Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Daisy (2006)

Daisy (Review)
Andrew Lau/Jung Woo-sung/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...impressed at how this film developed its sense of love and intimacy."

A love triangle revolving around artist Hye-young (Jun Ji-hyun), her secret admirer and professional killer Park Yi (Jung Woo-sung), and Interpol detective Jeong Woo (Lee Sung-jae).

Daisy shows the three different perspectives of the three main characters. Park Yi falls in love with Hye-young at first sight, and secretly shows his feelings by delivering a pot of daisies to Hye-young everyday. The love becomes distorted when detective Jeong Woo stumbles upon Hye-young, incidentally with a pot of daisies, and Hye-young believes he is her admirer -- and he won't let her believe otherwise. The story continues to focus on each character and their internal conflicts, and each character faces a genuine issue. A bit slow at times, and occasionally uneventful, Daisy leads to a strong ending -- many hopeless romantics will hate it, especially with those accustomed to the fantasy romance films we are constantly fed, but it's as honest as it gets.

Daisy is a very effective romantic-drama, with some great action sequences; the action sequences are limited, but they help the film pick up some speed and their greatly choreographed. I didn't know there were two versions of the film prior to watching it, and I watched the Netflix stream. Anyway, I found it interesting and was even impressed at how this film developed its sense of love and intimacy. Through the dialogue, the facial expressions, and their actions, you can see chemistry in the characters; and, this was developed without a single sex scene or any tongue-wrestling. There are many heart-aching scenes, really making you wish you can scream some sense into some characters, but, that's love, ain't it?

It was difficult to empathize with one character considering the circumstances, but you can see it was done purposefully to create this complicated love triangle; depending on how you see the character, he may come off as irritating and frustrating, though. Aside from that, the film has some pacing issues and often feels unnecessarily bloated, almost repetitive in its formula; at under 1hr 40min, Daisy feels like a 2 hour film. It kept the me interested, but it felt like it could've been cut down, or fine-tuned for a more effective experience.

Jung Woo-sung steals the show with his charismatic, charming, and complicated performance. Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Sung-jae are also great with some incredibly emotional scenes, especially the former. The supporting cast also does well in supporting the wonderful leads. The music is memorable, blending an original score and some classical music. The film is beautifully shot with great cinematography and engaging camerawork, despite lacking a high-definition version. Andrew Lau directs Daisy and delivers a great melodramatic romance film with great tension and chemistry throughout the story.

Overall, Daisy is a great melodramatic drama. It's a complicated yet well-developed love triangle, with genuine chemistry between the leads. It is has a slow pace, though, almost too slow for its own good; and, its further deterred by some uneventful plot points. Regardless, if you're looking for an emotional trip with a powerful destination, sit back and enjoy Daisy.

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp (2010)

Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp (aka Gosa 2)
Yoo Sun-dong/Park Ji-yeon/2010
Where to watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...Bloody Camp is a bloody mess."

Years after a student is found dead at a pool, a class of students are selected for a special study camp. As the class begins, the students and available staff are knocked out and awaken to a mysterious question demanding answers...

Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp, known as Gosa 2 elsewhere, follows the same formula as the last. The students, including Lee Se-hee (Park Ji-yeon), the stepsister of the dead student, are forced to answers a question. The questions asks the students to find out who the killer is and why. Some students and faculty will be picked off, and the students will receive clues and chances to live through these deaths. And, as more people die, a mystery unravels – a very predictable mystery. The story is more of the same from the first film, except it is incredibly underwhelming and bland – much more violent, but poorly developed. The film reaches an abrupt conclusion – a very boring ending with little closure, it just kind of ends.

Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp isn't scary. It's a horror film by most standards, but it isn't scary. There are buckets of blood, much more than the first installment, and some violent deaths, but nothing scarring or terrifying. There are some jump-scares, but they are generic and lack suspense. There is nothing scary about this film. Furthermore, the story is a direct copy of the last film, but instead of blending elements of supernatural and slasher films, Bloody Camp plays out like a straight-forward revenge film – I can't go further into detail for the plot because there aren't any more details to explain, the film has no depth. It really never develops an identity or focuses on a character, or focuses at all, it's just a mess.

