Plenty of Korean movies I’ve seen just so happen to deal with revenge, and after a while they start blending together. In the same way Hong Kong heroic bloodshed action movies typically tackle brotherhood. Korean revenge movies try to delve into the psychology into those who feel wronged, and deserve to take justice into their own hands. Other Korean revenge movies will indulge the viewers in the fantasy of it. Either method works for me. Broken tries to be a more thoughtful take while providing the thrills, but ends up doing neither successfully.
Initially the movie makes a good impression bypassing the predictable to quickly setup the story of single father Lee Sang-hyeon (Jung Jae-young) wanting to take revenge on the teenagers that raped, and killed his daughter. Broken ends up going downhill after that setup is done. Forgetting to show the gradual change in Lee before he snaps into killing. It just happens without proper build up removing another piece of characterization. As the film progresses, Lee remains a husk of a character with only the fact he’s a father to have you sympathize for him. This is fine until the movie attempts to tackle subject matters without giving them the proper time to be explored. Slowing the film down when touching on delinquency, and the flawed justice system preventing building tension. As a commentary on these things it acknowledges these are a thing in society, it’s unfair, and that’s as far as it goes.
As a drama it fails to be captivating in the way it wants to be. Lee I already mentioned is a husk of a character. So when it tries to delve into the morality of his actions it falls flat. There’s hardly any scenes showing Lee spend time with his daughter to make it feel justify. A trait that is brought up, but isn’t use to explore any kind of regret in Lee. It’s simply makes him sad leaving there, and moving on.
When the film isn’t focus on Lee the attention is given to Detective Eok-Gwan (Lee Sung Min) who is tasked to find both Lee daughter killers, and Lee himself. His contribution to the story is very minimal using him, and his partner to talk on the injustice of South Korea justice system. Simply stating that the kids will get a slap on the wrist isn’t good enough to count as meaningful commentary on this subject. Significantly less so when it tries to humanize the murderers, and rapists of the movie. By doing so, the greyish morality presented further shines a negative light on the lack of depth, and detracts from the few thrills it has to offer.
Padding becomes more common in the second half. Dragging out out the running time by showing the actors walk through snow for minutes. Sometime it serves a point, and other times it’s just plodding along. The second half feels unorganized compare to the first half. There’s no structure in how information is presented, it’s a lot less eventful, and the pacing becomes slower then usual. What’s not preferable to that is the climax where characters do dumb things out of character. Coming off as contrived instead of organic to the story.
The ending wanted to be heartbreaking during its climax. Falling flat for two significant reasons; first one being Lee easily goes from your average, overworked father to a man on a mission for vengeance. So determine to the point Lee survives a hellish snowstorm despite being immensely exhausted from his journey, and with a broken leg. Second reason being the shotgun Lee carries for just over half of its runtime. Typically the rule of writing is if you have something like a shotgun, or anything established in the story it should be used later on. In the climax, the shotgun is used, but not the way you would expect it. If there was more to Lee’s character the outcome of the climax would be justifiable, but instead comes of as tacky. When I don’t care about the shallow main character of the movie why the movie thinks I would care about it’s equally shallow supporting cast is baffling.
Acting in general is fine without much standing out. Jung Jae-young I feel suffered the most from the screenplay. Almost all of his most potent bits of acting is at the beginning of the film. He goes through a wide arrange of emotion in the first half hour from being remorseful, to angry, and to confusion. It gives him great freedom to portray things about Lee that the screenplay doesn’t provide. Afterwards he becomes stiff being stuck to having his mouth open, and shaking in the cold for a performance. Jung Jae-young just can’t do much with this character coming off as wooden in portraying his tortured soul. Everything else from cinematography to music is fine, but doesn’t do much in service of the movie.
Writer/Director Jeong-ho Lee I would put the blame on for virtually all the film’s problems. Half an hour could have been cut from the movie which instead of using it to develop characters, or further explore it themes just has it actors walk around in the snow. Resulting in a movie that feel padded when it shouldn’t be. A few more touch up to the story would have helped Broken stand out among the mountains of Korean revenge movies. Instead, it’ll just blend in with the crowd without anything to distinguish it in the back of my mind.
Science fiction is one of my favorite genre for storytelling. No matter how grand, or small the scope of the stories are I could name you around dozen science fiction work that completely engrossed me. An appeal of it for me is how versatile it’s visionaries can be. Expertly using the realm of sci-fi to provide commentary on humanity, takes us to places beyond imagination, and in the case of Upgrade be a schlocky low budget, hard sci-fi thriller done correctly.
Upgrade premise is the classic story of a ordinary man getting revenge. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) witnesses his wife getting killed, mopes around for a bit with his thoughts, gets a computer chip called STEM implanted into him after being paralyzed, and getting pushed into taking vengeance on those who wronged him. In between all the cool action bits, and dark humor at the expense of its protagonist. Comes plenty of serious moments waving around in quality. It can be difficult to remain engaged in the story during the whodunnit segments, and collecting clues since the main story is predictable. Preventing this from becoming a growing issue is the film writer/director, Leigh Whannell, developing it lead character psychology. Showing Grey Trace mental, and physical destruction as the movie progress in a move that pays off in the long run.
What Upgrade lacks in consistency in engaging material it makes up for it in its ending. It one of the few instances where it turned a good movie into a great one for me. Mostly because the ending gives some added depth to everything that came before. Making the dynamic between talking computer chip STEM, and Grey Trace that much better. It doesn’t excuse the feeling of it dragging at points, but it ends on a such a high note it’s easy to forget about.
One area the movie falter without much to redeem it is the failed attempt at commentary. Throughout the movie Grey Trace technophobia will be reestablished multiple times, and bits about technology improving humanity. There’s some dialogue establishing bits of the world where more jobs are being lost to machines. As well there being bits mentioning the living conditions of the rich, and the poor. These parts of the story feel like an afterthought when undermined by the man vs. machine, and revenge driven storyline.
The standout moments in Upgrade are easily the four action sequences, and the small satisfying amount of blood, and gore. Tightly choreographed with kinetic cinematography swaying as it follow the action. Offers the film’s most visually inspired moments. Two of the fight sequences in the movie have offer brutal kills, and great practical gore effects that makes those moments easily memorable. It’s impossible not to get excited about an upcoming action sequence when they are edited masterfully, and are visually interesting. As for the climax it doesn’t offer up gore, but it will provide the best fight sequence in the film. Made impressive by the fact it’s not even a martial movie, nor does it have complex martial art moves.
Beyond the cool fight scenes is Upgrade’s one car chase is the least exciting action set piece in the movie. There’s not much to it other than everyone involve driving carefully, and there’s no hiding the cars aren’t going fast either through the many long shots. One car is ahead, and the other is trying to catch up to it without much happening in between.
For a low budget science fiction movie the most advance pieces of technology are drones, and literal handguns (yes, people can fire bullets from their hands). Other than that the technology being kept grounded for that hard sci-fi aesthetics. Providing a gritty detail to its overall look. Offering nice contrast between the glossy high tech look of the rich, and the grimy outdated looking tech of the poor.
Logan Marshall Green is the standout in the acting cast. Taking front, and center there’s hardly a single scene he isn’t part off. Doing a fantastic job to make the viewer sympathize with his character all the while being able to deliver some dark jokes. Providing his character great urgency in his journey. One difficult bit in his performance is performing an action scene where STEM takes over his body during a fight, and must act comedically horrified he’s beating a man to bloody pulp. Pulling off the difficult scene successfully to make it one of its most memorable moments. Plus, a nice touch in his performance is Green switching up how human, and how mechanically he moves in different portions of the movie.
