Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Don't Cry Mommy (2012)

Don't Cry Mommy (Review)
Kim Yong-han/Yoo Sun/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...Don't Cry Mommy may be the film to make you cry."

Recently divorced Yoo-lim (Yoo Sun) lives alone with her only daughter Eun-ah (Nam Bo-ra). All is well and looking up for the pair until Eun-ah is attacked in the most devastating way possible...

Don't Cry Mommy begins by developing the relationship between mother and daughter; this segment is a bit short but efficient. Soon thereafter, Eun-ah is raped by a group of delinquent students, which rightfully devastates the pair. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system sees the vicious criminals as minors and infuriatingly places some of the responsibility on Eun-ah; consequently, the criminals are freed. I'll avoid some spoilers, but the torture continues for Eun-ah well into the second act. The final act of the film becomes a convenient thriller, but still manages to deliver a powerful and emotionally-devastating ending.

Don't Cry Mommy is fantastic for the first two acts of the film. The relationship between mother and daughter is efficiently crafted to create some very powerful moments as the film progresses. The unbelievable actions of the criminals and reactions of the criminal justice system are not sugarcoated, either. This, in turn, makes for some frustrating and infuriating moments; the drama is crafted so well, I was fuming with anger and disbelief, as well sadness and despair. It's genuinely a sad film that gets sadder as it progresses; the emotionally-effective character arc for Yoo-lim is testament for that statement. I love films that really make you feel, and this film accomplishes that. The film overall works perfectly in making a social statement, as well; I think it's an incredibly significant message, too.

Unfortunately, the film does fumble a bit during the final act. The final act becomes a more procedural revenge-thriller, which isn't a bad thing but worth noting. There are a few plot contrivances and a few illogicalities, as well, and I had a few questions regarding Yoo-lim's actions overall. Furthermore, the last 30 minutes or so of the film feel compressed; there seems to be so much going on, including an unexpected twist, but it all feels overwhelming because of how fast its moving, so the impact is minimized. It's kinda moving without direction, just trying to reach the ending. Fortunately, the actual ending offers some redemption for the final act; it may not be the ending you want, but it sure is effective.

Yoo Sun is superb as the lead; she perfectly captures the genuine happiness of motherhood during the introduction, and the pain and agony of the rest of the film. Nam Bo-ra is also fantastic for her entire performance. The music was perfect in setting the mood; the somber tones really had me ready to weep. The film is also shot well. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant video steam had some grammatical errors, but not nearly enough to hurt the film. Kim Yong-han magnificently crafts the first two acts, but loses some momentum and direction during the final act -- I emphasize some because the third act really isn't as bad as I make it sound.

Overall, much like Silenced, Don't Cry Mommy is a difficult film to watch, but a film well worth watching. It's a very sad and even depressing tearjerker, but it works very well in raising awareness. If you feel numb from the countless blockbusters released every year, Don't Cry Mommy may be the film to make you cry.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood. The film features a rape sequence; the sequence is not visually graphic due to distortion of video quality, but the audio may be disturbing for some audiences.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: Marathon (2005)

Marathon (Review)
Jeong Yoon-cheol/Jo Seung-woo/2005
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a deeply emotional and inspirational story, with a beautiful message about people..."

The inspirational true story of Cho-won (Jo Seung-woo), an autistic young man, who finds a release in running and plans on running a full marathon.

Marathon follows Cho-won's young life as he prepares to run a full marathon in under three hours -- a goal set by his loving yet seemingly over-attached mother (Kim Mi-sook). Although the main focus of the story is Cho-won and the marathon, Marathon also delves deeply into the family of an autistic young man, society's view and treatment of the autistic, and the deep love between mother and son. To do so, Marathon also follows Cho-won during his everyday life: at the supermarket, on his way home, at a subway, and so on. I found the film to be deeply insightful yet... it also managed to do so in a subtle manner, I didn't feel like it preached. Regardless, Marathon leads to a predictable ending, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; the ending is executed excellently to create a moment of triumph.

Marathon is a biopic sports film. Therefore, Marathon is procedural and by-the-books, like the many sports films that came before it. But, is that really bad? I don't care how many times I've seen a film with the same formula, Marathon manages to deliver a deeply emotional and inspirational story, with a beautiful message about people -- all people are people, handicapped or not, and they should be treated equally. You should know what to expect for the drama: moments of inspirational highs, and moments of tear-jerking lows. I think the drama is further amplified by the lighthearted humor -- I really liked it, it had me with a huge, genuine smile across my face. If you've seen many sports films like this recently, maybe you should wait a bit before watching; but, if you haven't seen a film from the genre recently, this will feel as fresh as ever.

Jo Seung-woo's performance is magnificent -- respectful, honest, and realistic -- a wonderful leading man with great charisma. Kim Mi-sook is also great as the mother, really embodying a worried, loving and attached mother -- it's beautiful to see her go through the motions because it feels so real. The film is shot well, some beautiful scenes; unfortunately, the print on Netflix Instant isn't in high definition so the picture quality is sub par. The soundtrack is also great, but the music does get repetitive by the end: at least they didn't have you listening to scratching chalk boards or Justin Bieber. Jeong Yoon-cheol direction isn't very ambitious, but the story is based on actual events, so he didn't have many options; regardless, he crafts a beautiful and meaningful film.

Overall, Marathon is a deeply emotional and genuinely inspirational sports film. The movie's balanced focus on Cho-win's marathon and personal life is meticulously crafted and blended to have you cheering by the end. Although the music came off as repetitive, it's not enough to stop Marathon from racing past the finish line at number one.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Confession of Murder (2012)

Confession of Murder (aka I Am The Murderer) (Review)
Jeong Byeong-gil/Jung Jae-young/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a masterfully crafted thriller."

Two years after the statute of limitations expire, Lee Doo-seok (Park Si-hoo) releases a book confessing to several murders, and detective Choi Hyeong-goo (Jung Jae-young) jumps back into the case...

Confession of Murder is a case of the "less you, the better." The story begins Hyeong-goo chasing a suspected murderer, unfortunately failing to capture the suspect. The film briefly flashes forward 15 years to 2005, then again two years into 2007. From here Doo-seok emerges taking credit for the murders and becoming and instant celebrity thanks to his manipulation of the media and gullible, often ignorant public. Aside from following Hyeong-goo and Doo-seok, the film also follows the family of the victims and their quest for vengeance. This is as far as I go, though, as the second half of the film is filled with unexpected twists and turns. The ending is vicious -- like the traditional Korean thriller, it packs plenty of surprises in its bleak but hopeful finale.

Confession of Murder is an adrenaline-filled thriller. In fact, the film begins with a suspenseful chase through claustrophobic alleyways and rooftops -- in this case, although I loved the creative direction and camerawork, the scene can be a bit nauseating due to the shaking. The thrills continue consistently through the film, as well. The car chase scene involving two pedestrian vehicles and an ambulance is a instant classic; however, the blatant use of green screen is a bit distracting in this case. As for its exemplary thrills, it comes full circle for its epic ending involving a foot chase, a car chase, and a beating. There are little things that bring the film down a bit, like the previously mentioned shaky-cam and the green screen, but it's otherwise a masterfully crafted thriller.

As for the story, it oozes with genuine mystery and creativity. I was hooked from beginning to end, keeping up with every twist and turn it threw at me; really, my eyes were glued on the screen for its entire runtime. I loved every thrill, and I also loved engaging and often suspenseful conversation between the characters; and, these characters are also interesting in their own regard. The commentary regarding the mainstream media is very blatant and could've used some subtly, but it's honest; we've seen plenty of examples of the media turning monsters into celebrities, I recognize it here in the United States and applaud the filmmakers for calling them out; I also like how it portrayed some of the general public, like the young women idolizing the monster, it's just honest. Furthermore, the film offers some great humor, as well, keeping the pace and audience on its feet.

The role doesn't demand much for the entire performance, but, by the end, Park Si-hoo impressed with his versatile acting. Jung Jae-young is very charismatic; he's an infuriating character because his charisma makes him charming and likable but his actions make him evil -- a true psychopath. There are more superb performances, but I'll leave it mum to avoid spoilers. The cinematography is great, and the camerawork is engaging and creative; although the first chase scene can be nauseating, it was shot masterfully. The special effects look out of place; fortunately, there only used to a noticeable point in two sequences. Director Jeong Byeong-gil crafts a fantastic thrill-ride, and a very interesting, contemplative, and conversational story; I look forward to anything in Byeong-gil's future.

Overall, Confession of Murder is a superb thriller. It's a ferociously paced, masterfully-crafted, and insanely entertaining thriller. The little things bring it down from perfection, but it isn't a film to miss, regardless.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Guard Post (aka GP 506) (2008)

The Guard Post (aka GP 506) (Review)
Kong Su-chang/Chun Ho-jin/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"I liked the horror, but I thought the mystery was half-baked."

Sergeant Major Noh (Chun Ho-jin) arrives at Guard Post 506 where all of the soldiers were killed except for one...

The Guard Post follows Noh as he investigates the mysterious incident. The soldiers were slaughtered by a fellow soldier – a man found drenched in blood, holding an axe and laughing deviously when first found. Through several journal entries and some interrogations, Noh begins to piece together the event. However, the conflicting stories cause Noh to suspect several possibilities: Did they go crazy? Was there an illness spreading? The Guard Post, through its messy storytelling, leads to a bloody finale – it doesn't answer every question, but it is satisfying in other ways.

The Guard Post is a horror-mystery film. It's not your traditional horror film, though. This film focuses more on its tense and ominous atmosphere, as well as some gory visuals; there is also some great suspense and tension during several of its sequences. The mystery is interesting, but the execution is flawed. The constant jumps from flashback to present are too much – sometimes it jumps to the past without warning, other times you see it coming, like during an interrogation; the investigation becomes overwhelming due to the sloppy storytelling. There are a few twists and turns, but they don't pack much of a punch. I liked the horror, but I thought the mystery was half-baked. Otherwise, I also thoroughly enjoyed the settings – it's perfect in creating its spooky atmosphere.

Although he doesn't play the lead often, Chun Ho-jin is great – his performance isn't too demanding, but his appearance and performance really fit the stern character he plays. The rest of the cast is also good, but there aren't many standouts. The music fits the tense atmosphere well; sometimes it's a little to epic, though. The film is shot nicely; a bit too dark at times, otherwise it looks great. The visual effects were great, although a bit hard to see due to the darkness of the movie. The English subtitles in the Netflix Instant stream has some flaws; some of the sentences are not complete, so you only understand the first half; for example, the subtitles translate like this “North and South Korea are...” and the subtitles don't complete the sentence, so you have to guess a bit. Director Kong Su-chang does well in creating the horror atmosphere, and in creating some tense moments, but the mystery is muddled by the sloppy storytelling.

Overall, The Guard Post is a good movie. The horror aspects will be appreciated by fans of atmospheric and slow-burn horror movies, like myself. But, the mystery is too confusing, particularly because of the convoluted storytelling. In fact, this is the second time I watch this film, and I still feel like it didn't get all of it – I understood what it was about, but I just don't feel satisfied.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Review)
Kim Jee-woon/Song Kang-ho/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"technically brilliant, and the story is filled with adrenaline and excitement."

In 1930s Manchuria, The Bad (Lee Byung-hun), a vicious bandit, is hired to steal a valuable treasure map from a train. The Good (Jung Woo-sung), a skillful bounty hunter, is on his trail. But, before the map can be acquired, The Weird (Song Kang-ho), a thief, shows up...

The Good, The Bad, The Weird follows the trio as they try to acquire the valuable map from one another and try to avoid their pursuers. The Weird takes center stage, though, as he is the first to acquire the map, although incidentally. The Weird finds out about the map and its value, and he tries to stay alive to see it through. The Good sees some promise in the map, but he wants to capture The Bad. Meanwhile, The Bad wants to capture The Weird due to a hidden grudge he holds. The Good, The Bad, The Weird keeps it moving at a ferocious pace until it reaches a classic climax -- the good old Mexican standoff. The ending is great, stick around for in-credits scene for a little more insight.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a fantastic action-adventure movie. The story is filled with exhilarating action and laugh out loud humor -- both elements blend well together to create a balanced and versatile film. The action is superbly choreographed and captured through phenomenal camerawork. There are blazing shootouts with particles everywhere, exhilarating chases, and a few trembling explosions -- and it's all captured perfectly. The humor had me laughing than most comedies -- The Weird delivers some of the most hilarious scenes through his funny dialogue and clumsy, witty, and bizarre actions. And, the story always has something going on -- the story is always moving. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is one of the most exciting and adventurous films I've seen.

The trio of leads are fantastic. Lee Byung-hun delivers a classic character -- the slick and violent bandit of few words -- the look in Byung-hun's eyes say a lot about his performance. Jung Woo-sung has less screen time, but he also delivers a noteworthy performance. But, ultimately, Song Kang-ho delivers a brilliant performance; Kang-ho gives such a lively performance -- really a performer who gives it his all, and has fun doing it. The cinematography is beautiful, the lighting is elegant and the use of color is vivid. I though the camerawork was brilliant, very fluid and original. The music matched the setting perfectly, and helped build up the excitement. The direction and writing from Kim Jee-woon is absolutely brilliant; the film is consistent, fluid, lively and stupendously entertaining thanks to the superb direction from Jee-woon.

