Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Hello Murderer (2010)

Hello Murderer (aka Happy Murderer) (Review)
Kim Dong-wook/Kim Dong-wook, Yu Oh-seong/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...some films suffer from too much ambition, this one suffers from a lack of."

Amateur detective Jeong-min (Kim Dong-wook) and unemployed yet dedicated Young-suk (Yu Oh-seong) attempt to capture a serial killer who kills young women whenever it rains...

Hello Murderer is a murder mystery and slapstick, quirky comedy – or, at least it attempts to be. The story follows the mostly incompetent and usually slacking Jeong-min, who is also hated by his boss, as he tries to capture the serial killer. Meanwhile, Young-suk, a man who has been missing for years and has recently reappeared, wants to capture the serial killer for the monetary gains and to gain the respect of his family – his annoying wife and slightly irritating “rebellion” daughter (Shim Eun-kyung). As far as the story goes, that's basically it. Young-suk doesn't do much, and Jeong-min resorts to dressing in drag and odd investigation to capture him. The final act becomes a bit more eventful and consistent, but it also feels like drags a bit.

Much of Hello Murderer feels half-baked. It never really becomes a real mystery – the investigation is nearly nonexistent for the bulk of the film. The slapstick comedy is hit-or-miss – I did laugh out loud once or twice, but it never really felt like a comedy. So, both of the major elements of the film come up short, creating an inconsistent mash-up of clashing moods and tones. Sometimes it felt too serious for slapstick, and sometimes it was too bizarre and far-fetched for a genuine murder mystery. The characters never really become fully embodied or developed, and some aren't all too likable, either. The film even feels a bit lengthy due to its inconsistencies, and, since there isn't much mystery or comedy going on, it also feels uneventful. I was entertained, though, at least when something was actually going on.

Kim Dong-wook is good as the incompetent cop – it's a generic character trope for the genre, but he plays it decently. Yu Oh-seong delivers a better performance – it's a bit more demanding, requiring both quirkiness and emotion. Shim Eun-kyung is a favorite, her character may not be perfect, but she plays it very well. The music is by-the-books, and the cinematography is also competent. Technically, it doesn't strive for much, but it doesn't have many flaws, either. The Amazon Prime English subtitles are decent enough; there are some flaws, but the bigger problem was in the lack of translation for papers, signs, and text messages – you miss some parts of the story because these weren't translated. Director Kim Dong-wook, a completely different person from the lead, follows the procedural guidelines; some films suffer from too much ambition, this one suffers from a lack of.

Overall, Hello Murderer is a entertaining during it's best scenes, and a bit of a drag to get through during others. Both the mystery and comedy are half-baked, so it feels inconsistent and even odd when these elements clash. It can be occasionally engaging and often hilarious, but it's equally procedural and bland, at times.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some partial nudity.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Wonderful Days (aka Sky Blue) (Review)

Wonderful Days (aka Sky Blue) (Review)
Kim Moon-saeng/Chung Joon-ho/2003
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...leads up to a spectacular final..."

In 2140, after a devastating environmental disaster, the elites built and found refuge in an advanced city called Ecoban. Outside of the organic city, the people live in a wasteland and work as slaves for the elites to harvest energy for the DELOS system, which is powered by pollution.

Wonderful Days follows a young man named Shua, a former member of the Ecoban who now works as a rebel of sorts. He finds himself fighting against Ecoban and the elitist within, despite having a past relationship with a current member, Jay. Anyway, Shua finds himself infiltrating Ecoban constantly to keep updated with their moves, and when they threaten his friends and family, he finds himself having to take down the system himself. There's also a bit of a love triangle between Shua, Jay, and another security officer – all of which share a haunting past. Wonderful Days leads up to a spectacular finale – definitely an epic and satisfying ending.

However, I did find Wonderful Days to be a bit too complicated. Now, I understood most of the story. The current events – Shua's situation and Ecoban's goals – are easy enough to follow. But, there seems to be so much backstory to tell, but with so little time. You have the environmental disaster, Shua's past, the love triangle, and so on, but the film is only an hour and a half. So, despite being an interesting and symbolic story, Wonderful Days does occasionally feel half-baked. I did like the flow of the story, and I especially enjoyed the subtle and often blatant commentary on environment, pollution, and classism. The action sequences are also thrilling. The ending was also fantastic. But, it could have been so much more.

