Missing (Sil jong) 2009: Grinding Gore

This South Korean horror/thriller film is based on true events. Between August and September in 2007 a 70-year-old fisherman murdered four women in Bosung South Korea. Notes from the entry of the film in AsianWiki state that the events have been fictionalized.

Directed by Sung-Hong Kim (Say Yes 2001) and starring Moon Sung-Geun, Choo Ja-Hyun and Jeon Se-Hong it tells the story of two young sisters who have the misfortune to cross paths with an old sociopath living alone with his disabled mother.

The old sociopath Pan-Gon (Moon) sporadically runs a chicken soup cafe on the outskirts of town. He is considered a sort of village idiot, harmless enough, whose wife left him years ago. He is an object of scorn from the men in the village who are jealous of the fact that his land is worth a fortune.

The first sister to meet Pan-Gon is Hyeon-A (Jeon) who is travelling with a producer who is going to cast her in his film. They see the sign advertising chicken soup and stop for lunch. While waiting for the soup Hyeon-A goes to call her sister Hyeon-Jeong (Choo) on her mobile (cell) phone. Sis is a bit of a worrier and tends to keep close tabs on her sister. While the two girls are talking on the mobile phone, Pan-Gon approaches the producer and asks if he will help him to move some bags of grain.

Explaining that he is old and has a bad back, Pan-Gon says he will give the couple a discount on their meal, if the producer will help him out. Slightly dubious and thinking that the old man is kidding him, the producer starts lifting bags of grain. In mid-lift, Pan-Gon takes a piece of piano wire and tries to strangle him. The wire breaks and the producer starts weaving to the door with blood dripping from his mouth and throat.

Hyeon-A comes up just as the old man buries a shovel into the producer’s head killing him. Panic stricken, she cannot move. Behind her is a dog that she is clearly terrified of and in front of her is the murderous Pan-Gon. Frozen in place, Pan-Gon shoves a rag over her mouth and she passes out.

She awakens in a dog cage in a room that has a bed, a couple of lights, and a sink. Pan-Gon comes in and tells her he won’t harm her.

This is the beginning of his systematic torture and rape of the helpless girl. Meanwhile the sister, Hyeon-Jeong is trying to track down her missing sister with little to no help from the local police.

This film was quite unpleasant to watch at first. The torture and the raping of the first sister was disturbing and hard to watch. The director did not show too much but it was still uncomfortable viewing. The other reaction that this part of the film evoked was one of anger at the lack of fight that the girl had. She might as well have had a tattoo on her forehead that said “victim.” The scenes did show just how unhinged Pan-Gon is and how far he will go to maintain absolute control over his victim.

When her sister Hyeon-Jeong comes looking for her you feel a sense of admiration  as she gets almost no help from the local police; despite this she refuses to give up. The police chief flatly refuses to help until she provides some sort of “hard evidence” that justifies his involvement. His assistant takes a shine to Hyeon-Jeong and gives her his card saying that she should call him if she needs any help or gets into any trouble.

Tag! You're dead!
Tag! You’re dead!

I first watched this film about eight months ago and gave up three quarters of the way through. I became frustrated at the lack of interest exhibited by the local police and did not really care for any of the local characters. It is almost as if the director decided to make a South Korean equivalent to the inbred hicks that inhabited the rural south in the film Deliverance. All that was missing from the murderous villain of the piece was the slobbery drawl of “You got a purty mouth.”

But impatience and annoyance aside, the film did actually pick up in the last quarter and became more interesting. But only because the last of the film becomes a cat and mouse game with bloody action and deadly consequences; and oddly enough that was what really let the film down. Despite being touted as being “based on true events” the film devolved into standard slasher fare, albeit with a bit of white knuckle action between the “hero” and the “villain.”

As much as I adore South Korea’s cinematic offerings, this was one film that did not fall into the category of brilliance that I’ve come to expect from the auteur directors who enthral their audiences. Interestingly enough, I did not care much for Say Yes either. The film was very similar to this one in that a lot of the gore and sadistic butchery seemed to lower the film from thriller status to what my daughter says is “torture porn.”