According to Wikipedia (and its source), Director Yoo Sun-dong wanted to avoid the first films formula where the students must answer questions to survive and save their classmates, which turned out to be a poor mistake. Sun-dong's formula is a copy off the first film's formula regardless, but with less thought; a more probable excuse would be they wanted to cash-in on the first film's idea without developing some complex questions or puzzles for the students. This makes Bloody Camp even more generic, boring, and lifeless – it really is a pointless cash-in. In fact, the writing is so lazy, despite Bloody Camp being an indirect sequel, you HAVE to watch the first film to fully understand the concept.

Park Ji-yeon is good in her role. I can't call her a lead because none of the characters are developed, and the story never focuses. The rest of the cast is decent, nothing spectacular or terrible. The cinematography is okay with decent use of lighting and shadowing, but the film is completely shot in the dark; the lights are off for 75% of the film, and it can be hard to see. I liked some of the somber tones of the soundtrack, but most of the score is generic. Director Yoo Sun-dong fails to develop the characters and story, and he also fails to deliver the scares or even gore.

Overall, Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp is a bloody mess. It has gallons of blood splattering, but it never embraces its gore effects. The story is the same as the last, despite trying to be different; it fails to do so, which makes it look much more lazy and sloppy. It is incredibly disappointing and forgettable. I bought it for less than $4 on Amazon in the U.S. and I kind of regret it...

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Death Bell (aka Gosa) (2008)

Death Bell (aka Gosa) (Review)
Yoon Hong-Seung (as Chang)/Nam Gyu-Ri/2008
Where to watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"The only issue I had was with the ending..."

The highest graded students – refer to the elite of the school – takes a special class, where they are tormented by an unknown presence...

Death Bell follows Kang Ina (Nam Gyu-Ri), a smart, dedicated, and even witty student, as well as the rest of the students attending the special cast and the staff. Before the exam even begins, a mysterious voice announces a new test for the students: this elite class has to answer difficult questions before the timer runs out, or one captured student will die. The story follows the students as they try to answer the questions, escape, and split up, so it really isn't as repetitive as it sounds. Death Bell reaches a predictable but good conclusion; some elements may surprise you, but most of the climax is by-the-books and cliché.

Death Bell, also known as Gosa, features a creative concept with great execution. I wouldn’t classify it as a torture or gory film, although it has elements of both. The concept reminds me somewhat of Saw, but the lives' of the victims are in other people's hands instead of their own. The torture is not very graphic, though, including fish tanks, washing machines, and some hot melting wax – I know, kinky, right? There are some spooky visuals, and more than a handful of jump-scares – not much suspense, but plenty of jump-scares. It was very entertaining, though, and kept me hooked from beginning to end. Aside from being predictable, the ending really leaves many unanswered questions; one quick, unnecessary scene right before the credits adds on to that confusion; the scene during the credits is very sinister, though, a well done addition.

The cast does well, much better acting than most contemporary horror films. This is Nam Guy-Ri’s acting debut, and she does very well with her performance – not overdone but not boring either, she's got screen presence and charisma. The makeup is great during most scenes, but it's never a highlight of the film; like I said, the film isn't graphically violent, so the makeup and special effects don't have much of chance to shine. The cinematography is mostly great, a few scenes are too dark, though. Yoon Hong-Seung does well as director, he creates a dark film and really uses the concept well; there are some loose ends and bizarre scenes, but it's a great effort.

Overall, Death Bell is a great horror film from South Korea. I really enjoyed the creative concept, and the execution was equally impressive. The only issue I had was with the ending of the film, it really was a bit disappointing considering the originality of the rest of the movie. Fans of Saw, supernatural, and slasher horror films will likely enjoy it the most.

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Troubleshooter (2010)

Troubleshooter (Review)
Kwon Hyeok-jae/Sol Kyung-gu/2010
Where to watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...offered enough to keep me interested."

Former cop turned private investigator Kang Tae-sik (Sol Kyung-gu) is framed for murder and drawn into a conspiracy...

Troubleshooter drops you right into a conspiracy and the life of Kang Tae-sik. We really don't spend much alone time with Tae-sik since he's almost immediately framed for murder and pulled into a conspiracy. So, to clear his name and save himself, Tae-sik, of course, has to do some jobs for the people running the show. The story follows this course with a few twists and turns and it eventually leads to what you'd expect – an ending, predictable but good enough.

