I was first exposed to the wonders of Korean cinema quite like many were I presume with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. From that starting point firstly, that director became a firm favourite, and I also was treated to some real gems; including last year’s personal top ten entry Train to Busan. So we come to this somewhat under-hyped action thriller. Sook-hee has been trained from a young girl to become a deadly, highly skilled assassin. However upon the death of her mentor, she vows revenge which ultimately lands her in the custody of a government organisation that would like to put her skills to work.
This starts brilliantly with a no-holds-barred visceral action sequence filmed mostly in first person that well, has to be seen to be believed. This immediately hooked me, and once again it seems I was in for a top level Korean movie that I’d be recommending to anyone willing to listen. There’s clear echoes of French classic La Femme Nikita here, as well as Lady Vengeance. Also the direction, with rapid-fire editing and impossible camera work certainly makes this an experience. It’s sad to report then, that this is all held together with a rather generic and muddled plot with a myriad of flashbacks that only help to confuse matters. Performances are largely decent, especially from Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee and there’s some fun characters and interesting twists. It also doesn’t take any prisoners and is at times very bloody and violent. I also found myself caring for the central protagonist’s plight and affected by the shitty things that happen to her … but with a villain who’s motives seem simply ‘because I’m evil’ this ended up not being the full package.
See it for it’s action and impeccable style. Not so much for it’s plot.
I really don’t know what’s taken me so long to get around to this. It’s Denzel Washington in a remake of the much loved cult TV show that starred the late Edward Woodward. Now, I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the show, but Denzel killing bad guys never gets old. So here he plays a mundane blue collar guy who works in a hardware store and by night frequents a diner to read books and swap small talk with the local troubled young prostitute (Chloe Grace Meretz). Now before you make the leap that I did that this was more Taxi Driver than anything else, firstly you wouldn’t be far wrong but said blue collar guy also possesses mad skills as demonstrated when he goes up against a gang of Russian mobsters after said prostitute winds up in hospital. So less the social commentary and more a strong case of picking on the wrong guy, ala John Wick, Leon etc.
What this lacks in originality it more than makes up for with several solid performances and well choreographed action and some brutal violence that makes every stabbing, every punch and every broken bone really hit home. Denzel is on great form, charismatic and deadly and plays the duel ‘everyman’ and ‘trained killer’ personas effortlessly. This is aided well my a scenery chewing, stand out turn from Marton Csokas as the man called in to solve the problems Denzel creates. Moretz is also good if a little underused for a large portion of the movie, but every scene she’s in is decent, with clear echoes of Jodie Foster.
Sad then that in the final act, a very stupid decision by the supposedly intelligent bad guy lets the show down and plausibility is stretched as the movie tries to tie everything up in a neat bow, regardless if it rings true or not. Which is a shame because Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua’s movie is otherwise stylish, thrilling and confident … and a helluva lot of fun. If this was the 80’s and it was Arnie or Stallone, I could forgive such developments, but cemented in a fairly believable world, I didn’t think the ending worked in the context of what had come before. That said, this is still worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of Denzel Washington.
So we come to the third movie in this popular franchise and this is where several plot threads begin to get tied off as deadly former assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) searches for the answers he needs to his identity. Along for the ride this time around in the form of a new ally is Julia Stiles who tries to help Bourne piece together the final details whilst the CIA, headed by Joan Allen try to cover everything up.
Paul Greengrass once again takes directing duties and much like the last movie has a flair for shaky camera rapid-fire editing, but unlike Supremacy the plot is at times less coherent and the confusion that blighted that movie’s final act seems to be in full force here. It’s certainly fun watching Bourne out smart various CIA surveillance teams and uncover skeletons in various closets, but it also means this is probably the most repetitive of the franchise, with the run time mostly dedicated to watching, sneaking, getting into a fight, then more watching and sneaking.
This does bring together the storyline of all three movies well and the viewer is given some closure about Bourne even if questions still remain unanswered. Yet thrilling car, bike and on-foot chases and plenty of action meant I was far from bored. The movie just needed to have more character moments and a bit more downtime between scenes to catch one’s breath (simple office scenes are filmed like they take place in the middle of an earthquake). However, this was still entertaining despite struggling to forge it’s own, er…identity and therefore by default is the weakest entry so far.
The Blu-ray is again impressive and is packed with extras including a director commentary and wealth of behind the scenes footage and interviews. The image is perhaps the best of the franchise up to this point and even though the shaky camera approach causes issues with focus, it’s still pops off the screen. The same can also be said for the sound which envelopes the viewer in a wall of sound and atmosphere throughout. A treatment somewhat undeserving but welcome all the same.
With some hype being drummed up for a new Bourne movie, I thought it was as good a time as any to revisit the movie that kick started this franchise. I’ve always liked Matt Damon as an actor and he especially impressed most recently in Martian. However at the time of this movie’s release few people saw him as an action star, especially the fan-base of the best selling books by Robert Ludlum.
However time was to prove the naysayers wrong and here, Damon cements himself as a tough-as-nails guy left for dead in the Mediterranean sea. Once back on terra-firma, he’s out to unravel both the truth behind his own identity and why people are trying to kill him. Along for the ride is a German woman who crosses Bourne’s path, played by the decidedly yummy Franka Potente (Run Lola Run), and the two make for a good pairing as the thrills and spills kick in.
The Bourne movies are sort of like the more serious Bond before Bond went more serious and were a likable alternative, but with a focus on surveillance and teams of assassins out to get our man than over-throwing some megalomaniac villain, and is therefore routed in real-world espionage. Support from the likes of Brian Cox and a near-wordless cameo from Clive Owen bring some colour to proceedings and assured direction from Doug Liman (Mr & Mrs Smith), brilliantly-choreographed fight scenes and a stand-out car chase … this delivered the necessary thrills. In the wake of more violent fair like the first Taken for example, this could have really gone for the jugular, and at times seems to have a rather leisurely pace. However, Damon makes for more than just a believable bad-ass and with his acting credentials conveys vulnerability and charisma. It leaves the viewer in the dark about much of who this guy is though, but I guess that’s what sequels are for.
The Blu-ray is very pleasing. The image itself is acceptable but for a little softness and the muted colour pallet prevents it really popping … but it suits the movie’s tone regardless. However the punchy DTS Master Audio mix hits hard on several occasions and dialogue is crisp. Extras are exhaustive for this release with behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and a look at the series of novels that inspired a series of movies. A commentary by the director is the icing on a very commendable cake.
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