Archive for the Korea Category

INVASION OF ALIEN BIKINI (2011) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Korea, movies with tags , , on October 10, 2011 by goregirl

Now this is the full Vancouver International Film Festival experience! Not only did I get Invasion of Alien Bikini I got too short films and a Q&A with the film’s star Young Geun Hong. It is such a treat to get shorts before a film. I wish they included them before all the festival films. Western Story (9 minutes) and I’m Sorry I’m Late (3 minutes) were both a lot of fun and like the feature presentation both shorts hailed from South Korea. I got more than my money’s worth with these two shorts and Invasion of Alien Bikini; the Q&A was the icing on the cake. Apparently I am not the only one who dug Invasion of Alien Bikini. The film won the Grand Prize at the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival. I assume fans of Asian cinema are probably aware of the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival but those of you who aren’t the festival chooses its share of unusual and interesting selections. Check out their previous selections by clicking here.

Young-gun is a self-proclaimed protector of the city. Each night he throws on his raincoat and bad fake mustache and patrols the streets. Most of his job however seems to consist of picking up litter. One evening while patrolling he sees a woman harassed by some men. After a lengthy fight he manages to escape with the woman and takes her back to his humble abode. They get to know each other over a game of Jenga. The woman is Miss Ha Monica and Young-gun discovers they have much in common. Not only is her name similar to his favourite instrument, she is impossible to beat at rock, paper, scissors and is also outstanding at Jenga! Young-gun is smitten until Monica puts the moves on him. You see, Young-gun has taken a vow of chastity and his resolve is strong. Miss Monica is pretty determined herself as she is an extra-terrestrial who needs Young-gun’s pure sperm and she needs it before the end of the night! Meanwhile Monica’s attackers who are actually government employees are on the hunt for the seductive alien.

One of Invasion of Alien Bikini’s most appealing aspects for me was the performance by its two central characters. Actor Young Geun Hong is excellent in the central role of Young-gun and is called on to do a number of physical feats. He is unshakeable in his resolve, fanatically healthy, brave and moral but he is also hopelessly awkward, and gives incessantly long descriptive explanations for even the simplest things. He creates a character that is sympathetic and likable. Even after witnessing some buried darkness I still rooted for Young-gun. Eun-Jung Ha is a hoot as Monica. She is freaking adorable and it is a blast watching her character go from sweet to naughty. She is forced to take exceedingly more severe measures to get Young-gun to donate his sweet sperm. Both characters are appealing and a joy to watch.

Invasion of Alien Bikini is definitely comedy first. The film has several giggle-worthy moments and a few hysterical ones. What Monica is forced to do to get Young-gun’s sperm goes from amusing to weird to nasty. The film is well paced, funny, strange and sweet but don’t get too comfortable as the action does take a dark and intense turn. The action even gets bloody but this is not about the blood and gore. Invasion of Alien Bikini is a genre stew that leans heavier on its comedy and sci-fi than it does on its limited horror elements. Director Oh Young-doo is creative and throws a lot of amusing distractions that help make the most of his budget (more on that later). There is a bending time element that is played with throughout. My only criticism is very minor. Invasion of Alien Bikini’s runtime is a little on the short side and they throw a lot of stuff in during the last few minutes of the film. A lot of crazy stuff happens quickly and it made the finale feel a bit rushed. It’s fair to say the ending is rather ambiguous. I don’t dislike ambiguous endings and it did suit the film and its quirky story I just wish they had taken more time with certain aspects.

