Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Baby and Me (2008)

Baby and Me (aka Baby and I) (Review)
Kim Jin-young/Jang Keun-suk/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...lighthearted and quirky..."

Rebellious 18-year-old high school student Han Joon-soo's (Jang Keun-suk) life is turned upside down when a baby lands on his lap...

Baby and Me continues to follow Joon-soo as he begins taking care of the baby. Reluctant at first, Joon-soo tries to find the baby's momma and even tries to abandon him. He sees more difficulties since his parents ran away from home -- yup, his parents ran away from home! But, as expected, he grows attached and begins to raise the baby. What follows is pure hilarity as Joon-soo tries find breast milk for his baby, goes to school with his baby, and so much more; he also develops a relationship with Kim Byul (Song Ha-yoon), who's just a little different. The final acts loses some of its humor and momentum, but the ending was sweet and satisfying.

Baby and Me is a hilarious comedy. Much of the humor is lighthearted and quirky, it really brought a smile to my face. There is some unconventional humor, as well, like the sound effects and the baby voice-over; I also really liked this distinct style, reminded me of a comic or manga. (I didn't realize this was based on a manga when I watched it.) A lot of the content can be considered "cute", but don't let that scare you guys -- it's really genuine. Joon-soo is a funny character, but Kim Byul is hilarious; she often appears out of nowhere, she deeply explains every little thing and why you shouldn't do it, she quirky and bizarre -- she's exactly the type of person I'd love to associate myself with.

The issues with Baby and Me come during the final act. The clichés begin to pile on and the story becomes very predictable and generic. Also, at this point, the story begins to develop a strong sense of false emotion. The character arc is so sharp and overwhelming, Joon-soo begins to cry during every other scene during the final act and it's difficult to believe. And, without proper buildup, it just doesn't feel very effective.

Jang Keun-suk is great -- funny and charming. Song Ha-yoon steals the show with her quirky but immensely charismatic performance. The entire cast deliver fun and witty performances. The film is shot competently, the music matches the genre and energy well. The pacing is consistent and there is a great balance in the humor that contributes to the great flow of the film. Director Kim Jin-young creates a consistent and distinct comedy; the third act, however, does dwindle as it begins to lose those features to its clichés.

Overall, Baby and Me is a hilarious comedy. Jang Keun-suk is great, and Song Ha-yoon is marvelous. Those looking for a lighthearted and even heartwarming comedy will be greatly rewarded. It does lose some of its distinct identity towards the end, but it's still immensely entertaining. I highly recommend this movie for fans of quirky comedies.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some brief violence, some sexually suggestive themes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: The Taste of Money (2012)

The Taste of Money (Review) 
Im Sang-soo/Kim Kang-woo/2012 
Where to Watch: 
Amazon Prime 

"...a conglomerate of half-baked and ineffective ideas."

Humble and honest Joo Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) is the private secretary for one of Korea's wealthiest families. As the family is shaken by several scandals, Young-jak finds himself battling with the morality of the issues at hand... 

The Taste of Money follows Young-jak as he works for this wealthy family. Although the company president is Chairman Yoon, the real power is held by Baek Geum-ok, the mother of the family. So, Young-jak finds himself serving Yoon, who is having an affair with a maid, Baek Geum-ok, who wants to brutally punish Yoon, Chul, the son who is at the center of a public scandal, and Nami, the daughter who is the most genuine of the bunch. The story wanders between all of these issues until it finally lands at its mediocre ending.  

The Taste of Money is a film with a lot of ideas. The idea of Young-jak working for a corrupt family. The idea of Young-jak having an affair with Geum-ok but also having feelings for Nami. The idea of Young-jak being corrupted by money. The idea of a power struggle within the home. The idea of an international conspiracy. But that's really all it is: a conglomerate of half-baked and ineffective ideas. Ironically, never does the film capitalize on the plethora of scandalous and interesting ideas it presents. Instead, we get a film that wanders and wanders looking for directions – and if that's not bad enough, nothing really happens for most of the film, it just drags. The ending also suffers from an odd occurrence; suddenly, it seems, the director felt like becoming visually “symbolic” – but the attempts is so out of nowhere, you really are left wondering.  

