Tag Archives: South Korean Films

Anime-Breakdown: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (2014)

Korean animation, much like India animation industry, are things I know almost nothing about. They usually get overshadowed either by Hollywood, Japan, and heck even the French in that area. While South Korea do have their success story like The King of Pigs which is a generally well received movie. Anime fans on the other hand know South Korea for their work on trashy knockoffs like Super Kid, Diatron 5, and Blue Seagull. All three which are infamous for their bad quality, and in the case of Diatron 5 a classic among the so bad it’s good anime. The general public on the other hand is unlikely to clearly name you a Korean animated movie, or TV series they like from the top of their head. Would you believe me that AKOM, a South Korean animation studio actually animated over 200 episodes of The Simpsons, and also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, Bob’s Burger, and several other series. Shocking I know South Korea animation industry contributes a lot more than what the average person probably think they do. Today’s movie likely won’t cause that huge wave of exposure Korean animation desires to match Hollywood, or Japan, but the strange, and charming movie might get you more interested in checking out their stuff.

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Wizard toilet paper, not the strangest thing you’ll see in the movie

Satellite Girl, and Milk Cow tells the everyday story of KITSAT-1, a satellite, who wants to learn about human emotions, and crash lands on Earth. After crash landing on Earth, she is transforms into a girl, and tries to help Kyung-chun who has been transformed into a milk cow. As unusual as the premise sounds, don’t worry this is only the setup to a strange, but charming love story. Offering a strange cast of leading characters to follow; you have a satellite who falls in love with a musician after hearing one of his songs, you have a musician who turns into a milk because he’s broken hearted, and magical wizard named Merlin who got turned into toilet paper. Once you accept the strange story the character themselves are a lot fun to be around. KITSAT-1 is trying experiencing human emotion for the first time, and Kyung-chun is trying to sort out of his life, and his love life. The film does a good job exploring both of these characters conflicts. Giving both characters a fair amount of screen time tackling their issues together, and on their own to reflect what they’re looking for in life. Providing a full understanding where each is coming from, and taking the time to slowly show how they change.

A consequence of the film’s runtime is parts of the film are rushed, and in some cases lead to some head scratching moments. One of these happens late in the movie where a woman calls the police on Kyung-chun in his Milk Cow form suspecting him of attempting to abduct a child. During the scene, Kyung-chun acts out of character, and instead of sorting out the situation he goes to eat grass letting KITSAT-1 calm the angry citizens. Parts of the story aren’t properly explained like the organization the villain works. A minor complaint about the writing is aspects the world aren’t clearly explained. You’ll be left wondering where in the world did the Incinerator come from, and how widespread is the problem of broken hearted human being turned into animals is. Part of it remedied by keeping the conflict confined, and the villain’s motivation simple. Yes, it’s all about money. However, a lot of it charm seeps through the weaker aspects of its writing. Everything about the film feels sincere in its efforts to have fun while touching on the theme of love in its unique way. Not shying away from taking advantage from the strange world it created, even if the results is all over the place.

As individual characters both KITSAT-1, and Kyung-chun have satisfactory arcs, but in the romance department the bonding moments are rushed at times. One moment it’s all lovey dovey, and the next moment it’s the sorrowful we can’t be together. It still works since the story puts effort into ensuring they have plenty of bonding moments, but if allowed to play out more naturally it would have end up feeling more meaningful than it did.  Lastly, wizard toilet paper Merlin appears in frequently in the movie. For the first act he’s on screen, but after that his appearance is random. Given he has magical abilities some of the film conflicts could have been resolved easier if he was present his is made more noteworthy because of it. Although, Merlin is given some great, over the top dialogue which makes him a pleasant whenever to see on screen.

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Ah, the magic of toilet paper

The studio behind this is Now OR Never Studio, with animator/director Chang Hyung-yun handling of the project initially looking rough. When you do see 2D digital animation for the first time it is rough looking. Seeing a 2D cow running away from a mechanical Incinerator with jenky 3D movements, and obvious 3D background. The animation is consistent in quality. In particular when it comes to framing, and moving the camera in certain shots eliminating any semblance of perspective. The rotation of the camera in points inadvertently makes the 2D part look really bad.

Thankfully, a good chunk of the movie looks just fine. While it pales in comparison to 2D from other countries it works fine here. Generally the movie is colorful, and the backgrounds are decently detail in 2D. Always trying keep what’s on screen in motion. Offering some nice visual gags along the way, as well as some strange sights like Merlin the wizard toilet paper having arms, and legs. It’s strange to witness, but overall charming.

