Tag Archives: Korean

Hostage: Missing Celebrity

With a relatively modest 1.6 million admissions at South Korean theaters, “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” wasn’t the champion at the summer box office this year. This is a bit surprising, given that Hwang Jung-min is the movie’s main star. And he’s not even playing a character. Rather, Hwang Jung-min is just playing himself, the famous actor, as he’s abruptly dropped into a dead serious hostage situation barely a few minutes into the movie.

Based on the way “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” was promoted I got the impression that this would be a uniquely Hwang Jung-min dominant film, anchored entirely around his performance. So I was surprised to find out that the lead character being Hwang Jung-min was entirely incidental. Any big name would suffice for the part. For that matter, a fictional big name actor would also work perfectly fine in the context of the script.

Debatedly a fictional big name actor would actually be an improvement. At a few points Hwang Jung-min is prompted to recite famous lines from his actual movies. As I could not remember the famous lines offhand, and wasn’t sure what they were supposed to sound like, the jokes did not land with me. A fictional movie preview showcasing a fictional big name actor’s persona would have done a much better job setting up the premise than just expecting the viewer to automatically free associate Hwang Jung-min‘s identity with that of his character.

This is especially true considering that Hwang Jung-min doesn’t exactly have a set brand of character to begin with. He can be anything from an exhausted yet extremely cool gangster to a lovable dork. Hwang Jung-min‘s casting here is just a rather boring gimmick in an otherwise unremarkable script about a hostage situation. The villains in “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” are dumb psychotic thugs, have access to an awful lot of explosives for dumb psychotic thugs, and that’s about as interesting as they get.

A parallel storyline about the police trying to track down Hwang Jung-min‘s kidnappers likewise does no favors in the innovation department. They’re just the same regular old cops you might expect to see in any movie. They’re tough, competent, and pushed to the edge over the course of a difficult investigation. The background setting is more interesting than the actual characters. “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” is filled with grimy, dirty environments, is a far cry from the more polished look of “Veteran” which is, of course, mentioned as a Hwang Jung-min joint.

The most pointed comparison I can think of isn’t a Hwang Jung-min movie at all though, but rather the underrated and underappreciated “What Happened to Mr. Cha?” which came out worldwide on Netflix earlier this year. Now there was a movie that knew not to take for granted that the audience knew who its leading star was. Sure, that was a farce, while “Hostage: Missing Celebrity” is a serious thriller. Although I suppose that’s the whole issue. An inherently unrealistic yet serious movie about a real person isn’t really a story so much as it is fanfiction.

Review by William Schwartz

Escape from Mogadishu(2021) Movie Review

Escape From Mogadishu is South Korea’s Argo. Director Ryoo Seung-wan has masterfully told the dramatic story of the 1990 revolution in Somalia and the impact of the Diplomatic missions of North and South Korea. This Well Go USA release is based upon a series of real events that brought the rival diplomats of a formerly unified country together to save the lives of their women and children through a daring escape.

The film is set in 1990 Somalia as the South Korean government is attempting to garner the essential support of African nations for its bid to become a member of the United Nations. This task was made significantly more challenging due to the concerted efforts of the North Korean government to persuade African nations to block their entry.

Amidst all of the political wrangling between the two countries a brutal civil war breaks out in Somalia, endangering the lives of the diplomats of every nation that maintained a Diplomatic presence there. Black Hawk Down (2001), an American made, award winning film covered a later chapter of the same conflict, and its impact on the American Soldiers there.

The heart and strength of the film surrounds the need of the diplomats of the two separated Koreas to join forces to Escape from Mogadishu, Somalia’s Capital city. In this effort, through the brilliant Directing, award worthy acting, and visually gripping cinematography we are immersed in the conflict between a deep seeded mistrust of two nations and the desire of individual human beings to protect their loved ones and fellow citizens. I am not sure how much of the details are true, but the film really shines a light on how easy it is to forget the problems between nations are just that, and even at the highest level of diplomacy, that without our humanity we are lost.

Escape from Mogadishu (2021) is as good a film as you will see this year. There is no shortage of action, nail biting drama, and emotionally gripping moments in this laudable film. While not set in the Shah deposed Iran of the 1970’s, this film still reminded me of Argo, the 2021 Oscar winning Best Picture. Both were based on historically dramatic incidents where the filmmakers adeptly told their compelling stories through the experiences of the diplomatic survivors of these respective incidents. Both films are equally Oscar worthy.

Sadly, the film also painfully reminded me of the recent chaos in Kabul as diplomats and citizens attempted to flee Afghanistan, in the midst of its own regime toppling. While the images were starkly similar, the film was made well before the incidents of earlier this Summer; which, somehow, made its accuracy more shocking.

Kim Yoon-seok and Huh Joon-ho play the Somali ambassadors from South and North Korea, respectively. Their ability to convey the fear and mistrust the people of a, once united, country feel towards each other with subtlety and humanity is pivotal to the film’s emotional depth. While this film is an action film about Somalia, it is more profoundly a film about the sad divide along the Korean Penninsula.

The entire ensemble cast of this film is praiseworthy; whether playing the North and South Korean Diplomats and their families, the Somalia government soldiers, or the key rebel soldiers. All are in top form and immerse the viewer in a world of chaos, fear , and confusion that is unmatched by the majority of films of the past decade. This entire is a first rate cast.

Escape from Mgadishu is subtitled.

For Taekwondo enthusiasts look out for a key fight scene as the movie kicks into high gear.

Review by tkdlifemagazine

My Name(2021) Korean Web Series

First up; Han So Hee is an amazing actress and she show her full range in the first episode which is one of the many reason that episode is so great. Most of the cast is good and the initial story, albeit cliche and overused, is good enough to suck you in. Music excellent, scenes and production value pretty good for TV. Fight scenes are mostly done gritty and great. I also like the progression of the show and where they want to take the story, I get the feeling the main writers know where they want to go and develop characters and episodes accordingly. The twists and turns of the show keep you guessing who the killer is which is sort of fun too.

What I loved the most about this though is that this is not a clearcut good vs evil. This show is ambiguous comes to morals and although you feel for and follow the protagonist, she is not a hero. She is basically a criminal looking for revenge, so not really sunshine and rainbows.

The negative is mainly the slow decline of the show. Step by step, episode by episode, the show is getting less good and finally reach a point in the end where you barely care anymore. It is subtle, but if you put the first episode next to the last episode you can see that there is a decline in everything from filming, to directing, to acting, to sets, to storytelling. Yes, the writers know what they want to do, but the show runners and the directors fail to deliver. There are also a lot of extras or side characters that could not act their way out of a closet, so although the main core actors are great the rest are not. I saw a lot of complaints about the tiny woman beating up men, and yea I can partly agree. With determination, training, and will you can do a lot of things others cannot and mostly I think it sold well. It is not like she does not bled or bruise. She get beaten up as much as she beat up others, with the ending as exception… horrible ending…

For what it is this is pretty good. If you enjoy a revenge story rapped around a mystery deeply in-bedded in a criminal world with a protagonist out for blood, this might very well be for you. This is definitely one of the better TV shows of this kind I have seen in a long while so this is definitely not bad. However this is not a masterpiece or fantastic either. Basically a good watch if you have nothing else to do. 6/10.

Review by namob-43673

Squid Game (2021) Korean Web Series

Squid Game. Wow.

Korean.

Best description? Uncomfortably genius!

(Kind of disturbing – small warning but still)

I mean there are some elements of The Game and Hunger Games, but this is bigger, more catastrophic in a different way, more clever, plays on psychological aspects, with a touch of closeness between some participants. Its intensely catchy and totally insane.

Its set in a today’s society with participants being people in economic trouble who owes a lot of money, mostly from gambling, and about their desperation. Great actors too!!

They even include a very dark business of todays world – but I wont reveal anything here.

Although its brutal – its more brutal in what’s actually going on, and what’s happening – than being graphically brutal.

And you will sit there and feel lots of things – scared and somewhat freaked out as well, and as I said: its Uncomfortably geniusly made in my opinion.

If you’re looking for something different that will get your HR rising, try this one! *Handclaps*

Review by missessence78

Heart Blackened(2017) Korean Movie Review

The Korean mystery-thriller “Heart Blackened” is a remake of the 2013 Chinese film “Silent Witness,” but neither title properly sells this alternately glitzy and tawdry tale of crime among the super-rich. “Death of a Pop Star” would’ve been grabbier. Or perhaps “Murder-in-law.”

Choi Min-sik stars as Im Tae-san, a corporate titan about to marry the ultimate trophy wife: Yuna (Lee Ha-nui), a young singing superstar. When Yuna is killed under mysterious circumstances, the authorities go after Im’s daughter Mira (Lee Soo-kyung), who’d publicly expressed disgust with her would-be stepmother’s sometimes-scandalous celebrity.

Most of “Heart Blackened” takes place during the sensational trial, which features twists and surprises galore — at least one of which comes courtesy of an obsessed Yuna fan (played by Ryu Jun-yeol), who promises some pertinent information he obtained while stalking her.

Writer-director Jung Ji-woo follows too deliberate a pace in the first half of the film, and muddles the story with some not always clearly differentiated flashbacks. But after the elder Im attempts a bold move to save Mira, the narrative straightens out, and the drama intensifies.

More importantly, throughout “Heart Blackened” Jung remains aware that the major appeal of this picture is its behind-the-facade look at the powerful and famous. Even at its most serious and sophisticated, it retains the pleasingly funky aroma of pulp.

Review by NOEL MURRAY

Diary of June(2005) Korean Movie Review

I think that one of the main differences between Asian and Western cinematographies is that the first ones mix genres more widely than the second ones. The result is that Eastern movies use not to be so predictable as Western films, and this is applicable to commercial titles too. South Korean movies are a good example of this miscellany.

Concretely, in “Diary of June” or “Bystanders” (“6-wol-eui Il-gi” is its original title) we can find the typical thriller about a group of cops trying to catch a serial killer, a buddy movie with some touches of comedy, and specially in the last 30 minutes a very intense drama that made me remember the dark social connotations of the Japanese “Confessions”. This cocktail of genres is always welcome if script and direction can keep the balance between the elements. Just like a cocktail, that it will be a good one if the ingredients have been mixed and shaken in the right proportion. Fortunately, many Korean movies succeed in this and “Diary of June” is not an exception.

As a thriller, it keeps the necessary suspense during its first half. Later the identity of the killer won’t be a mystery, but the reason is not a flaw of the script. That’s because, since then, the social drama acquires more importance than the criminal investigation. Like “Confessions”, the target of the critic is the failure of the educational establishment (including passive teachers and well-intentioned but mistaken parents or relatives). Kids can be cruel, very cruel, but their cruelty is only a reflection of the cruelty (or just unhappiness) showed by adults in front of their astonished faces. We have a very big responsibility for the new generations and too much often we are not conscious of that. Every member of the cast, including the teenagers, is good. But specially Sin Eun-kyeong, as the tough but sensible female cop with her own personal demons, does great work. Well supported by Eric Moon, there is a good chemistry between their characters and some funny moments involving their superior officers.

This film is not one of the best of South Korean cinematography (the competence is high) but it works and it goes beyond the simple entertainment thanks to its social message. Not a must see but I highly recommend it.

Review by jose_moscardo

Finding Mr. Destiny(2010) Movie Review

I’m pretty sure many will have fond memories of our first love, since it’s the time we experience falling head over heels over someone, which can be intoxicating, frightening, and for some, a period of time when all things seemed beautiful. For those who have moved on since then, there will be times when you wondered just how that person is faring currently, although technology these days means you can do a Facebook stalk! Or you can hire a search consultant like what Gong Yoo’s Han Gi-Joon did for a niche market through the opening of a one man proprietorship capitalizing on his innate meticulous research skills.

Finding Mr. Destiny is a tale of two stories that transcend time and space even, like a cosmic fantasy that throws in everything under the sun. It’s a little bit bloated with its many perfunctory subplots and supporting characters, many of whom could be done without if only to dilute the film from its main leads. In the first story, we see how Im Soo-Jung’s Seo Ji-Woo falls in love with almost a stranger 10 years ago while on her solo trip to India, but being quite the naive lady, decide to tempt fate and leave her new found soulmate, deciding that if it was destiny then they would meet again some time, some day, and probably be together for good.

Tough luck lady, welcome to the real world, which is where the other narrative arc unfolds with Han Gi-Joon entering the picture as the down and out travel employee who had to strike it out on his own after walking out on his Winter Sonata impersonation gig. His first customer happens to be the reluctant Ji-Woo, dragged by her dad (Cheong Ho-Jin) so that she could finally track down, and satisfy her curiosity about her first love, before she can proceed in life to marry a promising air force pilot (who sadly, is very much a side show character). So begins a road trip of sorts where the interaction between client and customer take on comedic proportions, bearing in mind with romances like this one, it’s always opposites attracting and leading to the inevitable.

But here is where the film falters a little. Director Jang Yu-Jung peppers the film with too many minor characters who don’t serve the narrative any advantage other than to add to the runtime for their singular motives. There’s Ji-Woo’s sister Ji-Hye (Lee Chung-Ah) whose relationship with her doctor fiancé is very much contrasted against that of Ji-Woo’s, and Ryu Seung-Soo as Gi-Joon’s brother-in-law, a pulp fiction writer who shares the same home office which brings about some mutual benefits. Being this bloated meant taking a very long time to establish the characters and get the ball rolling, so patience is a virtue for the first half hour as the narrative spins and does a bit of spot running.

What works best in the film is that of the chemistry shared between the two leads, which of course is requisite for any romantic film to work. Im Soo-Jung, probably best known here for her role opposite Rain in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, lends her bee stung lips (sorry, it’s that distracting) as a tomboyish woman who pines after that one fling in India a decade ago. Her character’s basically a very likable girl next door type, who gets to va-va-voom the stage through an engineered scene that decks her out in full, made up glory for a musical number – yes you read that right – a musical number, much like a Bollywood film.

While already attractive as the plain jane, the exaggerated thick make up accentuated her features, though I’d still prefer that more natural look. But if you think her character’s just a pretty face, think again. Writer Lee Kyung-Ui actually packed quite the character study in Ji- Woo, unraveled of course by the “people searcher” Gi-Joon as he peels away the exact nature of Ji-Woo’s underlying character, which aligns very close to those who enjoy being on a constant high, of being fearful and someone who knows when to quit while at that feeling of elation, yet detrimental to what I would suggest as a long term sanity check.

The character of Han Gi-Joon is no pushover too, played to mild mannered perfection by Gong Yoo. His neat freakness is a complete contrast to the messy Ji-Woo, and he nails reaction after reaction, and scene after scene as he turns on the charms not at her, but to the audience with his subtle, well meaning antics. His anal ways naturally bring on plenty of laughs, though degenerates into soppy romantic lead pining for a relationship that he had not much of a courage to pursue. Fans of Gong Yoo will inevitably be drawn to this little quirky role that he tackles with aplomb, interesting until the final act.

As with most Korean films that I find these days, it’s relatively bloated with everything thrown in for that hopeful, all round entertainment. Finding Mr. Destiny had more ups than its drawbacks, and while expected, I had enjoyed that little coda at the end that just reminds us of the vastness of our known universe, and the fact that Fate could have been playing us all along without us knowing much. There’s a real Mr. Destiny here for Ji-Woo, and it’s up to you to find out just exactly who, and how.

Review by DICK STEEL

Seobok (2021) Korean Movie Review

Entertaining big-budget sci-fi thriller. I have to say I mostly got what I wanted out of it, and that’s a mix of pathos, road film and some action for good measure. It does have its shortcomings that keep it from being great, though.

Imagine having a male Asian version of Eleven from Stranger Things. Then give him a Frankenstein-type backstory and pair him with a skilled secret agent who has his own brand of unsavory past. They’re the centerpiece of the film and their gradual bonding is at the heart of the story. This is the kind of thriller that takes cues from modern Hollywood cinema, but keeps that Korean flair in trying to wring out real emotions from its characters while putting them in some tough spots. It even goes overboard in that regard, with some slightly predictable, almost underwhelming scenes in the second half. The film’s focus switches from an entertaining, sometimes touching road trip to borderline-corny melodrama with occasional SFX-heavy sequences. Still, even then the film has its moments; there’s a particularly effective beach scene that manages to find a sense of melancholy amid all the obvious sugarcoating.

Overall, this is a polished, mostly fun and exciting ride that’s worth a watch if you’re into Korean genre fare and don’t mind formulaic plotting. It won’t blow you away, but it’s got just enough going for it.

Review by alain-kapel5

The King’s Case Note (2017)

If you liked Robert Downing Jr’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in A Game Of Shadows, then rejoice because The Kings Case Note is the same film – same characters, same tone, and a plot heavily influenced by The Hound Of The Baskerville, plus some generic “intrigue in the court” plot thrown in.

Likeable characters, occasional humor, just a touch of Wuxia, a pretty solid production values make this a welcome break from the horrible films i’ve been watching lately. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but do expect to be amused in this comedy / mystery set in medieval Korea.

I would recommend The Kings Case Note; it’s funny, not presumptuous, and while it may need a bit of trimming down, it’s absolutely fine for a pleasant evening.

Review by digdog-785-717538

Derailed (2016)

DERAILED is another dark action film from South Korea that becomes hard to forget after it ends. It’s a film which is so real in presentation that it’s hard to believe it’s really just a fictional film. It has got a high amount of action and it’s shot extremely well, but it’s a different kind of action film which doesn’t intend to provide merely escapist fun. The darkness and emptiness in life, the strength of friendship, the value of relationships : everything is blended in this film and packaged very well within a duration of just 91 minutes, something many directors, sadly, fail to do even in the 2 hours duration.

Performances by every actor are great and realistic. Direction is superb and there’s that unique “indie film” feel to it. DERAILED is a strongly scripted action film which sadly might not have seen by many people, but nevertheless leaves a strong impact, further haunting you especially after the end. It can even make you cry.

Review by Prashast_Singh