Before each festival film someone is assigned with introducing the film and thanking the sponsors. It is clear that most of these speakers are terribly uncomfortable. This time around however an older gentleman with a UK accent introduced the film, who based on his comments, actually had something to do with putting the festival together. He was well-spoken and charismatic which was a treat. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about Invasion of Alien Bikini. He informed us that the director Oh Young-doo could not make it to the festival but recommended he ask the films star Young Geun Hong. With a translator at his side Young Geun Hong introduced the film suggesting we don’t read too much into it and just sit back and enjoy. After the film he fielded questions from the audience. During the Q&A actor Young Geun Hong stated the film’s budget was $5000! Director Oh Young-doo wisely confines the majority of the films action to Young-gun’s apartment. There is very little in the way of effects but the film is nonetheless visually satisfying from start to finish. I loved how they used child-like drawings to explain one particular part of the story. It would have been extremely difficult to pull off a live-action version with this modest budget. The film has a campy appeal that is downright charming and Young-doo definitely makes the most of what he has to work with. It is rather inspirational to see someone making a film this enjoyable for that little moola. Another question during the Q&A came from a woman asking why it was necessary to include the violence, stating it rather turned her off. At one point the film does take a decidedly dark turn but I would hardly call the film excessively violent. The little bit of blood and gore they include is towards the end of the film and while one aspect could potentially disturb some viewers I thought it added an interesting ingredient to Young-gun’s character.

If you watched the trailer I threw up here a couple weeks back I can tell you this film delivers everything the trailer promises and more! And what a fantastic poster campaign! The only thing it doesn’t deliver is the bikini. While Monica our alien seductress does appear in her underwear and bra for a good part of the film an actual bikini never makes an appearance. While the pursuit of sex is part of the plot of Invasion of Alien Bikini there is actually no nudity in the film. I still don’t recommend you watch this one with the kids however.

Invasion of Alien Bikini is a real trip! It is visually interesting throughout, funny, well-acted, and quirky. The dark turn the film takes will blindside some but I freaking loved it! I sincerely hope this film finds a home on DVD as I look forward to watching it again! I eagerly anticipate director Oh Young-doo’s next feature! Highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Oh Young-doo

Starring: Eun-Jung Ha and Young Geun Hong

THIRST (2009) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Korea, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by goregirl

Thirst has been on my “to see” list for quite some time. I really enjoyed director Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy and his segment Cut from Three…Extremes. I was intrigued to see what he would do with a vampire film. The problem is there have been far too many wishy-washy vampire films with romance at their core. What can I say? I just haven’t been very excited about this sub-genre lately. However, having recently checked out Jim Mickle’s excellent Stake Land I am feeling reinvigorated about bloodsuckers. Add a month of non-stop zombie flicks and I was finally ready to check out Thirst. While a love story may be at Thirst’s core, I’m pleased to tell you that it still manages to have some bite!

Priest Sang-hyeon martyrs himself as a test subject for an experimental vaccine. He dies from the disease but a blood transfusion returns him from the dead. Sang-hyeon finds himself overcome with sinful desires and a thirst for blood.

Priest Sang-hyeon goes through a discovery period with his infliction that is fairly par for the course. He discovers his power, abilities and his thirst for blood and needless to say faces some moral quandaries about the whole business. The character is a priest after all so questioning of religion and morality does come into play. If he was really all that torn up about it he could have ended it all immediately by just walking out into the daylight. But than we wouldn’t have a movie would we? Is it possible our priest is actually enjoying his new found power? Of course a priest returning from the dead does attract some attention. Some of the locals hound Sang-hyeon believing he received a gift from god. Sang-hyeon, despite his act of martyrdom early in the film seemed cold as a priest. He seems to develop a more genuine empathy for human beings as a vampire than he ever did as a priest. For all Thirst’s character development I did question some of Sang-hyeon’s decisions. He seems to have a reasonable grasp on his infliction and is very careful in respect to his bloodletting but when it comes to taking his friends wife as a lover he seems to fold like a cheap suit.

A childhood friend invites Sang-hyeon to join a weekly Mah Jong game which is where he meets his friend’s wife Tae-ju. Tae-ju is morbidly unhappy in her loveless marriage. She runs late at night through the city streets in her bare feet as an outlet from her oppressive life. Sang-Hyeon is clearly attracted to Tae-ju on sight. The stage is set for forbidden love. Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju have sex that is messy, kinky, ravenous and sweetly passionate. The sex scenes manage to be as tender as they are violent. This is a film for grown-ups so you can expect full frontal nudity and sex scenes that are actually sexy. The chemistry between these two characters is absolutely electric. Of course a forbidden relationship between a vampire priest and his friend’s wife is bound to have consequences.

