Friday, December 26, 2014

Film Review: Real Fiction (2000)

Real Fiction (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Joo Jin-mo/2000
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"I was glued to my seat from the beginning to the end of this savage warpath."

A street artist savagely murders his foes -- real and imaginary.

Real Fiction follows Han-sik (Joo Jin-mo), a street artist, after he is bullied at his stand in the park -- this introduction felt a bit rough. He follows another mysterious young lady to a theater show called "Another Me." From there on, he is convinced to kill his enemies -- and he does so. The story is simple on the surface, but becomes a bit more complex the deeper you look. Fortunately, its surface simplicity is enough to satisfy up to its great ending.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Film Review: Moebius (2013)

Moebius (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Jo Jae-hyun/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...definitely thought-provoking and interesting."

Fed up with her husband's (Jo Jae-hyun) affair, a distraught wife (Lee Eun-woo) horribly disfigures their son (Seo Young-ju)...

Moebius is a simple film with many complex levels. On the surface, the narrative is very simple. In fact, the film refuses to use dialogue to convey the story – frankly, it doesn't need it. The story follows this dysfunctional (maybe an understatement) family after a horrendous incident: a mother severs her son's penis due to her husband's affair. Afterward, father and son try to repair their relationship and their “messy” business, and mom seemingly disappears. The son is tormented – for some particular reason, everyone wants to see this guy's junk – and so is the father, but they cope in a very unique way. Anyway, the film eventually hits a haunting climax (narrative climax, not the other kind of climax, if you know what I'm saying *insert your favorite winking emoji here*) and a devastating ending.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Conduct Zero (aka No Manners) (2002)

Conduct Zero (aka No Manners) (Review)
Jo Keun-shil/Ryoo Seung-bum/2002
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...the perfect blend of humor, romance, and drama."

Joong-pil (Ryoo Seung-bum) is the king of his high school. Soon, he finds his leadership challenged when he falls for Min-hee (Lim Eun-kyeong), a girl from a nearby school, and a tough new student emerges.

Conduct Zero is a teen/romance comedy with a few raunchy moments. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a film for teens, it's just a film based on teens. Anyway, the story follows troublemaking student Joong-pil as he falls in love with Min-hee. Meanwhile, Min-hee is harassed by Na-young, leader of an all-female gang, who also has a crush on Joong-pil. All while a new student, Sang-man, asserts his dominance as an up-and-coming boss. It's safe to say the film always stays on its feet and continues moving. The ending of the film felt a little out of character, but that's sort of the norm for Korean films – I liked it.

I loved the film, really. It's the perfect blend of humor, romance, and drama. Of course, the humor is most dominant. But, still, I laughed plenty, I felt some genuine chemistry between the cast, and the ending almost hit home. All-in-all, it's the perfect blend. As for the humor, I think it works on many levels. There are some hilarious jokes and gags, and only a few are really juvenile or raunchy. This isn't a teen comedy like American Pie, so don't expect anything like that. Otherwise, I can't praise the pacing and story enough, especially the former. I never checked the runtime and it felt like it was over before I knew it.

Ryoo Seung-bum delivers another fantastic performance. This is one of his earlier films, and he's as charismatic, lively and funny as ever. Definitely one of the more overlooked Korean actors and one of my personal favorites. Lim Eun-kyeong, who shares less screen time, also delivers a great performance with some much-needed quirk and some sass. The pair work wonderfully for the romance elements of the film. The rest of the supporting cast is also great and on par.

The film is shot very well. I had no complaints when it came to the cinematography. I enjoyed the music, the soundtrack fits the vibe of the film perfectly. I watched the U.S. DVD release of this film, and had no issues. The video and audio quality were surprisingly great, especially considering the age of the film. (Many Korean films from over a decade ago haven't received a proper release.) The English subtitles had very few, if any, flaws. Director Jo Keun-shik pulls great performances from his cast, and creates a very attractive flow for the film; it moves so well thanks to his pacing, and the humor is captured perfectly.

Overall, Conduct Zero is a hilarious comedy. The drama and romance elements share the backseat, but they are also effective. The ending may leave some fans on the edge, but I genuinely enjoyed it – it does feel somewhat out of place, but it's well executed. If you're looking for something hilarious and fast-paced, this film is perfect. Highly recommended.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some sexually explicit drawings.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: Bunshinsaba (aka Witchboard) (2004)

Bunshinsaba (aka Witchboard or Ouija Board)
Ahn Byeong-ki/Kim Gyu-ri/2004
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...the horror makes up for its shortcomings."

Tired of being bullied, Lee Yoo-jin (Lee Se-eun) and her friends create a Ouija board and place the Bunshinsaba curse on their enemies...

Bunshinsaba continues to follow Yoo-jin after the curse is set in motion. The corpse of one of the bullies is found burned on a desk in school. A new teacher, Lee Eun-ju (Kim Gyu-ri), begins her class and unwittingly calls the student of desk 29 – the vacant desk of a deceased student, Kim In-sook. So, Yoo-jin begins to believe the curse is real and she is possessed by the ghost of In-sook. Eun-ju also believes in the curse, but sees that there is more to it. And so, the mystery unravels for a chilling climax. The ending is decent – there is some solid closure, but some events needed more clarification.

Bunshinsaba is in line with most traditional ghost films – and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The story is very engaging and interesting, particularly because of the chilling story and effective mystery. Bunshinsaba also delivers some great horror. Whether you're a fan of visual scares or jump-scares, Bunshinsaba has you covered. Some of the visuals were downright chilling, and some of the jump-scares were actually effective. The suicides, for example, were suspenseful and eerie. Fortunately, although it doesn't offer much more than scary visuals and jump-scares, the film captures a nice balance and consistency, so it doesn't get boring.

Well, at least not due to the horror. There are some moments were Bunshinsaba feels dull and repetitive. This happened during the latter half of the film, in my case. Although the mystery was coming full circle, I felt like it lose some steam. The film also suffers from some choppy editing, making the film feel inconsistent – it frequently jumps from scene-to-scene without a bridge or proper transition. Furthermore, the story can be convoluted at times. It can overwhelming due to the abundance of story it tries to have. On one hand, it's great because it tries so much. On the other hand, it's ineffective due to the limited runtime and inefficient storytelling.

The acting was strong, though. Lee Se-eun was really good with her facial expressions. Kim Gyu-ri, who also stars in Nightmare, delivers an enjoyable performance. The music is creepy and ominous, which is a big plus for a horror film. The cinematography was also great; I especially enjoyed the vivid lighting. The makeup was good, too. The DVD of the film looks good – obviously I'd prefer an HD version, but this is more than watchable. There are a few grammar and spelling errors in the subtitles, though. Writer and director Ahn Byeong-ki, who also directed Apartment and Nightmare, makes an ambitious story out of the classic ghost story; the mystery is interesting and engaging, and Byeong-ki delivers great suspense and horror throughout the runtime. However, there are some issues with the storytelling, and the film ran out of steam just as it was closing the deal.

Overall, I liked Bunshinsaba. It's a spooky and entertaining film with an engaging mystery. It has some flaws in its storytelling, which can be confusing, but the horror makes up for its shortcomings. By no means is it perfect, but it is definitely an entertaining treat for fans of ghost stories. And if you're a fan of ghost stories, you should be watching Bunshinsaba.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Pieta (2012)

Pieta (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Lee Jung-jin/2012
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a masterpiece of Korean cinema."

A brutal debt-collector, Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), is shaken when he is followed by a woman (Jo Min-su) claiming to be his mother.

Pieta follows Kang-do. A debt-collector who makes cripples out of the people who fail to pay the ridiculously high interest rate. A strange woman begins to follow him and claims to be his mother. Slowly, his life begins to change as he reluctantly believes this woman – after some bizarre tests, of course. His character changes slowly as he develops a relationship with his new-found mother. The plot leads to a twisted climax and chilling ending – a film that will stay with you long after it's over.

Pieta is an art-house drama film. This, of course, means it's a film with multiple layers. This film, like many of Kim Ki-duk's films, works perfectly on the surface and beyond. First, the drama. The chilling drama in this film excels particularly due to the deep and complex characters. The drama is even more effective thanks to the chilling violence, disturbing and daring themes, and slow-burn execution. This isn't a thriller or horror film, but it really gets under your skin – and that's an amazing accomplishment for an art-house drama.

Now, looking beyond the surface, this is an incredibly thought-provoking film. The film deals with themes of violence, family, life, death, and commercialism. It crafts themes both subtly and blatantly. For example, due to some of the blatant dialogue, you may see yourself asking: what is money? On the other hand, some of its religious symbolism is a little more subtle. Fortunately, the film never preaches. In fact, it never delivers a clear-cut message. Instead, this film promotes discussion. So, what did you think about the themes and symbolism?

