More Than Blue (Seulpeumboda Deo Seulpeun Iyagi) [2009] • South Korea

More Than Blue (Seulpeumboda Deo Seulpeun Iyagi) (aka A Story Sadder Than Sadness) is in the same league as A Moment to Remember ... if you like this kind of stuff. It uses pretty much the standard terminal disease of the week Korean melodrama template: the first half is fun and lighthearted (to set context and set up the sadness); in the first two-thirds of the second half, we watch the knife go in; and in the final third of the second half, the knife is unmercifully twisted.

Honestly, the first act of this film isn’t very good. Instead of focusing on the couple that are going to face the agony, the director let’s other characters tell their story. Problem is, these other characters aren’t that good while the two leads in this film are likable beyond belief and should have been all over the place in our face. Instead there’s the wacky guy with a wacky girl, music industry politics, and a sad, second tier guy who knows, and tells, the story of K who has terminal cancer and is in love with his best friend Cream but since he’s dying he doesn’t tell her. The Korean Times observed, correctly, I think, that while the theme is familiar it “feels more classic than cliched”.

After getting all that plot out of the way of the story the director zeroes in on what he really knows: the poetry of sadness and love. When he gets to this point the direction becomes quite inspired, the acting improves, the soundtrack comes alive, and the whole visual experience elevates a notch or two. There’s a scene in a church the director takes to Godfatheresque operatic proportions without shame.
Sang-Woo Kwon (Once Up on a Time in High School, Volcano High), as K, pulls out the wounded puppy dog eyes to great effect. But we also see that he is full of love. We can see clearly the range and dynamics of his hope and despair. He delivers with great subtlety.

Lee Bo-Young (A Dirty Carnival) as Cream, is a Korean actress home run. Beautiful and natural. I was mesmerized by her (performance). Maybe this movie really stinks and I just fell in love with another Korean actress. I don’t think so. She wears several different hairstyles in the film. Up, down, all around. They create different shades of her character and don’t look like different hair-dos; they look like she’s just wearing her hair differently. She seems very at home in her role. She plays lovably, attractively, confidently high-maintenance. And she cries well. She’s seductive and childish. She’s my everything.

Lee Beom-Su (Singles) plays the good man who K tries to fix up with Cream. K wants Cream to have someone who will care for her after he’s dead. (Story) Jeong Ae-Yeon plays the good man’s fiancé. She’s a hot and sexy photographer and she smokes a lot. (Cigarettes and toothbrushes play major thematic roles) She brings more plot to the film. K has to get her to call off the marriage so the good man will be free to marry Cream. She agrees on the condition that K let her photograph him as he is dying. She’s intense (she smokes, remember?), and begins to question K’s resolve to die without telling Cream how he feels. She calls him a fake and says “When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re hurting, you cry. When you’re having fun, you laugh. Not hold it in like you. Do you want to Die like this?” When K responds “No. I don’t want to die like this” we really feel the knife twisting.

Strange thing though. The film didn’t make me cry. I found myself thrusting my fists in the air, in a very sports-like manner, at how well directed, and how well acted were the scenes that were supposed to make me cry. Once this film reaches the second half and leaves the detritus behind it’s like floating on a cloud. The director takes a few chances, but he’s getting us high so we give him all the slack he wants. He incorporates twists, some in story and some in the telling of it. The film becomes very poetic on many levels. If you think the twists work they’ll seem brilliant. If you don’t, you may frown upon the whole thing. I’m, of course, not going to say what they are, except to say I think they work and give the film a unique spot amongst the ranks of Korean high-art melodrama.


Su-ki-da [2005] • Japan

I felt Hiroshi Ishikawa's previous film, Tokyo.Sora, set out to make boring an accomplishment so I wasn't interested in seeing this until I discovered Hiromi Nagasaku in Don't Laugh at My Romance and then Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! She's a versatile actress who elevates every film she's in and brings the necessary talent to make this low-key character study work. The script and story here aren't much--secret love, disease, recognition, love, death--typical melodrama, but Nagasaku and her younger self counterpart played by Aoi Miyazaki are truly engaging and look remarkably like they could be the same person ten years apart. I could literally see their thought and emotional processes. If you are going to leave the camera on an actor for minutes at a time without any dialog, you better have good actors. The director's signature long shots and pale, landscapey photography compliment well here. This is not for the Harlequin crowd, it's an art-house film with a capital A. Lovely and meditative. Su-ki-da means I love you.


Ex Drummer [2007] • Belgium

The dialog in the film is so quick-witted sometimes I could barely keep up with the subtitles. It's dark and nihilistic and spares nothing in its onslaught. It's offensive, very funny at times, punk and truly bizarre. There's a subtle structural game going on as well that's all but lost amidst the barrage of hate and humor. Based on the semi-autobiographical cult novel by controversial Belgian writer Herman Brusselmans, Ex Dummer tells the story of Dries, a famous writer living the good life with his beautiful wife in their beautiful apartment, who is approached one day by three losers who want him to join their band as the drummer. He accepts the invitation as an opportunity for source material. As the film unfolds Dries is sometimes seen as reporting on the events that he experiences and at other times he seems to be inventing them. It's not important to the film one way or the other and appears to be just one of innumerable filmic techniques employed by the director of this punk stew.

Each member of the band must have a handicap. The singer has a lisp and lives on the ceiling of his apartment. The lisp was lost on me as I don't speak the language, but it is apparently so bad it's reached the level of a handicap. The bass player has a debilitating mother complex, keeps his father in a straight jacket strapped to a bed in his attic, and he's got a stiff right arm. The guitar player is deaf and addicted to crack. The drummer's handicap is that he can't play drums ... but he's writing the story so he lies about it.

The band is only going to play one gig, a battle of the bands, and then breakup. There isn't much of a story to follow. We're simply treated to the machinations of this motley crew as they prepare for the concert and their lives crumble around them. The soundtrack is magnificent and the acting is all spot on. If you like punk, real punk without eyeliner, you should see this.