Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Front Line (2011)

The Front Line (Review)
Jang Hoon/Shin Ha-kyun/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...this isn't 'just another war film.'"

During the Korean War ceasefire, First Lieutenant Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun) is sent to the front lines to investigate the death of a commanding officer by a South Korean bullet and the possibility of a mole in the Alligator Company...

The Front Line is a blend of mystery and war film. The story starts off a little slow and fails to land its hooks, but it quickly irons out for a smooth and consistent ride. The story follows Eun-pyo as he visits Alligator Company, who are fighting a seesaw battle for Aerok Hills, to investigate the death and the mole. At the same time, he follows his duty and participates in the missions of his crew, which includes all-out warfare and hunting a notorious sniper. There are a few unexpected twist and turns and some tense showdowns between comrades, and it leads to an incredible climax. The ending is chilling -- a contemplative and haunting ending.

The Front Line is an effective war film. The story is unique as the mystery takes the forefront and the war serves as an effective backdrop; not to say one outweighs the other since they're both masterfully crafted, it's just one's more subtle than the other. For example, the film has a subtle emphasis on the atrocities of war -- you know exactly how to feel, but the film doesn't have to directly tell you -- you just know. Aside from its interesting story and contemplative themes, The Front Line becomes all-around effective through its tense showdowns and suspenseful action sequences; there aren't as many war sequences as My Way or Taegukgi, but they're equally impressive.

Shin Ha-kyun is great as the lead; a charismatic leading man with great variety in his emotions and genuine delivery. The rest of the cast is equally impressive. The film is shot beautifully; ironically, films based on one of the most difficult and horrendous subjects (war) tend to have the most breathtaking cinematography, like My Way and Taegukgi. The music plays a smaller role in this film, but, when it does play, it's incredibly effective and moving. I noticed some spelling and grammar mistakes in the English subtitles, but none were detrimental. Director Jang Hoon is great; the film is thought-provoking and powerful thanks to his sublime and subtle style.

Overall, The Front Line is a fantastic war film. The investigation and war elements help amplify the war sequences, and they also help this film develop a very distinct style -- this isn't "just another war film." I only had some issues with the slow introduction pacing, but that's quickly ironed out.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including gore during the war sequences.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Dream (2008)

Dream (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Joe Odagiri/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Dream probably would've worked much better as a short film."

Jin (Joe Odagiri) finds his dreams are connected to Ran's (Lee Na-young) sleepwalking...

Dream is a very interesting and unique concept. The story starts with Jin dreaming about following his ex-girlfriend's car until he causes a car accident. He awakens to find the accident actually occurred but a young woman, Ran, was caught driving without any recollection of the incident. So, they figure whatever Jin dreams, particularly about his former lover, Ran will do to her former lover. The problem is Jin still loves his ex-girlfriend, and Ran hates her ex-boyfriend; and, Jin can't seem to control his dreams. A very, very interesting story, but not very efficient or engaging. The ending is chilling and symbolic, but the buildup just wasn't there.

Like I said, and will likely repeat over the course of this review, Dream has a very interesting concept. But, the story was very light. The characters are interesting, but lack depth. And, it just never seems to sink in; there was no hook to keep me fully engaged. Furthermore, and this is odd for a Kim Ki-duk film, the story felt contrived; there were too many holes and plot contrivances in the film, and there are too many times where you'll ask the same question or question the characters. There were some moments where the film captivated me and had me thinking, but then it would slip into a repetitive sequence. That's not to say it's a bad film, I thought it was good, but it could've been so much more if it had only been fine-tuned.

The acting was great, though. Joe Odagiri is really good as the lead; a very genuine performance. Lee Na-young is also really good with a very emotional and honest performance. The acting feels very lively. The film is beautifully shot, too. The music was my favorite part of the film, aside from the interesting concept; a hypnotizing and beautiful score, a soundtrack I'd love to listen to on its own. Writer and director Kim Ki-duk crafts a technically beautiful film; however, the story just misses its mark.

Overall, Dream is a good film. The concept is very interesting and offers just enough to get you thinking. Kim Ki-duk's signature symbolism is a little less effective this time around, but it also helps create a thought-provoking story. However, the story itself is a little inefficient and ineffective, despite the chilling ending. Dream probably would've worked much better as a short film.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: 200 Pounds Beauty

200 Pounds Beauty (Review)
Kim Yong-hwa/Kim Ah-joong/2006
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a blend of lighthearted, slapstick, and quirky... a very moving film."

Awkward, clumsy, and a smidge overweight, Kang Han-na (Kim Ah-joong) has the voice of an angel but lacks the self-confidence to rise... so she records and performs all of the songs for another pop artist, Ammy...

200 Pounds Beauty continues as Han-na takes matters into her own hands and opts for drastic plastic surgery to change her life -- she wants to be seen as attractive, she wants the chance to shine, and she wants the man she secretly loves, producer Han Sang-jun (Joo Jin-mo). She disappers during her recovery leaving Ammy's career on hold. After a year, Han-na reemerges as the sexy Jenny, and starts her trip to the top... working with Sang-jun. But, of course, she's living a lie and her career conflicts with her true self. 200 Pounds Beauty is a funny film, but very predictable. The ending is also predictable, but positive and appreciated; the credits are hilarious, too.

200 Pounds Beauty is a traditional romantic comedy. The concept is fresh and creative, but the execution is familiar. You know these characters, you know their respective character arcs, and you know exactly where it's headed. However, it is hilarious! As cliché as it may sound, the film had me laughing out loud, especially during the first half of the film. It does lose some of its charm, quirk, and momentum during the second half where it becomes more cliché, though. On the point of humor, it's a blend of lighthearted, slapstick, and quirky. Some of it is a little offensive, but funny. For example, there's an overdoes on diet pills scene where the medics have trouble lifting the patient. Regardless, it ends on a positive note and delivers a positive message -- it's a very moving film.

Although the story is on the generic side, Kim Ah-joong is the anchor for the film. Her performance is very quirky and genuinely awkward, and always hilarious. (I know the film is about being oneself and loving your body, but Ah-joong is absolutely stunning, regardless!) Otherwise, the film is shot very well. The soundtrack is also great; I'm not a big fan of pop, but these tunes were really catchy. Director and co-writer Kim Yong-hwa does very well in creating this traditional romantic comedy; like i said, it may be cliché, but it's genuinely funny.

Overall, 200 Pounds Beauty is a very good comedy. If you're looking for something lighthearted, quirky, and positive, this film is for you. I laughed quite a bit, especially during the first half. The second half loses some momentum and piles on the clichés, but it's still offers enough humor to get through. And, what a catchy theme! Go listen to the soundtrack! (Maria Ave Maria!)

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some blood and sexual references.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Rough Cut (2008)

Rough Cut (Review)
Jang Hoon/So Ji-sub/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...keeps you hooked, entertained, interested, and thinking."

The set of a movie becomes dangerous when a real gangster, Gang-pae (So Ji-sub), is hired to star against hotheaded and egotistical actor Soo-ta (Kang Ji-hwan)...

Rough Cut is a movie-within-a-movie. Soo-ta has trouble with his temper and has sent his co-stars to the hospital numerous times. When he has trouble finding a replacement, Soo-ta hires a local gang boss, Gang-pae, who has always aspired to be a movie actor. The trouble comes when the actors opt to make everything real -- real fights and real violence. So, the two start to one-up each other, while Soo-ta tries to repair his career and his personal relationship and Gang-pae attempts to continue his gangster work. The story is very interesting and engaging, never slowing down or compromising. The ending was unexpected and surprisingly contemplative.

In fact, the creative concept and deep characters are enough to keep you thinking throughout -- much like any other Kim Ki-duk written film. But, simply by looking on the surface, Rough Cut is pure entertainment. There is plenty of tension between the characters, suspense through dialogue, and gripping thrills through the action. The story kept me hooked from beginning to end, and it felt like it ended in an instance -- the pacing is ferocious! Just when you think it'll slow down, Rough Cut hits you with an unexpected scene and another to follow.

So Ji-sub is great as the cool and mysterious gangster character. I think Kang Ji-hwan really nails the cocky actor well. The cast is perfect, overall. The music is also great; the bulk of it reminds me of "The Big Sleep" from Oldboy -- a very pleasing and unique sound. The film is shot very well, too. The pacing is fantastic and the story is well balanced. The English subtitles are great on the Netflix Instant stream; this is a recent film, though, and the picture quality is only so-so. The writing is fantastic from Kim Ki-duk -- it's a brilliantly written film that can be enjoyed on any level. Director Jang Hoon creates a multilayered thriller with great entertainment and subtle contemplative value.

