Tag Archives: Choi Min-sik

Cinema-Maniac: I Saw the Devil (2010) Review

If there’s another genre that had a bigger fall from grace it would be the horror genre. Much like the action genre, allot of fans can agree the 80s was where it peaked in popularity. However, horror can still continue to push the boundary of what is acceptable both visually, and from a creative perspective. How much is too much when it comes to blood, and gore. How in depth of an character exploration can you create before you begin thinking like a killer. Horror has the ability, more so than other genre, to put viewers in a uncomfortable situations, and even scare them in some cases. As someone who doesn’t see allot of horror movies it’s unfortunate very few horror films from the 90s, and 2000s didn’t entice me in viewing the genre without a preconceived notion. What made matter worse is despite having seen very few horror films, most of what I was exposed to by friends, and family were generally trite films within the genre. There were eventually films that won me over like 1931 Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 (the only horror movie to scare me to date), and George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead which is my all time favorite zombie film. That’s why I’m happy to write about I Saw the Devil. A modern horror film that is hybrid with a psychological thriller, and succeed for all the right reasons work as well it should have.

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Choi Min-sik: “Mmm, I could use this arm for a pie.”

I Saw the Devil is about a secret agent exacting revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases. While not entirely a horror film, one admirable trait that I Saw the Devil accomplishes far better than general horror films is contextualizing the blood, and gore. Too often do many films within this genre disregard characters, and story for the sake of bloodshed. The film is deliberately slow paced for this singular reason. For starter, it slow pacing helps it create an atmosphere of dread over it’s main Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee). What it also allows for is to display impatience within Kim Soo-hyeon witnessing him losing sleep over finding his wife’s killer. Showing Kim Soo-hyeon will do anything in his position in the name of vengeance. Splicing scenes of both Kim Soo-hyeon, and Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) current activities in the film to never lose focus of time. Showing the two men psychology are similar in certain ways, but makes it easy to determine who the film wants you to sympathize with as Kim Soo-hyeon is going after killers while Kyung-chul goes after women to kill.

Another aspect of the story that is appealing is putting a twist on a familiar premise. In some horror films, if the victim of the deceased faces with the killer it’s either save until the climax, or becomes a film where the victim tortures the killer until someone dies in both scenario. By the end of the first act, the film victim Kim Soo-hyeon confronts killer Kyung-chul in which, surprisingly a choreographed fight scene ensues. After this confrontation, the film still continues by using a hunter, and the hunted mentality for its characters. At certain points in the film, this mind game between the two characters are discussed in the film. One attempted to be persuaded to simply let up on the vengeance, and ponder if there’s any value in it. For another he receives a taste of his own medicine while also deriving pleasure of how to get under the skin of whoever chasing him. In terms of characterization enough is given about Kim Soo-hyeon to understand his action. Simple things like having a wife, and caring for his family is as deep as it goes for Kim Soo-hyeon as a person. It’s enough to give an idea of his mentality before he decides to take revenge, and seeing how his act of revenge ultimately affects eventually becomes a dynamic characterization.

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Come at me bro!

The same cannot be said for those it represent as killers since the film never bother exploring the psychological aspect of what can motivate its criminals to do the things they do. There’s a cannibal in the film who loves eating people, but that’s about as deep as it goes. All the criminals function as criminals. They’re meant to be evil for the sake of being evil in order to take pleasure in their deaths. It could be debated the intention was to to debate in the act of revenge itself is justified, but on the other hand the film does not lay down any ground work for greyness. Nothing is more evident of this than the usage of its female characters. From the victims perspectives they respect women as people, but every time a criminal interacts with a woman it’s with the intent to do whatever the criminal desire to do with them. It’s portrayal of representing both sides is one dimensional at best. Just fine for a revenge fantasy film, but when the script tacked on a family aspect to Kyung-chul character it says it wanted to be something more thought provoking. Made even noteworthy when it wants to use Kyung-chul family to get across a specific agenda that doesn’t work out since they’re only included in one before popping back up again. It hard see the film for anything other more than just a piece of revenge fantasy where viewers takes satisfaction in seeing its main character harm criminals.

