Han Gong-Ju 한공주 Year: 2013 Director: Lee Su-jin Writer: Lee Su-jin Cast: Chun Woo-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim So-young Running Time: 112 minutes Country: South Korea
Lee Su-jin directs a powerful and brave coming-of-age story based on real life events of an infamous crime that happened in Miryang, South Korea.
17 year old girl Han Gong-ju is forced to change schools after being involved in a scandalous incident. Her previous school teacher takes it upon himself to help her out by arranging a place for her to hide out, in his mother's home. After starting a new school, Han Gong-ju tries to move on from the incident while keeping to herself but when her new friend Eun-hee discovers that she is a talented singer, she records her and uploads it to the internet on a fansite. Just as Gong-ju's life is starting to come together, her past begins to catch up.
Surprisingly Lee Su-jin tackled such a controversial subject for his directorial debut while also serving as the screen-writer. It proved to be a rewarding choice as the film went on to win numerous top awards around the festival circuit including the Tiger Award at the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Golden Star at the 2013 Marrakech International Film Festival and Best New Director and Best Actress at the 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards.
The story is told through a non-conventional narrative and plot structure. Jumping subtly between past and present, it often catches you off guard before you realise what time frame the story is currently in. This adds to the viewers confusion as the mystery starts to unfold leaving you desperate and anxious to know what transpired. The storytelling and pacing is handled expertly as the film reaches it's nail-biting conclusion. With each new flashback, the horrifying incident gets more and more shocking as the viewer discovers exactly what occurred. Although these scenes can be hard to watch, credit to director Lee Su-jin, he never delves in to shock tactics to get a reaction.
Chun Woo-hee at the age of 26 plays a character ten years her junior with finesse and believability. Starring as the traumatised teen she delivers a subtle, yet often highly emotional and convincing performance which encourages you to root for the character as she tries to adjust and move on with her life. Chun Woo-hee's award winning performance would probably net her an Oscar nomination if this was a Hollywood picture.
The story is helped along with some humour and beautiful music and although the film is very dark, it still often feels upbeat. Gong-ju takes up trying to learn to swim once she moves school which adds some light-hearted comic relief moments. As does her new friendship with Eun-hee, which is sweet and adds some much needed charm to the film. Overall the film and story is bold and powerful, and even though it can be a hard watch, it deserves to be seen.
Hang Gong-Ju is a low budget film which went on to receive critical acclaim and break box office records in South Korea for an independent release. The films also elevated two new stars in the lead actress and director who are certainly people you should keep a close eye on.
Love Off The Cuff 春嬌救志明 Year: 2017 Director: Pang Ho-cheung Writers: Luk Yee-sum, Wan Chi-man, Pang Ho-cheung Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Paul Chun, Jiang Mengjie Running Time: 120 minutes Country: Hong Kong-China
Pang Ho-cheung re-teams Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung for his third installment in the romantic-comedy Love In A Puff series. Is this story starting to show signs of fatigue? Or is this an inevitable set up for a fourth film? Picking up after the events of 2012's Love In The Buff, Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) are now a relatively happy couple, living together and dealing with their daily ups and downs. Jimmy still has trouble growing up and taking the relationship seriously, while Cherie can be a bit overbearing and her demands make it somewhat challenging to live with. Furthering their stress, Cherie's father (Paul Chun) returns to town out of blue to introduce them to his new young fiancee. At the same time, Jimmy's childhood friend, who also happens to be his godmother, comes to visit with the request of wanting Jimmy to father her child through artificial insemination. After a disastrous trip together to Taipei, the couple are finally forced to confront their doubts about their future together. The plot is very bare, as was the rest of the series, but that's never what drives these films. It's about the characters, their realism and their situations together. It almost has an intimate documentary feel as we peek in to a couples insecurities as we watch Cherie snoop through Jimmy's phone. Or her worrying about their younger lodger walking around the apartment in her bra. Jimmy is constantly doing something wrong or upsetting his partner by accident, which is a character trait that a lot of men, including myself, can relate to. And that's the driving force behind these films, how relatable and real that they feel. Love Off The Cuff, like the rest of the series, is a very local Hong Kong film. The characters talk and act like Hong Kongers which is part of the appeal of Pang Ho-cheung's work. He isn't afraid to possibly alienate some viewers by keeping it brutally realistic. Some of the humour is distinctive to Hong Kong, so some of the jokes may go over your head. And there are references throughout to HK pop-culture such as jokes about the Young and Dangerous films, Nick Cheung, Leon Lai and even some Canto-pop songs. There is a karaoke scene featuring a pop song(that i'm unfamiliar with) which is used rather effectively and even if you are unfamiliar with the song, you still understand the sentiment. But if you are a local, i'm sure it would have even more depth. Pang Ho-cheung handles humour excellently in his films, and Love Off The Cuff is dirtier and more outrageous than before. There is a scene involving a gag about "literally shit" as Cherie puts it. It's childish, it's crude, and it's genuinely funny, it received a loud roar of laughter in the cinema hall I was in. There is some situation and shock humour throughout the film, but it's all executed well. A memorable scene has cops finding the 2 leads in a mistaken sexual act situation which gets funnier and funnier as it progresses, this is similar to comedy you may see in American Pie or Superbad. It's not always possible to get humour to work this well for the Hong Kong audience that the Western world also understands, but I think this series has tackled that very well, even if that wasn't their overall intention.
