Tag Archives: Mo-gae Lee

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: No Tears for the Dead (2014) Review

On the surface U-neun nam-ja/No Tears For the Dead in English simply looks like another polish Korean action film. Well that is correct, but the man behind it, director/writer Jeong-beom Lee is famous for doing a film named The Man from Nowhere (US English title). It was the highest grossest film in Korea in 2010, and gained international attention that only a handful of Korean films have reached. There’s a (as expected) Indian remake named Rocky Handsome set to release somewhere in 2016, and (typical reaction) an announce US remake of the film. With these remakes it’s safe to say The Man from Nowhere cemented its place in Korean, and action cinema. Another thing that occurred was it made Jeong-beom Lee a talent on everyone’s radar. Unless you’re Jee-woo Kim (I Saw the Devil), Joon Ho Bong (Gwoemul), or Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) the Western world will more than likely forget great filmmakers if they fail to follow up on their success. If they do prove their big hit wasn’t a fluke, than they might get a call from Hollywood to direct a film in English language production. Jeong-beom Lee won’t join the likes of his other peers as No Tears For the Dead is not a good film, let alone one that comes close to matching half of the traits that many loved about The Man From Nowhere.

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Getting into the rhythm of making my new rap album. Crying Bullets.

No Tears for the Dead is about a hit man traumatized from accidentally killing a young girl during a job, and is given the mission to eliminate her mother. The killer for hire who becomes remorseful is a premise that grants leeway in exploring themes, and character traits that would otherwise be ignored in the action genre. Aspects like the protagonist becoming accustomed to taking lives, addressing how the character views change on the matter on killing growing older, and in some instance showing an inability put it behind them for a normal life. These are aspects for these kind of characters could be explored helping to create an action film that could be more meaningful than good guys killing bad guys. However, an hour into the film you’ll realize nothing within that span of time ends up becoming meaningful. For the first hour, the film is more in line of a drama setting up the pieces before changing gear into an action film for its later half. What is problematic about this is, within the first ten minutes, the film relays the information of what’s protagonist Gon (Dong-gun Jang) has to find for his boss, and that Gon is guilty about murdering an innocent child. Scenes beyond these ten minutes beat you over the head with the fact Gon feels guilty for killing a child. If you didn’t understand within the first ten minutes of the film then the film will dedicate an hour to make sure you get plot point.

Gon guilt over killing a child isn’t contemplative in the way it’s written. There is one flashback inserted into the film that show Gon past, and his drug addicted mother (Kim Ji-Sung). What purpose this flashback serve is not clear as Gon decision on whether or not to kill the mother, Mo-Kyung (Kim Min-hee), is determined by his past experiences. There isn’t any monologue, nor a discussion he has with the other characters as to why he made the decision that he did. The most that get elaborated on this is Gon saying “I’m tired”, but exactly what aspect of his old ways he’s tired off doesn’t come across plainly. Before Gon utter those words he kills a couple of people, and after uttering those words one would assume Gon stops killing for the remainder of the film. Except for the fact Gon makes a bomb to take out one of the goons who is trying to kill him which derails that possibility. So even when grasping at straws there’s no depth to the theme the film brings up on redemption, and killing. Another aspect of this writing that fell through was lacking scenes incorporating Gon with his mother. His mother is never given a name, never shows what led his mother to the situation she’s in, and how this led to Gon becoming a gun for hire. As a character, Gon mother has little value in the story, and as a plot device isn’t developed further then when it’s introduced.

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Want to know why I’m angry lady? It’s hard finding a still without me holding a gun.

Then there’s the interaction between Gon, and Mo-Kyung which instead of building on what’s established only reiterates the same point in the first hour. Gon is guilt ridden for killing Mo-Kyung’s daughter, and Mo-Kyung is dealing with it in her own way. Their interaction could have developed them both into more complex characters, but alas it does not. Aside when Gon, and Mo-Kyung meet in an elevator there’s no scenes of them interacting like regular people. Gon observe Mo-Kyung from the sidelines. Having already mentioned the lack of monologue preventing an understanding of what Gon is thinking leads to pure speculations. Connecting loose dots while stimulating does not amount to much if there’s nothing concrete to connect them together. Gon does have a complete character arc, but there’s not much to his character. The whys he suddenly feel guilty about taking lives is left blank, as well as other aspects of his character. Other issues also include the script making a big deal of the desired item in question when found being made into a big deal when it reveals, even though the first ten minutes confirmed what the item is, and who likely has it. A subplot involving the police ends up contributing little to the story as well as other characters whom contribute little in the long run. The second half of the film is more like an action movie, but the lack of emotional resonate from the buildup makes the ensuing violence lacking in weight to what was presented. It’s first half got across it does not want to be a piece of mindless action which conflicts with the brainless approach in viewing the film second half. Then there’s the film’s ending which plays against expectation. It’s a good ending completing Gon arc, though the other underdeveloped elements prevent from staying in the mind.

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So you want me to kill a man? Pfft. I’m head of security at Jurassic World in my spare time.

Now time for some actual compliments for what the film did correctly. Starting with the man behind it Jeong-beom Lee. He’s confident in his craft which is evident throughout the film. His selection of shots, with the help of cinematographer Mo-gae Lee, gives the film a sleek look. There’s also good stunt work, and fight choreography in the action sequences. Jeong-beom knows how to film action, and using shaky cam accordingly. Usually adding to an action scene than obscure the set piece. Another aspects of these action sequences is they come mostly in the form of hand to hand to combat. While some of the scenes require leap in logic when it comes to how characters survive none of the action sequences suffer any serious issues. There’s a fight scene that has actor Jang Dong-gun fighting in a small hallway that is very inventive. Using the small space to create a sense of enclosure, and Jang Dong-gun character skill in hand to hand combat to convincingly turn an outnumbered fight in his favor. The one set piece that emphasizes gun fighting is staged elaborately. Usually in gun fights you’ll have the duck, and cover approach which is boring if not done right. However, Jeong-beom Lee one only gun fight makes use of the actors moving across the environment besides narrowly dodging bullets. Jeong-beom made sure to show one character shooting while going to cover, and the person who being shot at not testing his luck for a kill. The gun fight also have the actors moving to different level of a single building visually adding a nice change in scenery in the set piece. Lee makes the right choice to keep the action sequences small, and manageable never going to big making them work as well as they do. As a director, Jeong-beom does nothing wrong from the selection of music that fits the tone, to editing action sequences to make as coherent and wisely framed as possible, and putting trust faith into his crew which shows through out with good production values.

Leading actor Jang Dong-gun is the best part of the film. His performance is complex putting his all into his character. Coming across as both a no non-sense assassin in body movement, and getting across he’s a troubled soul through his eyes. Never once in the film is Jang Dong-gun afraid to reveal the more emotional side of his character. Dong-gun performance is more compelling than the actual film. There’s several scenes in the film where Dong-gun is silent, but thanks to the way be expresses himself through facial expressions, and body movement what his character feels comes across clearly. He also performs in the action sequences convincingly not being afraid to take a couple of hits. Regardless of what Jang Dong-gun is shown doing on screen he’s the easily the best actor in the film.

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Don’t worry about us. We do very little to help you.

Kim Min-hee has the second largest role in the film. Her character visibly goes through more series of emotions. For the first hour of the film nothing about her performance is noticeable since her character is all over the place, and Kim Min-hee is unable to make her character come across as putting up a facade like the writing intended. However, pass the forty minute mark of the film Min-hee shows a gradual mental downfall of her character. Slowly showing her character becoming broken in her state.

Supporting cast includes the likes of Brian Tee whose solid in his role. Tee is simply meant to be the adversary to the hero of the film, and nothing more. For the role, Tee is also convincing in his performance in the action scenes he’s in. Anthony Dilio is plays one of Tee’s henchman, though the only noteworthy thing about his performance is speaking in Korean, English, and Spanish (only in scene) in a single movie. Dilio only meant to look tough aesthetically. Same thing applies to Alessandro Coumo who is only aesthetically needed for his small role. Byun Yo-han, and Jun-Seong Kim deliver one note in his performance which fine because of the characters they play. Not so much for Jun-Seong Kim who has more screen time making his lacked in varied expressions noticeable. Finally, there’s Kim Hee-Won who shines in the final act of the film, though doesn’t leave much of impression anywhere else in the film.

No Tears for the Dead (2014) has a polish look, and good set pieces, but hampered down by bad writing, and actors who are unable to elevate the material. It has good setup to create meaningful characters, and has the desire to provoke the viewers unlike your average action film, but sadly aimless writing, humorless story, lack of depth presented in its theme, and lack of emotional resonates makes the entire film self-conflicting for the whole run. No matter what way you attempt to view the film from there’s always more issues than positives in the writing. It’s too serious to be entirely brainless, but it’s lack depths to punch the viewer with a series of emotions like it wanted. Dong-gun Jang, and the action sequences are the only consistently high quality aspect of the films, but whenever one isn’t on screen the film is unable to stand as strongly. Despite the conflicting material, Dong-gun Jang performance was a highlight of the film no matter what he was doing. Unfortunately, the good qualities wasn’t enough to save the film from being a messy film that couldn’t live up to its potential.

4/10