The film is anchored by excellent performances from Lee Jung-jin and Jo Min-su. The supporting cast is also strong. The acting can feel melodramatic at times, but it ultimately works in conveying some genuine emotions. The film looks fantastic – the cinematography captures the bleakness of the film very well. The music, albeit seldom used, also works excellently in crafting its bleak themes and sorrow tone – definitely a soundtrack that can get you into the thinking mood, as well. I've said it before and I'll probably say it for the rest of my life, writer and director Kim Ki-duk is brilliant. He has captured the perfect balance between mainstream and art-house – films that can be enjoyed on any level. His direction in this film is flawless as he captures an ominous atmosphere, tells an uncompromising and effective story, and pulls magnificent performances from his cast – again, all without compromise.

Overall, Pieta is a superb film. I first saw this film over a year ago (I own the Drafthouse Blu-ray) and I can say it's still as effective. It's a masterpiece of Korean cinema. Like most of Kim Ki-duk's films, this is definitely not a film for everyone. However, if you enjoy entering the taboo territory and you occasionally like to think about the films you watch, this is definitely for you. Don't miss this film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some sexuality. (an attempted rape and some taboo sexual themes.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Monopoly (2006)

Monopoly (Review)
Lee Hang-bae/Yang Dong-geun/2006
Where To Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...feels less like a game of Monopoly, though, and more like a puzzle."

Eccentric computer genius Kyung-ho (Yang Dong-geun) manages the network for the banks in Korea. Persuaded by the charisma of a businessman named John (Kim Seong-su), Kyung-ho spirals into a mysterious con game...

Monopoly is a little complicated. The plot begins in the present as Kyung-ho and one of his partners are interrogated. Soon, Kyung-ho is hypnotized, and the flashbacks begin. The first half of the film works off of building up the relationship between Kyung-ho and John, as well as building up John's mysterious master plan. However, not much really happens. There's just simply too much buildup for the entire first half fails to efficiently buildup the big scheme, and instead works on Kyung-ho tasting the lavish life and developing this odd relationship. The rest of the film pieces together the mystery. The second half of the film works very well as a thriller and mystery. I overall enjoyed the ending – it's very redeeming for the first half's faults.

So, really, you have half of a mediocre film and half of a great film. Like I said, the film's focus – or lack thereof – during the first half makes it feel a tad bit tedious. It grabs your attention thanks to the storytelling, but it feels uneventful. I love buildup in film, but this is a case of too much. Other than that – and this is a problem that occasionally arises throughout the entire film – the story can feel somewhat convoluted. It has a lot of twists and turns, especially during the latter half, but some fail to land due to the previously mentioned lack of focus. There are a lot of characters in this film, too, that don't have proper introductions and pop in and out of the film – some of them left me a bit baffled.

However, I was ultimately entertained. This thriller keeps you on your feet throughout its runtime. Sure, it's occasionally boring and confusing, but I never gave up on it. The overall concept, especially its grand finale, is very intriguing – it had me hooked. It feels less like a game of Monopoly, though, and more like a puzzle. And, I didn't mind. I actually liked piecing together this mystery. It's not an action film by any standard, but there is some solid suspense and tension here and there. Actually, the climax of the film felt underwhelming, especially after all that buildup. But, still, I genuinely liked it.

The acting was strong from Yang Dong-geun and Kim Seong-su. Yun Ji-min, who has mastered the catwalk, also delivers a great performance. Some of the English-speaking scenes weren't all that good, but it wasn't a strong issue for the film – it doesn't have a strong presence, after all. The film is shot competently – nothing stood out as either good or bad as far as the cinematography goes. I did like the music, though, it really fit the genre. Writer and director Lee Hang-bae had me hooked for the most part. However, the writing and direction could have used some focus and fine-tuning.

Overall, I liked Monopoly. It definitely has some flaws, but I thought it was entertaining. It managed to keep me interested from beginning to end – and I very much enjoyed the ending. If you like mystery-thrillers that keep you on your feet and keep you guessing – sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong – then this film might be worth your time.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: 3-Iron (2004)

3-Iron (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Jae Hee/2004
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...simple but effective on the surface and even more so when you look beyond."

Tae-suk (Jae Hee), a wandering loner, breaks into homes while their owners are away. One day, he finds himself in the home of an abused housewife Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), unaware of her presence...

3-Iron is fairly simple film – on the surface. The plot follows Tae-suk who tapes takeout menus on homes and breaks into the homes where the menus have not been removed by the end of the day. Eventually, he stumbles upon the household of Sun-hwa and her abusive husband. They don't speak a single word to each other, but have an understanding – an understanding and connection deep enough to have them runaway together. So, Sun-hwa adopts Tae-suk's wandering lifestyle for a brief moment. The story continues in this way, but I'd rather not spoil anything else. The ending is great, though – a very interesting and thought-provoking ending.

In fact, most of the film is very interesting and thought-provoking – when you look past the surface. Right off the bat, I have to tell you: this is not a film for everyone, especially those who don't want to think or immerse themselves into an art-house film. The drama on the surface works well, especially considering the lack of dialogue, but the symbolism and themes are really the meat of the plot. This is a film that requires some thinking. Not because it's confusing or difficult, but because it's a film that has very human themes and reflective qualities.

I'm not sure it can be fully enjoyed as a pure drama. This isn't a film like Silenced, which is excellent, where everything is laid out for you. This is more like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, which is a film that makes you think – and rightfully so. Not only is that film thought-provoking, but it's a film from the very same director, Kim Ki-duk. In my case, I enjoyed it on both levels. I liked the drama, especially how it is developed without direct dialogue between the leads, and I liked the general flow of the film; it has a very tranquil yet ominous atmosphere that is really mesmerizing. It can be a bit slow at times, though. Remember, it's a slow-paced film to begin with, but I found some moments to be unnecessarily and unusually slow.

The acting is wonderful. Jae Hee and Lee Seung-yeon share great chemistry without sharing dialogue – if I remember correctly, Jae Hee doesn't speak a word, while Seung-yeon has one line of dialogue. This was very impressive because both actors had strong, compelling performances and it was mainly due to their facial expressions and body movements. The film is beautifully-shot – its photography plays a large factor in the mesmerizing qualities of the film. The music is also superb – it doesn't play often, but it's magnificent. The English subtitles on the U.S. DVD are great, despite there being very little dialogue. Director Kim Ki-duk delivers another magnificent film – he has perfectly captured the balance between traditional film and art house. In fact, Ki-duk is the only filmmaker that I am not weary of watching when it comes to art house.

Overall,3-Iron is a superb drama/art house film. It's simple but effective on the surface and even more so when you look beyond. It's a very compelling and thought-provoking drama. If you're accustomed to art house films, I think you'll love this gem. However, if you're more of a blockbuster or traditional film fan – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – I recommend some lighter Kim Ki-duk films to ease you into. Maybe try out Rough Cut, which is written by Kim Ki-duk.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some sexuality and nudity mostly in photographs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Wide Awake (aka Return) (2007)

Wide Awake (aka Return) (Review)
Lee Gyu-man/Kim Myung-min/2007
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"One of the more overlooked and under-appreciated thrillers..."

A young boy experiences anesthesia awareness during surgery and is traumatized afterward – but no one believes his story. 25 years later, the doctors who operated on the boy begin to die mysteriously...

Wide Awake follows Dr. Ryu Jae-woo (Kim Myung-min), a young surgeon, who believes he is being targeted by the young boy. He suspects a friend who has mysteriously reemerged, a man who has been stalking and threatening Jae-woo and his wife, and possibly a hypnosis who seems to know more than he lets on. Regardless, he finds clues in each and pieces together a vicious history. Wide Awake leads to an epic climax and a great ending.

Wide Awake is a case of “the less you know, the better.” My synopsis is a thin explanation of the plot, which is why it's so short this time around. It's a twisted thriller with plenty of character and thrills. The first half of the film is a little slow, though. It is also a little on the uneventful side, too. The buildup is effective, but it also feels like it drags its feet – a case of too much buildup and development, I suppose. Fortunately, the second half of the film becomes much more engaging and eventful. It becomes a heart-pounding thriller with some unpredictable elements. The concept overall – that is, the concept of being awake yet helpless during surgery – is terrifying and well-developed in the film; it adds some horror-like elements to the film, and it adds to the overall story.

The story also has a strong sense of realism – it has some issues that hinder that realism, but it ultimately felt very raw – maybe it was the photography or acting, but it really hits. The only other issue I had with Wide Awake was the occasional plot contrivance. The story only often feels contrived. “Oh, I dropped this.” “Oh no, I slipped.” Those moments that make you question the writing. There aren't many of these moments, but it has just enough to be noteworthy. Fortunately, most of the major plot points avoid these plot contrivances.

