Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: Silenced (aka The Crucible) (2011)

Silenced (aka The Crucible) (Review)
Hwang Dong-hyuk/Gong Yoo/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"It's not a feel-good film, but it's a good film to make you feel..."

Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo) is hired as the new art teacher for Benevolence Academy, a school for hearing-impaired children in the city of Mujin -- the city of fog. Immediately, In-ho notices some of the children acting oddly...

Silenced continues as In-ho finds the horrible truth behind the children's untrusting and frightened behaviors -- they have been physically and sexually abused by the principal and teachers at the school. The first half of the film basically unravels this discovery as the children tell their stories through sign language while In-ho narrates. He'll also have the help of Seo Yoo-jin (Jung Yoo-mi), a human rights activist. The second half follows the tense trial of the accused, and what lengths they'll go to to escape conviction. The ending of the film is heartbreaking, mind-shattering, infuriating, frustrating... it evokes so many feelings; there is a shred of hope, though, and it's well appreciated.

Silenced is an intense drama based on real events. The story is very disturbing and even a bit graphic, yet very effective. The scenes of abuse are brutal and difficult to endure, but they serve a purpose -- the beatings and sexual assaults are genuinely horrifying, though, so be prepared. Honestly, I'm surprised some of these scenes of abuse even made it on to the film, they're just so realistic, almost unbearable. But, again, they serve a purpose and evoke incredible emotions. Ultimately, it's very informative as a film based on real life.

Also, as a film, it works very well off its intense atmosphere, suspenseful sequences, and effective drama. The villains, and they truly are villains, are disgusting. I hated these characters, and the cast that played them, because they played them so well. I've never been so infuriated with an antagonist like I have with this set. The children present their stories without a spoken word, but you can see the emotion in their facial expressions and subtle body movements -- a superb accomplishment. Silenced moves at a brisk pace and has great momentum -- it's always moving -- and has little filler as every scene serves a purpose.

Gong Yoo is fantastic as In-ho; his performance is genuine from beginning to end, and portrays his character with great emotion. Jung Yoo-mi is also superb, although a bit of a trope, she adds much life to her character and is very charismatic. The rest of the cast is also superb; the children are very impressive, probably the best child cast I've ever seen. The music is superb in leading emotions and building atmosphere -- it gave off a "Memories of Murder" vibe, which I enjoyed. The film is shot beautifully and the camerawork is slick, despite the horrendous subject. Hwang Dong-hyuk's direction is flawless, really delivering a consistent film with few technical flaws.

Overall, Silenced is an incredibly effective drama, a heartbreaking story that must be told and heard. It's not a feel-good film, but it's a good film to make you feel; if you're not comfortable or familiar with genuinely sad stories, not like the fabricated sadness you'd see in a Twilight or other teen drama film, then this film will likely devastate you -- and it's a feeling you should experience at least once in your life. Don't miss this film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, including the physical and sexual abuse of children, and brief nudity.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Running Turtle (2009)

Running Turtle (Review)
Lee Yeon-woo/Kim Yoon-seok/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming 
Amazon Prime

"...had me laughing consistently..."

A small-town, down-on-his-luck detective, Jo Pil-seong (Kim Yoon-seok), loses his huge gambling winnings to a highly-skilled and elusive fugitive, Song Gi-tae (Jung Kyung-ho).

Running Turtle continues as Pil-seong dedicates himself to capturing Gi-tae against all odds. The story follows a basic formula for most of its runtime: Pil-seong finds and confront Gi-tae, Gi-tae easily escapes, Pil-seong is humiliated and nagged by his wife, and repeat. Fortunately, it is quite often very humorous and enjoyable. Pil-seong and his friends -- a bunch of clumsy gamblers -- really know how to drop the ball. The third act raises the stakes with a tense yet humorous fight and good ending -- it doesn't close all lose ends and it is a bit cliché, but it fits well with the vibe of the film.