When it comes to voice acting both the Korean, and English tracks are pretty good. Thankfully, the English dub actually dubs the Korean songs in English. So you won’t get taken out of the moment when viewing the movie. I personally prefer the English dub because Kirk Thornton who voices Merlin is the highlight. He delivers such goofy sounding dialogue with plenty of charisma its infectious. I also like Daniel J Edwards (assuming he sang it) of the few songs that get played. However, there’s the consequence of the voice not matching the lip flaps of the characters on several occasions. It’s very distracting, though didn’t ruin the experience for me.

Satellite Girl, and Milk Cow is jenky in its animation, and wonky in its writing at times, but a lot of its charm seep through despite these issues. The production team is clearly trying to create a good film, and it shows through in the final product. It’ll a take a while to get over it shortcomings on all front, and you’re willing to a give it a chance despite that you might just find a good underneath the rough, and strange front to enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Merciless (2017)

The Merciless tells the crime genre age old tale of young, and spirited undercover cop, in this case being Hyun-soo (Im Siwan) infiltrating a criminal organization to take down Jae-Ho (Sol Kyung-Gu), and his boss empire. It sounds by the number, but when it comes to execution it delivers a pleasant surprise, and only for the first half. I can’t name you another movie in general that opened up with two criminals talking about eating raw fish, and killing people. This unusual opening show traits of the film capabilities to make something fresh out of a generic concept. For half of the movie, it does that perfectly fine. It does the usual plot points of showing the undercover cop infiltrating the prison, the preparation before the operation, and information regarding the criminals the officers are attempting to capture. Moving along in the prison where it also contain scenes you would expect; the undercover cop gaining the powerful criminal trust, rescuing powerful criminal from death, capturing the top criminal attention in a prison brawl, and eventually bonding. Familiarity easily could have been this film biggest enemy, but it turns it around, add its own spin on things, and feels fresh.

For about an hour, it does a superb job sprinkling plot points that could eventually become rewarding the more the film progresses. Showing early on shades of grey on both the officers Hyun-soo works for, and the criminal he’s infiltrating. All the while balancing Hyun-soo ever growing bond with the target, what it does to him mentally, and showing how his loyalty wavered. Another nice approach to the matter is taking a setup that is usually played dead serious, and adding much needed levity to make it stand apart. Giving the prison portion of the movie more charm than one would expect. Providing a host of laughs without tonal whiplash when it goes back to being serious. The fun nature become part of the characters we follow, and makes them likable. While in prison, the story doesn’t forget to thicken the story by providing Jae-Ho his own conflicts. Ensuring even if Hyun-soo isn’t on screen something significant does feel like is happening. It’s unfortunate that once both characters make their eventual exit from prison it’s all a series of bad choices.

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Criminals always have to look professional when cracking skulls

A slight twist to liven up a generic set up is the film antagonist knows our protagonist is an undercover cop for half of the movie. This makes the dynamic far more interesting by avoiding the usual pitfall of “the lier reveal” climax movies of this nature tend to heavily rely on. It’s a shame the film decides to do very little with this twist. Hyun-soo plays both sides conflicted about where he belongs, and goes in the direction you expect it too. The police officers begin to doubt his loyalty, and so do some of the criminals. It never becomes a greater of two evil since the decides to remove the shades of grey it set up early on. A singular plot point derails the shades of grey undoing its own fresh take on a generic story.

Another aspect where the film falls apart is the police chief. This character is just here just because the film needs a stubborn chief to keep the undercover cop in check. There’s nothing done with her whereas Jae-Ho is meant to be a surrogate father to our protagonist. With this major flaw it’s impossible for the film to make a good case for why Hyun-soo loyalty should be solely with the law when the film frequently shows Hyun-soo getting berating, and the police chief mistreating him constantly for a job he didn’t want. Jae-Ho on the other hand also suffers from the lone fact him, and Hyun-soo relationship isn’t shown enough on a personal level. When it comes to them doing their criminal deeds there’s no expense of those scenes to find, but showing them interact in non job related activities is virtually absent. Doing a disservice to the viewer for detailing the growth of Hyun-soo, and Jae-Ho relationship.

