Showing posts with label lee seon-gyoon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lee seon-gyoon. Show all posts

Friday, April 13, 2012

Oki's Movie (옥희의 영화, Ok-hee-eui Yeong-hwa) 2010

“Let's just read. In such a rotten world only books will save us.”

This line of dialogue, which is spoken early in Oki’s Movie and follows shortly after the statement “Film as an art is dead,” might lower audience expectations if it weren’t delivered with such devastating irony.  With its goofy directness it thoroughly disarms, and so has the opposite effect:  we feel drawn to a film that pokes fun not only at filmmaking but at all our personal and cultural aspirations for the medium.  Let’s start by acknowledging that “the movies” are a sham, writer-director Hong Sang-soo seems to be saying – only then can we hope to redeem them, and ourselves, in even the smallest way.

In this sense, Hong continues to play with the metafilmic approach he’s been using for a while; just check out 2005’s Tale of Cinema, which, like this 2010 film that’s only now getting a U.S. release, announces its cinema-centrism in its very title.  Oki’s Movie is structured as a kind of theme-and-variations piece via four mini-movies, each of which is drolly introduced with a modest credit sequence rendered grandiose by the addition of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”  At the center of it all is Lee Seon-gyoon, who plays both a burnt-out yet arrogant director and, later, the same character as a lovelorn student filmmaker.  Similarly, Moon Seong-geun plays a trusted mentor, a shady professor, and a romantic rival who actually turns out to be surprisingly sympathetic.  As Oki, the engaging Jeong Yu-mi seems to get less screen time than the two men in her life yet that fits her slightly enigmatic status.  So although the movie that she’s made is presented only in the final 16 minutes, it’s a quiet tour de force that brings together all that came before.

With its shifting perspectives and gently fractured narrative, Oki’s Movie might give the impression of being just another overly cerebral arthouse exercise.  But such an assessment would be off the mark for one simple reason:  it’s consistently, jaw-droppingly hilarious.  No, the humor isn’t broad, and in fact it’s so deadpan that it may prompt a double-take or two – wait, was that supposed to be funny?  While in some of Hong’s other films there’s more ambiguity as to his seriousness at any given moment, Oki’s Movie never lets up in its satire of academia, indie filmmaking, romance, and the manners associated with all three.  In short, if audiences can’t tell that the film is funny, and fully intends to be, then they probably won’t know what to make of it.  Sure, some of the laughs derive from the “humor of the uncomfortable” school, and there’s an Oscar Wilde-like gravity lurking behind the wit.  Hong not only winks at us, but winks at us regarding his winks.  Finally, although lead Lee Seon-gyoon has been in some comedies, it might not be obvious at first that here he’s playing perfectly against his screen persona as a handsome-and-capable leading man (Paju had been released just the previous year, in 2009) by, basically, portraying an intellectual jackass.

Yet for an intellectual jackass he says some pretty insightful things – insightful as to Hong’s own artistic credo, that is.  For example, here’s Lee’s character holding forth at a typical Q&A with a public audience in a screening room:

"My film is similar to the process of meeting people.  You meet someone and get an impression, and make a judgment with that.  But tomorrow you might discover different things.  I hope my film can be similar in complexity to a living thing."

He continues by pointing out how filmmakers have incorrectly been taught to value theme above all else.  "Starting with a theme will make it all veer to one point," he explains, and suddenly we grasp part of Hong’s strategy in this and in his other films.

The problem is, Oki’s Movie definitely does have a theme, albeit one that surfaces gradually and which Hong almost always presents with a light touch.  It concerns the way that passion, for better or worse, can break through all that is false about modern life:  alienation, regimentation, even our own pretenses.  But to realize that passion on a consistent basis – either in terms of romance or filmmaking (which is a stand-in for art and creativity generally) – some form of power seems to be required, whether it’s money, professional credentials, or personal reputation.  And that’s where the trouble starts, as a disproportionate concern for such things can also come to undermine our ability to feel passion with any authenticity.

In conclusion, I don’t want to sound too over-the-top but I’m very grateful that someone like Hong Sang-soo is in his creative prime these days, and that cinephiles have a chance to catch his work on the big screen even if it’s somewhat belatedly.  In fact, if you’re lucky enough to live in or near New York, I’d advise seeing Oki and the equally wonderful The Day He Arrives in as close to a back-to-back fashion as you can.  If you do, afterwards you’ll likely find yourself walking about in a kind of waking dream – disoriented but strangely elated at the same time.  