Other issues within the film are specifically connected to the horror genre itself. Moments in the film required higher suspension of disbelief in order for the film to function the way it wants too. One of these problematic plot point is not Kim Soo-hyeon not killing his wife’s murderer when he’s given three good opportunities to do so. It’s given context, and established motivation for why Kim Soo-hyeon won’t simply kill Kyung-chul. What is not explained in the film is how Kyung-chul manage to find personal information of Kim Soo-hyeon within a quick span of time. There’s no mention in the film he’s connected with anyone in the police force, nor has ties with many criminals that can provide this information. Another issues comes in the form of useless police officers for the film both as characters, and narrative devices. Within the film, the police officers biggest contribution is making an arrest after Kim Soo-hyeon has another encounter with Kyung-chul. As far as usage go they give minimal remarks on how they dislike killers receiving medical treatment in a hospital despite their crimes, and does not provide additional characterization for any of the criminals. A miss opportunity for the police officers is providing a semblance of a man hunt. Rarely is there a mention of the police making progress of finding a suspect who is going after serial killers. There’s is a moment where it seems like the police are close to tracking down Kyung-chul, but it ends up being forgotten plot point. I would mention that the police did provide Kim Soo-hyeon information needed to track down his wife murderer as a positive from the police inclusion, but he’s a secret agent so information gathering wouldn’t be as difficult to obtain if he was an ordinary citizen.

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Choi Min-sik ain’t happy with this buried alive prank. 

I Saw the Devil is entirely reliant on talent of two highly regarded actors from Korea who are Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee. Choi Min-sik as the psychaotic Kyung-chul is a  performance that is show stealing. Portraying a psychopath whose proud, and takes pleasure in the accomplishment of his killings. Embodying the truest essence of a killer without going over the top. Choi Min-sik subdue portrayal makes his character much more memorable because of it. Coming off as human as possible making it believable in one moment he holds your best interest to then later on want to chop you up into pieces. Withholding any urge to exaggerate his mannerism, and body language. At the same time, despite how often the viewer will see him get abused, Min-sik is a talented actor that he’s still manage to make his character despicable. The character of Kyung-chul has remotely no essence of any likable traits, yet Choi Min-sik understanding of his character paints a clear understanding of his mentality. In the all best possible ways, Choi Min-sik delivers a performance is very impressive to see unfold as much as it is capable to make you immerse within the film.

Byung-hun Lee who plays isn’t too shabby himself in the film either. Lee does a excellent job displaying a character whom seem to have all life sucked out of him. Remaining calm in any situation, even when to face with the killer. Despite displaying a humanless exterior for most of the film when the situation demands it Byung-hun Lee, in a few scenes is able to be emotional. There’s a final moment as the film closes where in a single moment Lee be expresses how mentality broken his character has become. When it comes to the sequences that require to fight him against actor Choi Min-sik, and neither of whom are expert in martial arts their performance of these sequences can fool anyone. Especially Byung-hun Lee whose swift movement can make a viewer further believe he encompasses his perfectly. As for the rest of the cast they’re at best character actor being good at playing off that one specific trait of their characters. It’s no exaggeration when saying the film is essentially a showcase for actors Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee than. Given the film aims that’s not a negative. The (I’m surprise to have) stunts work in the film are have good work put into them, and in certain scenes amaze by its creativity.

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I’m huntin wabbits!