Fortunately, the acting is great. Kim Kang-woo is very charismatic and perfect for the role. Yoon Yeo-jeong also shines as Baek Geum-ok. The use of English as a spoken language felt odd, but not because of accents or anything like that; why did the characters speak to each other in both languages? One would ask a question in Korean, then the other would answer in English. The cinematography and set design are exquisite – definitely a beautiful film to watch. The music didn't have a strong presence. The English subtitles were nearly perfect. Writer and director Im Sang-soo lacks a strong, consistent vision; this film is all over the place and offers very little entertainment or contemplative value. 

Overall, I didn't like The Taste of Money. The story lacks direction and consistency. Most of its ideas are half-baked. Its uneventful and poorly paced. Sure, the acting and cinematography are superb, but that can't really fully redeem a film. I'd recommend for fans of The Housemaid. On that note, this is also supposed to be a “spiritual sequel” to The Housemaid, but even that concept comes off as half-baked – it has way too many references to be spiritual, but not accurate enough to be an actual sequel. 

Score: 3/10 
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, excessive sex and nudity.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: The Housemaid (2010)

The Housemaid (Review) 
Im Sang-soo/Jeon Do-yeon/2010 
Where to Watch: 
Netflix Streaming 

"...drags its feet..."

Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), a childish but hardworking woman, is hired as the maid and nanny for a wealthy family. Unfortunately, she also delves into a world of money, power, and lust... 

The Housemaid starts off very slow showing Eun-yi's training and routine. Eun-yi is liked by the wealthy family, and she loves caring for their young daughter. Eventually, Eun-yi and Hoon (Lee Jung-jae), the head of the family, start an affair. When words spreads of Eun-yi's pregnancy, the ladies of the house plan to get rid of her by any means necessary. At this point, which isn't until about halfway through, the story picks up the pace and it begins moving – not very fast, but at least it starts moving. Anyway, that's basically what the second half of the film consist of; it gets much darker, too. Unfortunately, I did not like the ending at all.  

The first notable issue with The Housemaid is its unnecessarily slow pace. The first half of the film is interesting, and I really appreciate a deep story and great characters, but this film fails in creating either – it just slow and uneventful. When the story starts moving, it does begin creating suspense and tension, but not nearly enough. I do like how the film delves into the dirty laundry of the rich and shameless, though, and I did think some scenes were incredibly intense – there just weren't enough of them. As for the ending, if you're new to the region, you should know Korean films tend to have some unconventional and often “unfair” endings, if you will, that really pack a punch. However, in the case of The Housemaid, the ending feels so rushed and farfetched, it just comes off as laughable; dark and sinister, but without any buildup, it's just thrown out there for the sake of being dark and sinister.  

Fortunately, the cast is superb. Jeon Do-yeon offers a very versatile performance, very energetic and also somber when necessary. Lee Jung-jae shares less screen time, but has great charisma and charm for the role. Furthermore, the cinematography is superb; the set design, especially the elegant interiors, are stunning. The music also fits the genre perfectly, capturing all the right tones and moods. Director and writer Im Sang-soo captures the technical aspects perfectly, but lacks efficient storytelling and an eventful plot.  

Overall, The Housemaid is merely decent. The story is ambitious and has great potential, but the film drags its feet for most of its runtime and never reaches a satisfying climax; furthermore, the plot feels uneventful for the first half, it can be occasionally boring, and the ending was very disappointing. Fortunately, the plot has a few redeeming aspects, the acting is superb, and the cinematography and music is elegant.  

Score: 5/10 
Parental Guide: Some violence, sex and nudity. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Bedevilled (2010)

Bedevilled (Review)
Jang Cheol-soo/Seo Young-hee/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...makes for a very satisfying climax..."

After a work incident, Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) travels to an isolated island where she's greeted with open arms by childhood friend Bok-nam (Seo Young-hee), who is treated like a slave by the rest of the community...

The film introduces Hae-won as a cold-hearted, unfeeling banker, while Bok-nam is a optimistic and hard-working young woman. The first half of the film really focuses on the way of the community in this desolate island, particularly how they treat Bok-nam and worship the men of the island. This first half of the film presents us with some unbearably frustrating characters – characters who are psychopaths. It may be difficult to tolerate such purposely annoying characters, but it makes for a very satisfying climax at the halfway mark when tragedy strikes. The second half of the film focuses on the savage vengeance of a woman pushed too far. Although I thought the climax was amazing, I think the ending was half-baked; any sense of redemption is false, in this case.