The acting is all-around great. A little melodramatic, especially during the introduction, but it ultimately works. Kim Myung-min is a great leading man – very charismatic and he is capable of hitting the correct emotional notes. Yoo Jun-sang was also great – I think his performance was the least overacted. The film looks great, too, I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography. The camerawork is also great. The music fits the film well – it's thrilling, emotional, mysterious and so on, and right on queue. Director Lee Gyu-man crafts a slow-burning and engaging thriller, with plenty of thrills and originality; however, the film does suffer somewhat from some convoluted storytelling, some plot contrivances, and minor pacing issues.

Overall, Wide Awake is a very good thriller. It takes time to build the characters and situation – maybe a little too much time – and leads to an immensely satisfying and thrilling second half. The climax and ending are great, too. It is, however, held back by the convoluted storytelling and the occasional plot contrivance. With a little effort, you have yourself a surprising thriller. One of the more overlooked and under-appreciated thrillers of the last decade – especially from South Korea.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and scenes of surgery.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: The Host (2006)

The Host (Review)
Bong Joon-ho/Song Kang-ho/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...thrilling, funny, and, most importantly, very entertaining."

Illegally dumped chemicals in the Han River spawn an amphibious creature. This monster kidnaps the daughter of Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), who runs a small snack-bar nearby...

The Host continues as Park Gang-du and his brother, sister, and father as they begin tracking the location of Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung), Gang-du's daughter. Originally believed to have been eaten by the creature, Hyun-seo was able to call Gang-du and let him know that she was trapped in a large sewer. Off of that tip, the family head out, dodging the authorities hot on their trail, to kill the monster and save Hyun-seo. Of course, the family isn't the brightest around, which causes some issues in their plans. This humorous and thrilling creature feature leads to a decent ending -- it does feel a little off, mostly due to the tone of the film, but it works.

The Host is a creature feature. It's a blend of horror, thriller, and comedy. There's plenty of suspense during the action sequences, a few thrills during the chase sequences, and it's all drenched in black humor. The moment the creature emerged from the river, for example, was epic and suspenseful, and one scene was very humorous. It does feel somewhat unbalanced due to the overwhelming humor, which usually consists of family bickering and Gang-du's incompetence. But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh out loud at least a handful of times and didn't have a smirk on my face for the rest. Otherwise, it's a fairly paced film with a lot of entertainment value.

Song Kang-ho delivers a great performance, as usual, despite playing a bit of cliché. Go Ah-sung, who is wonderful in Snowpiercer, was most impressive -- she really shines with her charismatic and genuine acting. The music is great, I really enjoyed the versatile and well-fitted soundtrack. The film is absolutely beautiful -- the camera angles, the camerawork, and the cinematography overall is stunning. Director Bong Joon-ho is great; he paints a vivid picture and delivers an exciting monster film; it could've used some fine-tuning, though, especially when balancing its many elements.

Overall, The Host is a great film. It's thrilling, funny, and, most importantly, very entertaining. The humor may drive away some viewers, but those accustomed to this brand of humor, as well as those who know about the humor ahead of time, will find pure enjoyment.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: The Dino King (2012)

The Dino King (aka Speckles the Tarbosaurus) (Review)
Han Sang-ho/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...if this film had zero dialogue, I think it would've been much better."

During the Cretaceous period, a young Tarbosaurus named Speckles is born, and faces a life of hardship and loss, and ultimately hope...

The Dino King is a fairly straightforward adventure film. The story follows Speckles from the age of one and up to his adult life. As a young dinosaur, Speckles and his family are attacked by a vicious tyrannosaurus named One-Eye, which devastates his life. After these devastating events, Speckles attempts to survive on his own, but faces other dangerous predators and a recurring appearance from One-Eye – I suppose you can call One-Eye his arch-nemesis. Anyway, that's basically all of The Dino King – Speckles' sad life and how he deals with it. The ending was decent – not bad, not amazing, simply decent.

I guess you can best describe The Dino King as the life of the most unfortunate dinosaur. I mean, Speckles doesn't have a shred of luck, whether he's one year old or twenty. It does feel a little repetitive and it also feels uninvolving; I was interested in the story, particularly because of the setting and because it has some shades of The Lion King, but it just didn't hook me. It's a sad story, indeed, but I was able to shrug it off with ease – and I should not have, I should have been able to take this film seriously and should have been fully engaged.

I think this is due to the narration. I watched the English dub, by the way. The characters in this film do not have voices. They grunt and shout, but they don't speak like one would expect from an animated film. Instead, the voice overs work as narration for Speckles' many thoughts. And, it just seems so childish and unnecessary; almost like I was watching some Dora the Explorer or Blue's Clues, or anything on Nick Jr. (are those shows still being produced? That might be an outdated reference.) In fact, if this film had zero dialogue, I think it would've been much better. There are some decent action scenes, though. And the use of music and a few epic sequences creates a grand sense of adventure at times.

I did not enjoy the voice acting. I mean, do I need to clarify any further? It takes you out of the zone, it stops you from fully engaging with the film. The visual effects are decent, at least for people with the right expectations. The computer graphics are far from Avatar, but satisfying enough. They do stick out like a sore thumb due to the use of real-world environments and 3D, but they work. The music is great; it's a very epic and adventurous soundtrack, it really help buildup some scenes. Writer and director Han Sang-ho is decent; I think his largest mistake was the unnecessary narration, but the film also suffers, albeit less severely, from some pacing issues and a slightly uneventful and repetitive story.

Overall, The Dino King is a mediocre film. I think it would have been a much better film if the runtime was cut down and if the narration was removed completely; now that I think of it, it probably would have been a surprisingly decent short film. Otherwise, this film does not offer much to the genre. A few decent action sequences, and a genuinely sad moment or two – that's what you are getting. My score is a 4/10, this might be a 5/10 (which is decent on my scale) if you're watching this with children 8 or older.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some violence. Some frightening images for young children.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: The Thieves (2012)

The Thieves (Review)
Choi Dong-hoon/Kim Yoon-seok/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a fun and exciting blockbuster."

Korean and Chinese thieves unite to steal a valuable diamond necklace from a casino in Macau.

The heist film. They tend to share many, many similarities -- whether it's Ocean's Eleven or The Big Swindle. A huge cast of characters with specific skills, a pinch of humor and wit, some action, a lot of swindling, twists and turns, and a huge payout. Like many before it, The Thieves has all of the above in its story. Fortunately, The Thieves also excels in delivering a distinct and likable cast of characters, some genuine humor and sass, as well as some of the most exciting action sequences.

The Thieves is a "been-there-done-that" plot, but with exceptional execution. Personally, I didn't mind treading the familiar territory, but it's worth noting for those who do. Like i said, despite its story, it delivers lively characters, some laugh-out-loud humor and attractive charm, and some amazing action. And, it blends these elements so well, it feels perfectly balanced and paced. Don't let the long runtime scare you, it moves at the speed of light. However, I didn't like the cheesy love subplot; it's not only cheesy, but it adds little to the film, and ultimately feels like nothing more than a plot contrivance.

On that point, the film also feels somewhat contrived at times. There are scenes where the characters do things, like placing gum or bugs, right in front of the other characters, and these characters are completely oblivious. Also, there are those "these are twists just because I didn't tell you earlier"-type twists; you know, those that you can't guess because the film purposefully omits information -- I didn't mind these that much, but they do feel cheap.

The ensemble cast is fantastic. These characters feel so alive thanks to the charismatic cast. Kim Yoon-seok is great as the lead, and Lee Jung-jae delivers a great complimentary performance. Oh Dal-soo is hilarious, and Jun Ji-hyun is equally funny. (she's not as genuinely sassy as she was in My Sassy Girl, though, sometimes it doesn't feel genuine.) Otherwise, the film has blockbuster written all over it; it looks and sounds fantastic. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are nearly perfect, too. Director Choi Dong-hoon does well in making a been-there-done-that story fun and exciting again; and, his pacing and balance in superb.

Overall, The Thieves is a great heist film. It's very similar to other films in the genre, but manages to differentiate itself through its distinct cast, as well as its excellent action and humor. It has a few pitfalls, like a dull subplot and some cheap and contrived writing, but it's ultimately a fun and exciting blockbuster.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Secret Reunion (2010)

Secret Reunion (Review)
Jang Hoon/Song Kang-ho, Kang Dong-won/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a very exciting and entertaining film..."

Years after a botched mission to stop a notorious North Korean hitman named Shadow, former NIS Agent Lee Han-gyoo (Song Kang-ho) crosses paths and secretly teams up with the abandoned North Korean rookie Ji-won (Kang Dong-won).

Secret Reunion mainly follows Han-gyoo six years after the failed mission to stop Shadow and Ji-won. So, Han-gyoo becomes a private investigator of sorts and Ji-won, who was abandoned by his country due to a misunderstanding, finds work with immigrants. They eventually cross paths and start working together in Han-gyoo's line of work, each trying to hide their identities and each with their own intentions. The film blends its action and humor very well, with a subtle social commentary, and ends with an excellent climax.