Overall, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a superb action film. The movie is technically brilliant, and the story is filled with adrenaline and excitement. With the superb action, incredible acting, and magnificent direction, this is a film that should not be missed.

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: The Chaser (2008)

The Chaser (Review)
Na Hong-jin/Kim Yoon-seok/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...dark, gritty, and daring as it enters some dark and surprising territory."

When his girls go missing, dishonest ex-detective turned sleazy pimp Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) begins to suspect they're being sold...

The Chaser follows Joong-ho as he tracks the man he suspects his abducting or selling his girls. After another one of his girls, Mi-jin, goes missing during his investigations, he runs into Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo), Mi-jin's last customer, and he's apprehended. Without spoiling anything, we know Je Yeong-min is a serial killer from the beginning, the film doesn't try to hide it. Afterward, Yeong-min admits to several murders, but plays games with Joong-ho and the police. The rest of the film, which I'll avoid spoiling, is a wild chase with twists and turns at every corner as Joong-ho and the police try to uncover Yeong-min's sinister secrets. The ending, in fact I'd say most of the final act, is brutal; it breaks through typical Hollywood conventions, and it might anger some audiences.

The Chaser is a superb investigative thriller. The Chaser is dark, gritty, and daring as it enters some dark and surprising territory. On the surface, the film looks and feels like a movie straight out of Hollywood; but, I would argue it's a film straight out of old-school Hollywood -- when Hollywood was much more daring and experimental. You see, the style, the story, and the production values scream Hollywood, but the twists, the turns, and the ending (and more) scream South Korea -- it's the perfect blend. The film is filled with suspense and thrills, pumped full of adrenaline during its literal and figurative chases. The investigation is also interesting and engaging. The pacing is also ferocious, moving at the speed of light to its devastating ending. There's always something going on in this film, and that's great.

I think this is Kim Yoon-seok's best performance, he's fantastic as the lead. Ha Jung-woo, who also stars in films like The Terror Live and Nameless Gangster, delivers another superb performance -- the performance you love to hate thanks to the brilliant acting that amplifies the sinister character. Otherwise, the acting is all-in-all great. The music doesn't have a strong presence, but it's ominous and well-fitted when it does play. The cinematography captures the dark, gritty atmosphere well, and the camerawork keeps up with the thrilling chases. This is director's Na Hong-jin debut, and he does very well in crafting the thrills and delivering some strong punches; some of it does feel over-edited, but it's not persistent enough to really be detrimental.

Overall, The Chaser is a superb thriller. Although it shares a few similarities with Hollywood, The Chaser still manages to be one of the best films from South Korea. It's a fantastic blend of investigation and chase. I've seen it multiple times, and I still love it. Fans of films that enter taboo territory and break typical conventions will find The Chaser worth chasing after.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore, and some sexuality.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Hwayi: A Monster Boy (2013)

Hwayi: A Monster Boy (Review)
Jang Joon-hwan/Yeo Jin-goo/2013
Where to watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...satisfied by the intense close-quarter-combat, the violent shootings, and the fantastic chase scenes..."

A young boy named Hwa-yi (Yeo Jin-goo) is raised by five fathers with notorious criminal ties...

After the introduction, Hwayi: A Monster Boy follows the titular character during his young adult life. Raised by five criminal fathers, at this point in his life, Hwa-yi doesn't actively participate in his fathers' vicious activities. He is, however, trained by his parents, and his father Seok-tae (Kim Yoon-seok) continuously tests Hwa-yi's limits. Midway through, Hwa-yi uncovers a sinister secret of his fathers' past which places them at odds and spirals Hwa-yi into a vicious rampage. The violent ending was satisfying – there was one element, or rather person, that came out of nowhere and felt out place, but it was otherwise a very effective finale.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy is a vicious thriller. First and foremost, I just want to say I really appreciate the beautifully stylized introduction and ending credits – too often we forget how much effort is placed into these segments, and I have to say I absolutely loved these. Anyway, I really enjoyed the story of Hwayi. The first half of the film really works well in creating the situation at hand and developing its characters – and the characyters, despite mostly being antagonistic, have great character. The “twist” in the middle was a bit predictable, and it did feel a little too convenient for a plot contrivance, but it ultimately works out in setting up the second half of the film.

