Canary (Kanaria) [2005] • Japan

Another film by Akihiko Shiota, director of Harmful Insect. It had some moments but nothing special for me. I'm not sure what to think of Shiota at this point. I appreciate what he is trying to explore: disaffected, abused and neglected youth and all that, but I'm not convinced he's good at it yet. Harmful Insect would have been a lot less interesting without Aoi Miyazaki. I think Mitsuki Tanimura does a good job in Canary, Hoshi Ishida not so much but his character was the brooding, doesn't-say-much type, which is difficult for a teenager to pull off (unless you're Aoi Miyazaki).

I confess that many of the cultural pointers were lost on me ... so there's that, I mean, if they were supposed to be specific. Cultural historians and professional film critics (and Japanese folks) might enjoy this film more than I did. I liked the vibe, not sure about the story.


A Blind River (Kwihyang) [2009] • South Korea

Everything about this film is perfect ... except that it doesn't lend itself to slick and easy summation. It's beautifully shot, powerfully acted, skillfully directed, and the soundtrack, while used very sparingly, when called upon to augment the emotion of a scene, is executed with flair.

OK. That's some hyperbolic praise. This film blew me away. The funny thing is, though, I'm not sure I really got it, or got all of it. In a nutshell the film is about a thirty years young Korean man in search of his biological mother. With extras.

This film touches on many of the related topics of child abandonment, identity, adoption, loss, and being young and pregnant and alone (not to mention some very pointed exposition on Korean nurseries and clinics) in very powerful ways but it's not a message film nor an after-school special level catharsis. It's way weirder, and more literary, and much more poetic. The film is more like a visual narrative than a story. The second act is pretty much a riff on Albert Camus' Le Malentendu. And what a second act it is. It reaches Shakespearean levels of emotional intensity that are downright scary, getting jiggy with some twisted Oedipal sidewinder concoction. I wouldn't call this an art-house film, though. It doesn't come off as pretentious or intentionally vague even though parts of it might seem random and inexplicable.

So what is it I didn't get? The film opens abruptly with a scene, likely to cause you to recoil in your seat, of young girl in somewhat primitive circumstances having an abortion. It's not explicit, more fly-on-the-wall view, but it's potent. And I think it's an abortion. Could be she is going to deliver the baby and sell it. Given the stage of her pregnancy the latter is more likely, and the film seems to want to ask if there is a difference. [UPDATE: upon a second viewing, it's clearly option #2, but I'm leaving my error because I'm in favor of letting this represent my initial reaction] Either way, she is in full traumatized mode. The confusing part is that this girl continues to appear in the film, pregnant, with ambiguous results in a parallel storyline. I'm not sure if she is to represent the boy's mother or simply another scenario. I'm not sure at what level this film plays with time, reality, representation, or dreams but only my left brain wants to know. There's nothing frustrating or loose-endy about it if you just let it be.

After the first scene the film settles into more standard drama for a bit, with a little cultural essaying and identity politics as it introduces us to the young man who will be our protagonist. He is with his girlfriend who wants to support him but also proposes to him and suggests it might be better if the two of them start their own family instead. The young man says he's not ready for that and abandons her to go find his mother.

The young man was raised in Australia and speaks English. His Korean is broken at best and this adds to the difficult dreamlike second act when he returns to Korea and ends up at a broken down hotel run by two widows, one of whom may or may not be his mother. I'm not even going to begin to try and dissect the second act. Suffice to say, the ambiguity of this film is precise and remarkable. As is the performance of Park Ji-a as the younger of the two women inn-keepers.

Park Ji-a, apparently going by simply ZIA now, is the only person associated with this film that I know anything about. She's been in a few Kim ki-duk films, most notably the lead in Breath (Soom), and I've always liked her peculiar beauty and thin but extremely muscular frame. It's not surprising to see her here as she has always seemed at home in Kim's dreamy structures. A Kim ki-duk directorial comparison is apt here but I can't tell you a thing about the person who directed this movie, Ahn Seon-kyeong.

Park Sang-hun is very good as the young Korean man, and I guess I do know about Park Ji-Yeon who plays his girlfriend. Her role is minimal but she does a fine job. I'm not sure who plays the young pregnant girl (Kim Ye-ri?) but her performance is amazing. She practically steals the show and you will feel very strongly for her.

Things wrap up with a mildly melodramatic resolve but I didn't really care one way or the other about it. The film had to stop at some point. I can't imagine that even if you hate the ending that it would spoil the preceding journey. This is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in good and/or powerful film making. It's not about the story or the message. It's about the colors and the brush strokes. And the meter.


49 great films from the Oughts (the first decade of this century)

Just for kicks.

[Rec] (2007)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Adrift in Tokyo (2007) aka Tenten
Antichrist (2009)
The Aura (2005) aka El Aura
Babel (2006)
Battle Royale (2000) aka Batoru rowaiaru
Blind Mountain (2007) aka Mang shan
City of God (2002) aka Cidade de Deus
The Equation of Love and Death (2008) aka Li mi de cai xiang
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Eureka (2000) aka Yurîka
Green Tea (2003) aka Lü cha
Hero (2002) aka Ying xiong
Himalaya With Michael Palin (2004)
In The Mood For Love (2000) aka Fa yeung nin wa
Irreversible (2002)
The Isle (2000) aka Seom
Joint Security Area (2000) aka Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok
Let the Right One In (2008) aka Låt den rätte komma in
Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost Indulgence (2008) aka Mi guo
Love Exposure (2008) aka Ai no mukidashi
M (2007)
Memento (2000)
Memories of Murder (2003) aka Salinui chueok
A Moment to Remember (2004) aka Nae meorisokui jiwoogae
Mother (2009) aka Madeo
Next Door (2005) aka Naboer
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Noriko's Dinner Table (2005) aka Noriko no shokutaku
Oasis (2002)
One Fine Spring Day (2001) aka Bomnaleun ganda
Planet Earth (2006)
Queenadreena: Live (2006)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Secret Sunshine (2007) aka Milyang
Sideways (2004)
Snatch (2000)
Spider Forest (2004) aka Geomi sup
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Strawberry Shortcakes (2006)
Suicide Club (2002) aka Jisatsu saakuru
Summer Palace (2006) aka Yihe yuan
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
This Charming Girl (2004) aka Yeoja, Jeong-hye
The Unknown Woman (2006) aka La Sconosciuta
Visitor Q (2001) aka Bijitâ Q
What Time Is It There? (2001) aka Ni na bian ji dian

Bounce Ko Gals (Baunsu ko gaurusu) [1997] (aka Leaving) • Japan

This movie was a great big surprise. A film about the world of compensated dating in Japan, made in Japan, could easily be exploitatively cheap or cheaply titillating, but Bounce Ko Gals is neither, and much to many people's chagrin, considering its subject matter, it turns out to be a sweet, sort of melodramatic film about friendship. There is no sex or nudity in the film but it is pretty insightful and blunt about such things. It's not a kids film by any means and as much as some adults might like to think its subject matter inappropriate for teens, it's pretty spot on in its portrayal of youth culture, particularly that of contemporary Tokyo.

