Jung-jae Lee

Assassination (2015, Choi Dong-hoon)

Assassination is not effortless. Director Choi makes it look effortless, whether he’s doing an intricate action sequence or one of the film’s many complicated expository scenes. But then there’s also the entire structure of the film, which opens with one character as protagonist, slowly moves to another, but keeps the initial character around as antagonist. All of the film’s storytelling gymnastics work because Choi actually wants to let his actors impress, not the plot machinations.

The script, from Choi and Lee Ki-cheol, is phenomenally constructed. Assassination is about Korean freedom fighters–in 1933–plotting to assassinate a Japanese general and a collaborating Korean businessman. There’s all sorts of double-crossing, all sorts of complications. Choi takes his time with what should otherwise be contrivances, working the scenes–in no small part thanks to some beautiful photography from Kim Woo-hyung–until he finds the honesty in them. Choi, through his direction and he and Lee’s script, wants the viewer to understand what Assassination is doing and how it’s getting there. There’s a sincerity, which lets contrivances pass, but there’s also the acting.

Great performances all around. Jun Ji-hyun, Ha Jung-woo and Lee Jung-jae are the leads, but it takes the film a while to get them all introduced. Assassination runs almost two and a half hours and couldn’t really be any shorter. When Choi does run into problems, it’s because he can’t go twice as long. But the supporting cast is all great too–especially Oh Dal-su and Jo Jin-woong.

Only in the last few minutes of the film does Choi go too far. He knows he can do it, but his victory lap–which is a combination of that sincerity towards the filmmaking and letting his actors show their considerable talent–is one too many. I’m not sure where Choi could’ve taken Assassination to maintain the sublimeness he finds in combining period espionage and action and, although I wish he’d found it, he brings the film to an uneven, but considerably successful conclusion.

Assassination is excellent, epic filmmaking. Somewhat odd title though. A little too on the nose.



Directed by Choi Dong-hoon; written by Choi and Lee Ki-cheol; director of photography, Kim Woo-hyung; edited by Sin Min-kyeong; music by Jang Young-gyu and Dalparan; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Ahn Soo-hyun and Choi; released by Showbox.

Starring Jun Ji-hyun (An Ok-yun), Ha Jung-woo (Hawaii Pistol), Lee Jung-jae (Yeom Seok-jin), Jo Jin-woong (Sok-sapo), Choi Duek-mun (Hwang Dok-sam), Oh Dal-su (Young-gam), Heo Ji-won (Myeong-Woo), Lee Kyoung-young (Kang In-Gook), Kim Eui-sung (the butler), Park Byung-eun (Kawaguchi) and Kim Hae-suk (the bar owner).

Typhoon (2005, Kwak Kyung-taek)

Typhoon is the biggest budgeted South Korean film to date. The money’s well spent, as the film looks like any big budget film. If there are any massive amounts of CG, they’d be at the end, during the storm, which happens at night, making things a lot easier. However, the budget can’t fix any of Typhoon’s problems, since they’re all from the writer-director, Kwak Kyung-Taek, apparently thinks GoldenEye is the action movie template to follow. Had Typhoon just been a remake of GoldenEye in a Korean context, I wouldn’t have complained… because GoldenEye was at least stimulating. Typhoon takes the structure of GoldenEye and some other Bond films and removes all the wit, however forced, and replaces it with moroseness. Typhoon is a would-be heavy film, but it doesn’t even fail to be heavy, it’s just too fake.

The film’s soullessness is peculiar, because it’s almost unique. It’s not a dumb American action movie–though it tries at times and fails because Kwak cannot direct exciting scenes–and it doesn’t want to be (the heavy elements). It wants to be something in between and can’t make it, because Kwak’s script is awful. His characters are entirely flat and go through the exceptionally long two hour film with about enough depth for ten minutes. None of the actors have any fun. Jang Dong-Kun, as the bad guy, doesn’t have any flourishes or any real personality… except he really and truly cares for his men–oh, Kwak also really likes Heat, more on that “influence” later. I was excited to see Typhoon because Lee Jung-Jae’s in it and he’s not particularly prolific and I can truly say I’ve never seen a more bored performance. Lee’s character is the most shallow–imagine a not cocky Tom Cruise action hero–and Lee the actor’s so visibly disinterested, you wish he could just get killed off. The only scenes of interest involve Jang’s sister and then both he and Lee perk up a little. The scenes between the two of them, when Kwak pretends they’re alter egos, produce the film’s most eye-rolling moments. The rest of the time it’s boring, which might mean the eye-rolling scenes are actually more engaging–my first use of engaging as a pejorative.

Frighteningly, Typhoon did get me interested in seeing Martin Campbell’s upcoming Casino Royale, just because if I want to see a pseudo-heavy James Bond movie, I’ll see a pseudo-heavy James Bond movie. It’s also got me terrified of Kwak’s other films, as at least one of them is on my to-watch list.



Written and directed by Kwak Kyung-taek; director of photography, Hong Kyeng-pyo; edited by Park Simon Kwang-il; production designer, Jeon In-han; produced by Park Seong-keon and Yang Joong-kyueng; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Jang Dong-gun (Choi Myong Sin), Lee Mi-yeon (Choi Myeong Ju) and Lee Jung-jae (Kang Se-jong).

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).

