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Features Live Action Movies

House Of Hummingbird (Beol-Sae, 벌새)

Director – Kim Bora – 2018 – South Korea – 138m

***1/2

A teenage girl in Seoul, Korea, 1994, comes to terms with life on a number of levels – personal, family, social, political – plays in Korean Film Nights (KFN) Summer Nights at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) on Saturday, June 11th

Seoul, South Korea, 1994. Less than ten years since South Korea has become a democracy. The year of the Winter Olympics, the death of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and the Seongsu Bridge collapse. The latter incident will leave its mark on some characters here.

Teenager Eun-hee’s mum and dad (Jung In-gi and Lee Seung-yeon) run a small food store, sourcing “only the finest ingredients”. On occasion, they deliver to other suppliers and the whole family is roped in to make sure the orders are prepped and sent out on time. They are fiercely proud parents who want only the best for their kids. The best, as they understand it, is doing well in the school and university system, presumably with the idea of getting a well-paid job afterwards.

This message is reinforced by her school. A male teacher has the girls chant, “I will go to / Seoul National University / instead of karaoke”.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Escape From Mogadishu (Mogadisyu, 모가디슈)

Director – Ryu Seung-wan – 2021 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 121m

****

In the early 1990s, besieged North and South Korean officials join forces to escape from the Somali capital as it descends into lawlessness – out in cinemas and VoD platforms on Friday, March 25th

In 1990, both North and South Korea have yet to have a seat at the United Nations. With many of those seats and hence the UN’s votes being held by African nations, influence in Africa is seen as the key to obtaining a seat. In Somalia, both sides are keen to ingratiate themselves with the ruling Barre military regime in Mogadishu, the capital, with a great deal of subterfuge and hostility between the two rival Korean factions.

However, the regime, which has held power for twenty years, is in trouble. (Barre would be ousted in 1991). As the capital becomes a war zone with government troops fighting rebel militias, the city descends into lawlessness and both sets of Korean representatives need to get out.

If you want a wider picture of the political realities of how all this came to pass in Somalia, this film is not the pace to come. The clue is in the title: this is a Korean movie about Koreans having to depart a politically unstable country, and after some skullduggery at the start in which the car of South Korea’s Ambassador Han (Kim Yoon-seok from The Fortress, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017; 1987 When The Day Comes, Jang Joon-Hwan, 2017) is raided by bandits on its way to a meeting with President Barre the Southerners have taken months to set up, causing them to run to the meeting on foot and arrive 15 minutes late only to find the President can’t see them because he has another meeting immediately afterwards – with North Korea’s Ambassador Rim (Huh Joon-ho from Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018) who unbeknown to the Southerners hired the local bandits.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Battle At Lake Changjin II aka Water Gate Bridge (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖之水门桥)

Director – Tsui Hark – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 153m

**

Ill-considered sequel to box office barnstorming, Chinese war movie fails to match the emotional engagement and excitement of the original – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

After the exciting and energetic original, this sequel is a disappointment. It has the same expertise of CG special effects as its predecessor. However the cast is cut down, many of the memorable characters having died heroically in the first film, and there’s no attempt to replace them. Similarly, the spectacular locations are fewer in number because there’s no journey from home through different regions, so this has a smaller geographical palette to play with.

The cast of characters issue would be easy enough to fix within the war genre: members of a military unit die, others come to the fore to replace them in the vacuum created. But no, here all we get are People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 7th Company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and his younger brother Wu Wanli (Jackson Lee) and no real attempt to further develop their relationship under fire. The two characters are just there, and the audience is expected to carry over their emotional investment from the first film without the second one providing any reason for doing so.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dear Pyongyang

Director – Yang Yong-hi – 2005 – Japan – 107m

****

The return of a Japanese-Korean woman’s brothers to North Korea, encouraged by her parents, causes her considerable grief over the years – online in the UK as part of Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) from Monday, January 17th to Sunday, February 6th, 2022.

