I once said in one of my reviews for Korean movies that 2010 was a good year for South Korean movies because of those wonderful movies made by talented directors. And I also pointed out that we had a considerable amount of bad movies along with those good movies. First, there was a morally reprehensible film “No Mercy”, in which the women characters were no more than the objects for being raped, beaten, insulted, killed, hacked, and autopsied. In “Outlaw”, I cannot ever forget a naked woman crawling on the floor with a dog collar on her neck. In “Parallel Life” and “The Haunted House Project”, they did almost nothing except presenting the idea at the start. And “Natalie”, a 3D softcore movie, is something so ridiculous and inane that I could not help but have many unintentional laughs.
“The Last Godfather”, released in this week in South Korean theaters, is not as horrible as some of thess garbages, but Shim Hyung-rae’s so-called “family comedy movie” adds the final insult to the list for the worst Korean movies of 2010. It is not just unfunny. It is embarrassingly unfunny and torturously boring. To be frank with you, I observed that some audiences laughed several times while I and they were watching the movies, but I want to ask you this: how much can you tolerate more than 100 minutes with an imbecile character keeping doing idiotic things for getting laughs without any story development or setup for a real big laugh? Can you call this a joyful experience? Do you think laughing at a idiot is a good comedy?
I know most of my readers were not in South Korea during the 1980-90s, so I give you some background information about Shim Hyung-rae. He had been a very popular comedian on South Korean TV during that period, and some of his sketches on TV shows during his prime were funny indeed. One of his popular characters was “Young-gu”, an idiot with a good heart. I did not particularly liked that character. I remember watching the movies featuring that character, and I did not find them funny; I was far more entertained by Disney TV Cartoons and Sesame Street.
After his weirdly and obscenely gigantic financial hit(or was it?) with “D-war”, the worst South Korean movie of that year, Shim Hyung-rae decided to make the movie based on Young-gu. In the interview, he confidently said he made the comedy that can be accepted worldwide, but I seriously want to ask him what he was thinking when he made “The Last Godfather”. He did absolutely nothing to provide flesh and bone to the caricature he has been proud of and many Koreans still endearingly remember. His characters and accompanying jokes and gags are not only badly dated but also seriously ineffective. Watching the movie is like observing a bad comedy based on a lame character created more than 20 years ago in Saturday Night Live.
The screenplay, written by Shim Hyung-rea and other screenwriters purchased from Hollywood, has little plausibility or probability. I have lots of doubts about whether you can accept the premise in the story though you can do anything preposterous in the name of comedy. Can you believe that New York mob boss, played by Harvey Keitel(!), thinks his hidden illegimate son can be his successor while it is apparent to nearly everyone that he is indeed “a special child”?
Let me go into details about how Harvey Keitel has a Korean son in the movie. The year is 1951, and Don Carini(Keitel) reveals to his men that he had a relationship with a Korean woman a long time ago when he hid in Korea for his safety. They had a son, and now he, named Young-gu, of course, becomes a young man who Carini thinks is ready for being boss. He is played by none other than Shim Hyung-rae, who is 52 now. Considering that Korea was suffering from the war in 1951, maybe his aged appearance is not a big stretch at all. War makes young man look aged, you know.
The rest of the story, if such a thing exists in the movie, is the series of lousy gags with the obligatory shootout finale between rival gangsters in the end(My god, is it really a family movie, Mr. Shim?). The movie tries many, many times, but it always fails with no laugh every time for only predictable things happen on the screen. They are mostly for pulling cheap, brief laughs from the audiences, and there is no effective build-up process in any scenes. I remember one scene where the characters are about to be attacked by a round bomb thrown by a villain hiding in the bushes nearby while they are playing with balls on the lawn. You won’t need much time to guess what will eventually happen.