The fact that I had to try twice to watch the film from start to finish says a lot about the quality of entertainment that it offers. In essence, I would not recommend anyone rush to see it. It might be worth a watch is there really is nothing else on the telly and all the other films on Netflix have been watched already. Missing is a definite 2 star film that only gets the second star because of the fighting spirit shown by the second sister.

Now if the director would only stop moving!

Gangnam Style: South Korean Music and Humour is a Winning Combo

I pretty much follow a routine with my blog. Before I even think of writing anything I read the blogs I follow (well skip read if truth be told, I follow a lot of blogs) and I always read the latest entries in the Freshly Pressed arena.

I will admit a certain puzzlement as to why some of the blogs that are ‘pressed’ have received the honour of being singled out (this includes my own blog which was freshly pressed not so long ago). But to be very brutally honest, I don’t really care. It is nice just to read other folks blogs and learn new things or learn old things presented in a different light.

I read the Freshly Pressed today and right at the top of the list was I Grew up Gangnam Style. Because of the thumbnail I realized that I had seen this chap before. In fact the most recent image of this fellow and his natty outfit was a Lego rendition of his music video.

Now the blog post that had been Freshly Pressed did not go into the music video or the chap who made it (PSY if you’re interested). It did give a brilliant parallel reveal of what life in South Korea was like living in the province where the video was shot. It’s a good read, if you didn’t follow the link before, have a look now. It’s in the first paragraph.

But on to the video. I had seen the odd reference to Gangnam Style here and there and it did not arouse enough curiosity for me to look it up. Then the article today appeared and I just had to look this phenomena up. I’m glad I did. It is brilliantly funny and vastly entertaining. Don’t believe me? Just have a look:

Until now, the only other musical artist from Korea who delivered so much humour with his videos was M C MONG. In case you’ve never heard of him, here’s a sample of his music video humour:

M C MONG – CIRCUS

Not to your taste? Then have a look at the Korean film The Fox Family. Made in 2006, this supernatural fantasy musical (that’s right, I said musical) is funny, and the musical numbers are brilliant. Just look at the ‘Money’ song:

Money – The Fox Family

So you can see that Korea has been blending music and humour for a while now. It took PSY and his music video to make the fact known world-wide. At over 290 million views the video now holds the record for viral videos. It is interesting to read the blog  post and the authors assertion that South Korea has just discovered irony. That may well be true, but, I think that South Korea has always had a sense of humour.

If you watch their TV shows, it appears that all the participants (especially those in the entertainment business) love to laugh and make fun of themselves. Not everyone of course, but a huge amount do appear to enjoy not taking themselves too seriously.

I review Asian horror films on YouTube and I’ve had a few people tell me that they don’t get ‘Korean humour’ citing it as being too slapstick in origination and ‘over the top.’ I did not then and still do not understand that statement. South Korean Humour is more than ‘3 stooges slapstick’ it can be sly, surprisingly subtle and in the case of the PSY video, funny and ironic.

The message of the PSY video is that South Korean’s are incredibly concious of how they look when they intermingle with one another in a social setting. Clothing, hairstyle, fashion sense, body weight and plastic surgery are all important facets of Korean social life. I’ve watched a huge amount of YouTube videos (mostly Eat Your Kimchi – Simon and Martina Rule!) that explain what living in South Korea is like.

These informative videos made the Gangnam Style music video all the more humorous. The word on the street is that South Korean’s are well aware of their cultural foibles and this self awareness is what has made the video both ironic and just downright funny.

My daughter has been a fan of KPOP for years and has shown me just about every boy and girl band manufactured over the last ten years in Korea. I have also discovered, through my daughters influence, M C Mong and other solo artists. PSY I discovered via Freshly Pressed and Quartz’s fine post about growing up in that area of Seoul.

Humour is a world wide common meeting ground. Sure some places in the world practise a different sort of humour. A sort of ‘home-grown’ or topical humour that doesn’t always translate well into other countries or languages. But laughter and the ability to laugh at ones self crosses all language or topical restrictions.

It is amazing to think that a music video can become the worlds most viral video until you factor in that is was a funny music video. It’s a shame that the whole world and it’s leaders cannot learn a lesson from these humorous videos. Like the old saying goes, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

What a nice thought.

