Archive for korea

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘Train to Busan’: Grab your baseball bat!

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2017 by aliciamovie

traintobusan

 

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Studio: Next Entertainment World

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

A South Korean train ride takes a deadly turn when a zombie apocalypse breaks out!

Yes, it’s Korean and therefore subtitled and, yes, it’s another zombie movie. Those things being said, Train to Busan is a terrific throwback to the original Romero-style zombie movies, where it’s half about the scary zombies and half about the potentially worse stuff we humans do to each-other during the zombie apocalypse. I can never remember the actual character names in many of these Korean flicks, so they get designations and you’ll just have to live with it – onward we go!

So Big Daddy (Gong Yoo) is a businessman, your typical Korean male who has little time and patience for his ex-wife’s shenanigans or his Daughter’s need to be with him, while he negotiates business deals on his cellphone all day long. It’s finally Big Daddy’s chore to take his sad little Daughter on the early-morning train to go see her mother, especially after missing what was meant to be her live singing performance at school and all. And this ill-fated train ride is where it all begins.

On the train itself, Big Daddy is still on his phone and mostly ignoring Daughter (Kim Su-An), while she attempts to familiarize herself with the other passengers. Here we meet Boxer (Ma Dong-Seok), the strapping muscle-bound train-goer with his very-pregnant wife, whom I’ve aptly dubbed MomtoBe (Jung Yu-Mi), and other everyday passengers as we go along – the Elderly Sisters (Ye Soo-Jung and Park Myung-Sin), two aged women taking a train ride together; the Baseball Team and their Cheerleader squad; the older gentleman who is anything but, that I designated NastyMan (Kim Eui-Sung); and of course, the Homeless Guy (Choi Gwi-hwa), who knew about everything going on before anyone else did.

Technically this first train Big Daddy and Daughter are on isn’t going to Busan, they just kind of end up getting thrust in that direction. The first train is where the outbreak begins, at least as far as train rides go, and these are virus-class zombies – get bit, you turn in just a few minutes; black veins on the face and white-blue death eyes are the main indicators; running and shrieking and attacking anything that moves, as the survivors eventually figure out, is the SOP here. Homeless Guy hopped onto this first train and as he sits muttering to himself about how they’re all dead, one thing leads to another and suddenly, everywhere, zombies!

Big Daddy thinks he can just call in favors to get himself and Daughter rescued, even as they try to switch trains in a station after several near-misses, and it just doesn’t work out in the end, so they have to board yet another train, this one being the one officially (eventually) heading for Busan. Here we meet NastyMan, the asshole who will not be denied, who incites everyone panicking into barricading themselves against the rescue attempt Big Daddy and Boxer have to go and make. Daughter and MomtoBe mistakenly end up stuffed in a bathroom and to get to them, Boxer and Big Daddy and the one remaining Baseball Boy (Choi Woo-shik) who wasn’t turned have to guard their arms and arm themselves with baseball bats and go through like 4 cars full of zombies, twice. (As in, go through 4 cars to get there, rescue everyone, and come all the way back.) Even after watching one of the Elderly Sisters sacrifice herself, NastyMan is doing everything he can to insist people not let the rescuers back in this one uninfected car, and that means he doesn’t see the other Elderly Sister go to open the other door to the zombies until its almost too late!

We’re whittling down the survivors on the way to Busan, and even the Conductor is starting to have his doubts about safety once there. A blocked train at a pull-in station forces our survivors to try and switch trains, but the trains are still running and crashing into each-other without Conductors and hordes of mad zombies are exploding out of broken windows to come get you! Will any of our survivors make it to Busan?

I don’t want to give away the ending, but believe me, it is heart-wrenching. Enough story snippets have been tossed in among the zombie carnage to make Train To Busan much more than just a brain-eating fest of a movie, and I thought it was excellent. Right down to NastyMan finally getting a well-deserved comeuppance, damn it.

Grab your baseball bat to watch Train To Busan right now on Netflix!

Spotlight on Asian Horror presents I Saw the Devil

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2013 by aliciamovie

I-Saw-the-Devil

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Softbank Ventures

Director: Jee-Woon Kim

Review Rating: 8

A Korean secret agent finds out just how far over the line he’ll go for revenge after his pregnant fiancé is murdered by an evil serial killer.

As one can imagine from the plot synopsis, this film is barely about the bad guy at all. Rather, it brings back that age-old admonition, he who hunts monsters should take care that in doing so, he does not become a monster himself.