The Zainichi are ethnic Koreans living in Japan. When that latter country was divided into North and South Korea, the Japanese required Koreans to designate themselves accordingly. Thus, they were forced to choose one side or the other and it reinforced their identity either way. From 1959 onwards, some 90 000 North Koreans returned from Japan to Korea in full expectation that it would be only a matter of time before North and South were reunited as a single nation once again. That still hadn’t come to pass by the time this documentary was completed, and it still hasn’t today some 15 years on.

As a six-year-old, Yang Yong-hi watched her three older brothers get on a one-way boat trip to North Korea, the country her dad designated their Fatherland. However, it wasn’t the world in which they – or she – had grown up. She was born in the Japanese town of Tsuruhashi where a quarter of the population was Korean.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Battle At Lake Changjin (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖)

Directors – Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark – 2021 – China – Cert. 15 – 176m

*****

Chinese war movie which has barnstormed the global box office does exactly what it says on the tin – out in cinemas on Friday, November 19th

There is a history of war films with a cast of thousands being directed by several (usually three) directors in an attempt to portray campaigns with huge military logistics on the screen. Probably the best known are The Longest Day (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernard Wicki, 1962) about the World War Two Allied invasion of Normandy and Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, Toshio Matsuda, Kinji Fukasaku, 1970) about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Both of those Western (and, as it happens, Twentieth Century Fox) movies presented both sides of the conflict by hiring directors from the different countries concerned.

The big difference between them and Chinese global box office phenomenon The Battle At Lake Changjin is that although the latter film deals with a conflict in which the Chinese are pitted against the Americans, all three directors are Chinese. Tsui (Zu Warriors, 1983; Once Upon A Time In China, 1991) at least has some working knowledge of America, having studied film in Texas.… 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:

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Animation Features Movies

True North

Director – Eiji Han Shimizu – 2020 – Japan, Indonesia – 93m

****

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

The life of an ordinary family living in Pyongyang is interrupted when their father disappears and their mother is unable to tell their infant son Yo-han and his younger sister Mi-hee exactly what has happened to him, although she reassures them that everything will be fine. A few days later, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door of their apartment. Officials come in and search the place, make the family pack a few belongings then put them into a truck.

On the ensuing journey, there are no stops for the lavatory. The truck takes them to a political camp where they will be imprisoned although it’s never quite clear what offence they have committed. Father is apparently an enemy of the state, even though he appears to have an exemplary record. Despite promises that the family will see him soon, he’s not in the camp to which they’ve been taken. They are going to have to fend for themselves there.

Mother does her best to keep her kids’ spirits up – no mean task when you’re living on meagre rations and forced to do backbreaking work shifts harvesting crops in the fields (woman and girls) or working in the mines (men and boys).… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Director – Marc Weise – Cert. 12 – 2012 – Germany, South Korea – 106m

*****

Utterly devastating documentary built around interviews with (mainly) a man who was born into and as an adult escaped from a North Korean Death Camp and (with less material) a former guard at one such camp. It being impossible to film inside such camps, the film makers brilliantly deploy bleak, grey toned animation to put images of camp life (classrooms, public executions) on the screen. Be horrified as humans grow and develop in an environment devoid of moral goodness. One of the most unsettling films you’ll ever see.

Here’s the trailer:

This review originally appeared in Film Review Annual.

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Lovers And The Despot

Directors – Ross Adam, Robert Cannan – 2016 – UK – Cert. PG – 98m

Jeremy Clarke on a story too crazy to be anything but true…

This documentary concerns a South Korean film director and his leading actress, kidnapped by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for the purpose of beefing up that country’s film industry – an incredible story that may be familiar from the earlier book on the subject, A Kim Jong-Il Production.

Actress Choi Eun-hee met director Shin Sang-ok on his 1955 film Dream. They became a celebrity couple working together on numerous films and raising a family until she discovered he had fathered two more children with a younger actress. The couple’s seeming fairytale romance disintegrated into divorce. Shin’s production company was in financial trouble and his wife began looking elsewhere for film projects.

In 1978, Choi took a trip from South Korea to Hong Kong to meet a producer and discuss a possible production. She never returned. A few months later, ex-husband Shin followed her trail. He too disappeared…

Read more over at All The Anime.

See also: Camp 14: Total Control Zone.

Trailer: