Reviews by Country
It’s a sign of the times: the financial thriller is officially a thing. It wasn’t so long ago that thrillers were dominated by communist infiltrators or spies, old fashioned corrupt cops, bank robbers, and garden-variety psycho killers. But as chatter of wealth inequality gets louder, globalisation continues to fail and the one percent closes ranks, the Big Bad du jour is increasingly the Wall Street banker or multinational CEO. As a ‘genre’, the financial thriller has been around in book … (read more)
Superstar Lee Byung-hun (JSA, A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil) gets to play the leading role twice over in Masquerade, a lavish South Korean costume drama set during the turbulent rule of King Gwang-hae of the Joseon Dynasty. (Wikipedia pegs this as 1608-1623, for those as ignorant of Korean history as I am.)
One role is that of young King Gwang-hae himself, maintaining his grip on his feuding court through political intrigue and … (read more)
Director Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byung-hun are turning into Korea’s own Scorsese and De Niro. After flopping around the industry for a while and getting notice on and off for his interesting, if uneven, films (The Quiet Family, The Foul King), international audiences sat up and took note of Kim’s segment in the horror anthology Three. A year later A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) really made a splash. Imperfect though it was, Sisters had a … (read more)
Vietnamese-French director Tran Ahn Hung’s Cyclo and The Scent of Green Papaya were exercises in style over substance. Atmospheric almost to a fault, both made you forget that great films possess a strong story to support their images. Unsurprisingly his latest, I Come With the Rain, is more of the same. Tran loads up the garden-variety revenge/redemption tale with enough religious imagery to make the Pope proud, mixing it with an audience-baiting (some would say calculated) international cast and … (read more)
There’s something about knowing at the start how things are going to end that makes some films harder, not easier, to watch. A Bittersweet Life is definitely one of those films. Borrowing with a fresh bent slick staples of the gangster film genre traditionally more characteristic of Hong Kong and some Japanese cinema, director Kim Jee-woon, already well known for films like The Quiet Family and Tale of Two Sisters, deftly renders an action film that has all the … (read more)
I had wanted to see Joint Security Area for a long time. Its incredible box office success in Korea stamped it as something worth tracking down, especially as the previous box office title holder was the engrossing North-South action flick Shiri. I was delighted when I got the news that JSA was screening at MIFF 2001. I knew I was going to like this film.
Turns out, I loved it.
That is, if “love” is a term that can … (read more)
Featuring an inventive endless-love story that transgresses time and death in order to explore various individual resistances and social restrictions that affect gay relationships, this is either a successfully emotive queer movie with unusually straight overtones, or a somewhat fleeting and dissatisfying attempt to capture gestures and images of homosexual love, or both these coded types at once.
Maybe I’m a sucker for surface narration in this particular film, because the moments near the end struck a literal chord as … (read more)