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A “reverse re-make,” Kim Ji-woon comes over from South Korea and directs “The Last Stand” the 2013 action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. What the hell happened here? Part 1 of 2.

As many of you know, we here at JPFmovies have been bitching about the bankruptcy of American cinema for some time now.  Holly Wood’s creative impoverishment is seen the trend that American studios and directors are now copying (or to use the polite term “re-making”) South Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Asian films in general instead of producing their own original films.  Cases in point include: Spike Lee’s “re-making” the gritty South Korean film Old Boy (2003) (due sometime this year); Universal Studio’s and Keanu Reeves (based in all accounts) butchering of the Japanese classic tale of The 47 Ronin (due Xmas 2013); The Grudge (2004) a remake of the Japanese film Ju-on (2002); The Ring (2002) a remake of the Japanese film Ringu (1998); The Lake House (2006) with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves (again) a remake of the South Korean film Il Mare (2000); Martin Scorsese’s crime thriller The Departed (2006) which won an Academy Award for Best Picture is a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002) (a far better movie); and The Hunger Games (2012) a rip-off of Battle Royale (2000), a Japanese film/novel that came out over ten years earlier.  The list does not even include films like The Seven Samurai (1954) made by the “Emperor” Akira Kurosawa.

However The Last Stand (2013) goes against the grain.  How could Kim Ji-woon, director of the outstanding film A Bittersweet Life (2005), make the wretched, rigidly formulaic The Last Stand?  I am pretty sure that part of the problem was Kim Jee-Woon and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s what we shall term a failure to communicate.  They literally could not speak each other’s language, relying on translators because Kim can’t speak English and Schwarzenegger’s heavy Teutonic accent.  Another explanation is that Holly Wood has become so devoid of ability that it actually sucks the talent out of people who have it.  When Kim’s plane landed in Los Angeles, it seems like he had a temporary lobotomy.  Hopefully, on his way back to South Korea, Kim will regain his full facilities.

So let’s contrast Kim’s A Bittersweet Life with The Last Stand.

First we examine the impressive A Bittersweet Life.

Korean films have come a long way, evolving faster than any other industry in the world with quality and unique films.  Coming from a director known for his offbeat films with sincere inclination towards action, violence and revenge, A Bittersweet Life is a film about life’s lessons.  A lesson that clarifies, in life, irrespective of who you are, good or bad, you’re sure have to moments that are sweet and bitter in nature.  These moments when put together become “A Bittersweet Life.”

Kim Sun-Woo is an enforcer working for the coldest, ruthless and calculating crime boss in the city.  This crime boss has bestowed all his trust upon Kim and considers him the loyal disciple. One fine afternoon, he is summoned by his boss and instructed over lunch that he’s to take on an assignment.  An assignment that should be kept very secretive and the developments in it should directly reach the boss at regular intervals.  The boss is romantically involved with a woman who’s younger than half his age.  He loves her genuinely however feels she may be cheating on him.  He appoints Kim to investigate and tells him to finish her off if caught red handed.  Unfortunately, at first sight, he falls for the boss’s girlfriend and also uncovers that she’s been cheating.  However, he  does not have the guts to pull the trigger on her, and therefore, lets her go off the hook.  When the boss discovers, Kim becomes the immediate target. With boss’s entourage on his trail, Kim should run for his life but should return sooner or later to give his piece of mind back to people who betrayed him.

Korean films love to glorify violence like no other industry in the world.  This is the Kind of violence that’ll make you love violence.  I mean it! The best part is Koreans love to fight with swords, knives, sickles, machetes, hammers but not guns.  So, it’s gruesome to see them chopping each other in the name of revenge.  I suppose their idea of carrying these instruments instead of guns is to inflict as much pain as possible.  Think about it and you’d be surprised that instead of putting a bullet in someone’s head, take a knife or something and start slashing them and the sadistic pleasure you get out of it is priceless, according to these Koreans.  

In life, there are moments that are good, bad and bitter; it’s the mixture of these moments which completes life and gives it a meaning.  Kim’s life had its share of sweet and bitter moments however he chose to let go off the former and take control of the latter.  The time spent with his boss’s daughter are his sweetest moments while the repercussion it left upon his life turned all the sweet in to bitter moments, eventually, only giving him grief to live with.

Performances were outstanding and there’s hardly anything to complain.  Stunts deserve a special mention and the credit goes to Doo-Hong Jung for keeping stunts top class and highly professional.  In short, A Bittersweet Life leaves you with one thought to ponder over.  Life gives you good and bad but it’s your ability to choose wisely instead of dwelling on one.

Next we’ll look Kim’s The Last Stand and hope it is Kim’s last American movie.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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What do Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 South Korean film Old Boy and Dr. H have in common? Recognition that American films are in as deep a recession as the economy and Dr. H acknowledging that Asian movies have better scripts, stories and endings.

Anyone who has looked at JPFmovies knows that we review a lot of Asian films.  As I have said before, Hollywood, in my opinion, has not done anything fresh or original in years.  It seems that the studios come up with some action scenes and then fill the time between explosions with simple stories and bad dialogue.  So, disillusioned with American cinema, I’ve had to turn elsewhere—mainly to Asia.

