CJ Entertainment

Operation Chromite (2016, John H. Lee)

There’s no indication there’s a better movie anywhere in Operation Chromite. Director Lee just doesn’t have a handle on it. The script’s an uncomfortable mix of predictable and manipulative–director Lee and co-writer Lee Man-hee lay on the war movie jingoism so thick, it actually takes a while to realize Lee Beom-su’s giving a legitimately great performance as the North Korean bad guy. There’s too much crap going on with really questionable guest star Liam Neeson.

While the decent parts of Operation Chromite are a South Korean film with actors speaking Korean, there are these horrendous moments with Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur. It’s a terrible performance, the kind you’d think Neeson would only give if he didn’t think the film would get a release in the United States. Sean Dulake did the dialogue for the English language scenes (he also appears as Neeson’s sidekick); it’s awful dialogue. You don’t have any respect for Neeson, but I did feel bad for Jon Gries, who shows up to have an awful expository dialogue argument. I hope Neeson bought something nice with his paycheck.

Worse–sort of–is the digital composites intended to convince the audience Neeson is filming with the rest of the cast. He’s clearly not, as the terrible composites betray. Chromite’s cinematography is weak to begin with, especially since they attempt to match the overblown lighting of the composite shots. As if Lee Dong-joon’s soulful but adventurous, rousing but melancholy music doesn’t slather on the vapid anti-Communism message enough–more on it in a second–with that overblown lighting and Neeson’s porky performance….

Neeson and Lee’s handling of his scenes, not to mention the crappy, manipulative resolution, sink Operation Chromite. Because even though it was a dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, it was a relatively fun one. Sure, whenever the movie tries to juxtapose Communist Lee Beom-su and ex-Communist Lee Jung-jae and their ideologies and whatever, it’s crap. But it’s crap whenever Neeson is around too so it’s a familiar experience. You just wait them out, because otherwise it’s sort of fun. None of the characters get enough attention but they’re at least likable performances, some of them good. Director Lee doesn’t know how to get a good performance–not in English, not in Korean–but he does recognize when he’s shooting one and gives his actors occasional space. The leads anyway.

If Operation Chromite were a completely different dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, with a different script, a different director, no Liam Neeson, but the same Korean cast and the same concept, it’d be better. With an excellent director–someone who knew how to make a war movie (since Chromite goes through various types of war movie sequences, haphazardly stuck together with CG), someone who knew how to balance a big cast–and a better script, the project might deserve the performances Lee Beom-su and Lee Jung-jae put into it.

Lee Beom-su’s evil little North Korean commander is a dangerous person. Even in the exaggerated scenes, Lee Beom-su brings something real to it. Everyone in Operation Chromite is a caricature (at best), but Lee Beom-su makes it feel like his character is pretending to be a caricature. Shame the script can’t keep up.

And Lee Jung-jae’s great as the soulful ex-Communist turned action hero. It’s not a deep role, but it’s got some details and Lee Jung-jae’s able to make it work. He’s got some excellent scenes in the film, even if his character’s way too thin.

The most disappointing thing is, after a rocky start, Operation Chromite gets better. The less Neeson, the better. Then he comes back. And down it all goes. But it’s not just him–it’s got a weak third act. Chromite is a mess with occasional smooth patches.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John H. Lee; written by Sean Dulake, Lee Man-hee, and John H. Lee; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Lee Dong-joon; produced by Chung Taewon; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Jang Hak-soo), Lee Beom-su (Lim Gye-jin), Jin Se-yeon (Han Jae-seon), Park Cheol-min (Nam Ki-seong), Kim Hee-jin (Ryu Jang-choon), and Liam Neeson (Douglas MacArthur).