Troubleshooter is an entertaining action-crime film. It really doesn't experiment much and plays it safe for the entire film. It's also a bit confusing at times, and for all of the twists it packs, most seem to lack the necessary punch to be a real twist. Considering we really don't know the character, although we get some depth later, there really aren't any stakes or odds to begin with. So, the tag line on the cover/poster screaming “ALL HE'S GOT IS 24 HOURS”, never comes to fruition as there is no sense of urgency or even empathy for the character.

However, Troubleshooter offered enough to keep me interested. Despite knowing the destination, I wanted to soak in the trip – and this is a trip that offers plenty of wit and action. The action consists of some great fist fights and edge-of-your-seat chase scenes – not the best in the genre, but enough to get your heart pumping. The humor was funny enough to add some life to the film – it's never really fully utilized, but I laughed quite a bit.

Sol Kyung-gu is great as the lead, he really can hit many notes and has plenty of charm and charisma to lead, but he's never fully utilized. Lee Jung-jin also plays his character well. The acting is overall great – the roles aren't too demanding, but it's an action-comedy, so it really didn't need much to begin with. The film is shot nicely, although some of the camerawork is too sloppy and occasionally nauseating. I liked the music. Director Kwon Hyeok-jae does well capturing the action and comedy, but the story needed some fine tuning.

Overall, Troubleshooter is a good action/comedy crime film. Some of the action sequences are great, and the humor helps keep the film alive to the end. However, the story feels half-baked – it's not original or creative, it barely even tries to engage the audience. I liked it, it was good – that's all I really can say about it.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Heartbeat (2010)

Heartbeat (Review)
Yoon Jae-keun/Kim Yunjin/2010
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a heart-pounding and heart-aching thriller."

Yeon-hee (Kim Yunjin), a widowed mother and school director, struggles to find a heart for her daughter's transplant. Meanwhile, Hui-do (Park Hae-il), an inconsiderate and often obnoxious young man, attempts to redeem himself and find out why his mother suddenly fell fatally ill...

Heartbeat continues to follow both lead characters, Yeon-hee and Hui-do, as their conflicts clash. Yeon-hee wants the heart of Hui-do's mother for her ill daughter, while Hui-do wants to keep his possibly-brain-dead mother alive and find out what happened to her. So, they trade blows, in a sense, to see how far each will go to save a loved one. A tale of the human organ trade, a tale of morals, and a pure-breed thriller. This ferociously paced thriller leads to a satisfying ending – it does feel like a cop-out, though, but it is meaningful.

Heartbeat is a heart-pounding and heart-aching thriller. The story is very focused on both of its lead characters and their character arcs. As the story progresses, each character faces a significant obstacle and a possible character change. It's a complicate issue at hand, so that further raises the stakes – it kept me further engrossed and engaged. It doesn't get too political with the issue, but it has some social commentary undertones. Heartbeat is a phenomenal thrill-ride, though, so you don't have to look past the surface. There is also some humor, albeit some very black humor, but it is there.

The characters really take center stage in this film. There are plenty of annoying and infuriating supporting characters, but the main focus is on Yeon-hee and Hui-do. (I'm going to use “it” to refer to the characters from now on to avoid spoilers.) One character was infuriating and often annoying, which caused some frustration on my part – but, it was ultimately understandable. The story felt a bit one-sided due to this character's often bizarre actions, you can say it demonized this character, but, again, it was understandable. In fact, I think it was all done on purpose, and it ultimately achieves its goal. Regardless of how you feel about the characters, whether you agree or disagree with some of the lengths they go to, I think you'll ultimately understand.

Kim Yunjin is fantastic throughout most of her performance; there was one scene that felt way too over-dramatic like it was ripped out of a Spanish television novella, but the rest is great. Park Hae-il also delivers a great performance with an interesting character change. The film is shot beautifully, the camerawork was also as great as it could get. The music, although only playing occasionally, worked well with the melodramatic tones of the film. Director and writer Yoon Jae-keun delivers a powerful film without substituting first-class thrills – really great at building tension and suspense.

Overall, Heartbeat is a vicious thriller. It's atmosphere is incredibly tense and suspenseful... it's almost unbearable! The film really approaches the complicated issue well, and uses it to create a complicated outcome. I think this is a film I won't likely forget anytime soon – that's how phenomenal it is. It's not a feel-good film, though, so be prepared. I was battling between a 9/10 and a 10/10 because of the cop-out ending, but I can't stop thinking about the film, so I’ll give it that benefit. Watch it as soon as possible.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: The Doll Master (2004)

The Doll Master (Review)
Jeong Yong-gi/Kim Yoo-Mi/2004
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...more than a handful of genuinely skin-crawling images."