The three teenage girls who play the leads are fantastic—all feature film debut performances. Hitomi Satô, as the tough and cynical one, owns the film every moment she's on screen. She's a leader who blasts her clients with a stun gun and robs them instead of sleeping with them. She banks on the fact that no one will ever report to the police they were robbed by an underage, would-be prostitute. Yasue Satô (no relation) is the free spirit, setting up “dates” for high school friends but never going on them herself. She street dances and suffers from "straight-line-itis", becoming nauseous if she ever finds herself walking a straight line in life, literally or figuratively. It's a hilarious schtick. And finally, Yukiko Okamoto plays the innocent one who stumbles into the world of ko girls because of a dire need to finance her education in America. She assists the film in a half-hearted attempt at finding a moral center and eventually brings things to a touching resolve.

The great Kôji Yakusho joins the three girls in the film and offers some old school perspective, adding color to the film's main theme. He plays a veteran sex trade yakusa boss who sees the teenage girls as a threat to his business but he can't help admiring their resourcefulness so a tenuous friendship ensues. He threatens the girls, because his position demands it, but he also assists them when they target the wrong people and get into trouble.

Bounce Ko Gals is a hip, fun, frank, and furious look at the, some would say uniquely Japanese, phenomenon of teenage girls who have discovered their sexual power and find very little reason not to use it even though the endgame of designer handbags and other assorted accessories might seem superficial—not to mention mind-boggling to those of a more mature bent. A straightforward approach to this subject matter results from the director's documentary style of filming, and it's got a great soundtrack. Highly recommended.


Loft [2008] • Belgium

Most of the tension in this film is created by trying to keep the clichéd plot points fresh as they unravel and inevitably teeter on the edge of going over the top. It's done pretty well and it looks good. It's got a little Michael Mann steely look. The set design is minimal and trés modern, the cinematography mostly dark with touches of yellow and gray filters, the soundtrack nudges you along with obvious clues.

Five guys share a loft where they carry on their respective, perhaps, secret sexual affairs. Some are more committed to this scenario than others and all seems to be well until they discover a dead and very bloody girl in the bed. Who killed her, and why? Fingers start pointing and emotions run high. The story is presented through flashbacks and multiple interrogations so one is easily lead astray only to learn there's another side to the story as another deep dark secret is revealed. As soon as you think it's ho-hum, another shoe drops. The screenwriter must live in a Loft with a very big closet. The goodness of the twist factor here is achieved more through quantity than quality. This is not only a whodunit but a whodun-what. It just keeps going and going. It's formula stuff taken to the extreme.


City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!) [2009] • China, Hong Kong

Maybe the color palette confines itself to a too small range of gray but it is effective. Maybe a few scenes are overly dramatized for effect but I can hardly imagine anything comparing to the real events that transpired. This isn't a documentary and it's not a perfect film but it is an incredibly moving one. There was a bit of an uproar in China over this film, claiming it did not demonize the Japanese enough. A member of the Politburo intervened on behalf of the film to keep it in theaters. There's that to chew on. I honestly can't separate recommending the film from recommending being aware of this ugly bit of history. You could just read a wikipedia entry on the Rape of Nanjing but you could also just watch Dr. Phil or Oprah instead of ever going to the movies. It's like that.


Oto-na-ri [2009] • Japan

This is worth a rental to watch with someone just to discuss the ending. It's one of those "Love was right under your nose the whole time" stories that doesn't have a lot of gas in the tank but it finds a reasonable parking place at the end, an ending which is at first frustrating, then appealing. Then it's back and forth in your mind leaving you unsure if it's a cop out or something inspired. I found it to be acceptable and ultimately enjoyed its resolve, with all its implied storyline.

Oto-na-ri is about two lonely souls, early thirties and, of course, attractive but somehow alone in life. They live next door to one another in an apartment building with paper thin walls and take in elements of each other's life through the sounds and conversations each of them produce. But they never see each other. It's clear that the movie is about these two people but it's not real clear it's going to be about them getting together (or not).

Kumiko Aso plays the girl. She works in a flower shop and is studying to become a professional florist. She will be leaving for France in the very near future—so throw in a "Time is of the essence" plot line for tension. Junichi Okada plays the boy, a professional photographer who may or may not be leaving for Canada in the very near future to take landscape pictures. They are two artistic souls, as characters, to lend a little of the poetic to the proceedings but they're not overly emo.

It's a standard formula to follow the lives of two separate yet somehow implicitly connected people and make us feel that if these two folks would just meet they'd fall in love and all would be well in the world. I wasn't particularly intrigued with either of the two individual stories, a fault of a not very mature script, but I did like the characters, probably because Kumiko Aso is a wonderful and skilled actress who doesn't have a bad moment in the film, and Junichi Okada, a matriculated boy band idol, isn't bad either.

The direction isn't very inspiring, though. There were a number of edits where a scene would just stop and stumble into the next one, and while the film overall seems littered with good intentions it is clearly not the work of a master craftsman. Oto-na-ri riffs on the theme of sound without sight and in one of the films weaker scenes, involving one of the side characters in Aso's singular life, the theme is explicitly spelled out for us in case we didn't get it—a case where the director loses confidence in the old adage of "Show us, don't tell us".

All in all, while it's got a number of less than inspired elements, Oto-na-ri  is a pleasant experience made worthwhile by Kumiko Aso's performance and an ending that will most likely prompt you to groan out loud or applaud it's effort. I liked it.

A Perfect Getaway [2009] • USA

Some day Timothy Olyphant will land a role in a good movie and the world will ask "Where has this guy been hiding?"

I don't enjoy writing negative reviews and generally reserve the endeavor for films that feel insulting rather than simply failing to excite. Generally these are either art-house films which are too arty or selfish for their own good, or more mainstream films that use standard formulas as if we've never seen them before. A Perfect Getaway falls in the latter category.

I'm going to get spoilery here because there is no way to talk about why I didn't like this film without telling what happens, how it gets there. I will also add that I went into this film knowing nothing about it except for the title which does give some notion of the genre it is aiming for.