Those looking for action will be satisfied by the intense close-quarter-combat, the violent shootings, and the fantastic chase scenes – in fact, the car chase scene in this film leaped up to the top of my all-time favorite car chases. Most of the action occurs during the second half, but both halves really compliment each other well, regardless. By the way, the film was unexpectedly violent – gallons and gallons of blood on screen from the vicious stabbings and shootings. Also, there is some humor in the film, most of it is really black humor, and I thought it was hilarious – it gave the film a little more personality. Aside from a few plot contrivances and a few cliches, I loved the action and the originality of the plot.

Yeo Jin-goo is great as the lead; he can be a bit melodramatic at times, but he usually nails the character. Kim Yoon-seok, who also stars in Running Turtle and The Chaser, delivers a fantastic performance; in fact, this may be his very best performance as he really captures the charismatic but sinister character perfectly. The rest of the acting is great. The film is shot beautifully, I loved the lighting and cinematography. The camerawork was also great in capturing the action. The music fit the picture perfectly. The film uses some computer graphics during some sequences, and they looked fantastic – they really didn't skimp on the visual effects. I watched the South Korean Blu-ray of this film; the picture and audio quality are superb; the English subtitles are also perfect. Director Jang Joon-hwan, despite the plot contrivances and cliches, crafts a creative thriller, focusing on character to amplify the thrills and emotion.

Overall, Hwayi: A Monster Boy is a great film. The story is great, the ending was superbly built up, and the acting and directing from Kim Yoon-seok and Jang Joon-hwan, respectively, is masterful. Like I said, though, there were some moments that were too convenient for the storytelling and a few scenes were very cliché and unnecessarily melodramatic. Otherwise, you're in for a bloody treat.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some sexual references.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Dancing Queen (2012)

Dancing Queen (Review)
Lee Seok-hun/Uhm Jung-hwa, Hwang Jung-min/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...very lighthearted in its humor and message, which I enjoyed."

Jung-hwa (Uhm Jung-hwa) has dreamed of becoming a singer all her life, but sets her dreams aside when she marries Jung-min (Hwang Jung-min). When her chance arises, Jung-hwa begins chasing her dreams once again...

Dancing Queen is very procedural and by-the-books. The story begins with the beginning of Jung-hwa and Jung-min relationship as children and young adults -- I thought this segment was hilarious but too short. Fast forward to the present, Jung-min is a lawyer barely supporting his family and Jung-hwa works at a gym. When Jung-min incidentally saves a man from getting hit by a train, he spirals into the world of politics and becomes a mayoral candidate. Meanwhile, Jung-hwa becomes a member of a mature pop group, the Dancing Queens. So, Jung-hwa tries to keep her dancing identity secret, and Jung-min attempts to win the race. It leads to a great but very predictable ending -- you can see the ending coming from the beginning.

Like I said, Dancing Queen is very procedural. If you've seen any romantic comedies, you've likely seen Dancing Queen. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dancing Queen strives from the charisma of both lead characters -- whenever they share the screen, you can bet you'll be laughing. Apart, both characters have their ups and downs -- more ups than downs, though. I like the quirkiness in them, but sometimes they come off as overly obnoxious. The film is also very lighthearted in its humor and message, which I enjoyed. The story really emphasizes following your dreams and triumphing over obstacles -- a bit cliché, but very positive and appreciated. Otherwise, it's just very traditional; it almost feels like an American comedy. Also, at two hours long, it feels longwinded, especially for a comedy.

Uhm Jung-hwa and Hwang Jung-min are both great. Their performances have great charisma, they feel like an actual couple -- and they accomplish this without constantly locking lips. The rest of the cast offers great support with quirky performances. The music is mostly pop singles, which matches the subject perfectly; how much you like the music depends on how much you like the genre -- I though it was great. Every thing else is great; it shot well, picture quality is high, and so on. The English subtitles are nearly flawless, which is always appreciated. Lee Suk-hoon, director of the excellent See You After School, takes a much safer route with this film; it's a very well made film, but it just doesn't really feel distinct.