60 years ago, a doll maker created a doll as a gesture for a woman he loved; when that women was found dead, he was blamed and killed by vigilantes. Lost without its maker, the doll is said to be waiting by his grave for eternity...

Fast forward to the present, Hae-mi (Kim Yoo-Mi), a sculptor, and four others gather at a secluded museum, promised to have their image turned into dolls by a talented paraplegic doll maker. This act feels like House on Haunted Hill, where they brought into a large, spooky home by a charming host -- in this case, the museum's curator -- and each guess has an assigned room. Anyway, the story continues as odd things occur during the doll making process, like a photoshoot, and a mystery unravels. Everything feels right until the final 15 minutes or so, where The Doll Master becomes a mess -- the ending is predictable and disappointing.

The Doll Master is a horror/mystery film. The horror consists of mostly spooky images. Those afraid of vintage dolls will be most affected by the eerie visuals, there are more than a handful of genuinely skin-crawling images. I even thought they were creepy, and very intriguing. There are also some jump-scares, which work well thanks to the great suspense. It's a slow-burn horror film with a tense, spooky atmosphere, and I loved it. Despite being consistently filled with nightmarish visuals up to the end, the actual ending of the film, and I'm speaking of the narrative, is disappointing. The mystery is interesting, but some of the elements are blatantly obvious very early in the film.

I liked Kim Yoo-Mi as the lead -- the role isn't very demanding, but she's a charismatic lead with more than serviceable attributes. The rest of the cast is great, as well. The music isn't very memorable, but it blended nicely with the setting and genre. The film is shot nicely, the cinematography is just right, were every image is captured perfectly. Director Jeong Yong-gi does well in building an atmospheric horror film with scary visuals, but lacks the focus during the final act, as many contemporary horror films do. I watched the Amazon Prime stream, courtesy of Asian Crush, and the subtitles are more than competent, but they disappear during the final 5 or so minutes -- fortunately, by then, you should be able to easily piece together the story without the dialogue.

Overall, The Doll Master is a spooky, atmospheric horror-mystery film. The horror is there tenfold, especially for those that get the creeps from vintage dolls. The mystery, on the other hand, is a bit more predictable and by-the-books. I was only really disappointed by the ending, though. Otherwise, you're in for a real treat.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, including some brief images of gore.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: A Werewolf Boy (2012)

A Werewolf Boy (Review)
Jo Sung-hee/Park Bo-young/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...both leads share authentic chemistry."

Elderly Kim Suni returns to her old family home in South Korea where she reminisces of her younger self (Park Bo-young) and a relationship she developed with a feral boy (Song Joong-ki)...

A Werewolf Boy continues to follows Suni, who moves to this rural home with her mother and sister due to her illness, as she develops a relationship with a feral boy. Initially frightened, the family grows to accept the young man. They name this boy Chul-soo, and Suni begins to domesticate and civilize him. And so, Suni grows attached, and the feelings are mutual. The story mainly focuses on this odd yet understandable relationship, with plenty of humor and romance. Of course, there's a bit of a stereotypical antagonist, and a few plot contrivances, but A Werewolf Boy ultimately leads to a great, bittersweet ending.

A Werewolf Boy is a melodramatic fantast/romance film. The romance is effective in two ways, in my opinion: the love one would feel towards an animal, such as a dog, and the love one would feel towards a person, such as human intimacy. And, it is very effective in both ways creating a well rounded romance film -- I'm not telling you to get romantic with your dog, I'm saying these elements really compliment each other well. Suni and Chul-soo are developed to be likable and charming. They share great chemistry, and it continues to grow until the ending. I don't think it reached maximum effectiveness, though, as I didn't cry; I'm not above crying during films, either, A Werewolf Boy simply didn't reach that level for me. (it seemed to reach that level for so many reviewers on Netflix, though, so... different strokes for different folks.)

There are some plot contrivances, as well as a typical antagonist, though. I didn't really mind the plot contrivances, some were way too convenient, but they didn't bother me or affect the main elements of the film, either. As for the antagonist, he's predictable and hollow, and he's annoying and infuriating -- so he fits the antagonistic profile perfectly. Anyway, if you can get over these flaws, you're in for one incredible and creative tale of romance.