In a nutshell we have three couples in this film, one of them a murderous one. The first couple is Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich. They are presented, very clearly, as nerdy, naive, and wimpy. They embark on their honeymoon to some far off and secluded place in Hawaii. They hear about another newlywed couple that was murdered by another couple and so we are all set to weather the storm of how they will getaway from being murdered. The second couple is presented very early on, and very stereotypically, as most likely the killers. Right here we have the first insult. This couple, couple number 2, is insinuated into the plot in a lame attempt to take your eye off the ball. It's cheap. We know right away they are not going to turn out to be the killers, and yet we also know we are still going to have to sit through a handful of phony attempts to convince us that maybe we are wrong about that obvious conclusion.

The third couple is Timothy Olyphant. He's got a girlfriend but he is the only one important to the character development of the couple. He is mysterious. He has a badass history, carries a knife, kills an animal, and has a steel plate in his head. But he is also a nice, thoughtful guy. It's the back and forth of his mysterious goodness and badness that creates the only interesting tension in this film. And since Olyphant is a good actor his character makes for the only enjoyable aspect of the film—besides some beautiful photography of Hawaii.

To cut a long story short, it turns out that the first couple are the killers (or the first couple is the killer couple). It's a big twist! But it's completely unfeasible. So unfeasible that the film spends thirty minutes of inexplicably black and white night visioned flashback recreations to try and make the case anyway. I immediately called bullshit, stopped caring at all, and just wanted the film to be over because nothing about it mattered any more. Twists should be over with quickly. If a film has to spend an inordinate amount of time defending a twist, it's not a very good twist. I felt completely disrespected by the script. Insulted. Thrillers with twists are supposed to be somewhat mysterious throughout. This one deliberately misleads its audience in a patronizing manner, and only attempts such nonsense because it thinks its audience is gullible and stupid. Well ... right back at ya, Perfect. Getaway from me.

All About Women (Neui yan fau pui) [2008] • China

The main thread in this visual shenanigan belongs to the always lovely Zhou Xun. She's a frigid geeky scientist who invents a love potion, essentially extracting pheromones and then wearing them like a smoker's patch. The patches get tossed around among the three ladies and/or the objects of their desire. Kwai Lunmei is great as a punk rocker who eventually meets her imaginary boyfriend, and a pleasant surprise is Kitty Zhang Yuqi (from CJ7) who plays a high powered sexuality exuding executive who wants to market the patches. This is a goofy film full of sight gags, not to be taken seriously. An average film, flawed, but worth wasting time on just to watch three lovely ladies having fun.


A Stranger of Mine (Unmei janai hito) [2005] • Japan

This is one of those films that uses the device of repeating scenes from different perspectives to embellish a simple story and it does it in spectacular fashion. There are a couple lonely hearts, a couple con artists, and a very well-mannered Yakusa boss who all intermingle over the course of one evening and a suitcase full of money. The scene where the Yakusa boss hiding under a bed sees only the shy dance of feet of the initial interaction between the two lonely hearts we had seen earlier from a different perspective is hilarious and sweet. Everything is handled in a lighthearted and charming manner. The film is chuckle friendly all the way through and the whole cast is perfect. Very highly recommended.


Cobalt Blue (Gunjô: Ai ga shizunda umi no iro) [2009] • Japan

There is Pop and Alternative; there's Mainstream and Art-house. A third wheel to each of those pairings might be New Age. That's what this film is: new age.

I liked the poster. I like Blue. And I liked the blurb I read somewhere:
a young woman ... is overwhelmed by despair and depression after her fiance’s sudden death. The film follows her touching emotional journey, revealing how her first love came to be and how she copes with the shocking loss.
But yikes! This film is bad. It seems more like a shot at giving some J-idols and starlets a chance at big screen time with integrity but just because they don't have to act stupid doesn't mean they act well. Maybe they do act well but the film is so overwrought with phony angst that it's hard to tell. The music, and there is lots of it, is boring new age dreck, and I don't mean just the soundtrack. There are several full on scenes of someone tinkling on the piano for endless minutes of boredom. The direction is of the style that lulls you to sleep by trying to force a pace of real life. In real life hours go by and nothing happens but I don't want to see a movie of that. If I see someone get into their car and drive off down a really long rode at 5 miles per hour it means I can watch them for a very long time but I don't think it makes for whoop dee doo cinéma verité. This is the John Tesh of movies. Stay away. Sadness in movies isn't compelling unless there is cruelty.

Possessed (Bulsinjiok) Living Death • Disbelief Hell [2009] • South Korea

I kept thinking of Mother by Bong Joon-ho as I watched this movie. Not because the stories are the same, although one could conjure up a few loose similarities, but because of the mature tone of the direction, how masterfully well executed it is. I feel vindicated in my feeling as I have since discovered that the first time director of this film, Lee Yong-Ju, started working in the industry as assistant director for Bong, on the 2003 masterpiece Memories of Murder. Certainly some of Bong's genius and attention to detail rubbed off on Lee.

Possessed is more thriller than horror. It's got some scares and a few jolts here and there, but it's really more eerie than frightening. The story concerns a girl who returns home from college when she learns her younger sister has gone missing. She discovers her mother has become a religious fanatic who believes only prayer will bring her sister back. But back from where becomes the big question. People all around her commit suicide. There's a cult, a Shaman, and a handful of freaky people who engage in weird ceremonies with a hope for salvation or cure from disease. It's not a pedantic essay on religious belief but that is the main theme of the film and it serves to give the proceedings some depth. It also situates the film on a terrain of the supernatural which, when you make a film, gives you license to bend realities and play visual tricks from time to time. But nothing is cheap here. The intended audience isn't the summer of fear kids. It's more serious than that and it never gets close to outrageous.

The film has gone through an almost endless number of titles. It started off as Scream but as the religious elements became more important and obvious it ended up with the international English title, Possessed. My favorite was Disbelief Hell, which is the closest literal translation of the Korean Bool-sin-ji-ok ... 불신지옥 (不信地獄), the "hell of the non-believers."

Possessed is very well cast. I have the feeling that director Lee was intent on reigning in the two young girls from any tendency to play cute or mug scary for the camera. Again, nothing cheap here. Shim Eun-Kyung, a young Korean phenom known for her playful and cute roles on TV, plays the Possessed little girl and could have phoned in her performance but instead, in a role that doesn't offer a lot of screen time, is remarkably restrained. Nam Sang-Mi, a young starlet in her own right, plays her older sister and the film belongs to her. She's the character in the film who returns to her hometown to investigate all the weirdness going on and she moves through the film like it's all unfolding in front of her just like it is for the audience. She's beautiful to look at and there's a realism to her performance that is truly engaging. There is a scene, which demonstrates the abilities of both Nam and director Lee, where someone clobbers her over the head with a blunt instrument. After she's hit, we see her react, look back and make eye contact with her assailant as if she wasn't told she was going to get hit in the scene and really wants to say "what the hell was that? What are you ..." Clobber again! Her eyes project a real, confused fear, and the director's showing us those eyes makes for an awesome moment.