My problem with Running Turtle is its heavy reliance on the incompetence of its characters. Yes, it does make for some very humorous moments, but it doesn't seem plausible at all. I'm all for suspending reality during films, I'm not the type of person to poke holes in every film, but this level of unbelievable incompetence is often frustrating. Also, some of the characters are underdeveloped, like the love subplot, and it feels like it unnecessarily bloats the runtime. Otherwise, the film had me laughing consistently, and it moved at a moderate pace. It's not as funny as To Catch A Virgin Ghost, but it's close -- and I thought that movie was hilarious. If you can get past some of the frustrating plot contrivances, you'll find an hilariously entertaining film at heart.

Kim Yoon-seok is great as Pil-seong; he gives the character great life with a charismatic performance, you can help but feel bad while laughing at him. Jung Kyung-ho plays a bit of a trope, but he plays it well; the quite but tough, real mysterious and introspective antagonist -- we've seen it before, at least Kyung-ho plays it well. The film is shot well, the camerawork is occasionally rough and the film can be a bit dark, but it looks well enough. The music, whenever it played, usually fit the mood well, so that's a plus. Lee Yeon-Woo's direction is great, very consistent and direct -- he pulls great performances from his cast.

Overall, Running Turtle is an entertaining crime comedy with a great lead performance. But, it also has some flaws: the plot contrivances (i.e. the incompetence of the police, etc.) are frustrating and even annoying, the characters are underdeveloped, and the runtime is a bit bloated. If you can ignore these issues, and possibly more, you'll find a good time in Running Turtle.

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Loner (2008)

The Loner (Review)
Park Jae-sik/Go Eun-ah/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"What could've been more than, becomes less."

When her best friend commits suicide after severe bullying and a misunderstanding, Soo-na (Go Eun-ah) locks herself in her room and begins talking to someone only she can see...

Loner (original title: Woetoli) revolves around the idea of hikikomori -- reclusive individuals who withdraw from society. The story follows Soo-na as she becomes a "loner" because of her best friend's bloody suicide, while odd things begin occurring to the rest of the household -- her uncle and grandmother. Who is Soo-na speaking to in her room? Although it should have a strong sense of mystery, most of the film plays out like a traditional ghost story: creepy events occur while someone tries to find out why. The final act is unnecessarily complicated, but the ending, from what I understood, is bittersweet and heartfelt.

Loner has an interesting concept, but flawed execution. What could've been more than, becomes less. The film's use of its themes, such as hikikomori, make it unique. It's use of mystery also adds some slow-burn and interest into the film. However, much of the film is the same old, same old as it uses a repetitive formula for its first two acts, and overwhelms the audience during the final. The often confusing storytelling will be more offensive if you don't speak Korean as the English subtitles, particularly for the Netflix version, are sloppy with spelling and grammatical errors; you can understand the story, but you'll have to work much of it out yourself. The suspense is weak, and only a few jump-scares work well. There are some disturbing visuals, though, and some psychological burn.

Go Eun-ah is great, but, as a lead, she feels very underused. Regardless, the cast is great with a wide range of emotion from every character, despite some stereotypes. The film looks like every other Asian ghost film with blue tones and similar camerawork -- at least it works well, though. The music is also very effective, but not very memorable. Park Jae-sik's direction is good, but some of it is a bit inconsistent and choppy; I think the writing it more to blame for some of the complicated storytelling.

Overall, Loner is a decent horror film. The theme of hikikomori, or loneliness, is strong and leads to more than a handful of emotional scenes. But, along with the elements of mystery, it's not strongly developed enough to hold the film up. Instead, we get a hollow shell of what could've been, and it's not very scary, either.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Chawz (2009)

Chawz (Review)
Shin Jung-Won/Uhm Tae-woong/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"I laughed out loud many, many times..."

Officer Sun-Kyeong Kim (Uhm Tae-woong) of Seoul is transferred to the quite, crimeless village of Sameri where a man-eating boar is causing chaos...

Chawz continues as Sun-Kyeong, his pregnant wife, and ill mother, transition into this quiet yet bizarre village. The police are incompetent, some of the villagers are strange while others are greedy, and so on. Anyway, a man-eating boar is suspected when a hunter's granddaughter goes missing and, well, he suspects said boar. Basically, the story follows a bizarre cast of characters as they try to hunt the boar before it attacks the main village. Chawz leads to a predictable yet hilarious ending.