Windstruck (2004, Kwak Jae-young)

Narratively, Windstruck falls apart in the last thirty-five minutes. Director Kwak’s screenplay stops and starts–not vignettes really, but definitely episodic. Leads Jun Ji-hyun and Jang Hyuk have their romantic courtship, which gets off to a rocky start as police officer Jun confuses Jang for a purse snatcher, set to sixties American rock and roll and it’s kind of awesome. Kwak shoots Windstruck Panavision and knows how to frame it. He also knows how to direct his actors. Jun and Jang have that wonderful combination of charm and ability and Windstruck, even with its jerky narrative, is delightful.

But as the film hits what should be the tail end of the second act, it turns out Kwak’s script structure isn’t anywhere near solid enough. Instead of feeling episodic, Windstruck starts to feel like Kwak’s resetting the film in an attempt to find a way to keep the story going. Jun and Jang are still good and it’s still well-directed, but Kwak loses the spark of the film. He tries a lot–including some awesome cop movie action–but it never connects. It’s all a distraction.

Even the film’s final feint, which ought to be adorable, just doesn’t come off well enough.

The film has phenomenal editing. Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom cut Windstruck sublimely. Even when things go downhill in the second half and Kwak’s struggling to keep things going, the editing is terrific. The editing might even be its best when Kwak’s out of story and Windstruck is relying entirely upon his visual sensibility and Jun’s acting ability.

There’s some excellent supporting work, but no one really gets to finish their character arcs. Even Jun’s is a little contrived. Kwak’s trying to go for some kind of fantastical comedy action melodrama and he doesn’t make it. If he had made it, Windstruck would’ve been something singular. Instead, it’s an awkward, unsuccessful effort. Even though it’s got some wonderful pieces–Jun and Jang, for instance–Windstruck isn’t cohesive overall.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kwak Jae-young; screenplay by Kwak, based on an idea by Jung Hoon-tak; director of photography, Jeong Han-cheol; edited by Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom; music by Choi Seung-hyun; produced by Choi Su-yeong, Jung and William Kong; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Jun Ji-hyun (Kyung-jin), Jang Hyuk (Myung-woo), Kim Chang-wan (Chief), Kim Jeong-tae (Inspector Kim) and Jeong Ho-bin (Chang-soo).


A Werewolf Boy (2012, Jo Sung-hee)

Besides an utterly absurd title–and one nowhere near as clever as the film itself–A Werewolf Boy is something of a success. Jo proves one can successfully marry science fiction, werewolf romance, class bigotry and… I don’t know, ageless romantic melodrama. He doesn’t cop out at the end either, but turns the picture into some kind of a fairy tale. It doesn’t succeed on those terms, but there was no good finish for do a wild child romantic picture with so much sci-fi.

In terms of composition, Jo does pretty well throughout. He apparently told cinematographer Choi Sang-mok to make everything as pretty as possible–the light’s soft yet vibrant. The film’s utterly artificial yet completely engrossing.

The film’s mostly in flashback to the mid-sixties, when a family newly moved to the country discovers the titular character living on their property. The boy, played by Soon Joong-ki in appealing but rather easy performance, immediately takes to the older daughter, played by Park Bo-yeong. She’s really good in her role, which gets more and more difficult as the film progresses.

Much of the picture works just because Park’s family is so appealing. Jang Young-nam is great as the mom, Kim Hyang-gi is the adorable younger sister. It’s all very nice. Except, of course, odious villain Yoo Yeon-seok. Jo goes overboard with him.

A Werewolf Boy is a competent, sincere motion picture. It can’t work because of bigger things than Jo can control.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jo Sung-hee; director of photography, Choi Sang-mok; edited by Nam Na-young; music by Shim Hyun-jung; production designer, Kim Ji-su; produced by Kim Sujin and Yoon In-beom; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Joong-ki (Chul-soo), Park Bo-yoeng (Suni), Jang Young-nam (Suni’s mother), Yoo Yeon-seok (Ji-tae), Kim Hyang-gi (Sun-ja), Yoo Sung-mok (Professor Kang Tae-shik), Seo Dong-soo (The Colonel), Woo Jeong-guk (Mr. Jung), Gu Bon-im (Mrs. Jung), Nam Jung-hee (Dong-seok’s grandmother), Ahn Do-gyu (Dong-seok), Shin Bi (Dong-mi) and Lee Young-lan (Old Suni).


