Showing posts with label Shin Ha-Kyun. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shin Ha-Kyun. Show all posts

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Front Line

Set mostly amid the 1953 Korean War ceasefire negotiations, The Front Line (고지전) stars Shin Ha-kyun as First Lieutenant Kang from Military Intelligence. Kang is sent to the Front Line to investigate the suspicious death of a Captain and to intercept any North Korean mail that is being sent through the Southern Postal Service. When Kang arrives at the front he discovers a comrade he though was long dead is in fact alive and well. Lieutenant Kim (Go Soo) is found serving in the same regiment as Kang is forced to investigate and finds life on the Front Line even harsher than he imagined. In the midst of his investigation the war is still raging on as both sides attempt to capture an important hilltop.

South Korea has produced many excellent War Movies over the last decade or so but despite some great scenes and cinematography I wasn’t able to fully get on board with this one. That being said there is a lot to like about the film and it won four Grand Bell Awards in 2011 including Best Film. I found that throughout the film I was interested in the story but not the characters.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Joint Security Area

This Park Chan-wook thriller is set in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone that spans the North and South Korean border. Two North Korean soldiers have supposedly been shot and killed by a South Korean soldier but there is a mystery as the autopsies reveal that eleven bullets were fired at the North Korean soldiers and five bullets remain in the gun. The gun only holds fifteen bullets so the question is where did the extra bullet come from? To solve the puzzle a neutral Korean-Swiss Major (Lee Young Ae) is charged with discovering what really happened.
There is quite a major twist about a third of the way into the film that bought a smile to my face and set up the rest of the proceedings. It doesn’t give away what really happened but is the start of a wonderful story of friendship and trust between the North and South Korean soldiers manning the two frontiers. At its heart this is an anti war film and you have to commend the film makers for their stance in one of the most militarized and dangerous areas on earth. The screenplay is superb. It manages to keep the tension high throughout and it is not released until the final frame of the film. Although this is one of Park’s first directorial features, you can see his style has already developed. Each scene is shot with care, attention and style. It is a great looking piece. Considering it is a South Korean film I also thought that it managed to stay quite neutral. It would be easy to use a film like this as propaganda but it is told without bias.

The acting is brilliant across the board. Lee Young Ae is strong as the female lead. Multi award winning Song Kang-ho is superb as the North Korean soldier at the centre of the mystery, again proving in my mind he can do no wrong. Opposite him as is Southern counterpart, Lee Byung-hun is compelling in more of a leading role. His transformation from fun loving, intrigued filled solider to stoic and expressionless accused is forceful. Lee and Song have a good history together having also starred together in Kim Ji-woon's excellent The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Shin Ha-kyun, a frequent collaborator with Park Chan-wook is well cast and believable in the role of the second North Korean soldier. His role is not so different to the one he played in the later Park film Thirst. Both characters are a bit weedy, odd and excitable. Kim Tae-woo, the last of the lead cast members is also great as the slightly on edge and unsure South Korean solider who follows Lee Byung-hun’s character.

Joint Security Area is a film that challenges us to forget our differences, whether they be racial, political or geographical and to celebrate our similarities. It magically fuses geo-politics with the suspense of a whodunit. It made me want to learn more about the politics of the situation and a DVD of the film was even given to Kim Jong-Il by the Korean President during a peace summit. As a film, it works perfectly. It creates enough tension to fill at least two bath tubs and creates some brilliant characters to go along with a compelling and poignant story.


Friday, 9 March 2012


Park Chan-wook is at it again. Thirst is a breathtaking film from the Director that bought us Oldboy and I’m a Cyborg, but that’s ok. Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho The Host & The Good, The Bad, The Weird) is an unhappy and depressed priest who volunteers for a medical experiment knowing that it will likely kill him. It is his way of killing himself without facing hell as suicide is a great sin for a Catholic. After being injected with a deadly virus and a prototype vaccine, Sang is cured but has a terrible side effect – he is now a vampire. Sang struggles to deal with the two sides of his personality and vows not to kill but to steal blood from comatose patients at the hospital in which he volunteers. Meanwhile he meets a family he once knew when he was young and becomes friendly with them. Their adopted daughter Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin) is unhappily married to their son and is treated like a slave by the rest of the family. She is drawn to Sang and he to her and the two begin a strange and erotic love affair. Sang must then decide whether to ‘turn’ Tae-ju and risk turning her and her increasingly erratic and unpredictable behaviour into a monstrous killing machine.

Park Chan-wook is fast becoming my favourite director and is the master of making a beautiful looking film. All of his films have a wonderful look to them, posses exquisite framing and cinematography and Thirst is no exception. Every shot is creative. There is never a time when the director simply has a camera in a conventional or boring position. There is always something to each shot. Park is a unique film maker and his trademark style and technique is visible to see. The internal sets look tremendous too. The family home at the centre of the story is transformed late on and looks wonderfully clinical and menacing. The all white set looks strangely beautiful when spattered with blood.

The story is attention-grabbing, crazy and well told. Both central characters undergo a transformation during the film and it is a joy to watch. The film deals with themes of religious duty, suicide, love, deceit and moral ambiguity. Each idea is dealt with in a satisfying and knowledgeable way. I did feel the film was slightly too long and that sometimes the story was a bit clunky but these are my only criticisms of an otherwise superb film.

The acting is without exception flawless. Song Kang-ho is an actor I could watch all day. He has a terrific range and I haven’t seen him give a bad performance yet. Here he transforms from a mild Priest into a conscientious but dangerous vampire and carries off both roles with aplomb. Beautiful newcomer Kim Ok-bin is equally as impressive as the innocent and impish young woman who turns into a vicious and vile seductress. Her transformation is incredible and she acts both parts perfectly. At times it was like watching two actresses. The supporting cast is also excellent, in particular Kim Hae-sook who plays Tae-ju’s mother and Shin Ha-kyun who is brilliant as Tae-ju’s idiot husband.

This film is obviously a must watch for Park Chan-wook fans and should be for fans of darkly funny and stylish horror. The violence is tasteful yet gory and the story gets stranger with each new scene. It features some fantastic acting and is wonderfully directed by Park.