An Affair (1998, Lee Je-yong)

After Asako in Ruby Shoes, I had high hopes for An Affair, Lee’s first film. Seeing one film, then going back and watching earlier films from the same director can be odd. You’re watching the blossoming in reverse. I’m trying to think of someone whose first films aren’t good. An Affair is good, it’s just not as good as Asako. It came really close to being… close to Asako, but Lee’s powerful visualization isn’t fully realized in An Affair. He has wonderful framing–there’s one particular scene, when the two people having the affair are walking along a lake and their motion pulls the camera… until the end the shot, they’re in control of the camera, not the director. The sound design is the most striking. Every one in the film works to create the mood. The music’s also important, but the sound design is more masterful. Everything hasn’t come together yet. He doesn’t understand just how important he make his shots.

More, however, the film’s problems come from the screenplay. For the first half of the film, the cuckold is poorly defined. He’s a successful architect… he works too much… blah blah blah. In the second half, of course, we learn he’s harboring deep feelings for a coworker (and has been for years) and suppresses them to keep his marriage together. He reacts to his suspicions in wonderful ways… ways the character in the first half wasn’t capable of realizing. The boyfriend, played by Lee Jung-Jae, who’s usually great, is an enigma for the first half of the film. It could have been a stalker movie during the seduction. Lee (the actor), in all of his other films, realizes these conflicted characters, and here he’s got his armed tied behind his back… (by Lee, the director). The film hides the character and his intentions from the audience, which is not a good thing to do.

Lee Mi-suk, the wife, gives the film’s best performance because it’s her film. She’s quiet and her performance is a perfect performance for (the director) Lee’s style–it synthesizes with the rest of An Affair. Lee Jung-Jae’s doesn’t (again, not all his fault), but it needed to do so. Together, however, the two leads are wonderful. They play very well off each other and, in the early scenes, the ominous air about the boyfriend begins to make one wary of the film. You can’t trust the film and a film like this one–(it’s long… it’s boring… it’s that good boring I love so much… it’s a lengthy 108 minutes)–you need to be able to trust it.

An Affair is a good film, made by a great director who wasn’t quite ready on the writing. But, he had a co-writer, so… who knows….



Directed by Lee Je-yong; written by Lee and Kim Dae-woo; director of photography, Kim Yeong-cheol; edited by Ham Sung-won; music by Jo Sung-woo; produced by Lee Se-Ho and Oh Jung-Wan; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Lee Mi-suk (Seo-hyun), Lee Jung-jae (U-in), Kim Min (Ji-hyun), Song Young-chang (Jun-il) and Lee Woo-hyun (Jin-soo).

Asako in Ruby Shoes (2000, Lee Je-yong)

I’m a fan of Korean films. My introduction to the industry and my love for it is well documented here at The Stop Button, or at least it will be as soon as I get the archives up and going (next month, hopefully). And I’ve seen some great Korean films. I’ve seen some good ones too, but I have seen a couple great ones. But they were great comedies. These films manage to combine romantic comedy with the human heart in conflict with itself better than any American film has done since… well, I can’t even think of one off the top of my head, but I’ll bet it was in black and white. In other words, as of yesterday, I had never seen a great Korean romantic drama. The ones I had seen, some were good, some were just all right (I’ve yet to turn off a Korean film)….

I made a note to myself at the beginning of Asako in Ruby Shoes: “Films that start with the musical score over the production company logos… it’s a bold move.” Such a movie either signals something awful–bold because it’s obnoxious–or something else. If it weren’t for Asako, I wouldn’t have an example of something else. It means you’re establishing the film with its music before it begins… you’re not giving the viewer a moment outside the context of your film. Its literary equivalent is telling some of your story in the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data information.

There were moments–about an hour in–when I thought Asako was going to fail. Well, not fail, but slope down and level off at two and a half or three. The film had just moved back to one story-line from another and the intensity lessened. Except–I realized at the end of Asako–Lee knows what he’s doing. I found I was waiting for the end, for example, to see how good he was going to do, not hoping for it not to fail too much. That sensation is exciting, since I don’t have it very often. Maybe with Bringing Out the Dead, since I’d forgotten its ending, I got excited. It doesn’t happen often enough.

It’s hard to describe the film though and it’s a shitty one to write-up in a lot of ways, because there’s no easy way for one to see it. Actually, I suppose you could join Nicheflix or buy it for eight bucks off eBay. There’s a transfer issue with the DVDs though, so you can’t deinterlace it, which is a pain when you’re watching it on a computer, which wants to deinterlace. (Deinterlacing, generally speaking, is a good idea). So I had to go through a whole process to watch this film–and I was only fifteen minutes in when I discovered how to correct the problem–but those first fifteen minutes were amazing. There’s some other film that kept having these wonderful false endings, where each time you expected it and were happy with it, then they kept getting better and better. I can’t remember what it was or when I saw it.

I’m already at the longest post of the year to date and I haven’t said much about the acting. Both the leads are great. Lee Jung-Jae is famous and I’ve seen a bunch of his stuff (though none of it hinted that he could be as good as he is in Asako). Tachibana Misato is apparently not famous and has two films available through Netflix–both are action movies starring Americans who couldn’t get work here anymore–which is too bad, because her performance is probably the better of the two. And he’s real good. They must be good, I hardly ever mention actors who don’t have some marquee value.

If I didn’t have to get up in four or five hours, I’d watch Asako again. It’s that good. (It’s so good I just used ‘that’ in a lousy way, all for emphasis).



Written, directed and edited by Lee Je-yong; director of photography, Hong Gyeong-pyo; music by Cho Sung-woo; produced by Koo Boo-han; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (U-In), Tachibana Misato (Aya), Awata Urara (Rie) and Kim Min-hie (Mia).

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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