Showing posts with label Jang Jin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jang Jin. Show all posts

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL Is a Surreal Anti-War Drama

By Chris Horn

There is perhaps no region better suited to make a unique anti-war film than Korea, a country itself split and in a constant state of escalated threats of renewed warfare. Not quite content to make a film weighed down by excessive melodrama, new director Park Kwang-hyun made a splash in 2005 with his quirky, surreal adaptation of Jang Jin’s well-regarded play Welcome to Dongmakgol. Though imperfect, this feature film debut ultimately proves more memorable than most other anti-war films that pile on the misery.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

News: Rotterdam to Host 19 Korean Films

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is no stranger to Korean films but for their 44th edition, they've gone all out, programming 19 films across various sections. In addition to some of the latest Korean indie films, many from Busan, the festival has also announced a 12-title Jang Jin retrospective.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Quiz Show Scandal (Kwijeu Wang) 2010

At first, I wasn’t too exited about The Quiz Show Scandal despite the fact that it is a recent effort from one of my favorite Korean filmmakers. There has been very little buzz surrounding it, which is strange for a Jang Jin film. I cannot express my delight as the film unspooled and grabbed me from the opening minutes. It is a wonderful ensemble piece stuffed with sparkling dialogue and surely one of the funniest Korean films of the last few years.

The Quiz Show
It is often the case that while Korean thrillers, horrors, and certain romance films make the leap into foreign territories, comedies have a little more trouble accomplishing this. There are certainly some films with elements of humor that have crossed over, such as Save the Green Planet (2003) and The Host (2006) but few outright comedies have managed this feat. The obvious reason for this is a language barrier or a cultural gap. You can’t really laugh at a joke on a subject of which you know nothing about. Korean comedies often suffer from this, at least from a foreigner’s perspective. Those comedies that can be understood by westerners are often simplistic and not always the most shining examples of the genre, the Marrying the Mafia and My Wife Is a Gangster series come to mind. 

The more sophisticated the comedy the more likely it is to go over our heads. Jang Jin’s films have definitely suffered from this from time to time due to the fact that he has such a keen wit and is so articulate. He has both those things in spades, but in Korean, which means that some elements may fall by the wayside. But every so often there is a film that breaks through that is both intelligent and jaw-droppingly hilarious. Lee Hae-joon did it with Castaway on the Moon (2009), Jang Jin did it with his script for Going By the Book (2007) and he’s now done it again with The Quiz Show Scandal.

Jeong Jae-yeong in a great cameo
Like in his previous films, his ever-inventive scripts are brought to life by the excellent ensemble casts he surrounds himself with. Ryoo Seung-yong, Kim Soo-ro, Song Yeong-chang, Kim Byeong-ok, Lee Moon-so, and Im Won-hee are only some of standouts in the stellar cast, which is supplemented by uproarious cameos from Shin Ha-gyun and Jeong Jae-yeong as well as Jang himself.

While it may not have the political rhetoric of Good Morning President (2009), the North-South rapprochement themes of Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005), the criticism of the media of Murder, Take One (2005) or the indictment of authority of Going By the Book, The Quiz Show Scandal uses a clever premise and razor-sharp dialogue as it light-heartedly explores what it means to be intelligent.

After a few opening scenes which loosely give us an idea of the characters that populate the mosaic script, they are all thrown together into a police station for the better part of 30 minutes of screen time. A woman has been run over and they are all somehow involved but they don’t know eachother yet. Most of this extended sequence does absolutely nothing to advance the narrative but it brilliantly shows us who these characters are. Suddenly we are given a piece of information, the woman’s USB stick features the answer to the 30th and final question of a very difficult TV quiz show, no one has answered it before and the rolling jackpot is enormous. All our variegated protagonists need to do is get to that 30th question. What follows isn’t surprising but due to its dialogue and characters, it feels like a much more substantial film than it ought to.

Arguing over toy cars
The comedy is truly top notch and I think that anyone could appreciate it. Some gems include the banner to a depression group that reads “We’re not depressed, we’re just less exited than everyone else”, and the pedantic argument that stems from which model of toy car the characters are being represented with as the police try to reconstruct the scene of the accident at the precinct. Another great bit in the opening scenes, which could only come from the mind of Jang Jin is when a pair of gangsters, who are torturing and preparing to kill someone, argue about the provenance of a quote, which the first identifies as Pavarotti while the latter corrects him by pointing out that it was from Goethe’s Faust.

Without spoiling anything else I would urge you to immediately seek out this wonderful film, it is definitely one of Jang’s best.

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, August 2, 2011

Murder, Take One (Baksu-chiltae deonara) 2005

With the release of his tenth film earlier this year (Romantic Heaven, 2011), it is a good time to look back over Jang Jin’s impressive output and immense contribution to Korean cinema. Formerly a playwright, Jang has regaled audiences over the last decade with his clever, genre-bending, and socially relevant films. Aside from the ten films he has directed, which include Guns & Talk (2001), Someone Special (2004), and Good Morning President (2009), he has also found great success in the films he has written (some based on his plays) and produced. These include the enormously successful Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005) and the brilliant Going By the Book (2007). What his evident throughout his oeuvre is foremost his sparkling dialogue and his astute bending of generic conventions. His films can all be labeled as comedies but to leave it at that would do him a great injustice. His mordant wit cuts through a society that is still reeling from a past fraught with violence and encumbered by authoritarian governments and an incompetent civil service. His films have taken aim at the police (Going By the Book), politics (Good Morning President), and the media, among other things.

