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Samaria (Samaritan Girl) (2001) May 24, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Drama, 2000s films , 2 comments

Director: Kim Ki-Duk  Main cast: Kwak Ji-min; Han Yeo-reum; Lee Eol  Territory: South Korea

SamariaJae-yeong (Han Yeo-reum) and Yeo-jin (Kwak Ji-min) are two schoolgirls saving money for a trip to Europe and set up a prostitution racket to raise funds.  While Jae-yeong sleeps with men for cash, policeman’s daughter Yeo-jin handles the business side of things.  When Jae-yeong is fatally injured in a police raid, Yeo-jin sets out to sleep with all of her friend’s clients and repay the money she had earned.  When her father Yeong-ki (Lee Eol), finds out, he begins following the clients too for an altogether different reason.

Samaria (or Samaritan Girl) is a hard hitting film from Kim Ki-Duk (Bin-jip), but then the subject of underage prostitution is never going to be light and breezy.  It is split into three distinct movements titled Vasumitra, Samaria and Sonata.  The first concerns Jae-yeong and her ability to enjoy (or at least tolerate) her work, which occasionally sickens Yeo-jin, the second movement follows Yeo-jin’s promise of returning the money and the third concerns the father and daughter relationship between the police officer and the girl.

Unlike Bin-jip, which I wholeheartedly enjoyed, I found Samaria far too obscure to be totally satisfying.  There were just too many times I was left wondering what the hell Kim was getting at with the story.  Worse, there were parts that just defied logic, such as when Jae-yeong gets fatally injured.  She is being perused by police, but as soon as she jumps from a window to evade them, they apparently disappear leaving Yeo-jin on her own to take her to hospital.  They don’t even seem to question Yeo-jin about the prostitution business, as presumably her father would have found out what was going on.

Nevertheless, Samaria is a deep and weighty piece, and if you’re prepared to overlook the odd inconsistency, you may find it rewarding.  Certainly if you have a penchant for metaphor and symbolism you should give it a whirl.  One thing that comes across that I’ve never noticed in other Korean films is that the place has some absolutely stunning scenery.  There’s a section of the film that takes place in the countryside and it looks positively otherworldly.  Another thing I noticed was city of Seoul, which seemed amazingly devoid of litter and graffiti.  I don’t know if that’s true or was designed by Kim, but I’ve never seen such a clean city in the twenty-first century.  Mind you, if this film is anything to go by, there may be a bit of a problem with violent crime and underage prostitution… 

Ichi the Killer (2001) May 16, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Exploitation, Wacko, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Takashi Miike  Main cast: Tadanobu Asano; Nao Omori; Alien Sun; Shinya Tsukamoto  Territory: Japan

The head of the Anjo gang has disappeared, along with a substantial wad of cash.  Masochistic gang member Kakihara is charged with finding him and the money and to use any means necessary to recover what has been lost.  When it transpires that the boss is dead and that a sadistic hitman named Ichi carried out the killing, Kakihara has his own reasons for tracking the assassin down.

Ichi the Killer’s notoriety tends to overshadow the film itself, and it’s quite easy to dismiss the film as a sick exploitation flick with no merit at all.  It’s doubly easy seeing as how less than two minutes into the movie we see some truly nasty misogyny when a female character gets the living crap beaten out of her and raped while another character (Ichi himself, we later learn) gets his rocks off to the sight.

But is it a punishment if he WANTS to do it? 

All is not as it seems, however, and while Ichi the Killer is sickeningly brutal in its uncut form (which is the version reviewed here), there is social commentary here, albeit buried deeply under the gore. 

The characters are a bunch of lowlife junkies.  The king of them is Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), who enjoys pain and whose scarred, “modified” face will probably linger in your mind forever.  He’s actually quite a likable character, when he’s not torturing people for information.  He even has a philosophy on masochism, and imparts it while receiving a drubbing from trainee Dominatrix Karen: “when you’re hurting someone, don’t think of the pain that he feels.  Only concentrate on the pleasure of causing him pain.  That’s the only way to show true compassion for your partner”.

Ichi himself (Nao Omori) is a tragic character.  He’s had his sexual wiring so completely confused by his boss Jiji that he thinks he once wanted to participate in a gang rape.  In fact, no such event ever took place, but thanks to hypnotic suggestion Ichi has been wracked with guilt ever since and acts as a kind of screwed-up superhero, exacting revenge on bullies.  His conditioning leaves us quite sympathetic to him – a rare thing for such a character.

With the polylingual, conniving Karen (Alien Sun), this has the most gruesome cast of characters I’ve seen outside a Rob Zombie movie.  But Ichi the Killer also has moments of great black comedy (the scene where Kakihara is expelled from the gang via a video cam is truly hilarious), and a depth that is seldom acknowledged. 