Other standout in the movie is Simon Maiden who voices STEM. He’s portrays a emotionally detached computer voice with some enthusiasm. Coming across robotic, but not stoic. Rest of the cast pretty much plays it straight with their single minded characters. They do well in their roles ensuring there isn’t a weak link to the best of their abilities. Any actor who took part in the fight sequences also deserves some praise brilliantly performing them through robotic movements. The cinematography, and music score their job. Occasionally from both you’ll get inspired bits creating energy in a scene, but generally aren’t noteworthy most of the time.
It’s a simple movie with simple goals that knows not to take itself too seriously. The takeaways from Ugrapde are easily the action sequences, the gore, and the ending. There’s still plenty in the movie to appreciate from Logan Marshall Green performance, the dark humor, and its lead character destruction for a majority of the run time. Upgrade offers entertainment of a schlocky B-movie with all the right touches to make it a cult classic over time.
Under good hands the ordinary can seem extraordinary. In film, it has the power to make a story that is entirely set in one car surprisingly engaging (Locke). At the same time, it has the power to take something like a giant serpent, and its army wrecking Los Angeles boring (Dragon Wars). Thanks to medium like films, they have the power to share those kinds of experience that otherwise probably never would have experienced by viewers in their life. In some cases, making you feel like as if you’re right in the story. The Revenant is such a film achieving an immersive experience that makes up for it shortcomings that come up from the writing.
The Revenant follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fighting for his survival. There is a narrative thread woven from Hugh Glass desire to seek revenge, but a cat, and mouse game the film is not. Choosing to focus instead on Glass struggle with nature the film is written in a way to emphasize visceral, visual experience. Dialogue heavy scenes are few in between, and the focus is hardly removed from a wounded Hugh Glass ongoing battle against nature, and to a certain extent his fellow men. Spending around a third of the film with Hugh Glass alone without monologuing on anything associated with himself. Opting to show Hugh Glass as much possible with his wounded body to carry on forward. Only hearing the sounds of the environment (the cold wind blowing, waterfalls) to create a sense of desolate. Expressing his pain in a series of grunts, and screams. Hugh Glass is a man of very few words throughout the film. Whenever he does speak Glass dialogue is written to get across the broadest idea in the least amount of words. This same notion also applies to the era where the film takes place in. It never explicitly states where, nor when the story takes place in, but just gives the minimal amount of information. As a whole the film takes itself seriously, though does offer a couple sparsely spread out brief comedic moments. These bits of humor are a rarity serving their purpose to lighten things up. However, the tone is not trying to balance itself making it serious business at all time.
In the writing department developed characters are not in full focus. Hugh Glass is not developed beyond his standard traits introduce in the beginning of the film. He’s a loving father who cares for his son, and a tough individual who can withstand what nature throws at him. There are trinkets of dialogue where characters do talk about Glass past, but never a full scene dedicated to showing it. You will get brief glimpses into the past of Hugh Glass, though the significance of them underwhelms since it never leads to anything. These glimpses of Glass past attempt to make him more of a definable character, though the only aspect of them that feels organic is Glass dedication. A common theme in the movie is his dedication to persevere through his injuries no matter how painful it is. Glass lives by the words “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight”. Demonstrating this belief in his dedication to stay alive as well as becoming a motif for narrative purposes.
One important trait of the writing that fails at is creating morally grey characters. Within the film own context, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) action are attempted to be painted as an act of necessity for survival. Showing his hesitation in Hugh Glass leadership, and lack of confidence in the group chances of survival when chased by Indians. Attempting to make his action justifiable to an extent. What’s disappointing about this element is whenever the film shows more, and more of Fitzgerald he is clearly meant to come across as the film villain. Throwing out the morally grey characters it wanted to create in the film becoming a more streamline revenge story. Two moments backing up this claim is Fitzgerald dialogue in the climax is most evident of his wholly villainous turn taunting Hugh Glass. Another is Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) who in spite of his position of Captain does not order his men to search for Fitzgerald because the film wants its protagonist to learn something from his journey.
