The Truth Beneath (Bi-mil-eun eobs-da)


Being a power couple isn’t always enough.

(2016) Thriller (CJ Entertainment) Ye-jin Son, Ju-hyuk Kim, Yu-hwa Choi, Cheol-woo Han, Eui-sung Kim, Gin-goo Kim, Min-jae Kim, So-hee Kim, Sang-hee Lee, Gene Woo Park, Ji-Hoon Shin. Directed by Kyoug-mi Lee

There aren’t many things worse than a missing child. Your mind is filled with the worst possible case scenario but at the same time you are holding out hope that said child will return home safe and sound. It’s the not knowing that drives us crazy.

Jong-chan (J-h Kim) is a former news anchor running for the Korean national assembly against entrenched politician No Jae-soon (E-s Kim). His wife Yeon-hong (Son) is the perfect political wife; beautiful, loyal, elegant and erudite. On the first day of their campaign however their mercurial teenage daughter Min-jin (Shin) disappears. At first nobody seems to be all that worried; even though Min-jin is an honors student and by all accounts a good girl, she wasn’t always that way.

Yeon-hong is frantic, particularly when her husband’s campaign managers and the police seem unfazed by the girl’s absence. No is making hay on the incident as Jong-chan is running on a family values platform with the ironic catchphrase “Protecting your children.” No shows no shame in pointing out that Jong-chan is having problems protecting his own.

The more that Yeon-hong looks into her daughter’s disappearance, the more troubled she gets. It turns out that Min-jin was a much different girl than her mother believed. She was being bullied at school and had taken up with a kind of pop punk girls band (the music for whom isn’t half bad). She was best friends with Choi Mi-ok (S-h Kim) who seems unnaturally possessive towards her friend. The more Yeon-hong finds out, the more convinced she becomes that the trail to her daughter’s disappearance leads to a shadowy link between her school and her father’s campaign.

This starts out as a political thriller but as the investigation of Yeon-hong continues it becomes more of a standard potboiler. That’s not to say that this isn’t head and shoulders over most of the ilk – there is a lot here to like, chief among them the performance of Son which would be getting her all kinds of notice were this film made in Hollywood.

For those who like acclaimed director Park Chan-woo, Lee is a disciple of the Korean filmmaker and in fact got Chan-woo to co-write the script. There is much of his influence on the film overall, from some of the more taboo elements of the plot (which I won’t reveal here) to the labyrinthine plot that twists and turns through a maze of characters, red herrings and half-glimpsed clues.

Lee has an excellent visual sense which he exercises a little too freely perhaps. There is a surfeit of flashbacks and special effects shots (raindrops frozen in mid-air for example, an Asian staple) to the point where it can be difficult to keep up with the plot. Eventually the audience is left feeling that they don’t have a clue what’s going on which is to say that few of the characters in the film have either.

Still despite the occasional forays into “look ma, I’m directing” territory, the movie is a solid thriller that will keep the viewer guessing while making some occasionally dazzling sequences that will either throw you for a loop or leave you breathless. Korean cinema is an equal to its counterparts in Japan and China although most true cinema buffs already know that. It’s time the world in general discovered that too.

REASONS TO GO: The film starts off a little choppy but ends up pulling together nicely. There is an eerie feeling here that isn’t supernatural. Son gives an exemplary performance.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie starts off as a political thriller but eventually morphs into a generic thriller. The flashback-heavy plot is occasionally hard to follow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead actors Son and J-h Kim both previously starred together in the 2008 comedy My Wife Got Married.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Ides of March
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)


In every life a little rain must fall.

In every life a little rain must fall.

(2016) Drama (Magnolia) Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, So-ri Moon, Hae-suk Kim. Directed by Park Chan-wook

 

What a tangled web we weave, so the saying goes, when we set out to deceive. Deception can take many forms from little white lies to complete fabrications. We can invent ourselves as someone who we are not; we may have the best of intentions or the worst when we assume a different persona. At the end of the day, however, we end up unable to escape the person we actually are.

Sookee (T-r. Kim) is a pickpocket and petty thief in the Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1930s. She is part of a criminal gang led by the self-stylized Count Fujiwara (Ha), a con man from humble birth. He has managed to set up Sookee in the position of a handmaiden to a noble Japanese lady living on an extensive estate far from anywhere in the mountain woods of Korea. The Count has designs on the lady to marry her and then have her declared insane so he can inherit her considerable wealth.

Lady Hideko (M-h. Kim) is a virtual prisoner on her estate. Her cruel Uncle Kouzuki (Jo) is a pervert who gets his rocks by having her dress up as a noble Japanese woman of ancient times and reading pornography to he and a group of like-minded friends. Kouzuki intends to wed Hideko soon in order to inherit her considerable wealth as he has none of his own.

Sookee has one job; to convince her new employer that the affections of the Count are genuine and that she would do well to marry him. However, Sookee has a revelation that changes everything and suddenly the players in this very dangerous game reveal that none of them are exactly who they are perhaps perceived to be.

Park, director of the notorious Oldboy, has a thing about pushing boundaries and he shoves quite a few here, although only relatively. He based this loosely on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, transplanting the action from Victorian England to occupation-era Korea. This adds the element of cultural clash to the story, one which is not only welcome but incredibly intriguing.

