A-Z Challenge – update 3


Well, this is becoming quite the challenge for me personally. I’ve now reached letter S having ploughed through 7 more movies. Revisiting La La Land for L was surprising in how much I enjoyed it and appreciated the story second time around, and would now rate it higher than my existing review. For M, Mission Impossible Fallout was an easy pick as I’d brought it on Blu-ray awhile back and not got around to watching it. Yes just as good if not better on second viewing.

La La Land

Reaching N … I chose another Alfred Hitchcock classic, North By Northwest … an exciting man-in-the-wrong-place mystery thriller with Cary Grant that was a lot of fun. O was one my most disappointing movie of last year, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and although I enjoyed it a little bit more, it overall didn’t work for me and I stand by my initial review.

I recently reviewed Parasite, my letter P and was overall impressed with it, despite a somewhat far-fetched ending. Q was the mostly reviled Bond outing Quantum of Solace, a movie I still think is ok but the story is weak and unengaging even though Daniel Craig is still good and some of the action is great. Then we came to R and I chose the Spanish found-footage horror [REC] a movie I really like even if subsequent viewings do dilute the experience for me.

Now will I get the remaining 8 movies watched by June 30th? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The Age of Shadows


Viewed – 05 May 2018  Blu-ray

I’m certainly a fan of Korean cinema.  Over the years I’ve discovered some real gems and found myself liking certain directors and actors the more I see their movies.  This critically acclaimed thriller follows Police captain Lee Jung‑Chool (Kang Ho-song) who infiltrates a group of resistance fighters who are reportedly planning a series of bombings on Japanese establishments during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s.  As a Korean born man, Lee Jung finds himself questioning his allegiance when a charismatic resistance fighter befriends him and lets him in on their plans.

the-age-of-shadows

This tale of loyalty, double crosses and war time espionage is shot with no end of style and class.  The set design and photography here is simply breath-taking and further cements director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) as one of the best the country has to offer.  Although at times overly-complicated, this was at times gripping with some brilliantly executed set-pieces including a tense sequence aboard a train and an exhilarating finally set to the music of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.  Add to this two strong turns from Kang-Ho Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Host) and Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) and even though occasional shoot-outs got a tad repetitive … it was the battle of wits at the centre of the story that came across strongest.

Not one of those Korean movies I’d leap to recommend over so many others, but if you’re a fan of well-made world cinema, this is still worth your time.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Villainess


Viewed – 18 February 2018  online-rental

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.

The-Villainess

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.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Handmaiden


Viewed – 06 August 2017  Blu-ray

Let me say straight away that I regard Korean director Park Chan-wook as one of the best around and his much acclaimed vengeance trilogy (which includes the famed ‘Oldboy’) speaks for itself.  Add to this his previous American debut ‘Stoker’ being an underrated gem and well to say I was looking forward to what came next, was an understatement.  Once I discovered it would be a period piece though, for a director more known for contemporary (and bloody) revenge thrillers … I did feel a little trepidation.

The Handmaiden

A seasoned crook (Ha Jung-woo) with his eye on a wealthy heiress (Kim Min-hee), sends a trusted young pick pocket (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as her handmaiden.  Once gaining the Heiress’s trust the crook himself poses as an eligible count in hope of marrying the heiress and gaining access to her fortune.  Once plan is set in motion however the pick-pocket/handmaiden finds herself drawn to the lonely heiress who has lived all her life in a secluded mansion, overseen by a controlling and perverted uncle.

This beautifully shot film is full of character and period atmosphere, complete with stunning costumes and spot-on performances.  It’s an intriguing premise that twists and turns, spread over three distinct parts, where we get to see the differing points of view of the various characters and gradually learn about each of their underlying plans and cunning manipulations.  Who will come out on top?  Think to some extent Dangerous Liaisons and you’ll have a good idea what this about.  It’s got a quirky sense of humour (especially during some explicit but not particularly erotic sex-scenes) and some of the Korean / Japanese traditions are fascinating.  For a film by Park Chan-wook however it lacks the showmanship he’s displayed in the past, going for a more sedate, realistic vibe that’s still eye-catching thanks to gorgeous cinematography and lavish locations / set design.  At over 2 and half hours, it’s a bit drawn out, but packs in a lot of personality.  Not as immediately essential as his best work … but still one to check out if your a fan or enjoy quality Korean cinema.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Wailing


Viewed – 04 March 2017  Blu-ray

The arrival of a mysterious Japanese hermit in a small South Korean village sparks suspicion and escalating stories amongst the townsfolk, which quickly turn to hysteria when a strange virus begins to cause the people to turn violent and kill each other.  A bumbling Police Sergeant becomes involved in the investigation and soon learns his young daughter may have contracted the same virus.

The Wailing

This acclaimed horror / thriller is directed with no-end of visual flair by Na Hong-jin (The Chaser) and is filled with interesting, flawed but very believable characters and not-unlike-Seven atmosphere in a constantly rain-swept village.  It has a very compelling mystery at it’s core and several strong performances that kept me interested.  The inclusion of Korean and Christian beliefs and superstition mixed with the spreading of rumours and prejudice towards the mystery hermit was also a clever approach.  Add to this some gorgeous cinematography as well as several memorable scenes and I was having a great experience with this latest Korean effort.

However as the story neared it’s conclusion, a twist turned events on their head but thankfully impressed me with how well it suddenly made everything fall into place … that was until a second twist turned that revelation on it’s head also, and then I was left confused.  Up until that point I’d been gripped and the very well observed and powerful ‘father trying to save his daughter’ narrative was looking to make this an easy recommendation.  But despite a dark-as-it-gets ending (which did leave it’s mark) I came way feeling rather cheated.  Shame.

Verdict:  3 /5