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As promised Poongsan Dog (2011).

The movie starts at present day Korean peninsula, the man simply known as “Poongsan” – from the brand of North Korean cigarettes he smokes – makes regular trips across the DMZ to smuggle everything from people to antiques. No one knows whether he is from the North or the South, though from his commando-like abilities he is obviously highly trained. He makes contact with clients via a makeshift memorial bulletin board for divided families along the DMZ. On one mission he smuggles an antique, as well as a young boy, from North to South but when they are caught by the police, the South’s National Intelligence Service becomes aware of Poongsan’s existence. They contract him to bring a young woman, In-ok (Kim Gyu-ri), from Pyongyang to her lover (Kim Jong-su), a high-ranking North Korean official who recently defected and is still guarded by NIS agents. The arrogant official, who is paranoid about being assassinated (and rightfully so because he is), has been holding out on writing a report for the NIS until In-ok joins him. On the journey across the DMZ, In-ok accidentally sets off a mine that almost kills her and Poongsan, and she also has to be revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when she almost drowns.

The mission is successful but In-ok has become attached to Poongsan who saved her life. Suspicious that the two made love during the crossing, the arrogant abuses In-ok after they are reunited and she expresses a desire to return to the North. Meanwhile, Poongsan is tortured by an NIS team leader (Choi Mu-seong) to find out whether he is a North Korean agent, but is rescued by the team leader’s boss (Han Gi-jung). Poongsan is forced to rescue NIS agent Kim Yong-nam, who’s been caught in the North and is under harsh interrogation; in gratitude, and appalled by his own agency’s methods, Kim later helps Poongsan escape from the NIS’ control. But then Poongsan and In-ok are captured by North Korean agents in the South.  In-ok is killed breaking Poongsan’s heart, however, he keeps working and in the last scene his luck runs out as he is shot by a North Korean while pole vaulting over a battier.

One interesting thing about this film is that Poongsan is apparently mute not saying a word throughout the whole two hour film therefore using either the words of others around Poongsan or what you imagine he would say or is thinking when he is alone to know what is going on.  An interesting device/technique to be sure.  The love story between a naturally mute protagonist (what else!?), about who we don’t get to know anything, and a North Korean woman who is abused by her husband, who actually loves her.

The protagonist, about whose motives we don’t get to know anything in the course of the movie either, still remains somewhat interesting. He is a border runner who doesn’t belong on either on this side nor on the other. He is homeless and yet has his home in both Koreas and therefore is most likely also a symbolization of the inner conflict of a divided Korea. He is a wanderer between the two worlds, it seems, and because of this he also has some superhuman powers.

It is fascinating to see Poongsan succeed in doing with the greatest of ease what so many of the best elite soldiers aren’t able to do: to take a walk through the demilitarized zone. No one stands a chance against this man, until the script demands that Poongsan is overpowered.  In such a case it suddenly becomes pretty easy to deal with him.

Poongsan is very good film it has an original, good story and uses unconventional devices.  What was the last American film you remember where the lead character doesn’t say a word throughout the entire film?  Poonsang was a box office smash in Asia—as it should be.  If we had films like this in American theaters I just might go back.  Alas we don’t.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Lone Wolf & Cub VI–We Still Need Closure or How to Get Your Daughter Killed.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is the final in a batch of six Japanese martial arts films based on the long-running Lone Wolf and Cub manga series about Ogami Ittō, a wandering assassin accompanied by his young son, Daigoro.  As most of his family is already dead at Ogami’s hands, Retsudo (the head of the evil Yagyu and archenemy of Itto) makes a last ditch effort to destroy Itto by sending: Hyouei, an illegitimate son who practices the black arts, and Kaori, a female expert in the lethal art of knives.  In the only truly supernatural aspect of the series, Hyouei wages psychological warfare on Ogami and Daigoro, by killing any innocent person the pair come into contact with.  The Lone Wolf and Cub are forced into a truly solitary existence in order to save the innocent victims from harm. 

 

Ogami dispatches with the daughter rather quickly, but things are a little more complicated when dealing with the supernatural.  Needless to say, Ogami comes through, but not before the stoic Ogami becomes unnerved and expresses fear for the first time.  The big battle takes place on a snowy mountain, where the baby cart becomes a sled.  Ittō defeats the entire army, shooting, stabbing, slashing, dismembering, and beheading the entire bunch using Musashi’s two sword technique.  But the one-eyed Retsudo again gets away, vowing to kill Ittō another time and while exhilarating, it lacks the closure followers so eagerly needed.

 

It should be noted that Ogami Ittō has 150 on screen kills in this film, the most of any individual character in a movie.

 

While boasting one of the most memorable battles ever filmed, the final installment in the Lone Wolf and Cub series came as somewhat of a disappointment as I was anticipating a final confrontation between Ogami and Lord Retsudo Yagyu.  Alas, this battle never occurs.  According to legend, the reason for this omission is that the entire six-film series was filmed between 1972 and 1973, while the manga was still a work in progress.  There could be no conflict between the film and the manga so the makers of Lone Wolf & Cub had to work with that they had.  Though the manga version does have a final showdown between Ogami and Lord Yagyu, it was not published until 1976.  Because this had not been published yet, White Heaven in Hell lacks the closure that everyone was looking for.

Looking back on the series it is truly one of a kind.  But the reason this review is much shorter than the other Lone Wolf and Cub editorials, is because there is a lot less to talk about.  The film seems rushed, written in a hurry with no clear plot in mind.  Of course, the body count is high, but the first five films offer much more in terms of story and character development.  However, the makers were under pressure and probably did the best they could under the circumstances.  Anyways, I was one of what I am sure are many fans that was wondering if the film or the film series was really over.  There needed to be a confrontation between the two to settle the score otherwise Itto would keep wandering and Retsudo would simply keep trying to kill him.

 

Be that as it may, we made it through was is almost universally accepted by Asian film watchers as one of the finest series of that genre.

 

Next up  . . . it will be an American Comedy.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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