Park has a terrific visual sense and the cinematography here is downright gorgeous, from the lacquered interiors of Hideko’s strange mansion – constructed by an Anglophile, it has an English main house with a very Japanese wing added on – to the rain and moon shrouded forests of the estate. It is a visually lyrical film, dancing to a beautiful soundtrack by Yeong-wook Jo. I thought the soundtrack elevated the film, although parts were cribbed from The Thin Red Line which is a war movie of a different sort.

Here the war is of sexual tensions and there is plenty of it between the three main characters. The movie is told in three parts; the first and longest is Sookee’s point of view, the second that of Hideko and the third a kind of epilogue. In fact, the movie feels a little bit long but that might be that the first chapter is almost a film in and of itself and the second two chapters are almost added on in feel when you’re watching it but once the film is over you realize the story couldn’t be told any other way and the whole thing makes sense, but you may end up checking your watch a little.

If you do, it won’t be because of the performances of the three main leads. Both of the Kims and Ha generate an enormous amount of heat between them in a strange sort of love triangle; Jo gets to play a Snidely Whiplash-sort of character with an ink-stained tongue and a pervert’s glee in all things sexual. The story takes a number of turns and what really makes it work is that the performances of all of the actors is consistent throughout the varied plot changes and all of the performances make sense.

This is a movie with a good deal of texture; not just in the lush gardens of the estate or the richly decorated interiors but also in the sense that the movie is deeply sensual not just in a prurient way but also in a beautifully sensual way – quite artistic in the use of the naked female body. Some who are easily offended by sexuality will find this abhorrent but I must say that if sex can be art, this is an example of that. The book, which I have not read, utilizes narration from the three main characters; Park delivers that in a masterful way that simply reinforces that he is one of the world’s most exciting and pre-eminent directors. At this point, he is a director I’d go out of my way to view his film. There aren’t a lot of directors I’d say that for.

In many ways this is a beautiful movie and in many ways this is an ugly movie. The two often co-exist side by side in real life as well. One can’t have one without the other, after all. You may well find this a beautiful film to look at, and it is. You may well find this an ugly movie to consider, and it is. It is at the nexus of the two that we often find great art, and it is.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful cinematography and shot construction throughout the film. The musical score is just amazing. The performances among the three leads are strong throughout. The film is quite textured.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s just a little bit too long, or at least I perceived it to be.
FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of graphic sex and nudity as well as some profanity (much of it sexually oriented), rape and some graphic violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Because two different languages (Korean and Japanese) are spoken in the film, the subtitles are in White (Korean) and Yellow (Japanese) so that English-speaking
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/9/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dangerous Liaisons
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The Siege of Jadotville

New Releases for the Week of September 11, 2009


 

Peek-a-boo!!

Peek-a-boo!!

9

(Focus) Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover. Directed by Shane Acker

Humankind is extinct, wiped out by machines of their own making. If you thought that’s the next Terminator film, you’d be wrong. That’s how this feature animation begins, which is based on an animated short that was a critical hit on the festival circuit a few years back (Da Queen and I caught it at the Florida Film Festival and can testify that it is one of the finest animated shorts we’ve ever seen, completely creative and imaginative). Nine ragdoll creations, given the breath of life by a human genius, are all that remains of Homo sapiens. They must find a way to survive against the marauding machines, bent on their destruction. Discovering a way to beat the machines is the key to the survival of civilization.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and scary images)

My One and Only

(Freestyle) Renee Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth. Ann Devereaux leaves her philandering husband in search of a new mate more worthy of her, with her teenage sons in tow. However, wealthy men who are loving and loyal are in short supply in 1953 and her feminine charms have lost a bit of luster since she was last single two decades prior. As a parade of suitors come and go, the boys go through a series of increasingly less glamorous living arrangements the three come to rely on each other more than they ever thought they could and Ann provides them with a different future than they could ever have imagined.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)

Sorority Row

(Summit) Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung. When a prank goes horribly wrong, five sorority sisters agree to keep the inadvertent death of a sister hidden. Unfortunately, an unseen, homicidal monster seems to know all their hidden secrets and is picking off the sorority girls one by bloody one. Following a recent trend, this is a remake of an Eighties horror film, The House on Sorority Row.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and partying)

Thirst

(Focus) Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Kim Ok-bi, Kim Hae-sook. From the director of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance comes this sensual, ultra-violent vampire film. When a priest receives a transfusion with tainted blood, he is forced to exist in the half-life of a vampire. When the wife of a friend comes to him begging to help her escape from her life, he enters a carnal world of desire and sensation that is at odds with his long-held faith, creating a war within himself that can only end in tragedy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige, Adam Rodriguez. When Madea, the pistol-packing grandma from previous Tyler Perry films catches three young kids robbing her home, she packs them off to live with their only relative April, who wants nothing to do with them. She’s a self-centered nightclub singer who sponges off her married boyfriend and lives for her own immediate gratification, until a Mexican immigrant enters her life and shows her that true love may be possible, but only if she can give up her selfish ways. Can she choose love over material things?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking)

Whiteout

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short. The lone U.S. Marshall assigned to Antarctica is confronted by the first murder on the frozen continent. She is drawn into a mystery that she must solve before winter sets in and strands her in the darkness with the killer. Based on the Oni Press graphic novel.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity)