Showing posts with label Song Kang-ho. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Song Kang-ho. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Host

Creature feature The Host is set in Seoul where an American pathologist orders his reluctant Korean assistant to pour hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the sink which in turn ends up in the Han River. Fast forward a couple of years and a giant monster is spotted hanging from a bridge over the Han and the film focuses its attention on one unremarkable family who are thrust into the middle of the extraordinary events which follow the monster’s first sighting and attack on the citizens of Seoul. Song kang-ho (Thirst, Joint Security Area) is the lead, playing a lazy and slow witted man who works at his fathers food stand. His daughter, played by Ko Ah-seong is a smart little girl who is abducted by the monster. Her father along with his brother Park Hae-il, sister Bae Doona and father Byeon Hee-bong try to evade the authorities and hunt down the monster to help save the girl.

The film contains elements of drama, comedy, horror and political commentary and is very successful at slipping from one genre to another in an instant. One moment Song Kang-ho is doing something silly or odd and the next he is screaming as he is tied down to undergo a lobotomy. The political themes and anti-American stance run throughout the film. The film’s opening idea is loosely based on a 2000 incident in which an American mortician dumped formaldehyde down the drains and into the Han and throughout, the US military are portrayed as uncaring towards the Korean population and willing to usurp the Korean Government to do what it wants, when it wants. The Anti-American theme is further exemplified by the fact that the film was lauded in North Korea which is unheard of for a South Korean film. The Anti-American stance makes me wonder why a Hollywood remake is being produced and as usual I wish it wasn’t. I’d like people to see the original and stop being so lazy and closed minded when it comes to reading subtitles.

The story itself is very good and the family, well defined. As well as the obvious political statement it is a study of a family and each person’s roles within that family. Song Kang-ho (one of my favourite actors) is excellent, playing a completely different type of character to what I’ve seen him do before. Ko Ah-Seong is also very good and seems mature beyond her years. I’m not surprised to read that she won awards for the role. The direction is great with Bong Joon-ho utilizing camera angles that lead you to wonder where the monster is and which are designed to keep you on edge.

When I first saw the monster I thought that it was well designed but that the CGI looked a bit shiny. The more I watched however I realised that that was obviously done on purpose as the monster is predominantly water dwelling and in fact the CGI is very good. There is one sequence in particular when the monster is first spotted in which the GCI and direction come together wonderfully to create a magnificent chase scene. It is unusual in a monster film to be able to see the monster fully early on. In films such as Cloverfield you never get much more than a hint of the monster but here it is visible from the get go and I think that makes for an interesting and brave change.     

Overall the film is interesting and exhilarating and manages to fuse different genres and themes. There are laugh out loud moments and times where the film feels very poignant. In addition, Song Kang-ho is a joy to watch. 


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.  


The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Set in 1930s Manchuria, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a Korean Western about three men and a map. The film focuses on the three men’s rivalry as they try to keep the map for themselves and reach the treasure that the map points to while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. The three main characters are a bounty hunter known as The Good (Jung Woo-sung), The Bad (Lee Byung-hun), a no nonsense killer and The Weird (Song Kang-ho The Host, Thirst) who is a train robber.

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 well.

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 Hollywood.