The Secret Reunion starts off a little rough. The introduction features a great action set-piece, but it is partly spoiled by a weak plot contrivance. ("Oh no, I dropped my gun for no apparent reason.") It doesn't break the film, but it's worth noting. Fortunately, the film quickly recovers for a less contrived approach -- in fact, it drops most plot contrivances.

The rest of the film is a great blend of humor and action. It's not an action-comedy per se, but it clearly uses both elements -- and it uses them well. The use of quirky and often laugh-out-loud humor and great action sequences makes for a very balanced and excellently-paced film. In fact, I didn't check the runtime at all, and it was over before I knew it. I loved Han-gyoo's quirky and often incompetent character, and I loved Ji-won's ferocious action.

As for the underlying message, or at least what I got from the film, it does not preach -- you don't even have to see it, or you may not even recognize it. Anyway, the film is really about people and inhumane actions. How we should treat people as humanely as possible, regardless of their origin. Simply because someone is from a different region doesn't mean we should treat him inhumane.

The acting is great from both Song Kang-ho and Kang Dong-won. Song Kang-ho is as energetic and as lively as ever -- he really brings life to every film he stars in. The film is also shot well, and features a standard action soundtrack. The Netflix Instant stream is mediocre -- the translation has some misspellings and broken grammar, and some of the subtitles are cut, though. This version also looks worse than a DVD. Director Jang Hoon, who has helmed Rough Cut and The Front Line, finds the perfect balance in action, humor, and commentary -- it's a very exciting and entertaining film thanks to his precise and focused directing.

Overall, Secret Reunion is a great film. It starts off a little rough, but quickly recovers for an entertaining action-comedy hybrid. Although I think it's very well-paced and balanced, there is some room for improvement -- by some, I mean just a tiny bit. If you're looking for something entertaining and exciting, Secret Reunion is for you.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)

Welcome to Dongmakgol (Review)
Park Kwang-hyun/Jung Jae-young/2005
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...can make you laugh out loud one moment, cry the next, and make you genuinely feel."

During the Korean War, three North Korean soldiers, two South Korean soldiers, and a downed U.S. pilot find themselves in a secluded village called Dongmakgol.

Welcome to Dongmakgol follows this group as they separately stumble upon the village of Dongmakgol. This village is secluded, and the villagers live unaware of their surroundings -- including the devastating war that has engulfed the region. In fact, the villagers live carefree, yet taking care of each other. This group of soldiers begin their relationship with guns and grenades, but develop into something more brotherly. The ending is bittersweet and thought-provoking -- much like the rest of the film.

Welcome to Dongmakgol is far from a traditional war film. This film is more about people, regardless of origin. It blends some action and suspense, but the bulk of the film is filled with lighthearted and charming humor. It's one of those films that really brings a smile to your face. It's also one of those films that can tear you apart thanks to its emotional depth. As I mentioned earlier, the film is also very meaningful. It doesn't preach an anti-war message; instead, it gives a strong message about caring for people. That's all we really are, regardless of color or origin: we're people.

The film stars a wonderful cast led by Jung Jae-young, Shin Ha-kyun and Kang Hye-jung. This trio deliver a wonderful set of performances, they bring life to a film full of wonder. Like most Asian films starring English-speaking actors, though, the English-speaking cast is the low point of the acting. Steve Taschler, who leads the minimal English-speaking cast, isn't particularly bad, but just doesn't have a natural performance.

The film looks magnificent thanks to the beautiful cinematography. The setting looks elegant and pops with rich colors. The music by Joe Hisaishi is also superb; it adds to the film's overall personality, and invokes great emotion. The special effects, particularly the use of green screen, are outdated, but I felt like it added to the charm of the film. Director Park Kwang-hyun meticulously crafts a hilarious yet meaningful film, while pulling superb performances from the cast -- I hope to see more from the director as it has been almost a decade since his debut.

Overall, Welcome to Dongmakgol is a masterpiece. It's a story that becomes much more than a typical war film. It's a film that can make you laugh out loud one moment, cry the next, and make you genuinely feel. It's also a film that can make you think, and think very deeply about its significant message. Although the English subtitles have some momentary flaws in the Netflix Instant stream, the high definition version available is a film that you must seek. Don't miss this film -- for anything.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Missing (2009)

Missing (Review)
Kim Sung-hong/Moon Sung-geun/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...ultimately works well as a thriller."

Hyeon-jeong (Choo Ja-hyun) begins to search for her sister, Hyeon-a (Jeon Se-Hong), after she goes missing in a rural countryside village...

Missing begins with a short home video of Hyeon-jeong and Hyeon-a being friendly. Immediately afterward, Hyeon-a is in the middle of an argument with her sister as she runs off with a director. Then, she gets kidnapped by an old man named Pan-gon (Moon Sung-geun). Pan-gon tortures Hyeon-a while Hyeon-jeong frantically searches for her sister. That's about it. Although I liked how the third act played out, it is on the contrived and cliché side. The ending is chilling, though.

I think the biggest problem with Missing is that it doesn't have enough character. All we have to identify the sisters' relationship is the short 30-second video in the beginning and a phone call. In fact, we see more of a relationship between Hyeon-a and Pan-gon than anyone else. This makes the film much less effective than it could've been -- it just never connects with the audience on an emotional level.

However, Missing does work as a standard crime thriller. Like I said, it's missing the emotional connection, but it has some great suspense and some very grizzly scenes. Some of the scenes of torture are cringe-worthy. The suspense and tension also helps create an engaging film. It's not the pinnacle of suspense, but it helps. That's really the best way to describe, though: standard. It passes as an entertaining thriller, but doesn't bother to excel, despite the many opportunities.

Choo Ja-hyun is great; I think she delivers a powerful performance with amazing conviction. Moon Sung-geun also plays his role perfectly -- he makes his character sinister. The film looks and sounds good, too; the music was often poorly edited, though. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are good -- you'll understand the story, but there are some grammar and spelling errors. Director Kim Sung-hong does well in pulling great performances from the cast and conjuring some suspense and tension, but misses a grand opportunity to make an emotional connection with the audience.

Overall, I think Missing is a good film. It is somewhat disappointing due to the lack of buildup and character, but it ultimately works well as a thriller. The story is familiar but engaging, there is some cringe-worthy violence, and the ending is haunting. If you don't mind revisiting familiar territory or simply want to kill an hour and a half, this is for you.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Breathless (2008)

Breathless (Review)
Yang Ik-june/Yang Ik-june/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...may leave you breathless by the end..."

A violent and angry debt-collector, Sang-hoon (Yang Ik-june), develops a friendship with a troubled high school student, Yeon-hee (Kim Kkot-bi).

Breathless is a slow-paced drama following Sang-hoon and Yeon-hee as they develop their friendship, despite their age difference. Sang-hoon and Yeon-hee share similar personalities, as well as similar lifestyles and lives, which brings them close together. They bicker and curse at each other at all times, but they have a subtle understanding. It seems that most of their lives have been dominated by violence. Breathless leads to a very powerful ending.

Breathless may seem like a simple drama based off of my explanation, but it's really a complex, character-driven film. The story meticulously crafts a genuine and effective friendship between Sang-hoon and Yeon-hee. Particularly because it also takes time to craft Sang-hoon and Yeon-hee as individual characters. We really delve deeply into characters like Sang-hoon. Breathless also makes strong statements about life, family, and violence.

I may not even have to say this as you probably already realize, but Breathless is a very bleak and depressing film. It's a film that revolves around troubled characters and an endless cycle of violence. And, it's extremely effective, without being melodramatic. This is a film that just may leave you breathless by the end -- it's that powerful. If you're looking for a film about happiness, this isn't for you. There's only but a glimmer of hope in Breathless. If you're the type of person who loves to feel during film, good or bad, like myself, then Breathless is a must-watch.

The acting is all-around superb. Yang Ik-june, who also directs the film, delivers a fantastic performance -- a subtle and effective performance for an intricate character. Kim Kkot-bi also does very well. The film has a quite a few closeup shots; they can be a little overwhelming, especially during scenes with a lot of movement. The film doesn't utilize a lot of music, which makes the drama much more impressive, but I did love the music that played during the credits. The film looks great in high definition, and the English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are great -- a few spelling and grammatical errors, though. Writer and director Yang Ik-june crafts a very bleak and effective drama without compromise and superb subtly.

Overall, Breathless is a masterpiece. It's one of the few films nowadays that can break you down, and for good reason. It's bleak and depressing, but it's with purpose -- it makes a great statement. If you like slow-paced films and don't mind one-too-many closeups, Breathless is a must-watch for any fan of the genre, and any fan of Korean cinema. I hope to see more of Yang Ik-june in the future.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Punch (2011)

Punch (Review)
Lee Han/Yoo Ah-in/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...Punch packs a very effective punch."