Overall, Rough Cut is an overlooked masterpiece. I saw this film a few years ago and still enjoy it immensely. It's incredibly entertaining and very interesting. It's not an incredibly deep film, like Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, but its concept keeps you hooked, entertained, interested, and thinking.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some sexuality. (an attempted sexual assault is implied.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: The Recipe (2010)

The Recipe (Review)
Anna Lee/Ryu Seung-ryong/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...becomes very engaging during the final act when it comes full circle."

Television producer Choi Yoo-jin (Ryu Seung-ryong) starts tracking the recipe of a doenjang jjigae (soybean paste) a death row inmate asked for as his last words...

The Recipe continues to follow Choi Yoo-jin as his investigation leads him to a young woman, Jang Hye-jin (Lee Yo-won), whose doenjang recipe inspired the death row inmates final words. Her doenjang is said to be hypnotizing, with a captivating smell and delicious taste. The first two acts of the story consists of Yoo-jin investigating and piecing together Hye-jin's last known moments -- the mystery is there, but it's not very efficient or effective. The final act reveals a powerful and moving love story that helps redeem the first two acts and closes of the story with a very deep and contemplative ending.

The concept is definitely interesting: a soybean paste soup that has the power to captivate to the very end of one's life. Yoo-jin investigation, on the other hand, just isn't very engaging. A great mystery has you with a notepad and pencil engaged and participating, a decent mystery has your attention -- this is the latter. Fortunately, there is some humor spread throughout the first half of the film to further keep your interest, so it ends up being more than a decent. However, the film becomes very engaging during the final act when it comes full circle. The romance elements are surprisingly very effective; the amount of chemistry and genuine emotion the pair build during the ending is amazing. I can't say it makes up completely for the first two acts and makes it the perfect film, but it definitely helps.

The acting is great. Ryu Seung-ryong is very funny and genuine during his performance. Lee Yo-won gets to shine during the final act, and she's also amazing. The music is perfectly, it really sets the mood for a very emotional and atmospheric film. The film is beautifully shot; a great use of lighting and vivid colors, watch it in high definition if you have the chance. The English subtitles in the Netflix Instant stream, which may be expired by the time this review goes up, had very few flaws, a great translation. It's technically a very well made film. Director Anna Lee also does a great job.

Overall, The Recipe is a very good film. It may lack an efficient hook and engagement during the first half, but it really comes around during the latter half. Also, as a final note, some sources have this listed as a thriller -- adjust your expectations, this is a mystery/romance blend with a pinch of humor -- there aren't many thrills to be found in this recipe.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Generally a very safe film. There's a car crash, but we never see any actual violence.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Once Upon a Time in High School (2004)

Once Upon a Time in High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (Review)
Yoo Ha/Kwon Sang-woo/2004
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...incredible blend of heartfelt drama and relatable characters..."

Soft-spoken and shy Hyun-soo (Kwon Sang-woo) transfers to another school notorious for its violent students...

Once Upon a Time in High School is much more than a typical high school drama. Sure, the story has a few clichés, but the bulk of the story and its message are very genuine. The story mainly follows Hyun-soo as he tries to survive in this vicious high school. He befriends Woo-shik (Lee Jung-jin), who is also a bit of a tough guy thug but has a more genuine and mature attitude. Eventually, Hyun-soo fails to develop a relationship with Eun-joo (Han Ga In) because of his shyness, and Woo-shik swoops in. The spirit of Jeet Kune Do kicks in when Hyun-soo decides to set his path – when he decides to have a purpose. The resolution isn't as satisfying as the rest of the film, but it gets the job done.

As you can see, there's a whole lot of story going on in Once Upon A Time In High School. Like I said, the clichés are evident and my description probably makes it seem like a typical teenage drama – but it's not. This film has a lot of heart. The characters are well developed and the on-screen chemistry is genuine. Some character arcs are predictable, but that in no way makes them ineffective. In fact, thanks to the incredible blend of heartfelt drama and relatable characters, I'd argue this film is one very subtly inspirational film. The more I think about it, the more I want to set my own path. It's a film that really moves you.