Shawn and Miriam have grew together throughout these films. They have always had great chemistry but now after 7 years, it almost feels like they have became these alter egos and it makes the whole experience more worthwhile. Both do a superb job in their roles, and none of their acting could be faulted. The supporting cast are also great with Cherie's regular friends returning for shenanigans. And her dad played by Paul Chun has some brilliantly funny scenes which boosts the film with some needed energy. 120 minutes didn't feel overly long, but it could have been trimmed down by about 15 minutes or so to help the overall flow of the story progression. There is also one scene which came across as being a bit too dark and startling for this genre of film, it caught me off guard and stayed with me for a while afterwards. But Pang Ho-cheung is a genre busting director at heart, which is evident by his bizarre intros to his films. This time is was a highly entertaining story about Gat Gat Gong... Which almost makes me hope he directs a monster horror film next. Although I wouldn't go as far to say that fatigue is setting in, I'd rank this film better than part two but not as good as part one, it did feel like more could have been done to progress the characters story further as a lot of the film is familiar territory. With the ending we are left wondering, is this the end of the trilogy? Or will there be a fourth to let us fans know what happens next? I personally think there is enough story left in these characters to make another film. So how about we get the next installment "Love Up The Duff" (That name has been shamelessly stolen from my partner who suggested it after our viewing).
Love Off The Cuff is currently showing from the 28th April in cinemas across Hong Kong, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. For more information check here
Windstruck 내 여자친구를 소개합니다 Year: 2004 Director: Kwak Jae-yong Writer: Kwak Jae-yong Cast: Jun Ji-hyun, Jang Hyuk Running Time: 123 minutes Country: South Korea
Windstruck is a Korean Rom-com/Drama that's a spiritual companion piece to My Sassy Girl, featuring the same lead actress and same director. In it's own right, this is still a very good film.
Myung Woo(Jang Hyuk) is a mild-mannered teacher who gets mistaken for a purse snatcher while chasing after the real culprit. An off duty tough as nails police officer Gyeong Jin(Jun Ji-hyun) ends up catching and arresting him to his suprise.
Although this hilarious case of mistaken identity is eventually sorted out, Myung Woo has to return to the police station only a few days later in order to carry out some "community service" by accompanying a police officer while he walks his day-to-day beat. However, Myung Woo is shocked to learn that he's going to be following Gyeong Jin! After spending the entire night handcuffed to his sexy, but dangerous partner as she chases down no-good criminals, Myung Woo begins to discover that he's falling for the brassy, and yet, sassy law enforcement agent!
Windstruck is definitely a film of two halves. The first hour is so entertaining and laugh out loud funny. It's directed so well, that even though many scenes are rom-com cliches the hour passes so quickly that you want the story to just continue you like this, although deep down you know that it can't. Jun Ji-hyun(My Sassy Girl) is brilliant in the lead as usual. Maybe a bit of a stereotypical character for her to play, but she plays the part of the sassy girlfriend so convincingly. She also really gets to exercise her acting chops with some heavy emotional scenes and even a bit of action! Jang Hyuk(Volcano High) is perfectly fine as the love interest in this story. His facial expressions and mannerisms are a little over the top, but they are extremely funny and charming and add to his dim-witted likability.