Bravery, a State of Mind or Being…

Lieutenant Mamo Habtewold

I read an article today about an Ethiopian soldier who was awarded the US Award for Gallantry. In 1951 he was part of a force sent by the Ethiopian King Haile Selassie as a show of support for the American lead United Nations force that was fighting in Korea.

Selassie was a man who practised what he preached. He had in the past poured scorn on the UN when it failed, as the League of Nations, to send help when his country was invaded by Italy in 1935. Being a staunch ally of the US King Selassie thought that the ‘call to arms’ sent out by the UN to help South Korea in it’s battle against North Korea and the Chinese was the perfect opportunity to show how support should be given.

King Selassie sent in excess of 3000 troops. Most of whom were drawn from his own imperial guards. After speaking to the men and telling them that he expected them to bring their flag back with them. The three battalions left to become part of the US 7th Division.

These battalions fought in a large number of battles in Korea including the infamous ‘Pork Chop Hill‘ which claimed so many lives from both sides.

The soldier who received the US Award for Gallantry was, then, Lieutenant Mamo Habtewold. He says that when the first Ethiopian troops returned in 1951, they all spoke of the battles they’d taken part in and pretty much boasted about their time there.

When the Ethiopians joined the newly ‘de-segregated’ 7th Division they were given an elevated status from the US black soldiers already there. Mama said that discrimination was not an issue.  “You know Ethiopia has a 3,000-year history as an independent country. We Ethiopians were proud and boasting that we were Ethiopians. We don’t care about any colour. The Americans didn’t call us ‘Negro’ as we would be angry,” he says.

Mamo went on to say, “We were the best fighters. The three Ethiopian battalions fought 253 battles, and no Ethiopian soldier was taken prisoner in the Korean War,” he says. “That was our Ethiopian motto: ‘Never be captured on the war field.”

Peace talks were stalled and Mamo and his men were part of the Division that was assigned to the hilly territory that included Pork Chop Hill. The fighting was long, bloody and fierce. On one night in May 1953 Mamo lead a 14 man patrol down the hill to scout out the land below. They had one American soldier along and very soon the 15 strong patrol was surrounded by Chinese forces that were 300 strong. A ratio of twenty Chinese soldiers to each one of the Ethiopian patrol.

Four Ethiopians were killed along with the American Corporal. Everyone else was wounded. Using weapons taken from dead Chinese soldiers, Mamo searched throughout the night to find a working radio so he could call in the Artillery units for support. After a long search, Mamo found a radio and Artillery was called in and support came from other troops.

When the remainder of the 14 man patrol came back to their base camp, only Mamo was able to stand. He alone walked back to their bunker while his comrades were sent to the medical units for treatment.

When the war ended, the Ethiopians returned to a heroes welcome. Through the entire conflict they had only lost 120 men and had no men taken prisoner.

Mamo says that at one point during the long night of battle with the Chinese, he thought of killing himself. He had given his pistol to another soldier and when he asked for it back, the soldier refused. That action was what prompted Mamo to search for Chinese weapons to use against the forces attacking them. He did not, apart from that one moment, think of suicide again.

All of which begs the question: What exactly is bravery? I’ve heard it described many ways. The best I’ve ever heard is this, ‘Bravery is knowing that all the odds are against you, but you carry on anyway.’

Of course the above definition of bravery suggests that the individuals being brave are aware of it. In other words they are aware that they are being brave. I don’t really feel that this is the case.

In Mamo’s story, at one point he wanted to end it all. It was only when his soldier refused to return his gun that he changed his mind. But the way he tells it, it was a ‘moment’ an instant of decision that came and went just as quickly. He then continued his battle against incredible odds until they were rescued.

A rescue only possible because Mamo found a radio that worked. So in his instance at least the bravery he exhibited was more a combination of a state of mind and being.

I think of men in battle like Mamo and wonder at their courage and bravery. I wonder if I could or would have acted so well under fire.

I had a great uncle who was a runner in the WWI. He was a message runner for Col MacArthur (later General MacArthur). My uncle would take the message and put it into the dispatch case and head out through the forest towards his objective. By the time he would reach his destination, he had been through his own personal hell.

