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Bluebeard (2017, Lee Soo-youn)

Bluebeard runs just under two hours. The last forty-five minutes of it basically undo–or seem to undo–everything in the first seventy-five minutes. Writer and director Lee doesn’t want to answer the questions the film’s mysteries raise, but reveal entirely new mysteries with entirely new answers. With some exception.

It’s a shame, because until that point–and there’s a very definite point when Bluebeard jumps off the track–it’s a rather outstanding thriller.

Down on his luck, recently divorced doctor Jo Jin-woong moves into a crummy little apartment and discovers his landlords might be infamous serial killers. He’s not entirely sure about it, but more and more evidence comes to light, whether he pokes around or not.

Lee composes these wide shots, with fantastic photography by Uhm Hye-jung, where Jo finds himself reluctantly finding out more and more. Especially when one of the landlords, Kim Dae-myung, starts buddying up with him. There’s this palable danger, which Kim Sun-min’s editing helps with immensely.

It’s just a shame Lee’s script is, after that seventy-five minute mark, nothing but a combination of trite, predictable, and manipulative. Not even Kim Sun-min’s editing withstands the film’s plummet in quality. Uhm’s photography weathers it, though Lee’s composition quickly fails. There’s the first directing approach, the second directing approach, then an even more narratively ill-advised third approach. Stylistically, the second approach is bad. The composition, even Lee’s direction of the actors, which had previously been fine, everything goes. All of the newly introduced script elements, which simultaneously try to surprise and reveal, are a mess. Had Lee paced out reveals better, it might have helped. Probably not, just because all the reveals are inane, but at least Bluebeard wouldn’t immediately lose it’s momentum.

The script failures even drag down Jo, who’s excellent when Bluebeard is actually suspenseful and not a trite thriller. Similarly, the narrative eventually trashes everyone else’s performance, though Kim Dae-myung’s okay enough throughout. Lee Chung-ah suffers the most (besides Jo, of course).

It’s a shame Bluebeard doesn’t deliver on any of its many promises, though it could be a lot worse. Lee has many worse instincts and impulses, she forecasts them throughout the picture. After almost forty minutes of the film hemorrhaging goodwill and good ideas, Lee throws on an epilogue sequence in way of a bandage. It does slow the bleeding, but it can’t stop it, much less seal any of Lee’s later incisions.

Bluebeard shouldn’t just be better, it should be good. For more than half its runtime, it’s good; then Lee decides to flush it all for some manipulative, ostentatious reveals. She can’t direct them or write them, the actors can’t act her script, and Kim Sun-min can’t cut them into good scenes.

The film ends up a race to end before completely imploding.



Written and directed by Lee Soo-yeon; director of photography, Uhm Hye-jung; edited by Kim Sun-min; music by Jeong Yong-jin; production designer, Lee Soon-sung; produced by Cho Jeong-jun; released by Lotte Entertainment.

Starring Jo Jin-woong (Seung-hoon), Kim Dae-Myung (Sung-geun), Lee Chung-ah (Mi-yeon), Yoon Se-ah (Soo-jung), Shin Goo (Sung-geun’s Father), and Song Young-chang (Jo Kyung-hwan).

Memories of the Sword (2015, Park Heung-sik)

Memories of the Sword has two, very simple problems. The first is director Park. He’s bad at directing this film. It’s not clear he’s bad at directing films, but he’s bad at directing Memories of the Sword. He fundamentally doesn’t understand action scenes, which means he doesn’t understand how to do the first act of the film. Given Park co-wrote the film, there’s a fundamental disconnect. None of his instincts are right on Sword.

Except maybe trusting Lee Byung-hun so much. Lee is a great villain. He goes from being a somewhat lame villain to being a great one. He even overshadows Jeon Do-yeon as his Juliet, which is surprising because whenever Jeon is around I wish Sword were actually a female, Korean version of Zatoichi. Oh, right. Jeon’s blind. Because tragedy.

Memories of the Sword is bloated melodrama. Park and co-writer Choi Ah-reum go for the jugular every time, usually because Park thinks he can get away with cheapness by cutting from the action. He has way too much confidence in editor Oh Myoung-jun, who can’t make these transitions work. Because Oh’s not particularly good editor and Memories often has dumb stylistic choices. The movie runs two hours but only because every other shot in the last fifteen minutes is in slow motion.

Because tragedy.

But there’s only one tragedy to Memories of the Sword. Ostensible lead Kim Go-eun. Lee and Jeon shouldn’t be the focus, Lee shouldn’t be the main character. Except Park is incompetent and Memories of the Sword goes from being a movie about a girl raised to avenge her parents finally getting to avenge her parents–with martial arts and sword-fighting–to this soap opera for Lee. Political intrigue and occasional fist fights. The film abandons Kim by the second half and she’s supposed to be the protagonist. She’s supposed to be the hero.

It’s impossible to gauge Kim’s performance. The script’s so bad. She does okay. She makes it through the film. Though it’s no one’s fault except Park’s. He can’t make this movie; except somehow the albatross moves. Lee’s story should be tedious. It’s not. It’s not interesting, but it’s not tedious. Because Lee does a good job. He’s what gets Memories of the Sword to the finish line.

Nice photography from Kim Byung-seo. Mowg’s music is saccharine but completely appropriate.

The film’s a bumpy ride; it starts better than it finishes, but it finishes better than it could have. Even with all the lame slow motion.



Directed by Park Heung-sik; written by Park and Choi Ah-reum; director of photography, Kim Byung-seo; edited by Oh Myoung-jun; music by Mowg; production designer, Han Ah-reum; produced by Kim Hyun-chol; released by Lotte Entertainment.

Starring Lee Byung-hun (Yoo-baek), Jeon Do-yeon (Wallso), Kim Go-eun (Hong-ee), Lee Jun-Ho (Yull), Kim Tae-woo (Jon-bok), Bae Soo-bin (Poong-chun) and Lee Kyeong-yeong (Teacher).

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).

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).

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