Our secret agent, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee of G.I. Joe and Three Extremes fame) is the Man. The film starts right in with his fiancé getting kidnapped and slaughtered in the most unmerciful manner one can imagine, though the movie does make it seem as though she isn’t raped. Kim, being the Man he is, ignores the pleading of his boss and coworkers and immediately launches into an investigation of the four men possible who could’ve done this dastardly deed. Upon the discovery of the totally psychotic bad guy who did it, Kyung-chul (Min-Sik Choi of Oldboy status), one would think Kim would hunt him down and murder him terribly and that would be the end of it. Oh my no. Kim gets ahold of a micro-tracker from another secret agent, does indeed hunt down Kyung while he’s in the midst of yet another attack on some young schoolgirl, beats the ever-loving snot out of the guy and stops the rape, rams the tracker down his gullet, and then, lets him go. Thus begins the most badass game of cat and rat I’ve seen in some time. Kim delights in following Kyung all over, stopping instances of where the psycho would harm some woman, giving him some terrible wound (hamstring anyone?), and letting him go all over again, to rinse and repeat. The people that Kyung goes to and the things he does, marks him in my eyes as considerably worse than the righteously raging secret agent gone really rogue. Unfortunately the bad guy figures out about the tracker and has this reputation for going after a victims entire family and friends for the final showdown, before turning himself in to the police as the final F-youuuu to Kim. None of this, not the deaths of his beloved woman, friends, coworkers, and even his own sanity, will stop the Man from getting his final revenge. And the manner in which he does it is deliciously rife with irony, to the last blood drop.

Many criticized this movie for, once again, the purported Hero going way too far in his pursuit of the bad guy and righteous vengeance. I fail to understand how they can say that. But then again, Korean Horror is still almost always very tragic and mind-rending at the end, even if you survive the slaughter. I Saw the Devil is thought-provoking, astounding, and makes us all wonder, if we were in that situation, would the Devil be in a mirror?

San Diego Asian Film Festival 2012 — Doomsday Book

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Foreign, Movies, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by aliciamovie

Doomsday Book_Poster copy

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Gio Entertainment

Director: Pil-Sung Yim, Jee-Woon Kim

Review Rating: 7

A collection of three anthologies from Korea cinema give us very different takes on the potential end of the world!

A Brave New World graces us with the story of blossoming love in the midst of a zombie outbreak in downtown Seoul. Our hero, all he wants is to go out with the pretty girl he has a thing for, not clean up the disgusting his family left behind while they all went on a second honeymoon without him. Yet, like Adam and Eve, all it takes is one rotten apple to ruin your entire existence.

The Heavenly Creature poses the audience the question, what do you do in a world where robots are commonplace, when you think one has attained enlightenment? This particular robot works in a Buddhist monastery, and when the monks think he’s managed just that, they give him a name and encourage him to pray within the monk ranks, but also they call in a company repair man. The repair guy isn’t a philosopher, and since he can’t find anything technically wrong with the robot, this leads to an invasion of the temple by the company echelon and a lot of ranting about how robots should never be allowed to obtain this state of consciousness. I didn’t understand half of the deep thoughts they were spouting, but when the robot chose to end the argument by removing himself from the equation entirely, it was very saddening. Would you want a robot who can reach Nirvana?

Happy Birthday gives us the story of a young girl who orders a new 8-ball to replace the one she broke for her billiards-obsessed father, on her UFO-obsessed Uncle’s computer, from what turns out to be an alien website. This causes an 8-ball the size of a small moon to be delivered, and everyone has to evacuate to underground shelters. Ten years later, our heroine now a young woman, has to rise from the ashes to acknowledge delivery from the alien beyond the stars.

Spotlight on Asian Horror presents Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, Romance, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by aliciamovie

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: CJ Entertainment

Director: Tae-kyeong Kim

Review Rating: 7.5

A Korean writer with a troubled past travels to Vietnam to research the local legend of Muoi, a vengeful spirit, for her second novel.

Asian Horror cinema has come a long way from almost nonexistence, and Muoi is apparently considered the first Vietnamese stab at Horror. And I personally loved this film, even including the clash of Korean and Vietnamese cultures. The traditional Vietnamese dress, called the Ao Dai, features prominently in the ghost story and the haunting of the modern would-be sleuths, and I thought that was a fine thing too. The scenery, shot mostly in Vietnam apparently, is breathtakingly beautiful and just adds to the atmosphere in this chiller of a Horror flick.

