Showing posts with label period. Show all posts
Showing posts with label period. Show all posts

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: THE HUNTRESSES Misfire in Poorly-Plotted Blunder

By Pierce Conran

Following the recent hits Masquerade (2012) and last year’s The Face Reader, period films are set to make a big push into the Korean market in 2014 with at least six big Joseon era films poised to flood the market. Getting the ball rolling in the new year is the action comedy The Huntresses, a film initially set to debut last spring but rescheduled by distributor Showbox when the project needed more time to complete digital work in post-production. Entering a crowded Lunar New Year field alongside Miss Granny, Man in Love and Hot Young Bloods, the film is hoping to draw in family crowds with its fun premise and trio of female stars.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: The Face Reader Is a Terrific Period Yarn

Though absent from Korean marquees this year until now, the period Korean film makes a big comeback with the release of Han Jae-rim's arresting The Face Reader. Sublimely mounted, intriguingly plotted and featuring a terrific cast, this seems the ideal film for Chuseok (Korea's biggest holiday), which it was no doubt carefully tailored for.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

KBO: Masquerade Is King, Pieta Enjoys Golden Lion Bump (09/14-09/16, 2012)

Masquerade Is King, Pieta Enjoys Golden Lion Bump 

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 Masquerade 9/13/12 53.30% 1,097,619 1,278,064 809
2 Resident Evil 5 (us) 9/13/12 14.30% 245,915 304,150 368
3 Pieta 9/6/12 7.20% 148,163 353,379 325
4 The Bourne Legacy (us) 9/6/12 6.50% 135,767 913,877 345
5 Traffickers 8/29/12 4.60% 92,289 1,534,579 305
6 Wolf Children (jp) 9/13/12 3.40% 77,796 85,933 225
7 The Expendables 2 (us) 9/6/12 2.50% 53,444 416,236 253
8 Neighbors 8/22/12 2.00% 40,285 2,416,188 222
9 The Thieves 7/25/12 1.50% 32,033 12,923,537 194
10 Insidious (us) 9/13/12 1.30% 27,488 35,030 178

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blades of Blood (구르믈 버서난 달처럼, Gooreumeul beoeonan dalcheoreom) 2010

Most national film industries have their own variant of the period film and depending on the length and volatility of their history, they may have a few different epochs rendered in these offerings. Korea revels in genre cinema so it is no surprise that period films are numerous in the marketplace. Like other genres it is frequently cross-blended with other styles of filmmaking, and frequently it is twisted into something you may not expect: The King and the Clown, a gay period romp, became the nation’s top grossing film when it was released in 2005; Woochi mingled period, action, and science fiction into a high concept comedy and went on to be the second best performing film at the local box office last year; and Detective K, the first installment of an episodic procedural comedy was the most successful film in the first quarter of this year. These clever and original examples are joined by many more straightforward but exceptionally well-made period dramas such as Chunhyang (2000), Untold Scandal (2003), and The Servant (2010) all of which scored big with Korean audiences.

Every year over 100 films are made in Korea but only a dozen or so are marketed overseas. Blades of Blood is one of these and my guess is the film’s producers were hoping that foreign audiences would find something to connect with in this expensive and frequently gloomy enterprise because it certainly didn’t at home. The film only managed 200,000 admissions, a far cry from break-even point. The film features major, bankable stars, is technically competent, and can be quite good at times, so why did it flounder so badly?

The film is more than passable, if somewhat unremarkable, and I’m sure the filmmakers were a little surprised by its poor showing. Out of the two marquee names, Hwang Jeong-min is very good as the blind swordsman Hwang (more than a little reminiscent of Zatoichi) but Cha Seoung-won is problematic as the ambivalent villain Mong-hak. This perception could be entirely my own since I associate him with Kim Sang-jin’s blithely irreverent comedies. Cha portrays characters who are always over-the-top, goofy, and unsure of themselves: a disrespectful youth in Attack the Gas Station (1999); the fighting teacher in Kick the Moon (2001); the wannabe homeowner in Ghost Story (2004); or even as the jailed father in A Day With My Son (2007). To see him in such a startlingly different role is jarring and I couldn’t really get over it. Hwang on the other hand is familiar with oddball characters, A Man Who Was Superman (2007) being a great example, and he excels and seems to revel in this role.

Technically the film is very proficient, the cinematography is solid, the production design and costumes detailed, and the sound is very effective, if a little overbearing at times (like when the soundtrack is inundated with dozens of swooshing swords). One thing I couldn’t possibly understand was the prosthetic vampire teeth they attached to Cha, I suppose they were symbolic of his descent into mayhem, his craving for bloodletting and power, but frankly they looked ridiculous. The final shot of the film is also immensely perplexing, I’m sure that it means something but I really couldn’t be bothered to figure out what that is.

