Showing posts with label kim tae-hee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kim tae-hee. Show all posts

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grand Prix (Geu-rang-peu-ri) 2010

Like a great many other males of this earth, I am frequently seized with an insuppressible feeling of revulsion when faced with the prospect of sitting down to watch a romance film. Gender bias aside, I do not think that this feeling is unwarranted. Given the quality in recent years of the romance genre across the globe, there is very little reason for any person, let alone men, to waste their time with the products on offer. It used to be that romance films were among the best examples of cinema for any given period in time. Silent cinema produced some gems including F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), but it was in the 30s and 40s that Hollywood really embraced romance. Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939), Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), and so many more are all considered to be classics. Indeed even beyond that period and also across the globe, cinema produced magnificent, heartrending, devastating, and brilliant romantic films. I can’t say exactly when it started but at a certain point the beauty, poignancy, lyricism, wit, and levity began to disappear from the genre and what we have today is for the most part a collection of the most astoundingly crass, classless, corporate, consumerized, and commercialized examples of shockingly sexist, hollow, and demeaning drivel. Harsh words but rarely so justly deserved.

Kim Tae-hee's sadface
There are still some great examples, The Notebook (2004) and (500) Days of Summer (2009) among others, represent some of the most worthwhile examples of classical and progressive approaches to the genre. Sadly these are few and far between. For this reason, and innumerable others as you well known by this point, many of us have been drawn to Korean cinema. I am not allergic to romance films because I am a man, I am simply offended by them because I consider myself to be a discerning (and sadly very cynical) film lover. To my shock and wonderful surprise, aside from the great Asia Extreme films that were the introduction for many of us to Korean cinema, I discovered this far eastern Asian cinema was equally adept at making timeless love stories. The first I came across and to date still the most popular export in the genre was My Sassy Girl (2001), a fresh, zany, hilarious, and touching romantic comedy that had the ability to appeal to many demographics. Beyond that there are many romantic Korean films that have moved us, including: Il Mare (2000), The Classic (2003), A Moment to Remember (2004), Someone Special (2004), My Little Bride (2004), and A Millionaire’s First Love (2006), to name but a few.

This is why, unlike anything that comes out of Hollywood, I will give any Korean romance a chance. With this spirit I thought that I would give Grand Prix a chance, a racetrack-themed love story starring the beautiful Kim Tae-hee. Now I know that not every Korean film is going to worthwhile, especially as romance is concerned, but I must say that I was quite taken aback at how truly abysmal this film was. Cloying, saccharine, insincere, vapid, and lacking any finesse and skill, Grand Prix is a film that attempts to be as manipulative as it possibly can and as bad as that sounds, the fact that it is so poorly made and in no way comes anywhere close to affecting us with its confounded opportunism sticks it right at the bottom of the pile.

World's most irritating child
Kim Tae-hee plays a jockey who falls during her race and her horse, who has broken its leg, is put down in front of her. She is so distraught by the experience that she do the only thing she can do and that is to give up her profession and wear pretty clothes while traipsing around the prairies of Jeju island and looking wistfully and longingly at the scenery and other horses. On her travels, or rather the first thing that happens when she steps off the boat, she meets another jockey (Kang Dong-geun) who is a guy she will fall in love with for reasons unknown and is riding the horse that she will ultimately compete with in the Grand Prix of the title. What else happens, let me see there’s a local equestrian center and some old people who are mean to one another because of some longwinded and laughably dark backstory, a frequently topless male model who is just there for no ostensible reason, and the world’s most irritating, uncute, and strangle-worthy child. If these elements can’t combine into a surefire hit then I don’t know what can!

Grand Prix is one of those films that is masterful and awe-inspiring in its complete and all-encompassing ineptitude. There is not one thing that works in this film. The cast: Kim Tae-hee is pretty but can’t really act, she is also the last person I would chose to cast as a jockey; Yang Dong-geun (a replacement for Lee Jun-ki who dropped out to do military service a month into filming) is irritating and a terrible romantic lead; I’ve already mentioned the kid who I would have little reservations dropping off of a cliff; and all the other inconsequential supporting characters are either annoying, dull, or vacuous. The plot is hackneyed, patched together with an odd array of multi-colored and ill-fitting bandaids, and replete with soulless, melodramatic backstories. The production values are okay but there are some real problems with respect to the sound and editing.

The insufferable Yang Dong-geun
It was very difficult to watch this all the way through to the end and despite being stubbornly democratic in my viewing tastes for Korean cinema, especially as I undertake my 2010 film project, I daresay I regret wasting my time with it. There are many far superior mediocre films that deserve your squandered leisure time over this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

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).

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Restless (Joong-chun) 2006

I remember when The Restless came out in 2006, as corny as it sounded I was intrigued by the visuals and it did well enough at the box office to make me want to watch it, but I would need to wait until it became available. Then 2007 came and as my interests moved on to other things I hardly watched any Korean films. The Restless was but a memory, a curio haphazardly stored in my thoughts. I only kept up with the films made by the marquee names or those that made an extra big splash on the international film marketplace. I saw Secret Sunshine (2007), The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008), The Chaser (2008), Thirst (2009), Mother (2009), and little else if anything at all. I was keeping myself busy with other projects: I wrote, I made films, I taught languages, I watched TV, I read a lot of old books and likewise saw many classic foreign films, and my interest in cooking grew to the point where I started a catering company. This was all very good but I was a little disappointed in myself that I was unable to pursue my previously very keen obsession with Korean cinema, although I still talked everybody’s ear off about it.