The acting is great. Kwon Sang-woo is superb as the soft-spoken lead – he plays the introvert very well. Lee Jung-jin is also great, although playing a stereotype. Han Ga In shares the least screen time – her character makes some odd choices, but her performance is spot on and she's a beauty. The soundtrack is fantastic, the original score is also very well implemented. The film is beautifully shot; the Netflix Instant stream is in high definition, which is a big plus, I wish Crying Fist had the same treatment. The English subtitles in this very same stream are great – I didn't notice any flaws. Director Yoo Ha develops a very genuine drama; Yoo Ha also creates some very vicious and realistic fight scenes, which seems to be his specialty.

Overall, Once Upon a Time in High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do is a fantastic drama. It's a blatant coming-of-age drama, but it's also very effective and efficient. The characters are great, the story is moving and inspirational, and it's technically very well made. Don't overlook this film.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (Review)
Kim Ki-duk/Su Oh-yeong/2003
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...as beautiful to look at as it is to think about..."

The story of a young Buddhist monk, as well as his master, from childhood to old age...
 
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is a simplistic tale of life on the surface. The story begins as the young and nameless novice monk torments small animals as a child during the Spring. Fast forward to his young adult life and we experience the novice monk's first love during the Summer. Again, the film leaps to his adult life, now in his 30s, and a criminal incident that occurs during the Fall. As a middle aged man, the apprentice monk returns to his home, where he practices his meditative martial arts stances and receives a child during the Winter. And Spring, the cycle begins once again as apprentice becomes master and he begins to teach the child.

The film may seem simple on the surface – maybe because of my mediocre explanation or maybe because it really is a simple tale. However, the film is also deeply symbolic, contemplative, and incredibly insightful. It brings you into this secluded world of religious teachings, but without preaching or such. It's really a film that makes you think about what you see. So, although the story may seem simple, the visuals really take it to another level; for example, there are no walls within this small Buddhist monastery, yet there are doors. Now, being someone that's not familiar with the culture or religion, it's incredibly interesting. But, that's not all. There are other visuals that have larger impact and deeper meaning than initial thought. It's a film that made me look up so much because of how much of an impact it had.

The acting is superb. This film doesn't have much dialogue, but the performances still feel genuine and honest. The music and its tones match the mood of the film – the score is beautiful on its own, as well. The film is beautifully shot, the cinematography is superb; this is a beautiful film in both content and visuals. The pacing is moderate, it does lose some momentum towards the end. The storytelling is also creative and very effective – not confusing at all, I apologize if I made it seem that way. Writer and director Kim Ki-duk delivers the usual; a masterfully directed film with many, many layers.

Overall, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is an elegant film in both content and cinematography. It's as beautiful to look at as it is to think about, and it's a film that you'll be thinking about for quite a while. It's definitely not a film for everyone, you really need patience and an open-mind to genuinely enjoy this film. If you have both, and if you love culture like I do, this is a fantastic film, despite some minimal pacing issues.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Two sex scenes with nudity usually seen from afar.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Attack The Gas Station 2 (2010)

Attack The Gas Station 2 (Review)
Kim Sang-jin/Ji Hyun-woo/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a great way to kill a night, or more like pummel a night."

After his gas station is robbed, Mr. Park (Park Yeong-gyu) hires an eccentric crew of fighters to protect his property...

First and foremost, I haven't seen the original film yet, but I'm going to get to it. Anyway, this film continues to follow this group as they first protect the gas station from a small, amateur crew. Fed up with Mr. Park's treatment and generally bored, the crew decide to takeover the gas station and make their unpaid wages in one night. The best way to get thousands in cash in one night? Sell the gas at half-price. And they do it all while meeting some wild characters, like a drunk journalist and a hijacked police transport, and fighting the thugs they were initially hired to fight. The ending is great, I especially enjoyed the scene during the credits.

Attack The Gas Station 2 is a funny and entertaining film. It has a unique, but subtle style, kind of like a manga adaptation -- with sound effects and some unrealistic action. The first two acts of the film focus more on humor and character, so there really isn't much action during the first hour and 15 minutes. The final act features a few exciting rumbles, though. It felt unbalanced and somewhat inconsistent because of the different tones -- you're laughing out loud the first hour, then the action becomes the dominating force -- it's still funny during the final act, but not as much as the first two. Also, the film is on the long side considering the simplicity of the story. Fortunately, it's all-around very entertaining, despite a few flaws; a great way to kill a night, or more like pummel a night.

