Tag Archives: non-South-Korean South Korean Cinema

Stocking Stuffer Reviews: Stoker and The Paperboy

I said these stocking stuffers wouldn’t be themed, and I toyed with calling this one something like “Nasty little black hearts that happen to have Nicole Kidman in them”, but then I realized I should limit my self-serving dumbness to myself sometimes. Just sharing. 


2013 saw the “big three” South Korean maestros of pitch-black genre fare emigrate to the United States (Hollywood ever unable to beat em’, and always willing to shill out enough money so they can join em’). Kim Jee-woon went to bat first and struck out commercially (even if his grubby, sprightly little action vehicle for Ahnuld. The Last Stand, was a decent sort in it’s own way, and incomparably directed to say the least). The final hitter, delayed by one year, was Bong Joon-ho, and he knocked it out of the park with a deliriously madcap trip to film school in the rollicking kitsch-fest Snowpiercer.

In between, the bad boy of South Korean cinema went up to bat and generated a curiously slight bit of applause. Park Chan-wook was always the bleakest and most torturous of the three directors, his compatriots preferring sky-high genre fare while he always went the chilly path to the darkest places of our souls. His American debut, Stoker, follows suit, and in retrospect, the little response this film – about incest among the modern bourgeoisie – generated isn’t really a surprise. In fact, it would have been a shock had its reaction been rapturous, or anything other than the deadened, transfixed state it occupies from beginning to end.
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Review: Snowpiercer


Snowpiercer is the last of the big three South Korean directors’ English-language cross-over attempts.  Of course, by “big three”, I don’t mean to say these three, Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, and Bong Joon-ho, are the three best South Korean directors working today (I couldn’t by definition claim that). But they are undoubtedly the three with the most foreign attention shined their way. Chan-wook and Jee-woon went simple with their English-language endeavors, creating the deliciously naughty psychological horror Stoker and the terrifically-fleshy and well-directed by hum-drum Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand respectively (seriously, it’s a display of the director’s talent that it shines through in a script so unfitting and as positively lame as that film’s). Joon-ho’s film took a bit longer to release and aims a bit higher. But lofty narrative ambitions don’t always benefit a film without a script to back it up (thus The Raid, for its elegant, brutal simplicity, was a much better film than the still-good Raid 2). It’s a good thing then that Joon-ho decided to jettison narrative sense or substance mid-way through the film. As for what he replaced them with? It’s much more depraved, much giddier, and above all, much more wonderfully off-the-wall indeed. It’s a study in contained chaos, and like the best of the South Korean New Wave, madness is never far around the corner.

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