Kim Ji-woon

Doomsday Book (2012, Kim Ji-woon and Yim Pil-sung)

Doomsday Book is three stories about the end of the world. There’s no connection between the stories except the directors; the tone changes wildly between all three.

The first story is a zombie tale with some humor, some religious allegory and some gore. There are a lot of Romero references in it and also the most dynamic lead performance… for a while at least. Ryu Seung-beom plays an unlucky, very sympathetic guy who unknowingly brings about the end of the world. Yim’s direction is good; there’s a mix of absurd humor, romance, horror and large scale destruction.

The second story, from Kim Ji-woon, is very different. Kim Kang-woo plays a robot technician who finds himself conflicted about reporting an sentient robot as defective or not. As a protagonist, Kim Kang-woo is indistinct but it serves the piece. Kim Gyu-ri plays one of the robot’s friends and director Kim Ji-woon beautifully juxtaposes the two characters’ experiences in a small span of time. The ending, which is as “seriously” profound as Doomsday gets, is excellent.

The third story is also profound, but incredibly absurd. Yim is directing again as a meteor approaches the earth and a family tries to prepare for the end. The script’s the strongest element here, with Yim able to make the hilariously absurd real. It’s a delightful mix of Hitchhiker’s and Vonnegut.

Obviously, Doomsday succeeds because of its directors, but getting the downer out of the way first probably helps a bit.



Directed by Kim Ji-woon and Yim Pil-sung; screenplay by Yim, Lee Hwan-hee, Kim Ji-woon and Jang Jong-ah, based in part on a stories by Park Seong-hwan and Park Su-min; directors of photography, Ha Sung-min, Kim Ji-yong and Jo Sang-yoon; edited by Im Seon-gyeong, Mun Se-gyeong and Nam Na-yeong; music by Mowg; produced by Choi Hyeon-muk, Kim Myeong-eun and Oh Yeong-hun; released by Lotte Entertainment.

Starring Ryu Seung-beom (Yoon Seok-woo), Ko Jun-hee (Kim Yoo-min), Kim Kang-woo (Park Do-won), Kim Gyu-ri (Hye-joo), Jin Ji-hee (Park Min-seo), Song Young-chang (Kang Seong-cheol), Kim Seo-hyeong (Min Yu-na), Lee Seung-jun (Min-seo’s father), Yoon Se-ah (Min-seo’s mother), Song Sae-byok (Min-seo’s uncle), Jo Yun-hie (Ji-eun) and Park Hae-il (In-myoung).

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.



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).

The Foul King (2000, Kim Ji-woon)

The Foul King is supposed to be a comedy, but I only laughed once, about an hour in. It’s not about South Korea’s leading stand-up comedian (which I thought it was). It’s about a wrestler who cheats (and gets fouls for that cheating). The film’s structured not around a traditional sports movie, instead it’s about a bank teller who finds himself in the wrestling ring. Except we don’t really know he finds himself, because the film’s storytelling is so distant, it’s hard to care about him.

The first hour of the film is spent abusing the narrator–he’s got a boss who beats him, he gets beat up by thugs, his father can’t stand him, his only friend avoids him, he’s no good at his job–all the time building toward his wrestling success. The wrestling success may or may not get there in the end, it’s not clear. From what I can tell, the audience is supposed to be laughing, not particularly caring about the characters or the film’s content. Song Kang-ho is a big Korean star, but his performance is adequate at best. There are no good or bad performances in Foul King, actually. The film doesn’t care about having good or bad performances, it cares about surveying its “story.” If it weren’t for the measured film editing–shots last twenty seconds or so–Foul King would run about thirty-five minutes. There’s an entire subplot involving the boss trying to corrupt the friend, which may or may not be an attempt at juxtaposition, but it’s so poorly handled–it’s a strain to figure out what’s going on–it fails miserably.

I just realized I’ve never seen Song in a good film, in fact, he’s in about thirty percent of the bad Korean films I’ve seen. I wonder if there’s a connection. At least the final wrestling match moves, as the rest of the film doesn’t.



Written and directed by Kim Ji-woon; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Goh Im-pyo; music by UhUhBoo Project; produced by Oh Jung-wan and Lee Mi-yeon; released by bom Film.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Dae-ho), Jang Jin-young (Jang Min-young), Kim Su-ro (Yu Bee-ho) and Shin Goo (Dae-ho’s father).

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