Star vehicle
2010 started and suddenly I found myself immersed once again in Korean cinema and this time it was worse than before. I watched everything I could get my hands on, reread all the Korean cinema books I had bought before my lull and even got some new ones. I needed something more and in the summer of last year I started this blog which began modestly enough and is now a somewhat reputable resource on Korean cinema. Through it I have been able to meet people with the same interest and now there is never a shortage of people to discuss this passion with. I have long lists of Korean films that I want to see and The Restless wasn’t on any of them. The name popped up here and there, and although I recognized it, it didn’t really register with me until I saw it the other day and promptly got a hold of it.

Googly-eyed Jeong Woo-seong
The few films I did see on my Korean filmwatching hiatus were of the highest caliber, films by auteurs which have elevated the industry to what it is today, in my opinion, the best in the business. Yet so many other films are made in Korea that few outside the peninsula ever witness. Many are extraordinary, a good number are bad, and the rest fall in the middle. It is the category of films that really put me over the edge and turned me into the fan that I am today. Films that are somewhat conventional and display a number of flaws and should by all accounts be forgettable. Yet that is often far from the case, these mediocre Korean films are frequently fascinating pieces of entertainment.

The Restless is most certainly one of these. It is simple and corny, and it is riddled with misjudged set pieces, poor effects, and the most googly-eyed acting you could possibly imagine. By all accounts it should be a bad film, there’s plenty of evidence to support this. Yet it isn’t, it’s not even in the so-bad-it’s-good category, although it would fit well there too. It is simply a decent film and what makes me most curious is why I think that. I know I shouldn’t like it but I can kind of tolerate it, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a guilty pleasure.

Googly-eyed Kim Tae-hee
Perhaps I’m so entrenched in Korean cinema that I have become positively biased. There must be some grain of truth in that statement but I don’t think that’s really the problem either, how would I have gotten to where I am without a genuine passion for these films? In any case I have shown a number of these mediocre films to people I know who have no predisposition towards Korean films and they have pretty much always been greatly appreciated, films like Bestseller (2010) and Le Grand Chef (2007), to name a few.

So then why is this the case? I suppose it comes down to a number of things. First off they are so well-made that they are easy to sit through; they are often creative and innovative, whether they blend genres or try new tricks; and they are so adept at melodrama that, save for the absolute worst cases, it is easy for us to lose ourselves in the catharsis afforded by the filmmaker's collective mastery of the technique.

Lord of the Rings reference
As for The Restless, it is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road affair which follows a fantastical concept, in which a demon-hunter accidentally ends up in Midheaven, a world halfway between life and the afterlife where he finds his long lost love who has forgotten about him and his former mentor who is orchestrating a demonic rebellion. The simplicity of the story even stretches beyond the plot. As far as costumes go, the good are robbed in white and the bad in black. The backgrounds, which are digitally rendered, look pretty but are wholly lacking in detail and lazily rendered, one view of the water comes to mind which is full of identical boats all facing the same direction even as they are ‘randomly’ floating around. The camerawork and production design however, are top notch. The action sequences, of which there are a good number, seem to start out okay but get more ridiculous and as a result poorly realized as the narrative wears on, although the climactic battle scene is pretty fun. Particularly onerous is the exaggerated wuxia-like wirework and the digital tentacle weapons of a few of the antagonists. For some strange reason the film strongly references The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2003) in a scene where the leads hide from black creatures with hidden faces in a crevice by a path in the woods.

The film is a vehicle for the immensely popular Jeong Woo-seong and Kim Tae-hee, they are both gorgeous but also terribly vacuous. As both have had better work, this may be the fault of director Jo Dong-ho and the interminable, empty, and grandiose dialogue. They are often on screen together and seem to just repeat the same things over and over, this get repetitive, especially in the midsection as they go on about ‘The Reflecting Pool’ and ‘The Consoling Tree’ and whatnot.

Great production design
Ultimately, The Restless is a slight film which offers some visual delights but lacks a substantial story and strong supporting characters. It features a decent amount of action which varies in quality, and yet, despite its many, many drawbacks, it is a thoroughly watchable film. Pleasant throughout, and with a satisfactory ending, The Restless is truly a testament to the craft of Korean filmmakers, even though they seemingly make all of the wrong decisions, their foundation as cineastes is sturdy enough to lift us through this tawdry mess.

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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Exploring K-Drama

Despite watching hundreds of Korean films, I have never watched any K-Drama, until now that is! Last night I watched the first episode of Iris, the popular thriller from 2009 starring Lee Byung-hun. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long. Perhaps I didn't want to be disappointed, I hold Korean cinema up to such a high standard! So what did I think? Well, I enjoyed myself watching it, and I will watch more, but I definitely will not recommend this to people if I'm trying to get them into K-Movies. I kind of enjoyed myself despite myself. It was cheesy, flashy without being as sleek as its feature length counterparts. It was also very fetishistic, I know Lee Byung-hun is a good looking guy but it was like his skin was incompatible with clothing, it seemed to expel it constantly.

The first episode provides necessary exposition, military school, college, cute romances etc. Knowing that the age of the stars is around 40, this was a stretch and a little grating but I imagine that as the series progresses, this will become less of a problem. The show exhibits a somewhat different aesthetic than I am used to, it's very crisp but it does look like TV. It's long too, are all K-Drama episode 65 minutes long? I think it's interesting that shows only go on for one season, I like that format, the stakes are just gonna be higher, I hope.

I want to see some other K-Dramas too before I make up my mind about them, I know there are some that are meant to be very good. Iris just seemed like an easy introduction, it features a few stars I know (Lee Byung-hun, Jeong Joon-ho) and it's full of action/spy/thriller elements.

I'm curious to see where this goes.