However, the second hour marks some drastic changes to the film as the whole story gets flipped upside down. Gone are the light hearted comedy and fun montages and instead we get some heavy melodrama and scenes that will deliberatley tug at your heart strings until you almost feel like you can't take it anymore. The second half is still great, although the change of pacing and direction can be quite jarring. The film also goes in to genre-busting territory as we end up with some quite dark action scenes as the police are involved in some bloody shoot outs with criminals. These scenes might seem out of place for a Rom-Com but I actually found it quite refreshing, especially to split up all the tears and dramatics. The second hour doesn't flow as well as the first, and certain scenes feel like they could have been omitted to help the story flow more organically.
A real highlight of Windstruck in the stunning soundtrack. Whoever chose the music for this film deserves big praise. The use of the classic song Stay by Maurice Williams is used very effectively in a few scenes that will melt your heart and make you fall in love with the characters. There is a sweet cover of Knockin' On Heaven's Door by Youme which sets up the whole film. The use of X Japan - Tears is so perfectly placed it almost feels like it was written for this scene. Another brilliant song on the OST is BK Love by MC Sniper, no idea what the song or lyrics are about because it's Korean rap, but the style, the beat and flow fits perfectly with some of the later darker scenes.
All in all, problems aside, Windstruck is a very good film. Ultimately it doesn't live up to My Sassy Girl, but then again, how many films can? It deserves to be watched and admired in it's own right. But if you are a superfan of My Sassy Girl there are many connections, scenes and easter eggs relating to it. One scene in particular caught me off guard on my first viewing, and it nearly broke me. If you try hard enough, and ignore the plot holes it would create, you could almost link Windstruck and My Sassy Girl together, which is a fun and rewarding task.
This film is definitely worth a watch, especially for fans of Korean romantic dramas
A Better Tomorrow 무적자 Year: 2010 Director: Song Hae-sung Writers:Kim Hyo-seok, Lee Taek-gyeong, Choi Geun-mo, Kim Hae-gon Cast: Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo, Jo Han-sun Running Time: 124 minutes Country: South Korea
This South Korean remake of the original Hong Kong classic is a dramatic action thriller which sadly lacks the charm of the John Woo original.
A Better Tomorrow tells the story of Hyuk (Jin-mo), who lives the fast life as a high-ranking mobster in Busan, South Korea with his closest pal, fellow mobster Lee Young-Chun (Seung-heon). Hyuk is haunted by the memory of leaving behind his younger brother Chul (Kang-woo) and mother as they attempted to flee into South Korea from North Korea. In a set-up, Hyuk by the police and jailed. Three years later, he is released and travels back to Busan to find his younger brother Chul now a high-ranking police officer. Hyuk tries to earn back the trust of his brother, but rejection and betrayal are hard to forget. Things come to a head when Young-Chun pulls Hyuk into doing one last gig. It happen to be the case that Officer Chul is in charge of, and the three brothers meet again one final time.
The first thing you'll notice about this film is how great it looks. The remake is very aesthetically pleasing, with stunning cinematography and exciting locations. In terms of Korean budgets, it looks very well accomplished and a big step up from the original which was produced with a very tight budget.
While it's not a direct shot-for-shot remake, the story still focuses on the themes of loyalty and brotherhood. The theme of 'heroic bloodshed' is still there. But as it's Korean there is a lot more emphasis on the dramatics, even during the wild action scenes. There is actually too much emphasis on the drama without any of the fun and laughs of the original, which helped balance out a violent and somber tale.
To keep the storyline feeling fresh, the writers have changed some elements and plot points and also added in many Korean traits. Most of which works in it's favour. The brothers now have an origin of being North Korean defectors who fled to South Korea for a better life, and in turn, got wrapped up in the world of gangsters. Another plot point which helped the story progress was rather than being counterfeiters like in the original, they now work as arm traffickers. While this doesn't make the characters any more likeable or relatable, it does explain why they have easy access to guns for the shoot outs... and believe me, there are an abundance of guns to go around.
The shoot-outs are all filmed extremely well and the choreography is great. The action is fast paced and relentless. And the hits are violent and bloody. It's everything you really want, only with a bit too much drama sometimes placed in the middle of them, especially in the lead up to the finale when it crosses over in to melodrama territory.
Each of the main actors did a fine job in their roles. But a big issue is that none of them really stood out or seemed that different from each other. They were all a bit samey. Except of course, Lee Young-choon. He really is a bad-ass character and comes across as tough as nails. Easily the coolest character in the film, but unfortunately he doesn't have the charisma of Chow Yun-fat's Brother Mark. There is a plenty of exposition and character development throughout but you really don't start to care for characters until around the final third of the film, and by then, it's almost too late. But what a bloody exciting finale!