I actually found this easier to watch than some films that showed infinitely less gore and violence.  And I have to admit I quite liked it, which came as a bit of a surprise.   Even the blatant misogyny didn’t seem so terribly offensive – although the nipple-slicing scene was the one moment I had to look away.  Let’s face it, no one in this film gets an easy ride.

I suspect that the somewhat convoluted plot will become clearer on repeated viewing (I did struggle to keep up at times) and yield further enjoyment.  Although not showing the better side of humanity, there was still a lot to enjoy in the film, and didn’t find it to be the rancid cesspit that some have claimed it to be.

“Damn you, Fatty!” - More funny subtitles from Hong Kong movies May 13, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Articles, Humour , 7 comments

A few months ago, I bought a Chinese copy of Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood off eBay for the suspiciously priced sum of £4.00 (including postage).  The seller assured me the disc was legit, and that may be true, but upon reading the plot synopsis on the back, I started to have my doubts.  Here it is in full, typed as it appears on the back of the pack (warning: there are major spoilers ahead if you can actually understand what’s being said):

“Chaos caused by war of epoch,guard Chow and Sam made contributions in the war, they got to the main stockaded village for getting largess.they passed spiderish bush,they got lost.they met a enchanter, the enchanter foretold that Chow would become a north castellan.he believed what the enchanter had said, his wife named Chin told what she had asked him to kill the master,so he did,he has become the master of the spiderish city.then he tried to kill general Sam.Sam’s son protected king, they got away.because Chin was malicious,she went mad,the enchanter in the spiderish bush foretold if spiderish bush wasn’t just moved, Chow didn’t lose.but spiderish bush was moved towards the spiderish city, they finally killed Chow in arrows.”

So, after moaning about the price of Kurosawa films, I thought I could probably stand a few mangled subtitles if it meant I’d saved about a tenner.  Unfortunately, the disc’s a write off.  With utterances like: “I am blurred by a monster.  I will not be blurred”, “You are cheated by the virtual reality…who?”, “Good.  I will build a hill for the cropses”, “How’s the bush?” and: “Forget it.  It’s useless to talk to the shit”, it’s pretty hard to stay focussed.  When a worker informs the Mifune character that his child perished, the subtitle reads: “And the baby died for a few days”.  Best of all is the line when the crows of ill-omen make their presence felt and one man intones gravely: “Hey, the birds are shouting badly”.

All of this made me think about cobbling together more funny subtitles (and never buying another Chinese Kurosawa disc from eBay).  So, for your amusement, I present the following gleaned from about six months’ random viewing:

“Black magic only, chopping won’t work” – Mr Vampire 3

“And who the bickering fool are you?” – Crippled Avengers

“With potbelly against Heaven, he’ll be herculean” – Mr Vampire 3

“Lower the soung volume” – Mr Vampire 2

“Your hammer is something different.  The chain is long and thick” – Crippled Avengers

“Hello?  999?  Vampire here” – Mr Vampire 2

“Also, the shit” – Touch and Go

“I know Lau’s dead and you’re so upsad” – Touch and Go

“Bitch, pissed off!” – Touch and Go

“Fat guy, don’t shoot, it’ll kill people” – Touch and Go

“Fatties, are you all right?” – Slickers Vs Killers

“Mr Fish-ball!  Shit!” – As Tears Go By

“Bat, you’re imbalance” – Slickers Vs Killers

“He raped and then assaulted me indecently” – Slickers Vs Killers

“Tomorrow you can come and shit one more time” - By Hook or By Crook

“Uncle, he’s staring at my chess!” - By Hook or By Crook

“No, but I slap her down the bed” - By Hook or By Crook

“How can you fart at this moment?” - By Hook or By Crook

“He’s a deaf.  Close the door” - By Hook or By Crook

“You’re bastard!” – Fatal Contact

“Be still and ass up” – Fatal Contact

“Kill that shit guy” – Gambling Ghost

“Have you ever seen a policeman’s bottoms fall of when on duty?” – Running out of Time

My favourite comes from the otherwise tepid Fatal Contact.  Two characters are discussing another when one solemnly declares of him: “What a waste.  He used to be good.  After one fatal injury, he’s never his old self…”

That’s it for now.  More funny subtitles should appear in another six months’ time or so. However, if I suffer a fatal injury, it might be slightly longer.  In the meantime, if anyone has any they’d like to share, please add a comment!

More funny Hong Kong subtitles can be found here.

Il Mare (2000) May 9, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Drama, Fantasy, Romance, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Lee Hyun-seung  Main cast: Lee Jung-Jae; Jun Ji-hyun  Territory: South Korea

Architect Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-Jae) moves into a house on the beachfront and is surprised to receive post from the previous tenant, especially when he’s told that he’s the first person to live there.  It turns out that the mailbox at the bottom of the house’s path is a time-travel device and that he can exchange post with the house’s future tenant Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun), a pretty voice actor living two years in the future.  The two begin a romance by post, daydreaming about each other and hoping to meet when they can sort out the time difference problem.