Sang-hyeon divulges to Tae-ju that he is a vampire. She is initially horrified but is soon begging Sang-hyeon to turn her. Tae-ju is full of pent-up aggression and an overwhelming need to be free from her life. Despite their intimate connection Tae-ju and Sang-hyeon are clearly a bad match. Sang-hyeon knows Tae-ju is not afraid to lie and manipulate to get what she needs. It wouldn’t be a stretch for Tae-ju to kill for what she needs either. Sang-hyeon nonetheless turns Tae-ju and not surprisingly she adapts quickly to vampire life and wreaks unholy hell. Tae-ju cheekily says to Sang-hyeon “A willing victim? What’s the point of that?”

Chan-wook Park’s approach is not at all heavy handed and is, in fact, full of darkly comic moments. Thirst is downright playful at times. Tae-ju’s character becomes positively giddy about being a vampire and adds a lot of energy and fun to the proceedings. The film becomes a more or less straight-up horror film in the second half. Thirst ended up being more of a horror-oriented film than I was expecting from the director. The effects looked good and there is no lack of the red stuff once it starts flowing. Thirst also benefits a great deal from its performances. Kang-ho Song is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. He was outstanding in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Host and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Song gives another amazing and memorable performance as Priest Sang-hyeon in Thirst. Ok-bin Kim is stellar as Tae-ju. Kim only has a handful of acting credits but handles herself like a pro with a genuineness and confidence. Besides a minor issue with some of Sang-hyeon’s decisions I did find the ending a tad anticlimactic. The ending was pretty much inevitable and would have surprised me had it ended any other way.

I expected the film to get bogged down at some point with its two hour plus runtime but the film kept me enthralled throughout. Thirst apparently was “inspired” by the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. I have never read the book but I did pull this summary from Wikipedia which is more or less identical to Thirst’s basic plot. (Taken from Wikipedia) Thérèse Raquin tells the story of a young woman, unhappily married to her first cousin by an overbearing aunt who may seem to be well-intentioned but in many ways is deeply selfish. Therese’s husband, Camille, is sickly and egocentric, and when the opportunity arises, Thérèse enters into a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of Camille’s friends, Laurent.” I haven’t mentioned the mother of Tae-ju’s husband but as previously noted, this plot summary is practically identical to Thirst’s. Zola’s story is not about vampires of course, that is a twist Park added. Thirst is a thoroughly modern tale and Zola’s book was written in 1867 so I suspect outside of the basic plot there wouldn’t be too many parallels one could draw. But like I said, I have never read the book.

I wouldn’t say Chan-wook Park reinvents the wheel with Thirst. The vampire mystique is pretty standard cinematic fare. Nonetheless Thirst is an engrossing vampire tale full of dark humour, tragedy, beauty and violence. Excellent performances from its two leads Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim are worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Chan-wook Park

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim, Eriq Ebouaney, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, In-hwan Park, Dal-su Oh, Young-chang Song, Seung-dae, Mercedes Cabral

I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Korea, movies with tags , , , , , , on April 9, 2011 by goregirl

I was turned on to I Saw The Devil via the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Rue Morgue. Besides its Goregirl-friendly serial killer/vengeance premise it is directed by Jee-woon Kim whose impressive list of films includes The Quiet Family, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life and The Good, The Bad and The Weird. There has been some fantastic stuff coming from Korea the last decade. One of my favourites being Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy. Besides the vengeance connection, I Saw The Devil features Min-sik Choi as the films serial killer Kyung-Chul. Min-sik Choi’s amazing performance in Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy stayed with me for days after, and his role here as the serial killer is no less memorable! Needless to say, there was plenty of reason to check this one out. Unfortunately I Saw The Devil is not readily available in Canada at the moment, but is tentatively set to make a limited appearance in cinemas soon and will hopefully find a home on DVD shortly after. I highly recommend putting I Saw The Devil on your watch list.