Chawz is a black comedy monster flick. In this case, the monster is a huge, man-eating boar terrorizing a small community. The story is hilarious, it's quirky, charming, and occasionally dark. The dark elements of the film, however, occasionally feel out of place because the quirkiness of the rest of the film. I laughed out loud many, many times, though. Even from the beginning, with all of the cops foolishly rolling down a hill, I could tell I was in for a quirky, bizarre comedy. And, it delivers tenfold. Also, Chawz delivers quite a few thrills, mostly during the final act, though. However, all is not well in the village of Sameri: the runtime felt a bit bloated, there are a couple of unnecessary scenes, and the pacing is static -- sometimes it's fast, while it occasionally dragged during others.

Uhm Tae-woong does well as the lead; quirky, charming, and humorous in his performance. Yoon Je-moon delivers a great supporting role, as well. The film is greatly shot, the cinematography is great. The music fit the quirky style of the film well. The special effects are great for a film of this budget -- yes, the boar is occasionally out of place, but don't go in with Hollywood expectations and you should be satisfied. Shin Jung-Won is a master at creating these quirky black comedy/horror mash-ups, his direction is great at willfully bending genres.

Overall, Chawz is a highly entertaining monster flick. It's hilarious from beginning to end, despite a slightly bloated runtime and some pacing issue. If you like bizarre and quirky comedies, like Shin Jung-Won's previous film To Catch A Virgin Ghost, then you'll likely enjoy Chawz.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and gore, and brief nudity.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Killer Toon (2013)

Killer Toon (Review)
Kim Yong-gyun/Lee Si-young/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming 
Amazon Prime

"...a fantastic first half, then fumbles to a decent second half."

Amazon Prime When a string of murders resembling her web comics occur, detective Lee Ki-cheol (Um Ki-joon) begins to investigate cartoonist Kang Ji-yoon's (Lee Si-young) connection to the brutal crimes.

Much more than a traditional horror story, Killer Toon continues as Ki-cheol investigates the crimes, and Ji-yoon attempts to clear her name, all while her comics continue to come to life. The first half of the film is creative and refreshing, with a slick blend of live-action and comic horror. However, the second half of the film shows a clear loss of momentum and focus. At this point, you realize the story is wandering without a destination -- it's aiming without a target -- and it's just going around in circles until it finally hits a dead end. The ending of the film is good, but the final act exhausts so much energy with so many unnecessary twists, it's almost tiring.

Killer Toon is a horror film with a creative premise. Although not the first film to experiment with the idea, the concept of art -- in this case, web comics -- coming to life is unique and entertaining. The first half of the film is filled with jolting jump-scares, bloody and spooky visuals, and a fresh, creative style. It's a fun and entertaining experience. The second half of the film, however, takes a turn for the worst. It feels like it's recycling over and over until the ending. The twists are unnecessary and ineffective -- there are no jaw-dropping moments. It still has a slick style, but it has less scares than the first half, and it feels like it starts to drag.

Lee Si-young is great as Ji-yoon, she delivers a consistent and believable performance. Um Ki-joon lacks some charisma and screen presence, but he's more than competent for the role and offers great support. The makeup and special effects are very high quality, and even interesting -- I'd like to see the process for some of the practical effects. The music is wonderful, it sounds like it came from an fairytale -- it's enchanting. The film is also beautifully shot with great cinematography and engaging camerawork. I thoroughly enjoyed the web comic segments, especially when they blended with the live-action. (The film and audio quality on the South Korean Blu-ray are superb.) Kim Yong-gyun's direction is fantastic during the first half, but becomes messy and unbalanced during the second.

Overall, Killer Toon starts off with a fantastic first half, then fumbles to a decent second half. The first half of the film was so fun and refreshing, it's disappointing to see the film stumble the way it did. However, despite a handful of flaws with the story, the second half is still serviceable and offers some entertainment and redeeming qualities.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: The Flu (2013)

The Flu (Review)
Kim Sung-su/Soo Ae/2013
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...kept me at the edge of my seat..."

