Mother (2009): Crime / Drama / Mystery

After her son is jailed for a girl’s brutal murder, a mother does everything in her power to prove his innocence.

The mixed feelings begin from the opening shot and extend all the way through the first act. The music, the acting, the character development, the mother/son relationship, and all utterances and actions make one question why IMDb describes it as crime, drama, mystery. Twenty minutes into it, it starts looking that way but still… Yoon Do-joon’s mental disability and the way his surrounding environment and authorities perceive him, makes unclear of what it really is.

The role of his mother though, somehow, despite the human behaviour oddities, in the second act intensifies the drama and turns it into a whodunit with the stamp of Bong Joon Ho. After Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006) and before Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017), and Parasite (2019) Bong Joon Ho feels confident directing Mother, most certainly knowing that unpredictable feelings will be evoked. Definitely not for everyone, but it’s the kind of cinema that allows westerners, through art, to discover a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies so different to their own.

Far too many years ago, someone told me that if you end up in hell, your mother will be the only one to find a way to sneak out of heaven, descent, and trade places with you so it is her that withstands eternal suffering, instead of you. Mother ends up being the soul-crushing drama that emphasises on the mother’s sacrifice, loneliness, and unbearable task of carrying a personal cross all the way to the top of Golgotha.

Stay safe!

#Alive (2020): Action / Drama / Horror

A sudden zombie outbreak will find two youngsters trapped in their flats opposite each other, making an escape plan.

I’m a sucker for build-up. You know, character and story development. Think of Train to Busan (2016) in this instance; patiently and suspensefully builds the narrative up before everything goes sideways. So, for horror fans who have watched countless zombie films, the opening sequence does not feel original or anything at all. I believe, the most impressive scene throughout the first thirty minutes is the police officer scene.

Things start getting interesting after the hero’s breakdown and big exodus. The action and thrill for the battle of survival pick up the pace and gradually get your attention. The pace is about to die out soon after though but is saved by the presence of Park Shin-hye’s character (Kim Yoo-bin). If you haven’t seen her in anything else, you should definitely try the same year’s and also Netflix’s production, The Call (2020) https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/06/the-call-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

But then, pace, rhythm, suspense, and action all die out together faster than the film’s outbreak. It manages to pick up again, but the effort was nothing new. Shame really, I wish the filmmakers had decided what kind of film they wanted to make. It seems like the genres are cancelling one another. If it’s any consolation, the film was a shockingly huge commercial success!

RIP Kim Ki-duk  (20.12.1960 – 11.12.2020)

Stay safe… and alive!

P.S. Challenge: Try to count how many times the word ‘alive’ is said.

The Call (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Two women from a different time, living in the same house, manage somehow to communicate and befriend each other over the phone; a friendship that will soon become torture.

Korean narrative does not fail. Ever! The Call is a drama first, and a mystery/thriller second. The heroine’s background is as heavy as they come and the current paradoxical pain only builds onto it. Remember The Lake House (2006)? Well, not a bad film to be fair but… this is better! This is actually the psychotic, gruesome version of it! Where the tables turn more than once and the drama matches the suspense and the agony.

The film explores the unpredictability of human nature but also the consequences of our utterances and actions – especially, when we don’t know what we are dealing with. Time travel, in all its variations, is only scientific school of thoughts that clash with each other. Coincidentally, this is the third film I’m watching the last couple of months that explores the time travel implications. Tenet (2020): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/29/tenet-2020-action-sci-fi/ and Primer (2004): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/26/primer-2004-drama-sci-fi-thriller/ were the other two.

The Call is by far not an original concept. Frequency (2000) was the first, I think. But it is the perfect example of”old wine, new bottle” with a non-Hollywood denouement. If I’m being honest, the twist in the very end is nonsensical and should have been left out. Lastly, Jeon Jong-Seo and Park Shin-hye are just incredible!

Therefore, turn the lights off, sit back, relax and for a couple of hours just forget the word “pandemic”.

Stay safe!

P.S. Watch the trailer! One of the best trailers I’ve seen in a long time.