So Yun-Hee, the writer, is being pressured to come up with something fresh for her next book. Her first book, Secrets & Lies, it turns out was based on rumors and hearsay concerning friends of hers back in Korea, and she makes the mistake of portraying Seo-Yeon as the horrible antagonist. You’d think she’d know better, when Seo-Yeon offers to let Yun-Hee come stay with her in Vietnam to research the local legend of Muoi, the ghost girl and her portrait. From here, we immediately delve into the mystery of Muoi herself, and I can’t help but once again deplore the plight of a lot of Asian women and their travails in love. Muoi is a lovely Vietnamese woman who, innocently enough, has an affair with a man painting her portrait, knowing full well he’s engaged to a rich fiancé, and sure enough lets him leave when he has to. Not too long after that, the rich fiancé finds Muoi and extracts terrible vengeance on her, with a shattered ankle and a hearty dose of acid in the face. Muoi takes her own life and begins her existence as a terrible vengeful spirit, whose curse can be invoked when death calls for it.

Poor Muoi. More to the point, poor Seo-Yeon, who it turns out did not a single thing to deserve all the invective Yun-Hee heaped upon her in her book. In an almost impossible to watch scene, Seo-Yeon reveals in a flashback a rape and torture scene perpetrated by her “friends” back in Korea, the result of the too-popular guy who already had an apparently insanely jealous girlfriend. Seo-Yeon has learned her lessons, and learned them well, teaching Yun-Hee all there is to know about Muoi in godawful stages, up to the climactic scene where she demands to be killed to stop Muoi’s curse from killing them both. Far too late, does Yun-Hee remember, the curse begins with death. And that isn’t even the end of the film, or Seo-Yeon and Muoi’s own vengeance. It seems a shame that the bit-too-upright Vietnamese Bureau of Cinema vetoed a lot of what could have been very fine Horror moments, but the film nevertheless comes across as a stunning bit to watch with a very fine ghost story embroidered throughout.

Spotlight on Asian Cinema presents The Front Line

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2012 by aliciamovie

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Hun Jang

Website: The Front Line

Review Rating: 7

Set during the final years of the Korean War, a particular Hill in hotly contested territory tells the hidden story of war between the North and South.

The film is Korean, this already means it’s going to be as tragic and depressing as possible. I’ve actually lived in that country so I can tell you, the movie has all of that correct. However, strong storytelling and a surprising sense of empathy, for both the story inside the film and the audience having to experience it with them, carry off the movie in a surprisingly memorable way. You’re not just left going, oh that’s so sad.

So it is a film more or less stuck on the North and South sides of Koreaduring the war, and shows us vivid scenes from the POV of both. No one particular person or group is shown to be right, that is, the actual good guy vs. the bad guy scenario. Even the sharpshooter from what I think is the North side, the one they call Two Seconds (because you take a bullet and hear the crack of the gun two seconds after that), who actually happens to be a girl. I’m not entirely sure on the accuracy of that, given the rather male-dominated society of Korea, but hey, maybe they saw it like Israel does – use whatever advantage in war you have. So there’s this particular hill out there on the hotly contested border between North and South, and even while peace negotiations are supposedly being debated, the Hill is still a point of contention and both armies want it. That damn Hill has been taken and retaken by both sides for so long, matter of fact, that certain companies of the North and South armies have started this odd little tradition – in a bunker under the Hill, they leave things for eachother buried in the floor – photos, letters home, alcohol if you’ve got it, matches, smokes, even pranks. In the beginning this leads to the happiest moments of the movie – hey, I’m alive, they enemy hasn’t gotten me yet, and here, they left me some matches so I can have a smoke. Cool. Unfortunately it’s those same few celebratory moments that hurt the worst towards the end, when peace has finally finally been declared after three long years of nothing but endless fighting, that make the final battle for the ownership of that damned Hill that much worse. When you now know your enemies name and have shared a drink with him, at least in spirit if not in deed, seeing a Hill literally mounded of his dead is just the worst.

Not necessarily my kind of movie, The Front Line is nevertheless a truly handsome bit of storytelling cinema, and I will tip my hat to the filmmakers, for being able to make such a powerful story without flinching, if nothing else.