Bedevilled is a frustrating horror/thriller. Aside from Bok-nam, the characters live to make you angry – I mean, you'll really be infuriated. But, like I said, the frustration is well-worth it as it amplifies the climax. The climax is where the film becomes a bit more of a traditional horror film; the first half sets the mood and atmosphere with its slow-burn and character development, while the second half becomes a procedural slasher. I think the ending will split some audiences due to the relationship between Hae-won and Bok-nam. Personally, I really disliked the use of Hae-won; she's a terrible, terrible person without any justification – she's absolutely horrid and her personality is never explained. Therefore, the ending feels out of place.

Ji Sung-won is great for the character she plays – I may hate the character, but she plays it well. Seo Young-hee steals the show with a fantastic performance – her performance is very versatile, showing many emotions and really embodying the “countryside” character. The music is somber and emotionally-effective. The film is shot beautifully, the scenery is breathtaking. The special effects and makeup are great; those looking for a gory slasher will be pleased. Director Jang Cheol-soo develops a tense first half and great slasher for the second; it does have some pacing issues, though, and I think the characters could have been fine tuned for the ending.

Overall, Bedevilled is a great horror/thriller. Those who hate annoying characters have to tolerate the first half, but the climax is worth it. The story is original and creative, the direction is great, and Seo Young-hee is a perfect leading lady. However, I didn't like the ending – I'm all for unconventional, or unfair endings if you'd like to call it that, but this ending tries too hard to have a feeling of redemption, and it fails.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, nudity and sex.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: The Righteous Thief (2009)

The Righteous Thief (Review)
Jeong Yong-gi/Lee Beom-Soo/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Lee Si-young steals the show..."

Hong Mu-Hyeok (Lee Beom-Soo) and his family of thieves steal from the rich and give to the poor. Their current target is Lee Jeong-Min (Kim Su-Ro), a rich and eccentric yet cold-blooded businessman...

The Righteous Thief follows Mu-Hyeok and his family, which is his actual blood family, as they attempt to burglarize Jeong-Min. But, as Jeong-Min catches on to their tactics after countless burglaries, the stakes rise and the game becomes too risky. On top of that, Mu-Hyeok has to balance his relationship with his odd girlfriend Song Hyeon-Hwa (Lee Si-Young), who's brother is a city prosecutor. Balancing its quirky moments with some serious tones, The Righteous Thief reaches a great climax, filled with stylish action, great suspense, and more hilarity. The ending of the film leaves room for a sequel, but it's still satisfying.

The Righteous Thief is a fun, heist-type of film. The film focuses on its quirky characters, as well as the burglary planning. The mixture of comedy and drama felt kind of lopsided where some moments where absolutely hilarious, then it would quickly switch to a serious tone. Fortunately, this doesn't happen often. I really liked the story and concept, but it is longwinded by a small margin. Also, there were some plot contrivances; although most are forgivable and likely purposeful, one or two of them were way too convenient. The characters were the best part of the film. Mu-Hyeok is funny, but Hyeon-Hwa is downright hilarious; her character really brings some unique, quirky, and often bizarre humor. Much of the film really relies on quirky comedy, which I love. Aside from some balance issues and some pacing issues, I really enjoyed The Righteous Thief.

The acting was all-around great. Lee Beom-Soo is great, very charismatic and humorous. Lee Si-Young steals the show with a very energetic and humorous performance. (I think the biggest disappointment was not seeing her in the skin-tight leather suit she wears on the poster.) The film is shot well, the camerawork is a bit overwhelming during some action sequences, though. At first, I really enjoyed the music, but then it became so repetitive as it was used over and over. I like Jeong Yong-Ki's direction, I just wished he honed in more on the comedy.

Overall, The Righteous Thief is a funny and entertaining film. It has some hilarious moments and a few exciting action sequences, but it's not perfectly balanced. There were also some pacing and length issues, and the music was repetitive. Fortunately, the wonderful cast holds the film up for its runtime. Recommended for fans of quirky comedies.

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: The Outlaw (2010)

The Outlaw (Review)
Kim Cheol-Han/Kam Woo-Sung/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...way too much story for such a short runtime."

Detective Oh Jeong-su (Kam Woo-Sung) of the homicide division suffers from PTSD and depression as he adopts the pain of the victims he crosses paths with. When a vicious crime hits close to home, Jeong-su seeks revenge outside of the law...

The Outlaw is a by-the-books revenge thriller. The story follows Jeong-su over an intangibly long timeline -- I can only assume it takes place over 5 to 10 years. Anyway, Jeong-su witnesses many violent crimes and, due to his sensitivity, they have a large psychological effect on him. When the crimes start hitting closer and closer, Oh Jeong-su disappears from law enforcement for his own breed of justice. The climax starts off interesting, but it becomes very longwinded. The ending features an unexpected twist, but the impact was weak.

The Outlaw has way too much story for such a short runtime. The beginning of the film especially feels convoluted and messy. There are many characters and relationships the film tries to develop but fails to sufficiently do so; the characters themselves are even confusing and odd. The character and relationship development is further damaged by the climax, which takes too much of the runtime; the time the climax used to dance around could've been used much more efficiently during the first two acts. Also, the timeline isn't set in stone, so you have to guess when it jumps ahead. Finally, the film depends heavily on the unluckiest man factor; the good guys in this film, which are Jeong-su and his family, suffer from being completely unlucky -- you'll really scream at the screen "this can't be happening! Did that really happen AGAIN!?!"

The initial concept is interesting, though: a rogue cop seeking bloody vengeance. Despite some weak performances, it also develops some nasty antagonists. The thrills are minimal and there isn't much excitement until the end. The climax and the twist were smart, especially the latter, but the climax took too long to explode, so the anticipation dwindled a bit. Most of the vengeance takes place during the final act; it's not as vicious or as satisfying as I Saw The Devil, but it gives some life to the film.

Kam Woo-Sung is good, but the role didn't demand much, which is surprising considering the dark depths it ventures into. Most of the Korean cast is just decent. Unfortunately, there are some English-speaking cast members, American or otherwise, who are bad; they're inauthentic and robotic in their delivery. The music was good. The editing made this feel like a short series -- a bunch of short episodes edited into a feature length movie. The English subtitles in the English stream were fine for the first hour but become broken during the final act -- full sentences are not translated which leaves the audience guessing. Director Kim Cheol-Han creates minimal thrills and an ineffective drama; there are some redeeming factors to the film, but Cheol-Han ultimately lacks a distinct, consistent, and creative vision.

Overall, The Outlaw is a mediocre revenge film. The film fails to efficiently develop its characters during the first two acts, and barely manages to bring it home during its climax. It enters some dark territory and could've been a depressing tearjerker, if only its story and characters had been developed properly. Worth steaming or renting for hardcore fans of the genre, but not worth purchasing.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories of Murder (Review)
Bong Joon-ho/Song Kang-ho/2003
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...the best Korean movie of all time..."

Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) and Detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) attempt to solve a string of murders in the boondocks...

Memories of Murder begins in October 1986 when a young woman is found raped and murdered, and Detective Park begins investigating – as a small town detective, the crime is overwhelming. Soon thereafter, Detective Seo arrives from Seoul to help in the investigations. Slowly but surely, the pair, along with several other investigators, begin to piece together and connect the crimes. However, the criminal is extremely intelligent and sophisticated, and the lack of resources make the investigation much more difficult. Memories of Murder breaks procedural ground to create a groundbreaking murder mystery that leads to an ominous, unforgettable ending.

Memories of Murder is an incredible murder mystery film. The story is what you would expect from a crime-drama, but the execution really sets it apart. The story really kept me hooked – I was there with my notepad actively participating in the mystery – remembering every name, location and date just to keep up. The realistic investigations – which may be seen as incompetent, but authentic for the time – blends well with the complex characters. Two arrogant yet completely different personalities clashing during the investigation – one using instinct, the other relying on knowledge. Both of these characters develop very well throughout the film. Furthermore, the film is drenched in some black humor – a film that had me laughing a few times, and smirking very often.

Song Kang-ho is superb. I've said it before, Kang-ho really gives it his all during his performances, and this one is no different; he gives the character so much life, it's almost unbelievable. Kim Sang-kyung is also great, although he displays a different type of energy. The cast is superb, all in all. The film is shot beautifully; the cinematography is stunning, and the camerawork is magnificent. The music is also fantastic; it's one of my favorite film soundtracks of all time. Bong Joon-ho's direction is creative and consistent; the film moves at a fluid pace, and breaks many conventions that still appear today.

Overall, Memories of Murder is superb. It's a masterpiece. In fact Memories of Murder is the best Korean movie of all time, and it just might be my favorite film of all time, regardless of region. If you're fan of the genre, if you're fan of movies, you cannot miss Memories of Murder.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, graphic images of corpses, and some sex and nudity.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: The Quiet Family (1998)

The Quiet Family (Review)
Kim Jee-woon/Park In-hwan/1998
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"... the plot really glows of witty, cheeky writing."

A family moves from the city into a large home in the mountains, which they convert into a lodge. Eventually, customers do start pouring in, but suffer from mysterious deaths...

The Quiet Family follows this family, which consist of the father and mother, the uncle, and three siblings, as they run the lodge. When they wake up to dead customers, they decide to hide the bodies -- business has been terrible and they can't further jeopardize it by reporting the suspicious deaths. It is a bit repetitive in its formula, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hilarious. Anyway, the plot breaks the formula during the third act when they're asked to harbor a hitman, all while being investigated by the police. The ending of the film is interesting -- a little humorous and subtly cheeky.

The Quiet Family is a very black comedy, with some very light horror elements. Although I found the bulk of the plot to be a bit repetitive, the characters are really the selling points for The Quiet Family. Nice but lazy and clumsy Uncle Kang and thieving and perverted Young-min, played by Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho respectively, are absolutely hilarious. Furthermore, I also really enjoyed the use of overwhelming coincidence and irony; the plot really glows of witty, cheeky writing. The pacing is often too slow, and the story occasionally feels uneventful. Those are really the only two flaws I could find in the film.

The all-star cast is superb -- each cast member share about the same screen time, which is great. Of course, Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho deliver the most energetic and humorous performances; it's great to see two legends share the screen so early in their careers. The film is shot beautifully. The choice of music is fantastic, very unique and creative, and I loved the placement. The English subtitles in the Hong Kong DVD are mediocre; a lot of grammatical errors and the translation isn't complete; enough to get through the film, but still broken. Kim Ji-woon writes and directs The Quiet Family; Ji-woon delivers a greatly written screenplay with superb direction, the humor is genuine and the execution is fantastic.

Overall, The Quiet Family is a hilarious black comedy. I laughed throughout most of the film; the humor is very black, but it's still a contagious and uproarious comedy -- once you start laughing, you can't stop! Be warned, though, it can be on the slow side of pacing and it is also undeniably repetitive.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Boat (aka No Boys, No Cry) (2009)

The Boat (aka No Boys, No Cry) (Review)
Kim Young-nam/Ha Jung-woo, Satoshi Tsumabuki/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...takes time to develop the relationship between the pair..."

Two low-level smugglers, Hyung-gu (Ha Jung-woo) and Toru (Satoshi Tsumabuki), are forced to kidnap and smuggle the daughter of a wealthy Korean businessman, which leads to trouble...

Boat continues as Hyung-gu and Toru hide from their pursuers. The woman they kidnapped, Ji-su, offers the pair a 50 million yen to find her father and lead them to safety. Considering the original kidnapping failed and they'd be killed if they returned, Hyung-gu and Toru have no other choice. The story is simplistic, but takes time to develop the relationship between the pair and also adds a little investigative work. In this case, Hyung-gu has no family, while Toru only finds burden in his. The story is slow-paced, really walking towards its unexpectedly dark and powerful ending; it had a bit of ambiguity and was also meaningful in a way.

Like I said, Boat is a very simple film. It doesn't have many twists or turns, and the search for Ji-su's father isn't particularly in depth or creative. But, the story manages to engage through the relationship between Hyung-gu and Toru; the bond they form is unique and genuine, meticulously crafted to make a statement. This is a film where characters are the center, not the plot points. That's not to say the plot was bad, it was actually good -- it just lacked impact. Also, there was one moment that was building up some great suspense but was ruined by a bad plot contrivance -- a moment where your eyes will likely role to the back of your head as you exclaim "I'm so sure!" There's some great humor in the film, too, Hyung-gu offers at least a handful of laugh out loud moments. And, although the film is slow-paced, it wasn't unbearable or even bad -- it's just slow-paced.

Ha Jung-woo is fantastic, he has great charisma and energy in this role. Satoshi Tsumabuki is also great, although he can be occasionally too melodramatic. The film is shot well, the cinematography is great. If there's anything unique about this film, it is its wonderful soundtrack. The picture quality on the Netflix Instant stream was mediocre for a film from 2009; the English subtitles were great with only a few grammatical flaws. Director Kim Young-nam blends the great elements of Korea and Japan and ends up with a very good and meaningful hybrid film; the story could've used a bit more suspense and impact, but it works out in the end.

