Monday, November 29, 2010

I Saw The Devil

Min-sik Choi is a serial killer who chooses the wrong victim when he picks up the fiancee of Byung-hun Lee's secret agent. When her body is found the agent uses his connections and skills to hunt the killer to make him suffer a thousand times more than his girl did, but in his grief and rage will he know how far is too far?

Ji-Woon Kim's I saw the devil was one of my most anticipated films for 2010, but as good as it is in many ways I found it disappointing. First Before I get into why I was disappointed the good stuff.The film looks absolutely incredible which will not be a surprise given Ji Woon Kim's other films but this one truly is a technical marvel. It has some excellent set pieces including an amazing sequence in a taxi that really blew me away. The acting is all great with Min-sik Choi being a real stand out as the psychotic killer without an ounce of humanity in him and Byung-hun Lee as the secret agent who loses his fiancee to the killer being totally convincing in his anger and descent into madness. Ji-Woon Kim toys very cleverly with the audience making them complicit in the events of the film as the killer is shown to be so grotesque you want the agent to make him suffer but at some point you begin to not be quite so sure anymore if you still want to be involved in the madness. 
The film is definitely not for the faint hearted and is certainly not for everyone and Ji-Woon Kim should be applauded for not compromising on his violent vision, and although that vision is very serious in tone, a few moments of jet black humour do come through and are very welcome.

When the screening ended and I was thinking about the film, I knew I didn't love it despite all of its qualities but wasn't sure why. After thinking about it for a while the problem with the film is the one element of the story which I have not seen before in  the revenge genre (which I cannot mention without spoilers, although if you have read anything else about the film you will almost certainly know)  once the agent catches up with the killer and they face off (another fantastic set piece) Min-sik Choi is badly beaten and the agent lets him go to hunt down and inflict pain on him again, this repeats throughout the running time.  I just cannot get past the implausibility of a secret agent letting this madman free, he could just as easily have kept him prisoner somewhere and prolonged his suffering without giving him the opportunity to cause more mayhem, of course then we wouldn't have the film as it is but it is such a huge problem if you cannot accept such a pivotal part of the plot. I have left out some elements of this part of the film so as not to spoil too much but even with these parts I just didn't buy it for a second. The agent has planned this from the start and he thinks he is in control of the situation, which is how the film seems to justify the storyline but the madman is clearly just too dangerous to be set free, when the agent then sinks deeper into the madness of his own actions it is too late.

I don't usually worry so much about the plausibility of the plot within a film, for the most part realism is not what I am looking for, but the more I think about this film the more I have a problem with this aspect of it as it wants to be taken seriously and seen as something meaningful, however ultimately it says nothing new on the well worn subject of revenge. In the end it is a beautiful looking, particularly nasty exploitation film with very high production values, the violence is frequent and brutal and it does have plenty of thrills for genre fans, but I feel Ji-Woon Kim was aiming higher than that and while I did enjoy it I don't feel it achieves the heights it should have.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This Weeks New Stuff

Its been a pretty busy week for the postman

Men suddenly in black

Not quite sure why it has taken me so long to get this dvd, its reputation is very good and I like all of Pang Ho Cheung's other films that I have seen. It was a recent screening of Dream home (loved it) that pushed me into finally tracking this one down.

A decade of love

A series of nine short films looking at the first ten years after the handover of Hong Kong, I like short films and love HK so hopefully it will be a good combination although I didn't know anything else about this one before buying it.

High noon

Not the Gary Cooper classic but the Hong Kong chapter of Eric Tsang's Winds of September series, I picked this up for two reasons, one it made Kozo from top 20 films of the 2000's and two it was premiered at the HKIFF 2008 (which was the last one I attended) and I didn't get a ticket to see it.

Here is a pic of Eric Tsang arriving for his big night in 2008.

Night and Fog

Ann Hui's companion film to The way we are looking at life in Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong's so called city of sadness. By all accounts this film is a complete opposite to The way we are and is gruelling and harrowing in equal measure and I am still not sure I actually want to watch it, but on the strength of the other film I may do one day.

Vengeance blu ray

Johnnie To's  vastly underrated (even by many To fans) Vengeance on region B blu. I have the HK blu but it is a waxy dnr mess, this disc still looks soft in places but that I think is down to the film stock used rather than the disc itself and is a significant upgrade over the HK version. Terrible artwork though.

Gamera double feature blu ray

I have never seen a Gamera film but I do have a soft spot for Godzilla and this blu is only $5.49 at at the moment, so why not?

Kick ass blu ray region A

Had a blast with this earlier in the year and I have been waiting to get it for a good price since it came to blu, need another watch before the years end to see if it makes my top ten of the year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The American

Jack (George Clooney) is an expert gunsmith who has to flee Sweden when an attempt is made on his and his companions life, he is told by his handler (Johan Leysen) to lay low in a remote town in Italy. Posing as Edward a photographer for magazines he makes acquaintance with a local priest who suspects his story but tries to help him,he also visits a prostitute (Violante Placido) who he begins to feel close to.  Jack's handler gives him the (one last) job of making a gun for an assassin (Thelka Reuten). Meanwhile the Swedes are picking up Jack's trail, who can he trust?

The American is Anton Corbijn's second film after the Ian Curtis biopic Control, it is an adaptation of the novel A very private gentleman. I have not read the book but Corbijn has said he changed the lead character from an Englishman and has changed the ending of the book in the film.
If you have seen the trailer for the film you would probably be expecting an action thriller in the Bourne or Bond style but this is far from the film we get. The film is more a slow burn mood piece with only sporadic patches of action dotted through the slim storyline and not the action fest suggested. I don't blame the distributors for trying to sell the film the way they have but this style of deceitful marketing has major problems, it only leads to bad word of mouth especially when a major star like George Clooney is involved.

Clooney plays a professional gunsmith who is a real craftsman when it comes to his work, he is not an assassin although he can be if required. It is all about the making of the gun for him, it is what he is good at and so that is what he does. Corbijn concentrates on this during the film, showing in minute detail Jack's process of making the gun for the assassin, these scenes are some of the most interesting in the film as he seems to lose himself completely in this process suggesting how he has come to be the man he is.

The film has been compared to Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samourai and it is true that the two films do share some characteristics and the Clooney character is similar to Alain Delon's however the actual performances of the actors are nothing like each other. Delon's performance in Le Samourai is pure ice almost all the way through, where as Clooney in The American does not go that far, he does not use his trademark charm and is quite grouchy (he does not even smile until around 70 minutes in) and paranoid but never does he seem to feel absolutely nothing like Delon's character. For me the film has parallels with Clooney's Up in the air, the soulless, empty professional with no ties or interest in meaningful relationships who comes to question that lifestyle when he does allow himself to let someone in. In that film of course he only terminated job contracts in The American the terminations are somewhat more final.

The film is impeccably shot in terms of both the exterior shots of the town and Italian countryside and the interiors of the room where Jack does his work. The use of lighting, composition and focus is incredible and the score which is also excellent give the film a feel unlike anything I have seen before.
The storyline has been criticized as being full of cliches such as Jack falling for the hooker and the one last job elements but this would be missing the point as although I was aware of it, it feels almost irrelevant. As I said earlier this is a mood piece and distractions in the plot did not affect this mood. When thinking about it afterwards the plot does have holes as well as cliches but I still love the film. The acting which is all first rate especially Clooney and Violante Placido (who has a very european attitude to nudity) combines with the technical aspects of the production to create a film that will not be for everyone but will be on my top ten of the year.

The American is released in UK cinemas on November 26th and is on dvd and blu ray on December 28th in the US

Red Hill

A city cop is transferred to a country post after his wife miscarries a baby, on his first day a prison breakout frees Jimmy Conway a convicted murderer put away by the town sheriff. Jimmy heads back towards town looking for payback.

Red Hill written and directed by Patrick Hughes is a solid Australian western with some really tense action sequences. It features excellent use of the Australian landscapes and much of the film is set at night with some great night time photography which and adds to the tension and atmosphere already created within the story. A sub plot including a big cat on the loose adds a slightly off kilter aspect that I liked. A slight problem with the film is that the ending is too predictable and if you have seen any similar films before you will see it coming way before the film ends.

The film is well acted by all the cast, Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) stars as Shane Cooper and gives a good lead performance as the transferred cop, but Tommy Lewis gives a real force of nature performance as Jimmy Conway, despite Conway's character being almost wordless throughout the entire film he still manages to convey everything he needs to brilliantly even with half his face under prosthetics.

Although the ending is a little too obvious the journey to get there is well worth the ride, the main characters are well drawn, the story is lean and the action is mean, well worth a watch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wong Tin Lam R.I.P

Wong Tin Lam passed away peacefully on the 16th of November and I just wanted to comment on him briefly through the work I know him best for, his work with Johnnie To and Milkyway image.

My favourite of his performances is in The Longest Nite where he exudes menace in such a convincing manner, I find every scene is extremely uncomfortable. Other favourites are his role in The Mission and as the triad uncle in the Election films but I cannot think of a performance from him that I haven't enjoyed and as such any film I see him in I always think is better for him being in it, even if the film itself is not so good.

The Milkyway films do not begin to cover the career of Wong Tin Lam, he was a prolific director from the 1950's onwards with over a hundred credits, he was also the father of Wong Jing but we won't hold that against him, if you are interested in the rest of his career then check out his imdb page.
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