Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hong Sang-Soo & Korean Cinema

A few days back I traveled to Toronto to catch a double bill by Hong Sang-Soo, often called the leading auteur of present-day Korean cinema. He’s made six films since his debut a decade ago, and I saw his two most recent, Woman Is The Future Of Man (2004) and Tale Of Cinema (2005). Double bills, especially by the same filmmaker, are always fun to examine for their mirrorings and continuities and it was especially the case here. I started to enumerate the connections between the films, then ran across an article by Akira Mizuta Lippit in Film Quarterly which characterized Hong's films far better than I could ever hope to:

Each film returns to a set of familiar features: a young male protagonist, usually an intellectual or artist, once successful, now in steady decline; ambivalent friendships; unrequited affections that generate triangulated romances; infidelity; some type of journey, not far in distance but invested in symbolic value; chance encounters that turn out to be overdetermined, seemingly predetermined, and, from a realist narrative standpoint, implausible; a frustrated and frustrating inability among the characters to communicate directly, or rather to communicate successfully; which leads in turn to scenes of sustained drinking often followed by violent sexual intercourse.

The two movies I saw were both tantalizingly doubled. Stories were told twice; events were echoed; mistakes were repeated; a perpetual déjà vu was in effect. To kick this up a notch, Hong’s movies seem acutely aware of the duality of art and life: both films contained male characters who could be alter egos—or critiques—of the filmmaker/artist. Tale Of Cinema actually contained two such figures, one “in film” and the other “in reality”. The apparently casual geometries of his films seem in fact to be very carefully created, though with a light and unmelodramatic touch. These are deceptively simple movies, requiring—demanding—repeat viewings.

Which reminds me that my viewings of Korean cinema have been embarrassingly sparse. Not that there’s a reason for it. After all, I’ve read every word Filmbrain has ever written on his blog since he started it, and Korean film has recently gotten the kind of attention that Iran and Taiwan did in the eighties and nineties. In addition to Hong's, I’ve seen one film by Im Kwon-Taek (Chunhyang; liked it); two by Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall… and 3-Iron; preferred the former—the latter was a bit too Tsai-like, but interesting); and nothing by Park Chan-Wook (I know, I know...).

So, this novice looks to you for recommendations of Korean movies. I'd appreciate any suggestions you may have.


Blogger girish said...

New season at the Cinematheque in Toronto.
If you click on the links, you'll find essays and film descriptions.

March 07, 2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

MZS on J. Hoberman's article on The New World in the new Village Voice.

March 07, 2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great week at Netflix for new releases.
Just added these to my queue:
--3 Suzukis including ZIGEUNERWEISEN
--Otto Preminger's FALLEN ANGEL
--Raymond Depardon's TENTH DISTRICT COURT
--THE THING CALLED LOVE, which Aaron Graham wrote about recently.

March 07, 2006 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Save the Green Planet! is great.

Steve Shaviro

March 07, 2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Steve.

Here's Nicholas Rombes on "soft cinema" and Kiarostami's Ten.

March 07, 2006 10:29 PM  
Blogger Mark Asch said...

The best Korean movie I've seen so far (out of far too few) is Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy, if you can track it down anywhere- I saw it at a Lincoln Center retro and am pretty sure it's not available on DVD. The two of Kim's you saw are probably his best, though The Isle is worth if if only to say "yeah, I saw the fishhook movie." And I'll second Save the Green Planet!. As for Park Chan-wook, far be it from me to recommend you not see some of the more discussed movies of recent years for yourself, but... nobody's holding a gun to your head, if you catch my drift.

As an aside, I saw Woman Is the Future of Man this weekend and loved it; I'll be writing a little about it when I have a chance.

March 07, 2006 11:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm curious about which of Park's films is appropriate to begin with: Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, or Oldboy, or some other.

March 07, 2006 11:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Mark, I just saw your message. Save The Green Planet it is....Just checked, and Peppermint Candy is not at Netflix.

March 07, 2006 11:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Mark, my increasing squeamishness (as I get older) pretty much rules out the "fishhook" movie!

