang-hae) 2010

Since the days of the New Korean Wave of the late 80s and early 90s men in Korean cinema have frequently found themselves on the road in search of answers, a home and their identity.  In contemporary Korean cinema male characters are for the most part much more comfortably settled within the progressive society of modern Korea and yet their philosophical dilemmas still simmer under the surface, refusing to go away.

Four years ago, Na Hong-jin burst onto the scene with one of the most remarkable debuts in modern times.  The Chaser was an under-the-radar genre effort from a rookie director with two mid-level stars, and yet it became one of the highest grossing films of the year and along with The Good, the Bad and the Weird was also one of Korea’s most popular exports.  Today, in the spring of 2012, Na and his two stars Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo are among the heavyweights of the Korean film industry.  Kim’s last five films have all attracted well over 2 million admissions; in fact most of them have soared over the 5 million mark (The Chaser; Woochi, 2009; Punch, 2011), a enormous benchmark in the Korean industry that few films have reached.  The charismatic Ha is now one of the country’s top leading men, indeed two of his films topped the box office last month alone (Nameless Gangster, Love Fiction).

For Na’s sophomore feature, the gang got back together again and delivered another worldwide hit in The Yellow Sea, originally released in Korea in December 2010 and presented internationally at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011.  Just like his first film, Na’s follow up is firmly rooted in genre but disassembles and reconstructs it to further his own ends.  Beginning as an ominous rumble in the distance, the film accelerates to the point that it becomes a heart-pumping descent into despair. 

Ha Jung-woo plays Goo-nam, a down on his luck cab driver in the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture of Northeast China who loses at mahjong every night as he hopelessly tries to earn enough money to pay off the loan sharks who funded his wife’s passage to Korea.  He’s offered a job to clear his debt by Jeong-hak (Kim Yun-seok), which sees him smuggled into Seoul in order to kill a man.  He has a week to carry out the contract and while on the peninsula will try to track down his wife whom he hasn’t heard from since she left.

Na’s mise-en-scene is downbeat, gritty and very evocative.  We follow Goo-nam around Yanji, a dirty city full of forgotten souls.  It operates like a lawless border town, steeped in vice and hopelessness.  The film is split into a few chapters which each up the stakes over the last.  Goo-nam’s debasement is the key narrative point for much of the film and more than anything, what defines this is his fractured identity.

Throughout most of The Yellow Sea he find himself in transit or on the run.  He is preyed upon and taken advantage of from the outset; his lack of clear national identity is also the source of his lack of confidence.  There is an early scene which features stray dogs and it quickly becomes clear that this is what he is.  He only fights back through the basest instincts of survival.  Much of the action takes place in boats, buses, cars, ports and roads and Goo-nam is always in danger.  Like the emasculated males that found themselves wandering the roads of earlier Korean cinema, he seeks his identity through lines of transportation but in modern Korea, a country that often seeks to forget about its past, he is not welcome.  He is a visible and painful reminder of an oppressive and traumatic recent history.  Whether jumping off a boat, apprehended on a bus, chased on the street or crashed into while driving a car, he is forced into the wild, away from civilization.  Conversely it is only in these scenes, high up in the mountains, that the threat dissipates.  Despite the looming danger, he is safe in the untouched and austere calm of the outdoors.

The Yellow Sea begins as a gritty drama and thriller, and then turns into a suspense film for its second chapter but then becomes an unapologetic and propulsive action film for the significant remainder of the running time which, though 140 minutes long, is breathless.  It’s an exhausting and sometimes morbid experience to be sure, but the pure energy and raw vitality of the set pieces are exceptionally effective.  Much of the pulsating back half of the film had me short of breath.

Just like in The Chaser, Ha and Kim are exceptional.  Though their roles as protagonist and antagonist are reversed, they are remarkably engaging.  Ha truly embodies Goo-nam’s despair while Kim, despite his dead eyes and listless mumble is one of the most ferocious and animalistic cinema villains of recent times.