Impressive opening sequence
Murder, Take One uses a clever concept which explores in equal measure the preying eye of the media and the oppressive authority exercised by local law enforcement. The film opens with a fresh murder in a hotel and then showcases its investigation by the police which is, and here’s the hook, being televised nationally. The police exhibit violence, incompetence, and in-fighting, which is typical of Jang’s films and of Korean cinema in general; the media is intrusive, sensationalist, and exploitative; and the suspects all have their motives which fit into one melodramatic trope or another. 

Jung Jae-yeong and his gang
Jang bombards us with a vast amount of themes, ideas, styles, motifs, and genres all throughout the film’s opening salvo which is a virtuoso display of technique and craft as we are brought up to speed on the crime scene and all the characters that populate and surround it. As impressive as the visuals are, what most struck me in this scene was the sound: first of all the great music, but then the build up of voices and sounds blending into eachother. Couple this with the shot which begins by swirling above the victim’s body but then pulling out to reveal the contents of all the adjoining hotel rooms and what you have is a mosaic of intersecting lives. The body and thus the murder are only a small part of the tableau, Jang demonstrates early on that while ostensibly a procedural, Murder, Take One will not limit itself to the search for the answer to one question, who killed the girl? Instead, as it lumbers more or less along that trajectory, it will invite us to learn about peripheral characters and witness a veritable range of interactions. Characters frequently veer into pedantic, irrelevant, and hilarious details. The early interrogation scene is a brilliant display of acting and poor communication which, despite being watched by millions on TV, devolves into a silly argument over linguistics, the irony is sublime.

Cha Seung-won and Shin Ha-gyun argue about language
Without accepting this intention, it will be difficult to appreciate the film. As a procedural it is certainly interesting but it does not follow a satisfying trajectory, as a comedy it often seems to be stop-start and sadly without a firm grasp of Korean (which I do not possess) it appears that much is lost in translation. As other reviewers have noted, the joy of watching this film will come from your appreciation of the bit roles and supporting characters. Jung Jae-yeong, one of my favorite Korean actors, appears briefly as an odd gangster and is hilarious as always. From a technical standpoint the film looks and sounds great, although I wonder if aside from a few key scenes Jang just went through the motions. A lot of the proceedings feel like a 1980s Hong Kong action flick, perhaps it was easier to follow that blueprint for the obligatory procedural scenes which seem to detract from the real focus of the film: the characters and their interactions. 

The final section of the film, which focuses firmly on the case, underwhelms yet still achieves its likely intention of subverting audience expectations. Throughout the film the dialogue is amazing and those who speak it, do so well and with gusto. Shin Ha-kyun, who starts out as a primary character but gently fades away (sadly), is a standout. While not one of Jang’s best it is still a thoughtful and clever addition to his filmography and a valuable and worthwhile entry for Korean film fans.

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.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Romantic Heaven (Ro-maen-tik He-beun) 2011

Jang Jin’s 10th feature, Romantic Heaven, is an interwoven omnibus film which features three linked stories that deal with themes such as death, love, fate, and the afterlife. Despite the heavy, morbid themes, the proceedings, given Jang’s involvement, take on a predictably unpredictable light air. It is a quirky film that reminds me both of Park Chan Wook’s I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006) and P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), the first for its vibrant and calm representation of heaven, and the second for its structure and one lone supernatural occurrence which will be obvious to those who have seen both.

The title points to two themes, love and death, and approaches them from numerous angles. In the first part, titled 'Mother', a girl fears for her mother who will die if she does not receive a bone marrow transplant. The doctors indentify a donor but as luck would have it he is wanted for the murder of his girlfriend. He is on the run and the girl befriends the detectives that are after him. The second segment, named 'Wife', features a lawyer who has lost his wife and a man who has just been released form prison who wants revenge. The third segment, 'A Girl', is the story of a young taxi driver whose grandfather suffers from dementia. While the man is clearly keen on the girl from the first part, she is not the girl of the title. She is in fact the grandfathers long lost love. The fourth part, 'Romantic Heaven', begins when the taxi driver gets in a car crash and ends up in heaven, in this concluding part of the film, it is also by far the lengthiest, all of the strands come together and we are transported back and forth through heaven and earth.

Death is difficult to handle and each grieves in their own fashion. Through my experience of Korean cinema, Koreans seem to take the mourning process very seriously and often wail, weep, and cry at funerals. The released con’s first stop is his fathers grassy grave. He weeps bitterly on his knees and his friend nonchalantly stands nearby, exhibiting what may seem like callousness at his friend’s misery to a western viewer but what is most likely a force of habit as it is the norm. Each character in this film deals with death differently, from the numbness of the widower, the grandmother who can’t let go of her grandson, to the daughter who, while sad, finds beauty and something to smile about at the moment of expiration.

Creative production design
There is much in Romantic Heaven that I wasn’t quite able to grasp, like the meaning of the headphones and the CDs, although the tightly woven narratives clearly point to meaningful conclusions. As is often the case with omnibus films many elements become contrived as they are forced to fit together, a necessary evil when it works. Jang’s direction, as always, is masterful. The film looks great and is the product of potent creativity. Not one of his best works and probably a little less accessible than his past efforts but as always he displays why he is one of the most consistently worthwhile auteurs in South Korean cinema.