Tag: kang-ho song


Parasite (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Joon-ho Bong’s black coffee comedy “Parasite” is an effective social commentary on two fronts: the great lengths we are willing to go for money and how a few of us—no—how many of us would not even think twice to step on our fellow man just to be able to climb a little higher. But the film is first and foremost riotously, endlessly entertaining. It is savagely funny parts—particularly in how it portrays the privilege of the rich and the desperation of the poor right alongside one another—occasionally suspenseful in terms of deception piling on top of one another that we know something has got to give eventually, and at times quite sad in its accurate portrayal of indigence. Perhaps the system is designed so that in order for the rich to exist and flourish, others must live and die in poverty.

Right when we lay eyes on the Kim family, we learn that they are survivors precisely because they are opportunists. And so when Ki-woo (Woo-shik Choi) is presented the chance to make good money by tutoring a high school girl (Ji-so Jeong) who comes from a well-to-do family, he seizes the role with alacrity and, because he is street-smart, eventually finds a way to get the rest of his family (Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, So-dam Park) to work for the Parks (Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Cho). The screenplay by the director and Jin-won Han is so meticulous and efficient, seeing the Kims insinuate themselves into the Park household is like watching a complex equation being reduced into its most basic form over time: elegant, logical, and mesmerizing. And then just when we think we know precisely where the plot is heading, it takes a sudden right turn.

The film’s best attribute then is two-fold: its ability to surprise and then making us follow that new direction in a way that feels comfortable or natural. I think it works because the story is not merely composed of nifty plot contortions. We are actually made to understand why the Kim family choose to take the actions that they do. When the more overt life-or-death situations face them—which they are no stranger to since they live in poverty: every day is life or death when there’s no food to put on the table—they respond how some of us might when presented with similar circumstances. We sympathize and empathize with the main characters not through dialogue—since not every member of the family is articulate—but in spending time in their sub-basement home, by looking at their oversized and tattered clothing, how they carry themselves when they are reminded of their lack of stature.

During the final stretch of the picture, notice that images which portray the animosity of the haves toward the have-nots become more prevalent and obtrusive. Extreme closeups are employed in order to highlight boiling points. And so eruption of violence is not at all unexpected. What is surprising, however, is the poetry behind the violence. Instead of action-driven—which Western pictures tend to employ regardless of whether or not the approach is appropriate—the violence here is often ugly, messy, ironic, and possessing a comic strip quality to them. They are meant to be off-kilter so that we feel uncomfortable by the horrific happenings. There is an absence of a typical catharsis. And so we must ponder why that is.

“Parasite” is not about crime or murder. It is a human story told with an observant eye for humor, irony, and tragedy. And we cannot help to watch unblinkingly because we recognize nuggets of truth in what is being portrayed. What is art but a reflection of our times?

The Age of Shadows

The Age of Shadows (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

To bomb Japanese facilities during Japan’s occupation of Korea, a seemingly straightforward goal in which the plot revolves around but writer-director Jee-woon Kim manages to helm an impressive historical spy-thriller in “The Age of Shadows,” a must-see for those entertained by suspense, interesting characters, and stunning set pieces. Here is a film that doesn’t waste a second, a beat, or pause—it makes a point that these elements can make the difference between success and failure in the tricky underworld of espionage.

Pictures from the west tend to be defined in a pre-packaged manner in that the audience can recognize immediately between the good guys from the bad even before the opening credits. This film, however, takes the time to establish a relationship with the viewers by simply presenting characters in specific situations. It asks us to consider who we think the central protagonist should be, whether the cause in which he is a part of worth rooting for, and if their endgame was something that we’d like to see come to fruition. From the get-go, the film drenches us into its world. By the end, we feel as exhausted as its characters, not because of its two-and-a-half hour running time, but because their harrowing journey is finally completed. Their nail-biting experience, never traversing a straight line, is shared with ours.

Kang-ho Song and Yoo Gong play Korean men, Lee Jung-Chool and Kim Woo-Jin, who find themselves in a country occupied by foreigners. Lee has chosen to work with the Japanese as a police captain while Kim helps to lead the resistance against the Japanese while masquerading as an antique shop owner. Their relationship, especially during the first half, fascinates because their interactions liken that of a chess game: every move is calculated and one mistake proves to lead to dire consequences. I found it amazing that a quick nod or a suspicious look can turn the plot over its head—which is most exciting.

Those expecting standard action sequences are sure to be disappointed. While there are scenes involving shootouts, they are not choreographed in such a way that communicates violence is beautiful. On the contrary, it is shown as ugly, often occurring in quick bursts, messy, painful, at times tragic, sometimes necessary. I admired that right after these moments of catharsis, it is back to strategically moving the pieces on the board. Clearly, this is a movie for those who enjoy being completely immersed in a world. In a way, it teaches us how to think like a spy. It is a film about men defined by what they do and they happen to do what they do well enough to be thoroughly intriguing specimens.

