Foreign Objects

Foreign ObjectsLike Jell-o in their underwear, most Americans don’t like having to read while watching a movie. And then there are the folks who use that excuse to hide their illiteracy. Either way it’s a shame because just like Jell-o in your underwear once you try watching a subtitled movie you’ll wish you’d been doing it all along. Each Wednesday Rob Hunter takes a look at a movie produced somewhere other than the US, from France to Russia to Italy… with many, many stops in Asian countries along the way.

Updated Every: Thursday

THE ADMIRAL

Admiral Yi Sun-shin (Choi Min-sik) was a revered Korean military commander, but after a Japanese plot involving false intelligence left him looking like a traitor he was relieved of duty and tortured by the men he had previously served and fought beside. The government’s attitude changes though when a second Japanese invasion heads towards their shores in 1597. The invaders sink most of the Korean navy and aim their forces for the capital, Joseon, leading a reluctant king to reinstate Yi as their last hope of fending off the enemy. He has his work cut out for him as only twelve ships remain in his ocean-going arsenal, a number that pales beside the 300+ Japanese vessels heading their way, but with the right strategy and the right location one man can fend off thousands. Well, that’s his working theory anyway. The Admiral — also known as the far more accurate and descriptive Roaring Currents outside of the U.S. — is a new South Korean film that tackles a legendary true tale from the Joseon Dynasty period, and it does so with historical detail and cinematic flair. In a way it splits those two attributes evenly into two halves of the film, and while both have their strengths they’re equally balanced by somewhat minor issues.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. The Daybreakers are a group of five men whose rap sheets include murder, armed robbery, assault and worse, but after trying their hand at kidnapping a three year old boy only to see the ransom drop go bust they decide to add something new to their repertoire — fatherhood. They raise the boy, now named Hwayi (Yeo Jin-gu), as their own. It’s a harsh childhood as five sociopathic fathers is no replacement for the love of a real parent, but he learns kindness and affection from his surrogate mother, Yeong-joo (Lim Ji-eun), who’s also a long-term captive of the men. Hwayi is raised to fear and respect his fathers, but they’re also capable of bonding with the boy in an attempt to shape him into one of them. Over the years they teach him their various specialties until finally, twelve years after stealing him from his parents, they take him on a job and pressure him to make his first kill. Already affected by being forced to murder someone, Hwayi is thrown for a far bigger loop when he discovers the identity of the victim and the details of his own existence. Hwayi: A Monster Boy is a rare example — and I don’t say this lightly — of nearly perfect genre cinema. Writer/director Jang Joon-hwan‘s long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s Save the Green Planet is a deft and bloody melange of action, suspense, comedy, heart, drama and humanity […]

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THE RUN

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Khaliff (Aaron Aziz) has returned to his home village after seven years away with the military. It’s no pleasant homecoming though as he arrives after his father is murdered by a group of thugs and his sister has been kidnapped. What’s an angry young man with elite military training to do? He begins investigating both crimes — a step the local authorities seem unwilling to take — and discovers a world of small town corruption, organized crime and sex slavery. With the help of a peppy cab driver and the woman Khaliff loved and left behind seven years ago he goes looking for his sister with both fists (and feet) flying. It’s never a good sign when you watch an action movie and think to yourself, with no exaggeration, “I could do that.” This is especially the case if you’re a movie blogger. The new Malaysian film, The Run (aka Lari), is just such an example though as it’s an action film with utterly unimpressive action. This leaves a familiar and simple plot to hold the movie up, but the execution there is equally inept.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. A family is involved in a minor fender bender and proceed to snap some pics of the accident, but South Korean soldiers arrive in an attempt to confiscate their cameras. No photos are allowed this close to the border between South and North Korea, but the matriarch of the family stands firm asking the soldier incredulously, “What, do you think we’re spies?” Of course they are North Korean spies, passing themselves off as an entire family of four, and they’ve been living and working in the South for years. But while they’ve committed murder and other deeds in the name of the Great Leader back home the pressures of being away from their own families as well as being immersed in a more free and open society are beginning to take a toll. When news from the North triggers the team to take an unsanctioned action they find themselves on the wrong side of their vicious handlers and facing the end of not only their mission but also of their lives. Think of Red Family as a season of “The Americans” condensed into a 100 minutes, and you’ll have an idea of the genre dynamics and subjects at play here. The balance between honoring and respecting their homeland while facing constant exposure to a place that goes against everything they ever knew leads to temptations, behaviors and decisions that Kim Jong-un would most definitely […]