Special Agent Kim Soo-hyeon seeks revenge for the brutal murder of his fiancée. In pursuit of this goal he unleashes an unrelenting assault of bloody violence that blurs the line between himself and the man he is setting out to punish.

You can hardly call the premise of I Saw The Devil original but the beauty of the film is all in the execution. I Saw The Devil is more of a dramatic thriller than a straight up horror film, but I certainly can’t deny the film its brutality. There is plenty of bloody violence in the film. Special Agent Kim Soo-hyeon acquires a list of four suspects and beats his way through it until he gets to his man; Kyung-Chul. He literally interrupts Kyung-Chul before he has a chance to kill an unfortunate young woman. Kim Soo-hyeon pulverizes Kyung-Chul and forces a tracking device down his throat and leaves him alive. He repeats this pattern of catch beat and release with the intention of breaking the man. Bloody hell does he mess this guy up!

Min-sik Choi is unforgettable as serial killer Kyung-Chul. He is wholly unlikable and an evil bastard but once in a while you almost understand him. Kyung-Chul’s victims of choice are young women and girls whom he can easily overpower. When the stalker becomes the stalked he appears to barely be a challenge. The beatings Kyung-chul takes from Kim Soo-heyon are merciless. Make no mistake though Kyung-Chul is bad ass and this man takes his medicine and then asks for some more. Kyng-Chul will not be an easy man to break. It is never wise to underestimate your enemy. The two central characters are extremely well paired. Special Agent Kim Soo-hyeon is tidy and clinical while Kyung-Chul is disheveled and erratic. There is much to be learned by just watching the two men’s body language and while each have different approaches they are equally expressive. Byung-hun Lee is very good as the wronged Kim Soo-hyeon. He is young, attractive, seemingly successful and newly engaged. We are given the impression the guy is pretty well grounded. But after they find his fiancée’s head something snaps. I Saw The Devil may reference the film serial Killer Kyung-Chul or may very well be describing our special agent man.

I Saw The Devil is well-filmed with amazing sets and location shots. It has outstanding intensity and scenes of graphic violence that are effectively raw and gritty. These are well balanced with high action and over-the-top stylized sequences. The film is definitely not for the squeamish. There is unflinching ugliness in I Saw The Devil and there is no feeling of satisfaction gained from the vengeance. You will find no light at the end of this long dark tunnel. This brings me to my only criticism of the film. The film runs unnecessarily long. There were bits and pieces that could have been cut out that would have made it a tighter more cohesive package. It’s a relatively small criticism of what is otherwise a completely engrossing film.

I would recommend I Saw The Devil based on Min-sik Choi’s performance alone, but the twists, intensity, thrills and uncompromising violence make it easily worth the price of admission. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Jee-woon Kim

Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim

Janghwa, Hongryeon – A TALE OF TWO SISTERS – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Korea, movies with tags , , , , on September 15, 2009 by goregirl

a tale of two sisters“Our sorrow was conceived long before our birth.”

I absolutely love the cover of this DVD. Granted, covers of dvd’s can be exceptionally misleading but I think this one represents the work quite well. I was left a comment in my “Suggestions and recommendations” section about ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’. I had seen the film a few years back and enjoyed it immensely. Yesterday I posted a review for the film ‘The Heirloom’ distributed through Tartan Asia Extreme. The film was a disappointment, so it seemed liked a good time to follow up with a Tartan entry I found to be outstanding.

Based on an old Korean Fairytale, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ is about two young sisters who are sent home to recover from a stay in the hospital. The girls are confronted with Strange and frightenging occurrences and uncertain and harsh realities and receive no sympathy from their cold and distant father or their ill-tempered stepmother. A haunting tale full of twists and turns with surprises around every corner that will keep you guessing right up to the final credits.