I'm not a purist or anything about avoiding graphic content (I love Cronenberg) but there has to be a really good reason for it, and then it totally works.

March 07, 2006 11:54 PM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

Girish, The Isle is not as bad as a viewer predisposed to its content might mentally make it out to be - it's shocking, but tolerable. But basically, you've seen the best Kim Ki-Duk has to offer already.

The only Hong San-Soo film I've seen is The Turning Gate, which I loved - I'm anxious to catch up.

I'd be interested in your opinion of Park's work - I didn't like Oldboy much, but I really liked Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

My favorite Korean film in recent memory is Lee Chang Dong's Oasis. And once you see that, you also have to see A Good Lawyer's Wife, if for no other reason than to marvel at the astounding range of lead actress Moon So-Ri.

March 08, 2006 12:10 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, David. Of the four Hongs I've seen, Turning Gate might be my favorite, though not by a huge distance. (They're all really good.) And I need to re-view them.
Just added Oasis to the Queue.

March 08, 2006 12:22 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Tell Me Something by Chang Yoon-hyun
Shiri by Kang Je-Gyu
Momento Mori

I've also been seeing Korean films based on Filmbrain's choices. I also do like Kim Ki-duk, especially The Isle. 3-Iron may be the finest film ever about golf.

Spider Forest is now available on R1.

All of the above are at Netflix.

March 08, 2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Korean cinema is great even for mainstream movies, no need to look for obscur works. They are really impressive.

Oh! Soo-jung is Hong's best, and most interesting multilayered structure. You'll love it if you haven't seen it yet.

I guess Kim ki-duk's violence wont be your cup of tea. The Isle (my favorite) is not technically gore but the physical injury suggested is more difficult to cope with than a stylized blown up head.
The two you've seen don't give a good indication on the violence developped in his others.

I bet you won't like Park's graphic violence. His latest Sympathy for Lady Vangeance is probably the most tolerable, but also the weaker of the trilogy. IMHO. The other 2 are really violent, and it's not even a worthwhile study of pain (like The Isle can be).

Definitely Oasis!
A Good Lawyer's Wife was really boring to me though.

I suggest you Im Kwon-Taek's Chihwaseon (unconventional period biopic of a korean painter), but others disagree with this preference I noticed.
His latest was a step down, too classic.

I thought Peppermint Candy overstated a little too much its narrative gimmick ultimately. The backward storytelling makes original a story that is not.

March 08, 2006 1:33 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Not mentioned yet, but I'm also fond of Park Ki-yong's films, particularly Camel(s), but also Motel Cactus. His films are about loneliness and not being able to connect with people, partly out of culture, but also out of emotional "closedness". Another in this vein is Christmas in August, which is also worth tracking down.

Not a big fan of either Park Chan-wook or Kim Ki-duk, but I'd agree with Harry that Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is the "tamest" and wryly funny, if a bit light. The only Kim film that absolutely love is Samaritan Girl, which has a degree of violence, but also a transcendence without resorting to his trite, quasi-enlightenment, pretty picture clichés of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring.

I prefer Hong Sang-soo or Lee Chang-dong, but I basically like all of their films, except for Lee's Green Fish which features a pretty sappy acting from the lead actor. I'd agree with Harry that Hong's best film is Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors., but I disagree with him on Lee's Peppermint Candy which I think is pretty interesting film (1) stylistically because he uses reverse chronology at the same time that people went ga-ga over the "novelty" of the same technique Memento, and (2) because it was the first time that a film dealt with the 1980 Kwangju massacre openly. Anyway, I'd rate Hong and Lee's films in this order:

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors and The Power of Kangwon Province
The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, A Tale of Cinema
Woman is the Future of Man,
The Turning Gate - his lightest, I think.

