Arnold Schwarzenegger always promised that he’d be back and ten years since his last leading role he is, in Kim Ji-woon’s Action movie The Last Stand. For Arnie in front of the screen, little has changed. He may have lost some bulk in certain areas and gained some in others but his strengths and weaknesses remain constant. He remains a compelling screen presence and can still kick ass with the best of them but his acting hasn’t improved. I had no intention of seeing The Last Stand until I found to my surprise that its Director was one of my favourites, Kim Ji-woon, the highly accomplished Korean Director of the Asian-Western The Good, the Bad and the Weird and the grisly I Saw the Devil amongst many others. So, I got up at 8:30am on a Saturday and with my girlfriend away for the weekend, braved the snow and took a bus to our local multiplex. It’s safe to say that Schwarzenegger isn’t the box office draw he once was and there were 329 empty seats in the auditorium. How do I know that? Because I counted them during a first half which is full of needless exposition, crummy dialogue and weak characterisation. Things liven up in the second half but I’d been better off staying in bed.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
Monday, 9 April 2012
Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird & I Saw the Devil) directs this tale of two sisters who are put in a mental institution after the death of their mother. When the sisters are bought back home by their father, they not only have to deal with their difficult new stepmother but also strange goings on inside the house.
The film confused the hell out of me and despite just watching it and then reading the plot synopsis online; I’m not entirely convinced I’ve fully understood it! I think it is a film that would benefit from a second viewing. You are never really sure what is real, what is imagined and what is misdirection and it takes a lot of effort to stay with what’s going on. The confusion isn’t aided by a fairly drawn out and slow first act in which very little happens. The third act more than makes up for the slow and dull beginning however. It is frantic and edgy and had my head spinning.
The horror element is more psychological than jumpy and there are very few visual scares. The film uses sound to good effect though to help raise and maintain tension. Kim Ji-woon’s directorial style is plastered all over the place. The film is incredibly stylish and uses some wonderfully beautiful and technically brilliant camera angles and sweeps. It is worth watching just for Kim’s technical ability behind the camera.
Another reason I’d recommend the film is because of the fantastic performances. In particular those of Im Su-Jeong (I’m a Cyborg…) as one of the sisters and Yeom Jeong-ah as the mother in law. Both performances are excellent and helped to keep me gripped while I was struggling with the plot.
Unsurprisingly, as with so many other Asian horror movies of its time, the film was remade in
with the title The Uninvited. That film lacks the gore
and horror of the original and currently holds a 4.5/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
When will America
This film is by no means a masterpiece but features a confusing story which should keep you gripped. The acting is great and the direction, superb.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
Some countries seem to excel in particular genres. For
it is thrillers,
and particularly thrillers with a strong psychological edge and with revenge as
the predominant theme. Of the top twenty rated Korean films on IMDb since 2000,
half are explicitly themed around revenge. I Saw
the Devil is another example of Korea ’s excellence in this genre.
It is also one of the most brutally violent films I’ve ever watched. The fact
that it was even censored in Korea
should give you some indication as to the level of violence.
The police are on the hunt for a serial killer played by Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) but when Choi’s character Kyung-chul brutally murders the pregnant fiancé of Intelligence Agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun – The Good, the Bad, the Weird) he ends up with another man on his tail, a man who will stop at nothing for vengeance. Soo-hyun tracks down Kyung-chul and beats him senseless, but instead of killing him or handing him over to the authorities, Soo-hyun plants a tracking device inside the murderer so he can keep track of his every move and continue to enact his violent revenge over and over again.
The most obvious talking point regarding this film is its traumatic violence. Although it generally comes in short, sharp bursts, it is frequent and excruciating to witness. I’m not a fan of the Saw films and haven’t seen Hostel but along with Kill List this is probably the most violent film I’ve ever seen and I had to turn away from the screen on a couple of occasions. This is not a film for those who are easily put off by gore, brutality and violence. Although I think that the level of violence in warranted in the story, I thought that at times it did slightly detract from the telling of it. It did however show the lengths that Soo-hyun would go to in order to get revenge.
The film is directed skilfully by Kim Ji-woon, a man known for expert camera work and beautifully stylized films. Beautiful cinematography along with vengeance is another trademark of Korean cinema and is apparent here. Kim gets wonderful performances from his actors and both leads do a marvellous job. I cannot think of a more unsettling or memorable screen villain from recent times as Choi Min-sik’s Kyung-chul. He is a total monster without any redeeming features. Lee Byung-hun’s Soo-hyun is more complicated. He shows great emotional depth at times but as the film progresses he becomes more of a monster himself and the line between good and evil is not only crossed but trounced upon. In amongst the repugnant violence that both central characters exhibit, there is an undercurrent of real emotion and despite the overbearing brutality, this does come through on the screen. Both performances are incredibly powerful. The minor cast feature little but there are good performances from a cannibal and his partner who are met along the way.
|Though violent, this scene is also darkly comic|
I Saw the Devil is a film that is going to stay with me for a long time. This is in part down to the violence but I think more so because it is a well made and acted film with a strong central theme and a terrific and jaw dropping ending. It is dark and frenzied and although I wouldn’t say it is enjoyable, it is a fine film that sits rightly amongst the likes of Oldboy and Confessions.
Friday, 9 March 2012
Set in 1930s
The film features everything you’d want from a Western with great scenery, stand-offs, a train robbery and great action throughout. The fact that it is set in
Asia makes little
difference as it is a true Western. The directorial style of Kim Ji-woon is
visually appealing and reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino. There is plenty of
detailed stylization but it is not overdone and it helps to immerse the
audience in the film. You feel very much as though you are part of the action
thanks to the skill of Kim. The film features the odd twist and a mixture of
serious Western dialogue and more funny dialogue from The Weird. The
cinematography is wonderful with plenty of panoramic vistas, fast cut editing
and unique camera movements. The costume design is also excellent. The Bad
wears a modern, dark suit which together with his straight, dark hair and
piercing eyes help him to seem nastier. The Good wears a traditional Western
gunslingers outfit but The Weird, given his name, wears flying hat and goggles,
paper gloves and traditional Korean dress. Each costume matches the character
The film is at its best during the more action packed sequences. They are without exception very well choreographed and acted and the film’s main set piece in a thieves market is superb and reminded me of a more light hearted 13 Assassins. It is not so successful in the more quiet moments but I think that is more of a testament to the action rather than a criticism of the less action packed scenes. While the film doesn’t have anywhere near the level of tension as Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on which it’s loosely based, the final Mexican Standoff was excellent and bought the film to a satisfying close. On the downside, the story is noticeably lacking and back story mostly non existent but had the plot been thicker I doubt the film would have been improved much as it is the action that draws the audience in.
The acting is outstanding, especially from the main cast. Jung’s Good and Lee’s Bad are similar in many ways and both actors bring a quiet, determined and cold-hearted feeling to their characters but the Bad is much more unsympathetic. Lee performs the role of the villain superbly. Song is excellent as The Weird, a man who seems unfit for the life he leads but somehow gets through every scrape unhurt. He brings a lot of humour to the role but is no slouch when the action starts. Though the acting is great, this is definitely director Kim Ji-woon’s film. He stamps his mark all over the proceedings and delivers an action packed and funny Western to rival anything from