A group of illegal immigrants are smuggled into Bundang, South Korea. When the shipping container holding this group is opened by the human traffickers, a deadly strain of H5N1, better known as the bird flu, is unleashed upon an unsuspecting population...

The Flu follows single mother and doctor Kim In-hae (Soo Ae) as she aids in the search for a cure to a seemingly incurable and fatal disease. It also follows a paramedic, Kang Ji-goo (Jang Hyuk), who gets caught up in rescuing and protecting In-hae's daughter, Mir (Park Min-ha). The story is by-the-books, but it was interesting to see the conception of the virus and the quarantine process, and it continuously builds up great tension and suspense. This momentum continues until the exhilarating finale that kept me at the edge of my seat -- yeah, it was a tad bit predictable, but it was immensely enjoyable, nonetheless.

The Flu is a fantastic disaster-thriller. Like I said, the story is by-the-books, but it does present some original ideas, and those that are not so original are executed with mastery. As far as the story goes, you do have to suspend some belief to enjoy the movie, especially during the second half. However, this didn’t really hinder the experience. This is a film that only wants to entertain, and it does that tenfold. It is a thriller, and a damn good one at that. The characters are likable and charismatic, the story is interesting and engaging, and there is plenty of suspense and tension, as well as some great emotion. There are a couple of plot contrivances, but they didn’t really bother me that much in the long run.

Soo Ae is great, and she's versatile -- starting off stuck-up and stubborn, and showing genuine emotion and heart by the end -- I'd say a bit better than her performance in Midnight F.M. Jang Hyuk is also great for the same reasons, however, he starts off more charming and charismatic than his counterpart. Park Min-ha really steals the show, though. Min-ha gives her all in a very enthusiastic and adorable, and hits a wide range of emotions, as well. The cinematography really shines -- the scale of the film is impressive, and the cinematography captures these scenes with such beauty, despite the horrendous subject. The music is also memorable -- one of the tracks really stuck to me because of its similarities to the 28 Days Later theme -- definitely a great and well suited nod. Kim Sung-su writes and directs, and, although the writing is a bit cliché, Sung-su does incredibly well capturing the scale of the film and creating suspense and thrills.

Overall, The Flu knows exactly what it is: a blockbuster disaster thriller -- and that's exactly what you get. You have Blockbuster qualities -- such as the massive scale, the superb cinematography, and the fantastic music -- that many "blockbusters" fail to deliver. On top of that, you have a heat-pounding thriller with pure suspense and tension throughout, and a cast of charismatic characters. A few plot contrivances and odd plot points hold the film back from perfection, but most Blockbusters don't get better than this.

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Unbowed (2011)

Unbowed (Review)
Chung Ji-young/Ahn Sung-ki/2011
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...one of the most thrilling and engaging courtroom dramas I've seen."

Kim Kyung-ho (Ahn Sung-ki), a law-abiding former math professor, hires Park Jun (Park Won-sang), an alcoholic attorney, to aid him against the broken criminal justice system.

Unbowed is a courtroom drama based on a true story with obvious changes for cinematic reasons. Kyung-ho is a former math professor who was wrongfully dismissed for questioning a math question in an entrance exam. After filing a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal and losing, Kyung-ho is accused of attacking the judge with a crossbow. Kyung-ho upholds his innocence and hires Jun to assist him and to work as a buffer between Kyung-ho and the bench. The rest of the film is basically the trial, which is filled with incredibly tense encounters. The ending of the film feels abrupt and even out of place due to the music, but it at least lets us know the events which followed; the ending is really the only part of the story that disappoints, though.

Unbowed works excellently as a courtroom drama. The exchanges between Kyung-ho and Jun against the bench and prosecution are tense and very consistent; so tense and consistent, Unbowed feels like a pure-blooded thriller. In fact, because of these great elements, the film moves at a ferocious pace. I love these exchanges as they're filled with tension, as well as interesting information regarding law. Really, the film boils down to the small man fighting a tyrannical law system -- or, as the film makes it, David vs. Goliath. There are also quite a few hilarious moments thay blend very well with the film.