The Korean voice cast, which I unfortunately do not have a list of to properly credit, is great. Some characters often come off as boring and bland, but there is some energy and realism to the voice acting. The visual style of the film blends different types of animation, and it looks unique and attractive – I own the South Korean Blu-ray of this film, and it has a few moments that are absolutely beautiful. On that note, the English subtitles on said Blu-ray are also great – a grammatical and spelling flaw here and there, but more than competent. Director Kim Moon-saeng captures a visually unique film and delivers some meaningful messages through it's plot and symbolism, but also delivers an underdeveloped and underused backstory.

Overall, I enjoyed Wonderful Days. It's a great film with a meaningful yet entertaining story, great action sequences, and a beautiful, distinct style. But, the plot can be unnecessarily complicated, and it does feel like it didn't bother with a backstory and some character. The ending is definitely a saving grace, and one of my favorite endings of any animation.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Dachimawa Lee (2008)

Dachimawa Lee (Review)
Ryoo Seung-wan/Im Won-hee/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...quirky, bizarre, and creative, with some great slapstick humor..."

Super spy Dachimawa Lee (Im Won-hee) is sent to recover and protect the fabled Golden Buddha statue, which holds valuable information regarding the location of other Korean secret spies...

Dachimawa Lee continues to follow the titular character as he attempts to complete his mission. Along the way, he'll be put through bizarre tests, like fighting his own partners using bizarre martial arts, use odd gadgets, like a firearm whose sole purpose is melee attacks (he needs a different firearm to shoot), and meet eccentric characters, like his lovely but clumsy partner Ma-ri. The main plot starts off a bit overwhelming and confusing, and it continues this way for some time. You'll eventually get what's going on, though, as it isn't too difficult -- the storytelling might be, but the plot is actually quite simple. The ending features a bizarre twist, or more like a few, and it's very funny; the very last few minutes added some confusion, though, it should've ended on the great note.

Dachimawa Lee is a spy-genre spoof film, much like Austin Powers or Naked Gun; I'm sure this film references Korean sources for its spoof, but I'm unfortunately not familiar. Anyway, the story may be unnecessarily complicated and convoluted, but the comedy is mostly spot on. It's quirky, bizarre, and creative, with some great slapstick humor, as well. Some scenes had me laughing out loud, others had me smirking with delight. Some of it is cheesy and a bit overdone, but it's overall very consistent. Dachimawa Lee is not Austin Powers, and that's good because it helps this film develop its own sense of identity and it's own brand of humor. There are also a few great action sequences; over-the-top, but very entertaining.

As for the acting, you shouldn't take it too seriously -- it's a spoof that pokes fun at genre characters and acting. Im Won-hee plays the titular character well, with such a hilarious performance. But, the real show stealer is Ryoo Seung-bum with a quirky and bizarre performance; his character also has the funniest scenes in the film, as well. The set design and costumes were also great in building the time period. Ryoo Seung-wan directs and co-writes Dachimawa Lee and does well in pulling the quirkiness from his cast and delivering consistent humor; the plot and storytelling could've used some fine-tuning, though.

Overall, Dachimawa Lee is a hilarious treat for fans of spoof films. The film had me laughing out loud, and had me smiling long after the film ended; in fact, I had a laugh writing this review simply remembering some scenes. The plot and storytelling are detrimental for those that want the complete experience, though, it's just too complicated and convoluted.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The Face Reader (2013)

The Face Reader (aka Physiognomy) (Review)
Han Jae-rim/Song Kang-ho/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a marvelous achievement."

Nae-gyeong (Song Kang-ho) is incredibly talented in face reading – assessing a person's personality, mental state, habits or their past, present, and even future by looking at his face. Nae-gyeong enters a partnership with Yeon-hong, a hostess and fellow face reader, bringing him into a whole new world...

The Face Reader follows Nae-gyeong as he continues to read faces. Eventually, he solves a murder by simply looking at the face of the victim and the potential suspects. The first act of the film is very lighthearted and humorous compared to the rest. Thereafter, his skill captures the attention of King Munjong, who then hires Nae-gyeong to find the potential traitors in his coup. When King Munjong mysteriously dies, Nae-gyeong spirals into a deep and dangerous conspiracy and must work with any allies he can trust to save the throne. The final act becomes much darker and moodier, and it delivers a devastating blow; the ending was clever, as well.

The Face Reader is very entertaining. I really enjoy the plot and how it carefully crafts each character up to the very end. The first act, although very humorous at times, did feel a bit too drawn out, though. The rest of the film continues with the humor, which I really did enjoy, but on a much smaller scale until it slowly fades out. At this time, it transitions into a very effective drama. The humor and the drama thankfully never clash and ultimately compliment each other to create a consistent and effective film. The face reading isn't as detailed as I hoped, but there are some interesting scenes that develop the concept. Ultimately, it's a very entertaining and versatile film, but it does feel a bit on the lengthy side and the art of physiognomy is unfortunately never delved into deeply enough.

Song Kang-ho delivers a fantastic performance – his performance is very versatile, delivering quirky and clumsy humor and some very powerful emotional scenes. Lee Jung-jae also delivers a noteworthy performance. The set and costume designs are superb – they are the definition of elegant, and help create an immersive atmosphere – really puts you into the “zone”. The cinematography further amplifies the beauty of the masterfully crafted sets and costumes. The music is also beautiful, they compliment the setting so wonderfully – it's a score that I’d love to listen to, even without the film. Director Han Jae-rim does well in crafting this wonderful world, and delivering a large scale tale. From a technical standpoint, The Face Reader is a marvelous achievement.

Overall, The Face Reader is a great historical drama. The humor is often laugh-out-loud hilarious, the drama is deep and effective, especially the fantastic ending, the world is beautifully crafted, and the performances are brilliant, especially from leading man Song Kang-ho. However, the story also feels a bit too long, particularly due to a long-winded introduction, and the concept of face reading can feel like it comes up short due to a lack of development -- how much weight that holds, though, is completely up to you.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: February 29th (aka The Curse of February 29th) (2006)

February 29th (aka The Curse of February 29th) (Review)
Jung Jong-hoon/Park Eun-hye/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...focuses more on its story and atmosphere than the traditional horror elements..."

A tollgate employee, Ji-yeon (Park Eun-hye), working the night shift receives a bloody ticket during a blackout. Ji-yeon soon fears she has become a part of the curse of February 29th...

February 29th, part of South Korea's Four Horror Tales, plays out like an urban legend. Off the bat, Ji-yeon is in a mental hospital when a journalist arrives to hear her story. She tells the story of the bloody ticket and the curse of February 29th that followed. It is said that on the 29th of February, which occurs every four years, murders being to occur at the tollgates. Ji-yeon fears the bloody ticket she received, and continues to receive, are from the murderer's victims at other toll gates and she may be next. Even creepier, she suspects the perpetrator is a serial killer back from the dead who may also be her doppelganger. The ending is good; it's not surprising or shocking, but at least it tries to close any holes.

February 29th is a slow-paced horror film. It's not really a slow-burn, rather it's just a slow-paced film. The urban legend vibe and atmosphere of the film is great; it's like a campfire tale, but the story is being told from a mental hospital instead. The horror consists of some jolting jump-scares and some eerie visuals, and the general plot. The jump-scares work well enough and also pick the pace up a bit – there were two jump-scares that actually made me jump, the rest were fun, for lack of a better term. The spooky visuals are the highlight, in my opinion, some are goosebumps-inducing. It's not your typical ghost revenge film, but it still feels very familiar. Also, the film has some made-for-TV qualities, but they weren't detrimental to the experience.

Park Eun-hye is the lead, and she does very well; although she monologues her emotions a bit, she can show it with her facial expressions, as well. Lim Ho plays a detective in this film, and he more than serviceable – my complaint was that he really didn't look like a detective. For a small-budget production, the cast was surprisingly impressive. The music is creepy, and the film is shot well; the use of vivid colors is always appreciated, especially in this case where they help create the ominous mood. Director Jung Jong-hoon crafts a familiar yet creepy and ominous tale; the only other film I've seen in this series is Dark Forest, and this film is much, much better, so props to Jong-hoon.

