Tag Archives: Korea


7 Jun , 2011,
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Haunters - Poster Art

When it comes to movies, you just gotta hand it to the Koreans. Haunters, which opens in cinemas this week, is infused with the right kind of emotionally charged pathos, morbid comedy, and shades-of-grey that made it such a fascinating watch.

Also, despite it’s title, it has NOTHING to do with ghosts and horror, two things the Koreans are famous for, and is actually an urban fantasy tale.

Opening to a rain slicked street, Haunters begins with a glimpse into the childhood of Cho-In, a crippled boy with a sinister supernatural gift – the power to mesmerize and dominate people with his eyes. It’s a power he uses to kill his abusive father, and again to flee from his mother and eventually to survive in the world – a world that he feels rightly shuns him and what he is.

His unhappy circumstances are paralleled with those of Lim Kyu-Nam, best described as the idiot protagonist who, despite being hit by a bus, seems to have the resilience and survivability of a cockroach. He’s got reliable friends in the form of fellow scrap workers Al and Bubba, and when he lands a job at Utopia, a pawnshop of dubious nature, he thinks he’s set for life.

Enter Cho-In, who has managed to survive by stealing from such shops. He uses his power to freeze everyone, and is about to make good on his escape when Kyu-Nam shakes the compulsion off and confronts him, sparking a struggle that results in the death of Kyu-Nam’s boss. This becomes the catalyst for Kyu-Nam’s quest for revenge, leading to a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with rising stakes and increasing casualties.

Gang Dong-Won was exceptional as Cho-In – he fit the role as the tortured, angst-ridden villain perfectly, while Ko Soo, broad shouldered and bland faced, fit the bill as the would be hero of justice.

The script was stellar, the characterization of Cho-In and his motivations especially painted him out as less of a villain, and more of a victim of unhappy circumstance. By the end of the movie, I was rooting for him, rather than Kyu-Nam, who proved to be nothing less than a persistent disturbance with an overwrought sense of morality (and had clearly taken things a little too personally). The story was mostly serious, but there were enough light hearted moments (especially with the hero and his two stooges) in between, and at some points, there was even self-deprecating, genre bending humor.

Camera angles and visuals were beautiful. The opening was perhaps the most memorable, but there were just as many other scenes that were artfully constructed. The rain of human bodies in the apartment complex, for one, and the mass suicide of office workers in an adjacent building another. Even the final, requisite rooftop confrontation (yes, it’s always mandatory in any good modern tale) didn’t seem at all forced, and the sequence, despite it’s lack of combat, was balletic in its execution.

A definite must watch if you’re into Korean movies, especially one with an urban fantasy bent. I actually missed the Screen Singapore showcase of Paradise Kiss and May’n to catch this, and I don’t regret it one bit.

Definitely Going Somewhere

17 Mar , 2011,
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The Man from Nowhere - Poster Art

Since I had the day off today, I decided to catch up on two of the hottest films to hit Singapore’s box offices – World Invasion: Battle L.A. and the Korean action thriller The Man from Nowhere.

Predictably, Battle L.A. was everything Roger Ebert (THE film critic) said it would be – a trite piece of Hollywood garbage with deadpan actors, an even deader plot, and aliens that should have stayed home, but The Man from Nowhere, which I’d initially panned as just another Kimchi Blockbuster, totally blew me away.

The Man from Nowhere begins simply enough – a drug caper in Korea’s seamy criminal underworld plays contrast to Tae Sik’s seemingly mundane existence.

Tae Sik is a ghost of a man, a disheveled pawnshop keeper with shaggy, emo hair who nonetheless has a soft spot for So-mi, the heroin addled neighbor Hyo-jeong’s daughter.

In fact, the first 20 or so minutes plays like a feel good movie, and it’s endearing to see just how close Tae Sik and So-mi are. Naturally, this perfect existence is turned upside down when the baddies get wind that Hyo-jeong’s got their dope, and both mother and daughter are kidnapped.

Tae Sik is sucked into the mess when the baddies turn up at his pawnshop,  one thing leads to another, and suddenly, this man from nowhere is on the warpath.

It’s a brilliantly charted warpath too, and while there’s nothing too unexpected – no incredible twists and turns that make you go “ooh” and “ahh”, The Man from Nowhere stands out as a great genre piece. (Then again, anything with drug heists, cops and robbers, body snatchers, organ grinders and an ex-Special Forces Assassin has got to be awesome, right?)

It’s a thriller with lots of action, and the fight sequences are some of the most amazing, intense and visceral that I’ve seen since Park Chan-wook pulled off his corridor scene in Old Boy.

Won Bin, who plays Tae Sik, performs amazingly well in the lead role, and Kim Sae-ron, who plays So-mi, delivers a credible performance, especially for a ten-year-old.

I was particularly impressed with the camera work for the fights, which were fast and dynamic, and there were a fair number of scenes, such as the confrontation on the dance floor of Club Eden and the knife duel towards the end that proved especially memorable.

(For Yu-Gi-Oh players, there’s also something of an easter egg in the middle of the movie, and that, coupled with the symbolism of the flavor text (excellent choice too, by the by), put a smile on my face.)

Lee Jeong-beom sure is a director to watch, if he can put out work of this caliber. It’s no wonder The Man from Nowhere was the top grossing film in South Korea last year, and an all round award winner.

Definitely the must see movie this week.

Battle L.A., on the other hand, is entirely overrated.