Overall, Dancing Queen is a great romantic comedy. I had a fun watching the film, it had me laughing to the end. And, I loved the positivity and lightheartedness of the film. But, Dancing Queen is also generic and a bit too lengthy. It's difficult to pick this film apart, but these two issues really stood out to me -- how much weight they hold is completely up to you. By the way, it'll probably be much more enjoyable if you haven't watched a romantic comedy in a while.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some sexual references, but generally safe for most audiences.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Man From Nowhere (2010)

The Man From Nowhere (Review)
Lee Jeong-beom/Won Bin/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"The Man From Nowhere takes this tired genre somewhere -- and it's somewhere like paradise."

When the only person he cares for is kidnapped, quiet and recluse Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) seeks vengeance the only way he knows how...

The Man From Nowhere follows Tae-sik, a very quiet, recluse, and mysterious young man. In fact, Tae-sik only speaks to a the young girl next door, So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), and he still attempts to keep his distance from her. When So-mi's mother steals drugs from a powerful criminal organization, So-mi and her mother are kidnapped. Tae-sik realizes he must save the only person that understands him, and he spirals into the criminal underworld. The story continues as one would expect, but it also develops some great character, which makes it more distinct and effective. The climax is action-packed, featuring an unforgettable fight sequence, and the ending is powerful.

The Man From Nowhere is a superb action-thriller. It works on a much deeper level than your typical kidnap film, and it also manages to topple those very same films in the action and thrill departments. I think the film works so well on each level because of the meticulously-crafted relationship between Tae-sik and So-mi; you can't help but relate to these characters and their struggles, and even if you can't, their characters seem so real, you can't really help yourself from getting emotional. It really amplifies the action -- it feels like there are actually stakes, there something that you might actually lose. The tense shootings, the superb close-quarter-combat, and the exhilarating chases are also well balanced, spread evenly throughout the film to create a consistent, well-paced experience.

Won Bin begins his performance with a bit of a trope character -- the cool, mysterious character with the long, slick hair -- and he plays it well. Won Bin's performance only gets better as the different complexions of his character take center stage. This performance really makes me wish Won Bin would star in more films. Kim Sae-ron was also impressive; her performance was genuine enough to actually make me care for her character. The cinematography is great, but I think the camerawork is even better; some scenes had me in awe thanks to the shooting style. The music also helps significantly in building up the emotion and tension. Lee Jeong-beom directs a superb action-thriller with unexpectedly deep and relatable characters; his direction and writing manages to elevate the kidnapping genre.

Overall, The Man From Nowhere is a masterpiece. I've seen it many times since my first viewing a few years ago, and I'm still impressed. From the excellent performance to the superb action, The Man From Nowhere takes this tired genre somewhere -- and it's somewhere like paradise.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: A Company Man (2012)

A Company Man (Review)
Lim Sang-yoon/So Ji-sub/2012
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...the perfect time-killer."

Hyeong-do (So Ji-sub) is a hitman for a business disguised as a metal production company. Very skillful and dedicated to his work, Hyeong-do begins to have an internal conflict concerning his lifestyle...

A Company Man continues as Hyeong-do begins “slacking” at work after he meets and falls for a single mother – the mother of a young colleague he was forced to assassinate. Aside from falling in love, Hyeong-do also struggles with the morals that surround his job, or the lack thereof. He simply lacks the fulfillment in his life and strives for more. But, the company won't let him go without a fight. A simple and even a bit cliché story, A Company Man reaches an action-packed climax and bittersweet ending.

A Company Man is an action-thriller with some romance elements. The story, as explained above, is very simple and treads familiar territory – A Company Man is in no way a groundbreaking film. But, that doesn't make the film bad. In fact, the simplicity of the story really helps create a blockbuster, popcorn action film vibe, and it becomes a bit more effective than your typical action film thanks to the romance elements. In other words, it's a film that you can jump right into and enjoy it's versatility. On that note, the action ranges from some great close-quarters-combat and a few shootouts. The fight sequences are the best part of the film, especially the scene on the freeway. The character development, the fighting, the shooting, and the romance all blend together to create a balanced film. Furthermore, the pacing is great and the runtime is short – the perfect time-killer.

So Ji-sub plays a very quiet and calculated character – his performance isn’t one of energy, but rather one of complex yet subtle emotion – definitely a great leading man. Lee Mi-yeon also stars in this film as the love interest, and she eases into a very natural performance. The acting is otherwise great. The music was the most original part of the film, really, it had a different sound but worked well with the action. The film is also well shot. The action choreography, particularly the fight sequences, were fantastic. But, some of these scenes feel over-edited; there are so many cuts and zooms during these scenes that it occasionally creates a choppy and inconsistent fight. Director and writer Lim Sang-yoon plays it safe; the direction gets the job done – it's even exemplary during the action – but the story never strives to be more than good enough, more than just a frame for the action.