Ahn Sung-ki plays his role very well, really building a deep character; self-righteous, law-abiding, conservative, humorous, outspoken... he's so much. Park Won-sang also matches Ahn Sung-ki with a versatile performance; he can be an arrogant drunk one moment (albeit a bit cliché), humorous at another, or even a caring lawyer willing to risk it all. The music matches the film well as it plays lightly in the background. The film is also shot well with engaging camerawork. Chung Ji-young's writing and direction are also very consistent and well done -- the ending was a bit off, though.

Overall, Unbowed is one of the most thrilling and engaging courtroom dramas I've seen. It features an informative and entertaining story, incredible performances, and other high-quality technical aspects. The ending is the only part that doesn't sit well with the me, though.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, some brief nudity, and implied sex.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: To Catch A Virgin Ghost (aka Sisily 2km) (2004)

To Catch A Viring Ghost (aka Sisily 2km) (Review)
Shin Jung-Won/Im Chang-jung/2004
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"This is a genuinely quirky, charming, and humorous film."

Seok-tae (Kwon Oh-Jung) runs off with diamonds from his gang to a small remote village, Sisily. Yang-e (Im Chang-jung) and his crew track him to the town where not everything is what it seems...

To Catch A Virgin Ghost continues as Yang-e and his crew interrogate the villagers since Seok-tae has gone missing. Without spoiling much, the villagers found a diamond and decided to hide Seok-tae, and his cell phone leads Yang-e to the village. The plot continues to spiral into absurdity as the villagers try to throw the gang off over and over, while the gang runs into a virgin ghost, which leads to more hilarity. (Did you know virgin ghosts are afraid of men's things?) The ending of the film goes off the rails with an eccentric third act, and a sweet ending.

To Catch A Virgin Ghost is a real genre bender with crime, humor, and horror blended nicely together, although comedy has the strongest presence. The humor in this film is occasionally lighthearted and often black, but it's always funny. This is a genuinely quirky, charming, and humorous film. I felt like the ghost was underused during the first two acts despite coming full circle at the end, and it's a bit overwhelming during the final act, as well. In fact, it may alienate some fans who never experience such bizzare films before. However, it continues to be extremely humorous.

Im Chang-jung is impressive with his performance, and so is his crew, with hilarious clumsiness and oddness; they also play great gangsters at times. In fact, the entire cast has great chemistry and charm, especially during the quirkiest moments. I like the music, especially the chanting, it works well with the themes. The film felt like it occasionally lost momentum, but it is fairly paced, at least. Shin Jung-Win's direction is great, especially during the most absurd moments.

Overall, To Catch A Virgin Ghost (aka Sisily 2km) is a refreshingly quirky and absurdly hilarious film. A real genre bender, despite a stronger focus on comedy, with extremely entertaining qualities. The mixture of lighthearted and black comedy, without becoming too offensive, is refreshing, as well.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and nudity. (male buttocks only during one scene, frontal nudity is censored.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Ring Virus (1999)

The Ring Virus (Review)
Kim Dong-bin/Shin Eun-Kyung/1999 
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...has more than a handful of creepy moments, as well as an ominous atmosphere throughout."

After her niece mysteriously dies from a heart attack, journalist Hong Sun-Joo (Shin Eun-Kyung) stumbles upon the mysterious death of three others and begins to investigate...

The Ring Virus is another version of The Ring, Ringu, or an adaptation of the novel -- however you want to look at it. Regardless, it follows the same premise. Sun-Joo begins investigating her niece and her friends' death, which leads her to a cursed tape. If you watch said tape, you will die in a week unless you... well, that's for Sun-Joo to find out before her time is up. So, she tracks the tape and the curse to save herself, her daughter, and her partner in the investigation. The film reaches a creepy climax, and even more chilling ending -- a genuinely skin-crawling ending.

The Ring Virus plays out more like a slow-burn mystery with horror elements -- it's not a traditional horror film. In fact, out of the three adaptations of the source material, this was the least horrifying, despite being the most accurate. However, The Ring Virus has more than a handful of creepy moments, as well as an ominous atmosphere throughout. The audio and visuals really compliment each other well, some of the audio is very creepy. The tape isn't as disturbing or surreal, but it gets the message across. There is a lack of impact, though, the hook really never sinks to the point where you're fully immersed. And, some of the story is poorly presented, so there is a communication problem, which may cause some confusion.