Troublesome student Do Wan-deuk (Yoo Ah-in) forms a relationship with his unconventional homeroom teacher Lee Dong-ju (Kim Yoon-seok).

Punch is a coming-of-age drama that mainly follows Wan-deuk and Dong-ju. Wan-deuk is a poverty-stricken, troubled student whose father is hunchbacked. Dong-ju is a harsh and unconventional teacher who just so happens to live next door to Wan-deuk. As their relationship forms, Wan-deuk grows to understand more. Really, he simply grows. He'll find some solace in kickboxing, develop a relationship with his love interest, meet his estranged mother and so on. The film leads to a positive and fulfilling ending.

I liked Punch. It's a great coming-of-age drama. As a coming-of-age film, it doesn't necessarily break new ground. And it doesn't have to. Punch is a very effective film, and that's really what matters. As a drama, the film is a very effective tale of people. It uses its themes of family and culture very well to tell its story. It uses these themes to tell a great coming-of-age story, and also subtly deliver a message about said people. It has a great blend of humor, too. Lee Dong-ju, in particular, is hilarious. Some of its humor doesn't really land, but it's a welcomed addition. All-in-all, Punch is a wonderful blend of drama and humor -- a very balanced and versatile film, which helps the pacing and runtime.

Yoo Ah-in is great as the lead, but Kim Yoon-seok steals the show. Kim Yoon-seok, who is magnificent in films like Hwayi: A Monster Boy, is very funny and charismatic in this film. The film is shot well, I have no complaints for the cinematography. The music blends well with the film, too. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream (which may be expired by the time this review goes up), are good, but there are a few mistranslations. The film looks superb in High Definition. Director Lee Han delivers a very consistent and balanced coming-of-age film; it treads familiar territory and some of its subplots are underutilized, but Punch delivers a refreshing blend of drama and humor.

Overall, Punch is a fantastic film. It's very entertaining thanks to the effective drama and humor, but it's also very meaningful. And, it doesn't preach. It handles its message with respectful subtly. There is some room for improvement, but Punch packs a very effective punch. (you have to end a review with cheesy wordplay, sorry.)

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some brief violence and blood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Nightmare (2000)

Nightmare (aka Horror Game Movie) (Review)
Ahn Byeong-ki/Kim Gyu-ri/2000
Where to watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...offers enough horror to make up for the story's shortcomings..."

Hye-jin (Kim Gyu-ri) and her friends are haunted by an ominous and mysterious figure of their past... but why?

Nightmare is follows this group of friends as they are picked off one-by-one by an ominous spirit of their past. Seon-ae (Choi Jung-yoon), a close friend of Hye-jin and the rest of the group, believe Eun-ju is responsible. Eun-ju, who had supposedly killed herself, shares a past with this group... a past with a devastating secret. Is she really killing them or is it all in their heads? Nightmare is somewhat convoluted and confusing, but I think most audiences will get the gist of it. The ending is predictable, especially for those with experience in the genre, but still managed to send some chills down my spine; the climax also dragged a bit and there is a small hole, but nothing too bad.

Like I said, though, the biggest issue for Nightmare is the storytelling. It gets the point across, but it is also inefficient. Not only can it be confusing, but it also lacks a natural flow – some scenes do not connect and it causes the film to feel disjointed. For example, during the first act, there are more than a handful of scares, but no bridge to connect them; a scare here, then the character suddenly appears in a whole new scene, another scare, and so on. The perception of time can be difficult, too; the film starts off as 2 years earlier, then skips to the present, then back to the past... but it lacks a suitable transition – I honestly didn't realize it had skipped to the past initially.

Fortunately, Nightmare is frightening. It's an old-school type horror film, like many American 90s slashers – of course, with a supernatural twist. The film develops an ominous atmosphere and mood early on and keeps it throughout. It also builds some decent suspense, which helps make the many jump-scares so much more effective. The visuals are the typical long-black-haired ghost, but it was still creepy; there's also a doll in the film, albeit underutilized, that was very spooky. All-in-all, the horror is very effective and very exciting.

The acting was also very impressive – especially by horror standards. Kim Gyu-ri is great as the lead, and she has wonderful support from Choi Jung-yoon and Yoo Ji-tae. A little melodramatic at times, but mostly great. The film is also shot very well, I would've loved to watch this film in high definition. The music is a little overwhelming and even melodramatic, but it definitely helps in building the atmosphere; it sounds like a traditionally horror soundtrack, and I'm okay with that. I watched the DVD of this film; the picture quality is decent, at least considering the age of the film, but the English subtitles were at least more than good enough. Although the story suffers from inefficient storytelling, Ahn Byeong-ki's direction is strong; he pulls great performances from the cast and crafts the terror very well.

Overall, Nightmare is a good film. The story, despite lacking originality, is satisfying; the storytelling, on the other hand, is mediocre and damaging. Fortunately, the film offers enough horror to make up for the story's shortcomings – at least enough horror to warrant one viewing. So, rent it or buy it at a low price. (It's very cheap nowadays.)

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and violence, some brief nudity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: Bleak Night (2010)

Bleak Night (Review)
Yoon Sung-hyun/Lee Je-hoon/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a very sad and effective film that works impressively off of dialogue..."

A father begins to unravel the events that led to his son's death.

Bleak Night tells the present and past. In the present, a father is looking for closure. His son, Ki-tae (Lee Je-hoon), is dead, and he wants to know why one best friend moved prior to his death and why the other missed the funeral. In the past, a seemingly honest misunderstanding begins to cripple this trio's close relationship. From one misunderstanding to another, the relationship spirals into madness. The ending is somewhat unfulfilling; I like its openness, but it feels like there is still a lack of closure -- maybe purposefully?

Bleak Night is a very bleak and effective coming-of-age drama. Or maybe more of a coming-of-death drama? (in other words: it doesn't really feel like a typical coming-of-age film.) The story mostly follows this trio of friends as their relationship slowly crumbles. It works very well off of its dialogue. The conversations are very tense -- and it usually does this without music, which I believe to be an accomplishment. In fact, I really like the realistic approach, it didn't feel melodramatic. Anyway, the film really keeps you the edge thanks to the dialogue and bleak atmosphere. It is a slow-burn, and it is occasionally too slow for its own good, though. Some of the storytelling can be a little confusing at times, too.

Lee Je-hoon is fantastic. In fact, most of the cast deliver realistic and honest performances. The film is shot very well; the cinematography is great. The film hardly uses music, but when it does, it blends very well with the film. The English subtitles are great and the film looks great in High Definition on Netflix Instant. (it may no longer be available on Netflix when this review goes live.) Director Yoon Sung-hyun does well in crafting a bleak atmosphere and making a tense story out of what could've been just another high school drama; there are some pacing and storytelling issues, though, and the closure isn't satisfying.

Overall, Bleak Night is a great drama. It's a very sad and effective film that works impressively off of dialogue -- in other words, the tension never feels fabricated. It also has amazing performances. However, the pacing and storytelling could've been fine-tuned. If you like films that make you feel, and don't mind a slow pace, this one is for you.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: My Tutor Friend 2 (2007)

My Tutor Friend 2 (Review)
Kim Ho-jung, Ji Kil-woong/Lee Chung-ah, Park Ki-woong/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a great blend of goofy, quirky, and slapstick humor..."

Junko (Lee Chung-ah) travels from Japan to South Korea as an exchange student with intentions of finding her lost love, but instead finds a cheeky and arrogant tutor...

My Tutor Friend 2 follows Junko as she moves to Korea and befriends Jong-man (Park Ki-woong), or as Junko calls him "Junk-man." Jong-man doesn't really care for Junko, but his father forces him to become her tutor. So, hilarity ensues as Jong-man takes advantage of the opportunity, and Junko faces plenty of embarrassment. It's a very funny and even refreshing story. At least until the final act, when the story starts to pile on the plot contrivances and the clichés. The film ends up going exactly where you think it's going; however, I thought the ending was sweet -- a little cheesy, but sweet.

I suppose that's one of the bigger problems romantic comedies face nowadays: they all tend to end up at the same place. I don't fault it much, partly because it's expected and also because it still works, but it is disappointing. The movie starts off so well, then it starts becoming so predictable and familiar -- almost like you're watching the same movie again. The only other issue I had with My Tutor Friend 2 was the bloated runtime. The film is really long due to some unnecessary filler and repetitive scenes.

Fortunately, My Tutor Friend 2 is hilarious! It's a great blend of goofy, quirky, and slapstick humor, and it's all packaged in a very lighthearted and warm atmosphere. I loved the classrooms scenes with Junko, as well as the quiz show scene. In fact, I loved Junko's character, as well as her interactions with Jong-man. The romance is subtle -- it's not lovey-dovey, but it still plays out like you expect it, too. Now that I think of it, if this were a regular comedy without the romance, this film would've been perfect! It would've been shorter, more focused, and less cliché.

