South Korea

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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clip the suspect

South Korea produces a higher consistency of quality action-thrillers than any other country. Fact? Opinion? Either way it’s true to me. The last few years alone have seen a barrage of near-instant classics including The Man From Nowhere, The Chaser, The Yellow Sea, A Company Man, Confession of Murder, Secret Reunion, I Saw the Devil, and more. Their success comes from a combination of attitude and aesthetic with the other common element being some stellar fight/action choreography. The most recent film hoping to join the ranks of the ones above is The Suspect. Director Won Shin-yeon‘s latest comes six years after his solid 2007 thriller, Seven Days, but unlike that one this appears to have a somewhat political bent. The story follows a North Korean defector now living in the South who is forced on the run after he’s accused of a triple murder. All is not as it seems though, and soon some explosive truths come to light. Check out an exclusive clip below featuring the first of The Suspect‘s many fight scenes.

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ff moebius

Silence is golden, unless you’re Kim Ki-duk. For Kim it is just another void to stuff to its breaking point with all things emotionally jarring. Outside of natural ambiance and some sparse music, Moebius is devoid of any audible dialog. Instead it relies on the power of performances and the intensity of a wickedly sharp and revolting story. This time around the South Korean director sets his sights on family dysfunction, and make no bones about it, he has a killer eye and won’t blink. Moebius‘ vulture like focus hovers around a family already stretched to its tensile limit. Mom drinks, Dad dabbles in less than secret infidelity, and their son (Seo Young-joo) is a meek, silent witness to their ensuing battles. When mom’s jealously boils over, the knives literally come out, inflicting visceral and devastating wounds to the ones she loves. Unable to cope with the maelstrom she removes herself from the turmoil, leaving the fragments of her family to sift through the ruins to salvage what they can.

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review the terror live

Single location thrillers can be tough on filmmakers and audiences alike, but things get a little easier the bigger you make that single location. A coffin (Buried), a car trunk (Brake) and a remote banking stand (ATM) pose all kinds of troubles, but what if the location was a radio station studio in a highrise building with a view? Yoon Young-hwa (Ha Jung-woo) was a high profile TV news anchor before being demoted to radio talk show host after some embarrassing and potentially dirty dealings. In the middle of his latest show discussing the pros and cons of federal taxes a disgruntled caller threatens to blow up a downtown bridge. Thinking the man is little more than a radio troll Yoon encourages the act before moving on to the next caller. An explosion outside the office’s windows reveals a smoking bridge near collapse, but instead of bringing in the authorities Yoon moves fast to secure a deal to return him to a network anchor chair knowing the man will be calling again. He’s less sure of his plan once he discovers there’s a bomb in his earpiece too. What follows is an often tense but occasionally inane back and forth as Yoon tries to milk the situation for personal gain. The Terror Live moves forward mostly in real time, and it finds an interesting and suspenseful footing early. By the time it hits the third act though all pretense of real world logic or consequence has gone out the window, […]

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nyaff lesson of the evil

The 2013 New York Asian Film Festival runs June 28 – July 15. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area and interested in tickets check out the official NYAFF page here, but if not feel free to follow along with us as we take a look at several of the movies playing the fest this year. As the name implies the festival presents new and select films from several countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Our fourth look at the films of NYAFF 2013 examines the evils that men (and women) do in the name of fame, madness and love.

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fo berlin file

Korean cinema has developed certain genre expectations over the years, and those external pressures seem to dictate a lot of what gets made and distributed internationally. Violent revenge and romantic comedy seem to be the two areas that encompass much of people’s perception of Korean films thanks to break-out hits like Old Boy and My Sassy Girl having spawned dozens of hopeful imitators. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as numerous quality films have released under these generic genre banners, but it’s still nice to see Korean filmmakers moving outside those comfort zones. Ryoo Seung-wan‘s The Berlin File doesn’t necessarily break new ground within the action/spy genre (thanks to predecessors like JSA and Shiri), but for one of the first times the action and drama takes place entirely outside of Korea. The film follows a North Korean spy stationed in modern-day Berlin who is framed by his own agency when a deal turns deadly. He and his estranged wife, who’s also been implicated, are forced on the run with agents from both sides of the Korean peninsula chasing after them. The plot grows ever complicated, too much so unfortunately, but the action set-pieces including gunfights and hand-to-hand combat are impeccably done and exciting as hell.

