Okay, a light first day got me in the mood for movies, and today I did the full grueling day of five. Five movies, especially five subtitled and/or demented movies, gets your brain boiling it its own chum, and a week of it… Eek. That’s why I have only now surfaced with reviews. Anyway, there was some great stuff today, let’s get to it!
The Yellow Sea (7/10) – A Korean crime drama set in a region most of us don’t know exists – a Chinese region between North Korea and Russia where Joseonjok (Chinese citizens of Korean ancestry) live. Ha Jung-Woo plays a guy whose wife runs off to South Korea, and he languishes between gambling debts and alcoholism until a crime boss gives him a chance to pay his debts and go to South Korea as long as he whacks a guy while he’s there. He’s no hardened killer, though, and the people sending him there aren’t exactly being aboveboard with him, so it turns into a bit of a chase thriller as cops and various groups of criminals. This movie is notable for good acting and for people not being afraid to fuck each other up with hatchets if it’s called for. It went on a little long, but that’s the Koreans for you. Hong-jin Na’s previous movie, Chaser, is available for streaming on Netflix.
Underwater Love (5/10) – When a high school crush comes back as a kappa years later to a decrepit old lady working at a fishery (she’s only 34, but apparently that’s old enough to be continually taunted for being old in Japan), wackiness ensues. The effects are bargain basement, but the movie has a certain charm. There are “musical numbers” that largely involve the cast capering around, however, they only sometimes make a token effort to actually sing the lyrics. Not “good” in the classic sense, but weird enough to be entertaining. The scene where a fishery co-worker seduces the kappa isn’t to be missed, if you ever wondered what a kappa’s junk looks like that is.
The Corridor (8/10) – I was surprised by this film. I expected a low budget Evil Dead or cabin slasher knockoff. But it was cleverly set up and the effects were startlingly good! Basically some childhood friends reunite in a cabin; one of them (Tyler) had a breakdown, attacked them, and was institutionalized years before, but he’s out and his mom, who was a surrogate mom to them all, has died and they’re gathering to spread her ashes, have a wake, and hang out. There’s a fun twist and interesting mythology. It has some personal relevance to me, we had a kid in our Boy Scout troop who went away to the funny farm for a while and then came back. We liked the guy, seemed like a gentle soul. He ended up chopping up a neighbor in Pennsylvania and hanging himself in the police van. Whaddya gonna do.
Juan of the Dead (9/10) – A Cuban indie zombie comedy. I shit you not. Again I had low expectations, figuring it’d be a Shaun of the Dead knockoff in Spanish, but it was really, really good. It was filmed all over the place in Havana, a beautiful city most of us have never seen. It captured the Cuban way of life beautifully. Even more remarkable is how the director Alexander Brugues turned in such an amazing initial film – he described how there’s no movies like this in Cuba, and he learned about them and film-making in general from the hellishly slow monitored Internet connection out of Cuba. By all rights the movie shouldn’t be as good as it is, and it’s a lot of fun – really funny, but with some good zombie-killin’ action (ever seen 300 zombies decapitated at once? Well now you have!). Brugues explained a lot of the (non-zombie related) shenanigans of the titular Juan are based directly on his brother, which made it even more funny. Even he is not sure how the Cuban film board approved his movie; his theory is that they read the script and decided he was a crackpot with no chance of ever finishing the movie, so why not play the good guy and say yes? Not just a zom-com, this skillfully done film provides a rare glimpse into modern Cuba – not just the settings but also the people. It’s as good as, but very different from, Shaun of the Dead – if you liked Shaun, however, you won’t be disappointed in Juan! I had a Cuban expat roommate in college and have a friend at work that goes to Cuba on relief trips regularly, I can’t wait for them to both see this.
Zombie (7/10) – Lucio Fulci’s best known classic. After seeing the restoration work on House By The Cemetery the previous day, I decided to see this – I’ve seen it a couple times and it’s a good zombie movie marred only by the darn muddiness, crap color, bad sound, etc. that the current print has. It didn’t disappoint, the movie is now beautiful, and the eyeball piercing has never been more vivid. Watching some of these old movies can be a chore in their current form and these kinds of re-masterings really breathe some unlife back into them. You can get the DVD of the old version on Netflix.
Day Two didn’t disappoint. So far my biggest take-aways are the Korean thriller Haunters from day one and Juan of the Dead and The Corridor from today. But there’s much more movie goodness to come!