Burning (2018): Drama / Mystery

A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.

The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.

Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.

False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.

Stay safe!

P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Midnight FM (2010): Action / Crime / Thriller

During a radio producer’s last show, a serial killer invades her home threatening to kill her family.

The overwhelming suspense! Three thrilling acts that will keep you glued to your seats until the very end. There is not one dull moment throughout the film. Korean suspenseful narrative that, as usual, it does not hold back and does not disappoint. This is a story-driven thriller where all utterances and actions are held accountable for is going to happen next.

Excellent directing that the fast-paced editing unfolds the fabula and syuzhet exactly when the information is needed to be disclosed. Soo Ae and Ji-Tae Yoo shine on camera, creating a stimulating chemistry. Extra round of applause goes to the little girls for their equally brilliant performances.

Midnight FM is a must-watch and no matter what I say will not make it more appealing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Stay safe!

The Villainess (2017): Action / Thriller

The Villainess.jpg

A female assassin accepts a mission that turns her world upside down.

One of the most impressive and bloody opening action sequences you have ever seen! Nikita (1990), meets Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), meets Doom (2005). And then, they all meet a tad cliché and unnecessarily convoluted storyline.

A young girl who witnesses her father getting murdered (1), gets saved and recruited by some people (2), who help her avenge her father’s vicious murder (3), but then gets caught by a government organisation (4), which offers to train her (again?) (5), and ten years later, she starts a normal life (6), but goes back to doing missions (7). That’s the story’s development. And then there is the character’s (un)development. Finishing the second training, she comes out with fewer skills than the first.

The editing is somewhat confusing too. Ten years fly by like months. And time flies by after that too until the last mission where it decelerates to real-time. The rhythm and pace of this film is a case study. As for the directing… Honestly, it feels like the opening sequence’s director quit or got sacked during act two, and came back just for the final confrontation.

Please watch it if you haven’t already, and feel free to share your opinion. Maybe it’s me.

Stay safe!

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil.jpg

A hard as nails cop joins forces with a crime boss to take down a serial killer.

Based on a true story, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil will get your undivided attention right off the bat from the opening scene. The South Korean film school proves time and time again that no matter what the genre, the outcome will be fulfilling and worth every minute you spend on it. Mu-Yeol Kim and Ma Dong-seok as cop and gangster respectively, develop excellent chemistry in their unlike partnership, offering a high-octane action / thriller trying to capture an unknown serial killer.

Captivating photography, engaging editing, and brilliant character and story development. Ma Dong-seok, after his amazing performance in Train to Busan (2016) comes back, punching above his league and comes out a winner stealing the show. Also, check Mu-Yeol Kim in Forgotten (2017) https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/05/25/forgotten-2017-mystery-thriller/. Both films HIGHLY recommended.

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the bloody ride.

Stay safe!

Forgotten (2017): Mystery / Thriller

Forgotten

Things take an unexpected turn for a family after a young man sees his older brother getting abducted and comes back days later with no memory of what happened, acting like a different person.

Narrative like only the Koreans know how to develop. Dramaturgy that knows no boundaries and is unconditionally unleashed to shock you to your core. Huge comeback from writer/director Hang-jun Jang who seems like not taking particular interest in the film industry. Regardless of the reasons, and even though it flew a bit under the radar, Forgotten is the type of film that will get your undivided attention. You cannot miss a thing otherwise you’ll have even more questions. Very intricate with numerous twists and turns, Forgotten does not hold any punches. It might not be Oldboy (2003) but it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

The South Korean film industry (Hallyuwood, informally) is a dominant player in the market. Partially, yes, because the government is heavily investing in it but also due to the produced films’ impact globally. Money might open a plethora of doors but it is the sheer talent that walks such filmmakers through them, stirring the focus once more towards the beautiful artistic side of the industry and taking it away from the ugly scandalous one that we have all had enough with.

P.S. I didn’t know it was a Netflix film until I accidentally stumbled upon the information on IMDb – no logos in the opening or closing credits.

