Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Highway Star (2007)

Highway Star (Review)
Kim Sang-chan, Kim Hyun-soo/Cha Tae-hyun/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...it's just not very effective in either of its genres."

Bong Dal-ho (Cha Tae-hyun) dreams of becoming a successful rockstar, but finds success in trot music instead.

Highway Star follows Bong Dal-ho as he reluctantly becomes a trot singer -- trot music being the equivalent to country music. Dal-ho is tricked into signing the contract, so he's stuck making music he despises. To mask his shame, Dal-ho literally wears a mask during his performances. It's a fairly original plot that becomes more cliché towards the end. I did enjoy the ending, however; a positive ending with a great blend of music.

Highway Star, despite its mostly original storyline, simply doesn't do much. Or, at least it didn't do much for me. As a comedy, the humor is merely decent -- it has one laugh out loud moment, and a few scenes worth a chuckle or smile, but not much worthwhile humor. As a drama or romance film, it's not very effective, either. In fact, the romance elements in this film contribute to the clichés I mentioned earlier. I liked the musical elements, though; I'm not a fan of our domestic country music, but I think I can really get into the trot music.

Cha Tae-hyun, who is wonderful in films like My Sassy Girl and Scandal Makers, is likeable and charismatic in this role; he's the funniest part of the film, and he really gives the story much needed life. The film looks great, too. The music stood out; it's not a pop soundtrack, it's a trot soundtrack, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Directors Kim Sang-chan and Kim Hyun-soo craft a technically well-made film -- performances, music, etc. -- but it's just not very effective in either of its genres.

Overall, Highway Star is an original and interesting film. But, it just doesn't offer enough humor or drama to keep you hooked and thoroughly entertained, especially considering its bloated runtime. There are a few laughs to be had, the music just might click with you like it did me, and Cha Tae-hyun delivers another charismatic performance. For fans of the lead or those looking for something new, Highway Star might be worth your time.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some brief nudity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Mother (2009)

Mother (Review)
Bong Joon-ho/Kim Hye-ja/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...masterfully builds up great suspense and tension, as well as a very immersive atmosphere."

When her son, Do-joon (Won Bin), is arrested for murder, a dedicated mother (Kim Hye-ja) will stop at nothing to prove his innocence.

Mother follows this unnamed mother as she investigates the murder of a young girl -- a murder that has been pinned on her son in an open-and-shut case. She takes the investigation into her own hands and begins to track any potential suspects, and she also retraces the victim's final steps. It's an interesting, engaging, and even suspenseful mystery. The climax is haunting, and the ending is superb.

Mother is an all-around great film. The story is fantastic. I thought it was very original and refreshing, and it uses themes motherhood and family very well -- it's very interesting to see how far a mother will go for her son. The mystery keeps you guessing, and the investigation keeps you involved, which is exactly how it should be. The film masterfully builds up great suspense and tension, as well as a very immersive atmosphere. It felt a little lengthy and bloated, though, which is my only complaint -- and it's really a minor complaint at that.

The acting is superb. Kim Hye-ja is magnificent, she's very genuine and charismatic. Won Bin share less screen time, but delivers an equally impressive performance. (We really don't see enough of him in film.) As usual for a Bong Joon-ho film, the cinematography is elegant; the film looks absolutely stunning. The music is also fantastic; very unique and well-fitted. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video are practically perfect -- I didn't notice any errors. Director Bong Joon-ho expertly crafts a wonderful drama filled with suspense; he crafts an atmosphere that keeps you hooked and practically in awe.

Overall, Mother is a fantastic crime drama. The mystery and investigation are perfectly crafted, the suspense and tension are dreadful (in a good way), and the film is technically brilliant. It felt a little bloated due to a few scenes being dragged out. It's a very minor complaint and in fact my only complaint, but worth nothing. Don't miss out on this film if you're a fan of the genre, cast, or director.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: The Old Garden (2007)

The Old Garden (Review)
Im Sang-soo/Ji Jin-hee, Yeom Jeong-ah/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking."

Anti-government student activist Hyun-woo (Ji Jin-hee) seeks refuge in a rural shack with former activist Yun-Hee (Yeom Jeong-ah). As the political protests erupt, Hyun-woo and Yun-hee develop an intimate relationship.