Shin Eun-Kyung is great as the lead, she plays the role with restraint, but with great emotion and charisma. The rest of the cast is equally impressive and likable. The film is shot nicely, creating dark, moody scenes through dark yet visible cinematography. The music is perfect -- the music and sounds are ominous and add to the film immensely. The pace is slow, and sometimes it lacks the necessary burn to be a slow-burn as there is a lack of horror. Fortunately, the writing presents an interesting story, albeit a bit confusing. The film is exceptionally made on the technical aspects.

Overall, The Ring Virus is a good slow-burn horror film. It's not as scary as the other adaptations, but it is exceptionally made and it has its heart in the right place. It has a few confusing moments, but the story is as chilling and disturbing as ever. The DVD of the film has English subtitles, but they are only decently translated -- this added to the confusion. So, if this is your first time watching a Ring adaptation and you don't understand Korean, you should watch the English-friendly versions. (i.e. the Japanese or U.S. Version)

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, disturbing visuals, and partial nudity. (barely visible)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Rainbow Eyes (2007)

Rainbow Eyes (Review)
Yang Yun-ho/Kim Kang-woo/2007
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...an original and creative crime thriller with procedural execution."

Officers Kyung-yoon (Kim Kang-woo) and Eun-ju (Kim Min-sun) investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy gym owner. When another man is found dead, the pair must find the link in their pasts to uncover the murderer...

Rainbow Eyes continues as the investigation unravels. The evidence leads them to believe the men were homosexuals, and they must share a past as they were likely killed by the same person. At the same time, Kyung-yoon attempts to salvage his love life, while attempting to forget his own past. However, his past may also be related to the murders. After a heavy-handed twist, the finale takes you into an exhilarating ride leading to a heartfelt ending. (the less you know about the film beforehand, the better and more surprising it'll be during, so I'll keep the spoilers out.)

Rainbow Eyes presents an original and creative crime thriller with procedural execution. In other words, the story and content may be unique, but the film plays out like every other crime film out there. The style is over-the-top and even a bit irritating; the flashy, choppy editing is unnecessary and overused. The first two acts have enough to keep your attention, but it really starts to gain momentum during the final act. The love subplots felt underdeveloped, but the final act really delivered some much needed and satisfying closure. I'd say the final act really redeemed the film, taking it from just good to about great.

Kim Kang-woo is great as the lead, although he is occasionally over-dramatic. Kim Min-sun, despite lacking some character development, plays her character very well. The film is shot beautifully, but it is distorted by too much editing -- too many scenes have sloppy camerawork and strong color tints, as well as choppy cuts, that make the scenes ineffective and messy. The music is great, though. Yang Yun-ho's direction is also consistent in crafting a by-the-book crime thriller. The over-stylized editing is the only aspect that really bothered me on the technical side.

Overall, Rainbow Eyes is a great crime thriller with a strong twist and ending. The first two acts are by-the-books, while the final act really picks up the tension and momentum, as well as effectively closing most loose ends. Recommended for fans of the genre.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity. (there is rape, as well, although not very graphic.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: R2B: Return to Base (aka Black Eagle) (2012)

R2B: Return to Base (or Black Eagle) (Review)
Kim Dong-won/Rain/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...with the beautifully choreographed air battles really sweeping me away."

Captain Jung Tae-yoon (Rain), a member of the elite Black Eagle air force unit, is transferred to F-15K, a flying combat unit, after performing a dangerous and cocky move at an air show.

R2B: Return to Base continues with Tae-yoon bumping heads with Cheol-hee (Yoo Jun-sang), F-15K's top gun. Tae-yoon also falls for Sergeant Yoo Se-young (Shin Se-kyung), the unit's mechanic. And so, they banter and compete amongst themselves until a threat expectedly rises from the North. Which, in turn, causes Se-young and Cheol-hee to face their demons and partner up. The final act of the film is pure action, with the thrilling air battles taking center-stage. The ending of the film is predictable, but fans of happily-ever-after endings will feel right at home; my opinion, it was too easy of an ending.