In it's own right, A Better Tomorrow 2010 is a decent enough film. It doesn't ever feel like a waste of time watching it. But the problem is, there are better Korean action films already out there, like The Man From Nowhere and A Bittersweet Life. And, it doesn't have to compete with just them, it also has to match up to the original. Which is ultimately fails at equaling.
Wong Ka Fai directs this extremely low budget drama which looks like an American made-for-television movie. And it's about just as exciting.
Lam Suet, Ken Wong and Elle Choi are 3 best friends staying in a small village and living a relativley enjoyable life. After stumbling upon a dead body and a large bag of cash, they decide to hide the cash and keep it for themselves without informing the police. Unfortunately they can't keep their secret for long and trust issues start to develop between the friends which results in other villagers finding out about the loot.
Money Kills is meant to be a dramatic story looking at how money can change people and ruin friendships but unfortunately it doesn't actually get exciting until about an hour in. When it finally starts to pick up, it's over. On paper the idea works, but the idea just wasn't executed properly, mainly due to budget constraints.
The film essentially has a no name cast and Lam Suet, who actually delivers a fine performance, but even he can't help make the film more than painfully average. Elle Choi is another high positive to this film, she lights up the screen any time she is on and gives the story credibility.
The film is short and breezy at under 85 minutes, it never feels like a chore to get through. If you are looking for some fun nostalgia, the film transports us back to days of wearing baggy jeans and loose fitting Quicksilver or South Park tshirts. Everything was much simpler back then... Until you come across a large sum of money that is!
Not really recommended. But there is far worse out there. It killed 90 minutes of my time and I ultimately don't regret watching it. Although, I am in no hurry to watch it again.
Born Wild 野獸之瞳 Year: 2001 Director: Patrick Leung Writer: Chan Hing-ka, Amy Chin Cast: Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Patrick Tam, Jo Kuk Running Time: 109 minutes Country: Hong Kong
A dramatic boxing tale that has over stylized fight scenes, a messy plot, uninteresting characters and very bizarre musical choices. But, it's still mostly enjoyable and slightly above average.
Daniel Wu and Louis Koo star as fraternal twins Tide and Tan. After not seeing each other for 8 years, the police show up at Tide's (Wu) home to inform him that his brother Tan (Koo) has been found dead. Tide goes on a mission to discover what happened to his brother, and on his way he befriends Tan's best friend Mann (Patrick Tam) and his girlfriend Sandy (Jo Kuk) before discovering he was involved in underground boxing. Now Tide wants to avenge his brother against the man that murdered him, the undefeated Arion (Wrath White).
On paper this sounds like a pretty generic action storyline, but compliments to the writers, they delve deeper into the plot and motivations for each character. Unfortunately, the characters come off as a bit bland. It is really hard to relate to, or care about the characters, even though none of them deliver a bad performance. Daniel Wu and Louis Koo are both adequate in their roles, Patrick Tam is better. Acting as their best friend, Tam plays Mann, who is one of the most interesting parts of the whole film.
If you are expecting the usual style of Hong Kong action, you are in for disappointment. The fight scenes aren't bad per se. But they hardly even exist. Most of the underground boxing matches are shown in quick clips or montages and they are all heavily edited. Lots of quick cuts, close ups, motion blurs. It's often hard to tell what is actually going on in most of the "fight" scenes. Not too sure if these scenes were shot that way for artistic purposes, or to hide the actors boxing shortcomings. Daniel Wu can more than handle himself in Hong Kong action films.
There is plenty of Daniel and Louis topless on show, if you are into that sort of thing...
All of these issues aside, Born Wild is still bafflingly entertaining. Rather than the action being the high point, it's the dramatics. The side-stories and developing relationships between Tide and Mann, and Tide and Sandy are what drives the narrative. This is what makes the film charming and these are what sticks with you when it's all over.
The film is very stylish, it's just really great to look at, style over substance is very evident. Part of the enjoyment of these types of films is that you can just switch off, not take it too seriously, and look at the pretty pictures. Oddly, some of the musical choices are completely bonkers. Random heavy guitar riffs kicking in with no purpose. Or a random ballad getting belted out by Sandy while a supporting character plays along with the piano. A little jarring, but enjoyable!
Not exactly a film that will change your life or stay with you. But possibly worth a watch if you are a big fan of Daniel Wu or Louis Koo, or ultimately Patrick Tam. An above average Hong Kong film, but only just.