The Old Garden starts in the present as Hyun-woo is released from prison after a 17 year sentence. He returns to the rural town in which he spent his time with Yun-hee. And there, Hyun-woo begins to reminisce; he remembers his relationship with Yun-hee and the sacrifices he's made. The political themes and events serve as more of a backdrop, except for a few cases, while the romance takes a stronger focus during most of the story. The film jumps from past to present, inconsistently so, until it reaches a bittersweet ending.

The storytelling was my biggest issue with The Old Garden. Jumping from past to present and vice versa is an effective way to keep the audience engaged, but it must be meticulously crafted. In this case, the storytelling starts off a little rough and convoluted, and becomes becomes a bit smoother during the latter half. The film's first act is filled with jumps, while the rest of the film mostly focuses on the past. Despite the many cuts, the first act has a balanced focus on both leads, while the rest of the film has a stronger focus on Yun-hee instead of Hyun-soo. And, that's fine and all, but it makes the film feel unbalanced -- almost like you're watching two different films; they interlink, but not seamlessly.

Fortunately, despite the rough start and the balance issues during the second half, the story is overall very interesting. The political backdrop makes the film more distinct, and the chemistry between Hyun-soo and Yun-hee is genuine -- you can really feel the love, partly due to the writing and performances. The romance elements are fresh and authentic, the politics are subtly thought-provoking. It's a very well crafted romance with an interesting backdrop. Furthermore, the film comes full-circle and offers a resounding resolution. I wish we could witness more of the present, although I suppose there isn't much to witness. Otherwise, the story is great.

Ji Jin-hee is great, his emotions are very genuine. Yeom Jeong-ah is equally impressive with a powerful performance. Together, Jeong-ah and Jin-hee develop a believable and very effective relationship. The film is shot very well; the cinematography is great. The music is also great, pairing well with genre. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream are great -- a spelling error here and there, but nothing detrimental. Writer and director Im Sang-soo delivers an entertaining romance film, and a subtly thought-provoking commentary.

Overall, The Old Garden has a great story, but it is hindered by the overly-ambitious storytelling. Don't get me wrong, it's a great film, but it could've been fine-tuned to be more efficient. Definitely worth watching for fans of the genre. Also, it's a much better film from Im Sang-soo than The Housemaid and The Taste of Money.

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Sunny (2011)

Sunny (Review)
Kang Hyeong-cheol/Shim Eun-kyung/2011
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...I left with the biggest smile I've likely ever had from a film."

To fulfill her friend's dying wish, Im Na-mi (Yoo Ho-jeong) sets out to reunite their high school group, Sunny.

Sunny interlinks the past and present, almost seamlessly thanks to the great editing and storytelling. In the present, the girls are middle-aged and reconnecting due to Ha Chun-hwa's (Jin Hee-kyung) terminal illness -- Chun-hwa being the group leader. The past, which takes place during the 80s, follows this group of girls who share a tight and hilarious bond, particularly after country girl Na-mi (Shim Eun-kyung) joins. They go through the good and the bad, with plenty of sass and quirk, and through thick and thin. The ending is also very moving.

Sunny is a fantastic comedy-drama. The humor is absolutely hilarious. Whether it's hilarious street fights, a foul-mouthed teen or grandma, or fake possessions, this film had me laughing out loud. It's very versatile in its humor, too. There's also plenty of drama and emotion. And not just melodrama, but honest and genuine drama. The humor and drama are made much more effective by the very vivid, lively, and likable characters. You can't get enough of this fun and energetic group of girls; I mean Na-mi's dancing, during the 80s, brings a smile to my face just thinking about it! It's also a very positive film; the humor is mostly lighthearted, and its message of friendship and dreams is superb.

The film is led by an amazing cast. Shim Eun-kyung, whose been a personal favorite of mine since I watched Hansel & Gretel years ago, is pure charisma; she has amazing screen presence, and she's hilarious. Kang Sora, who plays a young Chun-hwa's, is also great. There are too many to name, though. They're all great. I liked the music; an excellent soundtrack for the film. It's also shot very well. The set and clothing design, especially for the 80s scenes, is fantastic, as well. Kang Hyeong-cheol, who also wrote and directed Scandal Makers, finds the perfect balance of humor and drama; the film is also perfectly paced, edited, and told -- it was over before I knew it.