Although I single out the two youngsters for praise here the rest of the cast, all veterans you'd expect good performances from, deliver at equally high levels. Everything about this film is good: the acting, the thoughtful script, the cool cinematography, the eerie score, the skilled direction. I can't recommend Possessed enough, but don't go in hoping for a return to the innocent glory days of Ringu or Ju-on. This is Asian Horror 2.0. Lee Yong-Ju has taken it to another level. It's more mature in his accomplished hands and if you like Asian horror, or, better yet, if you've become bored with Asian horror, see this movie. It will renew your faith.


The Bad Lieutenant • Port of Call New Orleans [2009] • USA

Eva Mendes doesn't have much screen time. I don't know why she's on the movie poster. Wait. Yes I do. There's no use comparing this to the 1992 film called Bad Lieutenant by Abel Ferrara because it's not a remake, not the same film at all.

Herzog doesn't spend a lot of time on things, which is good, I suppose, because that way we get more Herzog. But then again, if he would have known ahead of time that he was going to get the performance from Nicolas Cage that he got he might have spent a little more time massaging the script and he might have produced a masterpiece. Instead what he gives us is a pretty good movie with a masterpiece performance from Cage. The film comes off as a series of vignettes rather than a smoothly flowing story. A lot of it is rather implausible if you stop and dissect it so maybe a series of hallucinogenic impressions was the only way to go. It's a great film but it's not a masterpiece.


Chaw [2009] • South Korea

I don't understand why funny, dumb, and unattractive always come as a package in movies. Pretty people can be funny too. And dumb. But anyway ... this little film is an entertaining ride. It's got funny, dumb, and unattractive people in it along with a giant pig that likes to dine on human beings. It's not a horror movie at all, except in concept. It's a comedy and it is quintessentially Korean. It's cast very well and everyone is earnest in their portrayal of absurdities. The cops are macho bumbling idiots and people, and the pig, fall down a lot. As with most every South Korean film the production values are great but don't go in expecting a lot of good monsterness. The film is more about the people and the community than it is about the boar. The creature alternates between a couple guys in a furry jumpsuit and medium grade CGI but it gets the job done and doesn't look cheap. Chaw doesn't take itself seriously and if you don't, you will enjoy it.


Green Tea (Lü cha) [2003] • China • Zhang Yuan

I watched this film twice. Once with Chinese subtitles that often didn't stay on the screen long enough for me to read them completely, forcing me to stop and rewind ten seconds a bunch of times—which completely busted up the impressive audio/visual meter of the film—and a second time without the subs so I could luxuriate in its sensuous overload.

Some of the films Zhang Yuan has made in the past got him officially banned from making films in China for a period of time. Green Tea is not one of those films. It will (and does) disappoint the political types who prefer a little pedantry in their perceptual preoccupations and those who fight to find a true meaning in that which doesn't have or need it and get frustrated when a loophole appears.

One of the first things you need to know about this film is that its cinematographer is Christopher Doyle, the man responsible for the look of most Wong Kar-wai films: saturated colors and extreme camera angles. You'll find them here. He was also the cinematographer on Zhang Yimou's Hero (2002), one of the most beautiful films ever made. With that in mind, you have a pretty good hint that with Green Tea you're in store for something a little different from director Zhang Yuan.

This is a beautiful film, a colorful love poem to, about, and starring, Chinese actress Zhao Wei (a.k.a. Vicki Zhao). The woman is photographed so adoringly it's almost creepy. She plays two different and distinct roles in the film: a bespectacled graduate student and a sultry piano lounge singer—so librarian fetishists and jazzy drunks alike can fantasize out loud. The funny part, though, is that we're supposed to play along with the notion that donning a pair of bookish glasses suddenly makes Zhao one of those women "who become attractive over time", ya know, ugly. Yeah, right.

Zhao's graduate student character, Fang, is a serial blind-dater, anxious to marry, unwilling or unable to rid herself of a guy who is pretty sure she will become attractive over time. She does. So much so that when the guy meets her doppleganger, Lang, in the piano lounge, a woman reputed to be 'easy', he finds himself ever more drawn to Fang—probably because she is so hard. He is sure they are the same woman but Lang denies it and they strike up a friendly relationship filled with discussions of life and love. There is mature sexual politics running throughout the film for those who can't ingest ice cream without meat but you needn't get bogged down by it. This film is so thick on the surface its depth becomes muted. Beyond the ambiguous nature of the doppleganger scenario, there is also the story Fang relates to her suitor—which runs the length of the film infusing all the characters—about a friend who reads people's fortunes in tea leaves, who may or may not actually be Fang, who witnessed her mother kill her father, and stuff like that. Fang suggests she might just be making it all up. Her suitor doesn't care because fact and fiction reveal equally, but it starts to get complicated when details of the story begin to emerge in the real life of Lang ... who may or may not be Fang.

Green Tea is a gloriously gorgeous and fun ride. It's arty and complicated, maybe a little loose. The conversations and games of cat and mouse are witty and smart but at times you may find yourself more interested in trying to peer around something which seems to be in the way of what is being photographed than in piecing together the story. Stuff like that happens in this intelligent romance.


The Case of Itaewon Homicide (Itaewon Salinsageon) Burger King Murder [2009] • South Korea

South Korea has done pretty well with films based on real life killers: Memories of Murder (masterpiece); The Chaser (very good); Missing (good good). But the streak ends with this film about a kid who was apparently randomly stabbed to death in a Burger King bathroom. It's more of a courtroom drama than any kind of investigative thriller. The casting and the acting are pretty low-rent and the direction is glaringly bad. I'm not sure there is any direction, come think of it. The camera meanders around like someone's uncle videotaping a family get together. I'm not going to declare the spoken English as poorly executed, suffice to label it unpleasant. The two boys accusing one another of the murder were "americans", one of Korean heritage the other half Spanish, adding some international intrigue. Not really. This is one of the worst films I've seen in a long time. Makes Tidal Wave (Haeundae) Tsunami seem awesome.