The Tower (2012, Kim Ji-hoon)

With The Tower, director Kim redefines the possibilities of the fictional disaster genre. He maintains many genre standards, like the occasional laugh to relieve stress, a fair amount of melodrama, along with the greedy capitalists and the politicking city officials, while throwing in some gore and a breakneck action movie pace. But he mixes in all of these ingredients seriously and finds some truly wonderful and awful human moments. Often at the same time.

The first thirty minutes of The Tower play like a modern remake of The Towering Inferno, at least the events regarding the building. There’s a single dad (Kim Sang-kyung) who has the hots for one of his coworkers (Son Ye-jin), there’s a rookie firefighter (Do Ji-han) and his captain (Sol Kyung-gu), there are a bunch of other people. Disaster movie stock cast, often likable but no one is ever safe. Kim doesn’t allow any safe zones.

He directs his action scenes from the characters’ points of view; there’s a particularly rough incident during the initial disaster montage (The Tower, regardless of how well Kim does with it, is still a disaster movie after all) and then some more when the survivors are trying to escape. There’s not much bonding during the scenes, it’s all implied. The characters are too exhausted, too terrified to sit around and expound.

Great photography from Kim Young-Ho, great music from Kim Tae-seong. Sol Kyung-gu gives an amazing, essential performance.

The Tower ruined my day.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kim Ji-hoon; written by Kim Sang-don; director of photography, Kim Young-ho; edited by Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Tae-seong; production designer, Park Il-hyun; produced by Lee Han-seung and Lee Su-nam; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Sol Kyung-gu (Captain Kang), Kim Sang-kyung (Lee Dae-ho), Son Ye-jin (Seo Yoon-hee), Kim In-kwon (Sergeant Oh), Do Ji-han (Lee Seon-woo), Jo Min-ah (Lee Ha-na), Ahn Sung-ki (Yeouido Fire Station chief), Song Jae-ho (Mr. Yoon), Lee Joo-shil (Mrs. Jung), Lee Han-wi (Mr. Kim), Jeon Guk-hyang (Ae-ja), Jung In-ki (Mr. Cha), Cha In-pyo (Mr Jo), Jeon Bae-soo (Young-cheol), Kim Sung-oh (In-geon), Min Young (Nam-ok), Lee Joo-ha (Min-jung) and Kwon Tae-won (the fire commissioner).


Sector 7 (2011, Kim Ji-hun)

Sector 7 is about twenty-two years late. It’s another “Alien with sea monsters;” 1989 had two and a half major entries in that genre. It does, however, add one interesting element.

Wait, I guess it’s more Aliens with sea monsters. The female lead, Ha Ji-won, is more Ripley in tough mode. Anyway, the interesting element is her love interest, Oh Ji-ho. He’s a standard action movie leading man. So Sector 7 has a couple of romantically involved action heroes. Sadly, Nick and Nora they are not.

The big problem with Sector 7, besides its nine or ten false endings, is cinematographer Lee Doo-man. It was also released in 3D, which must have been hideous, because Lee can’t match any of the CG backdrops with his lighting. Most of the time, he shoots dark (presumably to be cost effective with rendering the sea monster), but the bright daytime scenes are horrific.

Kim’s a fairly ambitious director when it comes to his composition and action. He’s lousy with actors, but it only really matters with Ha; she’s terrible. The rest of the cast carries through pretty well.

Oh is good, as is Ahn Seong-gi. Park Cheol-min and Song Sae-byeok are great as the surprisingly touching comic relief team.

The film shifts from being a gender workplace inequalities picture to a pro-oil drilling picture to a monster movie and, finally, to a political picture.

Plot confusion, Ha’s acting and Lee’s photography aside, it’s not awful.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kim Ji-hun; written and produced by Yun Je-gyun; director of photography, Lee Doo-man; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Ha Ji-won (Cha Hae-joon), Ahn Sung-kee (Lee Jeong-man), Oh Ji-ho (Kim Dong-soo), Park Cheol-min (Do Sang-goo), Song Sae-byeok (Go Jong-yoon), Park Jeong-hak (Hwang In-hyeok), Lee Han-wi (Jang Moon-hyeong), Park Yeong-soo (Jang Chi-soon), Cha Ye-ryeon (Park Hyeon-jeong) and Min Seok (Yoon Hyeon-woo).


The Suicide Forecast (2011, Jo Jin-mo)

For a while during Suicide Forecast—in the first act and third—it seems like the film will be about protagonist Ryu Seung-beom discovering he doesn’t want to be a soulless business success and redeeming himself.

But Forecast isn’t exactly about Ryu. A plot summary sounds like a perverse comedy—Ryu’s an insurance adjuster who discovers three people he’s signed up for life insurance are all suicidal and they’re about to get past their probation. The co-worker who convinced Ryu to sign them up? He’s also suicidal and Ryu just inherited responsibility for his policy too. What kind of antics will ensue when he tries to persuade them not to kill themselves?

Not many antics, actually. Instead, director Jo guides Ryu through difficult situations, ones where he can’t really do anything to help these people. While Ryu does learn things in Forecast, he doesn’t make any great personal discoveries. His character never goes through a profound change and the crises he averts are sometimes ones he creates.

Ryu’s great in the lead. Song Dong-il is his boss, who can’t seem to fathom the situation. Of the supporting cast, Park Cheol-min (as Ryu’s former co-worker), Im Joo-hwan (as one of the policy holders) and Kim Chae-bin (as a policy holder’s daughter) give the strongest performances.

Jo makes some cinematic great moments in Forecast, both dramatic and comic. He knows to reward the viewer for enduring the depressing drama. Forecast starts shaky and finishes solid.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jo Jin-mo; written by Yu Seong-hyeob; director of photography, Choi Sang-mook; edited by Shin Min-kyung; music by Kim-Hyung-seok; produced by Park Mae-hee; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Ryu Seung-beom (Bae Byeong-woo), Song Dong-il (Manager Park Jin-seok), Park Cheol-min (Oh Sang-yeol), Jeong Seon-kyeong (Choi Bok-soon), Seo Ji-hye (Lee Hye-in), Hwan Im Joo (Kim Yeong-tak), Younha (Ahn So-yeon), Kim Chae-bin (Jin-hee), Lee Ji-eun (Seon-hee), Lee Joon-ha (Mi-hee), Oh Eun-Chan (Ok-dong), Jung Sung-ha (Ahn Hyeok), Hong So-hee (Kim Yeong-mi), Kim Byeong-chun (Homeless guy Park) and Choi Il-hwa (Hwang Woo-cheol).


Moss (2010, Kang Woo-suk)

For a “revealing the secrets of a small town” thriller, Moss has a number of problems. The first one might just be me. The town has six residents. It’s not a town in my American understanding. A viewer with more cultural knowledge might experience it differently.

Second, and more to the point, it’s just too long for the payoff. The film runs over two hours–after starting with an awkward, narratively ill-advised flashback for a prologue (though it is astounding how good the old age makeup is in Moss–I didn’t even realize it was makeup on one of the guys, I just assumed they recast him)–and it’s all very mysterious, only to give a really pat, really mediocre conclusion.

Luckily, decent scripting, unambitious but solid direction and some good performances make the whole thing go well.

Lead Park Hae-il is good as the unwitting investigator of the town and its secrets. His character has shockingly little backstory–the film includes an opening adversarial relationship with a prosecutor, an excellent Yu Jun-Sang, but it’s always a little comical and eventually becomes a buddy movie relationship–and no presence other than his quest.

Jeong Jae-yeong is fine as the big bad guy, but it’s not really a performance requiring a lot of depth–he’s just got to be quietly evil.

Sun Yoo has the film’s most layered character, as the only woman in this town of five, and gets wasted.