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fo_taste of money

Im Sang-soo‘s The Housemaid is a devastating look at class distinctions in South Korea couched in a film that manages to be sexy, blackly comic and stunningly photographed. Its heady mix of beauty and wit makes it a film that stuns and engages on multiple levels. Im’s latest film, The Taste of Money, takes aim at a similar target, but while nearly every frame is pleasing to the eye it misses the mark in some key areas. Yoon (Baek Yun-shik) is the CEO of a large Korean corporation looking to expand into the Americas, but while he runs the company his wife Geum-ok (Yoon Yeo-jung) rules everything else with a watchful eye and an iron fist. Her secretary Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) is ambitious and looking to climb the ladder of wealth and status, but the behaviors he witnesses are slowly breaking his resolve. The couple’s grown daughter, Na-mi (Kim Hyo-jin), is torn between the lifestyle and pangs of kindness and sympathy with those around them. Memories of a certain housemaid who perished before her eyes aren’t helping matters any either. Yoon beats them both to the conscientious punch though when he falls in love with the maid (Maui Taylor) he’s been diddling on the side and decides to walk away and choose happiness over wealth. His actions don’t sit well with Geum-ok, especially as they coincide with legal issues brought on by their son’s (On Ju-wan) illicit behavior, and soon events take an even darker turn.

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The Host

Bong Joon-ho‘s 2006 hit, The Host, was both a domestic success and an international one that accomplished two things in short order: it moved Bong to the list of top tier Korean directors, and it showed that the country was capable of large scale, effects-heavy productions. It’s also an incredibly entertaining flick. Box-office made a sequel inevitable, but without Bong’s involvement it floundered like a fish out of water for years with only a hint of a plot synopsis seeing the light of day. Finally though proof has arrived that someone somewhere has actually been working on this thing. (No, not the pic above. That’s from the original film.) But this clip isn’t! Consider it proof and check out the first clip from The Host 2 below.

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Foreign Objects - Large

An elaborate theft involving high flying acrobatics, gadgetry and a con job opens writer/director Choi Dong-hoon‘s latest action/comedy, The Thieves, and it sets a perfect tone for the next hour. Close calls and comedic scrapes trade time with insult-filled bickering amidst the group of thieves always looking out for their next score, but when the tight-knit Korean gang joins forces with a Chinese team for an enormous theft the banter takes on a far more dangerous edge. Macau Park (Kim Yun-seok) is the connective tissue bringing the two groups together with the goal of liberating a $30 million diamond called the Tear of the Sun away from its current owner. Each side, and each individual thief, brings a necessary element to the job, but they also bring an unavoidable uncertainty as to their loyalties. The predicament is reminiscent of the tale of the frog and the scorpion trying to cross a river… except in the world of thieves everyone is a scorpion.

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31 Days of Horror - October 2011

They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge, so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy! Synopsis: Father Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is searching for ways to help his flock, but when a failed medical experiment leaves him with a thirst for blood and a craving for life’s more carnal desires he finds serving the Lord may no longer be an option. Complicating things further is a young woman named Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin) whose plea for help leads to seduction, murder and a threat to his new lifestyle. Director Park Chan-wook‘s last Korean film before turning his eye towards his upcoming American debut (Stoker) is a sexy, bloody, beautifully shot and blackly comic horror film.

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The beginning of a filmmaker’s career is often the most exciting time to watch as their developing abilities are a visibly tangible thing. Talents on display in a first film can mature greatly by the time a sophomore effort sees a release. This year’s Fantastic Fest already has one example of such a feat with the Soska Sisters’ American Mary which, narrative issues aside, is a tremendous leap in quality from their debut (Dead Hooker In a Trunk). South Korean director Oh Young-doo has accomplished a similar feat with his second film, Young Gun In the Time. And not only is it an improvement over Invasion of Alien Bikini, it’s a pretty great film period. Young Gun (Hong Young-geun) is a private eye with mounting debt and a lack of clients, and with a secretary (Ha Eun-jung) who doubles as his landlord he’s forced to take any case that comes along. He draws the line at murder though so when a young, cute, hoodie-wearing scientist named Song-hyun (Choi Song-hyeon) appears asking him to find a mysterious watch and kill its owner he refuses on principle. Minutes later he watches helplessly as she’s abducted on the street and killed. Racked with guilt and more than a little bit curious he begins to investigate the case anyway and soon finds himself caught up with a mysterious murderer and a possible time-travel device. And then he sees Song-hyun walking around perfectly healthy and alive.

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King of Pigs

Editor’s Note: This review appeared as part of our coverage of the 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, and we’re bringing it back to be part of our Fantastic Fest coverage. Animated films are traditionally the home of kiddie fare and pure entertainment, but on rare occasions filmmakers use the format to tell decidedly adult stories. Heavy Metal is probably the most notorious example, but even rarer are the animated films that attempt to tell truly dramatic tales about more than big boobed space warriors and horny robots. The Plague Dogs and When the Wind Blows are two fantastic examples of serious films with serious themes being told by way of animation. And now one more bleak, occasionally stunning and depressing as hell cartoon can be added to that short list. Kyung-min stands naked in the shower as his recently deceased wife sits dead at the kitchen table. Jong-suk suspects his wife is cheating on him and knocks her to the ground in his rage. The two men, once childhood friends, reunite after two decades apart to commiserate and reflect on their last year together in middle school. The year they discovered their place among the lowly, subservient pigs and the cruel, entitled dogs. The year they first noticed the small smile of tired acceptance worn by the defeated. The year they met Chul, a young boy who showed them how even a pig could fight back by matching brutality with brutality.

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Foreign Objects - Large

Little Ye-eun is dying. The child has a weak heart on the edge of failure, and if she doesn’t get a transplant soon it will be too late. Her mother, Yeon-hee (Kim Yun-jin), is desperate and willing to go outside the usual channels to find her daughter a heart. An opportunity arises from a shady source, but when Yeon-hee is introduced to the still-living man whose heart she’s meant to have she decides that taking advantage of his situation is going too far. And then her daughter gets even sicker. Hwi-do (Park Hae-il) is a wannabe thug always looking for the angle that will net him a payday. He constantly harasses his estranged mother for money, but shortly after she cuts him off for good with a final payout she has a stroke and ends up in a coma on life support. Knowing the woman’s prognosis is poor, Yeon-hee offers money to Hwi-do if he’ll pull the plug so the heart can go to little Ye-eun. What should be a simple (if not morbid) transaction soon spirals out of control when Hwi-do decides he wants his mother to live and Yeon-hee decides she’s done waiting.

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Foreign Objects - Large

South Korean writer/director Kim Ki-duk has been a critically acclaimed filmmaker for almost as long as he’s been a controversial one. From his debut in 1996 with Crocodile to 2008′s Dream he made fifteen films of varying quality and similar themes usually populated by violent loners searching for love and acceptance in the worst ways possible. Their journeys often included both inward and outward-facing acts of brutality, and they rarely spared the fairer sex from the abuse. It’s that last bit that led to Kim being labeled on more than one occasion as an unrepentant misogynist. For a director averaging more than a film a year his subsequent three year absence from cinema following Dream left many people, both fans and detractors, wondering as to the reason. Had he quit the movies due to their poor reception in his home country? Had he finally run out of rage, emotion or ideas? Had he moved to Hollywood to pursue a gig on the next Hunger Games sequel? It turns out to be none of the above. Kim returned to theaters this year with a documentary of sorts called Arirang. (He also returned to Cannes and left with the Un Certain Regard award.) Written, directed, produced, edited, lit, shot and catered by Kim, and featuring nobody but Kim, the film acts as an explanation of his sabbatical and a look into his mind, heart and occasionally tortured soul. Exactly how much of it is the truth though may be up for debate…

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Foreign Objects - Large

The beaches of Normandy were most likely filled with many surprises on D-Day, but one of the most unexpected had to have been US soldiers finding a Korean man surrendering to them while wearing a German uniform. His footnote in history forms the basis of the most expensive Korean film ever made, My Way. Kim Jun-shik is a Korean farmer’s son who even as a young boy is known for his love of running. The late twenties saw Japan invade and retain control of Korea, and when a new Japanese headmaster arrives Jun-shik immediately forms a rivalry with the man’s spoiled son, Tatsuo Hasegawa. The two boys compete through their teen years and carry that battle of wills into WWII when Jun-shik and many other Koreans are conscripted to fight for the Japanese against the Allies. The film follows Jun-shik through a deadly series of explosive adventures and sadistic nightmares that eventually lands him in German fabric firing a machine gun at the encroaching Americans. It’s director Kang Je-kyu’s first film in seven years and sees him return to the genre that gave him his last triumph, Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood. This time he’s moved from the battlefields of the Korean war to the international landscape of World War II, and the result is even more bombastic, brutal and epic. But what Kang gains in scope and graphic detail he loses in nuance, character and honest emotion. The result is a visual feast that leaves the eyes and ears satiated but […]