Overall, February 29th is a slow-paced, creepy and ominous horror film. This is a film that focuses more on its story and atmosphere than the traditional horror elements, so it may not be for every horror fan. The jump-scares are good, the eerie visuals are better, and this tale is surprisingly effective. Definitely worth streaming if you have Netflix, which is where I watched it.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: See You After School (2006)

See You After School (aka Rooftop After School) (Review)
Lee Seok-hun/Bong Tae-gyu/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming 
Amazon Prime

"Very quirky, often raunchy, and occasionally bizarre... laugh-out-loud comedy gold."

Goong-dahl (Bong Tae-gyu), a typical high school loser deemed the "unluckiest man alive", returns to class after a year of extensive training to prove himself as more than just a reject...

See You After School starts with a hilarious examination of Goong-dahl by a group of doctors; this shows he really is the unluckiest man alive through his life experience and bizarre tests he always seems to fail -- or pass in the eyes of the medical staff. Anyway, Goong-dahl returns to school where he meets up with a friend from the very same program who seems to have fit in, at least sort of. Goong-dahl is convinced into proving himself by challenging someone at school, and he does so when he sees the opportunity to protect the school's hottie, Min-ah, from a bully. But, this bully turns out to be the school champ and he decides to settle the score on the rooftop of the school after class. The rest of the film consist of Goong-dahl and his buddy trying to get out of the fight, usually in embarrassing methods -- faking an eye infection, hiring someone to take his place, and so on. The final act treads into familiar territory, but it is still hilarious; this film uses up its complete runtime, even through the credits, to give a hilarious follow-up.

Very quirky, often raunchy, and occasionally bizarre, See You After School is laugh-out-loud comedy gold. Goong-dahl is absolutely hilarious throughout, and in so many ways; but, most of the time, this character delivers the humor through some cringe-worthy embarrassment -- and I loved it. The rest of the characters are equally humorous, too. It doesn't rely on gross-out gags or vulgarity, either, most of its humor is lighthearted and genuine; there is one scene where a character is punched so hard he crapped himself, or at least in a sense, but I wouldn't say it's vulgar -- not exactly tasteful, but definitely not offensive.

In fact, I felt great watching this film, it was just so "feel-good" I think it added a lot to my overall enjoyment -- it was a delight to watch. The final act becomes a bit generic, you've likely seen these scenes before, but it works out; the credit scenes are also hilarious. And, the pacing is fantastic, the film always has something going on; it never runs out of humor and it never stops moving. As humorous as it is, it's even a bit meaningful in the end.

Bong Tae-gyu is full of charisma and quirkiness; he's awkward and ready to embarrass himself, and that's great. His performance really steals the show. The film is beautifully shot, and the special effects are great whenever they're used; the editing was also great in creating some witty moments. The music is a great, but not very distinct for the genre. The English subtitles on the Netflix Stream are nearly perfect -- in fact, I didn't notice any errors. Director and writer Lee Seok-hun has crafted a hilarious film for all of the genre fans; the humor is so well crafted and genuine, it very refreshing and entertaining.

Overall, See You After School is hilarious. It's one of the funniest films I've ever seen, I laughed from beginning to end -- I even had to cover my mouth as I felt I was making way too much noise laughing. The final act may be a genre cliché, but the film, overall, never failed to keep me laughing and entertained. Don't miss out on this quirky comedy.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood -- usually through bullying, and language.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait (2007)

Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait (Review)
Kim Tae-kyeong/Jo An/2007
Where to watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...great suspense and tension, some shocking jump-scares, and very disturbing visuals."

Yoon-hee (Jo An) is a South Korean writer who hasn't had a published book in three years. Pressured by her editor and struggling to write, Yoon-hee visits her estranged friend, Seo-yeon (Cha Ye-ryun) in Vietnam to study a folklore legend about a girl, Muoi, and her haunted portrait...

Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait is a traditional ghost-revenge film. The story follows Yoon-hee as she learns about Muoi, while trying to repair her estranged relationship with Seo-yeon – apparently, Yoo-hee's previous book did not sit well with Seo-yeon. Anyway, Muoi is a grudged ghost with a tormented past, and her portrait, drawn by her lover, is said to be haunted. As Yoon-hee gets deeper, she experiences more haunting and disturbing visions. Eventually, Yoon-hee must break the grudge to save herself. The ending feels a bit rushed and compressed as it happens so fast, but it was actually a great finale.