Overall, Boat is a great drama. It occasionally too slow-paced, it often lacks impact, and there is one very bad scene, but it is redeemed by the fleshed out characters and their great chemistry, the powerful ending, and the two great lead performances. Don't expect a fast-paced thriller and you should have an enjoyable experience.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some sexual references.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Howling (2012)

Howling (Review)
Yoo Ha/Song Kang-ho/2012
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

" very well as a mystery-thriller film."

Veteran detective Jo Sang-gil (Song Kang-ho) and his recently assigned rookie partner Cha Eun-young (Lee Na-young) investigate a string of rash murders connected by drugs and a mysterious wolf bite...

Howling follows this pair as they try to solve the mystery behind the murders. At first, Sang-gil insist in solving the crime without backup -- he knows how the system works, and he knows he'll be passed up again if he reports his findings. So, Sang-gil and Eun-young conduct their own investigation all while bickering a bit gender. The mystery is interesting and delves deeper than a killer wolf. As it unravels, the mystery takes us deeper into the criminal underworld; it also questions who really is the victim and suspect. Howling features some interesting twists and turns -- they never really shock -- and it kept me interested up to the surprisingly effective ending; this is an ending that will pack a punch for certain viewers.

As far as the main plot goes, Howling works very well as a mystery-thriller film. Howling doesn't try to shock you with huge twists and turns, instead following a more procedural route; consequently, the film felt surprisingly realistic and effective. I really enjoyed the different investigation strategies they used, and all of the different areas they visited. You may also learn a bit about dogs and wolves. (honestly, I'm not really sure about the accuracy of the information, so maybe it's not so educational.) The real drag was the Cha Eun-young/gender subplot. You see, Cha Eun-young is a female detective so she's treated as a lesser person. It could've made for some interesting character development, but, instead, it's overwhelming, overblown, and even cheesy. It's just so blunt, it feels like it really wants to make a statement -- a little subtly would've helped. This is kinda how these scenes go: "Hey, are you sure you know how to breathe? You are a woman after all! Hahaha!" (okay, that's a little exaggerated, but that's what it feels like when the movie hits you over the head with this over and over... and over.) Fortunately, this subplot dwindles a bit towards the third act.

Song Kang-ho is great -- his character doesn't really give him the chance to use his great energy, but he delivers, as usual. Lee Na-young is also great, a charismatic leading lady. The music fits well with the film, especially during the final act where it helps build the suspense and tension. The film is shot nicely, a great use of color and lighting. The pacing was very well balanced -- the movie is always moving and it keeps a very consistent pace up to the end -- I didn't check the runtime at all. Writer and director Yoo Ha delivers a by-the-books yet engaging and interesting mystery-thriller; the subplot lacks the necessary subtly to be effective, and it's unfortunately overused, though.

Overall, Howling is an engaging and entertaining mystery-thriller movie. The story kept me hooked from beginning to end, the film is technically well made, and both leads deliver great performances. However, the subplot is useless -- it fails to deliver whatever it was trying to deliver -- it may even be offensive to some viewers due to the lack of realism and subtly.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some dog fighting. (the ending of the film states the animals were treated well, so I don't think it was real.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: No Doubt (2010)

No Doubt (Review)
Park Soo-young/Kim Tae-woo/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...really wants to place you in the shoes of every character."

After Choong-sik's (Kim Tae-woo) daughter mysteriously disappears from a small village, circumstantial evidence points to Yoo Se-jin (Lee Jung-jin), a child molester who recently moved into the village...

No Doubt begins quickly with tragedy striking within the first five minutes. The story follows the perspective of Choong-sik, who desperately wants to find his daughter at any costs, Yoo Se-jin and his family, who are immediately stigmatized in the village, and the investigators, who are quickly but incompetently racing to find the truth. The mystery surrounding the disappearance unravels through several flashbacks. Thankfully, the mystery keeps you guessing to the end, although it does purposely withhold some information. The ending is devastating – it's a hard-hitting ending that really aims at crushing you.

No Doubt is a difficult film to watch and judge. The actions of each side are more than often infuriating; however, these actions are also understandable. Would you suspect the child molester? Can you blame the villagers for trying to cast out a suspected kidnapper and convicted child molester? As a father, would you do anything to find your daughter? At the same time, I can't help but empathize with Yoo Se-jin and his family – now, obviously I can't feel for his past actions, but it's still difficult to watch his character deteriorate, especially since he's never presented as pure evil. Furthermore, the affects of Yoo Se-jin's actions, past and current, have also taken a toll on his mother and sister – and that's interesting to see. I also really liked its use of “innocent until proven guilty” – it's a strong and important theme for the film. The story isn't completely perfect, though; there were a couple moments were you may ask: “Why'd they do that?” or “Why didn't they do that?” Not a big problem, really, but is noticeable.