Overall, Sunny is a magnificent film. It's one of the funniest films I've ever watched, and the drama is also very effective. The story is refreshing, and the storytelling is engaging. The cast is all-around superb, and I especially enjoyed Shim Eun-kyung's performance. You may shed some tears, but I left with the biggest smile I've likely ever had from a film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood. Excessive language used for humor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Spring Bears Love (aka Do You Like Spring Bear?) (2003)

Spring Bears Love (aka Do You Like Spring Bear?) (Review)
Donald Yong-ih/Bae Doo-na/2003
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...cliché and long-winded, but charming and humorous."

Hyun-chae (Bae Doo-na), who has an unsuccessful love life, finds love notes in the library. So, Hyun-chae begins to search for her potential secret admirer.
 
Spring Bears Love mainly follows Hyun-chae as she searches for the person leaving the love notes in the books, all while being oblivious to the friend who loves her. So, she finds a note, talks about it to her friends and even follows up on some leads, then finds another note, and repeat. And repeat. And, repeat. If you haven't gotten it: the story is very repetitive. After it cycles a few times, the film leads to a more engaging third act and ending. It ends exactly how you'd expect it to end, but it's fulfilling enough.

The main problem with Spring Bears Love, also known as Do You Like Spring Bear?, is its repetitive formula. It's almost like watching the same scene over and over. This makes the short runtime feel much longer; I mean, the film is less than an hour and forty minutes long, but it feels over two hours long. Aside from the glaring pacing issues and an uneventful story, Spring Bears Love offers some genuine humor and charm. The romance may be cliché, but it works out in the end. And, Hyun-chae is very quirky and charming -- she has plenty of hilarious scenes, like the laugh out loud scene in the movie theater. It's cliché and long-winded, but charming and humorous.

Bae Doo-na, of Cloud Atlas, is fantastic as the leading lady -- she's very charming, she had the perfect charismatic sass. The rest of the acting is good, too. The film is shot competently. The music is decent, but it is also very repetitive; you hear the same music during every other scene. The English subtitles on the Amazon Prime Instant Stream are great, although it does miss some translations. Director Donald Yong-ih does well in crafting a competent romantic comedy; it's not very unique, it's repetitive, and it's not as funny as other films in the genre, but it's at least good and well-made.

Overall, Spring Bears Love is a good Korean romantic comedy. There are a handful of laugh out loud moments and the romance, as generic as it may be, is effective. Also, Bae Doo-na is a sweet treat. However, the film is repetitive, long-winded, and occasionally boring. Recommend for fans of the genre or Bae Doo-na.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Generally appropriate for all audiences.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: My Girlfriend Is An Agent

My Girlfriend Is An Agent (Review)
Shin Tae-ra/Kim Ha-neul/2009
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...clumsy, slapstick humor..."

Domestic special agent Ahn Soo-ji (Kim Ha-neul) and her ex-boyfriend Lee Jae-joon (Kang Ji-hwan), who's a rookie international agent, hunt down a group who have attained a dangerous weapon.

My Girlfriend Is An Agent begins with Lee Jae-joon breaking up with Ahn Soo-ji due to her constant lying. Three years later, Jae-joon remerges for his special mission, and Soo-ji continues with her own. However, the pair don't realize both are agents, and they don't realize they're working the same case. So, of course, there'll be plenty of misunderstanding and bickering. That's really all My Girlfriend Is An Agent is: a lot of bickering and misunderstandings, and a lot of clumsiness. It was a little slow and uneventful, a little long too, but I thought the climax and ending were great.

My Girlfriend Is An Agent just doesn't really work as a spy-action/romantic comedy hybrid. The action and story never really click. The action in particular is limited and underwhelming, at least until the ending. The romance is interesting, I liked the familiar concept -- it's not a "lovey dovey" romance film, but it works. The humor was the best part of the film, though. He can be infuriatingly incompetent, but Jae-joon was laugh out loud funny -- the clumsy, slapstick humor fits the character. Soo-ji has a couple of great lines, too. Together, their a fun and likable pair. Of course, some of the jokes and lines fall flat, too. Like Jae-joon's incompetence -- it's funny for most of the film's runtime, but it's a running gag that eventually grows repetitive.

The acting is great from Kim Ha-neul and Kang Ji-hwan. Despite being the lead, Kim Ha-neul doesn't really get a chance to shine, she's more of an action character. Kang Ji-hwan, on the other hand, really gets the bulk of the humor. Otherwise, the film is shot very well, and features a standard soundtrack -- nothing special. The Netflix Instant stream has a bad translation -- you can understand the story and jokes, but it is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Director Shin Tae-ra does well in crafting the humor, but doesn't effectively blend the action or spy elements into the film -- they feel tacked on.