The acting was good -- nothing special and far from terrible, just very good. A few of the characters were cliché, but most were fun and exciting; the performances really help build said character. Otherwise, the film is up to standard, if you will. The film looks great, beautiful use of lighting. The music helps build the fun and exciting mood of the film. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream I watched, which may be expired by the time this review is posted, were perfect -- they ran a little slow at times, but had limited flaws. Director Kim Sang-jin created a very fun comedy and an exciting action film; I just wish it was more balanced and consistent.

Overall, Attack The Gas Station 2 was a very fun film. I know I've said it a few times already, but it's the perfect way to explain: it's fun! So, if you're looking for entertainment via funny slapstick comedy and quirky characters, and don't mind some technical flaws, this film is for you.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood. Mostly fist fights.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: Commitment (2013)

Commitment (Review)
Park Hong-soo/Choi Seung-hyun/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...committed to entertaining, and it succeeds."

The son of a ex-North Korean agent, Ri Myung-hoon (Choi Seung-hyun), is given the opportunity at freedom and the safety of his young sister if he becomes an agent and enters South Korea...

The story is great. The story follows Ri Myung-hoon as he enters South Korea to assassinate another North Korean assassin working for an opposing government faction. Along the way, he befriends Hye-in (Han Ye-ri), a bullied loner who shares the same name as Myung-hoon's sister. It uses this relationship to balance the character and action, and it does it well. So, they'll talk a bit, nothing especially deep or effective, then Myung-hoon will get down to his violent work. The story heads exactly where you'd expect it, but it didn't lose my interest. Although the ending is unconventional, like many Korean film endings, it did feel predictable -- maybe the unconventional and unexpected endings are becoming expected?

Anyway, I liked it. The story kept me interested, despite some clichés and some inefficiencies. For example, I had conflicting opinions on Myung-hoon's character: is he the cliché silent-and-mysterious-cool-guy or is he silent because of his situation? It's too difficult to tell because the character development is often inefficient. Also, it misses the opportunity to really emphasize on the idea of the kids adopting the war -- of the young adults fighting a war they didn't start -- an interesting commentary, but underutilized. And, my final minor complaint: the story didn't focus much on Myung-hoon's relationship with his sister. I mean, the whole reason Myung-hoon agrees is to save his sister, but her role is minor and her character is almost nonexistent.

Otherwise, Commitment is a great action-drama. The story is very interesting and engaging; the concept has been done, but this has pinches of originality and creativity, such as using a younger generation. I like the relationship between Myung-hoon and Hye-in; I especially like the latter's character. The action sequences are top-notch, too. There are plenty of fight and shootout scenes with great tension and suspense; some of the fight scenes were surprisingly brutal. The blend of drama and action is also well done. In turn, it makes the pacing and balance very consistent. Getting past the clichés and inefficiencies, Commitment is committed to entertaining, and it succeeds.

Choi Seung-hyun, also known as T.O.P, is great as the lead -- he may be a cliché, or maybe he's much deeper, regardless, he's charismatic and acts very well. Han Ye-ri shares less screen time, but is also great. The film is shot nicely; the final scenes are beautifully captured. The music is also great, building up great tension and emotion. The English subtitles are perfect, too. Director Park Hong-soo does well in creating a balanced drama/action film; I think the writing could've used some fine tuning, though.

Overall, Commitment is a great film. Fans of drama and action will find a very balanced and consistent film. It's occasionally cliché and some concepts fall short, but the film never fails to entertain. Also, Choi Seung-hyun performs very well; I had no idea he was in a boy band prior, which makes his performance a bit more impressive.

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

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Mutt Boy (2003)

Mutt Boy (Review)
Kwak Kyung-taek/Jung Woo-sung/2003
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"....a handful of laugh out loud moments... surprisingly dark, though..."

Chul-min (Jung Woo-sung), nicknamed Strayed Doggie or Mutt, lives his life wandering his small rural neighborhood and getting in and out of trouble with the law and some thugs...

Mutt Boy has a really straightforward story. It starts with Chul-min as a child, who has a difficult time feeling for recently deceased mother and develops a strong relationship with a dog, who he calls Stray Dog or Mutt. Ironically, everyone knows Chul-min as Stray Dog or Mutt. Really early on, Chul-min's dog suffers a horrendous fate, which actually makes him feel what he couldn't with his mother. The rest of the story follows Chul-min as his great fighting skills get him a group of similar friends, he meets a girl he might like, and continues to get in and out of trouble. The ending was good; not very effective or resolving, but good.

