Jin-woo Ahn

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).

Over the Rainbow (2002, Ahn Jin-woo)

Lee Jung-Jae starred in the first Korean film I watched, Il Mare, and I’ve seen another one with him in it. Some bad one that was half-gritty cop movie and half English Patient. I probably did I write up, I remember typing that slight before.

Over the Rainbow is, therefore, his first good film. You can’t followed many actors anymore–even Meryl Streep throws you a curve these days–but it also gave me a nice introduction to Korean cinema. I go on and on about Korean films right after I watched one, then I say nothing about them for months, watch another and then go on and on for a while again. This film has a lot of problems. A lot of third act problems. It’s a cutesy mystery with a lot of flashbacks.

And some of the film doesn’t make sense. The flashbacks are to college, but it’s never specified how much time has elapsed since then to the story’s present period. It’s also predictable, but reminds me a great deal of the back of my old Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. The conclusion is inevitable–you know what’s going to happen going in the door–but watching the film, seeing the people and their relationships develop–is what makes the experience rewarding.

Another review, somewhere I saw online because IMDb didn’t list writing credits, pointed out that, though Lee is good, the female lead, Jang Jin-Young, sort of walks off with the film. She’s excellent but the film coddles her for the first half or so, before you realize what’s going on. There’s nothing like watching a film and having no idea what you’re going to get in terms of a story. The last time I felt like that with an American film was Liberty Heights. And even though I had a rough idea what Over the Rainbow was about, I still got to experience it fresh. The only other way–besides foreign films–to get this feeling tends to be the “forgotten classic.” Wild River being my perfect example of that experience.

Warren Ellis, a decent comic book writer, said that he wasn’t all that impressed with Korean films because they were like Hollywood films, only not made by committee. Or something to that effect. I agree to a point, but Korean films seem to still love cinematic storytelling. They’re still excited about it. When Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” and you lay it over some action, there’s power to it. Same with “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” which the film does in another scene. Both these songs, if they appeared in an American film, would likely be redone by Madonna or Jennifer Lopez or something. They’d be jokes. Ha ha, look at these sentimental fools. The sentimental has an important place in cinema. The most sentimental moment in American cinema in last–what, ten years?–came in Magnolia of all films. Certainly not regularly recognized for its sentimentality.

Over the Rainbow is a good example of exuberant, rewarding filmmaking. With one exception (the shitty cop/English Patient movie), all the Korean films I’ve seen are exuberantly made, in love with medium. So, I can’t say if you see one Korean film, see Over the Rainbow. But if you see three….



Written and directed by Ahn Jin-woo; director of photography, Kim Yeong-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Clarence Hui; released by Kang Je-Kyu Film Co. Ltd.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Lee Jin-su), Jang Jin-young (Kang Yeong-hie), Kong Hyeong-jin (Kim Young-min), Jung Chan (Choi Sang-in) and Uhm Ji-won (Kim Eun-song).

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