Overall, I think My Girlfriend is an Agent is a good comedy. The action and spy elements don't work well -- they just didn't land. Fortunately, the humor does land, and it lands quite often thanks to the two charismatic leads. If you like slapstick and romantic comedies, I think you'll enjoy most of My Girlfriend Is An Agent.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: The Quiz Show Scandal (aka Quiz King) (2010)

The Quiz Show Scandal (aka Quiz King) (Review)
Jang Jin/Kim Su-ro/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...one of the funniest Korean comedies I've ever watched."

At a police station, the final question to a popular quiz show is leaked to a group of people being questioned for a four-car pileup, the police, and some delivery bikers.

The first half of The Quiz Show Scandal really follows this large group of eccentric characters in the police station during the investigation. They're quick to pass blame for a woman who was hit by the first car, bounced to the next, dodged by the third, and steamrolled by the fourth. The question and answer to the quiz show's final question -- a quiz show with a $13 million dollar prize -- leaks, and they begin to prepare for the show. The story comes full circle for a hilarious quiz show. However, the actual ending felt abrupt -- no closure or follow-up, it just ends.

Aside from the abrupt ending, the only other issue I had was with the vast amount of characters. They're hilarious and distinct, but their introductions come by so quick and the focus is more on humor than character; in fact, I barely remember any of their names. Fortunately, like I said, the film focuses on humor -- and it succeeds. This is uproariously hilarious. Despite not knowing their names, the characters are quirky and lively.

The gambling husband, the small-time gangsters, the Chinese food delivery bikers, the sassy high school student... I may not remember all of their names, but I definitely remember their character. The humor is a little irreverent, a little black, a little slapstick... a little of everything. Some scenes almost had me in tears. (for those who have seen it: the scene in the restroom was pure hilarity.) Also, this great blend of comedy made the 2 hour runtime feel much shorter.

The huge cast is superb. Some of the main cast highlights are Shim Eun-kyung, Ryu Seung-ryong, and Jang Young-nam. The cameos were also fantastic. Jung Jae-young almost steals the show with his 5 minutes. ("Beeeeep!") The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video had an error or two, but nothing that will negatively affect the experience. Writer and director Jang Jin succeeds in crafting a hilarious comedy; the issues with the story I had are minuscule compared to the wonderful experience I had.

Overall, I loved The Quiz Show Scandal. It's an absolutely hilarious comedy with a lot of life. Sure, I don't remember some of the characters' names, but I definitely remember their personas -- they were lively and charismatic enough to leave a mark. It has a few shortcomings in story, but its humor is hilarious and refreshing. In fact, it's one of the funniest Korean comedies I've ever watched. Don't skip this film.

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: The Perfect Couple (2007)

The Perfect Couple (Review)
Kim Jung-woo/Hyun Young, Lee Dong-wook/2007
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a genuinely funny and charming film."

A mismatched pair, detective Kang Jae-hyun (Lee Dong-wook) and reporter Choi Soo-jin (Hyun Young) team up to bust a drug dealer.

The Perfect Couple follows both Jae-hyun and Soo-jin, who meet by chance. Jae-hyun is a tough, short-tempered cop who suffers from peak-phobia, while Soo-jin is a clumsy reporter who somehow manages to ruin practically everything. The pair are forced to work together when Soo-jin is assigned to the crime unit for an assignment with Jae-hyun. And, so they develop their little romance, albeit reluctantly. For the most part, The Perfect Couple avoids most rom com clichés and delivers a great ending.

One thing about The Perfect Couple is that it really doesn't feel like an all-out romantic comedy. It feels more like a crime/comedy with some light romance elements. Jae-hyun and Soo-jin have a hilarious relationship, but it's never really intimate and you never really see any sparks fly. It's more of a bickering relationship. Aside from the romance not really popping like I thought it should, I thought it was a genuinely funny and charming film. I even stuck around through the credits to see it through.

The running gag for Soo-jin's squeaky voice grew stale after a while though. I'd also like to note: the film is contrived. A lot of things happen just to move the story along -- I know that. I don't fault it, though, because it ends up working on its themes of chance and it's a big part of Soo-jin's character. In other words, although it feels contrived and I'd usually fault it for that, the contrived aspects mostly work well with the humor and character.