Mutt Boy is a blend of drama and comedy. The drama really focuses on Chul-min and his problems; how he'll prove himself to everyone. It's cliché, but many of the scenes building up the drama are original. The humor is occasionally lighthearted, but I think it leans more towards a black comedy. Nonetheless, it has a handful of laugh out loud moments. There's a scene at a "massage" parlor that really had me laughing; and the wannabe Bruce Lee fight was hilarious. Some of the plot points were surprisingly dark, though, like the fate of Chul-min's dog. On that very same point, the film doesn't really have a strong focus until after this scene; the scenes before have purpose, but it just doesn't feel consistent until Chul-min's dropout life.

Jung Woo-sung is good; he's charismatic and genuine, although a couple of scenes feel overacted. Uhm Ji-won shares less screen time, but she's also great. The music gives the film a distinct vibe, helps build its identity. Otherwise, the film is technically very well made and up to par with the standard. Director Kwak Kyung-taek delivers a funny and entertaining film; it is occasionally too dark, which messes with the consistency of the mood, but it's generally well made.

Overall, Mutt Boy is an entertaining drama/comedy. Its plot is straightforward and somewhat cliché, but it has plenty of original laughs and some surprising dramatic moments. Definitely worth seeking if you're a fan of the genre or lead actor.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, very brief nudity. (although I mention a "horrendous fate" for Chul-min's dog, there is no violence towards animals in this film, only an implication.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: My Way (2011)

My Way (Review)
Kang Je-gyu/Jang Dong-gun, Joe Odagiri/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...the best war film since Taegukgi."

Rival sprinters Kim Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun) and Tatsuo Hasegawa (Joe Odagiri) attempt to survive World War 2...

My Way starts off a bit like a Rocky film. Kim Jun-shik is the underdog runner who trains with his rickshaw, while Tatsuo Hasegawa is the professional sprinter who trains with science. Anyway, after an outrageous injustice during a marathon, Kim Jun-shik is forced to join the Imperial Army. At this point, Jun-shik crosses paths with Tatsuo once again. The Imperial Army isn't their last stop, though, as the war forces the pair to fight for the Soviets, and even the Germans shortly afterward. The climax is magnificent, the ending finishing the film with pure power.

My Way is a very interesting story. Apparently, this story is based on real events. I hadn't read about these events prior to the film, so it was a new, refreshing experience. Much like Taegukgi, My Way has a strong focus on characters and their respective character arcs. This, in turn, makes for a much more effective war film. The rivalry between Jun-shik and Tatsuo is lively and realistic, although a bit cliché. Also, thanks to the focus on character, the film doesn't focus on villainizing any particular group, despite being occasionally heavy-handed.

The war sequences are epic -- the scale is marvelous, and the action is pumped full of adrenaline and suspense. And, there at plenty of war sequences spread throughout the film; this also helps in balancing and pacing. The violence in these war sequences are shockingly graphic -- people on fire, being steamrolled by tanks, blown to bits by explosions, and so on. This magnificent blend of honest character and gritty war makes My Way the best war film since Taegukgi.

The acting is superb. Jang Dong-gun is a sure bet; as usual, his performance is full of genuine emotion. Joe Odagiri was very impressive with his superb acting, as well. The music is epic during its war sequences, and honestly sentimental during its emotional punches. The cinematography is perfect; despite such an atrocious subject, My Way towers as a visual powerhouse with its stunning beauty and amazing camerawork. Director Kang Je-gyu crafts a shocking war film; the film is beautiful, and its focus on character make this an original and appreciate entry in the war genre.

Overall, My Way is a masterpiece. The story is emotionally powerful and its one that hasn't been milked dry. The war sequences are breathtakingly elegant, despite the subject, and stupendously suspenseful. And, most importantly, it's a story that avoids pointing fingers, and instead focuses on its honest characters. Don't miss this contemporary classic.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and gore.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (Review)
Kang Je-gyu/Jang Dong-gun, Won Bin/2004
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...only a few films have choked me up the way Taegukgi did."

The story of two brothers, Lee Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) and Jin-seok (Won Bin), who are involuntarily drafted during the Korean War...