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Naoto Tamura (Yuki Yamada) is a bit of a dick. He’s obnoxious and indifferent to everyone around him including his hard-working mother, but he takes his attitude one step too far when he lashes out at her. While on his own a short while later he receives a package with a novel titled “Live” in it timed to a phone call and a video. His mother has been abducted, and she’ll be killed unless Naoto participates in and wins the caller’s elaborate “death triathlon.” He sets off to the first location only to discover that he’s not alone. A dozen other people, each frantic and glued to their cell phones, are also in the race. Other players lessen Naoto’s odds of winning, but so do the various obstacles put in their place including, but not limited to, a pair of bikini-clad crossbow-wielding women on roller skates. You probably thought Live was looking like a serious movie didn’t you.

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Fantasia

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Reiji (Tôma Ikuta) is not a good cop. Not only did he score the lowest in the police academy’s history, but the citizens he’s serviced have had nothing but complaints about his lack of work ethic and unprofessional behavior. The latest incident — one that leads him to defend and qualify his own level of perviness as compared to real criminals — ends in his long overdue dismissal from the force. But as that door closes a new window opens, and Reiji jumps right through. In a manner of speaking. His boss, in collaboration with Japan’s version of the DEA, want him to go undercover in the yakuza, specifically with the Sukiya-kai gang, to discover the source of a deadly new street drug and arrest the man at the top. It won’t be easy, but if there’s one man for the job it most definitely isn’t Reiji. Unfortunately, he’s all they have and the only one seemingly capable of passing their tests. The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji is a mouthful of a title, but it’s worth opening up and taking it in as the film is easily Takashi Miike‘s most purely entertaining movie in thirteen years. With a sharp script, great performances and just the right amount and kind of cartoonish antics the film manages to be incredibly funny, wildly engaging and a bonkers feast for the eyes that riffs beautifully on the […]

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Pathe

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Jacky (Vincent Lacoste) is just like every other guy in the Kingdom of Bubunne. He’s uneducated, forced to wear a burka-like outfit every day and is entirely subservient to women. The ladies rule the land by force and tradition and make up the entirety of the military and government all the way up to the General who is in complete charge. Men can be performers of course, but their duty is in household chores meaning the best they can hope for is to have one of the many powerful women take their leash — take them as their own in marriage — and become the head of their own household. But Jacky’s dreams go beyond finding a strong and successful woman to settle down with as he has his eyes and heart set on the General’s daughter (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who’s next in line to rule the kingdom and currently searching for a husband. The competition is stiff (see pic above), but with love and a whore of a revolutionary uncle on his side he just might stand a chance. Jacky in the Kingdom of Women is, quite obviously, a satirical take on gender politics, and it hits its target more often than not with humor that runs the gamut from biting to broad to scatological. It’s as far from subtlety as it is from reality, but the gags still work throughout. Unfortunately, it […]

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NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. If there’s one takeaway from Yoshihiro Nakamura‘s (Fish Story, Golden Slumber) latest film it’s that people are the same the world over. More specifically, people are horrible the world over. The Snow White Murder Case explores this phenomenon by way of a vicious murder and the equally brutal savaging of the prime suspect in the court of public opinion via social media and TV “news.” A woman’s dead body is discovered in a park after being stabbed multiple times and set on fire. Akahoshi Yuji (Ayano Gô), a low-level assistant on a true crime news show, is approached by an old school friend who was the victim’s co-worker at a big cosmetic company and is in the mood to reluctantly share gossip. Seeing it as a possible career-maker, Yuji begins teasing the revelations on Twitter as a lead-up to producing an episode of the show focused on the highly publicized case. Interviews with other employees lead him to a possible suspect in the shy and “odd” Shirono Miki (Inoue Mao) whose disappearance, conspicuously timed to right after the murder of the beautiful and beloved Miki Noriko (Nanao), confirms her guilt to strangers and acquaintances alike. The Snow White Murder Case explores a sensational crime by way of the hunt for and public persecution of the prime suspect, and it does it all without once touching on the police investigation. Instead, while the characters are busy condemning and […]