Kim Tae-woo delivers a powerful performance – it is melodramatic, but I can't say it's unbelievable – the reaction to losing a child is immeasurable. Lee Jung-jin's performance is also superb – he plays his character with great control and subtly; there's one scene that really took me by surprise as he spoke about his actions during an interrogation. The music is great, it helps create its ominous and emotional atmosphere. The pacing is fantastic – the film is really compact, cutting out the fat and only keeping relevant information. Park Soo-young delivers with his consistent and very precise direction – like I said, there's no filler in this film.

Overall, No Doubt is a character-based drama that doesn't villainous any of its characters, and I feel like this creates an incredibly effective and thought-provoking experience. It's a very bleak and depressing film, but it is also very honest about its subject. Furthermore, this is a film that can make you feel, it's a film that can make you contemplate and really wants to place you in the shoes of every character. A must-watch for fans of the genre.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Crying Fist (2005)

Crying Fist (Review)
Ryoo Seung-wan/Choi Min-sik, Ryoo Seung-bum/2005
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...becomes much more than a typical sports film..."

Once silver medalist boxer Tae-shik (Choi Min-sik) and delinquent thug Sang-hwan (Ryoo Seung-bum) look towards boxing to repair their broken lives...

Crying Fist tells two stories at once: the story of Tae-shik and the story of Sang-hwan. So, it starts with Tae-shik's life on the streets as a human punching bag -- he'll take the beating for some petty cash. Afterward, it'll cut to Sang-hwan, who lives a life of crime and would rather steal for his cash. Fortunately, the storytelling is easy to follow and makes the film feel distinct. I also really like how the leads never cross paths -- their stories don't interlink until the end, which makes the film feel fair and unpredictable -- it doesn't force you to root for someone thanks to the balance it achieves. On that note, the final bout was edge-of-your-seat exciting, and the ending is a powerhouse of genuine emotion; thanks to the aforementioned storytelling, the ending feels so much more effective.

Crying Fist may sound like a procedural sports film, but it really isn't. Crying Fist focuses much more on the everyday problems of normal people. Of course, not all of us have won a silver medal and not all of us are thugs, but most of us have experienced hardships in our lives, and that's what it's all about. (I wonder if there's a silver medalist or thug reading this right now?) Thanks to this approach, the emotion is amplified tenfold -- it becomes more than a "I have to fight to win this money" film. Furthermore, the parallel storytelling keeps the audience engaged and interested; it's basically like watching two films that blend into one for the ending. Those looking for boxing will be pleased by the authentic and exciting fighting, although it is a bit sparse. And, of course, those looking for inspiration will enjoy the obligatory training montage.

Choi Min-sik is outstanding, as usual. Ryoo Seung-bum matches Min-sik's energy with an equally impressive and versatile performance. The fight choreography is great, as previously mentioned. The music is unique for the genre -- instead of a triumphant, epic "Rocky" soundtrack, Crying Fist opts for a more somber and emotional score. The cinematography is also great. However, I wish there was a print with better picture quality as the film really looks older than it is on both Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant; I don't need HD, but at least standard DVD quality. The English subtitles have a several spelling and grammatical errors; however, it does not affect the story. Ryoo Seung-wan, older brother of Seung-bum, directs this film with a unique and ambitious vision; this becomes much more than a typical sports film thanks to Seung-wan.

Overall, Crying Fist is a superb sports film. It delves deep into the lives of two relatable characters, and creates a climax that much more than a physical battle -- a film that balanced the literal and figurative battle. Even if you're burnt out on sports film, Crying Fist will feels as fresh as ever.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood. Brief nudity. (the buttocks of men showering or bathing in two or three scenes.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Top 10 Best Korean Movies on Netflix Instant

List: Top 10 Best Korean Movies on Netflix Instant
A few months ago over on Cinematic Addiction, I wrote a list on the best South Korean films you probably haven't seen on Netflix. Well, now I thought I'd share a list of the best Korean movies on Netflix – including the obscure and most popular titles. Although Netflix has recently removed classics like Oldboy and the rest of the excellent Vengeance trilogy, this is still a somewhat difficult list to comprise considering the superb quality of many Korean films but I'm doing it anyway.