Pandorum [2009] • USA, Germany

I watched this movie because Ben Foster is a major talent. It's hard to recommend any of the movies he's been in but his performances have always been great. Most notable is his role in 3:10 to Yuma where he plays a cold-blooded killer like an effeminate Klaus Kinski on horseback. It's creepy and unnerving in its understatedness. He's one of those actors that scares you, like . Pandorum is another film I don't recommend except for Foster's performance. It's a bad movie but you can enjoy Foster improvising his way through it, trying to make something of the nonsense he's given to work with. He adds humor to the film by mocking his own dialog. He whispers a lot too, hoping no one will hear some of the lines he's tasked to deliver. So it is entertaining on that level. The rest of it is problematic.

The film starts with a couple guys aboard a gigantic spaceship waking from hypersleep with mild amnesia. One of them puts on a walkie-talkie headset and goes off in search of the reactor room. From that point on we're treated to dialog that consists of endless variations on the theme of "Can you hear me now?" And then the creatures show up. These creatures, reminiscent of those from The Descent (2005), can "run faster than you" and are "stronger than you know", but the humans outrun them throughout the movie, sort of like Mark Wahlberg outrunning the wind in The Happening, and they lose in some of their fights with humans. That's weird. The director uses silly camera tricks to cover up ridiculously written and choreographed scenes—and not very well. You often see characters just standing there on the sidelines, twiddling their thumbs waiting for their cue to start acting. There is, of course, a big holy shit twist at the end which segues peacefully to a happy ending, but who cares? Movie bad, Ben Foster good.


Where Have All the Flowers Gone (Na shi hua kai) [2002] • China

This is a wonderfully surreal 90 minutes spent with interesting characters involved in interesting situations, not so much story wise but in each of the set-pieces on display. It's an experimental film using it's own internal logic telling its story in non-linear fashion but it's easy to follow because it's engaging. One of the reasons Chinese independent films can be so good is that the directors of many of them, like this one, are able to employ top tier actors. Zhou Xun is one of mainland China's best contemporary actresses and Xia Yu is no slouch. He's the captain of goofy suave. The film hops around space and time, sometimes during a single conversation and one of the most remarkable features of this production is the sound design. It remains a constant through all the jumping around making it easy to hang on to the roller-coastering ride. Very well done film.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Moon [2009] • UK

I don't know if the science fiction elements of this reach any highfalutin heights (an Alien-esque greedy galaxy corporation blah blah, cloning blah blah) but the way it all plays out on the surface is a lot of fun. The film looks good in all its sparseness, no complaints there, but the real treasure of this movie is Sam Rockwell. It takes him a while to get going while the film is creating its context but as soon as his place in the world is established and he's split in two, he soars, so convincing in his random deterioration he doesn't seem like he's acting a part as much as simply putting up with the things that happen to him. The ending is a little abrupt and if you want this to be some big statement about something you may be disappointed, maybe not, but for a film with one guy in it, it's a great performance piece.


Thirst (Bakjwi) [2009] • South Korea • Park Chan-wook

We had a Thirst party and we're all sitting there silently in shock and awe for the first thirty minutes or so and then someone asks "Why is this film so annoying?" Someone else responded: "For one thing, the sound design is childish at best." What's with all the slurping sounds? Someone else offered: "If they don't kill that one guy pretty soon they better at least teach him to wipe his nose or I'm gonna puke." Well, one of those things happened but I won't spoil it by saying which one, suffice to say it had no impact.

This film has low-budget written all over it. Sure, Park spent a few bucks on a couple scenes but overall it feels cheap. And don't go suggesting that someone drive in here with the metaphor assistance team to give it some depth and all will be well because it is still unpleasant to endure. The only good part is Kim Ok-bin's lust towards her newfound lifestyle but then even that comes too late and plays itself out way too long to the point of indifference. What a let down from the director who's given us Oldboy, JSA, and I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, not to mention Song Kang-ho in the lead who is one of the best actors working in the world today.

Hurt Locker [2008] • USA

I don't understand all the love for this film. Kathryn Bigelow is a fine director and all, but the script for this is terrible. It's cliché from top to bottom. There's nothing here that isn't predictable macho nonsense. Given that it is purported to be written by someone embedded with real access to these army guys, I couldn't believe how unbelievable it all is. Team players don't turn off radio contact and do things the other players don't know about unless they're dumb movie characters. Generals don't then praise them for doing it, either. Of course butch boy befriends Iraqi boy for cheap shot at character depth and I call bullshit. This film is insufferably boring unless you get a rush from fantasy testosterone games. The narrative barely rises above the limits of a Powerpoint presentation.

★ ★

Paranormal Activity [2007] • USA

Don't fall for the stories of people walking out of this movie because it's too scary. It doesn't even pretend to be scary until at least an hour into it. Somebody's leg is being pulled. And speaking of pulled legs ... that is the only scary scene in the movie.

There are allegedly three different endings to the film. I saw the original one ... and it's not scary or satisfying at all. There's a little bit of off-screen screaming that abruptly turns into silence. OK, that can be unnerving but it's just a technique. It doesn't move the story to anywhere that matters. The ending being shown in theaters now might be better--a whole bunch more technique with a frightening image or two that is over with quickly. The original peters out to nothingness for far too long and has no meaning.

Even if we grant that either or both of the endings I didn't see kick total ass, that doesn't make it a good film. It makes it three minutes of coolness that requires ninety minutes of suffering to get to.

The guy in this film is a completely unlikeable moron. The girl is OK but I never really thought she was scared, more just annoyed by her idiotic day-trader boyfriend. I think everyone acknowledges that this film is mostly, for at least an hour, nothing but set up before anything happens, and that's too much time spent with bad actors working without a script. There's nothing subtle about it.


Eureka (Yurîka) [2000] • Japan • Shinji Aoyama

After three and a half slow paced, sepia toned hours experiencing emotional pain and anguish I still watched the credits roll. This film starts off with a man hijacking a bus and killing most everyone on it for no apparent reason. The driver and two middle school kids survive, and we spend the rest of the film watching them live with it. We watch them fall asleep watching television and other mundane matters but there is not a wasted frame in this film. There are a remarkable number of plot points to keep things moving forward but it still feels like suspended animation, like time is moving inward instead of along. Koji Yakusho is sublime and Aoi Miyazaki, at like twelve years old--and without saying a word for nearly the entire runtime--is mesmerizing. This film is a masterpiece, a journey exploring the myriad layers of trauma, of metaphorical death, and what three people endure on a path to renewal and emergence from a world of silent suffering. It will take your breath away.


Letter from an Unknown Woman (Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin) [2004] • China • Xu Jinglei

Xu Jinglei, may I have some more, please? This film really excites me about Xu Jinglei. The directorial hand is very mature and accomplished. The film has a great period look and feel to it. The cinematography by Lee Pin Bing is gorgeous and I’m sure that helped. The acting is all quite good. Strange, then, to have to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the movie. Again, as with Xu's directorial debut, My Father and I, it's the story that let me down. I know it's an old story, one I haven't read nor seen any previous adaptations of, but I think I can say that while it might look good on paper, in outline form, it doesn't fare very well in this particular presentation.