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NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. Hong Kong action films often come with two promises. There will be action, and it will most probably be ludicrous. Smart screenplays are always appreciated of course, but there’s nothing wrong with a fun, creatively violent action flick that entertains in its sincere goofiness. That balance between the ridiculous and the fun is important though when the film is also trying to be serious. Firestorm is trying to be serious, and those intentions constantly clash with the physics-ignorant action sequences, frequently dumb writing and the near-constant display of unimpressive CGI. A team of professional criminals is making a mockery of the police department through a series of daytime heists that leave bloodshed and massive property damage in their wake. Inspector Lui (Andy Lau) is a rule-follower, but he quickly learns that “proper” police-work may not be enough to stop the violence in the streets of Hong Kong. He decides to play dirty out of necessity, but the bad guys are far more experienced at the game.

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NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. Being a member of an elite police surveillance team requires more than a few skills, and Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-ju) thinks she has what it takes. She’s observant and aware of her surroundings, she knows how to blend in to a crowd and she’s capable of defending herself if necessary. Her only weakness really is a refusal to follow orders when it means letting an innocent person suffer, whether they be partner or passerby. Her skills are put to the test when a brash and brutally effective team of bank robbers starts targeting the city’s financial institutions leading to deadly confrontations. Her boss, Chief Detective Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu) believes his team is up to the task, but when the criminal mastermind known only as James (Jung Woo-sung) catches their eye he realizes too late that some of them may be in over their heads. Cold Eyes is a simply-plotted but fantastically entertaining thriller that manages impressive action sequences and scenes of suspense alongside character development and a sense of humor. It shouldn’t be a difficult combination, but so few films seem capable of finding that balance as well as this one.

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NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. It’s hard out there for a teenager. (By “out there” I mean Hong Kong, and by “teenager” I mean teenagers, obviously.) Present day Hong Kong is no different in that regard from any other big city. Teens of all stripes run rampant through the urban streets getting into trouble the way kids are prone to do, but today’s world offers tribulations well beyond the ones faced by their street-walking predecessors. Relationships are born, experienced and ended through technology for its convenience but also for the distance it creates. Kids who feel marginalized by society or ignored by parents find new value and meaning in minor rebellions and ignoble acts of protest, all the while unaware of the the damage they’re doing to themselves and those around them. May We Chat is really two films, two halves at least that don’t truly gel together in any meaningful fashion. One offers a vivisection on the modern teen world, warts and all, not in an effort to explain but instead simply to identify. The other attempts to place those exposed characters into a dangerously violent plot highlighting the new reality. Garishness replaces understanding, and we’re left with little more than amateur exploitation.

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NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. Pan (Xu Zheng) just wants to go home. After a hard stretch of work — he’s a lawyer who used sleazy tactics to get his cop-killing, falcon-poaching client off — he just wants to leave this Podunk town in rural China behind and get back to Beijing. His amoral and unapologetic client, known only as Boss (Duo Bujie), claims to not have Pan’s full fee so the lawyer takes his car as collateral and heads out on what should be a simple drive across part of the Gobi desert. Of course it ends up being anything but simple. A run-in with a pair of vindictive truckers sets in motion a chain of events that sees him running afoul of Boss’ henchman, some rest stop scam artists and eventually of Boss himself. Pan keeps moving forward in the belief that his position in society, his superior attitude and his cash-filled wallet are all he needs to thrive, but he soon discovers he’ll need more than that if he wants to survive. No Man’s Land feels at times like a Chinese desert-set After Hours with vehicular mayhem replacing Cheech and Chong, and it’s as good as that sounds. Director Ning Hao‘s latest is an exciting and energetic romp across a gorgeous yet deadly landscape that manages both surface-level thrills and a deeper, more vicious commentary on modern-day China.