Peppermint Candy
Green Fish - the word "ham" comes to mind. :)

March 08, 2006 2:37 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Not much to add but I'd just like to second most of what Acquarello said (not that I need to!). There are huge, embarrassing gaps in my Korean cinema viewings (haven't even gotten around to Im Kwon-taek's Seopyeonje, which is available on DVD), but Hong Sang-soo is the Korean filmmaker I admire the most (like many others here). Haven't seen Turning Gate yet but I've loved whatever else I've seen by him (favourites are Virgin Stripped Bare... and The Power of Kangwon Province). Camel(s) is one of my favourite Korean films too. I just can't resist its monochromic melancholy (the nighttime scenes shot on black-and-white digital video have an amazing texture of their own), and look forward to seeing Park's Motel Cactus. Also, I find Im Kwon-taek's Chunhyang to be a beautiful and challenging work that recalls Mizoguchi at its best moments (though I know some who find its sung pansori narration annoying), and I prefer it to the only other Im I've seen (Chihwaseon).

My copy of Peppermint Candy is part of the Lee Chang-dong boxset, which also includes the impressive Oasis and the underwhelming Green Fish (not to mention loads of extra features, but all in Korean!).

March 08, 2006 4:32 AM  
Anonymous Milo said...

Hi girish, long time reader, first time commenter here. I've seen all of Hong Sang-soo's films, and although I wouldn't call any of them a masterpiece, somehow each one of his I see makes me make more sense of his others.

After having seen close to a hundred Korean films at this point, the following are the ones I gladly recommend at every opportunity I get, simply beautiful:
- Take Care Of My Cat
- Happy End
- This Charming Girl
- My Mother, The Mermaid
- Oasis
- I Wish I Had A Wife
- Nabi
- Flower Island
- Feathers In The Wind
- Someone Special

March 08, 2006 7:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I like this deal. Start a blog, yell, and by morning you find a bunch of great ideas on your doorstep. Awesome.

Thank you, all!

Peter--"3-Iron may be the finest film ever about golf." You mean: better than....Caddyshack?!

Harry--Combining what you and Acquarello said, I'm assuming Oh! Soo-Jung is the French title for Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors. (How ironic, given that Duchamp himself was French!).
I just got the film on DVD but haven't seen it yet; it's the only Hong on DVD in the US.

Acquarello--I'd love to see Camel(s); I've heard a lot about it. Now I remember: Susan Oxtoby did a Korean cinema series about six years ago in Toronto and I caught Motel Cactus there. And also...Green Fish, which left me underwhelmed.
Your Hong rankings are interesting. I'd have to agree that Turning Gate is the most accessible of his films I've seen. Doug wrote recently saying that his favorite is also Virgin Stripped Bare.

Mubarak--I liked Chunhyang as well, and recommended it to friends. Such a visual treat. Oddly: the pansori musical narration bugged every single person I talked to about it, though I didn't think it was annoying. Maybe those intervals are a little more bothersome to non-Eastern ears, I don't know....I've had people ask me a few minutes into a raga, "So, when's that chord gonna change?", to which you have no option but to reply, "Um, it doesn't."

March 08, 2006 7:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Milo, I'm glad you decided to comment. You're right about each Hong film illuminating the others a little bit more. That's been my experience too.
And thanks for reminding me of Take Care Of My Cat. A marvelous movie.

March 08, 2006 7:25 AM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

I haven't seen enough Korean films to come close to feeling like I have any idea what it's about. I like what I've seen - but it's been heavy on the blood and guts, probably because those are the films that turn up at the rep houses. Anyway - Memories of Murder is quite remarkable policier... I think Park Chan-wook deserves the credit he gets - partly because of the way his style shifts around to tell different stories. I've seen three and a third of his films, and they all look and feel different, while covering similar themes - it's impressive.

March 08, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Sam--Memories Of Murder just went on the Netflix queue...

So, Darren got his turntable. Fast work.

March 08, 2006 7:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Proto disco post+mp3's at Soul Sides.

March 08, 2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Jim Tata on Robert Towne.

March 08, 2006 8:16 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Caddyshack versus 3-Iron? I'm probably in the minority but I thought 3-Iron was actually funnier. If Kim ever made an English language movie though, Bill Murray would probably be perfect.

By the way, not to be a mood killer but along with the passing of Gordon Parks, Walerian Borowczyk also died.

March 08, 2006 8:25 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter: "I'm probably in the minority but I thought 3-Iron was actually funnier."
But methinks: not the parts that involved golf!

