10 movies of 2011 – and more: part 3

Okay, I also love them, too.

First, there is “Certified Copy”, a light but very engaging movie starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell; the director Abbas Kiarostami must have been yearning for making this delightful film. And there are two excellent two films from Belgium: “Bullhead”, which was chosen as Belgium’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards in 2012 instead of the Darden brothers’ warmer entry “The Kid with a Bike”. Though Lars von Trier behaved like a fool early in this year at the Cannes Film Festival, I admire “Melancholia” a lot.

I was both glad and sad that Harry Porter series finally ended with a bang in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 2”, and I was delighted to know that intelligent SF movie is still possible thanks to “Source Code”. I enjoyed “50/50”, a wonderful, balanced mix of comedy and drama, and I still cannot believe the rating of “Life, Above All” is only 6.8 in IMDB – this is a moving drama you cannot miss.

 If you ask me, I’ll say I like them – with my warm 3-star-love.

If there were not much of the films with 3.5 starts, “Hanna” and “Jane Eyre” could be included in my Top 10 list. “Meek’s Cutoff” can be called a “slow film”, but it is rewarding with bleak beauty and the performance of equal bleak beauty by Michelle Williams. While “13 Assassins” is an entertaining Japanese period action film, “Super 8”, “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, and “Attack the Block” were a lot more entertaining and intelligent SF films than the gigantic headache called “Transformers 3”.

I also had a good time with interesting small character dramas including “Terri”, “Another Earth”, “Trust”, “Beginners”, “A Better Life”, “Tyrannosaur” and “Margin Call”. “Don’t Be Afraid of Dark” and “Contagion” scared me enough, and “Bridesmaids” tickled me enough, and “Warrior” engaged me enough. I think “The Help” is a little too soft, but I like the performances none the less. Finally, at the end of year, here come good action films – “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”, and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow”.

 Special mention

Yes, I watched them in this year and I had a great time with them like you probably did in the last year. I gave 3.5 starts to all of them.

Another Year”, “Blue Valentine”, “Inside Job”, “127 Hours”, “True Grit”, “The King’s Speech”, and “The Illusionist“.

About documentaries and animations

In case of the documentaries, I have not watched many, but the ones I watched were pretty good ones. First, there is “Bill Cunningham, New York”, a lively documentary about an aging but equally lively fashion photographer who loves his job and will happily die with his job. During late April or early May, I always go to the film festival held at my hometown(Jeon-ju International Film Festival) for watching at least one movie, Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dream” was the one I saw – and it was a good one. “Buck” is a moving documentary about the real-life model of “The Horse Whisperer”(1998) who has a way of connecting with horses despite his abused childhood, and “Tabloid” is about a woman who has a fascinatingly sensational history with elusive sides – this is certainly the most cheerful work from Errol Morris.

In case of Animation, I have to say “Kung Fu Panda 2” was better than I expected and I had a fun time with it. I missed the chance to write about “Rango”, but I can assure you that this is the best animation film of this year. Though it is generic, I enjoyed its bright animation in “Rio”, and I must confess that I am one of few people who are kind to “Cars 2”. Finally, There is “The Adventures of Tintin”, and it is one of enjoyable experiences I had in this month.

In case of South Korean films…

You have probably never heard about them, but if you have a chance to watch any one of them, don’t miss it, folks. 

1. Bleak Night

“From where did it go wrong?”, one character asks, but he does not get the answer, and neither do others. Centering around the suicide of one teenager, the director/writer Moon Sung-hyeon’s remarkable debut “Bleak Night” reveals how the boys can sometimes be more vulnerable than the girls. They are not wise, and they do foolish things, and they have not learned that others can be hurt as much as them. In addition, out of pettiness and anger, they cannot accept the apology even if it sincerely comes from the heart. Only after getting wiser(and older), they finally begin to grasp what they did to others, and ultimately to themselves. Alas, the water is spilt, and it is too late for them now.

 2. Sunny

My No.1 South Korean film is about boys, and my No.2 South Korean film is about girls. It is far more pleasant because it is comedy, and it is a good one. The most remarkable thing about the screenplay co-written by the director Kang Hyeong-cheol is that, besides being a very hilarious comedy, it successfully juggles not only seven main characters but also their older counterparts and many supporting characters surrounding them; the characterization is broad, but each of main characters is given distinctive features. With small and big laughs bursting from here and there, this sunny comedy also works as a drama about the strong bond between the seven ladies. By re-awakening their past, their mundane, or miserable in some cases, lives begin to be enlivened. I cannot deny that it is possible because of money, but what a pleasant female empowerment it is.

3. The Yellow Sea

More languid and more heartless than the director Na Hong-jin’s first movie “The Chaser”, “The Yellow Sea” pulsates with grim vigor while dripping with exhaustion and chaos – and it has the terrific action scenes with real vehicles clashing with each other. I have to admit that there are many gaps and coincidences in the story after Gu-nam(Ha Jeong-woo), a Chaoxianzu(Chinese of Korean descent) taxi driver from Yenji, China, gets himself in a big trouble, and even I needed some time to sort things out and sought some explanations for writing the review. However, despite grim, stark hypereality of the crime world full of unlikable characters brutally fighting for self-preservation, the movie crackles with energy and verisimilitude in the harsh darkness. Truffaut once said that he wanted a film expressing either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. Considering all those rumors about its troublesome production that exhausted the actors and crews under the control of its ambitious director for a long time, I think “Yellow Sea“ belongs to the latter.