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NYAFF

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. Tin (Lau Ching-wan) and Wai (Nick Cheung) are detectives in the Hong Kong police’s narcotics department, and after years of investigation they’re about to make a major arrest. Just as they’re busting in the doors though they get word from above to halt the operation as the opportunity to nab a much bigger fish has become available. The cops are understandably frustrated, but none more so than Chow (Louis Koo) who’s been undercover in the criminal organization for two years and desperately wants to return to his wife. He’s coerced into staying on the job through a combination of duty and guilt-tripping, and soon the new investigation leads them to Thailand and their new target, a man named Eight-faced Buddha (Lo Hoi-pang) who’s far more cautious and dangerous than they anticipated. A meet is arranged, but it goes horribly awry leaving the three cops — best friends since childhood — in a violently fractured state. Director Benny Chan‘s The White Storm will initially feel familiar to fans of films like Infernal Affairs or South Korea’s New World, but the story moves beyond that setup into some dramatically different directions. It’s a story of brotherhood, friendship and honor, and if you think those themes in a Hong Kong film automatically mean it will include some cheesy melodrama, well, you’re right. But it’s kept somewhat to a minimum here, and even better? It’s overshadowed by some truly spectacular gun […]

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Music Box Films

2011’s Headhunters is a refreshing blast of blackly comic Norwegian fun that mixes laughs and blood-soaked shenanigans into a deliriously enjoyable cinematic cocktail, and it rightfully exposed Jo Nesbø‘s fiction (on which it was based) to a wider audience. Remake rights were snapped up by Mark Wahlberg, Nesbø’s other books received attention from Hollywood (including one that attracted Martin Scorsese’s eye) and it even made our 2011 Best Foreign Films of the Year list. But it wasn’t the only movie that year to be based on the best-selling Norwegian author’s work. Jackpot features a lot of the same ingredients — dark comedy, graphic violence, inept criminals — but those similarities start and end at the surface. Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) is the only survivor of a shootout that left eight people dead. The police are actually working the carnage-strewn crime scene when Oscar arises from beneath a corpse surprised both that he’s alive and that the cops are staring at him. Oh, he’s also a bit unsure as to why there’s a shotgun in his hands. Detective Solør (Henrik Mestad) immediately takes him in and begins the interrogation, but Oscar’s explanation as to the events leading up to the massacre repeatedly tests the veteran detective’s bullshit detector. Even so, Oscar swears it all started with a bet on a soccer match.

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CJ Entertainment

Writer/director Lee Leong-beom‘s second feature, 2010’s The Man from Nowhere, not only became the highest-grossing film in South Korea that year but it also found critical success on the festival circuit here in the U.S. too (our review). The pressure on his follow-up probably matched the high anticipation-level from fans, and now that No Tears for the Dead is here one thing has become inescapably clear… no one films knife-fights as beautifully and effectively as Lee does. Gon (Jang Dong-gun) is a Korean-born but American-raised assassin living and working in the Los Angeles. His latest assignment, to recover a flash drive filled with sensitive financial data, goes a bit sideways when in addition to killing a half dozen targets he also leaves a young girl dead on the cold concrete floor. He retreats to his apartment and tries to drown his regret in alcohol, but his boss insists that he take on one last mission before he’ll be allowed to retire into the bottle. All he has to do is travel to South Korea and kill the child’s mother, but he can’t bring himself to do it and instead becomes something of a guardian angel as others come to complete the job he abandoned. No Tears for the Dead once again shows Lee’s mastery of action sequences as everything from the choreography, cinematography, editing and sound design combine to create some incredibly exciting and visceral set-pieces. Fans of his last film’s epic and glorious knife fight will be pleased to see something […]

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Magnolia Pictures

I don’t think I’ve ever been a young preteen Swedish girl trying to form a punk band in the early ’80s, but if I was I’d hope to have even half the strength, optimism and attitude as Bobo, Klara and Hedvig. Maybe twice the raw musical talent too, but that’s neither here nor there. The three girls form a tight friendship over their shared interest in hairstyles, punk music lyrics and remaining true to themselves in a sea of disco-loving, brightly dressed automatons. Two members of the trio have never even held an instrument before, but their infectious determination drives them forward and helps them navigate the all too recognizable perils of being a twelve to fourteen year old. If there’s a more joyous and joyful movie this year than Sweden’s We Are the Best! not only will I be one ecstatic movie-lover, but I’ll also eat my hat. Well, a hat-shaped food item anyway as I don’t own a hat. The point is Lukas Moodysson‘s latest film is an absolute pleasure to watch and experience, a rare treat that fully immerses you in a world that’s foreign yet familiar with its story of the time in our lives when we still believed anything and everything was possible.