What The Merciless was trying to go for is also questionable. The first half of the movie attempts to be a crowd pleaser while the second half takes a more arthouse approach both of which aren’t balanced. Instead of weaving a story that handle both style of cinema it went the easy route, and simply separating two vastly different style instead of combining them together. The second half attempts to make the viewer think on the story, and what it’s protagonist has to live with. Problem is, what the viewer is meant to take away from the story largely is unknown. It has a bleak ending, and that doesn’t means much when characters lose their appeal overtime the longer it goes on. Once outside of prison, the movie fails to further develop it leads in engaging ways. Reiterating traits about them already established. If it was trying to be a tragedy than it didn’t provides the characters needed to be worth caring about. Failing as a crowd pleaser since it goes from a fun, and occasionally grim undercover cop movie to a contemplated piece about human nature, and loyalty. It’s a messy movie with clear potential, and it dropped the ball.

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Story is a mess, but Sung-hyun Byun eye for visual is perfect

On the acting, and technical side of things it’s well rounded. When it comes to style director Sung-hyun Byun gives the film a sleek, and cinematic look to it. Always finding creative ways to shoot on paper would be mundane scenes. For example, when Sol Kyung-Gu is getting beaten by police officers outside of an office. Byun shows the sequence play out from the inside of the office out the window, and follows it to be more visually interesting. The film biggest set piece in the middle portion of the movie has a huge between two gangs. He doesn’t simply keep the camera in place with a wide view to make everything visible. A few time during this sequence he’ll have a take go on longer than expected to show the chaotic fighting, have the camera follow actor Siwan as he gets tossed across the room, and in a instance he rotates the camera full circle during the brawl. A rotation shot that could been seen as self indulgent, and distracting, but works thanks to his excellent eye for detail.

Im Si-wan falls into the category of what some viewers familiar with Asian movies would call a pretty boy. Typically this is an in-circle phrase for Asian cinema insistence to cast “pretty boys”, typically pop stars, in leading roles they shouldn’t be in from gangsters, to criminals, serial killers, and so forth that would make it difficult to accept them as the character. Asian cinema isn’t the only film industry guilty of this so I typically pay it no attention. Especially here since the physical appearance of Im Si-wan works in his favor. It’s easy to buy from him that he gets drawn to the allure of the criminal world. He plays his role exceptionally well, especially during his dramatic turns as some of his work in this movie. Combining a certain level of vulnerability, or arrogance within his performance.

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Another one of Byun creativity behind the camera coming through

Sol Kyung-Gu is another standout. His role is more complicated to decipher. He’s able to demonstrate a more caring side within his portrayal despite him playing a character aiming to be number one through any means. Expressing his character enjoyment in his dangerous business weather it be beating up criminals, or climbing up the ranks. Displaying a ruthless within him, even when coming off as playful. Yet, he never loses his darker side whenever on screen with Im Si-wan. When together, they both bounce of each other naturally. The only other actor with a noteworthy performance is Kim Hee-Won. A more playful performance to counteract Sol Kyung-Gu subtle performance. Kim Hee-Won gets most of the film jokes, and delivers them perfectly thanks to his comedic timing. Despite being the most lighthearted among the cast, he too is able to dramatic pick up the slack when it comes time to it. Other actors do just as well in their more straight laced role. Jeon Hye-Jin who plays the police chief, and Lee Kyoung-Young who plays the criminal boss play them straight. Despite that, both are given enough time to leave an impression.

The Merciless was a tough watch for the sole reason it’s the kind of movie that could have been more, but didn’t know how to. It’s unfortunate because you have half of a good movie, and the other half that derails it with a misguided direction in writing. It wants to be a movie that appeals to the general crowd, and cinephiles alike, but just end disappointing both. Lavish production values, good performances, and very little, but decently action sequences barely helps it raise above the mediocrity of similar movies. However, when the writing unwillingness to commit to taking risks, and gamble big prevented The Merciless from possibly being another classic piece of crime cinema.

Rating: 6/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Isle (2000) Review

Art house films is a part of the whole spectrum of movies that I don’t care for to be honest. It’s pretty obvious by the movies I choose to see. The challenge of seeing such a film is not a turn off, but the absent of substance I tend to find is. Art house cinema, unlike everything else related to movies I encounter, is the likeliest home of some of the most shallow piece of filmmaking that I can find. In particular, the smugness of these filmmakers that become present in their work thinking they made something deeper than it actually is. With this kind of mentality being equally common in art house cinema as the thought-provoking films that stick with you I’m happy engaging in it as little as I do. Preventing viewing experience like the one I had with The Isle from being a frequent thing.