Muoi is an atmospheric, slow-burn horror film. You've seen this type of story before if you've ever seen any other Asian ghost films – or, at least if you've seen the popular films like The Grudge. And, that's exactly what this is: a grudged ghost looking for revenge. The portrait is used well to create some originality, but it doesn't stray far from the well known black-haired, white nightgown ghost story. The horror consists of great suspense and tension, some shocking jump-scares, and very disturbing visuals. I thought it was a scary film, although a bit inconsistent. Sometimes the film just moved too slow for its own good. And, the film feels a bit uneventful at times, partly due to the pacing dragging out certain scenes.

Jo An is great as the lead, a very controlled and believable performances – doesn't hit too high or too low. Generally, the entire cast was impressive with some great performances. The special effects were great; the camerawork really helped create some startling scares, and the makeup really create some cringe-worthy scenes. The music was haunting, a very ominous score that helps create the suspense and atmosphere. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime stream are nearly perfect – a misspelling here and there, but never detrimental to the experience. Director Kim Tae-kyeong does a great job in building suspense and terror, but the story was a bit cliché and it did feel like Tae-kyeong played it safe for the most part.

Overall, Muoi: The Legend of the Portrait is a great horror film. The story isn't all too original, so if you've seen many Asian horror films recently, this one will probably burn you out. The story also moves too slow at times. But, it delivers the horror – through atmosphere, suspense, visuals, and jump-scares – and I'm a sucker for folklore like this.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore. Rape is implied, but not graphically shown.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: White: The Melody of the Curse (2011)

White: The Melody of the Curse (Review)
Kim Gok, Kim Sun/Ham Eun-jeong/2011
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...nail-biting suspense, spooky visuals, and a plethora of jump-scares..."

Struggling girl group Pink Dolls flops on a televised competition against a very popular girl group, Pure. Lead by Eun-ju (Ham Eun-jeong), the Pink Dolls begin their comeback when they copy a catchy and addictive, and seemingly owner-less, tune Eun-ju found in their new studio...

White: The Melody of the Curse follows the Pink Dolls, mostly Eun-ju, as they see overnight success from the song they copied. The song has no known owner or rights holder, so they were able to slide through any legal actions and perform. But, of course, the agency and girls ignore the fact that the building they found the tape in, their new studio, is home of a vicious fire that took several lives. Anyway, the girls are unwittingly put against each other when the agency decides to have one lead for the song. I won't spoil the plot by giving away names, but they do get picked off one by one; are they doing it to themselves, or are they being haunted by the catchy melody they stole? The ending of the film is great; very spooky and brutal, definitely unexpected.

White: The Melody of the Curse starts off a bit slow. In fact, the film doesn’t really become a traditional horror film until the second act, or almost 30 minutes in. It's a hate and love situation: on one hand, there is very little horror going on in the first act, which obviously means there isn't much horror going on; on the other hand, I can really appreciate the film really building up the plot and the situation – it actually feels like it wants to tell a story. Don't worry about either situation too much, though, as the second and third acts of the film are filled with pure terror. The horror in White consists of nail-biting suspense, spooky visuals, and a plethora of jump-scares; the suspense is great, the spooky visuals are creepy and ominous, and they range from blatant to very subtle, and the jump-scares are fun – in fact, some of the jump-scares really startled me, and that rarely happens. I know some people hate jump-scares, but this is a film that really tries to scare, especially with some creative scares, and it often succeeds, don't count it out.

Ham Eun-jeong and the rest of the cast is great. Eun-jeong is a pop idol by heart, so the performance really felt natural and honest. The film is beautifully shot, the camerawork is very focused and often creative, and there is a great use of lighting and color. The music actually features a catchy tune, fans of K-pop will probably appreciate it the most; otherwise, you get a basic but serviceable jump-scare soundtrack. Directors and writers Kim Gok and Kim Sun create a very effective horror film; the writing is very focused and creative, developing real terror and giving some insight into the world of idols – and their obsessive fans.

Overall, White: The Melody of the Curse is a great horror film from South Korea. Although the main course is its jump-scares, White also offers great, well-developed suspense and tension, as well as some very spooky ghostly visuals. It's a treat for fans of Asian horror. It takes a while to really get started, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded greatly.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and disturbing content.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Penny Pinchers (2011)

Penny Pinchers (Review)
Kim Jung-Hwan/Song Joong-ki/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Both characters are hilarious..."

Ji-Woong (Song Joong-Ki) is jobless and living the carefree life. When he's booted out of his apartment, his extremely thrifty neighbor, Hong-Sil (Han Ye-Seul), lets him sleep outside of her rooftop apartment in a tent and offers to pay him $5000 if he does everything she says for two months...

Penny Pinchers continues as Hong-Sil teaches Ji-Woong how to make and save money using some unconventional methods. Digging through abandoned houses to resell whatever can be scavenged, selling bottles, selling voice recording, and so on -- things that don't cost much to do, but can bring a promising return. All at the same time, Ji-Woong wants to impress a crush through some hilarious lied, while Hong-Sil wants to impress her banker without spending a dime. There's a little more to the plot, but this is the bulk; we get some deep look into the characters, too. The ending slides into some very generic territory; it's disappointing considering how fresh the concept really is, and how generic the last 20 minutes are -- if you've seen any romantic comedies in your life, this ending is extremely predictable.

Penny Pinchers is a very funny film. The bulk of the film focuses on both leads, their thrifty work, and their extracurricular relationships, or lack thereof. The humor is very lighthearted and consistent; Hong-Sil covers the penny pinching humor, like stealing sugar from a cafe, while Ji-Woong is your clumsy, girl-chasing goofball. Both characters are hilarious in there own ways, and their different personalities add some variety into the film. It's a little too sweet sometimes, though, especially Ji-Woong, who really has a very childish personality: it was really aiming for a cute-type of comedy, for lack of a better term -- if that's your cup of tea, then you won't be disappointed. It is very well paced, too, so it's great for a night in or tip simply kill some time.

Song Joong-Ki is very charming and charismatic; a genuinely likable guy, and a real lady killer. Han Ye-Seul is equally charming and charismatic with her performance; her character is a bit more demanding, and she really nails it. (A real beauty, too.) Both leads dominate the screen and share great chemistry. The music fits the mood, very uplifting. It's also a well-shot movie, up to par with contemporary film. The English subtitles on the Netflix Streaming are near perfect, very few errors. Kim Jung-Hwan writes and directs this film, deliver a great comedic moments and two fantastic performances; a fresh concept executed superbly, although the ending is filled with genre tropes.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Penny Pinchers. I'm usually not a big fan of romantic comedies, but I really liked this film. Although it focuses on some romantic elements, I really think the bulk of the film works well as a pure comedy. The ending is the most disappointing aspect in the film, though.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some sexual references.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Sin of a Family (2011)

Sin of a Family (Review)
Min Byung-jin/Shin Hyun-joon/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...genuinely humorous during its first half... emotionally powerful during the second."

After discovering the body of a dead autistic boy, detective Jo Chang-shik (Shin Hyun-joon) begins to investigate the strange circumstances of the death...

Sin of a Family is a procedural mystery film. As the plot progresses, the mystery surrounding the boy's unfortunate death unravels, as expected. The plot thickens as Chang-shik and his partners begin to suspect a relative may be responsible for the boy's death. And, as expected, in order to find out why and how, Chang-shik must visit this family's old residents and peers -- he visits this family's past and how they lived with their autistic child. The truth behind the mystery is chilling but honest, and plausible. The climax doesn't hit as hard as it should, but it is still emotionally effective. The ending of the film is a bit of a cliché, but it works -- regardless of how many times its been done before, it works.

Sin of a Family plays out like a traditional mystery film. However, I didn't expect the film to be as funny as it was, particularly the first half of the film. The police are incompetent, but as humorous as ever; some of the humor is black as night, but most is lighthearted. The rest of the film, especially during the second half, is much darker. Not for the sake of being dark, but for the sake of being honest. It really delves into this family's financial issues, as well as their life with their autistic child and two other mouths to feed. The sin of the family, if you will, is much more complicated than you may think, especially how they get to that point and the aftermath. It did have many clichés and character stereotypes, and an underdeveloped subplot, though.

