First I was wholly captivated by the taut plot of “Headhunters”, one of the best thriller films of this year. “Footnote” is a very amusing Israeli comedy about a father and his estranged son in their small academic field, and “I Wish” is a sweet, innocent family film about two little brothers who wishes for the reunion of their divorced parents’ reunion. “Monsieur Lazhar” is not your average “Teacher of my life” movie, and Leo Carax’s “Holy Motors” is not your typical limousine ride, either. Béla Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” and Christian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” are nice examples of good ‘slow movie’ which can arrest your attention from the beginning to the end, and “End of Watch” crackles with its vividly realistic world of two LA police officers instead of mindless actions, and “Chicken with Plums” is a charming old-fashioned story seasoned with magic realism.
I admired a strong performance from Rachel Weisz in Terence Davis’ “The Deep Blue Sea” and an offbeat performance by Sean Penn in “This Must Be the Place“. “A Royal Affair” is an engaging Danish period drama about a politically and romantically dangerous liaison behind the throne, and “Keep the Lights on” is an intimate drama about one long problematic romance between two gay men, and “Take this Waltz” is a warm and bittersweet tale about a young married woman between two men. In case of horror movies, I enjoyed “The Cabin in the Woods” more than “The Avengers” for its bloody orgy of horror movies. I also enjoyed the sense of dread being accumulated in “Sinister“, and “Compliance” is one of the most chilling depictions of the human nature. I gave “The Dark Knight Rises” only three stars but Christopher Nolan finished his trilogy admirably, and “Premium Rush” and “Sleepless Night” are small taut action films deserving more attentions. “Looper” is a smart SF film with good twisty storytelling, and “Prometheus” evoked my memories with “2001: A Space Odyssey”(1968). “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a pleasant feel-good movie about elderly British people coming to India, and “Ted” made me laugh quite a lot with its vulgar hero, and “Bernie” has one of the best performances by Jack Black. In case of “Les Misérables“, I do not think it’s a successful adaptation, but its content is pretty strong none the less, and Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” is an intriguing interpretation of a classic Gothic novel. “Barbara” and “Rust and Bone” are also good films, and I hope that they will arrive in South Korea as soon as it can.
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.
I have seen few but good documentaries. First, there is “Hell and Back Again”, Danfung Dennis’ impressive documentary on a US soldier struggling with the readjustment with his ‘normal’ life in US as well as the damages he got during his military service in Afghanistan. “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” is the continuing story of Memphis Three with an unexpected ending, and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” is a thought-provoking story about an arrested “eco-terrorist”. Frederick Wiseman’s “Crazy Horse” is an interesting documentary about a famous club in Paris, and “Bully” is a sobering look at the bullied kids at American schools, and “The Queen of Versailles” is an amusing documentary about a likable rich American family who rose with American Dream and then fell into financial crisis. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a fascinating look at a man dedicated to his profession for his whole life, and “Searching For a Sugar Man” is an unbelievable real-life story about a musician who found his fans in the place far, far from his hometown, and both “Marley” and “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” are respectful documentaries about their respective subjects.
2012 is a weak year for animated films. Although I liked Pixar’s “Brave“, I was less enthusiastic to it than some of you, and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is a little more entertaining than I expected. “Frankenweenie” and “ParaNorman” can make a good double feature show during Halloween season, and “Rise of the Guardians” may be welcomed whenever it gets cold. My favorite is “Wreck-It Ralph“, which touches my small memories with 8-bit video games with lots of fun and excitement.
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. Nameless Gangster
“Nameless Gangster” is a compelling crime drama which is bitingly funny to me and other South Korean audiences, and you may also enjoy it as a funny guide to the dirty side of South Korean society which still remains with us even after more than 20 years. Through the story of a sleazy former custom official who rises above the ranks of one of the powerful crime organizations in Busan, the movie slyly comments that the line between an ordinary man and a gangster is not clear at all in South Korean society, and the director/writer Yoon Jong-bin’s earnest approach to his story without the glamor is commendable. The recreation of the 1980s is convincing and realistic, and the excellent cast led by Choi Min-sik and Ha Jeong-woo dances and fights around the screen until the president of South Korea declares “War Against Crime” on TV on October 13th of 1990. The epilogue sequence reminds us that South Korean society, or its people, has not been changed much even in the 21th century – and our recent presidential election result surely proved that.
2. Architecture 101
The story of “Architecture 101” is very familiar on the verge of being clichè; a boy met a girl – and a man meets a woman 15 years later. However, this is a rare romance film which can be described as both smart and sensitive. It knows how to establish the ground for the romance, how to build it on the ground, and how to furnish it with real fragile emotions inside its adult characters. Thankfully free of overblown melodrama which usually plagues around other South Korean romance movies, the movie has quiet, restrained but effective emotional moments, and it is rewarding to watch how it carefully constructs its story with them as the building blocks to the satisfying ending. In addition, this is one of few romance films where the occupation of characters has lots of significance in their story, in one of the important points in the movie, because they study architecture together, a boy tries to give a girl the model of her dream house constructed by himself. Isn’t that more refreshing than the routine declarations of love with flowers we have witnessed before in other romance films?