There may be some cultural nuances that were lost on me, and I do have to say that the subtitles that came with the film were really, really bad. The character development didn't seem secure enough for me to accept the first disappearance of the writer after the initial affair. Frankly, it shocked me. I went along with it for the sake of the story, but it left me twitching a little. Then when they meet again and the writer doesn't recognize the woman, I lost it. I can accept not recognizing someone with a different hairdo eight years later passing them on the street but once you've gotten to the naughty bits, I don't buy it. I imagine this is all nit-picky to a story about the sadness of an extremely one-sided love affair, but I wanted something to assure me that this one-sided love was warranted and I didn't get it.

I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good love story. It's a beautiful film, and if you're not a lion in the tall grass, stalking, just waiting to pounce, like me, when you think that Xu Jinglei has failed in her exposition, the story is probably pretty good too. Stories for movies often come from outside sources but it ultimately falls on the director to tell the story in a convincing manner. Xu Jinglei, I'm officially a fanboy. Get to work.


Brass Knuckle Boys (Shonen merikensakku) The Shonen Merikensack [2008] • Japan

I'll watch anything with Aoi Miyazaki in it but it was extremely tough this time. She's fabulous, of course, and the film starts off with a refreshingly bizarre sense of humor, but it quickly devolves into toilet humor. Miyazaki plays a record company office worker who discovers a punk rock band on the Internet, thinks they are the next big thing, and decides to represent them on behalf of her company. What she doesn't know, at first, is that the band's web site and videos are 25 years old, so she must follow through promoting a group of middle-aged punk rockers because contracts have been signed and jobs are on the line. I can't imagine who this movie is aimed at. Young people (who are into punk) will recognize it as fake and older people (who may have been punks) will too. Brass Knuckle Boys confuses punk with childishness and fails to create characters that anyone will care about. For every quick and funny moment that works, and there's a bunch of them, there's umpteen that don't. And the sibling rivalry family drama subplot is painfully uninteresting. I'm a huge Aoi Miyazaki fan but a two hour fart joke is a bad vehicle for her.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi) [2008] • Japan • Sono Sion

Director Sono Sion is a also a street poet and musician. There is a guerilla-art quality to this film. One gets the impression it's being made up on the spot, while you are watching it, yet there isn't the slightest hint of improvisation, and the film betrays an intricate construction. Contradictions abound. There's a mature adolescence in heady ideas about original sin and up-skirt, "peek-a-panty" photography. I hesitate to call this a weird film because it's not, even though I smiled through most of it thinking This can't be serious. I was amazed by the entire cast's chameleon like ability to move convincingly among different levels of sanity. Everyone in the film is so earnestly bizarre. If you like Sono's work you will not be disappointed by this. If you haven't seen anything by him, why not start with a four hour movie? The music is great.



Ritual (Shiki-Jitsu) [2000] • Japan

One thing is for sure, this film has some of the most gloriously thought out and constructed set designs ever. A lot of the film takes place in the young girl's "apartment" which is about the size of an average K-Mart. Each room is like a different department but it doesn't seem strange once you give in to the world Hideaki Anno has created. Anno comes from years working in Anime so his visual imagination works on a different level than most. Why not have the girl sleep in a bathtub in a big empty basement that's constantly and willfully flooded?

This is a beautiful film with lots of stunning photography. When the couple are outside they're usually hanging out on or near railroad tracks, creating all kinds of wonderful lines and framing. The cinematography may not be something that grabs you but the composition of shots will.

On the downside, the story is standard "crazy free-spirited girl captivates man" stuff with a little "here's what happens to victims of abuse (real or imagined)" thrown in. The dialog and philosophy get a little precious from time to time, neither of the two can really act—they're just supposed to be attractive cool people (they are)—but Anno makes the best of their limitations. It's fairly easy to spot the scenes where the girl, Ayako Fujitani, (who wrote the original novella the film is based on, cowrote the screenplay, AND is Steven Seagal's daughter!) is left to her own devices to be charmingly a little off kilter versus the ones where she is supposed to act a scripted point of story or character development. I don't mean to dis her too hard because she is an interesting soul to spend a couple hours with. No doubt. Shunji Iwai (real life director of a number of highly rated Japanese disaffected youth films, most notably All About Lily Chou-Chou), who plays the guy, a film director (!), isn't given too much to do or say. He's just intrigued by the girl so he hangs around all intrigued and artistically stressed. He's less of an actor than Fujitani but equally as cool and worth spending a couple hours with. This is definitely an indie/arty bag of ennui, but it does do some interesting things and even goes all Dogme 95 for a scene at the end.

You can watch most of this film at the YouTube


Tidal Wave (Haeundae) Tsunami [2009] • South Korea

Tsunami, or Tidal Wave, or whatever, is a great big huge gigantic disaster. The first ten minutes introduces about a dozen characters all of whom you'll hope are dead in the next ten minutes. It's the strangest character development I've ever seen. There's no subtlety or differentiation to them. They're all loud, extremely loud, obnoxious idiots. And they all hit one another, a lot. There are three things at play here: stupid, godawful, and annoying as hell. The director of the film, in a pre-emptive strike sort of way, has acknowledged that the special effects aren't very good (i.e., very expensive) so he's going to treat us to some good ol' Korean charm. FAIL. I hope this film never sees the light of day outside Korea because it could set back by decades the good reputation of that country's cinematic output. The acting is bad (WTF Sol Kyung-gu & Ha Ji-won), the myriad plot lines are predictable and groan out loud unpleasant, the special effects are cheesy, and, well .... you get the point. If you ever get roped into seeing this movie I promise that you won't believe how bad it is.

I watched the international version that cuts 13 minutes from the Korean domestic release. Thank gosh for small favors.

The Most Beautiful Night in the World (Sekai de ichiban utsukushii yoru) [2008] • Japan

It's all here. The reason for wars and other bad things is that people are not sexually satisfied. So, create a potion that will make everyone want to have sex all the time, all the unhealthy people will die from exhaustion, and then the world will be overrun with children. The march of civilization will stop but at least so will the wars and corruption. Interesting idea, but the acting and the storytelling in this nearly three hour film are so bad it can only work by virtue of a train wreck curiosity. It may become a cult classic. It's got full frontal nudity and a fifty persons naked orgy at the end. You can't take this film seriously but it does make a case for taking pity on it. It's bad, frighteningly bad, but it's shooting for being so bad it's good, hoping to create a pathetic charm. And it succeeds, to a degree. I admit to sorta liking this film after it was over but sitting through it had many difficult moments.