Oki's Movie will be having a special one week in engagement in New York at the Maysles Theatre from 04/16-04/22.  It will presented as part of the bi-monthly series, 'Documentary in Bloom: New Films Presented by Livia Bloom.'

Peter Gutiérrez, a U.S. correspondent for MKC, writes for Twitch and blogs on pop culture for School Library Journal.

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, September 10, 2011

The Apprehenders a.k.a. Officer of the Year (Chae-po-wang) 2011

The Apprehenders a.k.a. Officer of the Year is one of the few bright spots in what has been a relatively disappointing commercial output for chungmoro in early 2011. Park Joong-hoon, one of the heavyweight stars of past and current Korean cinema who has experienced a renaissance recently with strong roles in Haeundae (2009), Hanji (2011), and especially My Dear Desperado (2010), subsequent to a three-year hiatus, teams up with Lee Seon-gyoon, who has impressed recently with roles in Hong Sang-soo’s Oki’s Movie and the solid rom-com Petty Romance (both from last year), for this effective and often-hilarious action comedy.

Heads of police demand results
The film walks on often trod ground as it focuses on the police in Korea and their less than noble priorities when it comes to apprehending criminals. Even the slightest exposure to Korean cinema will result in this being no surprise but although it doesn’t go to the lengths of exposing a perceived national pariah in the way that the likes of Peppermint Candy (1999), The Unjust (2010) and many others have, it strangely brought to mind my favorite television series, The Wire (2002-2008). While one has really little to do with the other, I was reminded of one of the main themes which ran through most of the series, 'duking the stats' to make the endeavors of the department far more palatable than they really are, for the benefit of perception and politics.

The Apprehenders uses this statistical obsession as its starting point, Detective Hwang (Park) is the big kahuna of law enforcement with more arrests than anyone, he is the reigning Officer of the Year, while police academy graduate Detective Jeong (Lee) desperately wants the prize money that this honor affords in order to buy a house with his bride-to-be. They are the lead detectives in two competing precincts, Mapo and Seodaemun, who seem hellbent on upstaging one another and stealing each other’s collars. While this large scale game of one-upmanship and bravado is essentially a way to pit the main protagonists against each other, it does cleverly and surreptitiously introduces the idea that policing in Korea is not performed with the intent that it should be. As far as legal, judiciary, and enforcement careers go, there has always been a problem, the world over, as to how one should balance the careerist advancement of the self and the moralistic pursuit of the greater good. More often than not, the greater good is a noble notion that is idealized but not sought or achieved.

Mapo vs. Seodaemun
While the detectives go at it, there is a series of brutal rapes that take place in the city and now the police commissioner has made it a priority to track the perpetrator down. Naturally, a joint task force is created between Mapo and Seodaemun and instead of helping one another catch the criminal, they hinder eachother and arguably spoil the chance to catch him, in effect leaving him free to violate further victims. I wonder if it was the intent of the filmmakers to lay this quandary in our laps, was it the reckless, arrogant, and stubborn refusal of the principal detectives to collaborate that lead to an innocent 15-year-old being brutally beaten and raped after they let him get away? I’m not sure that they are directly inferring this, but the possibility, which could significantly alter how you the view the film, is there.

Aside from this, the film is a relatively straightforward dual protagonist narrative that is played for broad laughs and these are achieved in no small part due to the strong chemistry between Park and Lee. The direction is even-handed and lets the actors shine through the script’s often clever dialogue. There were three people credited with writing this screenplay, including director Lim Chan-ik, Choi Jin-won is the only one with any work I’m familiar with as he wrote last year’s Bad Couple, which I didn’t like very much but this may have had more to do with the lead actors in that project rather than his writing ability.

Det. Hwang vs. Det. Jeong
My main gripe with film was the tone it took as the protagonists got together to genuinely catch the rapist. It got much more somber and sadly self-serious as we made the rounds of the traumatized victims, I felt it not in keeping with the levity of the rest of the film and when contrasted with the main comedic thrust of the plot, it seemed borderline inappropriate.

The Apprehenders works best as a fun action comedy anchored by two strong lead performances. The chase sequences are well-rendered, the supporting characters each have something to add, and the great dialogue keeps everything rolling together. A solid genre entry all around.

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.