Since the turn of the century Asian films have come a long way.  In the 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s Asia was copying Hollywood almost without shame.  Now the reverse is true.  Spike Lee’s recent announcement that he is going to remake the South Korean film Old Boy (2003) seems to embody this sad trend.  We here at JPFmovies loved Old Boy and I will be very interested to see how well Lee’s film stacks up against the original.  Even the remakes that Asian cinema produces, i.e. Hari Kari Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins, are standout films in their own right.  The remakes here in America stink on ice.  Films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Planet of the Apes” (even though the 1968 Charlton Heston starrer doesn’t stand next to “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane” in the cinematic pantheon).  But it worked beautifully as a campy thriller, it spawned four successful sequels in the ’70s, and it has gone on to become a cultural icon with a large landmark cult following.  The Tim Burton-directed remake in 2001 suffered from a wooden performance by Mark Wahlberg in the lead, an overemphasis on special effects and action, and a painfully formulaic script.  Another disgrace to the original films is the Harrison Ford & Greg Kinnear movie Sabrina where the film’s story is about as predictable as an X-rated movie script.  These only name a few.  And I will not bore you with a litany of similar foul-smelling remakes made in order to avoid having to create fresh ideas.

How, might you ask, does this relate to Dr. H?  While we rarely air our dirty laundry here at JPFMovies, long-time contributor Dr. H was almost universally opposed to foreign movies.  This recently changed after he attended an international medical convention full other physicians and moviegoers who informed Dr. H that if you want a real script with thriller and intelligent endings, South Korea, Japan and China are now at the forefront of the film industry.  Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get him to acknowledge this for at least two years.  Until now, he’s fought me consistently on watching Asian movies containing subtitles.  Several days ago, after returning from the conference he actually requested that we watch Old Boy without any prodding from me.  This means that he took the word of his colleagues over the experts here at JPFmovies.  While disappointing on its face, at least we have someone who has taken the Matrix’s proverbial red pill, opening his eyes to the truth instead of blissful ignorance.

While it seems like my mantra has been falling on deaf ears for some time now.  I am feeling at least a little bit vindicated for my position on the current state of cinema today.  Naturally, I invite your comments, questions or concerns regarding this post and hope to hear from you soon.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Mel Brooks said it best in History of the World “It’s good to be the king,” or is it? The Masquerade King (2012) South Korea.

Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King is an extremely popular 2012 South Korean historical film starring Lee Byung-hun as both the king and the clown so to speak.  The film’s international title is Masquerade and is currently the fourth highest grossing Korean film of all time with 12.3 million tickets sold.  The film is also crushing the competition at Korea’s Grand Bell Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning in 15 categories, including Best Film, Director, Screenplay and Actor.

Historically, Gwanghae, the 15th Joseon king from 1574-1641, attempted diplomacy through neutrality as China’s Ming and Qing Dynasties set their sights on the country.  He also tried his hand at other reforms and reconstruction to try and make the nation prosperous, including an emphasis on the restoration of documents, but met with opposition and was later deposed and exiled to Jeju Island.  Like Nixon’s famous missing 18 minutes, the film is an interpretation of the missing 15 days in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty during Gwanghae’s reign—designated by his 1616 journal entry, “One must not record that which he wishes to hide.”  It seems that leaders from all over the world understand this point.

The confusing and conspiratorial King Gwang-hae orders his crony, Heo Gyun, to find him a double to protect him from the constant threat of assassination.  Heo Gyun finds Ha-sun, a lowly acrobat and joker who looks just like the king.  As they feared, the real king gets poisoned.  Heo Gyun uses Ha-sun to fill the role as the king until Gwang-hae can make a recovery.  Thus Heo Gyun begins the task of turning this clown into the king.  He fully grooms Ha-sun to look and act every bit the king.  While assuming the role of the king at his first official appearance, Ha-sun begins to ponder the problems and politics debated in his court.  The fake king is much more compassionate than Gwang-hae as he puts his people before politics.  Ha-sun’s affection and appreciation (simply saying please and thank you) of even the most minor servants slowly changes morale in the palace for the better.  Over time he finds his own voice and actually takes control of the kingdom and with the help of a eunuch governs with real insight and fair rulings.  Even Heo Gyun is moved by Ha-sun’s genuine concern for the people, and realizes he is an infinitely better ruler than Gwang-hae.  However, the Kings enemies, led by Park Chung-seo, start to notice the sudden change in the king’s behavior and begin to ask questions.  Even the queen becomes conflicted over the real king and the fake king’s secret.

After pronouncing some sweeping reforms and making significant changes in the government, the entrenched ministers begin to plot against him.  Luckily enough people are on the fake king’s side to convince everyone that there is no phony on the throne.  But as the real king makes his recovery he orders that his double be killed.  This upsets Heo Gyun so much that he offers to have the real king killed if the clown would stay on the throne.  The clown becomes a true king in my opinion when he says he will not take the throne if it costs the life of another as he has already seen too much death and torture.

The clown king still has a problem; that is, the real king has sent his elite guard to kill him.  An escape for him has been arranged and the real king’s personal bodyguard is escorting him to the ship.   However the soldiers that are following catch up to the two.  There the bodyguard is told to follow the King’s orders to which he responds “He is the rightful King” and fights the soldiers to the death so his companion can make his escape.

Sound familiar?  That is because “The Masquerade King” is a variation of Mark Twain’s “The Prince & The Pauper” except set in Joseon era South Korea and with lots of swords.

The film became the second biggest hit film at the 2012 South Korean box office, attracting 8.2 million admissions in 25 days of release, then 9,091,633 after 31 days. On its 38th day, it became the 7th film in Korean cinema history to surpass the 10 million-milestone attendance.  As of March 2013, it is listed as Korea’s all-time fourth highest grossing film with 12,319,542 tickets sold nationwide.  The films writer, HWANG Jo-yeon, wrote Old Boy (previously reviewed here at JPFmovies) which is a much darker and frankly almost cruel film.

Man did I enjoy this film.  It is interlaced with just enough quality humor to keep it from becoming a dark Shakespearean tragedy.  Some of the scenes are priceless, the costumes and sets are dead on and the acting is really top notch.  I can see why it is so popular in Korea.  If you need a film to make you laugh while still maintaining a good story watch The Masquerade King.

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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