Recently Seen, Part 37 (March 2020)


Member: Rank 5
Hit-and-Run Squad (Bbaengban) [2019] • South Korea
Director: Jun-hee Han (who directed the pretty cool Coin Locker Girl [2015])

There's something wonderful and satisfying watching Gong Hyo-jin be perfect onscreen in a stupid movie.

The bad guy in this car chase/corrupt cops and politicians/daddy issues/action "thriller" is pretty great. He's a youngish twerp with a stutter. Every time he hit someone with impunity I had to remind myself: "Wait, this guy is the Kingpin"? Very effective.

The youngish good guy rogue good guy cop who used to be a bad guy rouge bad guy (yawn) is also pretty great except for his hairdo and bad eating-acting as crutch to demonstrate he's "exceptional".

Actually, everybody is pretty good, except the daddy issue daddy who had to be a drunk to demonstrate how great he used to be in life.

But it's a script-by-committee car chase movie (more or less), and watching car chases is about as entertaining as watching a gun fight. There's not a ton of them, though.

It's remarkable that Koreans are not bothered at all writing bad Hollywood scripts any more as long as they get a few "haha made you look" 's in there. There's expository dialog that no one would actually ever say; "I don't know if I ever told my dad I loved him" weepy dialog; "you want to kill him but you can't. It's not who you are" dialog. Guys smacking women over the head, and cops taking a bullet for their partner (neither dies). It's really a yike-fest getting through this, but Gong Hyo-jin, you beautiful creature you. "What, you can't smell"? Wait for it!

Interesting thing ... and I'm only 90s % sure ... is that Coin Locker Girl Kim Go-eun shows up post beginning end credit roll looking so bad-ass, tattooed and beautiful, in what appears to be a tease of eventual sequel, I was able to hold back my upchuck at the idea and consider looking forward to it .

If you don't mind cookie-cutter script (it comes with the territory, I guess), bad eating-acting or car chases, this is highly recommended because it's Korean. You know the checklist.


Sweet Poolside (Suîto pûrusaido) [2014] • Japan
Director: Daigo Matsui (worth following the link to see his filmography)

"Two swim-team members, a hairless boy and a hirsute girl, discover the pangs and tangles of first love." (except not necessarily with each other)

I had to.

When this film leaves the ballpark about halfway through, moving from an innocent coming-of-age flick to a melodramatic breakdown, the texture of the photography changes, remarkably. I thought it was signalling things might get real dark -- ala Himeanole -- blood might be drawn, and whatnot. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. It does reach its "will you shave me down there" denouement, but the (almost Sono-esque) wailing brings it back to its pubescent roots.

All in all a weird Japanese offering that picks a peculiar premise and sticks to it. It looks good, and both actors do a swell job. The boy is a little young for acting but works nicely as a foil for Yuiko Kariya's wonderful dance between child and woman, notably in the shaving scenes where her body is still a child's but the closeups of her face and the movement of her lips is uncomfortably sexy--well shot, well performed. Creepy Japanese.
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Member: Rank 4
Paju (2009)

So I'm watching this drama and about 45 minutes in I realize I have no idea what's going on, or even in a couple of circumstances, who is who. For example, there's one scene where a schoolgirl of about 15 or so plays a prank on her teacher. The girl's older sister takes her over to the teacher's place to have her apologize. But the younger girl just looks at her teacher and yells at him to "stay away from my sister!"

Stay away from her sister? WTF? As far as I could tell, he didn't even know her sister. Did I miss that part while I have having a good scratch? Then the older sister comes in and gives him a hug. Good grief, I'm so totally lost, I start all over with watching the movie, from the beginning.

And I came to realize...this movie is all about telling, and not showing. Movies should SHOW. Let me see the scene, don't just casually refer to it in passing. For example, this same younger girl is talking with a friend, who chastises her for stealing her tuition money and taking a trip to India. India??? WT holy F; when did that happen? Oh, we've jumped around in time again? Hard to keep all that straight. Ok, so later we see the scene at the travel agency where she contemplates the India thing. But what's the point of this scene NOW? The director should have skipped the "tell" scene and just shown us this.

This whole movie is like that--jumping all over the place with no real reason to do so. Movies like Spider Forest, or Jacob's Ladder, or something David Lynch--yeah, I get it. You need to make it convoluted or tricky. And in that type of movie, I'm loving every convoluted twist. But this movie could have been SO much better just told as a straight narrative. Sure, a few well-placed flashbacks to spark things or clear up some areas, but good lord this movie did not need to be a puzzle. And at the end, the characters are discussing feelings and motivations that come totally out of left field. The teacher announces some things that have not one bit of support anywhere in the movie up to that point. That's an egregious "tell" with no "show." And the girl? If she felt what I thought the movie was wanting us to believe she felt, then her actions at the end constitute a cruel joke.

