Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

The Black Sheep of Korean Cinema Only Alienates Himself Further with Increasingly Slipshod Work

October 8, 2011

AMEN (Kim Ki-Duk, Korea) – 5/100

In a recent conversation with fellow Busan Haps film writer Thomas Bellmore, I explained that when choosing which movies to watch at BIFF, it’s important to consider one of two things: the director and the pre-festival buzz surrounding the movie. Let’s not forget, there are a whopping 307 films in this year’s lineup, and while the selection committee does receive a handful of submissions from world-renowned auteurs, by and large, the movies that get picked every year are made by unknown directors who couldn’t get their films accepted at more prestigious festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. Now, I hate to be so dismissive and I don’t mean to discourage you from occasionally going with your gut and walking into a movie cold, but if you’re anywhere as picky about films as I am, then you’re probably just setting yourself up for disappointment. Call me narrow-minded, but being adventurous at any film festival rarely pays off, let alone one as inclusive as BIFF.

That being said, my personal film selection strategy is really nothing more than a rule of thumb, and even some of the directors I admire most can go off the deep end and make something so utterly unwatchable it’ll test my loyalty as a fan. Enter Kim Ki-Duk.

As the black sheep of Korean cinema, Kim gets more respect abroad than in his native homeland. In fact, most Koreans outright dislike him even though they have a propensity to fawn over any national figure who’s been remotely successful on the world stage. I’ve always stood up for Kim against the criticisms of non-believers, but in the last five years, his work has been getting harder and harder to defend. Not since “Time” (2006) has he made a decent movie, a fact he’s apparently well aware of since in his this year’s earlier attempt at a comeback, “Arirang” (2011), he spends more than an hour and a half talking into the camera about his dwindling reputation and the creative block he’s suffered through over the last three year break he took from filmmaking.

In light of Kim’s recent funk, I went into “Amen” with guarded expectations, cautiously keeping myself from becoming too optimistic, while genuinely hoping it would mark his long-awaited return to form. Unfortunately, the downward spiral into the creative abyss continues as this latest effort represents a new low for the once brilliant director of “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” (2003) and “3-Iron” (2004). Shot between April and June, with no script, no crew, and only one lead actress, this is precisely the kind of half-assed, low-budget art-film that gives film festivals a bad name.

Centered around an unnamed Korean girl who lands in Paris only to find out that her host has fled the country, the entire movie essentially amounts to Kim traipsing around Europe with a cheap digital camera as he follows his protagonist hopping trains back and forth between different cities. The weak plot is only made worse by clumsy camerawork, unpolished sound design, and choppy editing that would make most student films seem professional.

“Amen” could perhaps be interpreted as a mirror for Kim’s own current lack of direction, as it becomes clear within the first few minutes that he, and not just the protagonist of his movie, is who’s really lost. But if that was the director’s intention, he needs to spare us this introspective, self-pitying nonsense and get back to making real movies again.


Hong Sang Soo Unleashes Power of Korean Cinema

December 4, 2009

My review of “The Power of Kangwon Province” (Hong Sang Soo, 1998) for Busan Haps magazine is now online here:

The hard-copy version of this magazine is available for free in most of the bars, travel agents, and restaurants in Busan that cater to foreigners.

Basterds Disembark on Korean Shores

October 30, 2009

Inglourious Basterds


Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Waltz

Release Date: Thursday October 29 (in theatres everywhere)

“This is the face of Jewish vengeance!” declares the protagonist of “Inglourious Basterds” as a room full of high-profile Nazi commanders is engulfed in flames, and two machine-gunners riddle their corpses with bullets. Welcome to Quentin Tarantino’s world – one where Nazis fear Jews, and World War II is just the backdrop of a fairy tale.

By far his most accomplished work in a very long time, “Basterds” still suffers from the typical shortcomings of a Tarantino movie. One of my biggest problems with him is that he always manipulates the viewer into not only accepting, but cheering on horrendous acts of brutality. Violence as entertainment is nothing new for the director of “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “Kill Bill” (2003/2004), but “Basterds” takes this concept one step further. It’s strangely enjoyable to watch a Nazi get his brains bashed in with a baseball bat, or a swastika carved into his forehead. Why? Like all Tarantino movies, the gruesome scenes are ultra-stylized and therefore rendered fairly digestible. But his latest project makes matters even worse – the violence comes off as justified. You never think twice about the terrible things you’re seeing on-screen precisely because it’s Jews dishing it out against Nazis. And, while it’s true that all too many World War II movies sheepishly depict Jews as helpless victims, there’s something a little perverse about portraying them as rigorous exterminators, and then saying their behavior is okay.

Yet, the fact that the film’s bloody climax takes place inside a movie theatre is Tarantino’s way of reminding the audience (and the critics who complain about the violence in all of his films) that it’s just a movie. And, judging in terms of sheer entertainment value, “Basterds” is the equivalent of a Big Mac – disgustingly indulgent but satisfying.

If you can get passed the film’s questionable morality, it really is a fun-filled romp. Everything from the wacky premise to the deliberately misspelled title is a testament to the director’s love for pulp, an art-form he’s crowned himself the king of. That’s all well and good, but I’m still waiting for him to make a movie that isn’t molded from a pile of feces.

If I say that, however, it’s with tongue-in-cheek. The film is by and large a success, and even snobby, pretentious cinephiles like myself can appreciate it as a genuine love letter to cinema. So without further ado, I’d like to end my review of this very respectable movie by adding one final word of praise. While “Basterds” never really ceases from being Tarantino’s movie, for once it isn’t only all about him; he actually removes himself enough to allow someone else to bask in the spotlight. Christopher Waltz squeezes in a show-stopping performance as the villainous “Jew Hunter,” one he was rightfully awarded for at Cannes.

SIDENOTE: The movie is in three different languages (well, four if you count one short conversation in Italian), but don’t worry, there are English subtitles for the parts in German and French on the print being shown in Korea.

Rating: 65/100


October 17, 2009

My review of “Vincere” (Marco Bellochio, 2009) is now online here:


October 14, 2009

My review of “Face” (Tsai Ming Liang, 2009) is now online here:


October 14, 2009

My review of “Bright Star” (Jane Campion, 2009) is now online here:

Tales from the Golden Age PIFF REVIEW

October 13, 2009

My review of “Tales from the Golden Age” (Cristian Mungiu…, 2009) is now online here:


October 12, 2009

And they just keep on coming…

My review of “Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2009) is now online here:

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee PIFF REVIEW

October 11, 2009

My review of “A Letter to Uncle Boonmee” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009) is now online here:


October 11, 2009

My review/re-evaluation of “Mother” (Bong Joon Ho, 2009) is now online here: