25 November 2014

The Housemaid (South Korea, 2010/1960)

Eun-yi is a playful young woman, a good match for a job as nanny to a precocious child, Nami, the daughter of a wealthy couple, Hae-ra and Hoon. Hae-ra will soon have twins as well. The majordomo, Mrs. Cho, is the household's cold stone center. Before long, Hoon seduces Eun-yi, and when Mrs. Cho tells Hae-ra's mother about the affair, Eun-yi is up against women with wealth, power, and no conscience. Can Eun-yi maintain her dignity and perhaps even put the family in their place?

Here's two films for the price of one. I don't know what I mean by that, but I know that you should avert your attention to this duo of films. It goes without saying, but The Housemaid (2010) is a remake of a film released in the 60's, also titled The Housemaid. The older version is a bit more melodramatic, while the remake is erotic and full of sexual tension. The cast in the new one features a couple of recognizable faces and great actors from the last years and you're most likely familiar with some of them. Oh, and the ending. The ending will come at you from nowhere, and it's downright wonderful.

Genre: Drama/Thriller

24 November 2014

A Hard Day (South Korea, 2014)

Detective Go Geon-soo is having a hard day, and the following events happen to him in less than 24 hours: He receives a divorce notice from his wife. His mother passes away. He and his coworkers are investigated by police inspectors over alleged embezzlement. Then on his way to his mother's funeral, he drives recklessly and commits a fatal hit and run. He tries to cover-up the accident by hiding the man's corpse in his deceased mother's coffin. But someone has been watching all along, and Geon-soo gets a mysterious call from a person claiming that he was the sole witness to the crime, who now begins to threaten him.

I expected A Hard Day to be very lackluster and uninspired, but were surprised at how enjoyable it actually was. Even funny sometimes. Sure, there's not a whole lot of originality here, but it delivers a momentarily rush and the excitement rises by the minute. Not a perfect thriller, but still worth your time.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

20 November 2014

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Japan, 2001)

The year is 2071. Following a terrorist bombing, a deadly virus is released on the populace of Mars and the government has issued a 300 million woo-long reward, the largest bounty in history, for the capture of whoever is behind it. The bounty hunter crew of the spaceship Bebop; Spike, Faye, Jet and Ed, take the case with hopes of cashing in the bounty. However, the mystery surrounding the man responsible, Vincent, goes deeper than they ever imagined, and they aren't the only ones hunting him.

The anime series Cowboy Bebop is one of the coolest shows out there. It's a space western fanatic's wet dream, with 26 episodes of superb action and funky sci-fi. The movie based on the show is no different when it comes to delivering an exciting story and amazing animation. You can easily watch the movie without having seen the series, as it is a pretty much standalone project. Even those who are new to animation should check this one out, as it is a crazy good and awesome welcome to the genre.

Genre: Animation/Action/Crime

1 November 2014

No Tears for the Dead (South Korea, 2014)

Abandoned by his mother shortly after immigrating to America, Gon is raised by the mafia and grows up to become a cold-blooded hit-man. Though usually flawless in taking out his targets, Gon makes a terrible mistake of killing an innocent young girl. A flood of guilt takes over his life and the situation becomes worse when his boss assigns him the job of killing the young girl's mother. Gon's new target, Mogyeong, is a risk manager at an investment firm and has buried herself in work to bury her grief. She is completely unaware of her role at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy. 

No Tears for the Dead is a film I've been dying to see for a long, long time. Ever since it was announced that The Man from Nowhere director Lee Jeong-beom was making a new action film I was hyped like crazy. This led to some impossibly high expectations and that's probably why No Tears for the Dead proved to be slightly underwhelming to me. There's some unnecessary English dialogue between people who both talk Korean, and it's not as packed with amazing fight sequences as The Man from Nowhere was, but instead takes some time to develop the plot. 

Still, that's not exactly a bad thing, and this film has it where it counts and delivers some really cool, fast shots and intense shootouts. You can just tell that the director has completely mastered the art of filming an action scene. So, a good action flick that doesn't quite reach the same level of intensity of the directors previous work, but a satisfying and wonderfully shot action fest nonetheless.    

Genre: Action/Drama

31 October 2014

Shower (China, 1999)

Shenzhen businessman, Da Ming, goes home to Beijing when he thinks his father has died. He finds his father hard at work at the family's bathhouse (the false message was a ruse of Da's mentally-handicapped brother, Er Ming, to get Da home). Da stays a couple days, observing his father being social director, marriage counselor, and dispute mediator for his customers and a boon companion to Er. Da is caught between worlds: the decaying district of his childhood and the booming south where he now lives with a wife who's not met his family. When Da realizes his father's health is failing and the district is slated for razing, he must take stock of family and future.

Shower is a film that spends it time developing a father-and-son relationship inside of a bathhouse. The premise makes it sound like a quirky comedy but there's a lot more to it than that, and halfway through the film it drastically changes tone. A good drama, with both humor and grief. 

Genre: Drama/Comedy

30 October 2014

Another Family (South Korea, 2014)

Taxi Driver Sang-Gu is an ordinary father. He is so proud of his daughter Yoon-Mi who works at a factory for a large corporation, but somehow also feels sorry for Yoon-Mi. Because of their poor financial situation, Yoon-Mi could not attend college. Meanwhile, Yoon-Mi tells her father that she will one day buy him a new car and pay college tuition fees for her young sibling. Less than 2 years after Yoon-Mi begins her job, she becomes ill and returns home. Yoon-Mi is unable to get proper treatment from the company where she worked and she dies. Sang-Gu promises to Yoon-Mi that he will let others know her story.

You know when a movie is interesting the minute you start to read about the stuff that it's based on. Another Family (a.k.a. Another Promise) tells the true story of how a young woman was diagnosed with leukemia after starting to work at one of Samsung's factories. After her death, her family took legal actions against Samsung and demanded that they took responsibility for the daughters death. 

It's a relatively straight-forward court drama, but it's the case that got me hooked. The idea of a small group of people taking on South Korea's largest company sounds more than intimidating and you wonder if such a business giant will ever admit that they're responsible for the tragic deaths of a group of employees suffering from leukemia.   

Genre: Drama

29 October 2014

Barefoot Gen 2 (Japan, 1986)

Three years after the Hiroshima bombing, Gen and his adopted brother, Ryuta, befriend a group of orphans. A fierce typhoon hits the city, leaving the orphans' home flooded and beyond repair. Gen helps them build a new home on an abandoned piece of property, and brings love and encouragement to one of the children whose face has been badly scarred by radiation. Gen's mother, though, is getting weaker and weaker from radiation poisoning.

I've written about the first Barefoot Gen movie, and I wouldn't hesitate in calling it one of the best films ever made about the Hiroshima bomb. This sequel takes place three years later and focuses on the same family we got to know in the first film. Hiroshima is still a pile of rubble, and among the ruins a group of kids form a bond. They find friends when their world has fallen apart and it's easy to wonder how life must have been near ground zero. A generation of kids that crawled up from beneath a disintegrated city. Barefoot Gen 2 tells that story, and how they adapted to their new life.

Genre: Animation/Drama/War

28 October 2014

Night Train (China, 2007)

Wu Hongyan is a young woman working as a prison guard during executions of female convicts. She feels lonely after her husband died, and she takes a night train to another city to visit a dating service. After a series of unsuccessful dates, she meets Li Jun. It quickly becomes obvious that he is hiding a secret: he is the widower of one of the female convicts of which Wu Hongyan assisted in the execution. Li Jun is torn apart by his feelings, as he is both attracted to Wu Hongyan, and having a desire for revenge for his executed wife.

Night Train is a very somber film, with dark themes and presentation. It's a good film for those who don't necessarily need everything to tie up nicely with a warm, happy ending. For those who don't go mad when it's revealed that there's no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Genre: Drama

27 October 2014

Night on the Galactic Railroad (Japan, 1985)

On the night of a cat village's Festival of the Stars, a kitten and his friend go on an celestial journey on a magical space locomotive. On that trip, they have various stops where they meet strange sights, even more unusual fellow passengers and learn some lessons of life on their trip to the terminus of the Galactic Railroad.

It's usually fairly easy to tell if a movie is a happy one or more sinister, but with Night on the Galactic Road I couldn't decide whether it was sweet and lovable, or dark and foreboding. Somewhere in between, I'd have to say. It was based on a classic Japanese novel from 1934, but replaced the main characters with a bunch of cats. It has a very distinctive style to it, and if you think that it's a simple anime adventure you're way off. It's a philosophical journey through the stars with a handful of larger-than-life questions and thoughts. Starring cats. 

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Drama

17 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D (Japan, 1985)

In a far-future time ruled by the supernatural, a young girl requests the help of a vampire hunter to kill the vampire who has bitten her and thus prevent her from becoming a vampire herself.

I have already written about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) before, but this version from 1985 I left out because I felt that it wasn't nearly as good as Bloodlust. After re-watching it I can happily say that I must have been blinded by the greatness of Bloodlust, because this 1985 film is a phenomenal, Gothic adventure. It's disgustingly graphic, full of gore and presents a ton of nightmarish creatures and evil vampires like there's no tomorrow. Just like Bloodlust it has an awesome blend of genres like science fiction and dark fantasy. Cyborg horses and vampires? No problem. The world of Vampire Hunter D is a place hard not to get interested in, so luckily there's a whole franchise of this stuff.

While watching it I couldn't help but make some striking connections between this film and the video game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997). I guess that's only natural, since both deals with vampires and Gothic themes. Both D and Alucard (the main character in Symphony of the Night) are a sword-wielding dhampir, which is the child of a vampire and a human. They both fight their way through an army of vampires using supernatural powers and graceful sword techniques. 

                                                 Alucard                                           D

I also saw a resemblance in the women that Alucard and D encounter during their travels. 

                                                  Doris                                        Maria 

Just some fun and interesting observations. Great movie and great game.

Genre: Animation/Action//Horror/Sci-Fi

15 October 2014

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000)

In Japan, the vampire-hunter Saya, who is a powerful original, is sent by her liaison with the government, David, posed as a teenage student to the Yokota High School on the eve of Halloween to hunt down vampires. Saya asks David to give a new katana to her. Soon she saves the school nurse Makiho Amano from two vampires disguised of classmates and Makiho witnesses her fight against the powerful demons.

The Last Vampire is the first part of the whole Blood-franchise. Later it would spawn anime series, manga sequels and a live-action film. But it all started with this 45 minutes long film about a schoolgirl slaying the demons of the night. The animation quality is high and the action fast and intense. Production I.G is the studio responsible for making this film, and they've made too many great films to count but Ghost in the Shell (1995) is probably one of the biggest. 

Blood: The Last Vampire is a cool and bloody vampire hunt, albeit a short one and you'll wish it went on longer when the credits roll. Still, it's a warm recommendation to fans of vampire films.

Genre: Animation/Action/Horror

13 October 2014

Black Coal, Thin Ice (China, 2014)

An ex cop and his ex partner decide to follow up on investigation of a series of murders that ended their careers and shamed them, when identical murders begin again.

I remember wanting to see this film for the longest time, and now it's here. With full force. Black Coal, Thin Ice feature some of the best cinematography that I've ever seen from China, It looks amazing and really fits the noir-ish feel of the film. What also elevates the film is the great story and pacing, this isn't your average cop thriller but an extremely well-made and clever film. There's literally nothing stupid about it, is another way you could describe it. 

So all in all, Black Coal, Thin Ice is realistic and dark and exactly the kind of crime films I want to see from China in the future.

Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery

12 October 2014

Doomsday Book (South Korea, 2012)

A Brave New World, a mysterious virus brings the city to ruins and zombies flood the streets of Seoul. The Heavenly Creature, a robot reaches enlightenment on its own while working at a temple. Its creators regard this phenomenon as a threat to mankind and decide to terminate the robot. Happy Birthday, a little girl logs into a strange website and puts in an order for a new pool ball for her billiards-obsessed father. Soon an unidentified meteor heads toward Earth and all human beings flee to underground bomb shelters.

Doomsday Book is an anthology film consisting of three different stories, but all taking place in the future. it ranges from being about a zombie apocalypse to a robot that practices Buddhism and believes he's Buddha. The second segment was written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, whom you've should be very familiar with by now due to his filmography (A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil). Despite all these facts, Doomsday Book got lukewarm reviews and it failed to live up to expectations. I think it's worth a chance due to it's interesting themes, and the biggest complaint I have is that it would have been much better if it had been an half hour shorter (it's two hours long). Otherwise it's a good film and a welcomed entry here due to the lack of sci-fi on this blog.

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi

10 October 2014

Broken (South Korea, 2014)

Sang-Hyun, who lost his wife, lives with his daughter Soo-Jin. One day, Soo-Jin is raped and murdered. Frustrated by the lack of progress in his daughter's case, Sang-Hyun gets a mysterious hint by an unknown voice. He learns the identity of the two men who killed his daughter and the address of one of those two men. Sang-Hyun then goes to the home of that man and finds some evidence. Full of anger, he picks up a rifle and goes after the boy who took his daughter from him.

Broken is based on a book written by Keigo Higashino, who also wrote a book that the film White Night (2009), another film which has been featured on this blog, was adapted from. Here we follow a desperate father who seeks his own kind of justice when his only daughter has been killed in a horrendous manner. While watching the film I pondered over the question of what I would do in the fathers situation, if I had the means and the ways of finding the people responsible. Probably nothing this extreme, I think. 

A Japanese film, called the The Hovering Blade (2009), was also based on this same story and I've heard that it's really good. Unfortunately I've yet to see that one, but Broken is by all means a film you should check out if you're a fan of Asian revenge thrillers.

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller

9 October 2014

Murderer (South Korea, 2013)

Joo-Hyub is a cold blooded serial killer, but he tries to live unnoticed in a small village with his son Yong-Ho. His son becomes friends with Ji-Soo who is a new transfer student at his school. Ji-Soo soon realizes that Joo-Hyub is a serial killer. Joo-Hyub decides to kill Ji-Soo for himself and his son.

Here's a film which I don't reckon made too much noise when it was released. Probably because it doesn't exactly do anything better than most other thrillers that are being released nowadays, but I definitely think that it belongs on this blog. What surprised me was that the relationship between the two students had me far more interested than the actual story about the killer. The films cover and synopsis may lead you to believe that it's a stone-cold and brutal film but it focuses more on other stuff than just killings. The running time is also far from going overboard, clocking in at about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

A good thriller with unexpectedly tender moments.

Genre: Thriller

4 October 2014

Symbol (Japan, 2009)

A man wakes up alone in a brightly illuminated white room with no windows or doors. When he presses a mysteriously phallic protuberance that appears on one wall, a pink toothbrush materializes from nowhere, clattering to the floor and setting in motion a genuinely bizarre chain of events. Soon the imprisoned man is engaged in absurd attempts to escape the gleaming room, releasing random objects from the walls, Meanwhile, in a dusty town, a green masked Mexican wrestler known as Escargot Man prepares for an important match.

Symbol is a film that's half hilarious and half crazy. It's wonderfully incomprehensible for the larger part of the film, until you start to see the bigger picture. It was made by the same guy who directed the also very funny and also bizarre Big Man Japan (2007). If you want to see something whacky and different from most other films, Symbol is one of your safest bets.  

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy

3 October 2014

Gohatto (Japan, 1999)

Set during Japan's Shogun era, this film looks at life in a samurai compound where young warriors are trained in swordfighting. A number of interpersonal conflicts are brewing in the training room, all centering around a handsome young samurai named Sozaburo Kano. The school's stern master can choose to intervene, or to let Kano decide his own path.

Gohatto (a.k.a. Taboo) is one of the first films I've seen that deals with homosexuality in the shogun era. It features two of my favorite actors, Tadanobu Asano (Last Life in the Universe) and Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi), which elevates the film considerably. It's nice to see a samurai film that doesn't tell the same old story about two battling clans or where a group of bad guys must be defeated. Instead, Gohatto delivers a fresh approach and tells the story that goes on between the sheets.    

Genre: Drama/History/Thriller

2 October 2014

Noriko's Dinner Table (Japan, 2005)

A teenager called Noriko Shimabara runs away from her family in Tokoyama, to meet Kumiko, the leader of an Internet BBS, Haikyo.com. She becomes involved with Kumiko's "family circle", which grows darker after the mass suicide of 54 high school girls.

Noriko's Dinner Table is the prequel to Sion Sono's Suicide Club (2002), and fleshes out the story surrounding it.  I'm not the biggest fan of Sion Sono, and Suicide Club is probably the best movie I think he's done. So it's only natural that Noriko's Dinner Table will appeal to me. It's 2 hours and 40 minutes long, so it's a lengthy one, but somehow it manages not be too long. After I reviewed Suicide Club on this site, I've heard a rumor that it was made due to the fact that the Japanese government wouldn't take action against the alarming rate of suicides the country was suffering from. To me, that gives the films a new meaning other than just it just being a fantasy from the mind of Sion Sono.

So, all in all, if you liked Suicide Club then by all means watch this one. And if you haven't seen Suicide Club you should take time to amend that as quick as possible.

Genre: Drama