Michie Itô is great as the genius girl who breaks out in an allergic rash when she gets near stupid people, and who gives birth to a girl who has no bellybutton because she was born in an egg.

It's definitely not a pink film and I even hesitate to call it weird. It's more just earnestly underachieving. There's a wholesome quality to it too. It's strangeness isn't typical of Japanese weirdness, it's more like midnight-movie camp. It's structure is that of a fifteen year old girl (the one without a belly-button) narrating the secret of why her small community has such a high fertility rate: "It all started fourteen years ago when 'that man' came to our village", and then it takes its sweet time getting to the present. There isn't really an allure that something erotic might happen, although Michie Itô's character has a way of leading you to the edge every time she shows up, but there is a continuing implication that the story might unfold in an interesting and fulfilling way.

It's not Christopher Guest weird, where everyone seems to exist in their own orbit, and it's not Satoshi Miki witty weird, it's more like Godzilla ... with animated sequences from a third-grader thrown in. NYAFF Trailer @ YouTube


Mother (Madeo) [2009] • South Korea • Bong Joon-ho

It’s too bad that because this film is ostensibly about an old lady it must be considered a "smaller" film in Bong’s oeuvre. It’s not. It is every bit as brilliant, and as large, as Memories of Murder, in my opinion.

In many ways this is the natural, and equal, follow-up to Memories of Murder. It’s every bit the caper film that one was, and, although slightly more somber in tone, the film keeps unraveling in directions you don’t expect making it much more a plot driven movie than a character study. Kim Hye-ja is, however, magnificent as the titular (gawd I hate that word but I’m using it anyway) mother. There is a scene in this film where she tells the family of the victim her son didn’t do it and her eyes are so electrically charged it made me jump back from the screen. Mother fires on all cylinders. The direction, cinematography, script, and acting are all grade A. It’s one of those films where each of the secondary characters steals the show for a brief period. How ‘bout that cop who kicks the apple from Won Bin’s mouth? Bong does a remarkable job of populating the world of this film with real people and manages to give them depth and development in a very short period of time. I confess to having a little trouble tracking the other adult female characters in the film, but no matter. There is a scene (without spoiling anything here) where Kim Hye-ja asks the other ‘retarded’ kid if he has a mother and it's one of the most complex and heart-rending scenes in cinematic history. Hyperbole notwithstanding, just freakin’ WOW! on that one when you ponder just why she is crying.

I wasn’t sure where Bong was going to end up going as a film maker. Barking Dogs Never Bite was a reasonable debut. Memories of Murder, a masterpiece. But was it a lucky shot? I’m glad I don’t have to consider the dismal Antarctic Journal a Bong film if I don’t want to. The Host was lots-o-fun, but that’s the one that worried me. Maybe he was going to start making blockbuster type films. But now, after recently seeing his contribution to Tokyo!, and now Mother, I have every reason to believe he is going to kick my butt with interesting film for a long time.


Raise the Red Lantern (Da hong deng long gao gao gua) [1991] • China

Four women live in separate apartments in a beautiful castle. Three of them like to eat meat, one is a vegetarian. They're all married to the same guy, the master of the castle. Whomever the master chooses to stay with on any given night gets a foot massage and gets to call the shots at dinnertime, decide the menu. Seems like an environment ripe for jealousies and fighting. Seems like a season of Dallas but it's tweaked out to 1920s Chinese concubine culture. It's a beautiful film because the castle is beautiful. Gong Li is beautiful. But it's too easy to see where things are going, and an obvious girly cat fight isn't that interesting.

Or is it a veiled allegory against Chinese communist authoritarianism, or the culture of patriarchy? If so, we have to call it good. That's the rule. Damn chicks, allegorically speaking, should have banded together and thrown off their oppressors instead of fighting each other. The film, in foreshadowing irony, is divided into "Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring ... Summer", just like Kim ki-duk's so-called masterpiece that's beautiful to look at but banal in story. I don't understand all the love for this film (or Kim's film). Yes, they are both gorgeous but both are only seemingly profound.


If You Are the One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao) [2008] • China

This is [Edit: was] the highest grossing film of all time in China. Hard to believe, as it's not really a remarkable film, except for Shu Qi, she's remarkable. When she asks her date if he believes in love at first sight he responds "I loved the first sight of you!" It's a very pleasant film. Funny, slightly quirky, it's an intimate study of two people's vulnerability, and thoroughly Chinese. I'm sure some of the humor was lost on me due to the fact I don't speak Mandarin. And Ge You's Mandarin accent is as thick as syrup! He does a great job playing a forty-something guy who's made his lot in life selling zany inventions and now has a very specific set of criteria he's looking for in a mate to settle down with. This is a great 'date' movie.


The Road Home (Wo de fu qin mu qin) [2000] • China

A simple story carved from Chinese culture. Traditions and history are on display here as much as the inner and outer lives of the characters. The visual embellishments are mostly restrained but you can see them waiting, wanting to burst out. This is Zhang Ziyi's feature film debut and she is lovely to behold, dressed in her fuschia red coat against the sprawling rural landscapes, flapping her arms like a child when she runs, but she has an oddly shaped head. I found this feature of hers a little weird, kept wondering where the back of her head ran off to. All said and done, a minor distraction in what is another touching and very human tale from director Zhang Yimou befrore he went all wuxia on us. I love the way the love is grounded, given foundation, in the schoolhouse the father helped build and his legacy helped rebuild. Sad though, that the mother remained illiterate.


Close to Eden (Urga) Territory of Love [1991] France, Soviet Union

If you've ever wanted to visit the steppes of Mongolia but were afraid to ask, this film will take you there. The gorgeous landscapes almost pale in comparison to the beauty of the sheperding family of five--plus grandma--who live there in a yurt. Life is simple and slowly paced, but different. Imagine watching a five year old boy help his dad kill and gut a lamb for dinner and finding it moving and gentle rather than creepy and gross. The husband is pure country but the wife is from the city so she knows about things like television and birth control. In Mongolia families are allowed to have three children, not just one as in mainland China. The man enjoys intimate activities with his beautiful wife but she is concerned about having another child. The film detours a bit when the husband goes to the nearest town to buy a television and some contraceptives. I would have been happier if the film had remained a simple portrait of family life on the Mongolia steppes rather than presenting a story about the onslaught of civilization represented by a Russian highway builder whose truck breaks down near the family's home. But that story is part and parcel of the family's portrait today. A drunken Russian brings some harsh to their mellow and the film drifts out of focus ... but I guess that's the point.