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Cinedigm

It’s possible you haven’t noticed, but Hollywood  is in a bit of a superhero glut right now. This isn’t a bad thing — especially if the mediocre fare is balanced out with fantastic titles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier — but they all seem to be aimed at the same target demographic. Where are the comic book adaptations for Presbyterians? Or bodybuilders? Or even for kids? Antboy is a new film from Denmark that tries to address that last gap with a story and style aimed squarely at the pre-teen crowd. Pelle (Oscar Dietz) is a shy kid, small for his age, and crushing hard on the most popular girl in class. Trouble continues when he tries to help a kid being bullied and instead ends up chased into an abandoned yard, but it’s there where he’s bitten by a genetically modified ant. Soon he’s discovering new abilities like super strength, wall climbing and highly acidic pee, and with the help of his comic-loving friend Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf) he sets out to fight crime under the moniker Antboy. It all goes fairly easy too until a villain calling himself The Flea (Nicolas Bro) shows up on the scene, kidnaps his crush Amanda and holds the town in terror.

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Rhatha Phongam in THE PROTECTOR 2

For a brief while there in the first decade of the 2000’s it looked like Thailand’s Tony Jaa was laying claim to the title of best action star of the 21st century. Ong Bak introduced him as a viable and extremely capable action lead, and the next few years saw that status confirmed with two sequels and The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong). And then he went nuts. In his defense he was trapped in an incredibly restrictive contract and his ego had grown to elephant-sized proportions, but that’s a long story for a different day. The good news is that he looks to in the process of making a comeback. He’s currently filming Fast & Furious 7, has two Dolph Lundgren films in the can and is rumored to be attached to sequels for The Raid and SPL. He also made a sequel with the same people whose tight grip almost drove him mad. The Protector 2 begins similarly to its predecessor with Kham (Jaa) living a bachelor’s life in rural Thailand with his pet elephant Khon. Trouble starts when the pachyderm is abducted by some ruthless thugs for nefarious purposes forcing Kham to once again leave home to rescue Khon and kick some ass along the way. A repetitive plot is bad enough, but while the first film was loaded with fantastic fight sequences and visibly impressive stunts to make up for it the sequel limps along under the weight of action “assisted” by ridiculously obvious wire work […]

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review the attorney

It’s easy to forget for those of us in the United States that as recently as the mid 1980s South Korea was under a military-led despotic rule. Post-war Korea saw universities and libraries at risk of closure, free speech and freedom of the press curtailed, and the concept of democracy destined to be little more than a dream. That ended less than thirty years ago, but for many South Koreans it must seem like only yesterday. Their action/revenge films may be the ones that most frequently reach our shores, but the Korean film industry also has a subgenre of films exploring this delicate and frightening time in their relatively recent history. Im Sang-soo’s excellent and absurd The President’s Last Bang is one of the more well-known examples, and Yang Woo-seok‘s The Attorney begins roughly around the same time in the late ’70s. Song Woo-seok (Song Kang-ho) is a lawyer whose lack of “proper” education has forced him to be craftier in his trade than those around him. His tactics earn him scorn and derision along with a healthy income, but his thirst for cash takes a backseat when he stumbles into a case involving government-sanctioned torture of Korean citizens. On the surface, The Attorney is a David & Goliath-type tale about a lone lawyer standing up for what’s right against the power and threats of a corrupt police department and legal system. It works well enough on that front to satisfy viewers looking for a dramatically thrilling story, but the film earns […]

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review the suspect

Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is one of 20,000 North Korean defectors trying to build a new life in the South. He works as a driver but otherwise keeps to himself. It’s not that he’s shy, it’s that he’s focused on finding someone. His apartment walls are lined with maps and info, and one of his clients, the chairman of a controversial corporation, has been offering assistance in the search. When the chairman is killed, Ji not only becomes the police department’s prime suspect but also the target of the man behind the assassination. An innocent man, wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, is forced on the run from both the authorities and the real bad guys. The setup of the new Korean action/thriller, The Suspect, won’t win any awards for originality, but the script offers other additions that when combined with the numerous action sequences makes for a mostly compelling movie.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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