March 08, 2006 8:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Interesting articles about Hong's films:
--On the Koreanfilm page I linked to in my post, there are links to pieces by Filmbrain, Acquarello, Adam Hartzell, etc.
--The Film Quarterly essay I quoted from.
--Michael Sicinski on Tale Of Cinema in Cinemascope.
Pl. feel free to add others if you like.

March 08, 2006 10:31 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

In the world of Asian horror films, the Koreans are notorious for producing rip-offs. I myself haven't seen enough of them to say.

Tell Me Something (1999) was a Korean rip-off of SE7EN. The ending falls off a little bit (as is typical in Asian horror), but there are some great eerie scenes involving trash bags full of body parts turning up all over town.

Here are some movies I've heard good things about, but I haven't seen them myself:

* Barking Dogs Never Bite
* Crying Fist
* Failan
* Git
* Joint Security Area
* Marriage Is a Crazy Thing
* Memories of Murder
* My Sassy Girl
* No Comment
* Nowhere to Hide
* One Fine Spring Day
* The President’s Last Bang
* Welcome to Dongmakgol
* When Spring Comes
* Windstruck

March 08, 2006 10:45 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

I forgot. Memento Mori is the English title to Yeogo goedam II, since it is the sequel to the 1998 hit Yeogo goedam (1998), aka Whispering Corridors, directed by Ki-Hyung Park. Both are girls school ghost stories, in the mode of Suspiria (1977).

March 08, 2006 10:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Mr. Pop View!

March 08, 2006 10:59 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

This conversation is giving me a thought...

If you're looking for a blog-a-thon, what about the films of Johnny To?

March 08, 2006 11:19 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Actually, I haven't seen a thing by Johnny To. Care to recommend any?

March 08, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Girish — Re: Tata's blog on Robert Towne. I've also posted on him at: roundheadedboy.blogspot.com.

March 08, 2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh nice. And here's the post link that people can use.

March 08, 2006 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Aahhh....a thread very dear to my heart.

Some great recommendations so far. I've got a list of an "essential ten" at home that I'll post later tonight, though many (if not all) have been suggested here.

As for the title of Virgin Stripped Bare. . ., the Korean title of the film is Oh! Soo-jung, referring of course to the titular virgin. FYI, the actress who played Soo-jung, Lee Eun-ju, killed herself last year. Nobody knows for sure why she did it, though some claim her role in her last film, The Scarlet Letter, had something to do with it. (Personally, I doubt it.)

March 08, 2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I've only seen a few To films, the one I liked most is The Mission. Andrew Grossman has a good article on the filmmaker and his cultural place up here.

March 08, 2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

My favorite Johnnie To film is a Hero never Dies. The perfect blend of a goofy over-the-top Hong Kong hitman film and a serious drama. There's an 8-film tribute to To's studio, Milkyway Image, at this year's Hong Kong Film festival (something I'd love to see tour internationally!) but it's not among the selections. My favorite Milkyway film is the jawdropping Too Many Ways to be #1 (which last I checked was available through greencine but not netflix) directed by To's collaborator Wai Ka-Fei.

The Grossman piece Zack linked to is excellent, but now somewhat out of date, as the directions To's taken in more recent years are really interesting. On the one hand he's making ever-more serious critical pieces like PTU and the just-out-on-DVD Breaking News (which I wrote a bit on recently), and on the other he's co-directing increasingly wacky films with Wai like My Left Eye Sees Ghosts and Running on Karma. I still need to catch up with Election, especially now that Election 2 is on the horizon.

As for Korean cinema, I don't think I have anything to say that others haven't today, but I would like to second Peppermint Candy (my favorite Korean film so far), Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (my favorite Hong film so far) and Memento Mori (my favorite Korean genre film so far).

March 08, 2006 3:39 PM  
Anonymous sacha said...

I'm always getting here too late in the game--I would suggest The Good Lawyer's Wife, but I see it's already been discussed.

March 08, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

About Breaking News, make that "just out on American-release DVD" as I've had a Hong Kong import for something like a year.

March 08, 2006 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

While Tell Me Something has similarities to Se7en, it also goes into other interesting directions.