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There are very few great directors with a near perfect record of feature films because the more movies you make the greater the odds that you’ll eventually make a stinker. Steven Spielberg has Always and Hook, David Fincher made The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Francis Ford Coppola shat out Jack. [Editor's note: The labeling of these films as "stinkers" is solely my opinion, and definitely not condoned by Webster's Dictionary or Mr. DeFrank.] But there’s at least one fantastic director who has yet to release a disappointment…you just have to look outside Hollywood. South Korea’s Kim Ji-woon has six feature films to his name so far, and all of them are pretty damn stellar across a wide range of genres. The Quiet Family, The Foul King, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good the Bad the Weird, and I Saw the Devil. He’s currently filming his English-language debut (The Last Stand) with Arnold Schwarzenegger so this statement may not hold past next year, but for now the man is a golden god. His latest project, Doomsday Book, is an omnibus film that sees him contributing one of the two (or three?) segments alongside Lim Pil-seong (Hansel & Gretel) and possibly Han Jae-rim. The film is apocalypse themed with Kim’s segment featuring a robot gaining sentience and Lim’s focusing on a virus that leads to zombie hijinks. Check out the trailer below for Doomsday Book.

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Foreign Objects - Large

If you took a random poll asking people to name the most mysterious place on Earth the answers you’d receive would be fairly widespread. Some would say The North Pole, others Madagascar, and Robert Fure would reply with a woman’s g-spot. But surely someone, somewhere would answer correctly. And that correct answer lay beneath the surface of the Earth’s oceans. Hollywood is well aware of this fact and has explored and exploited our fear of the unknown in films both great and small, from The Abyss to Sphere, with stops at all levels of quality in between. Two such movies released in 1989, Deepstar Six and Leviathan, bypassed subtlety and any real sense of mystery in favor of creature feature thrills, chills and at least a modicum of fun. Both are worth watching on late night cable, but Leviathan is the better of the two thanks in large part to the presence of Peter Weller. And now twenty two years later South Korea has jumped into the bloody pool with Sector 7, but unlike the films above its efforts to (intentionally) entertain come up dry.

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The trailer for The Front Line already hit hard, and now the production has released a poster to add another brick to their path toward Oscar. No South Korean film has ever made the short list for Best Foreign Film, and it’s going to be an uphill fight for this war movie, but regardless of how it does with the award-givers, it still looks fantastic. The movie from director Jang Hun focuses on an embattled hill during a ceasefire that took place in the Korean War. It looks appropriately dramatic, and the new rain-soaked poster takes us down into the trenches. Check it out for yourself:

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It’s not as if filmmakers are under any sort of obligation to ensure their film is titled responsibly and accurately. Octopussy, Snatch, In & Out… fine movies all, but they don’t exactly live up to the salacious nature implied by their titles. And it’s not always a matter of titles that sound far dirtier than they are either, as sometimes the title simply infers a different kind of film all together. Haunters for example is a recent Korean film that has absolutely nothing to do with ghosts, spirits, or the afterlife. Which brings us to Invasion of Alien Bikini. It’s the story of a troubled young man who wanders the city each night as the City Protector, a false mustache-wearing do-gooder out to fight crime and injustice. The best he can normally manage though is to clean up litter. One night he rescues a young woman from three would-be attackers and brings her back to his abode… where she tries really hard to have sex with him. And he tries equally hard to resist. Up to that point the film is as entertaining (on a budget), slightly comical, and teasingly sexy as the title implies. And then it turns cruel, misogynistic, and uninteresting.

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Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) is a police cadet in training who takes it upon herself to look after her younger brother. Her latest attempt to bring him home from the b-boy club scene sees him handcuffed inside the car, but when she loses control of he wheel the resulting accident claims his life and leaves her blind. The decisions she made that night get her removed from the police force, but it’s the guilt that weighs the heaviest. Three years later she’s living with her Labrador guide dog named Wisey and still struggling with her impairment. Frustrated with her life, she takes a late night taxi ride that quickly becomes a hit and run. She reports it, but the police are unclear as to how a blind person can be a witness so they assign the case to a throwaway detective (Jo Hie-bong). Unfortunately for Soo-ah, while the police aren’t taking what she witnessed very seriously the killer is. And he’s looking to silence her for good.

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