With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ACF 043: Unstoppable Marriage

Unstoppable Marriage
Korea 2007
International Premiere
New York Korean Film Festival 2007

The concept that "opposites attract" has served romantic comedy films well since at least, oh, off the top of my head, Howard Hawk's 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby. So it's nice to see it used in such a delightful and fresh way as it is here. First time director Kim Sung-wook, who also wrote the screenplay, has come "out of the gate" with a hilarious comedy of manners - or lack thereof on the part of some characters - that had me laughing a lot, sometimes out loud, as I watched a screener DVD in my living room. Not too shabby, especially when you consider how difficult comedy really is, and even more so with sub-titles!

Hwang Ki-baek is a handsome doctor who specializes in breast implants. He comes from a very wealthy family and is also quite a playboy. One day, a girlfriend tricks him into going para-gliding - he's expecting sex - and he freaks out in mid-flight. Strapped in front of his instructor, he causes the two of them to land in a tree, after which he discovers that: (1) His instructor is a lovely young woman and that (2) In his fear, he'd lost control of his bladder and is now exhibiting a huge wet spot down the front of his pants.

From this inauspicious start, love comes to bloom between Ki-baek and the instructor, Park Eun-ho. She comes from a very modest and traditional background. Although she does para-gliding on the weekends, her real vocation is making dolls out of mulberry paper and teaching classes - albeit small ones - in this Korean folk craft. She also does a martial art that resembles Tai Chi.

Having overcome their initial mutual animosity and cultural differences, the would-be couple then has to deal with the opposition of their single parents. Ki-baek's mother, Shim Mar-uyun, is a real estate wheeler-dealer, who has affectations of culture and sophistication, but who can be as coarse-mouthed as any sailer. Eun ho's father, Park Ji-mahn, is a widower, a former marine, a collector of ink stones, and a practitioner of martial arts and feng shui.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Mrs. Shim is involved with an American partner in developing a luxurious golf course, but has been stymied by one landowner who refuses to sell out. Mr. Park, naturally, is the owner in question. In a development that's sort of a negative parallel to their children overcoming their differences, these two put aside their mutual distaste, only their efforts are to prevent the couple from uniting.

Given the film's title and the fact that it's a romantic comedy, I'm surely not giving anything away in saying that the wedding ultimately takes place. But it's in the getting there wherein the fun lies, and there's lots of fun along the way.

Kim Yoo-jin, also anglicized as Eugene or Eu Gene, is a pop star and TV actress here making her big screen debut. She's obviously lovely and definitely talented. She can play it straight, tough or comic, depending on what a scene calls for.

Ha Seok-jin (also Ha Suk Jin) is fine as Ki-baek. It's a rather thankless roll, as most of the comedy comes from the other three leads.

Lim Chae Moo, recently in Highway Star, acquits himself wonderfully as Eun-ho's father. Gruff at times, tender at others, his best scene may be his confrontation with a fancy ultra-modern Western-style toilet at Mrs. Shim's home.

But if the movie can be said to clearly belong most to one actor, that would have to be Kim Soo-mi as Mrs. Shim. Her performance is masterful. She can instantly change from being utterly pretentious to shockingly crass, yet still humanize her character in her few scenes that call for touching drama. I'm predicting a Korean film award for her, or at least a nomination.

The film also gives some good moments to Mr. Park's younger brother, who engraves seals and is not above extorting money from Ki-baek, and to Ki-Baek's younger sister, a seeming air-head with her mother's acquisitive propensities but not her business smarts. Her reaction to him saying that she is as smart as she is beautiful is priceless. And don't miss them in the coda that plays in a window as the end credits roll.

The clash between traditional values and the potentially corrupting influence of Westernization had been a concern of Koreans and Korean films since at least the 1990s, the decade the 3-8-6 filmmakers emerged. [They were so named because they were in their 30s, had been in college in the 1980s, and had been born in the 60s.] Unstoppable Marriage, which does not totally deplore modernization, clearly comes down most strongly in favor of the traditional. Still, it's nice to see Andrew, Mrs. Shim's partner and the only Westerner in the film, portrayed not as a money-grubbing American, but as a sensitive person who appreciates the value of traditional Korean crafts and sensibilities. This is a far cry, say, from the portrayal of Americans in the recent monster/horror hit The Host.

Unstoppable Marriage (also sometimes called Unpreventable Marriage) had its "International Premiere" - by which I assume is meant its first screening outside of Korea - at the NYKFF 2007 on Friday, August 24th and will have its second and final screening on Wednesday, August 29th at 9:00 PM. For further info, click on this link.

The film easily earns a 3.5 out of 4 star ACF rating.

The New York Korean Film Festival 2007 is presented by Helio.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ACF 042: 200 Pound Beauty

Hanna (actress Kim Au-jung)

"Jenny" (actress Kim Au-jung)

"Jenny" and Han Sang-jun (actor Ju Jin-mo)

200 Pound Beauty / Minyeo-neun goerowo
Korea 2006
New York Korean Film Festival 2007
North American Premiere
An ACF Preview Review

Hanna is what's sometimes referred to as a "plus-size woman." This is, of course, a polite way of saying that she's enormous. Because of her girth, she doesn't have much in the way of romantic prospects, or great job opportunities.

She does phone sex from home and sings at packed music concerts. The hook is that, since she's "talented, but ugly and fat," she can only sing from backstage, providing the voice for pop star Ammy, who is "untalented but gorgeous and sexy."

Hanna has a major crush on handsome producer Han Sang-jun. When she overhears him tell Ammy that they must be nice to her so that she will keep providing Ammy's "voice," she realizes that he will never really care for her, because of her looks.