Lee Dong-wook and Hyun Young are great, they have great on-screen chemistry without having to share a kiss. I don't think I've ever seen Hyun Young as a lead, so I'm not sure if the squeaky voice is part of character or the actual Hyun Young -- regardless, the overwhelming squeak of her voice is my only complaint for her performance. Otherwise, it's a standard rom com. The English subtitles in the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream have quite a few grammatical errors -- you'll understand the story and jokes, at least. The romance doesn't really sweep through like one would think, but director Kim Jung-woo does well in developing the relationship and humor.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Perfect Couple. It's a little different from the typical romantic comedy, and I like that. I liked the characters and I liked the charming and quirky humor, too. Some of the running jokes run out of steam early, though, and the romance doesn't feel fleshed out. Otherwise, it's definitely worth watching for fans of Korean comedies.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Peppermint Candy (2000)

Peppermint Candy (Review)
Lee Chang-dong/Sol Kyung-gu/2000
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"In a sense, it's a very beautiful film."

The tragic life of Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu) which leads to his unfortunate suicide...

Peppermint Candy is told in reverse -- starting from the ending. Behaving oddly and erratically, Yong-ho stumbles upon the reunion of his school friends. He climbs up to a train track and, as the train approaches, he witness his life flash before his eyes. As the audience, we witness Yong-ho's tragic life, often filled with self-destructive behavior. And, as the story progresses, we understand why. Yong-ho's life as a businessman, as a police officer, as a solider -- Yong-ho's complicated love life. The ending of the film, or more like the beginning, is poignant yet beautiful; it's an elegantly crafted ending that evokes sadness, and is also very contemplative.

Peppermint Candy is a fantastic character-study and drama. The main focus of the story is Yong-ho and his character. Each event in his life sheds new light, and it's usually tragic. It crafts the character in reverse, which in turn adds a pinch of mystery, too. The story is very bleak and even depressing, but I couldn't help but keep my eyes locked on the screen. In a sense, it's a very beautiful film. It's also very engaging thanks to the unique storytelling. You'll ask yourself why a character would act in such a way, you'll even believe it may be illogical or irrational, but you'll see and feel more as the film progresses. There were some minor issues where some characters aren't fully explained, but those are minor. If you love character-driven dramas, I think you'll love Peppermint Candy.

Sol Kyung-gu is magnificent as the lead. Kyung-gu is very versatile and genuine with his performance. The rest of the acting also felt very natural and genuine. The cinematography is great, and so is the camerawork. The music is superb; I loved the soundtrack, especially during the transitions. The English subtitles have some flaws, but it's mostly competent and understandable. Writer and director Lee Chang-dong is superb; the script is brilliant and the direction is consistent and balanced.

Overall, Peppermint Candy is a very emotional character-driven drama. It's tragic and depressing, but it's honest and genuine, as well. Leading man Sol Kyung-gu's superb acting helps amplify the emotional story tenfold. The few minor flaws in this film can't stop me from recommending this to anyone -- I think it's a genre-defining film that should be watched at least once.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, sex and nudity

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Once Upon A Time In Seoul (2008)

Once Upon A Time in Seoul (Review)
Bae Hyeong-jun/Lee Wan, Song Chang-eui/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"....the very cliché subplot is a problem..."

Shortly after the Korean War, friends Jong-du (Lee Wan) and Tae-ho (Song Chang-eui) battle for survival in war-torn Seoul...

Once Upon A Time in Seoul starts off very promising showing Jong-du and Tae-ho's poor living conditions, as well as their respective character and relationship. Jong-du is the muscle, and Tae-ho is the brains; although they often disagree, they both share a close relationship. They aspire for the riches and have plans to do so. But, these plans conflict with the local gangsters, and their relationship is strained by a mutual love interest who joins their group. Although it is very predictable, Once Upon A Time in Seoul leads to a decent ending.

Once Upon A Time in Seoul has a great story, especially during the first act, but flawed execution. My biggest gripe with the film was the cliché love triangle story; it is exactly what you expect it to be, and it actually makes the rest of the story much more predictable. So, when this love triangle kicks off, you'll begin treading familiar territory -- the story becomes riddled with clichés. Despite this flaw, I did find myself engaged with the plot. Yeah, I knew where it was headed from the beginning, but I was also interested. Maybe it was the characters or the unique action -- I mean, how many times do you see people using whips as weapons in film -- but I enjoyed it.