It is impossible to talk about this film without giving something away. The intricate story is a complex mystery that is as much a drama full of intense emotion, as it is a psychological thriller and ghost story. Like my plot summary suggests, there are multiple twists and turns in this film. Not only did it keep me guessing, but its ending actually surprised me. It is a rare thing when I am genuinely surprised! The film has a relatively slow pace, which might scare away some genre fans. I found the slow but even pace extremely effective here. The mood throughout the strange and intricate tale is bloody brilliant. It is a walk through beautiful landscapes on a fine bed of pins and needles. Speaking of beautiful landscapes, the cinematography is outstanding, light is used to great effect, and the set is amazing. The massive rambling family home is breath-taking and spooky as hell! The soundtrack also adds much to the feel of the film. Equally impressive is the quality of acting.
still from a tale of two sisters
The cast are perfect and all deliver performances that are believable and memorable. Visually and technically speaking, the film is without flaw. If you are looking for gore or cheap scares, you will definitely want to look elsewhere. ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ is very “story-motivated”. It is a puzzle worth solving, and when you do, you will be sweetly rewarded. The only real criticism I have is a minor detection of Japanese influence. But the borrowing is definitely minor and the film in its entirety feels fresh, new and original. The only other comment I can add is there is so much to take in, you may want to watch it twice. There were little details that we felt we missed, or didn’t fully comprehend, so we actually re-watched it the next day. Both my husband and I found nuances and hints that we had missed the first viewing. I don’t think this should be considered a negative, if you are about to watch a subtitled film than you have already dedicated yourself to a certain amount of focus and brain function. Sadly, the film has been remade under the title “UNINVITED” which is a ball-less, American “PG” version of this amazing film. My advice is to avoid it like the plague. ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ is one of my personal favorite Korean films, and I think it will hit all the right notes with others who are fans of foreign horror that is more psychological in nature. Highly Recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Ji-woon Kim

Starring: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim and Geun-Young Moon

Jigureul jikyeora! – SAVE THE GREEN PLANET! – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Korea, movies with tags on May 7, 2009 by goregirl

save-the-green-planetWOW! I couldn’t take a single note while watching this one. I couldn’t bare to miss a single second. Afterwards, I doodled on my notepad unable to find the words I needed. It left me speechless. I had to sleep on it. I knew I loved it, but I just couldn’t find the words. This is a genre stew. As much a comedy as it is a horror, sci-fi or drama. A wonderfully unique, and strangely powerful film.

A Korean man believes the world is going to be destroyed by aliens during the next lunar eclipse. Along with his sensitive, but dedicated circus performer girlfriend, they successfully kidnap his ex-employer, supposedly the one alien with the Royal Genetic Code that can contact the Crown Prince, and prevent the earth’s destruction.

I could not have anticipated that a flick with this plot would manage to evoke such strong feelings from me. It is funny, tragic, manic and beautiful all at the same time. It even offers up a bit of torture and gore. There is a love hate relationship with the main character. Our kidnappers unfortunate life is slowly revealed to us. At times you have a lot of empathy for him and in the next heartbeat he’s a psychopath. The film kept me engrossed from start to finish. There are no hiccups here, no down time, no weird moments. It was beautifully filmed, with a very dark and surreal vibe. Performances by the entire cast were perfect. I feel that the less I say here the better. This truly is a film that needs to be experienced first hand. You may not come away from it feeling the same way I did, but you cannot deny the originality of this piece of work. A completely imaginative, brilliant piece of celluloid that left me feeling saddened, entertained and extremely sated. Amazing!

Dungeon Review: 5/5

Directed By: Joon-Hwan Jang

Starring: Ha-kyun Shin, Yun-shik Baek, Jeong-min Hwang, Jae-yong Lee, Ju-hyeon Lee, Ju-bong Gi, Roe-ha Kim and Mu-hyeon Lee