The film is directed by Jee-won Kim who also has a writing credit in the film. His direction in the film is basically flawless. Despite sporting a beautiful look thanks to Mo-gae Lee it still manages to create scenes that master of the horror genre would be proud off. One important tool in Kim framing of a horror sequence is lightning, and showing specific details of the environments. In the opening sequence, Jee-won Kim makes it clear how helpless one of Choi Min-sik victims is in the environment. A recurring feeling Jee-won Kim goes for is making the viewer feel trapped in certain environments. Rarely showing what’s on the outside of an car, or building when a horror set piece is in place. His usage of wide shots is minimal in the film mostly being reliant on close on medium, and close ups whenever in buildings, and cars. What it accomplishes is not showing any blind spot to where an escape route is possible. Another aspect Jee-won Kim avoids is the common horror trope of people tripping while they run. Since there isn’t a high death count that never becomes an issue. If there’s any moments where Jee-won Kim becomes indulgent it’s mostly towards horror fans. He makes up for the lack of kills by going all out in showing good practical effects of body parts, makes sure lots of blood is spilled, and doesn’t cut away from hard to watch sequences. There’s a scene there you see a character cutting off an Achilles tendon, and the viewer sees the entire process. Another standout sequence execellent direction revolves around Choi Min-sik riding in a taxi with suspicious characters. Without being specific, this particular is carefully constructed to be bloody displaying Choi Min-sik stabbing people multiple times in a taxi, and having little blood spill on the camera as it spins around taxi. Jee-won Kim is relentless where it counts, but not overboard to the point where it’s indulgent on blood, and gore.

I Saw the Devil is wonderful combination of horror, and a psychological thriller understanding the best of both genre. The horror elements allows it to go into dark places as well as be bloody in presentation. Balance elegantly with the psychological mind games of two characters who simply hate each other guts to fuel it story after its first act. It’s a wonderfully twisted cat, and mouse game even when it’s clear at points it wants to be more than just revenge fantasy entertainment. On a technical level alone it offers two great performances from two good actor which alone makes it worth viewing. If you haven’t seen a good usage of horror within films, or simply a fan of horror movies I Saw the Devil will satisfy viewers who simply want the blood, and gore, while also offering viewers who are looking something more than just meaningless bloodshed.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) Review

The Admiral: Roaring Currents was a film that I never heard off, until I did research, and discovered it’s the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of now), and it the first South Korean film to make over 100 US million dollars internationally. Financially successful The Admiral: Roaring Currents is impressive on a business standpoint. From an artistic standpoint it also caught my attention. Since I live in the US, it’s weird learning that a country highest grossing film is not based on an established property, or an entry in a franchise. After learning this I looked up a trailer, and once again traits of a significant movie showed. It’s international appeal was evidence borrowing traits of a Hollywood blockbuster presenting the idea that this film is epic in emotions, epic in battles, and just historical epic filmmaking. So with my exposure to the film I decided to check it out since everything seemed in its favor. That is until the film start, and you realize beside being a expensive cinematic piece of Korean patriotism. It’s also a film that lacking in evoking epic emotions like what seen on screen.

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Stare men! Stare into the readers souls!

The first hour of the film is meant to set up the characters, stakes, and provide context for the massive naval battle that will occupied the second half of the film. Unfortunately, instead of being the grand, historical epic film it desperately wants to be it comes across as a hollow blockbuster with a historical backdrop. One thing that is made immediately clear within the film is that it paints complex political issues into a simple battle of black, and white. Showering itself in national pride proudly portraying Koreans as the good guys, and showing the Japanese they fight as the villains. Given the premise down to the bare minimum is 12 Koreans ship battling 330 Japanese ships which is best comparable to the story of David, and Goliath. It’s quite the underdog setup that if it was presented morally grey could have resonated with any audience regardless of nationality.

In the film, it makes a clear case the Japanese are evil. A Korean character says in the film their enemy (the Japanese) steal their provisions from civilians, and use children for target practice. With this single scene the film throws away any intention of representing both side equally. It would be acceptable if it ended simply by showing Japanese killing children, but the film continues showing Japanese in a negative light. Characters aren’t better off either. You could deduce whatever Japanese character is in the film is going to be presented as evil. However, the Korean characters aren’t compelling either. The film the person is centered on, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-Sik), receives most of his characterization through text in the first two minutes of the film. Yi Sun-sin is touted as a double agent, is tortured, and remove from his position. Afterwards, he gets reinstated because the nation of Korea needs him if they want to lose to the Japanese. With this information being the first thing you learn about Yi Sun-sin where his character could have gone is intriguing alone. As you probably come to expect from me reviewing films of this quality it’s usually not the case. Sun-sin character receives traits like contemplation of his life, national pride, and to engage in the massive battle. These contemplative thoughts aren’t explored to any great depth. They get a mentioned in one scene, and then done.