Lee Chung-ah and Park Ki-woong are great as the leads, they share great onscreen chemistry. Lee Chung-ah doesn't really play the perfect Japanese girl, though, obviously because she's Korean; she works out in the end, but I wonder why they didn't hire a real Japanese girl for the role? Otherwise, it's practically a standard romantic comedy -- music and all. The English subtitles are great on the Netflix Instant stream, which may be expired by now. Directors Kim Ho-jung and Ji Kil-woong do very well in conjuring some hilarious moments and creating great chemistry, but the film ultimately fumbles during the cliché and predictable final act.

Overall, My Tutor Friend 2 is a very good comedy. It has plenty of laugh out loud moments, and some genuine charm and quirky. The cliché romance elements don't match up to the humor, but they get the job done. The only issues I had with the film were its unnecessarily long runtime and cliché finale. Otherwise, it's a fun time.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: Fortune Salon (2009)

Fortune Salon (Review)
Kim Jin-Young/Park Ye-Jin, Im Chang-Jung/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...humor was great, but it didn't feel like there was much romance..."

A famous fortuneteller with a cursed love life finds her destiny in a former horse jockey who now collects horse urine for drug tests.

Fortune Salon follow Tae-rang (Park Ye-Jin), the famous fortunetelling shaman, as she tries to date Seung-won (Im Chang-Jung), who she believes she's destined to be with because of the fortune her mother gave her as a child. Problem is: they are polar opposites. Tae-rang is very serious about her love life and profession, while Seung-won is more of a carefree goofball. The story starts off very funny, but loses some momentum during the second half. Much like every other romantic comedy out there, the ending is as predictable as ever; the scenes during the credits are funny, though.

Fortune Salon is a good comedy. I liked the slapstick and quirky humor. Seung-won, although often arrogant, is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Tae-rang has a few funny scenes, too. I also liked the humor surrounding fortune telling, it makes for some unique comedy. But, as a romance film, it just doesn't work very well. I know Tae-rang's character is supposed to be closed-hearted, but this makes it so the pair rarely have any chemistry. They have scenes together, they hold hands and all, but it never feels like a genuine romance.

Im Chang-Jung delivers a charismatic and quirky performance. Park Ye-Jin, on the other hand, feels bland. Most of the time, she looks bored -- again, maybe it's because of the character. Otherwise, the film looks good and sounds good. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are good, too -- a couple of spelling and grammatical errors, but nothing detrimental. Director Kim Jin-Young, director of Baby and Me, fails to spark up a romance, but succeeds in crafting many funny situations; the film is also very well balanced and paced, aside from a few slow moments.

Overall, Fortune Salon is a decent film. The story is mostly good, at least until its cliche and predictable final act. The humor was great, but it didn't feel like there was much romance going on. I liked Im Chang-Jung's performance and character, but felt like he was underutilized. Park Ye-Jin plays the close-hearted character well, but maybe too well -- she just doesn't seem too into the role. It's not a film you'll hate yourself for not watching, so it is a decent time killer.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some sexual reference.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: The Executioner (2009)

The Executioner (Review)
Choi Jin-ho/Cho Jae-hyun/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...the film successfully transmits the on-screen conflict to the audience."

The first executions in over 12 years creates a conflicted atmosphere at a Korean prison.

The Executioner follows correctional officers Bae Jong-Ho (Cho Jae-hyun) and rookie Oh Jae-Kyeong (Yoon Kye-sang), as well as three other unlucky officers, as they prepare for the execution. Hard-boiled officer Jong-Ho is more than willing, while Jae-Kyeong and others are visibly unsure. One inmate is a vicious serial killer, the other has repented for years and can't hurt a fly. These are the conflicts we witness; these are the conflicts we contemplate about. The film ends with a devastating epilogue; I don't agree with the extremely irrational actions of one particular character during the epilogue, but that's film for ya -- you can't always have it your way.

The Executioner is a great prison drama. It's a tad on the melodramatic side, but it works -- and it works well. There are some very interesting characters and inner conflicts -- not only in the prison, but the film also shows the toll of their work on their personal lives. It did skimp on some details and buildup, though. For example, there's a third criminal being executed, but we never get any insight on his situation. Anyway, it didn't feel like a film that preached. It's not a film that beats you over the head and tries to tell you what's right or wrong.

Instead, The Executioner presents two sides. Like I said, it shows you the life of a veteran and rookie officer, or at least their lives at that very moment. It also shows you two different criminals. It's hard to debate the serial killer didn't deserve it. And, it's hard to say the repenting criminal did deserve it. In a way, the film successfully transmits the on-screen conflict to the audience. I mean, I'm genuinely conflicted by my own thoughts and opinions. (If you've seen it, what did you think?)

The acting is all-around great. Like I said, the film is a tad melodramatic, but Cho Jae-hyun and Yoon Kye-sang deliver genuine performances. The film is shot well, too. The music fits the mood perfectly -- it definitely helps in invoking some powerful emotions. The Netflix Instant stream is mediocre. The English subtitles have some grammar and spelling errors, but the picture quality is the worst -- it moves at such a choppy framerate. Director Choi Jin-ho does very well in developing the tense and conflicted atmosphere; I don't mind the melodramatic approach, and I'm very glad he didn't preach.

Overall, The Executioner is a great drama. The film's story is engaging and emotionally-powerful. It's also thought-provoking without being intrusive or preachy. There are some pacing issues and the film does skip on some of its potential, though. Definitely worth seeking for fans of emotional and contemplative dramas.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and some very brief sex and nudity.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Lady Vengeance (2005)

Lady Vengeance (Review)
Park Chan-wook/Lee Young-ae/2005
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...sympathy for who?"

Recently released after being wrongfully imprisoned, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) seeks vengeance from the man who betrayed her...

Lady Vengeance follows Geum-ja in a nonlinear story -- that is, the story is not told in chronological order. Geum-ja is released from prison after serving time for a child murder. Well, as it turns out, Geum-ja was an accomplice to the murder but school teacher Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik) was the actual killer. So, as we leap from past to present, Geum-ja concurrently plans and executes her master plan for vengeance. In prison, she makes friends with her fellow inmates, and when free, she uses them to execute her plan. The final act picks up the pace for a very strong climax and great ending.

Lady Vengeance, also known as Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, is the final installment in Park Chan-wook's thematic Vengeance trilogy. Unfortunately, I found it to be the most disappointing. First, the storytelling is often unnecessarily convoluted. There's one sequence where we start in the present with Geum-ja, move to another character who hasn't been introduced, then leap back to the past in prison, then back to the present. It doesn't take away from the story, but it is inefficient. It reminds me of the issue I had with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but this one is a bit more glaring.

Next, I feel like the film places style over substance. It feels like the film is so set out on making a badass lead character that it suspends logical and rationale. Geum-ja is mostly presented as heartless and manipulative, and can overcome impossible odds. There's a scene where she's attacked by two people, and somehow the characters are so incompetent, she can simply walk up to an inch away with her short range weapon and save herself and daughter. Her other actions and dialogue also scream "cool" but for what purpose? The style-over-substance is also evident during some plot points, so it's not solely a character issue.

This character issue, however, continues as it also conflicts with the themes, or at least the themes of the trilogy. You see, it's very difficult to feel sympathy for any character in the film. Geum-ja is heartless during most of her scenes, and she's also an accomplice to the murder to begin with. Mr. Baek is all-around a terrible person. So, sympathy for who? The only people I felt sympathy for were the family of the victims, and they play a minor role during the redeeming third act. It's not like the first two films where you can feel for the characters or where the vengeance makes a statement. It really feels like this skimped on the writing.

Looking back, I really tore into Lady Vengeance. But, not all is bad. I did, in fact, like the style -- it looks very slick and it does make for some epic, unforgettable moments. The story was also interesting and engaging enough to keep me hooked until the end. Also, although the vengeance lacks sufficient buildup and is not nearly as memorable or jaw-dropping as the first two films, it is very satisfying. I wish the film spent more time with the actual victims, so we can really feel, though. Otherwise, it's a standard revenge-thriller with a lot style.

The acting is great. Lee Young-ae is very versatile, it's almost like she's playing two different characters. Choi Min-sik shares little screen time, but he's perfect at playing the villain -- and I say villain rather than antagonist, because Min-sik makes his character pure evil. The film is beautifully shot. The classical music is the perfect fit for the style of the film and works well in helping the film build a distinct identity. The technical side of the film is superb, really. Park Chan-wook's direction is stylish and consistent; however, the writing feels weak -- the themes, the symbolism, the characters -- it all seems so forced and unnatural.

Overall, Lady Vengeance is a good revenge-thriller. The technical side of the film is great and the story is entertaining. However, It doesn't break any ground, its characters feel unnatural, and the themes miss their mark. Maybe if this wasn't part of the Vengeance trilogy I wouldn't have been so disappointed, but it is -- and I am. I love all of Park Chan-wook's work, but the strong focus on style makes it feel like the success went to his head, at least for this film.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy (Review)
Park Chan-wook/Choi Min-sik/2003
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a brilliant mystery and exhilarating thriller..."