P.P.S. That’s for you cuz! Thanks for the recommendation!

P.P.S. Jiyoung, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. If you have, why didn’t you tell me about it??? 🙂

Stay safe!

Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on a few international films, not particularly well-known ones, that have spawned renowned Hollywood successes (whether critical or commercial). Maybe I can get you to watch either or both of them, and then get you to ask if the Hollywood remake added to the existing film it was indeed necessary.

Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

Parasite (2019): Comedy / Drama / Thriller

Parasite

Father, mother, daughter, and son – all unemployed – con a wealthy family into giving them jobs and manage to get access to their house… that is more than meets the eye.

Joon-ho Bong… the writer/director that brought you Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), Tokyo! (2008), Snowpiercer (2013), and Okja (2017), to name but a few, strikes back with a comedy, drama, thriller that makes you laugh, cry, and hold your breath, and not necessarily in that order. Avoid spoilers at all costs. Parasite deserves to be watched with an “uninfected” mind. Then, and only then jump to conclusions about its metaphors, Bong’s thematic similarities with previous films, the clash of classes, and how similar concepts have been filmed in ways that yield entirely different results. Bring to your mind a new or an old film, one that had an impact on you or simply became popular. I still can’t stop comparing it and contrasting it to the same year’s Us (2019). Enough said…

Parasite is the first-ever Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes and I can only imagine how Bong fell during the prolonged standing ovation it received. Hats off and congratulations to all cast and crew.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q1PVnr

Revenger (2018): Action / Crime / Thriller

Revenger.jpg

An ex-cop shows up in a prison island, shared by 12 Asian countries, where convicts are left to die, with the sole purpose to find his family’s killer and avenge their death.

This one went totally under the radar. The story doesn’t even remotely resemble something that could have happened in reality so, should you decide to watch it, don’t pay too much attention to the parts that don’t make too much sense. Why would you watch it then?

Bruce Khan! As per IMDb, he is the holder of:

  • A 4th-degree black belt in Hapkido,
  • A 4th dan in Korean Karate,
  • A 5th dan in Korean Kwal Bup,
  • A 4th dan in Korean Kyeoktooki.

And he is a lot more than that as a person. Like Bruce Lee, he had a severe back injury only to come back stronger. Hats off! He possesses agility, accuracy, speed, power… Honestly, I was not aware of the chap but I’m glad I got to know him. Certainly, I would have omitted certain characters and sequences in the film but once you watch it you’ll see why it was worth your while. Enjoy!

Okja (2017): Action / Adventure / Drama

Okja.jpg

A little girl is trying to prevent a sketchy multinational company from kidnapping Okja, her genetically modified pet and best friend.

It would be great if “Okja” was “R” rated. To properly reveal what humans and animals alike mean to most multinational companies and organisations. Bong Joon Ho behind the camera, holds back to a certain extent but captures the essence nevertheless. Brad Pitt and Netflix in the production back him up, and Seo-hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano in front of the lens, support a vision that all of us need to stop turning the blind eye to. I salute cast and crew and pay my respects to them as they all give us a mild lesson on the paranoia behind a colossal company’s beautiful facade, its fancy logo, and its unfathomably brainless slogan.

The Animal Liberation Front exist, they are a real, leaderless organization, fight for animal rights all around the globe, and they are not as funny as they are portrayed in the film. Even so, “Okja” should be for everyone to watch and get an idea of how filthy and disgusting the mammoth food corporations are.

Booed at least three times at the Cannes Film Festival just for being Netflix, “Okja” itself does not deserve booing. This is the political side of cinema that I’m staying out as, whoever gets in the middle, gets caught in the crossfire of the Industry Giants’ war for money and power. Streaming vs Theatre and which productions deserve to go to which festival and why is not for us to decide and has nothing with us anyway.

You wanna see the real “R” rated version of “Okja”? Watch “Earthlings” (2005) and feel free to be ashamed. And cry your eyes out. I quit meat that very same day and wholeheartedly apologised for being human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrlBSuuy50Y