General MacArthur circa: 1930

My uncle would arrive with the case clutched firmly in his hands. His uniform had been blasted off his body by bombs and shrapnel. He was numb and deafened by the sounds of the explosions. He would hand his message over and after resting and getting re-outfitted he would head back with the reply. I cannot imagine such bravery as this.

He had to know that each and every time he was used as a runner that this would be the likely result. Yet as far as I know, he never refused. This bravery cost him dearly. By the time he was mustered out of the army, he was shell shocked and obviously suffering from post traumatic stress which was not understood in those days.

To get him through each day, he drank. Copious amounts. It was thought that he was just a ‘rummy’ a drunk and he was looked down upon by a lot of people. It was only years later that the family learned of post traumatic stress syndrome and it’s toll on the people who suffered from it.

The fact that this man would get up everyday and face his inner demons with the help of alcohol is another form of bravery. He had no one to help him and no one who understood. Yet, like the running he’d done in the war, he still did it.

Why?

Is it because  he felt a sort of duty or because he could not think of any alternative?

What do you think? Is bravery a state of mind or is it a state of being. Do we consciously decide to be brave, or is it something we just do?  I’d be willing to bet that neither Mamo Habtewold nor my great uncle could tell you.

*For more information on Ethiopia’s role in the Korean War follow this link:  An Ethiopian hero of the Korean War*

During battle, soldiers ran the messages, instead of ‘calling it in’

200 Pounds Beauty (2006): Life in Plastic, it’s Fantastic

Ha-Na and Jenny poster for 200 Pounds Beauty

Directed by Yong-hwa Kim (who also co-wrote the screenplay with three others) 200 Pounds Beauty (Minyeo-neun goerowo) is a ‘feel good romantic comedy’ that really hits the spot.

We had seen a trailer for this film about four years ago. It was on a Tartan Extreme DVD and it looked funny as hell. Unfortunately we could not find a copy of the film anywhere. My daughter and I watched clips from the film on YouTube and searched fruitlessly for a DVD with sub-titles.

Fast Forward to 2012. We found a website on YouTube called Eat Your Kimchi (kimchi is a disgusting dish that is made up of cabbage being buried in the ground for months. It is then dug up and eaten. I’ve smelt the stuff and if it tastes as revolting as it smells…) The channel is run by Simon and Martina. Two Canadians who teach English in South Korea and they are YouTube personalities.

Their channel is funny, cute and informative. One of their videos explained how the Koreans felt about personal appearance and the fact that they are not shy about telling you what your shortcomings might be. They feel no shame in telling that you’re ugly, fat, too skinny, or funny looking. In Korea looks are very important. Too important.

If you look at which country has the highest number of plastic surgeries per year you’ll be surprised to find out it isn’t the image concious USA but Korea who ranks number one in going under the knife. Which brings me to the plot of the film.

Kang Ha-Na (Ah-jung Kim who plays Ha-Na in a fat suit at the beginning of the film) is a ‘ghost singer’ for a music promoters big act. The beautiful Ah-mi (Seo-yun Ji) is the singer, but unfortunately, she can’t really sing. Ha-na does it for her while she syncs the words.

Ha-Na works at two jobs. Ghost singer for Ah-mi and she’s a phone sex worker. Because of her caring personality and lovely voice she has a regular list of clients who ring her. She’s doing both jobs so that she can pay for her dad to be in a home. He is suffering from Senile Dementia and when she visits him, he thinks that she is her mother.

Ha-Na is shy and has a huge crush on Ah-mi’s manager/producer Sang-jun (Jin-mo Ju) who values Ha-Na highly because of her  beautiful singing voice. Ah-mi humiliates Ha-Na at Sang-jun’s birthday party. She goes home to commit suicide. She opens all the gas jets in her flat and waits to die.

Suddenly her phone rings. She lets the answer machine take the call and it turns out to be one of her clients. He is a plastic surgeon and she suddenly changes her mind about killing herself. She goes to his office and with a mixture of blackmail and appealing to his ego as a plastic surgeon convinces him to re-make her from head to toe.

She disappears for a year to have all the surgery done. She changes her diet and exercises regularly. After  the year is up she is ‘unveiled’ and she is beautiful. Slender, sexy and stunning she causes accidents when she walks down the street.

The new improved Ha-Na.