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Remember the Battle of Thermopylae men? Well, they are all cowards compare to me. 

Another character that ends up uneven is Lee Whe (Kwon Yool) who ends being the audience gateway to learn more about his father Yi Sun-sin. The conversations between these two character are the closest the film goes into character exploration. It’s easy characterization painting a clear picture of differing positions between the two. Seeing them interact with each other is interesting due to conflicting feelings on what should be done in the battle. Lee Whe understands his father, but doesn’t see the scenario in the same light he does. Leading to moments where Yi Sun-sin explains his reasoning to put his worries at ease. It display the strong bond between the two character to be able get along no the difference in thoughts in a dire situation. This relationship between father, and son never grows into anything emotionally gripping, nor tell the audience anything about Lee Whe as an individual. All of Lee Whe character is tied to what his father does in this current moment of his life so history between them not in this specific event, and time is not explored.

Finally, the last character worth mentioning is Im Joon-Young who is a spy for Yi Sun-sin (Jin Goon) who sole purpose is to gather intel on the enemy. Aside from showing a small glimpse of the Japanese oppressing the civilians of the land they conquered this is about as far as this character is taken. There’s a subplot of his possible deaf lover which would be something compelling to see, but the first time she appears on screen is to tell her man goodbye. There’s no flashbacks, or a scene where the two interact as a regular couple so it ends up being meaningless in the film narrative.

A major writing issue with the film is the Turtle Ship itself. In the film, it’s established that this ship is essential in Admiral Yi Sun-Shin strategy in fighting against a large vessel of 330 ships with his mere forces of 12 warships. What advantage, and capabilities the Turtle Ship has over a regular warship is never explained. One would think a crucial detail like that would at some point be discuss in the film. It would have been fine if the film mentioned if it had stronger armor, better canons, or anything that explains what it’s better than an average warship. It would have better correlated why Yi Sun-Shin is intent on battling with it, and so crucial in his plan.

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During production, the cast, and crew celebrated Burning Men by burning the sets.

The second half of the film consist of a massive naval battle, and yes it is awesome. It’s during this naval battle where the scale, the bombastic soundtrack, and overblown exaggerated drama create the film most engaging material. Becoming easy to lose yourself with the events of the film. Aspects of the naval battle itself are not without criticism. Like mentioned, the overblown drama during the battle is extraordinary. In the film, there’s a romance subplot that doesn’t get much attention so when that subplot conclusion comes narratively it is hollow in feelings. It also breaks character consistency since in one scene this character is shown doing sign language to talk to her lover, but during the naval battle knows what her lover is saying even he’s too far away from land to read his lips, and was presumed to be deaf. Another aspect of the battle is it will test your suspension of disbelief. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin virtually beats more ships then he likely would have as his ship survives one unlikely scenario after another. The most over the top example comes when Admiral Yi Sun-Shin ship is corner from three sides, and Sun-Shin has the idea to use canon fire to propel his ship away from being cornered. Describing this moment is far different from actually seeing it for yourself. Whether or not it’s possible for such a thing to happen I can’t comment on since I’m no physicist.