Then, there’s a moment in the climax where Fitzgerald performs an action reminiscences of an event that scarred him. What makes little sense is that it’s established in a scene that any type of reminder of that event puts Fitzgerald on edge never wanting to think about it. However, when he performs the specific action it eliminates consistency in his character, and remove what little characterization he had. Slowly transforming the morally ambiguous action of characters into good, and evil. If there were more to Fitzgerald had more to his character than the film still would have worked with the revenge story intact as well as having the intended morally ambiguous characters, but the small moments, and important details get toss aside derailing it.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu direction while unsubtle in the tackling of the film main theme did a magnificent job in creating a visceral experience. Using breathing as a motif in his storytelling (and part of the soundtrack), and the loose visual representation of being reborn/resurrected. In the film, every time Leonardo DiCaprio character struggle through an overwhelming ordeal Alejandro Gonzalez focuses the lens on showing him getting stronger in his ordeal. Giving the proper direction to DiCaprio on movement to illustrate his growing strength. His usage of CGI is small, but made every usage is for great effect. In a noteworthy scene with heavy CG Leonardo DiCaprio is mauled, and tossed around by a Bear. Paying close attention since the Bear is CG Alejandro was smart in using practical effects hidden within the CG Bear make whatever the CG Bear makes contact with move. It’s especially noteworthy when considering most of the Bear attack scene was done in one take leaving little room for error. Under his determined direction the film always feel like it’s in good hands.
The opening sequence of the film is a technical accomplishment that should be noted. Opening up with an Indians attacking a group of hunters doesn’t sound complicated on paper, but when you make it on a big scale it does. However, the scope of the Indian attack on the hunters isn’t the reason it’s an accomplishment for the film. Rather it’s the fact that both cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and editor Stephen Mirrione created a set piece comprised mostly of a series of one shot takes. Right when the first hunter is shown falling to the floor from arrows shot on his back Lubezki continues aiming the camera at where the viewer should be focus for a seamless shot. In this one shot, a hunter is shot in the neck with an arrow showing the arrow make contact, while another hunter is struck in the back with a wooden spear, and the sound of death scares a hunter causing him to shoot a hunter in front of him without a cut. Another compliment to Emmanuel Lubezki would be the lighting. Yes it’s an entirely random aspect of filmmaking to praise when it goes largely unnoticed. The Revenant was virtually shot entirely with natural lighting which is impressive since there are filmmakers who can’t even do fabricated lighting correctly. Only one scene in the movie uses a dash of creative artificial lighting. It was for a campfire shot in which the wind was causing the fire to behave in an unpredictable and distracting way, Lubezki used some light bulbs around the fire to make what he calls a cushion of light. Making an already beautiful looking film more technically impressive.
If there’s a possible complaint to be had with the cinematography that would be the repetitive usage of wide angle shots. It becomes noticeable before reaching the hour mark that the film love to use wide angle shots by itself, or have the shot pan in either the left, or right direction. In addition, it also has a couple of wide angle shots that spin around too. While harmless for the film intentions the visual is very noticeable when viewing it.
Now if you’re going into the film with the idea to see a thrilling spectacle you’ll be disappointed. While the film few set pieces are excellent, and fantastically filmed with a visually large scope in mind. They will take a back seat to everything else that is shown in the film. Shots of DiCaprio crawling stay up longer than a set piece that requires DiCaprio escaping from a group of attacking Indians. The film focus is more on showing the punishment nature dishes out at Hugh Glass where he spends allot of time crawling, limping, and walking out of whatever get thrown his way. It shown with a series of wide angle shots of the cold wilderness, and the distance Glass has to travel. Whenever Glass is walking the camera pans out from a distance to illustrate how resilience Glass is in his environment. In total, it’s debatable there’s a total of actually four set pieces; the opening sequence, the Bear attack, DiCaprio running away from a band of Indians, and the climax. Of course, the quality of the set piece is far more important than the actual amount. Thankfully, all the ones the film offer are executed to their fullest effect. Another aspect are the set pieces emphasizes urgency than it does violence. Hugh Glass is in danger, and by not being in good shape he has to get away from danger as quickly as possible. Becoming more immersive than exciting upon viewing.
To date, this is Leonardo DiCaprio best physical performance to date. In terms of line delivery DiCaprio barely talks in the film. His co star, Tom Hardy, has more spoken dialogue than DiCaprio does. Back on point, DiCaprio vocal performance is a series of grunts, and screams of pains. What holds the performance together is DiCaprio performing difficult tasks, and hurting his body throughout the film. He expresses so much emotion in his facial expressions, and body movement. Tom Hardy also puts in a great a performance. Despite the script treatment of John Fitzgerald Tom Hardy performance humanizes the character. Making emotions surrounding him conflicting, even after taunting Leonardo DiCaprio character in the climax. The only criticism would be his accent in the beginning of the film makes some of his dialogue discernible. It’s an issue that doesn’t remain with Hardy performance. In one scene in particular he shares with Will Poulter regarding if the means were justified to survive Hardy is cold, yet understanding in the scene. Proving he’s a difficult person to read, especially when taking into account a prior scene where he shows desperation.
Supporting actors Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, and Forrest Goodluck are noteworthy since they have good amount of screen time to make an impression. Will Poulter plays Jim Bridger in the film. With the scenes Poulter is given he does an excellent job in expressing deep fear, conflict, and sorrow in his character. Sharing scenes convincingly with Tom Hardy display layer relationship on the journey. Domhnall Gleeson plays Captain Andrew Henry who presence on screen varies depending depending on what act the film is in. Gleeson puts in a strong performance commanding authority that is required to pull off his character convincingly. Forrest Goodluck speaks in a different language for most of his screen time. He’s simply fine in the role since he’s not given difficult material to portray like his other costars. While fine in portraying DiCpario son it’s not much of a showcase of talent in the actor. The score creates a atmosphere that is certainly elevated by the rousing and gloomy score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and The National’s Bryce Dessner. In some moments, it is Eno-esque while in others the sounds become erratic. Altogether, it’s a haunting collection of tearful strings, glazed synths, and engulfing bass that mirrors the scenery and action at hand with compelling results.
The Revenant is lacking in deep characters, but makes up for it good performances, an interesting story that emphasizes the visual experience of filmmaking, and is beautifully shot throughout. On a technical level it’s quite a marvel of a film. While the story does get streamlined in the final act preventing itself from being as complex as it could been it doesn’t deteriorate it from reaching it goals. Its simple characters work fine in a film where’s its protagonist is attempting to survive harsh condition succeeding in immersing the viewer to the very end.
Inspired By True Events
The Revenant sports the “Inspired By True Events” tagline attached to it. So how much does it stray from the actual story? Well, the filmmakers had the courtesy to use “Inspire” instead of “Based On A True Story” since the actual Hugh Glass never had a son in any sense in anything written about him. However, the confrontation with an enraged grizzly bear, the part of Glass being dumped in a shallow grave 200 miles from friendly territory and leave with all his equipment, Glass hauling his broken mess of a body out of his own grave, scraped the infection out of his wounds, set his broken leg and started crawling toward the nearest outpost, a French trapper outpost called Fort Kiowa are confirmed to be true.
All whole ordeal lasted six weeks for Hugh Glass. After successfully avoiding vengeful Arikara war parties, wolves and bears, while surviving on berries, roots, rotting carcasses, and rattlesnakes, Glass made it to the river. A Sioux hunting party came upon the living man-corpse and helped him fashion some branches into a crude raft, which he sailed to Fort Kiowa and safety. As soon as he recovered, Glass set out to hunt down Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he finally found them, he … forgave them. But only after he got his rifle back. In the case for the film while the revenge story did feel tacked on it is a good way to reward patient viewers in a film that’s over 2 hours. If the film was fateful it would ended things on a anticlimactic note, though there is more to the story.