The acting was good. It is melodramatic at times, but it wasn't overwhelming. Lee Wan and Song Chang-eui share great chemistry, but don't have strong screen presence. I did like the cinematography; I especially enjoyed the set design and costume, no matter how simple the latter. The music was also good. I watched this on Amazon Prime Instant video, and the English subtitles were fine. Director Bae Hyeong-jun was able to keep me engaged; the romance subplot is very cliché, but he mostly overcomes the issue, at least enough to deliver a tolerable film.

Overall, Once Upon A Time In Seoul is a good film. I liked the story and the main plot, but the very cliché subplot is a problem -- you've seen this love triangle before, and I'm afraid it won't be the last time we see it. Otherwise, the film is also technically well-made, and a treat for those that like to immerse themselves great settings.

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: The Suspect (2013)

The Suspect (Review)
Won Shin-yun/Gong Yoo/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...right behind The Raid 2: Berandal as the best action film of 2014."

North Korean defector Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is framed for the murder of his boss and chased by his betrayers, as well as the South Korean intelligence service -- all while Dong-chul chases someone himself.

The Suspect follows former special forces agent (how many times have you heard that in film, huh?) Ji Dong-chul as he chases and as he's chased. It starts off little complicated because it drops you into the middle of an already established situation and also due to the many characters it introduces. Fortunately, it straightens out quickly and forms into the familiar super-spy. You know, elite super solider who can't be stopped, the skilled agents sent to kill him, the conniving mastermind... it's territory we've been through dozens of times over. The ending is kind of cliché, too, but I liked it.

Honestly, I didn't mind most of the clichés. In fact, I was fully prepared for them from the start. I mean, everybody should be after watching the trailer. This story seems to be timeless. I can never get enough of the super-soldier beating impossible odds and nearly escaping death -- okay, maybe it'll grow stale, especially if you watch these types of films often, but I don't, so I'm still okay. Anyway, the standard super-spy plot works very well in this film. It's very engaging and very entertaining. The beginning is rough, but the rest is easy enough to sit back and enjoy.

Story aside, you should be watching The Suspect for its action. And it's jam-packed with adrenaline-filled action. This one is especially a treat for fans of chase scenes. The chases are exhilarating and thrilling, literally keeping you at the edge-of-your-seat. The film also features some of the best car chases ever -- and I fully mean that. Other than the superb chases, you get plenty of shootouts and some vicious hand-to-hand combat. It all blends together for a balanced and versatile action flick.

Gong Yoo is great as the lead -- the character doesn't demand much, but Gong Yoo delivers a charismatic and cool performance. Park Hee-soon is also great. Jo Sung-ha plays the antagonist in this film and, although he overacts a bit, he's perfect for the role -- he has that face and that grin you wouldn't mind punching. The film has blockbuster production values. Great cinematography, epic action soundtrack, and superb action choreography. The English subtitles on the Well Go USA Blu-ray are perfect, too. Although the plot and characters are cliché, director Won Shin-yun does a wonderful job in capturing the superb action and pulling great performances from the cast.

Overall, The Suspect is, without a doubt, a generic film. The story, the characters... we've seen it before. Fortunately, The Suspect is also, without a doubt, one hell of an action-thrill ride. In fact, The Suspect is right behind The Raid 2: Berandal as the best action film of 2014. (at least for films released in 2014 in the U.S.) The car chases alone are worth the price of admission. Action fans, don't skip this one.

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

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Oasis (2002)

Oasis (Review)
Lee Chang-dong/Sol Kyung-gu/2002
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...very daring and unique."

Recently released from prison after a stint for involuntary manslaughter, Hong Jong-du (Sol Kyung-gu), a mildly mentally disabled misfit, attempts to reconcile with the victim's family and finds himself developing a relationship with Gong-ju (Moon So-ri), the daughter of the victim.

Oasis isn't a traditional romance film. The romance in this film is definitely genuine, but different. Oasis follows Jong-du as he slowly develops a relationship with Gong-ju, who not only is the victim's daughter, but also suffers from severe cerebral palsy. Despite a rough start in their relationship, their romance feels sweet and genuine as it progresses. The outside interference from their respective families makes it more difficult than it should be, too. The ending of the film is hopeful -- it's a bittersweet glimmer of hope.