An urga is a lasso of sorts attached to a very long stick and is used to capture animals. It is also stuck into the ground as a signal that someone is engaging in amorous relations and they don't want to be disturbed. The final shot shows a smokestack instead of an urga rising from the horizon.


A West Lake Moment (Yuan yang hu die) [2004] • China

This is a ONE STAR film without Zhou Xun. She is a joy to watch even with a co-star (Kun Chen) who is frighteningly bad here. He doesn't act as much as mug his way through the film like his appearance is a gift. The direction is silly at times with meaningless repetitive jump cuts and other random shenanigans. The script is immature and, frankly, stupid. The story sets up a charming and beautiful woman with an adorable best (male) friend (Yim Linq) who desires her and is good to her but she won't reciprocate because he's a few years younger than she is and she's got the hots for some pig of a selfish man (Chen). That's what his character is supposed to be, though, I'm not just dumping on the guy. This film not only resolves with the woman and the jerk getting together--without redeeming the jerkball at all--it also kills off the good guy! This is one gross male fantasy. Whoever wrote this movie is not someone I would like to meet.

The cinematography is beautiful at times and the location of the tea house is somewhere I'd like to sit and have tea but it's difficult to get behind such a disrespectful script.


Antichrist [2009] • Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Poland

I didn't get, or like, the ending, but I don't know what else could have been done. I also don't know if the ending was supposed to be the natural, or predisposed, outcome of all the symbolism and allegory that lead up to it—which I couldn't completely process either. The film appears to have a vision, as if it's following a story that's already been told. It's gorgeously composed and photographed but it evaded my full comprehension. There's grief with rational and emotional responses to it. There's nature, green and essential, history, symbolically surreal animals, and genital mutilation which is poignant to the story, but yikes! The film is never boring, it's beautiful to look at, Charlotte Gainsbourg is magnificent, but it's a little hard to endure. I imagine this was Lars von Trier's goal and he made it loose enough for those so inclined to spend time decoding it. I'm not so inclined but it's one of the best movies I've seen this year.


Suzhou River (Suzhou he) [2000] • China • Lou Ye

Sometimes these "Look at me, I'm indie" projects deliberately frustrate so they don't accidentally get mistaken for commercial fare. Dirty locations, slow pace, downplaying of events should they happen to occur, and dizzying handheld camerawork all combine to give us the real world. Love must be lost, memories muddled, but hope will hang on by a thin thread. Zhou Xun is captivating as usual but her story is designed to disappoint rather than engage. This is a quality film to keep your street cred intact but not very pleasant to experience even if you do want alternative. It has a lot of great moments when it focuses itself enough for you to enjoy them. A director shouldn't have to jiggle and whip the camera around all the time to create an effect of intimacy or collusion with the viewer. Lou Ye overdid it with this one.


Missing (Sil Jong) [2009] • South Korea

The crucial part of a scene where an axe is planted into someone’s head is not how it goes in but how it comes out. This is where a director lets you in on what they’re doing, what kind of film they’re making and how good their chops are. You might think just based on the fact that we have an axe planted in someone’s head that it tells you all you need to know about what kind of movie we’re talking about, and you’d be right, up to a point. Billed as a serial killer thriller, this year’s Missing (Sil Jong [literally, The Disappeared]), by Korean director Kim Sung-Hong—not to be confused with Hark Tsui’s Missing (Sam hoi tsam yan) from last year—is a slasher movie, but it’s not. It’s got all the ingredients of a Friday the 13th—not a Hostel—style gorefest but seems to be targeting an older, if not wiser, demographic. I’m a bit surprised to read that this film has done reasonably well at the box office bringing in three and a half million since it’s debut March 19.

Missing is based on a true story. In August and September of 2007, a seventy year old South Korean fisherman killed four women in Bosung, South Jeolla Province, South Korea. All the publicity for the film lets us know that it’s been fictionalized but I don’t know if that is referring to the axe implantations, and other acts of that ilk, or the fact that the killer in the film is a sixty year old ex-restauranteur cum chicken farmer. Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for the guy so we’ll have to wait to find out the facts.

South Korea’s done pretty well with serial killer films based on true events. Memories of Murder and The Chaser come to mind. Missing isn’t up to the caliber of those films, but it doesn’t try to be like them either. It’s not played from the point of view of a cop, or ex-cop’s, investigation. It’s a bit more simply voyeuristic. The first act observes the plight of one of the victims along with some collateral damage. It’s got a gratuitous up-skirt shot, cameras that pan out from a girl’s behind, a “Women in Prison” style shower scene, something somewhere between Deliverance and Last Tango in Paris, and an attempt at some Lorena Bobbitt flavored revenge. When you add all that up you should get something a lot less than what Missing ends up being. There is nothing remarkable about the style of the film but the production values are what you’d expect from a mainstream South Korean offering. It gives us exploitation within a mainstream frame.

Along with the cheap thrills of a crap horror movie we also get many more earmarks of the genre: an almost discovery that comes too early in the film; a freak accident that kicks the film into third gear; cops who refuse to help because there’s insufficient evidence to do so; and above all, characters who don’t act the way they should, like not running away or successfully killing the bad guy when it seems they have the chance, not to mention an ending that’s tackily tacked on in order to have a sequel. (I don’t think it’s just a nod to the real thing)

Missing is the most un-Korean Korean film I think I’ve seen. It’s like a Hollywood film, only better. Watching it, I wasn’t thinking it would be ripe for a Hollywood remake. I was trying to figure out what Hollywood movie it was a remake of. So much of it is so familiar. It doesn’t reach for the epic proportions of a Se7en or a Silence of the Lambs, nor does it have any of the new wave stylings of the French extremists, but it also doesn’t sink to the depths of a standard Hollywood slasher. It’s not a great film, maybe not even a good one, but it’s pretty good at being unlike what it seems to be. It should mildly satisfy gore hounds and horror enthusiasts while not completely turning off those who, if you were to mention something like a Fargo moment, might be prone to immediate dismissal.

The film is well cast too. Veteran actor Moon Seong-geun (Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Green Fish) plays the old man killer as utterly normal and utterly evil. Jeon Se-hong (Temptation of Eve) is sufficiently bodacious as the younger sister and first victim put through the grinder, so to speak, and Chu Ja-hyeon (Portrait of Beauty, Bloody Tie) plays the older sister who goes looking for her with enough intelligence and good looks to keep us on board for the duration. And there’s motorbike riding coffee delivery girls in hot pants. But don’t think you have this film figured out. It might surprise you. There will be blood.