Jae-yeong Jeong

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).


Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005, Park Kwang-hyun)

Welcome to Dongmakgol is about an idyllic village in the midst of the Korean War. Two soldiers from the South, three from the North, and an American flyer end up there. Obviously, they learn people are just people and wars are a bad idea, but Dongmakgol revels in itself so much, it’s impossible to dismiss the film as commonplace. It starts strange, with the American crashing. Good CG has obviously made it to Korea and director Park Kwang-Hyun uses a lot of it in Dongmakgol, trying new things with it, fully utilizing it as a storytelling device. Even though the crash looks good, I was unsure of Dongmakgol, since I really didn’t know what it was about. Sometimes not knowing is good, sometimes it’s bad. Immediately following the crash, there’s a standard stand-off when the Communist officer proves himself a decent guy. Again, something else I was worried about. Then, horribly, a battle scene straight from Saving Private Ryan. It’s apparently become the standard for battle scenes.

But once they get the village–which isn’t a Shangri-La aware of its blissful isolation, just ignorant of world events–the film starts to get better and doesn’t stop improving. The Northern and Southern soldiers take time working out their differences, starting with their personal problems first. The pacing is methodical, which hurts the film scene-to-scene, but nurtures a more rewarding experience overall. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Park goes for broke with a three or four minute action sequence done in the studio. It’s a surrealistic CG scene and he pushes it too hard, making the proposition of the scene work better than the scene itself, but it’s done with so much enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to enjoy. Once the film gets back on a more predictable path–it veers again, of course–Park treats the audience to some more exuberance. The end sequence features some great CG and gives the film a great, unexpected, wrap-up.

However… the music, by Joe Hiaishi, almost does the film in. Park’s creating an audio and visual experience with Dongmakgol and Hiaishi recycles one theme over and over again (it sounds like a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol). Stylistically, the music’s out of an episode of “Magnum, p.i.” or “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s far from good enough and doesn’t even achieve a solid mediocrity.

The acting in the film is all high quality. Best is the Communist officer, played by Jeong Jae-yeong, as he’s got the most to do for most of the film. His Southern equivalent, played by Shin Ha-kyun, is good too, but his character’s internally conflicted so he mopes for a lot of it. Ryu Deok-Hwan’s character learns the most about himself in the film, so he’s probably the most interesting. The American, played by some guy named Steve Taschler, is okay. Taschler looks like a cross between Hugh Laurie and Michael O’Keefe, only young, and he’s fine in most of his scenes, especially when there are other people around. I’ve never seen an American actor incorporated so well into an Asian film before (the Godzilla films usually do it to great comedic success, but nothing else).

Dongmakgol is Park’s first film–something almost unbelievable given how well he uses that CG–and it sets him up for one heck of a sophomore slump. It’s an impressive film and Park’s a visual filmmaker, something rare (in quality anyway) these days. I’d probably be calling it one of the best films of last year if it wasn’t for that music.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun; screenplay by Park and Kim Joong, from a play by Jang Jin; director of photography, Choi Sang-ho; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Joe Hiaishi; produced by Choi, Jang, Ji Sang-yong and Lee Eun-ha; released by Showbox.

Starring Jeong Jae-yeong (Chief Comrade Lee Su-Hwa), Shin Ha-kyun (2nd Lt. Pyo Hyun-Chul), Kang Hye-jeong (Yeo-il), Lim Ha-ryong (Jang Young-hee), Seo Jae-kyeong (Army Medic Mun Sang-sang), Ryu Deok-Hwan (Seo Taek-ki) and Steve Taschler (Smith).


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