Showing posts with label joo jin-mo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label joo jin-mo. Show all posts

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Revenge Week: Amour Noir - The Tragic Outcome of Happy End

Part of MKC's Revenge Week (July 8-14, 2013).

Amour noir as a genre in film has always been popular with Korean audiences. From as far back as Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (1960) to present-day period erotic thrillers like The Concubine, the archetypes and storylines found in these films have been fodder for countless melodramas, love stories and crime pictures. For those that may be unfamiliar with this unique genre subset, an amour noir encompasses unhappy marriages, adulterous spouses and an eventual conspiracy to murder.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Frozen Flower (쌍화점, Ssang-hwa-jeom) 2008

Steamy sex scenes

Eclectic director Yu Ha’s fifth feature explores yet a new generic territory, after drama in Marriage Is a Crazy Thing (2002), high school angst in Once Upon a Time in High School (2004), and the gangster saga of A Dirty Carnival (2006), A Frozen Flower is period gay romantic thriller, set during the Koryo dynasty. Only a Korean films could embody all of these elements and still be called a success, which it is, but it does create a narrative which can be difficult to know what to make of. Yu Ha was initially reluctant to embrace the period genre, which he felt uncomfortable with, but he decided to embrace it as he sought a change from his previous work. Given how versatile he has been, it comes as no surprise, but I hardly would have thought he felt he was doing the same thing with his previous films, which are each very different works. Yu strikes me as a potential modern Korean equivalent of Howard Hawks as he deftly navigates his way through multiple genres. Like Hawks he leaves his own mark but his films do not feature a uniform style or mise-en-scene, a feature commonly associated with auteurs which Hawks was and Yu is fast becoming.

Hong Lim (Jo In-seong) is the head of a troop of 40 strapping well-trained bodyguards to the king (Ju Jin-mo) who loves him. They have an ongoing relationship that is not particularly well hidden from the other members of the king’s court, including the queen (Song Jie-hyo). Due to pressure from the Yuan kingdom and the possibility of being forced out of his throne because he has no heir, the king hatches a plane, which is to have Hong Lim impregnate his wife as he can’t do it himself. Naturally the queen and Hong fall in love and the king finds out, bringing tensions to a head in the court.

It is an engaging story filled with taboos and erotica supported by a big budget ($10 million) and high-quality production values, although Darcy Paquet in his review notes that local audiences felt some of the production design seemed a little cheap and I would tend to agree. It isn’t the first period Korean film with overt homosexual themes, that would be the wildly successful The King and the Clown (2005), but it is the first one to be so explicit about it. Nudity has not featured prominently in Korean cinema, save for a few short scenes from more risqué directors such Park Chan-wook, but this seems to be changing as sex scenes are now more frequent and far more explicit than they were even five years ago. Most films still refrain from explicit eroticism and for the moment this phenomenon seems nearly confined to period films, like A Frozen Flower and The Servant (2010), a twist on the famed pansori tale Chunhyang, then there’s Natalie (2010), supposedly the world's first 3D porn film, which tanked at the box office.

The film suffers sometimes because of its uneven tone, its self-seriousness can often come off as amusing which undermines the passion of the intimate scenes between the protagonists in the love triangle. The swordplay scenes are very effective, although the numerous fights between Hong Lim and the king are again a little difficult to take seriously as they parade around with massive swords. These phallic symbols bring a new meaning to the terms crossing swords. The climactic battle, which features dynamic sound effects and props and walls being sliced and smashed, is wonderful, it’s just too bad the end seems so silly. All in all, an intriguing story with lots of momentum will pull you in and despite a few missteps, this is one journey worth taking.


Impressive swordplay

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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Better Tomorrow (무적자, Mujeogja) 2010

Great production values

Song Hae-sung’s A Better Tomorrow is a flashy remake of John Woo’s seminal 1986 classic which tries hard to refigure the tale of brotherly love in a gangster-riddled modern Busan. John Woo served as an executive producer for this film, which is a co-production between South Korea, China, and Japan, something that would not have happened 15 years ago. Budgeted at $8.7 million, this is a pricy affair with excellent production values and some stunning set pieces, the problem is that the plot is so familiar and drawn out that it is difficult to care.

Ju Jin-mo, last seen in Ha Yu’s gay period epic A Frozen Flower (2008), plays the role of a gangster who tries to go straight and win the affection of his cop brother. Like the original the plot is thin and the outcome can be spotted a mile away. However Woo’s version was a seismic blockbuster that revolutionized the Asian film industry by creating a new type of stylized action film that would be emulated for years to come. This Korean update does feature some great gunfight sequences, but they are short and infrequent throughout the 124 minute running time.

The plot is a major problem in this new version as it cuts out some significant elements, such as the younger brother’s love interest, yet is still half an hour longer than the original. The characters do not have much depth and are often lacking in charisma, especially Song Seung-heun who cannot possibly match Chow Yun-Fat’s iconic cool from the original. It is a difficult task to recreate a beloved character and it is often wise to change the protagonist so as not to invite comparison, but Song's incarnation lacks three-dimensional characteristics.

The divide between the brothers

There are a few minor changes from the original: the gangsters deal in arms as opposed to counterfeit money; and the overseas set piece is set in Thailand instead of Taiwan. The most promising change is that the brothers are North Korean defectors, this also sets up the seeds of the younger brother’s resentment as the elder brother abandoned him when he initially defected to the south. While this could be an interesting premise, appropriate attention is not given to North-South tensions and this becomes little more than an afterthought.

One of my favorite things about Korean cinema is its propensity to hop across genres. This style of filmmaking can irk a lot of viewers but is also the reason many western audiences are so transfixed by these films. The Host (2006), Save the Green Planet (2003), My Sassy Girl (2001), and many others exhibit a deft handling of generic conventions as their narratives fly across horror, comedy, sci-fi, melodrama, action, and social commentary. This is also true of films that have not crossed over to western audiences, in fact it is pretty much the style of filmmaking that many have come to associate with South Korea. A Better Tomorrow does not cross genres and the reason I mention this is because it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t. It severely limits itself by working within the confines of an already limited original. It takes away without adding, it tones down instead of taking it to the next level. This wouldn’t bother me so much but there is so much skill and potential from a technical standpoint that I wish they had given themselves more leeway to experiment and add a real Korean touch.

The film looks great and has a couple of great, albeit brief, action sequences but is let down by an obvious and simplified plot, two-dimensional characters, and a horribly misjudged finale. Although the film was a hit in its domestic market (with over 1.5 million admissions), I think that director Song Hae-seong is capable of a lot better. Having previously helmed Calla (1999), Failan (2001), Rikidozan (2004), and Maundy Thursday (2006), by comparison his latest effort seems decidedly by-the-numbers.


Solid set pieces

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.