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Features Live Action Movies

Minari

Director – Lee Isaac Chung – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12A – 120m

***1/2

The Korean immigrant experience in the US as a nuclear family set up a farm in Arkansas – on VoD from Friday, April 2nd, in drive-in cinemas from Monday, April 12th and cinemas from Monday, May 17th

Jacob (Steven YeunBurning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017), Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David, 7 (Alan S. Kim), drive out to their new home in Arkansas. She is a little horrified that the home is a trailer on wheels supported by a basic frame, but he is thrilled that they have land with the best dirt (i.e. for growing things) America has to offer. They are surrounded by a vast area of countryside and woodlands. They speak mostly Korean, but are fluent in English and occasionally use it.

Eschewing the advice of a local water diviner, Jacob builds a well in some low ground where trees are nearby, reasoning that there must be water there. “Never pay for anything you can get for free,” he tells the attentive David, reminding him that in California, where they’ve moved from, they had nothing.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (Akinjeon)

Director – Lee Won-Tae – 2019 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 109m

****

Better the devil you know. A no-nonsense cop and a ruthless gangland boss join forces to catch a serial killer in this South Korean thrilleron BBC Four Sunday, March 7th 22.00 and for one year after

Violent motorist Kang Kyung-ho (Kim Sungkyu) tailgates cars then after he and they have both pulled over stabs their unsuspecting drivers to death. One night, he picks mob boss Jang Dong-su (Ma Dong-seok) who fights back and gets away, inflicting wounds on the killer despite being first stabbed in the back. Meanwhile, his nemesis, cop Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-Yeol), is pursuing the same serial killer. Cop and gangster enter into an uneasy alliance to catch the murderer.

As South Korean gangster and crime movies have developed in recent decades, they’ve generally become slicker and, on one level, technically more proficient. Yet on another level, earlier South Korean gangster movies, while rougher around the edges, often have a lot more going on underneath the surface. This one however, while covering everything with the contemporary, superficially fast-paced and slick veneer with lots of impressive car chases and extremely violent one-on-one or group fights, achieves much more interesting dynamics beneath the slick, mass produced veneer.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Day Off (Hyuil)

Director – Lee Man-hee – 1968 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 110m

*****

A man passes the boredom of Sunday in Seoul by spending time in the park with his lover, robbing an old schoolmate then going out drinking and womanising in bars – watch for free at the Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel (link at bottom of page)

Shot in stark black and white, this opens with a voice-over which immediately makes you think you’re watching a film noir. However, A Day Off is something else entirely – there are no cops or gangsters in sight, the narrative concerning instead a couple of doomed lovers and the opening voice-over bemoaning the hero’s meeting with his lover Ji-Yeon every Sunday. That said, it’s all about poor people struggling to survive on Seoul’s mean streets and the main character is constantly cheating his fellow citizens or stealing money from them, so its subject matter is not entirely noir unrelated.

Heo-uk (Shin Seong-il, a huge star who also has a bit part in the earlier Bloodline a.k.a. Kinship, Kim Soo-yong, 1963) asks a consults a bird fortune-teller as to what the day will bring: her trained bird picks out a card warning him to Stay Away From Women.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Assassins

Director – Ryan White – 2020 – US – Cert. – 104m

*** 1/2

Documentary explores how two women unwittingly assassinated ruling Korean family member Kim Jong-nam at Malaysia Airportin virtual cinemas and on VoD from Friday, January 29th

In 2017, Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) by two young women who appeared out of nowhere – one of them clad in a T-shirt bearing the legend LOL – to press VX nerve agent, apparently the deadliest chemical on earth, into his eyes. The whole thing was captured on security cameras and the two women arrested soon after. Stranger still, neither seemed to know why they were being arrested.

This is one of those current affairs documentaries where the makers have been fortunate to stumble on an incredible story. Although the film details the assassination at some length, its real subject matter is the fall guys – or, more specifically, fall girls. Neither was Malaysian: both were immigrants – Siti Aisyah from Indonesia, Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam. We are introduced to the world of the social media video prank, where for example a woman will appear and hold the hand of a man she’s never met before or unexpectedly kiss him in public for the camera, as a comic episode.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Assassins

Not such a harmless prank

Assassins
Directed by Ryan White
Certificate 12, 104 minutes
Released 29 January, online

In 2017, Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia briefly became headline news when Kim Jong-nam, half brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed there. The story behind his assassination is truly unsettling, involving as it does two young women who seemingly had no idea what they were getting into… [Read more]

Full review in Reform magazine.

See my alternate, longer review on this site.

Assassins is out in virtual cinemas and on VoD in the UK from Friday, January 29th.

Trailer:

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2020

Work in progress – subject to change.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2020)

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/20 and 31/01/20. I’ve never previously included online releases (well, maybe the odd on or two as a special case) but this year the film distribution business has been turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2021 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

Please click on titles to see reviews. (Some links yet to be added.)

