My Sassy Girl (2001) July 22, 2009Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Romance , 4 comments
Director: Kwak Jae-yong Main cast: Jun Ji-hyun; Cha Tae-hyun Territory: South Korea
Gyeun-woo (Cha Tae-hyun) saves the life of an inebriated girl (Jun Ji-hyun) in a subway station and subsequently finds himself looking after her for the night as she is incapable of any actions beyond vomiting and losing consciousness. In the aftermath of a disastrous night that sees him wrongly arrested for taking advantage of the girl in a motel room, she arranges a meeting with Gyeun-woo. He discovers that the girl is bossy, opinionated and dangerously unstable. Nevertheless, the unlikely couple strike up a genuine relationship, braving parental disapproval, anti-social behaviour, the South Korean army and high-heel humiliation…
My Sassy Girl (the literal title of which is That Bizarre Girl – a title that suits the film much better) was a phenomenal hit all through Asia back in 2001, spawning a Japanese TV series, the inevitable and almost universally hated US remake and even a Bollywood version. Typically, I’m probably the last person who will ever review it. The genesis of the film is quite original – it’s based on a true story where the boy posted several articles online about the girl (who is never mentioned by name, but is understood to have had some input into the creative process), who then turned their experiences into a novel. The rights for the novel were then bought and this event is even mentioned in the movie, which seems a little weird.
There is a lot to like in the movie, but it strikes me now that the film is probably funnier when looking back on it rather than when you’re watching it. There are several comic setpieces, some of which are funnier and more believable than others, but watching Gyeun-woo squirm his way from one impossible situation to another surprisingly never wears thin. The two leads pretty much have the film to themselves and both do a good job. I’ve not seen Cha Tae-hyun in anything before, but Jun Ji-hyun will probably be familiar to most readers (and was in the romantic time-travel movie Il Mare). She does put a lot into the film and it’s not surprising she received such praise for the role.
Although narrated by Gyeun-woo, the film is all about the girl. Not to put too fine a point on it, she’s violent and extremely unpredictable. In the real world, it’s hard to believe anyone would put up with such behaviour for so long, but Gyeun-woo takes it all with the grim good-naturedness of the truly besotted. I’m not sure how true to life the girl’s character is, but she certainly crosses the line of acceptable behaviour and lost my sympathy a number of times. Nevertheless, if you take it all on face value, it even becomes funny seeing her repeatedly slapping Gyeun-woo around the face, strange as it seems.
The film is split into two halves documenting the phases of their relationship. This is all well and good, and if the film ended at the end of the second half, it would have made for quite a satisfying movie. However, there follows a section called “overtime” and this is where I feel the film falls flat on its face. Introducing a sci-fi element is one thing, but to then tack on an obviously fake and implausible ending is several steps too far. It’s quite clear even if you don’t know the real story what will happen and how the story should end. However, probably out of fear of acceptance with audiences, the film refuses to accept it. It’s actually a great shame that they slapped such a ridiculous ending on what would have been a great movie, but I guess the box-office returns speak for themselves and I’m in a minority.
Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess (1971) July 11, 2009Posted by Cal in : Action, 1970s films, Exploitation, Bad Films , 2 comments
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi Main cast: Reiko Oshida; Masumi Tachibana; Yukie Kagawa Territory: Japan
How can you pass up the opportunity to see a film called Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess? Apparently the fourth instalment in a series of quickly made Pinky Violence films, this one doesn’t have much “pink”, but has a fair bit of violence…
It also has a barely-there plot about a wayward daughter and her estranged father paying off her debts. There’s a bit of a moral message in there too and a sizeable chunk of melodrama. But mostly it’s about a bad good girl (or good bad girl, depending on your point of view) Rika (Reiko Oshida) and her former jailhouse chums kicking the ass of a Yakuza mob.
Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess is not a well made film. It screams cheap and quick, and even has one shot along a street where a passer-by stops and looks straight into the camera and watches intently as the shot progresses. But Reiko is cute with her long hair and short skirts, and is even better when she’s in mourning when she favours hot pants and knee boots. If you’ve been following these pages for any amount of time you’ll know I have a particular soft spot for the style and kitsch of this era, and I loved the night club scene where an entire rock band start mining along with a piano-and-vocal-only song.
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a whole lot of nudity in the film, but there are a few laughably obvious scenes (a bath scene in a women’s prison springs to mind). There are also a few really strange touches, like when a minor “sister” character appears to playfully fondle Rika’s breasts for no reason and the inclusion of a few mild allusions to underwear fetishism. The standard revenge plot, when it kicks in, will not have anyone in suspense, but delivers a bucket or two of blood.
All in all, Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess is enjoyable but light sexploitation/revenge flick fodder. Quite good for a Sunday afternoon, but unlikely to be in anyone’s ‘classic’ list.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) July 7, 2009Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 2000s films , 2 comments
Director: Kim Ji-woon Main cast: Song Kang-ho; Lee Byung-hun; Jung Woo-sung Territory: South Korea
Not so much a remake (or parody) of Sergio Leone’s classic western adventure, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is more of a variation on a theme. We have our three central characters more or less corresponding to the template set down in Leone’s film, but the focus is firmly on Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho), or the ‘Weird’.
All three are chasing an unspecified and vague treasure buried in the Manchurian desert in the 1930s. However, to get the treasure they need the treasure map, which is usually (but not always) held by Tae-goo. On his tail are the ‘Good’ – bounty hunter Park Do-wan (Jung Woo-sung), and the ‘Bad’ – psychotic gang boss Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun).
The film moves at a breakneck speed and contains enough dry humour that a smile is never far away. Although not excessively violent (the odd finger-chopping moment notwithstanding), the gunplay is surprisingly hard-hitting and brutal. And when the ruling Japanese army want a slice of the treasure, things get even more explosive – literally. With so many bangs, laughs and chases, it’s hard not to have a good time, and fans of a good MacGuffin will love the treasure map and its travels throughout the film. The action scenes in The Good, the Bad, the Weird are surprisingly free of CGI (or so it appears), which is heartening and some of the stunts look refreshingly ‘real’.
The star of the show though is undoubtedly Song Kang-ho, who seems to have appeared in about half of the Korean films I’ve seen so far. His character appears a close relative of the devious Tuco of Leone’s film, and both of the other main characters drop into the shadows quite often. If there can be a criticism of The Good, the Bad, the Weird, it is the fact that these other two are nowhere near as well drawn as Tae-goo. In fact, while ‘the Bad’ has an ultra-hip style and a neat way of killing a centipede (and also a sliver of intrigue with a rumour of a rivalry between him and Tae-goo), ‘the Good’ is out-and-out boring. In a film running just over two hours’ in length, you can forget his involvement in the plot for most of it.
But character development is not the main point of The Good, the Bad, the Weird. It is an action spectacle well on a par with anything Hollywood can produce (and a lot more fun than the latest blockbusters produced in the west) and is a definite must-see for action film fans, western fans and fans of anything a bit funny and quirky – and that should include all of my readership, frankly. It’s not as good as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but then very little is. It is, however, easy to enjoy this film as well as the original, and no prior knowledge is needed to get the most out of it.
The Chaser (2008) July 4, 2009Posted by Cal in : Thriller, 2000s films , 2 comments
Director: Na Hong-jin Main cast: Kim Yoon-seok; Ha Jeong-woo; Seo Yeong-hee Territory: South Korea
Pimp Jung-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is bothered by his dwindling stock of girls. He assumes they have been running out on him, but when he discovers they all had the same client just before going missing, he suspects that a rival pimp has been stealing them from him. Enraged, he sets out to trap his rival with one of his remaining girls, Min-ji (Seo Yeong-hee). But when the trap fails and another girl goes missing, Jung-ho steps up the search to get his “property” back. But after a chance encounter with Yeong-min (Ha Jeong-woo), he realises that the truth might be far more sinister. Being a former detective, Jung-ho uses his skills and contacts to go after Yeong-min and to find out what happened to Min-ji and to (re)discover his humanity and compassion.
The idea of the protagonist of The Chaser being a pimp was pretty compelling. He’s not even a nice pimp, either, and thinks nothing of bullying one of his girls out of her sickbed to go back to work. His guilt only starts to kick in when he realises that he’s sent Min-ji into the clutches of a serial killer and her cute young daughter will become an orphan.
The killer in question, Je Yeong-min, is a right piece of work – even though he makes the stupid mistake of leaving one of the victim’s cars in the neighbourhood after killing her. The scene where he traps Min-ji, though, is one of the most suspenseful I’ve seen in a while. You’re pretty sure Yeong-min is more than just a regular john, but he plays it so casually that when his true intent is made clear it’s very chilling indeed.
This isn’t a cat-and-mouse chase film as you would expect. For a large portion of the film, Yeong-min is incarcerated. Instead, the film focuses on Jung-ho’s search for Min-ji, who is assumed to be alive. Even though the police have a confession from Yeong-min, they suspect Jung-ho has more involvement and eventually have to let the killer go. This seems to be a recurring theme in Korean movies – police incompetence. I’ve no idea if they really are as dense and slapdash as depicted in cinema or whether they are simply written that way for dramatic purposes, but it’s certainly something I’ve noticed quite a lot lately.
Director Na Hong-jin seems to come from the Akira Kurosawa school of film directing when it comes to weather. Yes, it rains an awful lot in The Chaser. But he does a splendid job of making a tense, watchable thriller with intriguing three dimensional characters. It’s edge-of-your-seat type stuff, and that’s all you can ask for in a thriller. One slight fly in the ointment is the (very brief) inclusion of probably the stupidest convenience store clerk in the history of the world. It’s a short scene, but one that sticks out in the mind for its ridiculousness and (presumably) unintentional comedy value. However, natural selection wins out and the cinematic Darwin Awards will have themselves a prime candidate.
Otherwise, solid stuff, and a film to be chased down at the earliest opportunity.