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!

Predators 2010: Get to the Spaceship…

Okay, so I decided to ring in the changes of the New Year by having a mini-movie-marathon. It all started with catching the still amazing Jurassic Park on television. That put me in the mood for movies I had not seen in a while. So I popped in Predators and the Blu-ray special edition of Battle Royale (Game ober). On a side note, I was on Battle Royale when the clock struck twelve so I paused it (a pretty painful thing to do, because I love that film) and watched my neighbour’s fireworks for about an hour.

Waking up today I wanted to talk about Predators and why, as a sequel, it disappointed me a little. I also wanted to say how I felt  about the film and the fact that nobody says, “Get to the spaceship!”

*just kidding about the spaceship part, although that would have been cool*

According to Wikipedia, Robert Rodriguez wrote the screenplay for Predators way back when he was doing Desperado. The article goes on to say that the studio was not impressed with the possible big budget that the film would require and passed. Fast forward to a time when Rodriguez is now damn near a “brand name” in Tinsel Town and he gets the green light.

Unfortunately, Rob decides not to direct the film (which in my opinion kills the movie right off the bat) and instead opts to produce it and hires Nimród Antal to direct the film.

Nimrod Antal, director.

Now it’s probably just me, but, I cannot for one minute take anyone seriously who has the name, “Nimrod.” Just cannot do it. When I was a teen, a nimrod was slang for an idiot. Phrases like: “Way to go, ya nimrod!” or “Jeeze, what a nimrod!” springs to mind every time I hear this guy’s name. Not an overly auspicious start there Robert.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Antal has proven himself to be a more than capable director. He helmed the very respectable (and damned good) Vacancy but one great little film does not a great director make. Now take into consideration that he’s only directed one other film since Predators and you’ll see that I am not alone in my feelings about Nimrod (and oh boy the urge to pun right there is killing me).

Still, let us take a look at the film over all. Starting with the cast, courtesy of IMDb:

Adrien Brody

Royce
Topher Grace

Edwin
Alice Braga

Isabelle
Walton Goggins

Stans
Oleg Taktarov

Nikolai
Laurence Fishburne

Noland
Danny Trejo

Cuchillo
Louis Ozawa Changchien

Hanzo
Mahershala Ali

Mombasa (as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali)

The first three names in the cast list are good solid actors who usually bring a lot to a role. Then further down the list you have the one, the only, Laurence Fishburne (in arguably the best role in the film) and good old Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez favourite). Everyone else on the cast list might not be in the same calibre as the first three actors and Mr Fishburne but they are pretty well-known and more than capable at their chosen craft.

On a side note, hasn’t Mahershala Ali bulked up a lot since his The 4400 days. The man has been putting in some serious overtime at his gym.

The shooting locations were in Hawaii, brilliant choice if I might be allowed to give my humble opinion, with the interiors shot in Rodriguez’s Texas studios (for tax reasons) so the film looked great in terms of location. *I do have to mention that some exterior scenes were shot in Texas as well, so apart from generating the rather alien Bush family, the state can produce some great “alien” looking scenery.*

The story is…functional. In a nutshell the plot is, people are air dropped into a jungle. The people, except for one unfortunate whose chute doesn’t open, are all killers who band together to find out where they are, why they are there, and how to get out. One of them (like the old Sesame Street Shtick, “One of these things is not like the other…”) does not apparently fit into to the little group of murderous professionals, Topher Grace is a doctor and, amazingly, no one questions why he is there. Just goes to show, you do not have to be deep to be a professional killer.

Brody’s character seems to be quite a few jumps ahead of his new colleagues and he figures out very quickly that they are on a “game preserve” and they are the “game.” And therein lies the problem with Predators, the applicable part of the prior statement is “very quickly.”

It’s all too “very quickly” in terms of everything. It is just too fast. Admittedly this makes a better sequel to the Schwarzenegger original than Predator 2, but only just. And only because the action takes place in the jungle with a lot of muscular men (and one woman) with loads of ammo and weapons. But the speed at which the film moves is almost dizzying and it definitely doesn’t allow any time at all for character development.

“Character development?” I hear you cry, it’s an action adventure science fiction film! What character development? I will almost accept that as a trade-off, of course the action and adventure and the science fiction should be first in a film like this, but not at the detriment to the characters portrayed. The original Predator had Schwarzenegger and a load of body building pals in it and they just managed to not be cardboard cut-outs in their roles, so why can’t Predators do the same.

It all revolves around the plot and the “feel” of the film. The original was a movie that started out as a straight forward action feature that suddenly and sharply took a left turn into science fiction land. It worked brilliantly and the pacing was spot on.