A lot is made about her new beauty and how everyone reacts to it. That is where most of the comedy is centred. She still has a huge crush on Sang-jun and she starts following him. This leads to her purchasing a second hand car. As she’s driving it she crashes into the back of a taxi. The male driver insists that its his fault and the traffic cop agrees with him. The female passenger makes the cop check Ha-Na’s drivers license.

The license looks nothing like her as the photograph was taken before her plastic surgery. She gets taken to the station and has to call her best friend Jeong-min ( Hyeon-sook Kim) to come and identify her. Jeong-min rushes into the station but she doesn’t recognise Ha-Na and goes to a drunken fat lady laying on a bench.

What makes this film work so well is the knowledge that South Koreans are obsessed with looking perfect. They have a very set idea of what makes someone attractive and they will go to any length to achieve that ideal.

The other thing that makes the film work is the fat suit at the beginning. It is 100% convincing. Film-makers have used this type of prosthetic before in Wishing Stairs. It looks disturbingly real. This effect combined with Ah-jung Kim’s performance as Ha-Na completely sells the whole idea.

Kim still walks ‘heavy’ after her operations. Despite her new svelte figure, her gait is awkward and lumbering. It takes her a while to get to grips with her new body and she doesn’t just walk ‘heavy’ her movements are those of a heavier person as well. It was her physical acting that helped to really sell that she had been the huge Ha-Na before her surgery.

We had to wait to see this film for ages, but, it was worth the wait. I had a lump in my throat as big as the state of Texas at the films conclusion. A conclusion, I might add, that sends a mixed message. It didn’t spoil the film in the least.

If you like romantic comedies that will make you sore from laughing too much. Don’t miss this film. Fortunately it is available on YouTube. The whole film, not just clips, is there for the watching. If you want your own DVD copy? I wish you good luck and if you are lucky, let me know where you found it.

I give this film a one  bag of popcorn rating. Not because it deserves a lower score, but because you’ll be laughing so much, that’s all you be able to eat.

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011) Scream-a-long Terror

 

A little something different for today. Now just to set this up I have to explain that I love films. Especially horror films. Most especially Asian horror films. And top of the list are Korean horror films. My daughter shares this passion with me and she found this little gem of a horror film –  White: Cursed Melody. She has literally been banging on about this film for months. We finally were able to see this when we got our copy from YesAsia.com.

All I can say is…Woah!

Korea is the capital of “manufactured” bands. Literally dozens of these groups are formed every year, usually by SM Entertainment. Boy bands and girl bands, the younger the better, are formed, homogenised and pasteurised and released to an adoring fan base. White: Cursed Melody (aka White) is about a girl group struggling for recognition in this highly competitive arena.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How on earth is this a horror film. Well, even without the paranormal slant that is part of this film, you might find girl/boy singing groups quite horrible. Seen X Factor lately?

On with the plot…The “leader” of the group finds a 15 year old video tape that’s been recorded in an old studio – a studio that previously caught fire with deadly consequences – by an unknown girl group. The song on the tape catches the “leader’s” interest and she along with the group’s manager decide to use the song in their competition. This song titled “White”  propels the group into the limelight.

The song turns out to be cursed (no, not like The Ring cursed) and that is essentially the plot of the film.

This film was brilliant. It showed, in the first half of the film, the stresses and strains on relationships between band members. It also showed the ravishing affects of inter-group competition and the “back-biting” and the “in-fighting” that occurs when any band takes off.

The second half of the film was just downright jump out of your seat, goose-bumply scary. I don’t even think that Insidious made me jump as much. The film sucker punches you so many times you start to feel punch drunk. It also has a plot that isn’t easily guessed by the viewer. You literally find out at the last possible moment who the “big-bad” really is.

Considering that most of the actors who played as the girl group were not actors but were singers from existing bands in Korea, it makes the film all the more memorable and amazing. I know that a lot of folks don’t like sub-titles, but believe me this film is worth the irritation of reading them. On a side note, unlike a lot of sub-titled films, the titles themselves are not of book length and quickly read.  They really don’t detract from the film at all.

Like I said it is SCARY.  Not to sound like a big fraidy cat, but, I’m going to bed tonight with the lights on.