Beom-su Lee

Mission Sex Control (2006, Ahn Jin-woo)

Mission Sex Control opens as an almost farcical comedy. The Korean President (circa 1972) meets with his cabinet to discuss family planning and its effect on the GDP. The meeting devolves into a screaming match between two cabinet members, then the opening titles splash across the screen. It all seems very comic, even as the film proper gets going. After that prologue, the leads are immediately established–Kim Jeong-eun as the family planning counselor taking the message to a rural village, Lee Beom-su as the villager who helps her.

Kim and Lee play very well with each other from their first scene, which is important, since she immediately starts relying on him for help. The film’s still very funny as the two eventually convince the villagers to listen. It’s hard to see Lee as anything but a comic actor and the first half of Mission Sex Control does nothing to suggest he’s going to be doing something else. Eventually, however, he does. Some time after the halfway mark, the film takes a drastic, unexpected turn toward the dramatic and personal.

Ahn Jin-woo’s direction–and the film’s full and vivid Panavision frame–really suggests a comedy. With the transition to the tragic, Ahn introduces all the consequences the comedy in the first half disguised. It’s not a deceptive move; Kim and the viewer experiencing these repercussions in unison. There’s a good surprise at the end, maybe one I should have been expecting, but Ahn does a great job presenting it. He keeps the comedic sensibilities well into the dramatic portion of the film, only supplanting it in the very end for some key scenes. It’s in these scenes too where the characters, who have been mild caricatures, fully form.

The film’s got a lot of complexities. Lee’s character is probably the fullest, even though Kim is the protagonist. But Kim’s there to accompany the viewer on the journey (the modern viewer, the film’s only a couple years old). Kim’s got a character, but she’s also got a real narrative purpose. Ahn has a bit of trouble establishing her, using a lot of subtle moves to get it done in the end. They’re really nice moves too and he applies similar ones to other characters as well. The film has a large cast of characters and Ahn can’t give all of them the treatment, but he gives it to enough the film reveals itself to be a lot bigger than it seems throughout.

Both the film’s length–a lot happens as the plot develops–and the composition complement that unperceived depth. Something about the widescreen allows for there to be more room. It’s a strange, but natural relationship and the film might be the finest example of the genre fluidity of Korean cinema.



Written and directed by Ahn Jin-woo; director of photography, Kim Yun-su; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Park Ho-jun; production designer, Chen Ihn-han; produced by Tony M. Kim; released by Lotte Entertainment.

Starring Lee Beom-su (Suk-gu), Kim Jeong-eun (Miss Park), Byeon Hie-bong (Village Chief Kang), Jeon Mi-seon (Soo-ni), Ahn Nae-sang (Chang-su) and Woo Hyeon (Chang-hyuk).

Oh! Brothers (2003, Kim Yong-hwa)

I saw the director’s cut of Aliens when it first came out in 1991. I didn’t have my own laserdisc player (and going downstairs was too far), so I probably didn’t watch Aliens again for quite a few years, if ever. Once you’ve seen the director’s cut, there’s no point in going back to the original. Oh! Brothers runs 109 minutes and it seems like there are a number of missing scenes, including visible ones, when characters talk about something they’ve done and the audience is supposed to be familiar with… but they never did it. There’s a 134 minute director’s cut, but it’s not available with English subtitles. Twenty-five minutes is a long time and it might have helped Oh! Brothers a little, because the film’s a mess.

Essentially, the film’s a remake of Rain Man, only instead of autism, the brother has a fictionalized version of progeria–a disease which causes accelerated aging–and Oh! Brothers portrays it as the kid in the adult’s body. I’m not sure why it bothers, since the disease is infrequently taken seriously and when it is, it’s forced. Given the main character’s angst–over his half-brother’s mother being the woman who drove his (the main character’s) mother to suicide–it seems like overkill. In fact, it’d probably have worked better if the kid had just been a kid, especially since the film never fully convinces. Lee Beom-soo does a fine job, but he never makes the audience forget (and, geez, that guy on “Maniac Mansion” made me forget). His performance is so generic, like the film, he leaves little impression.

As the lead, Lee Jung-jae is stuck. The film expects the audience–I assume because it’s Lee Jung-jae–to know the character’s got a heart of gold deep down, but it never shows us any evidence. He’s a blackmailer who works for a small-time gangster and a dirty cop (who’s got fraternal issues of his own), and he’s a constant dick to everyone in the film. Given he doesn’t have a character, Lee Jung-jae does a great job, but it’s still plastic. He’s not the kind of actor who can do this plastic work… he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. The character doesn’t engage the audience and the film only does it with melodrama.

There are a lot of good moments in Oh! Brothers, a lot of funny ones. As the crooked cop, Lee Moon-sik is fantastic and easily walks off with the film (he doesn’t really have any competition). Overall, the film manages to amuse and engage and it’s hard to believe it isn’t offensive in its treatment of a tragic disease, but it isn’t (it’s oblivious as opposed to insensitive). It just isn’t particularly good….



Written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa; director of photography, Park Hyeon-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Kim Deok-yun; produced by Park Moo-seung; released by KM Culture Co.

Starring Lee Jung-Jae (Oh Sang-su), Lee Beom-su (Oh Bong-gu), Lee Mun-shik (Jeong), Ryu Seung-su (Heo Ki-tae), Ryu Yong-jin (Mr. Park) and Lee Won-jong (Mr. Hong).

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