4. Dooman River

The cold, white bleakness dominates over South Korean art house movie “Dooman River”. With its simple storytelling, it presents us an austere view on the world which is alien even to the South Korean audiences. Set in the Chinese town near the Dooman River, the borber between China and North Korea, the movie is about the bleak daily life of the town people, mainly Chinese people of Korean descent, and their relationship with North Korean people who cross the river to escape. A friendship grows between a boy in the town and one North Korean boy whom he wants to recruit to his soccer team, but there is always a harsh reality which influences their relationship one way or another. As a Chinese of Korean descent born in Jilin, the director Zhang Lu knows well about the world he wants to capture on his camera. While quietly watching his actors, he creates a vivid, authentic atmosphere for their cold daily life, which is another interesting thing to observe. There many beautiful moments when the camera shows the frozen river and its surrounding environment covered with snow, and their bleak beauty reflects well the desolation surrounding the characters while functioning as the cover hiding their feelings, like their cold faces. While observing its people, this sad film does not say much, but it eventually shows us the deep emotions below its frozen surface.

5. Re-Encounter

The daily life of Hye-wa, gracefully played by Yoo Da-in, is simple. When she does not work at the veterinary clinic, she tries to rescue abandoned dogs around the deserted places. However, her mundane life is shaken by a sudden appearance of the man whom she has wanted to forget forever: her ex-boyfriend Han-soo(Yoo Yeon-seok). He gives her surprise news, and that is the beginning of her trouble. ”Re-encounter” is an engaging character drama with small, nice touches to amuse us. While calmly revealing the scars inside the main characters with its dry approach, the film also finds its warmth and humor from small moments from time to time. I have to point out that the various dogs featuring in the film are really loveable creatures even though most of them look plain. While apparently, and effectively, working as the metaphor for their carer’s story, they are good extras – they remind us that we must love dogs.

6. The Journal of Musan

You may not notice him while walking around the streets of Seoul. He is a lonely man downtrodden everyday at the bottom of South Korean society. He has silently endured his new world and its heartless people with belief and faith, but every day of his life is the struggle with a very little sign of hope, and his situation is getting more difficult. He is getting tired now. “The Journal of Musan” is about the harsh reality inside the daily life of one North Korean man who escaped from his country to South Korea for a better life. The director Park Jung-bum, who also wrote the screenplay and plays the hero, nicely captures the rhythm of mundane daily life; once you allow yourself immersed in it, you can feel the tension kept being mounted behind the screen little by little. Is the last moment the symbolic expression of what he has lost inside him or another sad reality in his life? I have to think about it again, but I know for sure that he will move on – because he has to.

 7. The Front Line

South Korean war movie “The Front Line” presents us the last chapter of Korean war, which was less dramatic than its major events but was far more frustrating to the people on the battlefield. The movie begins with a mystery inside one company on the front line, but it ultimately reveals strange, complex human relationships only possible in wars. The soldiers on the both sides are tired and exhausted day by day. The soldiers doubt whether they can eventually survive or not, and it seems their hardship will last forever, and the mutual understandings are formed across no man’s land. Even so, when the fateful moment comes to them again, they have no choice; they do what their survival instinct drives them to do, and there are another scar and pain to be stored in their hurt lockers. The film is South Korea’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards in 2012

8. War of the Arrows

I know nearly nothing about archery, but I can say South Korean action/period drama “War of the Arrows” shows us that the archery is as delicate as the marksmanship we frequently come across in modern action movies. A bow and arrows can be strong weapon in the hands of the skilled professionals, and the movie draws lots of excitement from the relentless chases and accompanying constant battles of wits between two stubborn main characters. They are good matches to each other as the archers, and they are equally clever enough to be able to outwit each other, so it eventually boils down to the duel on the wide field between them. Imagine the duels in the western movies and substitute the gun with a bow and an arrow, and you will get the idea. Unlike bullets, the arrows can be recycled or adapted to the other bow, and, in one case, the character pulls the arrow from his wound and then uses it for his purpose – can you imagine that if they fight with guns?
9. Punch

“Punch” is a funny, pleasant, and energetic coming-of-age drama free of conventions with the interesting people abound in its story. While recognizing the shabby sides at the bottom of South Korean society along with some serious social issues including illegal immigrant workers, the movie balances itself well between drama and comedy with an optimistic note in the end. Our teenager hero Wan-deuk(Yoo Ah-in) goes to the church nearby, where he prays to the higher existence living somewhere above the sky to give his annoying enemy eternal peace. Sadly, his pray remains unanswered; the more he resists, the more his high school teacher Dong-joo(Kim Yoon-seok) intrudes upon Wan-deuk’s family life. Though he is not exemplary as “the teacher of my life”, Dong-joo likes his students despite his seemingly casual and occasionally crass behavior to the students. He especially cares about Wan-deuk, and, thanks to Kim Yoon-seok’s amusing performance, we instantly sense that Dong-joo will be the teacher Wan-deuk can lean on no matter how much he annoys Wan-deuk everyday. In the end, Wan-deuk learns that Dong-ju is the best and worst thing in his life – who wouldn’t agree to that?

 10. The Day He Arrives

I was not bored while watching Hong Sang-soo’s “The Day He Arrives”. Like his previous films, Hong Sang-soo tells his story in his minimalistic style with his familiar stock characters. Their names are different, and the actors playing them are different, but they are the same kind of men and women we have met from his other 11 works in the past. Again, they are associated with the filmmaking in one way or another, and they spend their time with drinking and talking for a long, long time. As a guy who knows several things about the drinking in South Korea, I was amused enough to like this pleasant movie. When you drink, you may embarrass yourself while talking a lot. You probably try to take care of your problem, but, with your brain influenced by alcohol, you just make yourself more embarrassing. In the end, the new day will begin for you – and there is always new night for drinking. So it goes – and so they drink.

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