Park Bo-young plays her character well, her character goes through a wide range of emotions and Bo-young emotes almost perfectly; she's also very charismatic, and a great leading lady. Song Joong-ki also delivers a charismatic performance as a feral young man, he has great screen presence. And, both leads share authentic chemistry. The music matched the tone of the film perfectly. The film is beautifully shot, especially during the outdoor sequences. Jo Sung-hee writes and directs A Werewolf Boy and captures the authenticity of this relationship with great accuracy; the writing is creative, but it still feels like it's just barely over your typical teenage romance flick -- it feels like it really didn't want to alienate any teenage fans, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Overall, A Werewolf Boy is a fantastic romance film. It fits the melodramatic category perfectly. The chemistry between both leads creates a very effective romance film, an entertaining film for all ages (although targeted more towards the teens and young adults). This is the type of film that would make those single people out there envious... Now, time for me to head to South Korea in search for A Werewolf Girl...

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: The Sword With No Name (2009)

The Sword With No Name (Review)
Kim Yong-Gyun/Jo Seung-woo/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...felt much like an anime, which was refreshing."

Mu-myeong (Jo Seung-woo) is a drifting bounty hunter who falls for Min Ja-yeong (Soo Ae), a woman destined to become Queen Myeongseong...

The Sword With No Name continues as Mu-myeong works himself into the palace as he vows to protect Ja-yeong, now the Queen of Korea. Basically, it follows the hardships of their complicated relationship, and the outer forces that try to keep them apart. You can see the feeling of love are mutual, but it's not something either party can admit due to different circumstances. The story is predictable, but entertaining and engaging. This tale of love and sacrifice leads up to an incredible ending -- definitely something most people won't initially enjoy, but something South Korean film fans have grown accustomed to.

The Sword With No Name is a romantic action film. The romance elements give of mixed feelings. These elements never feel fully fleshed out because of contradicting scenes and unknown intentions of certain characters. This is partly due to storytelling, particularly the feeling that something is missing -- I usually get this same feeling when I watch a film that has been cut by the distributor, and this feeing is clearly evident here. Anyway, the romance is effective enough, though, and there is one scene that has been stitched into my head; this scene was almost unbearable to watch and heart-aching.

The action sequences in The Sword With No Name are great. There are some clear uses of computer graphics in some sequences, but they blend well with the rest of the style, so well that it didn't bother me at all. The choreography was great during the live-action sequences, and it was creative during the computer-aided scenes. Anyway, the entire style, during the battles and otherwise, felt much like an anime, which was refreshing.

Jo Seung-woo does a good job throughout most of his performance -- he does occasionally overact and he occasionally feels lifeless, but the bulk of his performance was spot-on. Soo Ae is very impressive with a versatile performance -- Soo Ae is really one of the best actresses from South Korea. The music fit the setting, but doesn't have many memorable themes. The cinematography is great and it greatly helps develop a slick, unique style; however, there are some scenes that are too dark and difficult to see. Kim Yong-Gyun's direction is mostly consistent and even fresh, but there was a lack of focus on the romance and it feels like some vital parts of the story have gone missing.

Overall, The Sword With No Name is an entertaining and engaging romance-action film. The romance elements are serviceable, while the action is thrilling. The storytelling is clean and easy, but there are some story elements missing -- it jumps around too much and skips some necessary scenes and explanations. Definitely worth watching, though, as the good outweighs the bad.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and some gore. One brief sex scene.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Poongsan (2011)

Poongsan (Review)
Juhn Jai-hong/Yoon Kye-sang/2011
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...an effective tale of romance..."

Poongsan (Yoon Kye-sang), named after brand of cigarettes he smokes, is a messengers who crosses the DMZ to deliver messages and heirlooms for separated families. One day, Poongsan is hired by South Korean agents to retrieve In-ok (Kim Gyu-ri), the lover of a North Korean defector...

Poongsan continues to follow the titular character as he is brought into a web of lies and betrayal. After saving In-ok, they begin to share feelings for each other, despite a lack of spoken word from Poongsan – he is a silent protagonist. Regardless, the love he feels forces him to work for both the South and North Koreans, who take advantage of him to reach their own goals. A bit slow on the pace, Poongsan eventually reaches a very clever climax and a moving ending.