I will say that The Yellow Sea is best enjoyed as a genre effort as held under close dramatic scrutiny, it may turn up some unsatisfying conclusions.  A small price to pay in my eyes for what was one of the most invigorating cinematic experiences of the last few years.  While Korean cinema may have a lot more to offer than its thrillers, when a film like this comes along, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about.

The Yellow Sea is out on DVD/Blu-ray in the UK on March 26th, from Eureka Entertainment.


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.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (02/24-02/26, 2012)

Nameless Gangster Fights Back During Close Weekend

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Nameless Gangster 2/2/12 22.10% 353,394 3,987,379 495
2 Howling 2/16/12 19.30% 330,321 1,237,340 467
3 Man On a Ledge (us) 2/22/12 15.70% 260,386 334,604 409
4 Dancing Queen 1/18/12 8.90% 152,620 3,820,406 344
5 Underworld 4 (us) 2/22/12 7.60% 101,695 138,798 343
6 Legends of Valhalla (is) 2/9/12 5.40% 96,310 578,744 293
7 The Iron Lady (uk) 2/23/12 2.90% 47,564 56,386 154
8 Tarbosaurus 3D 1/26/12 3.30% 44,462 958,933 161
9 The Grey (us) 2/16/12 2.50% 41,876 279,309 214
10 Legend of a Rabbit (ch) 2/22/12 2.30% 41,448 58,679 224

It was another nail-biter this past weekend as the top two films battled for first place.   Overall business was down somewhat from last weekend and last year but on the plus side the domestic share remained strong as local films sold two out of every three tickets over the frame.

Nameless Gangster came out on top in the end with 353,394, its third chart-topping performance in four weeks.  Even more good news is that the film will cross the four million mark on Monday and stands a a good chance of reaching another benchmark.  It will face some competition in the coming weeks, mostly from more Korean releases, but things will get harder in March as new Hollywood male-skewing blockbusters will enter the marketplace.

Howling was a close number two with 330,321 but this represented an unimpressive 40% drop which, for a second weekend, typically means that the picture hasn't caught on.  The film is well past the one million mark and will likely cross two before too long but is unlikely to go any further.   Given the film's positive notices it's hard to see why the film didn't follow the success of the very recent Korean hits but perhaps that's just it.  Too many local films found a big audience in a short time frame, which no one expected, making it difficult for even a solid release such as this one to squeeze out similar numbers.

Hollywood thriller Man On a Ledge opened with a decent 260,386 but will likely tumble down a few flights come next weekend.

Dancing Queen slipped another spot for 152,620 but was only off 15%.  At this rate it will become the second release of the year to cross the four million mark within a week, after Nameless Gangster beats it to the milestone by a few days.   A great performance though soon it will have to make way for new local products readying for release.

Underworld 4 barely registered with a 101,695 opening weekend but this comes as no surprise given that the franchise has not previously met with much success on the peninsula.

Icelandic animation Legends of Valhalla: Thor continued its unlikely run as it added another 96,310 to its modestly successful total.

Meryl Streep's The Iron Lady opened with 47,564, not too bad considering such a film would have limited appeal in Korea.

Korean animation Tarbosaurus 3D dropped another spot and nearly 40% for 44,462 but it looks set to become only the second Korean animation, after last year's Leafie, A Hen Into the Wild, to cross the one million admissions mark domestically.

Liam Neeson vehicle The Grey crumbled in its sophomore weekend, falling four rungs and losing 70% of its business for a tepid 41,876 take.  The action pic is unlikely to register in the top 10 for a third weekend.

Chinese animation Legend of a Rabbit was a no-go as it debuted in tenth place with 41,448.   Too many animation films lately meant that this one never really stood a chance.

Unbowed just missed the top 10 with 35,842 as it crossed 3.4 million admissions.

Next week's major release is the Ha Jung-woo and Kong Hyo-jin romcom Love Fiction.  Ha is already riding high with Nameless Gangster and will likely end up as the lead of next weekend's top two films.   The question is how well will his latest fare?   I'm betting it will do quite well, perhaps pulling in over 500,000 admissions.


The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Sunday evening or Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

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.