Moss gets by, but only just.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kang Woo-suk; screenplay by Chung Ji-woo, based on the comic book by Yoon Tae-ho; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Go Im-pyo; music by Jo Young-wook; production designers, Jo Seong-wong and Lee Tae-hun; produced by Jung Sun-young; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Park Hae-il (Ryoo Hae-gook), Jeong Jae-yeong (Cheon Yong-deok), Yu Jun-sang (Park Min-wook), Yoo Sun (Lee Yeong-ji), Heo Joon-ho (Yoo Mok-hyeong), Yu Hae-jin (Kim Deok-cheon), Kim Sang-ho (Jeon Seok-man) and Kim Joon-bae (Ha Seong-gyoo).


Castaway on the Moon (2009, Lee Hae-jun)

Castaway on the Moon explores one of those great urban questions… could you ever get stuck on one of those conservation islands in a city’s river? Despite being a South Korean film, it’d be hard to find a more universal story—deeply indebted Jeong Jae-yeong throws himself off a bridge after his girlfriend’s dumped him and he’s been laid off. It doesn’t work out. The currents bring him to a conservation island and there, eventually, he plays Robinson Crusoe.

Maybe the first twenty minutes of the film is Jeong Jae-yeong all by himself, no real dialogue with anyone else. He doesn’t even get to the point where he’s carrying on conversations with inanimate objects. He has to sell the situation and he does. It’s sometimes funny, but—like the rest of the film’s approach to his situation—uncomfortably realistic.

Then Jeong Ryeo-won shows up, sort of out of nowhere. She’s a shut-in—some previous event left her with external burn scars and internal psychoses. When she sees Jeong Jae-yeong on the island, she starts watching him.

The film is only a few times unpredictable. These are somewhat big twists, but the narrative is generally what one would expect. The execution, however, is phenomenal.

Director Lee’s composition is outstanding, as is his direction of his stars. Kim Hong-jip’s music and Kim Byung-seo’s photography are also essential components.

The film’s deceptively traditional. On consideration, it’s actually more innovative than I initially thought. Lee does well.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lee Hae-Jun; director of photography, Kim Byung-seo; edited by Nam Na-young; music by Kim Hong-jip; production designer, Hwasung Gongjakso; produced by Kim Moo-ryung; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Jeong Jae-yeong (Male Kim) and Jeong Ryeo-won (Female Kim).


Tidal Wave (2009, Yun Je-gyun)

Given Korean film sort of resurrected the melodrama as a viable genre (I can’t believe I’m arguing for melodrama, but I guess if you like cinema, you sort of have to accept it–and I mean melodrama in a neutral sense… not as a guaranteed pejorative), I was curious to see how they’d do a disaster movie. I guess Tidal Wave is the first disaster movie from South Korea (I have a hard time being it’s the first, but I guess it’s the first really big one).

They do a good job–I had to pause from giving my initial, very positive response because I let the movie carry me a little… needed to get myself under control. But Tidal Wave isn’t a disaster movie, not in the Irwin Allen sense. There’s way too much character development. There’s so much character development in Tidal Wave, it doesn’t need the tsunami. A couple characters might need it to resolve their situations, but not all of them.

It’s a rather solid effort–strange, weaker opening–but it works out really well. Yun’s direction’s excellent. The regular scenes segue beautifully into the disaster sequences.

Lots of fine acting–the romance between Sol Kyung-gu and Ha Ji-won make it worth seeing alone. Lee Min-gi and Eom Jeong-hwa do well in difficult roles–Park Joong-hoon does fine as the scientist no one listens to. Kim In-kwon is great as the jerk who stumbles into heroics.

Definitely worth a look.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Yun Je-gyun; director of photography, Kim Young-ho; edited by Shin Min-kyeong; music by Lee Byung-woo; production designer, Hwang In-jun; produced by David S. Dranitzke and Lee Ji-seung; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Ha Ji-won (Gang Yeon-heui), Park Joong-Hoon (Kim Hwi), Eom Jeong-hwa (Lee Yu-jin), Sol Kyung-gu (Choi Man-shik), Song Jae-ho (Choi’s uncle), Lee Min-gi (Hyeong-shik), Kim In-kwon (Dong-chun), Kang Ye-won (Hee-mee) and Yeo Ho-min (Jun-ha).