Poongsan works as an effective tale of romance, as well as a commentary on the state of affairs between North and South Korea. I enjoyed the story from beginning to end. The protagonist does not speak, but the relationship between Poongsan and In-ok feels authentic and effective. There are some great action sequences, but this is not an action film. The commentary is a bit blatant, some subtly would've been appreciated, but at least it's meaningful. Regardless, I really enjoyed the climax of the film, it is tense, clever, and symbolic. There is some disturbing torture, but I think it's tasteful, for lack of a better term, enough to classify as an authenticity aid.

Yoon Kye-sang is great as the lead – without a spoken word, Kye-sang emotes greatly with his facial and eye expressions, as well as some authentic grunts and powerful shouts. Kim Gyu-ri has less screen time, but she also delivers a great performance – she's also quite beautiful. The film has a distinct, dark style, and the music is perfect for the vibe of the film, although it hardly plays. The story is written by the fantastic Kim Ki-duk, who pens a fantastic story, albeit a bit more blatant than his usual. Juhn Jai-hong does a great job directing, although there is some filler.

Overall, Poongsan is a great film. It has great romance, action, and some comedy; at the same time, Poongsan is meaningful, symbolic, and powerful film; a multilayered film worth watching again and again. It lacks some impact and has some flaws, though. Definitely worth watching for fans of Kim Ki-duk.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including scenes of graphic torture, and some partial nudity.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Apartment (aka Apateu or 9:56) (2006)

Apartment (aka Apateu or 9:56) (Review)
Ahn Byeong-ki/Ko So-young/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...never daring enough to leave the shadow of other iconic Asian horror films."

Oh Se-jin (Ko So-young) is a lonely department store employee who lives in a high-rise apartment. After a series of odd deaths, Se-jin begins to notice the lights of the apartment building across of hers flicker every night at 9:56...

Apartment, known simply as 9:56 in Singapore, and Apateu or APT elsewhere, is a traditional Asian ghost story with a plot centering around themes of Hikikomori and loneliness. The story follows Se-jin as she is drawn to these mysterious deaths and tries to stop them. Basically, Se-jin witnesses a death, tells the tenants of the apartment complex to stop turning off their lights before 10:00, and repeat. It reaches a dark ending that closes some loose ends well; however, there are still many unanswered questions left lingering.

Apartment is ultimately a disappointing film. The story, particularly its themes, give the film plenty of opportunities to differentiate itself. Unfortunately, the film never does so, which leaves you with an eerily familiar film. This becomes a bigger problem during the third act when you realize your predictions were correct and it is just another ghost story. (I'll avoid spoilers, in case you won't be able to predict the ending.) The first and second act feel like they want to be experimental, and they even hit that border quite a few times, but Apartment is never daring enough to leave the shadow of other iconic Asian horror films. I also really didn't like the ending as it was unfulfilling; it didn't answer all of my questions, and it felt like it just didn't care to.

Anyway, Apartment does offer a handful of scares. There is some light suspense, plenty of jump-scares -- of which a few fall flat -- and some creepy visuals. In fact, I really enjoyed some of the spooky visuals, especially when they stood alone (i.e. without a loud noise to accompany it.) It's not terrifying to the point of losing sleep or even getting goosebumps, but it at least feels like a horror film and offers some entertainment through its horror elements.

Ko So-young is great as the lead -- a very believable and realistic performance, without ever being over-the-top or bland -- So-young gets it just right. The rest of cast also deliver great, believable performances. The cinematography and camerawork are great, the film is captured beautifully. The music is well-fitted for the setting and genre, but isn't memorable due to the lack of originality. Director Ahn Byeong-ki is good, but lacks focus and ambition; he can build suspense and deliver some spooky visuals, but there has to be some focus on story.

Overall, Apartment offers little for Asian horror fans -- it's not new, fresh, or creative, and reeks of the "been there, done that" stench. However, there is some great suspense and some spooky visuals, as well as some serious, albeit underused, themes, such as Hikikomori. It is entertaining, but not memorable or petrifying.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and sexuality (some groping.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: The Mafia, The Salesman (2007)

The Mafia, The Salesman (Review)
Shim Seung-Bo/Lee Sung-Jae/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...I always had a smile on my face."