I am sick of telling this, but I have to say that Shim Hyung-rae proves again that he is seriously in the need of attending filmmaking class or re-attending comedy class. His movie shows a dire lack of story/character development as well as a clear deficiency of skills and styles. I could not ignore many notable editing problems. For instance, the scene inexplicably featuring South Korean pop singer group Wondergirls is a textbook example of lousy editing; are the girls and the characters really in the same place? And why do they sing the 21th century South Korean pop song when they have to be lounge singers in the 1950s? I am not against anachronism in the movie, but this is too jarring. What the hell, only two or three policemen seem to exist in the town in this movie, and I dully noted that this was the only movie I’ve ever watched a police chief driving a red convertible while on his duty.
I do not want to waste much time on criticizing Shim Hyung-rae’s horrendous one-note performance, sheer embarrassment reminiscent of Simple Jack in “Tropic Thunder”. No matter how much he tried at the set, his character is not someone you can approach to with smile. It is one thing to laugh at an idiot for a moment, and it is the other thing to be forced to laugh at an idiot for more than an hour. I feel really sorry about the Hollywood actors surrounding him instead because they have nothing to do except reacting to or watching cheap slapsticks. I hope each of them got a nice, big paycheck for appearing in this criminally silly movie. I know the actors like John Polito or Jason Mewes have built solid acting careers before this movie; they will move on after this ordeal. In case of Joceline Donahue, who gets a very bland and thankless job as Young-gu’s love interest, I saw her talent in that nice little horror movie “The House of the Devil” in last year, so I hope a better future for her.
And how did a respected actor like Harvey Keitel come to accept the role in this movie? Shim Hyung-rae said that Keitel wanted to be in the movie for his young son, but, Mr. Keitel, do you think the movie with the scene of two characters mistaken for having a rough sex in the car is really good for your kid, besides that shootout scene and gross gags? At least, he does not do anything damaging to his illustrious career of more than 40 years while phoning his performance in the movie.
By the way, after watching his movie, I checked Keitel’s career at IMDB and found that his unofficial first movie was “Reflections in a Golden Eye”. Now, there is another connection between Robert Foster and Keitel. Both started their career with that movie, both got an Academy nomination for Best supporting actor in the 1990s, and now, because Foster played a crucial supporting role in “D-war”, both have worked with the South Korean counterpart of Uwe Ball. I heard that, before casting Keitel, Shim Hyung-rae initially attempted to insert CGI images of late Marlon Brando in his movie, who also appeared in “Reflections in a Golden Eye”. Does that mean he will get Elizabeth Talyor for his next movie?
The movie has fearfully misguided belief that you will make a good movie even if you have nothing but money to hire actors and crews. Shim Hyung-rae says he is doing his best while making movies. Well, every director does his best for his/her movies. Many of them learn from failures or criticisms, but, mired in his pathetic egotism, he does not seem to learn anything from tons of criticisms he has gotten. He only makes excuses so lame that we cannot even start the discussion sensibly from the beginning. His tactic to draw people on his side sadly reminds me of that of people like Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck; by advertising his movie like a one giant footstep for all Koreans, he shamelessly exploited patriotism and nationalism for his own benefits. Because of that, “D-war” became No.1 box office hit in South Korea, while many critics were attacked on Internet for their negative opinions. And now he impertinently tries that disgusting tactic again. As usual, he tries to fool us that his movie will be a big international hit and we will be proud of it, and I think the movie will probably have some success in South Korea again.
Mr. Shim, I have to say this, your movie hopelessly and truly sucks. I also want to point out that we already have internationally acclaimed South Korean directors; we don’t particularly need you at all. No, I correct that; it is almost inarguable that you are national disgrace. If you didn’t lie about yourself, then I guess you are very, very determined to conquer Hollywood with the quixotic mind resembling a living fossil, which makes you nothing but a laughingstock. No matter how much you “argue” against that, that will be still the truth unless you change your incorrigible view. To think that Uwe Ball was the worst director – I heard that Ball was improving on himself, by the way.
Footnote: My star rating system is a mix of Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. BOMB, which means 1 star, is for sheer incompetency and “The Last Godfather” is a prime example. Zero star is the place reserved for evil or despicable movies beyond star rating.