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War starts off as a standard war film. Jin-tae is a hard working shoe shiner, while Jin-seok is a hard-working student. The close pair get drafted as the war breaks out and so their struggle to stay together and stay alive begins. After a few war sequences, at this point, the story begins to focus on character more than the traditional war film. So, Jin-tae initially intended on working hard as a soldier to have his brother discharged; unfortunately, the glory goes to his head and his character begins to change for the worst. At the same time, Jin-seok sees his brother's change and continues to do what is right – he doesn't want the war to continue, he doesn't want to become like the North. The ending was powerful – only a few films have choked me up the way Taegukgi did.

Like I said, the story starts off as a traditional war film and seamlessly transitions into a deep, character-driven drama – and I really loved it. The war plays a major role for the film and its story, of course, and works efficiently to balance the action and drama; the war sequences, among many others, also create fantastic suspense. But, the characters really take center stage. The deep character arcs were unexpected but masterfully crafted. Thanks to the emotional subject of war, the incredibly deep characters and their relationships, and the meticulously crafted set-up, Taegukgi becomes one of the most emotionally-effective war films I've ever seen.

Jang Dong-gun is superb as Lee Jin-tae, and Won Bin is equally impressive. Every star in this film delivers a high quality performance. Sure, the acting can be occasionally melodramatic, but I thought it was well suited. The cinematography and camerawork are fantastic; the film is beautifully shot, capturing every elegantly-atrocious scene perfectly. The soundtrack is perfect in invoking some very deep emotions. The computer graphics are blatantly out of place; fortunately, computer images are only noticeably used during the final war sequence, so it isn't a big problem. Director Kang Je-gyu captures the war sequences perfectly, filled with action and suspense, and the character development is efficient and effective.

Overall, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is a superb war film. It becomes much more than a typical war film thanks to the strong focus on character; some of it may feel cheesy or melodramatic, but I thought this style was perfectly crafted. If you're looking for an emotional drama, this is it; if you're looking for an action-packed and suspenseful film, this is it.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and gore throughout.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Scandal Makers (2008)

Scandal Makers (aka Speedy Scandal) (Review)
Kang Hyeong-cheol/Cha Tae-hyun/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...gets funnier and funnier as it progresses."

Radio DJ Nam Hyeon-soo (Cha Tae-hyun), who lives a bachelor's life, may have to abandon his lifestyle when Hwang Jeong-nam (Park Bo-young) shows up at his door claiming to be his daughter... and she has a son...

Scandal Makers follows Nam Hyeon-soo as he tries to keep Jeong-nam quiet. If he kicks Jeong-nam out and she tells the media, the bits and pieces left of his career will be over. So, Hyeon-soo has to tolerate Jeong-nam and her son, Ki-dong (Wang Seok-hyeon), to stop a scandal from arising. This includes tolerating their very messy lifestyle, trying to teach Ki-dong a complicated family tree, and trying to stay afloat at work. Its concept is original and some of the humor is unique, but the story is very predictable, as are the cliché character arcs. The ending was heartfelt, despite being predictable, though; the credits were hilarious, too, so stick around.

The first act of Scandal Makers is the weakest point for the film. It only had a handful of laughs and wasn't very efficient; it did work in setting up the plot and characters, but some more humor would've helped. Fortunately, the film gets funnier and funnier as it progresses. This is especially evident when Ki-dong starts being used more; the scenes where Ki-dong and Hyeon-soo are at the kindergarten are hilarious -- a highlight for the film. There are plenty of other quirky characters, but Hyeon-soo and Ki-dong really steal the show. The predictable story and cliché character arcs are tolerable for most of the film; but, they are very obvious during the climax -- you know exactly what's going to happen and which character is going to have a change of heart. There quiet a few plot contrivances, as well; some are "roll your eyes" convenient, but a few are hilariously executed.

The acting is great from the entire cast. I like Cha Tae-hyun as the lead, he's very funny. Park Bo-young is also great. Wang Seok-hyeon is also very funny, a great child actor. The film is shot well, the cinematography is up to standard. Music plays a semi-large role in the film; fortunately, it's great. Writer and director Kang Hyeong-cheol does well in creating a lighthearted comedy; it does have some flaws, like the cliché characters and the been-there-done-that plot, but it is genuinely humorous and positive. This is a very promising debut for Hyeong-cheol and I look forward to seeing more.

Overall, Scandal Makers is a very good comedy. It does start off somewhat slow, but it does eventually flow into pure hilarity. The character arcs and generic story are disappointing, but tolerable enough. Definitely worth watching for fans of lighthearted comedies.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some sexually suggestive themes, but generally a tamed film.