Shin Hyun-joon takes the lead; he's not the most charismatic fellow around, but he plays the character well. The rest of the acting was actually great, as well, especially the child cast. The music isn't memorable, except for the song the family sings, which is very effective for the film and on its own. The film is shot serviceably, not spectacular but not bad, either. I watched the Amazon Prime stream; the subtitles are mediocre and will make you work much of the dialogue out yourself, but it was ultimately understandable. Director Min Byung-jin plays it safe with this film, but delivers a chilling tale, regardless.

Overall, Sin of a Family has its fair share of sins, like its many clichés and stereotypical characters (which i liked, but are there any competent detectives out there?), but the film ultimately works out. The story is genuinely humorous during its first half, and emotionally powerful during the second. You may see the ending coming, but it is still haunting.

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

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: The Pot (aka Dok) (2008)

The Pot (aka Dok) (Review)
Kim Tae-gon/Lim Hyung-guk/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...confusing and [leaves] many unanswered questions."

Kim Young-Guk (Lim Hyung-guk) moves his pregnant wife, Young-ae, and his daughter, Mi-ae, to Seoul from the countryside. All is well until they run into their religious neighbors who seem fond of Mi-ae...

The Pot moves at a slow pace as it continues to follow this small family. Mi-ae begins to act strangely when she begins spending time with her new neighbors, particularly the grandma of the family. These religious neighbors also act oddly as they have a strange interest in Mi-ae. Young-Guk tolerates the shady neighbors and his daughter's odd behavior in order to succeed in his new business. But, as the strange occurrences become persistent and more violent, and as other aspects in his life, such as his business crumbling, Young-Guk is forced to face his over-religious neighbors and his own personal demons. The film picks up momentum during the final act, the ending packs a surprise, but it fails to land; in fact, the ending will further confuse the audience, if it hasn't already given up on the unnecessarily complicated plot.

The Pot is a slow horror film. It's occasionally a slow-burn horror film, but it's mostly slow for the sake of being slow. There is an ominous atmosphere throughout and a few creepy scenes and characters, but not nearly enough. Mi-ae kind of plays the Damien (from The Omen) of this film, but not nearly as evil or even explained as clearly; she starts off spoiled to begin with, then becomes more rotten as the story progresses. In other words, the horror is almost nonexistent. From what I understood, The Pot is another religion gone bad plot with a twist. The twist at the end distorts the overall concept, though, making it more confusing and leaving many unanswered questions. It's unfortunate because I was interested throughout the film, despite being a generic plot, and the end kind of fumbles. Aside from the confusing story and lack of genuine horror, The Pot also lacks engagement -- although I wanted to see where it was going, it never really hooked me.

I liked Lim Hyung-guk as the lead, and Ryoo Hyun-Bin, who plays Mi-ae, is also great a great child actress. The rest of the acting was a bit on the bland and boring side; it doesn't help that most of the characters are stereotypes. The film is shot competently, not outstanding or terrible. The music is mostly forgettable. On the technical side, The Pot is merely serviceable, never striving for much more than good enough. Kim Tae-gon directs and writes The Pot with little direction or focus; the cast seems bored and lifeless, and the plot is a mess.

Overall, The Pot is an interesting film. It's supposed to be a horror film, but it's severely lacking in the department. I liked the ominous atmosphere and some of the creepy characters, but the plot is a mess with a severe lack of engagement or significant plot points, and it becomes more confusing as it tosses everything at you during the last 15 minutes. Fans of atmospheric horror films may find some enjoyment, most others will find an incomprehensible and uneventful film.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Paradise Murdered (2007)

Paradise Murdered (Review)
Kim Han-min/Park Hae-il/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"The humor makes for some laugh out loud moments..."

Police arrive at a beautiful remote island where the 17 inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared without a trace...

From there on, Paradise Murdered goes back into a flashback for the rest of the film to explain the bizarre disappearances. As it turns out, the peaceful island was shaken up by a bloody triple homicide. As the weather becomes more ferocious and the radio comes up busted, the inhabitants have no way of contacting the mainland to report the crime. So, paranoia fills the minds of the inhabitants; is a psychopath among them? Is it a ghost? The smart and charismatic doctor (Park Hae-il) heads the investigation filled with twists and turns. The ending is creative and interesting, but lacks impact -- it didn't come off as surprising or very effective.