By the way, I usually don't post lists on this website, but I made an exception for this. Review updates will continue every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as regularly scheduled, afterward.

10. War of the Arrows
Read War of the Arrows (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
War of the Arrows follows Nam-yi, a skillful archer, who races to save his kidnapped sister. This is ferociously-paced thriller with fantastic action and superb chase scenes. To describe it in one word: epic. Also, it's kind of like Wanted with arrows if that offers anything...

9. Crying Fist
Read Crying Fist (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
The story of washed-up boxer Tae-shik and troublemaking thug Sang-hwan as the pair look towards boxing to repair their lives. Crying Fist works as much more than a procedural sports film as it really focuses on the everyday struggle of the characters, without the characters every crossing paths. Choi Min-sik and Ryoo Seung-bum deliver powerhouse performances.

8. A Moment To Remember
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Chul-soo, a man with a troubled past, and Su-jin, a forgetful young woman, develop a strong relationship despite their differences. The film focuses on the strong chemistry of the relationship, as well as Alzheimer's disease. It's a creative romance film that focuses on the ups and downs of a unique relationship.

7. New World
Read New World (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
After an incident kills the head of the Goldmoon crime syndicate, the transition of power causes a struggle between the second-in-command and the gang's number three... all while a mole is used to influence the transition. New World is a masterfully written and incredibly suspenseful crime classic.

6. Masquerade
Read Masquerade (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Fearing an assassination, King Gwang-hae orders his councilor to find his exact double. Joker Ha-sun is found and hired as the King's double, but the similarities stop at the aesthetics... Masquerade is a fantastic historical drama with a great blend of genuine humor.

5. The Man From Nowhere
Read The Man From Nowhere (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Cha Tae-sik is a recluse who only speaks to a young girl who lives next door. When she's kidnapped, Tae-sik spirals into the underworld for vengeance. Featuring fantastic camerawork and spectacular action sequences, as well as a heartfelt story, The Man From Nowhere delivers on every level.

4. I Saw The Devil
Read I Saw The Devil (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
I Saw The Devil follow secret service agent Soo-hyun as he seeks to punish the man who slaughtered his fiance – vicious and notorious serial killer Kyung-chul. With superb performances from both leads, Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik, I Saw The Devil is a brutal thriller with a contemplative plot.

3. The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Read The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
The Bad, The Good, and The Weird battle and outwit each other to attain a valuable map in 1930s Manchuria. This film is the pinnacle of action/adventure as it delivers superb shootouts, chases, and explosions; the trio of leads, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, and Song Kang-ho, also deliver exciting and creative performances; the masterful direction from Kim Jee-woon is the cherry on top...

2. The Chaser
Read The Chaser (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
When his prostitutes go missing, detective turned pimp Joong-ho is led to Yeong-min. What ensues is plethora of figurative and literal chases and investigative work into some dark territory. A pure-breed thriller that blends the very best of old-school Hollywood and the South Korean film industry, The Chaser is a masterpiece of the genre and a must-watch.

1. Silenced
Read Silenced (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Silenced follows In-ho, who is hired as the new art teacher at a school for hearing-impaired children. Unfortunately, In-ho finds the children being physically and sexually abused. Silenced is a very difficult film to watch; it does not sugarcoat its subject, opting for realistic, disturbing scenes that will give you nightmares. It slowly builds up its disturbing subject, as well. And, the ending will likely devastate you if you're not accustomed to it yet. But, it's a story that must be told, and it's told efficiently and effectively. The fantastic cast, which features superb performances from the children, the ominous soundtrack, and the flawless direction further make this a must-watch. Prepare yourself, though, this is the opposite of a feel-good film.

Thanks for reading, hope you got a few recommendations and I hope you enjoy these fantastic films! If I missed one of your favorites: it was likely eliminated because it was too similar to a better film on the list, I didn't like it as much, or I haven't seen it. (Some notable films I removed because of the similarities were More Than Blue and Marathon. I also removed Welcome to Dongmakgol and No Doubt due to their previous placement in January's list.) Anyway, please recommend the list to your friends and tweet me @JonathanCA_KMR.

Want more lists? Check out my last two:
Top 10 Best Japanese Movies on Netflix Instant
Top 10 Best Asian Horror Movies on Netflix Instant