Overall, A Company Man is a great action film. I watched this film for the first time almost a year ago, and it's still a very entertaining entry in the genre – that's what I call music replay value. It may not be the most original action film, especially in the story department, but the rest of the film is exceptional.

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: I Saw The Devil (2010)

I Saw The Devil (Review)
Kim Jee-woon/Choi Min-sik, Lee Byung-hun/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Step out of your comfort zone and have a close look at this Devil."

After his fiance is found brutally murdered, secret service agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) will stop at nothing to avenge her death...

I Saw The Devil continues as Soo-hyun begins searching for his fiance's murderer. His off-the-record and unconventional investigations lead him to a savage serial killer named Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik). Using advanced tracking technology he plants in Kyung-chul, Soo-hyun starts tracking his every move and becomes determined to make him feel the same pain his fiance felt. So, if Kyung-chul is about to assault a woman, Soo-hyun will step in and brutally punish him. The cycle continues and we witness the degeneration of Soo-hyun up to the very end. The ending is shocking in many ways – violently and philosophically.

I Saw The Devil is a disturbing revenge thriller. The story is simple enough for anyone to grasp, which is a plus; the characters and their respective character arcs add to the philosophy of the film, albeit in a subtle manner, which is another major positive for the film. Notorious for its graphic violence, I Saw The Devil will not disappoint those looking for a shocking thriller. And, it's not just the violence, I Saw The Devil treads into taboo territory many filmmakers don't dare to enter. This makes the film feel much more thrilling and exhilarating – almost like something we're not supposed to watch – a feeling you don't feel often watching mainstream releases. Furthermore, looking beyond the surface, we see a film that really makes you question the concept of “revenge” – is there always a winner? Does it feel good? I Saw The Devil achieves much more than toppling any censorship or filmmaker compromise, it becomes a thought-provoking and unforgettable thriller when it all blends together.

Choi Min-sik delivers a superb performance – a vicious and devil-like character captured perfectly through Min-sik's brilliant adoption of a psychopath's mind. Lee Byung-hun is equally impressive – his character is much more emotional, but equally complex. The cinematography and camerawork are beautiful, every scene is crafted meticulously to create an elegant yet disturbing work of art. The music also greatly aids in creating the atmosphere through its somber tones. The special effects were almost perfect; there is one scene, albeit a brief one, that has some clear use of computer and looks a bit out of place. Kim Ji-woon masterfully crafts his disturbing but honest vision without compromise – and, with a distinct style, as well. Ji-woon is a creative, brilliant, and daring filmmaker.

Overall, I Saw The Devil is a masterpiece. It's brilliantly crafted, and becomes much more than your standard revenge thriller, especially when you look beyond the surface. And, even if you don't care to think deeply about film, I Saw The Devil delivers a thrilling, exhilarating, and cringe-worthy experience unlike any other. Step out of your comfort zone and have a close look at this Devil.

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Over My Dead Body (2012)

Over My Dead Body (Review)
Woo Seon-ho/Lee Beom-soo/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a bit too complicated for a comedy and too simple for a crime film."

A biotech researcher, the daughter of a severely injured protestor, and a con artist team up to kidnap the dead body of a wealthy yet sinisterly uncaring head of a pharmaceutical company...

Over My Dead Body is a crime/heist comedy, and it can be occasionally too complicated. The story centers around the head of a pharmaceutical company, Kim Taek-soo, who decides to shut down their groundbreaking research and sell it overseas. Jin-soo, a researcher and protestor, is severely injured in the process, and Kim Taek-soo suffers a fatal fate. Eventually, Hyun-chul (Lee Beom-soo), a friend of Jin-soo and a biotech researcher, and Dong-hwa (Kim Ok-bin), Jin-soo's daughter, team up to steal the body of Kim Taek-soo and hold it for ransom, but are brought into a conspiracy regarding the dead body and a valuable but missing semiconductor chip. Their plan is further distorted when they reluctantly team up with Ahn Jin-oh (Ryoo Seung-bum), a con artist in the process of committing insurance fraud. Whew! That's quite a bit to digest, isn't it? The rest of the plot centers around this group trying to receive the ransom, outsmart their pursuers, and stay out of prison. If you've seen any heist comedy films, the ending can be seen a mile away; still, it's very funny.