Kidnapped and held in a prison-like hotel room, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is released after 15 years and given 5 days to find out why...

Oldboy is a mystery-thriller hybrid that follows Dae-su as he tries to unravel this mystery. Dae-su looks for hints of were he was held and what he ate, as well as recollecting about his past and who he may have angered enough for such a bizarre and vicious punishment. Dae-su finds some aid in a young restaurant chef, Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), as well. I don't want to get to deep into the story details, though: this is a story where the less you know, the better the experience. Regardless, I can say: this engaging and stylish mystery-thriller leads to a jaw-dropping climax and superb ending.

Oldboy is a fantastic mystery-thriller. The story is very interesting and engaging, keeping me hooked from the humorous introduction to its bittersweet ending. The mystery is very well crafted, too, always keeping me guessing. This is one of those masterful mysteries where you pull out your notepad and participate. As for action and thrills, Oldboy has some very stylish and violent action sequences; they're thrilling and elegantly vicious. They also work very well in balancing the film. So, you have some great character development and investigative work, then, BOOM, an unforgettable hallway brawl. The climax is shocking, one of the few that I can say will literally drop your jaw. Don't read about it beforehand, just prepare for the unexpected.

The acting is superb. Choi Min-sik is absolutely superb with a very genuine and versatile performance. Kang Hye-jung is also great, but shares far less screen time. Yoo Ji-tae delivers a very charismatic performance, too. The music is fantastic; this is a soundtrack that I listen to without the movie, very creative yet well-fitted. The film is shot beautifully, the cinematography stands out, and the camerawork is exemplary. Director Park Chan-wook meticulously and masterfully crafts a brilliant mystery-thriller; his vision and statement of vengeance never compromises, and his style is brilliant.

Overall, Oldboy is a masterpiece. It's a brilliant mystery and exhilarating thriller with a superb, unforgettable climax. Choi Min-sik delivers the performance of a lifetime, and Park Chan-wook's efficient and stylish direction is better than ever. Furthermore, if you're looking for a film that enters darker, more taboo territory than the usual, then this film will fill that need.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Review)
Park Chan-wook/Shin Ha-kyun/2002
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a haunting film, it'll stay with you long after its completion."

In order to raise money for his sister's kidney transplant, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf-mute man, devises a plan to kidnap the child of Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), a seemingly wealthy company executive...

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance mainly follows Ryu as he, and his anarchist girlfriend, kidnap Dong-jin's child and hold her for ransom. Ryu has already been down and out, being previously laid-off and having his own kidney stolen, so he has a lot running on this plan. But, as one would expect, the plan falls apart in the worst way possible. The second half follows Dong-jin as he tracks Ryu, as well as Ryu as he tracks Dong-jin. This vicious trail of brutal vengeance leads to an equally devastating ending. It's a film where the less you know the better, so it may seem like a simple story from my description -- but it's not.

In fact, during your first viewing, you may find Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance to be a little on the convoluted and complicated side, especially during its first act. It takes a while to sink in and really hook the audience, but once it does, it never lets go -- it has a firm grip on your throat. The story is depressing and sad, with unfortunate event after another. It's just brutal in every which way. But, I think it makes it extremely effective. I've never felt more secure saying it: this is a haunting film, it'll stay with you long after its completion. There's a lot of suspense, dreadful tension, and some very bloody violence. Also, the characters are well-developed and interesting, with some gritty character arcs; this focus on character amplified the emotional story.

The acting is fantastic. Shin Ha-kyun doesn't have to say a word, yet you can recognize and understand his character -- that's an accomplishment. Song Kang-ho shares less screen time but delivers an equally impressive performance. The music doesn't have a strong presence, but works well in creating the atmosphere for the film. The film is shot beautifully, despite such a bleak subject, with some fantastic camerawork. Director Park Chan-wook, who also participated in the writing, masterfully crafts this vicious yet stylish revenge thriller; some of the writing could've been a bit more efficient during the first act, though.

Overall, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a masterpiece. It's a bleak and depressing revenge thriller that hasn't left my mind since my initial viewing years ago. During your first viewing, you may find some moderate flaws in its storytelling, but it gets better during the following viewings -- take it from experience. I may not be happy watching it considering the subject, but it's a film that I appreciate more and more every time I watch it.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Highway Star (2007)

Highway Star (Review)
Kim Sang-chan, Kim Hyun-soo/Cha Tae-hyun/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...it's just not very effective in either of its genres."

Bong Dal-ho (Cha Tae-hyun) dreams of becoming a successful rockstar, but finds success in trot music instead.

Highway Star follows Bong Dal-ho as he reluctantly becomes a trot singer -- trot music being the equivalent to country music. Dal-ho is tricked into signing the contract, so he's stuck making music he despises. To mask his shame, Dal-ho literally wears a mask during his performances. It's a fairly original plot that becomes more cliché towards the end. I did enjoy the ending, however; a positive ending with a great blend of music.

Highway Star, despite its mostly original storyline, simply doesn't do much. Or, at least it didn't do much for me. As a comedy, the humor is merely decent -- it has one laugh out loud moment, and a few scenes worth a chuckle or smile, but not much worthwhile humor. As a drama or romance film, it's not very effective, either. In fact, the romance elements in this film contribute to the clichés I mentioned earlier. I liked the musical elements, though; I'm not a fan of our domestic country music, but I think I can really get into the trot music.

Cha Tae-hyun, who is wonderful in films like My Sassy Girl and Scandal Makers, is likeable and charismatic in this role; he's the funniest part of the film, and he really gives the story much needed life. The film looks great, too. The music stood out; it's not a pop soundtrack, it's a trot soundtrack, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Directors Kim Sang-chan and Kim Hyun-soo craft a technically well-made film -- performances, music, etc. -- but it's just not very effective in either of its genres.

Overall, Highway Star is an original and interesting film. But, it just doesn't offer enough humor or drama to keep you hooked and thoroughly entertained, especially considering its bloated runtime. There are a few laughs to be had, the music just might click with you like it did me, and Cha Tae-hyun delivers another charismatic performance. For fans of the lead or those looking for something new, Highway Star might be worth your time.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some brief nudity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Mother (2009)

Mother (Review)
Bong Joon-ho/Kim Hye-ja/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...masterfully builds up great suspense and tension, as well as a very immersive atmosphere."

When her son, Do-joon (Won Bin), is arrested for murder, a dedicated mother (Kim Hye-ja) will stop at nothing to prove his innocence.

Mother follows this unnamed mother as she investigates the murder of a young girl -- a murder that has been pinned on her son in an open-and-shut case. She takes the investigation into her own hands and begins to track any potential suspects, and she also retraces the victim's final steps. It's an interesting, engaging, and even suspenseful mystery. The climax is haunting, and the ending is superb.

Mother is an all-around great film. The story is fantastic. I thought it was very original and refreshing, and it uses themes motherhood and family very well -- it's very interesting to see how far a mother will go for her son. The mystery keeps you guessing, and the investigation keeps you involved, which is exactly how it should be. The film masterfully builds up great suspense and tension, as well as a very immersive atmosphere. It felt a little lengthy and bloated, though, which is my only complaint -- and it's really a minor complaint at that.

The acting is superb. Kim Hye-ja is magnificent, she's very genuine and charismatic. Won Bin share less screen time, but delivers an equally impressive performance. (We really don't see enough of him in film.) As usual for a Bong Joon-ho film, the cinematography is elegant; the film looks absolutely stunning. The music is also fantastic; very unique and well-fitted. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video are practically perfect -- I didn't notice any errors. Director Bong Joon-ho expertly crafts a wonderful drama filled with suspense; he crafts an atmosphere that keeps you hooked and practically in awe.

Overall, Mother is a fantastic crime drama. The mystery and investigation are perfectly crafted, the suspense and tension are dreadful (in a good way), and the film is technically brilliant. It felt a little bloated due to a few scenes being dragged out. It's a very minor complaint and in fact my only complaint, but worth nothing. Don't miss out on this film if you're a fan of the genre, cast, or director.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, brief sex and nudity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: The Old Garden (2007)

The Old Garden (Review)
Im Sang-soo/Ji Jin-hee, Yeom Jeong-ah/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking."

Anti-government student activist Hyun-woo (Ji Jin-hee) seeks refuge in a rural shack with former activist Yun-Hee (Yeom Jeong-ah). As the political protests erupt, Hyun-woo and Yun-hee develop an intimate relationship.

The Old Garden starts in the present as Hyun-woo is released from prison after a 17 year sentence. He returns to the rural town in which he spent his time with Yun-hee. And there, Hyun-woo begins to reminisce; he remembers his relationship with Yun-hee and the sacrifices he's made. The political themes and events serve as more of a backdrop, except for a few cases, while the romance takes a stronger focus during most of the story. The film jumps from past to present, inconsistently so, until it reaches a bittersweet ending.

