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APA really wanted to enjoy all the films at this Los Angeles Korean International Film Festival. Sometimes we did, sometimes... not so much. Honesty is the best policy.
Running Wild (Yasu)
Dir: Kim Sung Soo
Yasu aims at being a noirish twist on the old mismatched cop formula, this time pairing an uptight prosecutor with a loose-cannon cop as they try to stop a gangster. Unfortunately, that’s about it in terms of plot. Actually, even implying there is a plot is too generous: it’s really just a long series of overly styled fight scenes (enhanced by the occasional handful of pig feces!) interspersed with indecipherable bits of poorly acted melodrama. I realize that part of the appeal of Korean action films has always been the intense violence, but the use of it here is so shallow and gratuitous it could make an episode of He-Man seem deep. Yoo Ji-tae doesn’t seem properly ashamed for slumming it in this role, but in his defense he does seem to put as little effort as possible into his portrayal of the uptight public prosecutor. Kwon Sang-woo as the out-of-control cop seems to be under the delusion that he has acting talent, which he tries to display by looking scruffy and screaming a lot. Someday Kwon will return to what he does best: staring aimlessly in vapid romantic comedies where he looks cute and takes off his shirt to flex his muscles for his legion of giggling teenage fans. Unfortunately, viewers of Yasu will be subjected to a fully-clothed Kwon and no skin to distract from his lack of gravitas. First time director Kim Sung Soo intended the film to be a comment on the corruption of public life in Korea, but the only real question the movie raised was how he got the backing to actually make this movie.
Dir: James Bai
James Bai’s Puzzlehead is a dystopic contemporary rendering of the Frankenstein tale, set in both Brooklyn’s mean streets during a cold winter, and in an equally cold brownstone kitted with smuggled bioengineering equipment. Puzzlehead is the tale of Walter (Stephen Galaida), an under-funded, self-medicating basement scientist who builds, trains, and controls a robot copy of himself, complete with all of his greatest flaws. Following an all too successful training program, Walter’s creation, called Puzzlehead (also played by Stephen Galaida), successfully seduces Julia (Robbie Shapiro), Walter’s longtime object of affection, or rather, of voyeurism. When the slave exceeds the master, the master turns on the slave. The ensuing fight for Julia’s body and Walter’s mind ultimately yields a film notable as much for its psychological intrigue as for its gloomily appealing aesthetic. Just as creepy as it sounds, Bai’s Puzzlehead sparks with the originality of a dastardly mastermind. Bai manages to render characters that are pathologically tragic, yet oddly lovable. Visually, the film handles the technically challenging “creation” scenes with a creativity and consistency absent from many films with substantially higher production budgets. Overall, the film resonates visually, emotionally, and intellectually with refreshing complexity and intensity.
Forbidden Quest (Eumranseosaeng)
Dir: Kim Dae Woo
Forbidden Quest follows close on the heels of the enormously successful Korean adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, Untold Scandal. Like Scandal, it attempts to tell a racy story in a new way by making it a period piece and setting it in the supposedly uptight Joseon era (1392-1910). Inspector Kim is a high muckety-muck in the royal service, nobly serving his majesty even when it means ignoring insults to his family to keep his hands clean. Kim should have been more worried about other parts of his anatomy after an investigation involves him in the steamy underground world of Joseon smut peddling. Soon he turns his natural literary talent to some less exalted forms of publication, and his tentative ventures into erotic writing become smash hits. If the movie had continued in this silly vein as a sort of Dangerous Liasons meets American Pie, it might have been more successful. The second act turns toward the serious and dramatic, which is as big a miscalculation for the film as Inspector Kim’s decision to get down and dirty with the King’s capricious concubine. Having fed the audience a steady diet of goofy potty jokes in the first half, viewers will have a hard time digesting the overwrought and confusing drama that takes over the last reel. The fine cast almost, but not quite, has the charisma to carry off the whole affair, but there just aren’t enough pieces there to hold it all together. They should have stuck with the fart jokes.
This Charming Girl (Yeoja Jeonghae)
Dir: Yoon Ki Lee
Yoon Ki Lee’s This Charming Girl is a story of personal loss set in the banal life of actress Kim Ji Soo’s Jeong Hye, a post office attendant. This Charming Girl makes a clear play for quiet lyricism. Centered around Jeong Hye’s silent relationship with a cat found in the bushes and her aborted non-affair with a post office client, the film never delivers the kind of visual or emotional punch required to carry a film replete with daily non-events. Sub-plots related to Jeong Hye’s insomnia and residual grief over the death of her mother grate and inspire more frustration than empathy. Attempts to humanize Jeong Hye by including drinking scenes with her co-workers offer all too brief respites from extended periods of silence. Yoon’s attempt to portray the quotidian is noble, particularly for a novice director. Unfortunately, the ordinariness of grief is portrayed with extreme ordinariness.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi)
Dir: Park Chan-wook
The Lady or the Tiger: Park's Three-Ring Circus
Asian Stories: Book III
Dir: Kris Chin and Ron Oda
Official site: http://www.lakiff.org
Date Posted: 10/9/2006