South Korea

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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Headphones on. DVD player loaded. Blank page open. That’s right, folks. It’s another edition of Commentary Commentary, our weekly look at a film’s commentary track and all the amazing anecdotes and discernment that come with it. This week we’re going international for the first time here in Commentary Commentary. We’re headed all the way to South Korea and all the way back to 2006. Not exactly sure which of those two settings are further away, but we have them right here on this pressed, metal disc. This week we’re listening to Bong Joon-ho‘s commentary on his monster movie, The Host. Does he end up revealing in it how much he hates everything America stands for? Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, but I’m sure this article isn’t going to help matters. So take a look at what I learned. I suddenly have a craving for Kimchi and Soju.

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Hollywood doesn’t seem all that interested in the Korean War, at least not to the same degree that they show towards WWII and Vietnam. Sure there were several films made back in the 50s and 60s, but since then there’s been MASH and… After MASH? South Korean cinema, on the contrary, is still exploring the subject in film on a regular basis. Their increased interest is understandable especially as they still sit on the brink of war with their northern neighbors. Tae Guk Gi and Welcome To Dongmakgol were both big budget hits in recent years, even if they approach the subject in wildly different ways, and now one more brilliant looking film can be added to the constantly growing list. 71 Into the Fire is based on the true story of 71 teenage students forced by fate to join the fray with little notice. They took up arms and stood guard over a middle school which sat on a strategic point of interest for both sides. Hundreds of elite North Korean soldiers advanced, and the students managed to hold them at bay for eleven hours. May not seem like a long time to someone sitting comfortably in from to their computer, but it was a lifetime for these teens and just long enough to allow time for South Korean reinforcements to arrive. But enough talk. Check out this beautifully bombastic trailer now.

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Note: As Rob Hunter has been busy covering SXSW and watching Love Exposure on repeat, Landon Palmer is trying his best to fill his globe-trotting cinematic shoes. Rob will be back next week with another object from a foreign land. To make the observation that some really great films have been coming from South Korea in the last few years is to say nothing new. To say that there have been a lot of violent revenge movies from that country is also to say nothing new. But between Lee Chang-dong’s wonderful Poetry and Bong Joon-ho’s equally great Mother from last year, another revisited theme has emerged in South Korean exports: maternal figures that must care for and live with children who may or may not have committed a heinous crime to a young woman.

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Last month, a group of South Korean commandos killed 8 Somali pirates and saved the lives of 21 hostages on board. Now that story will be a movie produced by Christmas Entertainment (The Host) called Dawn on the Gulf of Aden. There’s no word on directing or acting talent, but the subject matter is certainly compelling enough. Plus, with plans to shoot later this year and see a release in 2012, it will more than probably beat the Sony-produced Somali pirate movie about the rescue of Richard Phillips (the captain, not the artist) and several hostages that took place in 2009 (which was being written by Billy Ray).

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Park Chan-wook Picture

There’s nothing not to love about Park Chan-wook. The man delivered Old Boy, two brilliant Sympathy For… films, and the strangest bloodsucker story this side of Shadow of the Vampire. Now, he’s done what everyone else has only talked and joked around about. He stopped playing Angry Birds and started shooting a movie with his iPhone with his brother, Park Chan-kyong. Paranmanjang (which loosely translates to Life of Ups and Downs) is not feature length, but at 30 minutes, it’s fairly substantial. It was made for around $133,000 (which is more than we were planning to invest in our phone-based film), and tells the story of a fisherman who catches a mysterious woman when she gets tangled in his net. Park had this to say about using the phone:

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South Korean writer-director Jang Cheol-so made a big impression on the Fantastic Fest audience with his debut film Bedevilled, so much so that it was awarded Best Film by the attendees. It’s a beautifully shot and well acted portrayal of a strangely dysfunctional matriarchal family on a South Korean island. Hard to pin down into a single genre, the film spends a big section of its run-time establishing the hell it is living in the rural village, population maybe 12.

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The second match of Round Two finds a Korean favorite up against a German award winner. The Good The Bad The Weird earned its spot with its sweeping beauty and strange cast of characters, as well as the defeat of Brides in Round One. Meanwhile, The Lives of Others got here by delivering politics and strong characters, and by eking out a victory against the favored The Proposition It’s a pairing that even the experts are having trouble predicting, so it’s really anybody’s ball game. Who will make it to Round Three?

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The third match of Round One finds the insane Western The Good The Bad The Weird going head to head with stirring drama Brides. Both films are set in the early 1900s, and both are critically acclaimed, but Korea has the edge here because of it’s status with those who obsessively import Blu-rays and DVDs.

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Imagine “Three O’Clock High” with Koreans. Only instead of a bully threatening to beat you up at the end of the day, you’re worried about a murderer trying to kill you before the end of class.

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ff-privateeye

Murder, detectives, politics, gadgetry, circus workers, and at least one spectacular foot chase in a period piece!

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ff-Breathless

Abuse, beat downs, unexpected friendships, emotional upheaval, more beat downs, simulated sexual thrusts against a child, drama, and even more beat downs!

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fo-hanselandgretel

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to… South Korea!

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fo-thirst-1

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to… South Korea!

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sexiszero

Much like they did with the Western last year (the epic and excellent The Good The Bad The Weird), South Korea has ventured into other traditionally American genres with great success. This includes copying the teen sex formula highlighting America’s love of fornicating teenagers, physical comedy, and baby batter.

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The Host

Bong Joon-ho’s blockbuster 2006 film, The Host, has found a home for its inevitable US remake. Gore Verbinski has brought the film to Universal Pictures.

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