Another Korean film I liked was Lies by Jang Sun Woo.

I wrote about A Tale of the Cinema on 1/9 and two To films on 2/26.

A To blog-a thon might be interesting, but after Ferrera, I think it should be "lady's choice", and Campaspe's proposal of Lana Turner.

March 08, 2006 3:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Look: lots more ideas!

Running out the door to go take students to a dinner event with employers/businesspeople, which might (we're hoping) help them on the internship/job front. Shall return; make yourselves at home.

March 08, 2006 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Here's a Korean cinema top ten that I put together for a friend a few months ago. There are several important films that aren't on the list simply because they don't exist on DVD (eg. The Housemaid). There are also no Hong Sang-soo titles, for all of them are mandatory viewing.

In no particular order:

HAPPY END (1999, Chung Ji-woo)
SEOPYEONJE (1993, Im Kwon-taek)
THE AIMLESS BULLET (1960, Yoo Hyun-mok)
PEPPERMINT CANDY (1999, Lee Chang-dong)
GREEN CHAIR (2005, Park Chul-soo)
FAILAN (2001, Song Hye-sung)
SPRING IN MY HOMETOWN (1998, Lee Kwang-mo)
CAMEL(S) – (2002, Park Ki-yong)
A GOOD LAWYER’S WIFE (2003, Im Sang-soo)

Two additional titles that could very well be on the list – SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and MEMORIES OF MURDER.

I avoided, for no particular reason, any of the “big” films like MUSA, TAEGUKGI, or SLIMIDO. Not that they are bad films, but I don’t find them to be that special.

As more older, classic titles are released, the list will no doubt change, but for now it’s pretty solid.

March 08, 2006 8:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Re: my dinner, suffice it to say: I do not enjoy schmoozing...

Thank you, Filmbrain, for that list. I recall seeing Spring In My Hometown and loving it. But it's the only one I've seen on your list. I look forward to the others...

Thanks everyone for all the Korean and Johnny To suggestions. Please feel free to add other titles below if you like.

March 08, 2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, here's a read or two.
Caveh Zahedi's blog.
via Chuck.

March 08, 2006 10:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Mark Asch on Woman Is The Future Of Man.

March 08, 2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

It's never too early to look forward to TIFF:
They just announced the opening film.

March 08, 2006 10:39 PM  
Blogger Mark Asch said...

Aw, thanks, I show up to check the comments, and there I am. Anyway, Re: Lee Chang-dong, if we're still on the subject, I didn't know there was a box set; that's actually kind of exciting and I hope Kim's gets it. I think the backwards storytelling gimmick actually works very well in Peppermint Candy- the movie gets a lot of mileage out of the juxtaposition of the growing pains of both the protagonist and the national backdrop.

As for a Johnnie To recommendation (I'm most of the way through the chunk of his that I've Netflixed and will probably write about him pretty soon), I think Running Out of Time is the most enjoyable introduciton to the kind of flash he can pull off. (It also indicates pretty clearly the ways in which he's liable to go wrong- like in Breaking News and PTU- without sliding into them.) Also, Runnning On Karma = Andy Lau as a lapsed Buddhist monk turned stripper named "Big," complete with full-body flesh-tone Hulk suit. (The religious anxiety of the narrative is, surprisingly, pretty genuine and unresolved.)

March 09, 2006 12:23 AM  
Blogger girish said...

You're welcome, Mark. And thanks for the comments on To. I look forward to your post.

At Culturespace: the new Neko Case record, that we've been awaiting for a few years now.
(If he's reading this: Michael--what are the arrangements like? Just curious.)

March 09, 2006 6:43 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The enviably prolific Brian Darr: "Sorry, Oscar Talk".

March 09, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great article on Crash by Michael Sicinski in Cineaste from last year.

(See: this is what I mean!
From now on, whenever we say Crash, we're going to mean the damn Paul Haggis film and not the Cronenberg film, whose erasure from the public consciousness, if indeed it was imprinted there for long, will only occur that much faster...)

March 09, 2006 6:58 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Interview with Norman Mailer at nerve.com.