Both for a comedy and heist film, Over My Dead Body is really unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. The first paragraph of this review explains the gist of it, but looking back at my second paragraph... wow, that's a lot of story. And, this may frighten some viewers. But, don't fear the plot. It's difficult to explain, but easy to understand. The comedy is occasionally quirky, a bit bizarre, a little slapstick, and often dark -- in other words, it's versatile. Some moments really had me laughing out loud, while some really fell flat; but, I laughed more than I didn't. The heist elements, though, are very procedural and predictable; it just never really becomes daring enough to develop a distinct identity. The planning process, the execution, the ending, everything about the actual crime/heist elements are dreadfully by-the-books -- a missed opportunity. However, the crime elements, as generic as they may be, helped create a balance in the pacing. If you're looking for a comedy with a lot of story and some great pacing, this is it.

Lee Beom-soo and Kim Ok-bin are great -- their characters aren't developed enough to be demanding, but their performances are more than competent. Much like Dachimawa Lee, though, Ryoo Seung-bum steals the show with an excellent performance -- Seung-bum is so versatile and daring, he's quickly become one of my favorite Korean actors. The film is shot very well, picture quality is superb. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream have a few spelling and grammatical errors, but it's nearly perfect. Writer and director Woo Seon-ho does well in creating some blatant and subtle humor, but his crime elements feel half-baked.

Overall, Over My Dead Body is a bit too complicated for a comedy and too simple for a crime film. But, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hilarious. The movie is thoroughly entertaining and humorous, and, despite feeling half-baked and cliché, the crime elements offer enough to keep you engaged. Definitely worth streaming, and even purchasing for fans of the genre and cast.

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time (2012)

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time (Review)
Yoon Jong-bin/Choi Min-sik/2012 
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a must-watch for fans of the genre."

After he stumbles upon 10 kilos of heroin, corrupt customs official Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik) teams up with vicious gangster Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo) to create the most powerful crime organization in Busan.

Nameless Gangster follows Ik-hyun and Hyung-bae as they slowly move up in the world through illegal activities. The beginning is a little complicated – starting at the present, moving into a week later, than jumping years earlier – but it quickly irons out. Anyway, Ik-hyun becomes a business front and develops some immensely valuable contacts, while Hyung-bae handles the dirty work through ferocious violence. Although both are looking at the top as their destination and both develop a strong family relationship, Ik-hyun and Hyung-bae are different people – Ik-hyun is manipulative, quick-witted, and greedy, while Hyung-bae is a cold-hearted, dead-serious gangster. Consequently, we this clash of personalities clash as they rise, particularly when they enter the resort and casino business. A bit more than your typical gangster film, Nameless Gangster leads up to a fantastic ending.

Nameless Gangster works very well as a gangster epic. In fact, much of the film is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's gangster classics, sharing most similarities with Casino. Otherwise, Nameless Gangster develops a personality for itself. It's interesting to see Ik-hyun's character throughout the film – you can see he has a big ego and he's filled with greed. It's also interesting to see Hyung-bae's interactions with Ik-hyun. Aside from the characters, the plot also gives an interesting look into the criminal underworld and the corrupt officials who helped it strive. Although most tension is built simply through dialogue, which is fantastic, there are a few action sequences, usually involving gang warfare in a Korean-style – don't expect shootouts like you would in an American film. Also, the pacing is fantastic, really keeping you hooked and keeping the plot moving at all times.

Choi Min-sik is fantastic as the lead – his character is very multilayered, with a big ego and an almost cowardly personality. Min-sik really captures this personality and becomes the character – and he's one of the few actors that makes a believable drunk. Ha Jung-woo is also fantastic as the slick and brutal gangster – definitely one of the best Korean actors around. Like before, the music and it's editing also reminded me of Scorsese's style – it matches and helps build the mood, and gives the film a lively vibe. The film is beautifully shot, as well. I watched the Korean Blu-ray – the English subtitles are practically flawless, although they sometimes conflict with the film's own occasional subtitles and credits – not a big problem, though. Director and writer Yoon Jong-bin creates a lively and realistic world, blending a decade's worth of information and keeping it entertaining at that.

Overall, Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time is a fantastic gangster film. Both Choi Min-sik and Ha Jung-woo deliver stellar performances, and the story keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The introduction is a bit convoluted, though, but if you can stick to it, you'll be greatly rewarded. Definitely a must-watch for fans of the genre.

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