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Suh Jung recreating my reaction watching this movie

The Isle is about mute Hee-jin (Suh Jung), who operates a fishing resort, forming an unlikely bond with shady customer Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok). What little there is too the story is underwhelming. This is one of those art house movies that pad out their runtime by showing you every single action of their character not related to the story. Typically, it would be characters walking long distances, but this case its seeing Suh Jung drive people, or herself in a boat around the fishing resort. Things that take up minutes of screen time with little substantive dialogue to connect a theme, or a message of any sort. Being more damaging in this movie since entertainment is not a focus of the film. There’s also numerous occasions of seeing people do random activities at the fishing resorts whether it be seeing them poop on the resort, or attempting suicide. It’s the mundane atmosphere of nothing visually exciting happening that make the “shocking” scenes “hard” to watch. It’s easier to be shocked by something when the film has nothing happening in terms of story.

Characters simply go through the motion of events, and are more about displaying abstract ideas with nothing concrete to center the characters. One can ponder why a woman would shove a several fishing hooks up her vagina, but one can also be bored by such a sight when the only thing gather about its characters are abstract. Same with the abstract characteristic thag Hee-jin becoming possessive when saving a suicidal man’s life. Maybe Hee-jin is possessive, but with little foundation to her as a character she could also simply be a woman overstepping her boundary in preventing a suicidal man from taking his own life. Either of these notions could be correct. By doing so, it would defeat the movie intentions when simply throwing non-correlating interpretation at it, but when there’s no foundation for characters to connect to themes anything goes.

Hyun-shik character best gets across the clumsy writing of the movie. His shady background once reveal involves him being a wanted man, along with the brief details of the crime committed. By the way the story is written this revelation is just mundane. By choosing to remove raising action, and the essence of conflict from the writing everything seems equally dull. It’s not the intention of the film to portray such events, or people as dull. Rather it has something to say about the human state of suffering, and the way different ways people communicate is more sincere, even if against the familiarity one is use too. I know, that’s quite a mouthful of a sentence. In the movie itself, it doesn’t come off that way. Unlike great art house movies, you’ll won’t find working pieces that connect everything together. It has substance, but it’s all over the place that’s more than likely to leave your pondering what was the point than being provoked by it.

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The Isle (2000) can look beautiful at times.

Actress Suh Jung despite playing a mute delivers a fantastic performance. Conveying an arrange of emotion, and inner turmoil of her character through her body language. Bringing to life a tragic character of its own kind rare to be seen in films. Taking pleasure in portraying the more sadistic side of her character, and improving the movie with her presence. She might lack any memorable lines of dialogue to speak, but when she’s as good as she is there’s no need for it. Aside from the cinematography from Seo-shik Hwang, Suh Jung is practically the only thing the movie has going for it.

Actor Kim Yu-seok whom plays Hyun-shik does well in portraying a lost soul, wandering soul. Awkward, sincere, and crazy are the impressions he’ll give you with his performance. When it comes to his acting he best shines with Suh Jung whom together create a strange onscreen couple. One’s that is odd as it is fascinating, and a bit charming when fish hooks, or knives aren’t around. Much like Suh Jung, Kim Yu-seok is also able convey the same inner turmoil of his character to similar success. There are other actors in the movie whom do adequately in their roles, but Suh Jung, and Kim Yu-seok are the only actors with substantial material to dig into.

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Kim Yo-seok: “You see your life story, but all I see is my pet bird in a cage”

Director Kim Ki-duk (whom also wrote the movie) creates a visually alluring film that is absorbing. Almost dreamlike with the mist covering the water resort to add to its surreal mood. Using a wide variety of camera angles to show its beauty, setting the atmosphere accordingly enveloping the viewer into a trance with the calm mist, and smoke above the water to put them in a trance. Consisting of primarily long takes to provide the viewer more than enough time to absorb everything in, and out of this fishing resort. It’s easily an alluring movie displaying beauty in the mundane. Granted, when the “disturbing” scenes came around I wasn’t grossed out by them, but with fantastic dreamlike cinematography I can’t anyone who found the grotesque moments hard to watch.

The Isle is a visually absorbing movie with a fantastic performance by Suh Jung, but that’s about its only outstanding features. With a emphasis on minimalist storytelling, and acting it’s one of those up to interpretation type of art house movies. Why it doesn’t work is simple, it doesn’t center the substance, or themes to anything concrete to cohesively connect the dots. It won’t provide much to think about when it comes to themes, characters, or interpretations. Instead, all you will remember are certain scenes that might make your stomach turn.

Rating: 4/10