1. Parasite (S.Korea) reviews one and two

2. Coup 53 (UK)

3. A Hidden Life (US/Austria/Germany)

4. Akira (1988, IMAX reissue) (Japan)

5. The Eight Hundred (China)

6. Possessor (Canada) reviews one and introductory link to two

7. Misbehaviour (UK)

8. Dick Johnson Is Dead (US)

9. Away (Latvia, no dialogue!)

10. Snowpiercer
(2013, Eng lang, S.Korea, UK theatrical release in 2020 – finally!)

11. Run (UK)

12. Sócrates (Brazil)

13. County Lines (UK)

14. First Love (Japan)

15. Parasite (Black & White) (S.Korea)

16. The Vast Of Night (US)

17. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (US)

18. Over The Moon (US/China)

19. WolfWalkers (Ireland) reviews one and two

20. Sheep Without A Shepherd (China)

21.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Woman Who Ran (Domangchin Yeoja)

Director – Hong Sang Soo – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12A – 77m

*****

Three women – plus one. An urban woman’s visits to three out-of-town friends gently calls into question both their and her everyday lives – at Curzon Bloomsbury and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, December 11th, then on MUBI from Sunday, December 20th

Seoul resident Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) is away from her husband for a few days and while he’s on a rare business trip is taking the opportunity to visit old friends. As she explains to each of them, her husband says that people in love should stick to each other. She feels loved.

Yet this mantra is called into question by the presence and lives of the three women she visits. Divorcee Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa) has a nice little apartment which she shares with a flatmate Young-ji (Lee Eun-mi) who is an incredible cook. Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who puts together dance performances, has discovered a nice little local bar full of artists, architects and other creative types. Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk) is tiring of her famous author husband Mr. Jung (Kwon Hae-hyo) who she thinks talks too much.

Jung is only seen briefly towards the end and is representative of the men in the film in that he is a peripheral character in the drama.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Beasts Clawing At Straws (Jipuragirado Japgo Sipeun Jimseungdeul)

Director – Kim Yong-hoon– 2020 – South Korea – 108m

****

A number of individuals in dire financial straits do whatever they can to get hold of a bag of money – terrific opening night film from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Seemingly disparate plot strands suggest a group of separate stories about to be narrated in parallel, but in fact they’re all part of the same story and eventually converge in this compelling thriller involving an ensemble of characters and a bag of money. A number of the characters are in dire and indeed impossible financial circumstances with no obvious way out. The bag of money, when it turns up in each of their lives, represents a possible escape route for each of them.

Lowly bathhouse attendant Jung-man (Bae Seong-woo) finds the abandoned carryall stuffed full with wads of banknotes in a locker on the premises. Of course, the right thing to do would be to hand it in to his boss, but his boss is a nasty piece of work who fires any employee who’s late twice. Besides, Jung-man’s incontinent mother (Youn Yuh-jung) who lives in his home has dementia, refuses to wear incontinence pads and makes life hell for his wife who works a menial cleaner’s job at the airport.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bori

Director – Kim Jin-yu – 2017 – South Korea – Cert. – 109m

***

Pre-teenager Bori feels alienated from her little brother, mum and dad because she’s the only one who isn’t deaf available to watch from 10am-11pm on Thursday November 12th as the Online Closing Gala of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF).

Pre-teenager Bori (Kim Ah-song) lives by the sea with her close and loving family – a dad who often works nights on ships, a devoted mum, a little brother Jeungwoo (Lee Rin-ha) who’s brilliant offensive futsal player. Her best friend Eun-jeong (Hwang Yoo-rim) is the daughter of the delivery man at the local takeaway restaurant, whose very reasonably priced black bean noodle dishes the family avail themselves of often. Bori’s dad, mum and little brother are all deaf, so at home they communicate in sign language.

The family go to a firework display where Bori slips away from the edges of a crowded tent where she can’t really see anything and goes to talk to an immigrant stallholder about his jewellery. But then she can’t find the family and after wandering around, hands herself in at the local police station where her family later find her.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Underdog (Eondeodog) a.k.a. A Dog’s Courage

Directors – Lee Choon-baek, Oh Sung-yoon – 2018 – South Korea – Cert. U – 102m

****

An abandoned dog falls in with a pack of wild dogs with whom he learns to survive – animated feature plays online from 2pm Friday, November 6th to 2pm Monday, November 9th, book here, from the Animation strand of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF)

In a genuinely heartbreaking opening, a man drives out to nowhere, tells his dog he’s totally free and leaves him a big bag of dog biscuits. The man throws a tennis ball and while the dog runs to fetch it, he drives away. We pull out to vast landscapes, emphasising the dog is alone.

Before long, the dog Moong-Chi (voice: Do Kyung-soo) runs in to a pack of similarly abandoned dogs who are living in a derelict building which they share with the newcomer. That isn’t going to last though: a digger moves in to demolish it. Moong-chi must be rescued by pack member and small scots terrier Jjang-a (voice: Park Cheol-min) from the hunter, a cruel biker who catches and imprisons dogs for the sole purpose of breeding them for profit. As bitch Ba-mi (voice: Park So-dam, from Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, 2109) puts it, it’s a dog factory.… Read the rest