At one point I went to Darcy's page to see what he said about it:

"In part, it is the film's willful obscurity that gives it its strength. The narrative is laid out in a patchwork of flashbacks and flash-forwards that replicate the jumbled manner in which the brain stores painful memories. Making sense of it all at first is a mental challenge, but the film gives back at least as much as you put into it. Personally I liked that the story's misunderstandings persist through to the end: this is not a film where all characters come around to accept the same interpretation of the events we have witnessed. Because each character carries a different understanding -- and no character possesses complete knowledge of what happened -- there is a layered complexity to the film's emotions."

Well, I'm glad it's not just me. I agree with the "willful obscurity" part; not so much with the accolades (he called it one of the best Korean films of 2009). But still I'm going to give Paju a decent rating, because in all honesty, the performances are top notch. The plot wasn't even a bad one--just horribly executed.

3 stars
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Member: Rank 5
This films epitomizes the downhill trajectory of S Korean cinema after the K-Wave. Just like your favorite college indie rock band. After so many people say "you're good", there comes a need to feel important. Paju pushes buttons and forces issues without feeling. The performances and productions values are top notch like S Korea is known for. No change there. Bravo.


Member: Rank 4
Hot Young Bloods (2014)

This was one of the YesAsia cheapie free DVDs they give you if you order three Korean DVDs. Another high school "gang" movie with a lot of fights? Silly slapstick and overacting? Girl likes boy? Boy likes different girl? Everyone fights about it? Yes on all counts. BUT, much better than it had to be and some good genuine laughs and emotions along the way.

Our hero is a tall lanky underclassman who has the other fellas looking up to him because he can get just about any girl in the school to fall for him. He's got his "player" moves, and they always seem to work. The movie is set in small town early 1980s Korea, so I get the impression that him "winning" a girl doesn't mean he's porking her, but just making out a little. Anyway, he's a charming enough rogue who never crosses the line where the viewer finds him to be a snot or a bastard.

The girl gang leader is very cute. I mean, extremely cute. She looks like she's about 4'11'' but is a total spitfire. She's beaten up enough of the other girls, where she's the obvious gang leader. Oh, and she's got a mouth on her and has no problems staring down the upperclassman gang leader, who is your typical greaser scuzz, with his pompadour hairstyle with a lock of hair that falls just so over his forehead. Just looking at him you want to punch him. He likes spitfire girl, and they've made a gang alliance, but otherwise she doesn't give him the time of day. He's kindof pissed about that.

Now enter "the girl from Seoul" who all the fellas swoon over ("She's prettier than Brooke Shields!"). Of course, lanky hero guy has his eye set on her. But she rebuffs him--for a while. He's kindof pissed about that.

Of course you've probably figured out by now that spitfire girl has a major crush on lanky hero guy. But here's the one instance where he's not interested. She's more than kindof pissed about that. At one point she confronts him and demands an answer as to why he doesn't respond correctly when she says she loves him. His reaction, as he's trying to get away from her, gave me a good laugh: "That's not love! That's a threat!"

Put that all in the blender and what comes out is at times very funny, at times an interesting insight into human nature, at times a sober look at early '80s rural Korean school system, and a look at hardscrabble family dynamics, with some melodrama thrown in. A little too much melo and one or two too many fights in the last 30 minutes or so; and the way hero guy wraps up one of the relationships seemed to me unnecessarily harsh, but I forgive it.

The last scene is a direct rip-off from On Officer and a Gentleman (it had to be deliberate), but I forgive that too. In fact, it made me smile.

A good solid 4 stars.
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Member: Rank 4
Damn! We get two posts in a month, and then a simulpost! Awesome!
Lol ... it was a hotbed of activity, and then I rock up an hour too late. Is this place like real life or what?

I was interested in hearing your take on Paju - it's one of those films that seemed to feature prominently in people's best-of lists back when it was released, but has since become a footnote. I have zero recollection of any of the plot points you've mentioned - from my notes when I saw it in March 2010, I thought that got bogged down in a convoluted structure, and that while the final noirish resolution provided a decent enough pay-off, it was one of the weakest Korean films of its year.

The thing about it that I did remember was Seo Woo, and it suddenly occurred to me on reading your post that I had no idea what she's been in recently. At the time, it was like she was the Next Big Thing. Crush and Blush, Paju, The Housemaid, Cinderella's Sister ... all within the space of a couple of years made her one to watch. But after that, it seems she's just kind of faded into oblivion.


Member: Rank 5
I was reminded of same when I looked up my notes about Paju. I remember all the hype, the "best of" commendations. And Seo Woo -- woo hoo stuff. And then as you say -- footnote land. One thing I noticed is that it never got a Blu-ray release.