3. Juvenile Offender
As the overlooked South Korean movie of this year, “Juvenile Offender” is about two equally immature characters who will probably never get out their fragile social positions. After he is sent to juvenile reformatory for his latest felony, a young teenager boy Ji-gu(Seo Young-joo) learns about his absent mother who abandoned him when he was very young. She is Hyo-seung(Lee Jeong-hyeon), and, when she appears in front of his son, she looks quite young as a mother with a teenager son, because, well, she gave a birth to him when she was 17. Through his intimate character drama supported by two superb lead performances, the director Kang Yi-kwan effortlessly raises its social issues while never making a speech about them. Hyo-seung and Ji-gu won’t probably get better, but we can prevent such another sorry situation like theirs, and that is the reason why I think young teenagers really should watch this movie. Kids, I must confess that I never had any experience with adolescent romance, but I must say this again as a considerate adult: please use condom no matter what happens.
4. National Security
“National Security” is a fiction based a true story, but the reality glimpsed from its fiction gave me and the audiences an unforgettably uncomfortable moment at the screening room. It is September 4th, 1985, and it was the time when many South Korean activists were unjustly incarcerated and then ruthlessly tortured under the dictatorship, and Kim Jong-tae(Park Won-Sang) is no exception. Until he gives a satisfying false confession to the authorities, he is brutally tortured by them, and he knows from the beginning that there is no chance of win for him. The movie deeply disturbs us with its uncompromising and unflinching observation on that frightening licensed brutality stomping on basic human rights – and its consequences still lingering on the minds of unfortunate people who had to go through such dreadful ordeals at that time as well as South Korean society which has remained haunted by its unpleasant memories of violent past.
It is a treat to watch Isabelle Huppert in Hong Sang-soo’s “In Another Country”. In this film, she has a lightweight fun as the three different versions of the heroine in the mind of a young film student, and, to a South Korean audience like me, her interactions with other South Korean performers were the constant source of amusement throughout the film. I frequently giggled while watching their awkward but funny exchanges throughout the movie, and I was really entertained by Huppert’s presence on the beach town not far from my hometown. Yes, Huppert on South Korean beach with the bottles of soju is certainly not something you can see everyday.
6. The Thieves
As a slick heist movie, “The Thieves” has expected things and unexpected things in its twisty story populated with ten untrustworthy criminals who gather for the same purpose with each own private agenda hidden from each other. While finding its plot a rather predictable due to its generic side, I enjoyed how the movie cheerfully juggles its familiar elements in the air while rarely losing its fun, and I also found that some of the unexpected things in the film were really interesting or exciting. There are many other things I will not reveal to you, but let’s say the director/co-writer Choi Dong-hoon cleverly handles not only his characters but also their motives and plans in his crowded story, and there is an exhilarating action sequence where many characters simultaneously move around the inside and outside of one shabby high-rise apartment building. Not great, but it’s exciting, anyway.
Partly inspired by serious historic drama films like “Kagemusha”(1980) and also partly inspired by innocent comedy movies like “Dave”(1993), South Korean period drama “Masquerade” is ironically a humorous human drama disguising itself as a serious historic drama. Just because he looks identical to the king, its common hero becomes the king’s double, and he adequately does his job as ordered, but he is soon assigned with a far greater and riskier task – he must play the king until the king regains his consciousness. The circumstance is serious for everyone, but the movie is actually quite funny at times, and we have some good laughs during its first half. Its message behind the story may be a little too innocent, but “Masquerade” has skilled storytelling, the competent performances, and excellent costumes and production designs, and the result is satisfying on the whole.
8. Jesus Hospital
“Jesus Hospital” is a small but intense and uncomfortable drama about one resentful struggle in a Christian family. When Hyeon-soon’s siblings decide that it is the time to let their comatose mother go, Hyeon-soon objects to it just because she thinks her mother will wake up someday just because God told her so, so it becomes a very long day for Hyeon-soon and her family including her pregnant daughter. Compared to its engaging narrative, the climax and following ending feel hurried and artificial, but the performances and direction compensate for the narrative flaws, and Hwang Jeong-min gives a commanding performance to be remembered as a rather unlikable heroine. I do not like her at all, but I could understand her instead, and I hope she will open her eyes through the dilemma she faces in the end.
Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta”, which won the Golden Lion award at Venice Film Festival several months ago, has the usual strengths and weaknesses I have witnessed from his films. I found its premise absurd and preposterous, but I and the audiences somehow took seriously what was happening on the screen. While there is some morbid humor in this dark and brutal morality tale of guilt and redemption, the movie treats a strange relationship at the center of its story with strict seriousness, and I was drawn to its drama while cringing at its brutality, and I admire its simple but fearless performance by Cho Min-soo, who sternly maintains the elusive side of her character even at the most emotionally anguished moment. Although I do not think “Pieta” is one of Kim Ki-duk’s best films, I must say it is nice to see that this talented director is still capable of making a movie with conviction, power, and several interesting things to talk about.
10. All About My Wife
As a comedy about a husband who hires an infamous ladykiller to get rid of his annoying wife, “All About My Wife” has many funny moments. I loved its quick pace and the abundance of humor during the first act, and it has the good comedy performances from its three main performers, and I must say Ryoo Seung-yong’s lively performance with humorous bravado as South Korean Casanova is one of the funniest performances in South Korean films of 2012. It is a little shame that the comic energy it has built during the hilarious first half is considerably decreased when the circumstance surrounding the characters becomes more serious as the genre convention requires, but the film remains buoyed by the fun performances and good comic moments, and the movie is more enjoyable than I thought on the whole.