March 09, 2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Perhaps a Cronenberg/Crash blog-a-thon would be an appropriate wake-up call.

I'd gladly revisit that lengthy scar running down Rosanna's thigh...

March 09, 2006 7:21 AM  
Anonymous Michael Kerpan said...

Obviously all of Hong's films are recommendable -- if forced to pick favorites, I'd go with "Virgin" and "Power of Kangwon Province".

PARK Chan-ok's "Jealousy Is My Middle Name" is a sort of more someber, more feminist take on the kind of tale Hong tells (she was an assistant director to Hong).

BONG Joon-ho's work so far has been excellent. First -- the unclassifiable "Barking Dogs Never Biter" (starring the remarkable BAE Doo-na) -- sort of a screwball (semi-black) comedy, albeit with no romantic link between the male and female leads. Next -- the equally superb "Memories of Murder" -- a sort of combination of police procedural with savage black comedy (and tragedy).

JEONG Jae-eun's "Take Care of My Cart" is the film that actually7 jump-started my passion for Korean cinema. BAE Doo-na heads an excellent cast of young women -- who portray a group of high school friends a year after their graduation. The urban cinematography here (primarily of the unglamorous poort city of Inchon) is also a wonder. Her second film, "The Agrgressives" deals primarily with a group of young men -- fanatic in-line skaters. This has been dissed critically -- mainly I think by people disappointed that Jeong did not make another "Cat". In fact, her second film is well worth seeing.

HUR Jin-ho's first two films were superb. "Christmas in August" might be the best Korean sad romance" film ever -- and calls to mind the work of Ozu and Naruse. His "One Fine Spring Day" is almost as superb. His newest film, "April
Shnow" has gotten a mixed critical reaction. Based on one viewing, I would say this film is another worthy creation, however.

I find LEE Chang-dong's "Oasis" and "Peppermint Candy" to be exceptional films. His "Green Fish" didn't affect me as deeply.

PARK Kwang-su's "A Single Spark" is probably the best "political film" I've seen (miles ahead of Z). Interestingly enough, Lee helped script this and Hur was assistant director -- so a crucial film in a "film historical" sense.

Didn't care for "Spider Forest" -- and loathe PAK Chan-wook -- and can't bring myself to watch KIM KI-duk.

LoOts more to talk about Korean films, obviously....

March 09, 2006 9:41 AM  
Blogger Michael Kerpan said...

On Johnnie To --

I haven't yet seen a stinker from him yet -- even his much-maligned "Breaking News" is brilliant -- if approached from the intended (quite twisted) angle.

Top favorites, the inexpressably weird and great "Running on Karma" and "Throw Down" (a sort of tribute to Kurosawa's "Sugata Sanshiro"). His new "Election" was remarkable -- in terms of both grimness and power. "PTU" is excellent. And I don't care whjat anyone says -- I was impressed by "Yesterday Once More". Many more films to go.

Speaking of great HK directors worthy of far more attention, let's not forget Ann Hui. ;~}

March 09, 2006 9:46 AM  
Anonymous girish said...

Michael--You're quite the connoisseur! And thanks for all your ideas.

Work's a rollercoaster today. Planning to put a post up by tonight.

March 09, 2006 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Wow, this is a post to bookmark for future reference. It's about time that I queued up a bunch of Korean films -- if I can ever get through all of these damn Abel Ferrara movies, that is. ;)

March 09, 2006 3:05 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, I love the way you have a solid conversation every post. And this one, like Darren said, is one for the bookmarks.

March 09, 2006 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, the arrangements on Fox Confessor are interesting. I think they require repeated listenings to get a good sense of what Case is doing. There's a consistent minor-key tone throughout; the instrumentation is rich but not overdone -- arpeggios supporting her voice, riffs on cello, subdued piano (in the first track, for example), and so on. Guitars are prevalent, but always tasty and in the service of the songs. Also, the songs don't really build -- they sort of come and go, like "Dirty Knife," which just moves forward with its story and then ends. Also, most of the tunes don't follow any verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. When they do, Case still subverts them; the title track seems to reach a bridge, but instead of going back to the chorus, it just ends. I really like that. Plus, the songs don't overstay their welcome, which only makes me want to hear them some more. Her songwriting definitely gets better with time.