The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008, Kim Ji-woon)

The Good, the Bad and the Weird, if the title is any hint, is an homage to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Kim Ji-woon borrows liberally from all three of the Clint Eastwood films, taking a scene from one then, a little later, one from another. He takes it further than just a cheap reference–at one point, Song Kang-ho ends up in a deep sea diver helmet, which isn’t a reference (to my knowledge) but it fits rather well, stylistically.

What’s most striking about the film isn’t those references or homage. Instead, it’s the film’s place as a singular action movie. It’s set in Manchuria during Japanese aggression with a trio of expatriate Koreans living, albeit with more technologically, a life very similar to the characters in a Western. Even with the gun fights, the horses and the train robbery, the film isn’t actually a Western. It’s a war film, only it’s told from a Western point of view, which means there are long stretches without any reference to the spaghetti westerns it emulates in the first act.

These long stretches are instead action sequences. They’re magnificently choreographed–Song on a motorcycle being chase by one set of bad guys on horses and another set of bad guys on horses and the Japanese army and then another guy on horseback. It’s set across the Manchurian desert and with the humor and the skill, it feels more like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Road Warrior. One of those films where large scale action scenes constantly surprised.

As a director, Kim doesn’t emulate, say, Leone’s style (until the end, which I’m sure I won’t forget). Instead, he has his own approach to the material and he’s fantastic. It’s a nice wide frame, filled with content and movement. At times, it’s hard to follow the film–there are so many different gangs of gunmen, it’s hard to keep them straight–but Kim’s direction is never confusing, even when he’s got an intricate moving shot (the first half of the film is full of them, for example, the camera moving between six people–one take–for reaction shots to what the first person sees). As a visual experience, the film’s a constant joy.

But then there’s the end. The end is when the film has to live up to its title–following that fabulous desert chase scene and a hilarious escape sequence, which kind of elevate the film to a higher plane. It can’t win. By falling into genre requirements–the wrong genre–The Good, the Bad and the Weird becomes an awkward, self-aware, pseudo-hip (the music never goes for Morricone, but the end’s got some hip hop, which really doesn’t work) fake spaghetti western. Instead of a singular war movie about countrymen–something the film has going for it almost until that point–it then collapses, even if the big reveal is hilarious.

As the titular weird, Song’s a delight. Good guy Jung Woo-sung barely has a character, but he plays well with Song so it doesn’t matter. Lee Byung-hun’s bad guy has almost as much style as Prince and watches American gangster movies. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It plays into the film’s lunacy, but Lee never lets the absurdity run rampant. He keeps it in check.

The film’s incredibly violent, which differentiates it as well. Westerns tend not to be anti-violent, but again… it isn’t really a Western. There are some really nice narrative tricks, ones requiring the viewer to be on his or her toes. It’d be hard, given all the action, for the film to be a passive viewing experience, but a couple of the sleights were extreme.

It’s a good movie, but it could have been so much better.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kim Ji-woon; written by Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk; directors of photography, Lee Mo-gae and Oh Seong-chul; edited by Nam Na-young; music by Dalparen and Chan Young-gyu; production designer, Cho Hwa-sung; produced by Choi Jai-won; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Yoon Tae-goo), Lee Byung-hun (Park Chang-yi), Jung Woo-sung (Park Do-won), Ryu Seung-su (Man-gil), Zhang Qi (Deligeer), Yun Jae-mun (Byeong-chun), Son Byeong-ho (Seo Jae-shik), Song Yeong-chang (Kim Pan-ju), Kim Gwang-il (Two Blades), Ma Dong-suk (Bear), Ryu Chang-suk (Granny) and Lee Chung-ah (Song-yi).


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