Despite the numerous issues with the extensive naval battle itself I would still defend it for being the best part of the film. Unlike the previous hour, this naval battle is focus, and gets everything right in creating a thrilling atmosphere. There’s no talk of politics. Just a epic battle that engulfs itself with extreme emotions, and patriotism. It also uses simple moments like citizens witnessing the battle itself, and reacting to it to further get lost in the moments of battle. These moments eventually correlate into an morally uplifting scene for the Koreans, and a boosting excitement for non-Korean viewers. The very lengthy naval battle in this film will go down in film history as one of the best ever filmed. Now I might as well talked what happens after the naval battle since I more or less cover the entire movie story. If it ended with the moment between father, and son, the film rating wouldn’t have changed, but the actual ending will leave some scratching their head as to why that was the closing moment the film ended on. Since nothing was established about the Turtle Ship seeing one in action doesn’t scream excitement unless you know about the Turtle Ship.

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I lost count at 54 men killed.

The film stars Choi Min-sik as Admiral Yi Sun-sin who is a terrific actor in general. In this film he puts another top notch performance. He gives his character more complexity than the actual writing itself. A simple gesture of Min-sik delaying an immediate response tells the audience there’s a lot on this person’s mind. Min-sik plays the role seriously embodying his character perfectly inspiring his men with his words to keep fighting, bold in displaying a man hardened by war, and portraying a person who reputation doesn’t make him a larger than life figure. While the film is an extraordinary underdog story Choi Min-sik portrayal of Admiral Yi Sun-sin keeps him as human as possible. So no matter what extreme scenario the character survives Choi Min-sik performance makes it easy to accept. Also, he’s Choi Min-sik, if any Korean actor deserves one film that tells everyone “I’m awesome” it’s him.

Known Yool is decent in the role of Lee Whe. His chemistry with Choi Min-sik is excellent with both actors working great of each other. Known Yool is more varied in his expressions compare to Choi Min-sik because of the material he’s given. While good, Yool doesn’t embodied his character the same way Choi Min-sik does whom he shares many scenes with. Jin Goon is okay in his role as Im Joon-Young. He doesn’t leave much of an impression because of screen time, though his shining moment is during the naval battle. Now I do like to spend time talking about as many actors as possible so they too can get credit even if the contribution is small, though this film does me no favor. Cho Jin-Woong, Ryoo Seung-Ryong, and Kim Myung-Gon are all Korean actors playing Japanese characters speaking in the Japanese language incorrectly. The Korean actors don’t make the proper pronunciation of Japanese words when speaking as sometime within the same pronounce the same words differently. It’s quite jarring, though largely will go unnoticed for those who don’t watch many films from Asia. The remaining important actors includes the likes of Kim Tae-Hoon, No Min-Woo, Ryohei Otani, Park Bo-Gum, and Lee Jung-Hyun whom all give one note performances. One has to be silent, another has to be the concern lover, and another has to be angry. With their simple portrayals they won’t live much of an impression.

The film’s director, Kim Han-Min, did an excellent job overall. His only major criticism in his direction is misusing composer Tae-Seong Kim bombastic soundtrack in the whole film. When nothing narratively, or visually impactful is happening Kim Han-Min will have Tae-Seong music playing in it. Moments that could have been effective without music lose their impact. However, in the second half the usage of music is spot on. Another aspect of Kim Han-Min direction is spot is the naval battle itself. CG is noticeable, but for the most part keeps the action up close. Despite the large scale of the battle never once does Han-Min makes the audience become confused in what’s going on. He always creative in bringing in new ideas into the naval battle making sure it never becomes boring. This naval battle is probably going to be the technical achievement of his career. Another aspect worth praising is the film stellar cinematography bringing to life some memorable images, and the sets, and costume designs are good as well.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an epic film without equally sweeping engagement. As an historical film it simplifies the actual events into good vs evil. There’s no shame in the film hiding patriotism, nor the unequal portrayal of the enemies. Along with with story pieces, and character that don’t have much to them to captivate the viewers before the massive naval battle ensues. These aspects of the film will test audiences forgiveness for its writing shortcomings. If you take it as a piece of entertainment you might find it a decent diversion with the naval battle being the clear highlight of the film. No matter what way you might decide to view the film from there’s no escaping it could have ended up better, though maybe years from now a filmmaker will use this film as a template to make the masterpiece it couldn’t become.

6/10