March 09, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren--Glad to know you're burning thru some Ferraras. :-)
You should see 'R Xmas--I think you might like that one.

Thanks, Tuwa, but I can take no credit. It's the commenters and their generosity with their time that I appreciate.

Michael--The record sounds most appetizing.
I liked the atmosphere on Blacklisted, with its slightly odd and unorthodox instrumental touches (like baritone guitars) and all that ghostly reverb.
I'll be picking up the new one real soon.

March 09, 2006 5:58 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, your humility may prevent you from taking it, but you deserve credit for being such a generous host who always provides something for his readers to think about, and never comes off with a tone of intimidatingly unshakeable authority. You always toss the ball in our court, inviting us to share what we think by the end of the post.

I haven't ever thought of myself as "prolific" before; I guess I've had a lot on my mind lately though.

Sign me up for a Cronenberg Crash Blog-a-Thon! Fantastic idea and timely in many many ways. Its Cannes debut was precisely ten years ago this coming May.

March 09, 2006 7:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Brian. And your prolificacy, let's not forget, also includes the wealth of linkage in your posts. You pick really great 'uns, doing a lot of the archeological work for us.

March 09, 2006 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I just want to mention that the cable channel Flix will have an Altman double feature this Sunday of Gingerbread Man and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Of course I'll be at home that night, watching the season premiere of The Sopranos.

The Sundance Channel is to have show Tartan Asia Extreme movies as noted.

March 09, 2006 9:47 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

"is to have show"? Hard to tell that English is suppose to be my language.

March 09, 2006 9:49 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Brian's on to something, Girish; I doubt it would happen as much if you wrote differently.

March 10, 2006 12:58 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...

If I were on a desert island and could only take one director's films w/ me, (assuming this desert island had a TV, DVD player and an electricity source), it'd be Hong Sangsoo's. I could watch and re-watch his stuff for days and not lose interest. I fluctuate between THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE and TURNING GATE as my favorites. Unless I missed it in my skim of the comments, no one's mentioned his debut, THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL, which had a HUGE impact in South Korea and featured the debut of SK's greatest contemporary actor, Song Kang-ho.

To dovetail Filmbrain's note about the title OH SOO-JUNG!, it has a double-meaning. Along with its eponymous reference to the character played by the (too soon) late Lee Eun-ju, it's also means 'fertilization' in Korean. Marshall Deutelbaum has an interesting article in the Nov. 05 issue of NEW REVIEW OF FILM AND TELEVISION STUDIES where he argues that the film is not a replaying of events but a linear film.

I am so happy to see CAMEL(S) getting its props all over the comments here. That is such a wonderfully paced film. I'm meditating in my head to the unease of the windshield wipers enroute to the airport right now. And ditto on everything everyone's said about MEMORIES OF MURDER, adding that it's also a fascinating historical film as well.

I only watch Kim Ki-duk because I have to. Although I agree with Acquarello that SAMARITAN GIRL is an interesting variant in his ouevre. I'm not ga-ga over Park, but I am definitely entertained by his work, get a lot out of SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, and JSA is one of 2 films I recommend as introduction to KFilm. CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST being the other.

As for great KFilms that haven't been mentioned. I am anxiously waiting the DVD release of INVISIBLE LIGHT by Gina Kim. It's a double narrative of a woman with an eating disorder and a woman contemplating whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Each character's climactic scene (literally in one case) is some of the most powerful stuff I've ever witnessed in a theater. As for old school films, BAREFOOTED YOUTH (Kim Ki-deok, 1964) and MIST (Kim Soo-yong, 1967) are definitely ones to check out at a retrospective near you, or not so near you, having gone to Udine, Italy myself to catch those two films.

March 10, 2006 2:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Adam, Thank you for taking the time to give us your ideas and insights. I''ll link to these comments again in my next post.

And thanks, Tuwa...