Oasis works very well as a romantic drama. It's very different from the usual, very daring and unique. The story may seem simple, particularly due to my summary, but it really is very deep. The characters are very complex. The themes, such as family, hypocrisy, irony, and mental illness, are very well crafted and blend seamlessly into the film. It's a subtle yet powerful film. And it gets stronger and stronger as it progresses. I think this is because the emotion is genuine rather than fabricated --this isn't a hopeless romantic tale, or a film that relies on somber music, genre clichés or contrivances to create feeling -- it is feeling.

While watching Oasis I felt happiness, sadness, anger, and everything in between. The honest romance may make you smile, it may warm your heart. Some of the characters and their despicable actions will infuriate you. (The themes of hypocrisy immediately come to mind. I personally can't stand hypocrites.) It takes a while to get on its feet, starting with a slow introduction and generally moving at a slow pace, but the story is otherwise worth your patience.

The acting is superb. Sol Kyung-gu, who also stars in Peppermint Candy, is brilliant. Moon So-ri is also very impressive. The film is shot beautifully, I really liked the cinematography and camerawork. The music blends seamlessly with the film. The English subtitles on the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream are great -- nothing detrimental. Writer and director Lee Chang-dong masterfully crafts this drama with beautiful subtly; it makes a statement without hitting you over the head, and it works incredibly well as an emotionally-effective and creative romance film -- you won't find many films like this.

Overall, Oasis is a fantastic film. It's a very meaningful film and a very effective romance drama. It's one of the few films that can make you really feel and contemplate -- there aren't many films that do that nowadays. It is a bit lengthy and slow, though. Definitely recommended if you can tolerate a slow-pace and love these types of films.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Sex and nudity.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: My Sassy Girl (2001)

My Sassy Girl (Review)
Kwak Jae-yong/Cha Tae-hyun, Jun Ji-hyun/2001
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"Jun Ji-hyun steals the show..."

Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-hyun) finds himself in a cruel but loving relationship when he luckily meets a drunk girl (Jun Ji-hyun) on a train...

My Sassy Girl follows this complicated relationship. They initially share few interests and are complete opposites, but Gyeon-woo grows to like her, and she does the same. As cliché and simple as it may sound, the differentiating factor is the actual relationship. The girl, who isn't given a name throughout the film, is rough with Gyeon-woo -- to put it lightly. She slaps him around a little, she humiliates him in public, she makes him drink coffee instead of soda, and even convinces him to wear high heels! (and much, much more.) The relationship is hilarious, if not just for the pure embarrassment. The final act of the film piles on some clichés and plot contrivances; the message the film delivers make them more tolerable, but they're worth noting.

I really enjoyed the humor in this film. Like I said, the story is simple, but the relationship is unique. Even better, the relationship is hilarious. It mostly relies on humiliation humor, but it works. Some of it is cringe-worthy embarrassing, but I laughed and laughed throughout most of the runtime. In fact, it was so well paced and balanced, I didn't check the runtime once. It does lose some humor and momentum during the final act where it takes more of a serious turn, though. Still, the ending was great -- might even pull some tears for some viewers.

Otherwise, I thought the relationship was very well developed. Whether you'd do the same in his shoes or if you don't believe these types of relationships exist doesn't matter. The chemistry between the two characters felt authentic; they felt like a genuine couple, which makes this romantic comedy much more effective than the typical entry in the genre. Furthermore, I was very impressed by how the relationship was crafted -- no on-screen kissing or sex was required to make it feel like love.

Cha Tae-hyun is great as the passive lead; he has some quirk and charm to his performance. Jun Ji-hyun steals the show, though -- the definition of sassy and feisty. As I mentioned previously, their a perfect pair and create great chemistry. The film is shot well; competent, not bad or exemplary, though. The music was standard; it works well for the genre, though. I watched the Amazon Prime Instant Video and its great; it looks and sounds good, and the English subtitles are great. Director Kwak Jae-yong crafts a very well paced and balanced comedy; despite some tumbling during the final act, Jae-yong recovers for a meaningful ending.

Overall, My Sassy Girl is a contemporary rom com masterpiece. It has some flaws during its final act, but it's hilarious and genuine. This is one of the few films that really made me laugh out loud. Cha Tae-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun are superb, and their chemistry makes the film feels much more effective, too.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, and nudity.