After similar nightmares of foreign takeover plague the gang, a mob boss tasks Gye Doo-Shik (Lee Sung-Jae), the gang's only college graduate, with leading their globalization.

The Mafia, The Salesman continues with Doo-Shik entering the corporate world. He starts at the bottom, selling insurance until he can rise to the head office where he plans to learn more about globalization. The whole purpose of this is for Doo-Shik to learn how corporations branched out across the world -- so, the mafia's learning from legitimate criminals. However, it proves to be more difficult than expected. The story never really focuses on one issue or plot point, it just kind of wanders until it finally ends. The ending spirals further into absurdity, similar to the ending of To Catch A Virgin Ghost; it's a bit predictable and generic, and over the top, but it is humorous.

The Mafia, The Salesman is a quirky crime comedy. It's not to be taken seriously, you'll especially realize this during the ending. But, I like quirky comedy. There are more than a handful of laugh out loud moments, and I always had a smile on my face. The characters are likable, despite a cliche corporate villain. The gangsters in particular are memorable and fun, the definition of quirky. Regarding the story, however, it feels very light; it doesn't really have a purpose or direction. In turn, the runtime is bloated, it feels like it overstays its welcome by a full 20 minutes. There is just not enough content to warrant the runtime for this comedy. If you can get past the lack of story in The Mafia, The Salesman, then you'll find a simple, good time.

Lee Sung-Jae delivers a good performance. The character isn't demanding, but he has some great charisma and charm. The cast in general is great, a fun and enjoyable group of actors. The film is shot nicely. (I saw the film on Netflix Streaming, and the picture quality is decent with full bars likely due to the print or film's age.) The music matches the quirky tone of the film, but it's not memorable. Shim Seung-Bo serves as writer and direction, but it really doesn't feel like there is much direction going on; he does a good job creating bizzare situations, but there is no context or focus.

Overall, The Mafia, The Salesman is a fun film for a night in. It offers plenty of laughs and a bizarre, charismatic cast of characters, but not much else. I recommend renting or streaming before purchasing. If you're fan of this type of quirky comedy, I also strongly recommend To Catch A Virgin Ghost.

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

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: The Terror Live (2013)

The Terror Live (Review)
Kim Byung-woo/Ha Jung-woo/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...one of the best thrillers of 2013..."

Yoon Young-hwa (Ha Jung-woo), a once popular and highly rated news anchor turned measly radio show host, sees an opportunity to climb back to the top when he gets an exclusive live broadcast with a terrorist...

The Terror Live takes place almost completely in a radio show booth turned television set. The terrorist attacked the Mapo Bridge, and calls Young-hwa, who has been given the opportunity to anchor once again and redeem himself, demanding an apology from the President for his tormented past. The tension arises as Young-hwa becomes trapped in a game of life and death, as well as morale. The Terror Live moves ferociously towards a tough and devastating yet honest ending -- it's a bit melodramatic, but it is riveting and effective.

The Terror Live is a pure, stylish thriller from beginning to end. The film keeps you on the edge through its engaging conversations and debates, creating tension and suspense solely through its dialogue. The Terror Live is more of a thriller than most summer blockbusters; and it accomplishes its goals without huge set pieces or state-of-the-art special effects. The story works well for entertainment purposes, and also works well as a commentary on mainstream media and politics -- and how they often interlink. I was very pleased with how the writing handled its topics: it can be enjoyed as a superb, edge-of-your-seat thriller, as well as a meaningful conversational piece.

Ha Jung-woo takes the lead as Yoon Young-hwa with a magnificent performance -- Jung-woo has incredible charisma and can emote powerfully, he's one of the best actors from South Korea standing with Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho. The film is shot beautifully with great lighting and a great set. Some of the camerawork can be too rough, for lack of a better term, but it's not nearly as sloppy as what you'd see in your typical found-footage film. The use of computer effects is fortunately limited. The music is unique and memorable, and blends well with the overall style of the film. Kim Byung-woo writes and directs The Terror Live, and successfully creates a tense and suspenseful multilayered thriller.

Overall, The Terror Live is one of the best thrillers of 2013 -- it stands next to New World and Pieta as South Korea's best films of 2013. Multilayered thrillers like this -- thrillers that can entertain and provoke contemplation -- are hard to come by, and Kim Byung-woo successfully creates a fantastic entry in the genre.

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