I went into this blind, expecting a South Korean crime-thriller with an engaging mystery. It is a crime film, and there is some mystery, but it is not a thriller. Rather, Paradise Murdered blends some humor into the mix. Like I said, the mystery was enough to keep me engaged to the end, but it often felt like it dragged and the revelation wasn't really satisfying. The humor makes for some laugh out loud moments; I emphasize some because the comedy more often felt tacked-on. The vibe of the film is bizarre, like if it were aiming for a To Catch A Virgin Ghost, but it failed to fully capitalize on that style -- it comes up short or half-baked.

Park Hae-il is great as the lead -- he's charismatic and likable, and he performs well otherwise. The cinematography is great, the setting is beautifully captured -- the setting itself is wonderful, as well. The music was mostly forgettable, there was one part of the score that stood out. Although there is plenty of blood, its not a particularly gory film; but, the makeup is great for the little gore shown on screen. Kim Han-min directs Paradise Murdered but lacks some focus; if its supposed to be a genre-bender, like Chawz or To Catch A Virgin Ghost, why is there such an inconsistent mood? It's as if Han-min was unsure of his direction, and you can see it in the final product.

Overall, Paradise Murdered is a good mystery film. The mystery kept me engaged, and the resolution is interesting -- its presentation is lacking, but it is interesting. The humor adds some life to the film, but it is underutilized and often feels out of place. If you're looking to kill a night, Paradise Murdered is entertaining enough, especially if you don't question everything.

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Enemy At The Dead End (2010)

Enemy At The Dead End (Review)
Kim Sang-Hwa, Jo Won-Hee/Chun Ho-Jin, Yu Hae-Jin/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Chun Ho-Jin is a fantastic actor... Yu Hae-Jin is equally impressive..."

In a small hospital ward, Min-ho (Chun Ho-Jin) continuously attempts suicide, haunted by his distorted memories, until Sang-up (Yu Hae-Jin), an amnesiac who is paralyzed, arrives and shares his room. Min-ho recognizes Sang-up from his memories and proceeds to exact his vengeance...

Enemy At The Dead End is a fairly straight-forward plot. Min-ho recognizes Sang-up, but Sang-up doesn't recognize Min-ho due to his amnesia. So, Min-ho torments Sang-up and plans his ultimate revenge, as he believes Sang-up is responsible for the death of his loved one. However, when Sang-up's memory returns, he believes Min-ho is responsible for the very same death. Most of the film takes place in the hospital, and most of film's first two act consist of Min-ho tormenting Sang-up. It's darkly humorous, and the final act speeds up the pace. The ending of the film was interesting and surprising; I had mixed feelings, though, as it just didn't seem logical or rational -- it's the type of surprising ending that's only purpose is to surprise, it leaves some plot holes and some questions and just doesn't seem completely thought-out.

Enemy At The Dead End is mostly a black comedy with some thrills. However, the humor, black or otherwise, was inconsistent as were the thrills; I didn't laugh out loud as much as I thought I would, and I rarely felt any thrills or adrenaline. In fact, I felt the plot was a bit in the uneventful side. It does build up its plot and ending subtlety, which is good and keeps you watching, but it often feels like nothing is going on. The climax of the film was witty and clever, but the ending was not so much; in fact, as someone who loves twists and surprises, I felt the ending was the most disappointing part of the film -- like I said, surprising simply to be surprising, with more questions left asked than answered.

Chun Ho-Jin is a fantastic actor, and his performance is a saving grace for the film. Yu Hae-Jin is equally impressive with a raunchy, hilarious performance. The film is shot nicely, and the music is well-fitted. The film is technically well made, and up to par with many of South Korea's best. I have conflicting information on directors, there are either two or four; regardless, the film is directed well enough, but there is a consistency issue where the film lacks humor and thriller elements at certain points and just feels bland.

Overall, Enemy At The Dead End is a good film. The humor, whenever it took center stage, was genuinely funny, especially the raunchy and black comedy. And, the final acts has some thrills. However, the story feels uneventful, occasionally lacking both humor and thrills, and the ending is disappointing; also, the characters are build subtly, sometimes too subtle to appreciate. I recommend the film for fans of the genre, and the two excellent leads.

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