The story is full of clichés and is presented in a generic manner. Every character, every action, every scene, in fact, has been done before. On top of that, the film is stylized in an American manner, filled with odd editing choices and music that are better suited for music videos rather than a film. R2B: Return to Base offers nothing new to the genre. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn't entertained. The first half of the film is filled with genuine, light-hearted humor -- I laughed more than I usually laugh during full comedy films. The characters are charismatic and likable, despite being clones of other films. And, the action is thrilling, with the beautifully choreographed air battles really sweeping me away. On top of that, the comedy and action blend well to create a consistent film with a great pace. Cliche: Yes. Entertaining: Hell Yes!

I liked Rain as the lead, he plays the cocky character well with a strong screen presence and charisma. Shin Se-kyung also delivers a great, versatile performance. The special effects are great, really capturing the blockbuster action vibe; the action sequences soar and bring maximum thrills. The music is well-fitted for the theme and setting of the film. The writing is cliché, but the heart is in the right place; it works well in creating a universally enjoyable experience without sacrificing entertainment.

Overall, R2B: Return to Base, also known as Black Eagle, is a good action film with great action sequences and a nice blend of lighthearted humor. The editing is overdone and there are some odd visual choices in what feels like an attempt to mimic Hollywood, but it is generally entertaining and enjoyable. Good for a night in, especially for fans of the cast.

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Midnight F.M. (2010)

Midnight F.M. (Review)
Kim Sang-man/Soo Ae/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a nonstop thrill ride."

Ko Sun-young (Soo Ae) is the popular DJ for Midnight F.M., a midnight radio show. On her last night as DJ before she leaves for the United States, Sun-young is threatened by a mysterious fan, Han Dong-soo (Yoo Ji-tae), who has taken her family hostage...

Midnight F.M. continues as Dong-soo demands Sun-young play songs from his playlist, which consist of music and monologues she's played in her previous shows. Dong-soo has her family hostage, including her mute daughter, so Sun-young has to work quickly and accurately -- and, she can't tell the police or leave the studio. Of course, mistakes are made and the stakes rise, creating games of hide-and-seek and cat-and-mouse. The antagonist's reasoning is also creative and interesting. Although a bit predictive and reliant on some plot contrivances, the film speeds to a suspenseful ending -- there is a cheesy one-liner, though, which doesn't really fit the mood of the film.

Midnight F.M. is really a pure-breed thriller. It starts off with some light suspense and foreshadowing, then explodes into a nonstop thrill ride. There are a few scenes with fabricated suspense, but the rest of the film really keeps a tense and gritty atmosphere. I'm especially impressed as Midnight F.M. moves at a ferocious pace while keeping its momentum strong. This is a dark thriller, by the way, like many South Korean thrillers -- not everything ends happily and some scenes may surprise you. There are a few plot contrivances that I did not enjoy, hurting the film's realism and really only present to push the story forward. There is also a very cliché and predictable character arc.

Soo Ae delivers a strong performance with a solid range of emotion -- only some happiness, but great anger and sadness. Soo Ae also has a great voice for radio. Yoo Ji-tae delivers an equally impressive performance as the sinister villain. The film is shot beautifully, especially the scenes with great use of color and lighting; it can be a bit dark, and some of the camerawork was occasionally sloppy, especially during the action sequences. The music is also well-fitted for the film and keeps the suspense up. I enjoyed Kim Sang-man's direction, he keeps the film consistent and well-paced, and pulls a lot from his cast.

Overall, Midnight F.M. is a great thriller. It's a thrill ride with great suspense and two great leads. Although highly entertaining, some of its predictive elements and plot contrivances were weak and worth noting.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: Masquerade (2012)

Masquerade (Review)
Choo Chang-min/Lee Byung-hun/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...incredibly engaging and even addicting as I was glued to my seat."