After one attempt at extreme action fails, she blackmails a doctor into giving her extensive head-to-toe plastic surgery. (Plastic surgery also was a major plot device of Kim Ki-duk's film Time / Shi gan, also released in 2006.) After a year she returns as "Jenny" and tries out for the still vacant position of providing Ammy's singing voice. But now she herself is not just talented, but also gorgeous and sexy, and Sang-jun wants to present her as "herself."

There's some consideration of such serious issues as identity, self-confidence, and the relative importance of physical appearance, but 200 Pound Beauty is essentially a light-hearted romantic comedy that works really well.

Actress Kim Au-jung, who in my opinion often bears an uncanny resemblance to Taiwanese/Hong Kong actress Hsu Chi (a.k.a. Qi Shu), won the 2007 Korean Grand Bell Award (the main and official South Korean film award) for this performance, and deservedly so. She maintains both physical and personality traits she exhibited while in a fat suit as Hanna after the character is transformed into the svelte and drop-dead gorgeous Jenny.

Some of the credit for this also must go to writer/director Kim Yong-hwa. He's really delivered the goods in this, his second film, and he clearly has a great future. He will be present for Q&A sessions after the August 24th and 27th screenings. For screening dates and times, click here.

200 Pound Beauty gets a 3.5 out of 4 star ACF rating (Highly recommended).

The New York Korean Film Festival 2007 is presented by Helio. >

Monday, August 13, 2007

ACF 041: NYAFF 2007 Sponsors

I don't shill for anyone. Never have, never will.

But I am a big believer in giving credit where credit is due. As several of my more recent postings have clearly indicated, I have nothing but the highest praise for all those involved with the recent New York Asian Film Festival.

And that has to extend to the festival's sponsors, who are indicated in the above image, a scan of a page in the lush festival booklet. If you're at all a fan of Asian Cinema, and why would you be reading this if you weren't, they deserve your consideration and appreciation for sponsoring this event.

I do want to point out some of the ones who should be of particular interest to you:

Dragon Dynasty - This is a division of the Weinstein Company, sort of a superior successor to the Dimension Films division of Miramax. They're putting out fantastic DVDs, both Hong Kong classics such as The 36 Chambers of Shaolin, The One-Armed Swordsman, My Young Auntie, Hard Boiled, as well as more recent fare, such as Infernal Affairs 2 and Infernal Affairs 3. Check out www.dragondynasty.com.

John Woo Presents Stranglehold - Who wants to play Tequila, not the drink, but Chow Yun-Fat's character in Woo's 1992 classic Hard Boiled? I do!!! I do!!! And so should you. With this game for Playstation 3 and XBox 360 (if yours still works) you can. For more info about this release, due out this month, go to strangleholdgame.com.

Stone Bridge Press - 'Cause every once in awhile ya need ta read about the Asian Films ya been watchin'. Books such as The Films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Asia Shock, The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film, Stay Dogs & Lone Wolves, and many others. Website: www.stonebridge.com.

Palm Pictures - The company's website is www.palmpictures.com. But you might want to first go www.glamorousmovie.com, the website for The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, the film that asks, "Can a genius call girl save the world?" I know I'm going after a screener of this one!

Websites of other sponsors and venues:
IFC Center
Japan Society
Zen Green Tea
ImaginAsian TV
Korean Cultural Service NY

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ACF 040: NYAFF 2007

Paul Kazee (left) and Grady Hendrix, two of the founders of Subway Cinema, in front of Japan Society

Big time thanks are due to Paul, Grady, the other members of Subway Cinema, and everyone who came out to make this year's NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL so incredibly fantastic.

I felt that one reason for the unprecedented success of this year's festival was having the IFC Center (formerly the venerable Waverly Theater) in Greenwich Village as the main venue. It's extremely convenient no matter which side of the city you're coming from, and its proximity to New York University no doubt helped draw the big - and appreciative - crowds. I'm certainly hoping that next year's festival will return there.

Secondly, it was mutually beneficial that the NYAFF 2007 and Japan Society (as part of its JAPAN CUTS film series) co-presented a number of films. Hopefully it made some people who tend to patronize only one organization aware of and appreciative of the other. Some Asian cinematic cross-fertilization, if you will.

Here, in quotes and green text color, are some paraphrased items about the festival from Subway Cinema News July 13 - 20, 2007:

"The shows were sold-out, the audiences were rowdy, there were surprises a-plenty. Who woulda thought that Pakistan's Hell's Ground would be sold out with a waiting list of close to 40 people? It was beautiful chaos that night!"

Hell's Ground

"Each year the audience votes the Subway Cinema Audience Award. Winning films in the past have included, Ping Pong, The Taste Of Tea, and Please Teach Me English. This year, the winner was:

Over half the audience gave it a "10" on a scale of 1-10, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house!"

"Second place went to the amazingly fun HULA GIRLS [See ACF 023 and ACF 035 for my thoughts on this great film - Dr G]. People came out of the NYAFF screening of this movie thanking the Subway Cinema crew for showing it, and it's no surprise that it swept the Japanese Academy Awards. Critics have treated it sniffily because it's not cold and ironic, but audiences know the score."

"Third place went to Johnnie To's EXILED (which Magnolia has plans for later this summer), and then came the two Death Note movies (Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name) which landed in the 4th and 5th places."

Yours truly got to see about fourteen films, and there were many more that I wish I could have gotten to. My day job and the heat and humidity of summer in New York have kept me from posting reviews as often as I would have liked, but I'll be getting more up as best I can.

Meanwhile, don't forget about the upcoming New York Korean Film Festival. See ACF 039.