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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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