With each passing minute the screws tighten. “The Age of Shadows” moves quickly and stealthily; its atmosphere thick with implications and suspicions; and it entertains under the assumption that the person watching is intelligent and has a knack for nuance. I found myself constantly leaning toward the screen, squinting at seemingly curious lines, attempting to capture strange behavior. I felt like I was studying something clever up close and having the best time doing so.

Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two women are found dead, one in a ditch and the other in a rice paddy, which shakes a rural South Korean town inside out because nothing quite like it has happened there before. Detective Park (Kang-ho Song) and Detective Cho (Roe-ha Kim) are assigned to solve the cases and bring about justice. However, it is 1986 and proper steps in order to secure a corpse from journalists, cops, and various onlookers are not yet available. This makes finding subtle but critical clues that can help point the investigators in the right direction especially difficult.

Written by Joon-ho Bong, Kwang-rim Kim, and Sung Bo Shim, “Salinui chueok” commands a certain tragic lyricism despite having occasional bursts of comic relief because it consistently underlines the limitations of people wanting desperately to solve a crime. I enjoyed the way my opinions of the characters change throughout the film, especially when it comes to Detective Park and Detective Seo (Sang-kyung Kim), the former from around the area and the latter from Seoul.

Initially, Detective Park’s sarcasm and quirk in finding humor within the macabre communicates a lack seriousness when it comes to his job and sympathy for the grieving families. In allowing the screenplay to submerge the audience in one tub of failure after another without us having much time to breathe in between, we begin to notice how tired he has become of losing, that perhaps our initial judgment of him is unfair.

It is a draining experience, not in a negative but in an engaging way, because just when the cops seem so close in finding the serial killer with the aid of events aligning properly, the requisite resources in order to close the deal are not always available at their disposal. Think of Jenga: you are so certain that the piece you are about to pull will not compromise the tower but the last-second slight tremor on your fingertip causes the entire stack to go down in flames.

As the sadness in the veins of the film begins to pulsate, an air of hopelessness starts to dominate the professional and private spheres of the detectives. Although this does not stop them from attempting to find an answer, they are not always interested in looking for the answer. There is a difference and, eventually, one cannot help but question the ethics behind their intentions and actions.

Detective Seo’s role in the case is key because his character provides a clear arc. At first, he seems like a knowledgeable, self-aware, and practical problem solver. As with Detective Park, our opinion of him changes, too. His yearning to do what is right for the dead women is, as it turns out, not incorruptible.

Director Joon-ho Bong has a great handle on the mood and pacing. He is not afraid to experiment in terms of clashing and complementing the light and dark aspects of the screenplay. However, this comes at a cost at times. Unexplored characters like Detective Cho and Detective Park’s wives are left on the wayside for the majority of the time. They have dramatic moments much later in the picture but none of it feels earned. It feels awkward that we are supposed to sympathize when we do not know much about them.

“Salinui chueok,” also known as “Memories of Murder” is inspired by real murders and it shows. When we are given a chance to look at a dead body, it is appropriately intriguing for the sake of seeing one but there is undeniable gloom and horror in it, too. It feels authentic which makes it all the more disconcerting.


Thirst (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“Bakjwi” or “Thirst,” directed by Chan-wook Park, was about a priest (Kang-ho Song) who knowingly participated in a fatal experiment in order to help other people who might be infected with the disease in the future. Surely enough, the experiment killed him but he later returned from the dead as a blood thirsty vampire. I couldn’t quite enjoy this movie as a whole because it was very odd which, frankly, I did not expect. I thought it was going to be a pretty standard horror film about a vampire. Others may like the fact that the movie tried to pull off some comedy here and there but I found it to be very distracting. Maybe the humor was lost in translation because I’m not Korean so I didn’t think it was funny at all. I found the scenes with the family (Ok-bin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin) to be very dull and redundant. And the whole “romance” between Song and Ok-bin Kim did not persuade me at all that they were “in love.” There were far too many–from what it felt like–obligatory sex scenes that didn’t quite move the story forward. As realistic as they were, they didn’t do anything for me; I was more interested with the scares that it had to offer. I wanted to know more about what it meant for the lead character to be a vampire and the struggles he had to go through since he chose to live by certain codes. One of the most important of those codes included not killing people because God saw it as a mortal sin. Did he, when stripped with religion, inherently thought it was wrong? After all, he was no longer a “normal” human. I didn’t really get my questions answered because the movie insisted on spending time with that annoying family. The priest was a very interesting character because I don’t know a lot of vampire characters who remain loyal to his religion after death. However, I very much enjoyed the last forty minutes because I finally felt that I was watching a film that was edgy, suspenseful and mysterious. I don’t want to spoil anything because I did not see certain things coming but the events that happened in the last third of the movie really fascinated me. I felt like the movie finally came alive especially the beautiful outdoor scenes. It had this mesmerizing glow that glued me to the screen. If only the level of filmmaking was the same as the last third of the picture, I would have given “Thirst” a recommendation. With a running time of about two hours and ten minutes, it certainly felt that long or maybe even longer.