Showing posts with label oh dal-su. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oh dal-su. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review - DETECTIVE K: SECRET OF THE LOST ISLAND, Another Underwhelming Korean Period Action Comedy

By Pierce Conran

Detective Kim is back with his trusty sidekick Seo-pil in the follow up to 2011’s hit period action-comedy Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Widow. A hodgepodge of genres delivered at breakneck speed, this new instalment, subtitled Secret of the Lost Island, comes on the heels of a raft of period successes, and will again open during the busy Lunar New Year period.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

News: Oh Dal-soo is the 100 Million Viewer Man

We don't hear much news about Korea's wealth of talented supporting players but here's a nice little tidbit. Character actor Oh Dal-soo has become the first Korean actor to appear in films that have attracted over 100 million viewers at the local box office. Quite a feat in a country of 50 million people.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Head (He-deu) 2011

One of my favorite Korean films is Save the Green Planet (2003).  More than any other, it blithely disregarded generic compatibility and spliced every conceivable idea, trope, and storyline so effectively that it became a veritable cornucopia of emotion.  It was at times horror, torture porn, thriller, action, romance etc.  But it lead with comedy and  was completely ridiculous but also enormously infectious.  Head follows pretty much the same recipe, it even features Baek Yoon-sik, although this time as the torturer rather than the tortured.  Unfortunately, the elements here do not come together as a whole.  It is a slapdash mishmash of filmic devices, aiming far but often landing wide of the mark.

Baek Yoon-sik in second-rate Save the Green Planet
From what I can piece together, the story revolves around a messenger (Ryoo Deok-hwan) who is delivering cargo, which turns out to be the missing head of a famed scientist (Oh Dal-su) who has committed suicide.  He discovers the head and is soon tracked down and apprehended by Baek Jeong (Baek Yoon-shik), but not before he manages to hide it.  The messenger’s sister is an ambitious reporter stuck doing entertainment news, Baek calls her, tells her he will kill her brother unless she hands over the head.  To relay any more information would be pointless, as I’m really not quite sure what transpired after that point.

This is main problem, it is extremely difficult to fathom what’s going on.  The main thrust of the action, simple as it is, shouldn’t be difficult to follow, alas it is mired by a backstory that is indulgently complicated and not nearly well-enough explained.  At certain points the plot begins to focus before breaking off into new threads and barreling sideways through them.  It is only near the third act when the film starts to take shape.  There are still massive holes in the story but at least it’s made clear by this point that the plot is a mere front and excuse for some offbeat setpieces.

Oh Dal-su vs. Oh Dal-su
A lot of the cast will be recognizable to fans of Korean cinema.  I’ve already mentioned Baek Yoon-sik who, aside from Save the Green Planet, has portrayed some of the industry’s most memorable and odd characters such as his roles in The President’s Last Bang (2005), Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), and the wrestling coach in Like a Virgin (2006).  Oh Dal-su appears as two live characters and a corpse’s head, but only very briefly, understandable considering that he’s appeared in ten films in the last two years, including this year’s Hindsight, Late Blossom, and Detective K, and last year’s Troubleshooter, Foxy Festival, and The Servant.  He seems to relish in the brief time he has on screen, especially in the scene featuring both of his characters.  Joo Jin-mo-I plays the corrupt detective (as he always seems to do) and this is one of his six roles this year, the others being Heartbeat, Children…, The Apprehenders, Quick, and the soon-to-be released Mr. Idol.

The reporter is played by Park Ye-jin who I haven’t seen on screen since 1999’s excellent Memento Mori.  Unlike the seasoned veterans that populate the rest of the film, she does not show a great aptitude for comic timing and she has difficulty conveying her character’s emotions effectively.  Ultimately she just doesn’t seem right for the part.  Playing her brother is the young Ryoo Deok-hwan, previously scene in My Little Bride (2004), Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005), Like a Virgin, and The Quiz Show Scandal (2010).  He does well in his role, despite the fact that he is strapped to a chair for the majority of it.

Park Ye-jin's perplexing performance
The filmmakers seem to be indicating that it is not imperative to follow the minutiae of the story.  However, while the set pieces are each more ridiculous and outrageous than the last and do display some original thought, they lack the cohesion and technical skill necessary to successfully pull them off.  On the whole, the mise-en-scene is not particularly imaginative.  Strangest of all, unlike Save the Green Planet, which it tries so hard to emulate, it forgoes playing with a colourful palate, instead opting for a grey, and rather dull colour scheme.

Director Cho Un was part of the editing team behind Save the Green Planet, which makes a whole lot of sense.  It is also clear that he is an editor, as a lot of tricks are used throughout, often to cover up mistakes in the production.  Being involved in film production myself, I can attest to a prevalent trend among first-time directors and editors turned directors.  Frequently a cinematographer, an assistant director, or sometimes even a producer will express concern over what has been shot: “Is it okay, should we do another?”; “Do we have enough coverage?”; etc.  Invariably the answer is “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in editing.”  This is never a good idea, as primarily it limits your options but can also force your hand in the editing suite if something is amiss.  In Head, ellipsis, jump cuts, split-screen, and flashy transitions abound.  They are all there to string the incongruous elements together and to patch over what the director was not careful enough to adequately film during principal photography.

Some spirited senior citizens!
Head has its moments, including the old-folks home sequence and the delightfully macabre imagery in the mortuary (like the butcher’s display case of human body parts), but it is best seen as a collection of such moments, rather than a film which aptly integrates them into an engaging story, the way Save the Green Planet did.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Show Must Go On (Uahan segye) 2007

Gangster comedies are something of a specialty in Korea and have been among the most popular films on the Korean box office charts for over a decade. While the outright Korean gangsters films, such as A Dirty Carnival (Biyeolhan geori, 2006) and A Bittersweet life (Dalkomhan insaeng, 2005), have been technically-proficient and high-quality, it is those that have blended family and comedy into the mix that ultimately have brought in the most viewers. Both Marrying the Mafia (Gamunui yeonggwang, 2002) and My Wife is a Gangster (Jopog manura, 2001) were so popular in this regard that they spawned trilogies. The Show Must Go On probably falls in between these two categories. While certainly being an effective comedy, its violence and ruminations on failure, betrayal and family loyalty ultimately set it apart from the slighter fare mentioned above. However, despite the presence of Song Kang-ho, the biggest star in Korea, this effort barely made it over a million admissions.

Melodramas has been a staple for Korean audiences ever since there have hade their own industry and the so-called 'Golden Age' of Korean cinema in the 1960s was dominated by them. Since the resurgence of Korean films in the late 1990s very little has changed in that respect. The most successful Korean film of the 1990s prior to 1997 was Im Kwon-taek's venerated Sopyonje (Seopyeonje, 1993) and in 1997 The Letter (Pyeon ji, 1997) and The Contact (Cheob-sok, 1997) landed at the top of the chart in what was the first year that the industry began showing real signs of life.

In the last ten years, there have been numerous films that have blended family melodrama with other genres. Perhaps this phenomenon began with Kim Ji-woon's feature debut The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok, 1998), a black comedy that draws on melodramatic conventions which was popular enough to warrant a Japanese remake by Takashi Miike (The Happiness of the Katakuris). There have been many examples of this cross-blending of film genres, notable examples include: Bong Joon-ho's The Host (Gwoemul, 2006), a melodrama that also plays out as a monster movie, a comedy and even a political allegory, and Youn Je-gyun's Tidal Wave (Haeundae, 2009), a disaster movie that set up its effects-laden climax by being a convincing melodrama for most of its running time.

Han Jae-rim's The Show Must Go On at first seems like a gangster movie but it turns out to be a film about a man trying to keep his family together. Unlike other depictions of gangsters in the Korean peninsula, nothing is glorified in this narrative. Kang In-goo (Song Kang-ho) is a high-ranking mob boss, he wears nice suits and drives a Mercedes and yet he lives in a small, squalid apartment with his wife and child. He does act like a gangster whether he is forcing a hostage to sign a contract or bribing his daughter's teacher for better grades, but these actions never solve any of his problems, as Darcy Paquet said in his review of the film "What works so smoothly in other gangster movies only seems to bring on further complications and embarrassment here. The methods are the same, but the results are slow in coming". Perhaps In-goo is trying to conform to the idea of being a gangster as opposed to being naturally inclined towards this sort of behaviour.

What is very clear from the very start is that In-goo works quite hard. When we meet him in the first scene he has fallen asleep at the wheel of his vehicle during evening traffic and throughout most of the narrative he seems fatigued. Compared to the gangster portrayals that we are used to seeing, In-goo doesn't seem to get too hot under the collar (although he is not altogether levelheaded either) and the only time he ever really shows any energy is when he is forced to fight for his life. What is clear is that he cares very much for his family and seems to want to amass enough funds to buy them a house and send his daughter to study abroad in Canada, just like he did his son. Like other middle-aged males in Korean cinema he seems powerless to do right by his family, despite good intentions and a position of authority. In-goo, the gangster boss who can't handle a few construction workers is just like the hordes of detectives and cops who make so little money that they need to take bribes and can never solve any crimes.

Korean cinema has long made a point of showing citizens who conform to society and do everything it asks and still end up betrayed and left for dead. Considering that I am discussing a gangster film, the following point may be pushing it a little far, but I think In-goo's relationship with his boss is a similar representation: his boss believes In-goo to be more capable than his brother, yet he is ranked below. When the boss's brother tries to kill In-goo because of petty jealousy, In-goo is the one who ends up paying the price.

Roads have often been used symbolically in Korean cinema, most famously in Sopyonje where a pansori practicing family constantly wander along the road. Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, 2003), also starring Song Kang-ho, begins and ends by a roadside in the country, which represents the circularity of a futile search. The protagonists in these films seem to be searching for lost homes, which can just as easily be interpreted as identities. With the separation of the peninsula and the troubled history and politics of the country many filmmakers simply placed their characters on roads that never seemed to lead anywhere.

In-goo ends up on a road with the corpse of his boss's brother in his trunk, after narrowly escaping his henchmen and a big car pile-up with his life. He is a wounded animal who has been driven to desperation and when is boss arrives, sees what has happened and pulls out a rifle from his trunk, it looks like the end for In-goo. Fortune smiles on him this time though as he is the one who prevails. However, the narrative does not stop here, he goes to jail briefly, joins his friend's gang and finally gets the house he wanted for his family. They don't stay for long, he sends his daughter to Canada and his wife goes with her. Thus, In-goo ends the narrative in a higher socio-economic rank, with his big house and big tv but he is now alone and miserable.