I think the film’s major flaw, at least what pervaded most of its running time, was the uneven plotting and the plodding exposition that went along with it. From the very beginning I had a little trouble following what was going on. I knew there was a rebellion that were forced to compromise and Mong-hwa wasn’t going along with it, he set out hellbent on revenge (possibly, I’m not sure) and killed Gyeon-ja's family. Then Gyeon-ja and Hwang (a former member of the rebellious alliance) went after Mong-hak. There’s also something about the Japanese invading, the rival faction in the King’s court, and a girl but she is so poorly written I can’t quite figure the role she played in it all.

I’ve racked up quite a few negative points, but I must say that I enjoyed a lot of this film. When I could follow it, it was at times engaging and the fight scenes were very good. The comical scenes involving Hwang mentoring Gyeon-ja were played for cheap chuckles but they work well, because they are well choreographed and because of Hwang. A lot of the narrative is an excuse for swordplay, characters get killed with hardly any provocation, but I suppose that’s par for the course and I think it benefits the film. The ending is quite melodramatic and somewhat apart from the rest of the film, but it’s done very well and I wonder had rest of the film had been done this way, could it have struck a deeper chord with Korean audiences? I definitely enjoyed myself with Blades of Blood despite its numerous flaws but I daresay that for many viewers it may be a step too far in the wrong direction.


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, April 20, 2011

The Servant (Bang-ja-jeon) 2010

Kim Dae-woo is running the risk of stereotyping himself, but when the result is a film like The Servant (2010), is this a bad thing? After starting off as a versatile scriptwriter with the films An Affair (1998), Rainbow Trout (1999), and The Foul King (2000), Kim made his first foray into the period film, more specifically the Chosun-era erotic melodrama period film, with his adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, Untold Scandal (2003). His directorial debut came in 2006 with the comedy Forbidden Quest, before his sophomore feature The Servant. Like Untold Scandal, The Servant is based on a famous text, this time the oft-filmed pansori tale Chunhyang. To western audiences the most famous take on this tale is Im Kwon-taek’s Chunhyang (2000), an epic and beautiful version that blends in scenes of pansori being performed in a modern theater with the narrative shot as a representation of the performance. Kim’s version is far less Brechtian but nonetheless engages with the text/song in a thoroughly satisfying manner.

Bang-ja and his master
Chunhyang is a simple tale of woman, named Chun-hyang, and Mong-ryeong, a studious magistrate’s son who fall in love and get married illegally before he must leave for Seoul. During his absence a corrupt magistrate arrives and forces Chun-hyang to become his concubine. She refuses and his faced with death but is saved at the last moment by Mong-ryeong who has now become a Royal Inspector.

The Servant follows much the same pattern but twists the narrative in favor of examining social structures and adding some eroticism. In this version Mong-ryeong is a conceited brat and it is actually his servant Bang-ja who fills the role of the love interest. He is strong, smart, competent, and kind, if a little shady and naïve. He undermines Mong-ryeong, in his quest to have Chun-hyang, at every turn, but not always intentionally. Mong-ryeong leaves for Seoul to follow his studies and Chun-hyang and the servant (who is now a merchant) pursue a relationship, which surprisingly is more or less in plain view of her family who disapprove (because it will not elevate her status) but tolerate it. The ending is also quite different but I won’t go into that here.

Mong-ryeong and the corrupt inspector
2010 seems to be a banner year for eroticism in Korean cinema. In my previous review on A Frozen Flower (2008), I mentioned how nudity and sex, which had previously been very taboo in Korean cinema, are getting more and more prevalent and graphic. Last year brought us the pseudo-erotica 3D film Natalie, the sexually-charged remake of The Housemaid, and The Servant, one of the most sexually-explicit Korean films I have seen. Not only does it feature numerous sex scenes but it also introduces elements of sexual deviance (the inspector who comes to town and tries to take Chunhyang as his concubine) to a tale that is really supposed to be a love overcomes all romance.

The Servant is a well-written and assiduously directed affair, but even more so it features jaw-droppingly gorgeous cinematography and sumptuous production design. Korean cinema constantly amazes me when it produces films for a fraction of the cost of Hollywood yet put all of those pictures to shame. It is also packed with great performances from Ryoo Seung-beom as Mong-ryeong Kim Joo-hyeok as Bang-ja, and even better characters, like Oh Dal-su who is a riot as a lubricious old man who gives Bang-ja tips to woo Chun-hyang. While this is a thoroughly entertaining film I do hope that Kim will try something new with his next feature, I have been forgiving but many reviewers have commented on this film’s similarity to Untold Scandal.

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.