I’m quite aware that there have been a lot of romantic films on Heroes of the East of late (something that will probably continue a little while longer at least) and I’ve no idea why.  Maybe I’m sickening for something.  Anyhow, Il Mare (which means The Sea, incidentally) is a light bit of fluff that nevertheless has a tendency to do your head in when you try to follow the film’s needfully convoluted logic.  It’s true of a lot of time travel movies, or movies that have a non-linear narrative – you can often find yourself concentrating so hard on “when” things are taking place that you miss important details.

Il Mare 

The would-be loving couple are your usual pretty young twenty-somethings, but are likeable enough.  It sounds to me that their romance (which generally consists of giving each other playful activities to do) is pretty much ideal.  They never meet, hence never quarrel, get bored or find themselves woefully incompatible with each other, which tends to happen when people actually have to see each other face to face on a regular basis.

The film’s structure is familiar in that there’s a last minute hurdle for the couple to overcome so that they can spend eternity in each other’s arms, although admittedly this one’s a doozy.  Telling you what it is would give the whole game away, but suffice to say the pair want to ruin their idyllic relationship by actually seeing each other in the flesh, and that turns out to be more difficult than they’d bargained for.

The light and fluffy tone of the film is enhanced considerably by a gorgeous jazzy soundtrack and great use of scenery and lighting.  Overall, the film is pleasant, entertaining and occasionally mildly touching, but I suspect it won’t leave you itching to watch it again and again.  I was surprised to discover this was later remade in the US as The Lake House with none other than Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in the lead roles, which seemed unlikely to me given the relatively placid nature of the film. 

One thing that really did spoil the film for me was the Hong Kong “Edko” DVD.  The subtitles are great and are pretty much spot on, but unfortunately cut off the end of the screen if placed only on one line in a lengthy sentence.  This means some lines of dialogue can end up unseen, and this can happen in pivotal moments of the film.  I am unaware of the alternatives, but if you want to see this enjoyable time-passer, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

Bin-jip (3 Iron) (2004) May 1, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Romance, 2000s films , 2 comments

Director: Kim Ki-duk  Main cast: Jae Hee; Lee Hyun-kyoon; Kwon Hyuk-ho  Territory: South Korea

A young man breaks into houses while their owners are away and uses their amenities, though he also takes the time to fix appliances or do their laundry while he’s there.  One day, while in a supposedly empty house, he finds that he has been secretly watched by one of the house’s occupants, the battered wife of a thuggish businessman.  Without exchanging a word, they escape together and continue the transient life the young man has made for himself. 

It’s probably been noticed by regular readers that Korean films are grossly under-represented at Heroes of the East, and one of the reasons for this has been bad timing with my viewing habits.  However, hopefully this trend will be somewhat reversed in coming months.  And if you’re going to kick off a Korean film binge, I think you could probably do a lot worse than Bin-jip.

Writing a review for this film is next to impossible.  It is an allegory for the Buddhist path to enlightenment, although the film never explicitly states this.  Unless you know this fact (luckily, I was briefed before watching the movie so I had some inside knowledge, for which I am deeply grateful), Bin-jip could be a bit of a head scratcher.  It is divided into three segments, mirroring the three stages on the path to enlightenment, and has almost no dialogue.  In fact, the film’s male protagonist is totally silent, while the female utters one short sentence in the whole film.

Instead of being “difficult”, Bin-jip (which means “empty house” – a much better and more appropriate English title than the one it was given, in my opinion) is surprisingly accessible given the subject matter.  Some of the finer points have gone over my head though.  The male character carries a golf club around with him (hence the English title of the film) and drills a hole in a golf ball so that he can thread a wire through the middle and wrap the wire around a tree, so he can do golfing practice at any time.  However, I’m not sure what is meant when the female character starts to stand in front of his shot, preventing him from playing.  I know I’m missing something fundamentally essential here (especially seeing what happens later) but I can’t put my finger on it. 

Bin-jip 

The film really comes into its own during the final third, where the young man and his lover achieve Nirvana, while continuing their mundane existence on Earth.   The film’s “punchline” is undeniably cute (in every sense of the word) and will leave a smile on the face of anyone who’s paid the slightest bit of attention during the film’s 80-odd minute running time. 

The philosophical journey is the foundation of the film, but that falls some way outside the scope of a usual review on here (Oily Maniac is normally more my speed), but with even a little Internet research, anyone born without a Buddhist upbringing can get something from this unique and stirring movie.  Another big thumbs-up from me.

One final note: I don’t normally mention home format versions of films if I can help it, but I’ll make an exception for this one.  The UK disc has a fantastic anamorphic transfer (which shows the film’s exquisite camerawork to great effect) but precisely bugger all in the way of extras.  I mention this because I learned during the writing of this review that the US disc has a director’s commentary – something that this film is screaming out for.  Although it will cost a lot more than the UK disc, I think it might be an idea looking further afield for this one.

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