 

Spotlight on Asian Cinema presents The Showdown

Posted in Action, drama, Foreign, Historical, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by aliciamovie

 

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Park Hoon-Jeong-I

Format: Korean

Review Rating: 7 Betrayals

After going to war with China, three Korean men, survivors of a bloody last battle, hole up in an abandoned Inn and at last turn on eachother in the final showdown.

The fight scenes are just fine and so is the acting, but you really need to be a fan of, or at least have an understanding of, Korean culture and the class lines that separate them worse than a lot of Japanese culturisms. The two main characters, I called them the Noble and the Commoner, are constantly at eachothers throats – in the beginning in order to survive the aftermath of battle and a snowstorm, but soon succumb to class line tensions that lead them to practically kill eachother before the Chinese ever get a chance to. And the third guy, I called him Farmer (or Deserter), switches allegiances fast enough to make my head spin sure, but the movie also supplied him with some manner of understood reasoning and empathy, when they present scenes where the Farmer is hauled away for failing to pay over-taxes to a Lord. His circumstances don’t cancel out his bad behavior at the Inn though.

So there was a big ole battle out there in the snowstorm, that Noble and Commoner and Farmer all lost one way or another, and they have to make their way through hardship and hunting to this abandoned Inn. There the tension reaches the breaking point, as the long sordid history between Noble and Commoner is revealed. Noble appears to come off as a brat, laden down with jewelry and a devil-may-care attitude, blithely unaware of his privileges or his friends envy of them. And Commoner is working, so very very diligently, at becoming the best bought Nobleman he can be. But the fact that he had to buy and earn his way into the nobility, means he’s forever stuck there and stigmatized by it. And when he’s ordered, by his clan Lord no less, to sacrifice Noble for the clans ambitions, he does it. Doesn’t mean his heart likes it of course.

It is a Korean movie, so the acting is very…fraught and tense, huge emotions bottled into short bursts of rage and tears, and of course, there is no happy ending for anyone. The martial arts are as always astounding, though I would have liked more kicking of enemy assets, not eachothers. Beautifully shot and masterfully told, The Showdown gets a rating of 7 Betrayals.

Spotlight on Asian Horror presents — Three Extremes

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by aliciamovie

Spotlight on Asian Horror presents —

Three Extremes

 

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Lions Gate Films

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Dumplings – Fruit Chan, Cut – Chan-Wook Park, Box – Takashi Miite

Review Rating: 9 Screams

A trio of sick and dark stories, done in an Asian flavor and style with Asian actors, to enhance any Halloween!

Story A – Dumplings

A former actress who finds herself without her husband’s desire, takes desperate measures to win back her youth and power, by going to one of those neighborhood Ama’s and eating her dumplings, which happen to contain a very sinister ingredient.

Please bear in mind, this movie is called Three Extremes for a reason. I won’t reveal the secret ingredient here, but it’s a sure bet that it will sicken both American and Asian audiences alike. And what the actress does at the end of the story is even worse, in my opinion, which is what makes Dumplings an amazingly atrocious story to start off with.

Story B – Cut

An embittered extra breaks into the house of a very successful movie director, and forces the director through all sorts of sick games and scenarios, on the threat that if he doesn’t, his wife, a famous pianist, will have her fingers chopped off one by one.

It occurs to me that these stories are kind of painting a portrait of the Deadly Sins, or at least commonly acknowledged sins of humanity. This one is a lot more zany, the extra flits from screaming fits to laughing jags, from demonstrations of his awesome performances to the director, to shrieking threats and blood flying. And the reactions of the pianist wife make it just that much harder to bear.

Story C – Box

The story of a young woman traumatized by horrific nightmares of being buried in a box in the snow, and in trying to confront these visions, comes to memory of the death of her sister and her father.

This one is the hardest to understand, most of it is done is a dreamlike sequence that’s broken and jagged but lovely to look at it, and the actors don’t say a thing, a lot of it is just implied. We have two young female contortionists working in a circus with their tyrant of a father, it’s only implied that he has an improper relationship with both his daughters and that’s why one of them is killed and the other one is haunted. Again, there are truly sick elements to this story, but not many.

Like I said, this movie lives up to it’s name. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of, or even understand, Asian culturisms in order to appreciate the film, which is nice. It bears note that famed Takashi Miite directed the third story, too. Three Extremes explores the black boundaries of what we humans do, as far as horror-shows go, to eachother, without needing to resort to ghosts or demons. The fact that all of these stories are at least possible is what makes it truly extreme. Three Extremes gets a rating of 9 Screams!

Check out the trailer!