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Come Come Come Upward (Aje Aje Bara Aje, 아제 아제 바라 아제)

Director – Im Kwon-taek – 1989 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 121m

***1/2

As a young woman attempts to live as a Buddhist monk, she embarks on a series of increasingly physical sexual relationshipspart of a strand of films celebrating actress Kang Soo-Yeon (1966-2022) from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 3rd to Thursday, November 17th

Soon Nyeo (Kang Soo-yeon) enters a monastery as a novice. She reflects on her earlier life. Alienated from her mother, who she accuses of living off the interest of money made exploiting poor people, she develops a habit of following men on their travels. First up is a monk who knew her father who suggests that the latter failed as a monk. After she’s walked with him a while, he deliberately puts her back on a train.

As a student, she becomes fascinated by her class’ teacher Hyeon Jong, 29, (Chon Yoo-in) who, she learns later, lost his wife when she was killed in the Gwangju uprising while eight months pregnant. Uninvited, Soon accompanies Hyeon in his train travels around the country investigating sites of historical interest relating to a peasant uprising having promised his late wife he would one day write about this for her.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Chinese Odyssey (Sai Yau Gei, 西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Collectors (도굴)

**1/2

Director – Park Jung Bae – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 114m

A disparate group of tomb raiders attempt to outwit each other to find and obtain a valuable archaeological artifact in this lightweight, comedy caper – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

A grave hunter probing the earth with a cane-like tool hits an object several feet down. Putting his ear to the Earth, he hears a muffled child’s voice: “help me”. Horrified, he starts to dig the earth with his bare hands.

A strikingly graphic 2D-animated title sequence, in two-tone light ochre and black, with hands reaching out to one another through shafts of light, a boy crawling up an underground tunnel, a boy and girl reunited with an adult, a man crawling between multi-storey buildings by rope, high heeled female legs walking through a museum display of cultural artifacts, lots of modern urban imagery including driving a fast sports car through a city, lots of underground digging / mining imagery and a couple of male characters, one looking suspiciously like Indiana Jones, complete with hat and whip.

Burial alive is just one of the many disparate elements thrown together in this lightweight, comedy caper which combines historical Korean archaeology with grave robbing, double-cross, a super rich, big business villain, ruthless gangsters, Seoul locations, and a happy-go-lucky wheeler-dealer thief hero.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Green Snake (Ching Se)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1993 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m

****1/2

Two sister snake spirits, the white snake and the green snake, enter our world to discover the mystery of human sexual love – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

China’s White Snake legend has spawned numerous adaptations including the recent, animated White Snake / Baishe: Yuanqi (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) which boasts fast paced action and state of the art CG visuals. Tsui Hark is from another era: the legendary Hong Kong director who almost single-handedly bought Hollywood-style special effects to Hong Kong movie production in such epics as Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983) and the Once Upon A Time In China films (1991 onwards) alongside period romps like Peking Opera Blues (1986). For Green Snake, Tsui turned to Lillian Lee’s novel based on the White Snake legend which she adapted into a screenplay for him. Rather than tell the story from the perspective of the white snake as the original legend does, Lee shifts her narrative to the perspective of the younger, less experienced green snake.

In appearance, the two spirits start off as female humans down to the waist and snakes below, not dissimilar to Harryhausen’s half woman/half snake Medusa in Clash Of The Titans (producer and effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1981) but using full size puppetry/animatronic effects rather than stop frame animation.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Transgression (Pagye)

Director – Kim Ki-young – 1974 – South Korea – 111m

*****

Buddhist, monastic drama. Celibacy confronts carnal desire and a new senior monk must be chosen as the incumbent nears death.

Free to view in the Korean Film Archive as part of

Korean Film Nights Online: Trapped! The Cinema of Confinement

(Friday, July 17th – Thursday, August 27th)

Viewing links at bottom of review

From its opening, a lengthy shot of a mountain hillside slope, this throws anyone unfamiliar with the more complex tenets of Buddhism in at the deep end, peppering voice-over and dialogue with words like ‘yulseong’ (“a monk that learns Buddha’s words”), ‘seonseong’ (“a monk that tries to emulate Buddha’s mind”) and ‘hwadu’ (“a kind of question that leads to seon”). A student disguises himself as a monk to gain admission to a Buddhist temple and see for himself what goes on there.

The temple monks meet to discuss their food problem. There are fifty older monks of more than twenty years’ standing and twenty younger newcomers. One of the old monks Doshim stole and sold some of the temple food. Another old monk tells newcomers that old monks are treated badly at the monastery, suffering deprivation of food, sleep and clothes.… Read the rest