The storytelling was my biggest issue with The Old Garden. Jumping from past to present and vice versa is an effective way to keep the audience engaged, but it must be meticulously crafted. In this case, the storytelling starts off a little rough and convoluted, and becomes becomes a bit smoother during the latter half. The film's first act is filled with jumps, while the rest of the film mostly focuses on the past. Despite the many cuts, the first act has a balanced focus on both leads, while the rest of the film has a stronger focus on Yun-hee instead of Hyun-soo. And, that's fine and all, but it makes the film feel unbalanced -- almost like you're watching two different films; they interlink, but not seamlessly.

Fortunately, despite the rough start and the balance issues during the second half, the story is overall very interesting. The political backdrop makes the film more distinct, and the chemistry between Hyun-soo and Yun-hee is genuine -- you can really feel the love, partly due to the writing and performances. The romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking. It's a very well crafted romance with an interesting backdrop. Furthermore, the film comes full-circle and offers a resounding resolution. I wish we could witness more of the present, although I suppose there isn't much to witness. Otherwise, the story is great.

Ji Jin-hee is great, his emotions are very genuine. Yeom Jeong-ah is equally impressive with a powerful performance. Together, Jeong-ah and Jin-hee develop a believable and very effective relationship. The film is shot very well; the cinematography is great. The music is also great, pairing well with genre. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream are great -- a spelling error here and there, but nothing detrimental. Writer and director Im Sang-soo delivers an entertaining romance film, and a subtly thought-provoking commentary.

Overall, The Old Garden has a great story, but it is hindered by the overly-ambitious storytelling. Don't get me wrong, it's a great film, but it could've been fine-tuned to be more efficient. Definitely worth watching for fans of the genre. Also, it's a much better film from Im Sang-soo than The Housemaid and The Taste of Money.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Sunny (2011)

Sunny (Review)
Kang Hyeong-cheol/Shim Eun-kyung/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...I left with the biggest smile I've likely ever had from a film."

To fulfill her friend's dying wish, Im Na-mi (Yoo Ho-jeong) sets out to reunite their high school group, Sunny.

Sunny interlinks the past and present, almost seamlessly thanks to the great editing and storytelling. In the present, the girls are middle-aged and reconnecting due to Ha Chun-hwa's (Jin Hee-kyung) terminal illness -- Chun-hwa being the group leader. The past, which takes place during the 80s, follows this group of girls who share a tight and hilarious bond, particularly after country girl Na-mi (Shim Eun-kyung) joins. They go through the good and the bad, with plenty of sass and quirk, and through thick and thin. The ending is also very moving.

Sunny is a fantastic comedy-drama. The humor is absolutely hilarious. Whether it's hilarious street fights, a foul-mouthed teen or grandma, or fake possessions, this film had me laughing out loud. It's very versatile in its humor, too. There's also plenty of drama and emotion. And not just melodrama, but honest and genuine drama. The humor and drama are made much more effective by the very vivid, lively, and likable characters. You can't get enough of this fun and energetic group of girls; I mean Na-mi's dancing, during the 80s, brings a smile to my face just thinking about it! It's also a very positive film; the humor is mostly lighthearted, and its message of friendship and dreams is superb.

The film is led by an amazing cast. Shim Eun-kyung, whose been a personal favorite of mine since I watched Hansel & Gretel years ago, is pure charisma; she has amazing screen presence, and she's hilarious. Kang Sora, who plays a young Chun-hwa's, is also great. There are too many to name, though. They're all great. I liked the music; an excellent soundtrack for the film. It's also shot very well. The set and clothing design, especially for the 80s scenes, is fantastic, as well. Kang Hyeong-cheol, who also wrote and directed Scandal Makers, finds the perfect balance of humor and drama; the film is also perfectly paced, edited, and told -- it was over before I knew it.

Overall, Sunny is a magnificent film. It's one of the funniest films I've ever watched, and the drama is also very effective. The story is refreshing, and the storytelling is engaging. The cast is all-around superb, and I especially enjoyed Shim Eun-kyung's performance. You may shed some tears, but I left with the biggest smile I've likely ever had from a film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood. Excessive language used for humor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Spring Bears Love (aka Do You Like Spring Bear?) (2003)

Spring Bears Love (aka Do You Like Spring Bear?) (Review)
Donald Yong-ih/Bae Doo-na/2003
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...cliché and long-winded, but charming and humorous."

Hyun-chae (Bae Doo-na), who has an unsuccessful love life, finds love notes in the library. So, Hyun-chae begins to search for her potential secret admirer.
 
Spring Bears Love mainly follows Hyun-chae as she searches for the person leaving the love notes in the books, all while being oblivious to the friend who loves her. So, she finds a note, talks about it to her friends and even follows up on some leads, then finds another note, and repeat. And repeat. And, repeat. If you haven't gotten it: the story is very repetitive. After it cycles a few times, the film leads to a more engaging third act and ending. It ends exactly how you'd expect it to end, but it's fulfilling enough.

The main problem with Spring Bears Love, also known as Do You Like Spring Bear?, is its repetitive formula. It's almost like watching the same scene over and over. This makes the short runtime feel much longer; I mean, the film is less than an hour and forty minutes long, but it feels over two hours long. Aside from the glaring pacing issues and an uneventful story, Spring Bears Love offers some genuine humor and charm. The romance may be cliché, but it works out in the end. And, Hyun-chae is very quirky and charming -- she has plenty of hilarious scenes, like the laugh out loud scene in the movie theater. It's cliché and long-winded, but charming and humorous.

Bae Doo-na, of Cloud Atlas, is fantastic as the leading lady -- she's very charming, she had the perfect charismatic sass. The rest of the acting is good, too. The film is shot competently. The music is decent, but it is also very repetitive; you hear the same music during every other scene. The English subtitles on the Amazon Prime Instant Stream are great, although it does miss some translations. Director Donald Yong-ih does well in crafting a competent romantic comedy; it's not very unique, it's repetitive, and it's not as funny as other films in the genre, but it's at least good and well-made.

Overall, Spring Bears Love is a good Korean romantic comedy. There are a handful of laugh out loud moments and the romance, as generic as it may be, is effective. Also, Bae Doo-na is a sweet treat. However, the film is repetitive, long-winded, and occasionally boring. Recommend for fans of the genre or Bae Doo-na.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Generally appropriate for all audiences.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: My Girlfriend Is An Agent

My Girlfriend Is An Agent (Review)
Shin Tae-ra/Kim Ha-neul/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...clumsy, slapstick humor..."

Domestic special agent Ahn Soo-ji (Kim Ha-neul) and her ex-boyfriend Lee Jae-joon (Kang Ji-hwan), who's a rookie international agent, hunt down a group who have attained a dangerous weapon.

My Girlfriend Is An Agent begins with Lee Jae-joon breaking up with Ahn Soo-ji due to her constant lying. Three years later, Jae-joon remerges for his special mission, and Soo-ji continues with her own. However, the pair don't realize both are agents, and they don't realize they're working the same case. So, of course, there'll be plenty of misunderstanding and bickering. That's really all My Girlfriend Is An Agent is: a lot of bickering and misunderstandings, and a lot of clumsiness. It was a little slow and uneventful, a little long too, but I thought the climax and ending were great.

My Girlfriend Is An Agent just doesn't really work as a spy-action/romantic comedy hybrid. The action and story never really click. The action in particular is limited and underwhelming, at least until the ending. The romance is interesting, I liked the familiar concept -- it's not a "lovey dovey" romance film, but it works. The humor was the best part of the film, though. He can be infuriatingly incompetent, but Jae-joon was laugh out loud funny -- the clumsy, slapstick humor fits the character. Soo-ji has a couple of great lines, too. Together, their a fun and likable pair. Of course, some of the jokes and lines fall flat, too. Like Jae-joon's incompetence -- it's funny for most of the film's runtime, but it's a running gag that eventually grows repetitive.

The acting is great from Kim Ha-neul and Kang Ji-hwan. Despite being the lead, Kim Ha-neul doesn't really get a chance to shine, she's more of an action character. Kang Ji-hwan, on the other hand, really gets the bulk of the humor. Otherwise, the film is shot very well, and features a standard soundtrack -- nothing special. The Netflix Instant stream has a bad translation -- you can understand the story and jokes, but it is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Director Shin Tae-ra does well in crafting the humor, but doesn't effectively blend the action or spy elements into the film -- they feel tacked on.

Overall, I think My Girlfriend is an Agent is a good comedy. The action and spy elements don't work well -- they just didn't land. Fortunately, the humor does land, and it lands quite often thanks to the two charismatic leads. If you like slapstick and romantic comedies, I think you'll enjoy most of My Girlfriend Is An Agent.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.