March 10, 2006 8:30 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Cool, Invisible Light is coming out on DVD? When? Where? I caught this video along with a short video by another Korean American, Yoo Soon-Mi's Ssitkim: Talking to the Dead at the New York Video Festival a few years ago, and both were highlights in an otherwise lukewarm festival. I was especially taken with Ssitkim, which was something akin to a Chris Marker film on memory, guilt, and re-evaluation of history. It dealt with South Korean atrocities in Vietnam, partly to curry favor with the U.S. during the thick of the Vietnam War.

March 10, 2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger Michael Kerpan said...

According to British authority on Hong Kong cinema -- all this current worldwide gushing about Korean cinema is rubbish:

"Frankly, I find the whole fad for Korean cinema quite absurd, because by and large I think most Korean films are of very little worth..."

Full post at:


Oh well ....

March 10, 2006 9:55 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

The two Johnny To films that I've seen are The Mission (1999) and Fulltime Killer (2001). My pal Dan Dorman has recommended I watch The Longest Nite (1997) and Running Out of Time (1999).

March 10, 2006 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...


It was supposed to come out on DVD last summer, but has since been delayed. I feel like I've badgered Kyung Hyun Kim (Gina Kim's husband who wrote THE REMASCULINIZATION OF KOREAN CINEMA) too much about this so I've laid off. But I'll be sure to let the blogosphere know when I find out a more definitive date.

And thanks for the info on SSITKIM. I'm seeing it this Sunday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco and had no idea what to expect until now.

March 10, 2006 10:13 AM  
Anonymous ratzkywatzky said...

I second Filmbrain's recommendation of Im Kwon-Taek's Seopyeonje--the story of a pansori singer. Far from turning me off, it sent me right out to buy all the pansori CD's I could find (one). There's a long sequence, single unmoving shot, timed to one song of the singer and his apprentice moving down a winding road, that had me levitating. His other films that I've had the opportunity to see--Come, Come, Come Upward; Mandala; and The Taeback Mountains besides the ones already mentioned--are all astounding. As long as he's living, *he's* the leading auteur of Korean cinema.

March 10, 2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I wish there was more Im on DVD here. I've heard much about him but only seen a couple.

March 11, 2006 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

A little background about me. I'm an American who's seen about 50 - 60 Korean films, so I'm not exactly an authority. But I've seen almost all of them in a movie theatre, which I think gives you a different take on them.

My favorite Korean film hands down is Oasis, which I love for its mixture of in your face drama and heart breaking romance. I also love A Good Lawyer's Wife (see it without learning anything about the plot first!). Moon So Ri, who stars in both movies and is incredible in both, is my acting goddess!

Some of the other Korean movies I adore:

Chunhyang (the pansori bothered me for about twenty minutes, then it became enthralling).

Untold Scandal (very interesting Korean take on Dangerous Liasions; erotic, too!).

Nowhere to Hide (a wonderful police film that is quite cartoonish at times, but is full of wonderful imagery, like an unforgettable murder set to a Bee Gees song).

Memories of Murder (Gripping. See it!)

Joint Security Area (not as violent as Park's other stuff, which I generally have not liked so much, and full of humanity. Song Kang Ho is great here).

Spring, Summer, ... (my favorite Kim flick, though I also like 3-Iron and didn't like the Bow).

Take Care of My Cat (Bae Doo Na is my second favorite Korean actress after Moon, based largely on this wonderful film).

I like the three Hong movies I've seen a lot (Virgins, Turning Gate, Well), but I am pretty much alone among my film friends in this opinion. Most of them hate this guy. It's interesting to read how loved he is here, since I've met no one who shares my enthusiasm. Turning Gate was my favorite.

For some reason, I didn't much like Failan (Choi's character was too brutish for me, and why was he always shouting?) or Christmas in August, which put me to sleep. But I loved This Charming Girl, which is an even more subtle, low key movie. Go figure.

Nice blog, btw!

March 27, 2006 9:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks a bunch for all the tips, Eric!

March 27, 2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having seen virtually every Johnnie To film available on DVD, I strongly second Michael Kerpan's recommendations--including Yesterday Once More. Don't just watch the action movies: Fat Choi Spirit is also great and My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is one of his best.

April 05, 2006 4:11 PM  

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