by Brian Kelley
Netflix continues to impress with its wide range of titles added each week. In the past two weeks alone there have been some solid documentaries, thrillers, comedies and independent film that have been made available.
Lets take a look at a detective story from South Korea and also make a stop in Montana for a intimate documentary about identity.
The New and Noteworthy
Private Eye (2009)
Hong Jin-ho is a private investigator in Japan-invaded Korea in the early 1900s taking jobs capturing married women in their affairs so he can pay his way to America. Kwang-su is a sharp, young medical student who finds a body in the woods but quickly realizes it is the son of a top government official. Concerned that he will be fingered for the murder, Kwang-su turns to Jin-ho for help tracking down the real killer. This propels the duo into a multi-layered mystery filled with opium dens, high tech brass and wood gadgets, a circus and much more.
Private Eye is a pulpy adventure film that zips along from set piece to set piece at a pace that allows for the quick absorption of a fairly straightforward but dense plot. One can forgive the occasional lack of polish in some of the more complex action scenes as director Park Dae-min has blown out of the gate with a debut film of enormous scale. Hwang Jeon-min as Jin-ho brings an incredible amount of charisma to his role and his relationship with Kwang-su is effortlessly believable. Comparisons to famous detective duos aside, Private Eye is an entertaining, sometimes breathtakingly-designed mystery film that hopefully is just the beginning of a new Korean franchise.
Prodigal Sons (2008)
Kimberly Reed is traveling from New York City to her hometown of Helena, Montana for her high-school reunion. She’s quite nervous as she’s changed a great deal since graduation, the last time she saw any of her classmates she was Paul McKerrow. She quickly learns that everyone is accepting of the changes she has gone through with the one exception being her adopted brother Marc. Even before having part of his brain removed following a car accident, Marc had identity issues of his own, always finding himself jealous of Paul who was a co-captain of his school’s football team. Their rocky relationship is further complicated when Marc learns that his grandparents are both famous.
Deeply personal documentaries like these often have an alienating effect leaving audiences in a state of dispassionate interest. In Prodigal Sons, though, Reed’s nigh-unbelievable life is strangely relatable, the struggle with identity in some ways being universal. If Reed’s narration sometimes states the obvious, the raw emotion and incredible, unexpected turns in the real-life narrative her camera catches creates a fascinating film of great power.
From the Vault
I have an affinity for documentaries about subjects you would almost instantly reject as too banal for exploration. Enter The Parking Lot Movie, a film focused on a single small pay parking lot in Charlottesville, VA and the attendants that work there. The only thing this film has going against it is ignorance, a problem which can be resolved by investing the 70 minutes it takes to watch it. Through the course of the film, the world of employment at a parking lot is explored via a colorful crew of attendants. They wax philosophical (some of them are even grad students in the philosophy department at the University of Virginia across the street), describe the joys and pitfalls of the job and show a much rougher side to parking lot life than one might imagine exists. Don’t ever try to escape this lot without paying, they are not afraid to chase you down on foot.
While not necessarily deep, one could argue this is an interesting microcosm-sized view of class struggles, the lowly attendants dealing with and fighting back against the SUV-driving aristocracy when driven to that point, if only in defense of the small amount of dignity employment offers them. Most importantly though, as a documentary, it is thoroughly interesting.