If your interested, or just really like reading check this article by Historynet that goes into great detail on the story if you like.
Korean cinema is the go to for the thriller genre. As saturated as it might be no other film industry has quite nail the genre quite perfectly as Korea bringing in new twists on familiar setups and avoiding any unneeded melodrama among other reasons. Hwayi is another one of those stellar action/thriller that succeeds giving high focus on the human side of its story giving the old revenge set up a revitalizing fresh take.
Hwayi is about a boy who is kidnapped as a toddler and subsequently raised by a group of five criminals. Hwayi’s relationships with his dads should form the backbone of the story. That isn’t the case as their personalities are so hazily drawn even when reaching the hour mark. Rather the backbone is Hwayi discovering a dark truth and his transformation into a world he tries so hard to separate himself despite having been raised in it. There’s more to it than just pure revenge often considering the ramifications of such actions on both side. The kidnappers all desire a different life for Hwayi from desiring Hwayi to follow in the criminal lifestyle or making an honest living. Each of the five kidnappers each differ in how they see Hwayi, but underneath the rough shell all share love for the child they raised. As determined as Hwayi is on his goal he’s emotionally distress at the situation at hand. Morally correct he feels justifies towards his vengeance, but emotionally pulling the trigger on those who raised him is not a simple concept to convert into. It cares about the characters and their complicated relationship for one another allowing time to make it core character relationship have value to its action scenes.
Where the film loses itself is length saturation. It isn’t made evident until the overextended third act that the film could have been tighten better. A subplot that involves a detective searching for the criminals doesn’t impact the film in a meaningful way. All the subplot does is reinforce how intelligent the criminals are as a team and reiterate information characters already figured out on their own. After a series of twists and a couple dead bodies later it reaches a climax that overstays its welcome. Clumsily written I wouldn’t say as the pivotal point is effectively written bringing to nature the layers of the final confrontation. It’s subtext is underlying a nature vs. nurture view as the protagonist feelings are complex and to a degree no better than from those he wishes to avoid. However, due to its climax dragging out and understanding the protagonist the expected inevitable outcome drags. Mid way through the climax it points are clear unsure of itself when to end the scene. Pacing is not an issue and while there are few set pieces moment there’s a well written story with plenty to seek into.
Director Jang Jun-Hwan style of the film correlates with the bleakness of his material. Sporting a very gloomy and gray color palette it rarely has any vibrant color to be seen. The same applies to his filming of an action scene most of which in confined location often with occurring at night keeping minimal distances from a fist fight or gunfight. Utilizing frantic editing to intensified the action scenes and clearance when a fatal hit strikes person. This isn’t applied to the film chase scenes as it often follow the exterior of the cars from a far never showing the danger up head it drivers. Despite what occurs on screen the car chases don’t duplicate the same level of urgency. Cho Jin-Woong, Kim Seong-gyoon, Jang Hyeon-seong, and Park Hae-joon quickly establish their respective characters right from their first appearance; Cho Jin-wong is one of few sympathetic characters in the film, and Kim Seong-gyoon is always on the edge with his possibly psychopathic character. Missing is genuine chemistry between him and Yeo, even when feelings of extreme love and loathing roil in their final confrontation. As an innocent who’s sheltered, duped and pushed over the edge, Yeo sometimes overstates his character’s pain and bafflement. Lim Ji-eun is pitiful as a woman confined in her hopeless position by her men and then by herself, Nam Ji-hyeon is a plucky high school girl who happens to begin a tentative relationship with Hwayi, and her scenes with Yeo jin-goo are a few precious warm spots in the movie.
Hwayi is a very unique action/thriller with an original and exciting take on the father and son dynamic. It’s more than a film about revenge more so than it is the delicacy of parenthood and how damaging it can for both sides. Cold and gloomy as it might be it’s also a great action/thriller that offers a unique story and good set pieces.