Troubled by the fear of conspiracy and assassination, Joseon Dynasty King Gwang-hae (Lee Byung-hun) orders his councilor, Heo Gyun (Ryu Seung-ryong), to find his exact body double. Heo Gyun finds Ha-sun (also Lee Byung-hun), a joker with a striking resemblance to the king...

Masquerade continues as worst comes to worst and King Gwang-hae falls ill. Initially supposed to only spend nights as his double, Ha-sun now has to take on Gwang-hae's responsibilities as King. And so, Ha-sun begins to adapt to the King's lifestyle -- he learns how to interact with his council and his servants in order to create a believable facade. He'll often be questioned, and it's interesting to see how his character evolves -- and he does evolve. Although occasionally humorous, much of the film revolves around politics and how they worked at the time -- and it speaks volumes on how it works now. The final act becomes much more dramatic with great suspense and emotion; in other words, the ending is fantastic.

Masquerade is a historical drama. The story and the storytelling are incredibly engaging and even addicting as I was glued to my seat. The film blends its humorous and dramatic elements well, and keeps a strong yet almost subtle political theme, as well. The humor fits perfectly with the characters and settings, and it is genuinely funny. Meanwhile, the politics keeps you engaged, while the drama is emotionally effective; both of these elements clash during the third act to create a thrilling yet emotional finale. The pacing is also great and the film never feels bloated or long despite passing two hours.

The entire cast is great as they immerse themselves into this world. Lee Byung-hun is particularly impressive with a wide-ranged performance, from stern king to a humorous clown; and, furthermore, his characters evolve greatly from beginning to end, and you'll notice this during his final shot. Otherwise, the film is a technical benchmark for the genre. The cinematography is superb, the costume and set design are authentic, and the music is well-fitted. It all blends together to immerse you into the world. On top of it all, you have superb direction from Choo Chang-min.

Overall, Masquerade is a superb historical drama. It's incredibly entertaining and even emotionally satisfying -- you might even shed a tear. On top of that, the film is technically exceptional. Don't miss out on this film.

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Antarctic Journal (2005)

Antarctic Journal (Review)
Yim Pil-sung/Song Kang-ho/2005
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...burns slowly with great suspense and tension, as well as a dreadful atmosphere."

An expedition team of six, led by Captain Choi Do-hyung (Song Kang-ho), travel to the Pole of Inaccessibility (POI) -- beyond any man's previous expeditions. On their journey, however, the team finds a journal by a British expedition 80 years prior...

Antarctic Journal continues as the expedition teams journeys to the POI through harsh conditions. The journal they found, titled the Antarctic Journal, reveals eerie images and journal entries of the past expedition, and soon reveals other similarities between the two expeditions. As one could expect, the conditions start to get to some of the members, causing some outbursts and out-of-character choices. Are the altitude and climate changes causing the psychological problems, or is it related to the journal? The final act of the film loses some momentum and has some confusing elements; I was ultimately able to grip the situation, though, and I liked some parts of the ending.

Antarctic Journal is a slow-burn psychological horror film with mystery elements. It's not a jump-scare horror film -- in fact, it barely has any jump-scares. Rather, Antarctic Journal burns slowly with great suspense and tension, as well as a dreadful atmosphere. I could see the setting alone being particularly frightening for some viewers. It's a bit on the cliché side, though. Without spoiling much: a main character begins to lose a grip on reality causing the rest of the group to suffer. Regardless, the film was very entertaining. Prepare yourself for a slow film, though, as it may be too slow for some audiences.

Song Kang-ho is fantastic in this film -- his character goes through a few changes, and its most notable through facial expressions, which is quite the accomplishment. There are some other notable faces for fans of South Korean films, such as Yoo Ji-tae, who hold their ground. The film is beautifully shot, the cinematography is often breathtaking. The music, although not heavily present, also shines with an ominous tone. Together, the cinematography and music contribute greatly to the tense atmosphere. Yim Pil-sung's direction is great, the writing could use some focus and could've gone deeper, psychologically at least.

Overall, Antarctic Journal is a great film with a dark, almost dreadful atmosphere and great story. However, there are a few issues on storytelling -- most prevalent during the final act -- and pacing. Fans of slow-burning films, horror or otherwise, will enjoy it the most.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and gore.