Predators never starts out as anything but a science fiction film. From the second that the parachute release mechanism on Brody’s chest starts to flash lights and make beeping noises, we know…it is the future; instant “sci fi” and no mistake about it. But hey, that’s not a problem. It’s still salvageable; they can still make that left turn up ahead, the one that will make this movie great instead of merely good.

Larry Fishburne, saviour as fruit-loop…

But they missed the turn off and instead of veering off into a fascinating new direction, we are given a crazy survivor scene with a plot twist of the predators actually being two species instead of one and they don’t get along. So now we have Larry Fishburne knocking it out of the park as the nutty-as-a-fruitcake survivor who talks to folks who aren’t there and is as deadly as the predators and a great plot device to help our “heroes” get out of Dodge alive.

This all leads into a “twist” to the story that was not a twist at all. It also leads into a “touching moment” and an almost Schwarzenegger ending.

There are a few nods and winks to the original, there is a Hispanic female character, a mini-gun and a “boar like” creature (or more) and it’s set in a jungle. Pretty cool, but it just doesn’t have the panache to make it fun.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like this film. So much so that I own a DVD of it and still drag it out occasionally to watch. But I don’t love it. If I did, I would own a Blu-ray copy of the film and watch it a lot. Each time I put the film on and watch it, I think the same two things; what if Rodriguez had directed it and I really want someone to say, “Get to the spaceship!”

Some of the main cast plus director and producer.

Zatoichi (2003): Blind Masseuse Music

Zatoichi is a Japanese “anti-hero” popular in their culture. No less than 26 films have been made featuring Zatoichi and a long running television show which aired 100 episodes. Part of the Zatoichi legend is his ability to win at gambling as he can hear the dice. He also gives massages, plays music and sings, and practises acupuncture.

Zatoichi even got the Hollywood remake treatment in 1990. The 17th film in the series was remade with Rutger Hauer playing a blind swordsman. Titled Blind Fury, it wasn’t a bad film. I watched it before I had even heard of Zatoichi and thought at the time it was marvellous. Of course, I am a huge Rutger Hauer fan, so that may explain a lot.

Takeshi Kitano adapted the screenplay of his version of Zatoichi. He also directed and edited the film. Kitano’s version is musical. Not in the classic sense, you won’t find samurai suddenly bursting into song a la The Sound of Music. But the film itself is musical.

The rain makes a musical sound as it falls and drips off objects. The villagers working in the fields make a rhythmic noise as they collect vegetables and weed their plants. This pattern of music making does not over indulge or become obtrusive. It is noticeable mainly when there are scenes with no dialogue. Sound is amplified when, we the audience, hear things from Zatoichi’s point view, so to speak.

The battles (which Takeshi wanted to be choreographed as realistically as possible) where the blind man takes his sword cane out to fight, have sword slices and cuts that are louder than usual, as if we are hearing it as Zatoichi is. The blood was “overly” CG’d at Kitano’s request. He felt the audience needed a bit of relief from the brutal nature of the battles and the high body count.

Zatoichi discovers a small mountain village that is being ruled by a powerful yakuza gang. They moved into the village and killed the “legal” rich landowner who was the villager’s protector and employer. The gang bully and terrorize the small village. Then Zatoichi arrives and starts carving his way through the yakuza gang. The leaders of the gang employ a Ronin to be their body-guard.

Ronin were samuai without a leader. Their lord and master is either dead or has no need of their services. Ronin roamed the countryside selling their sword skills to the highest bidder. Takeshi Kitano wisely chose Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano to play the ronin Hattori Gennosuke. Asano has been described as the Japanese Johnny Depp. He is a versatile and brilliant actor who has made the cross to Hollywood, working on Thor, Battleship and Thor: The Dark World (due for release in 2013). Credited with 82 films as an actor and three films as a director, Asano is perhaps best known for his over-the-top S&M villain from Ichi the Killer.

Ronin vs Zatoichi


The fight between Zatoichi and Gennosuke is long, brutal and brilliant. It was also a nod to Asano’s role in Ichi the Killer, as Zatoichi is also referred to as “Ichi” in the series of films about the blind swordsman.

There is a sub-plot about two beautiful geisha (one of whom is a man) who play music and sing before they murder their rich clients. They are on a revenge mission as it was their family who were murdered by the yakuza gang who took over the village.

Beat Takeshi‘s Zatoichi is a big budget affair that at last count pulled in over 32 million dollars at the box office. It won the Silver Palm Award and Cannes and has done very well in the home rental department. The film features Takeshi’s low key and, sometimes, slapstick humour that is his trademark. One scene in particular sums up the humour of Beat Takeshi.

The village idiot (or simpleton) likes to dress up as a samurai warrior and “train.” This consists of running around his ramshackle shed of a house yelling at the top of his lungs. This if funny enough (as he does it through a good portion of the film) but add Zatoichi into the scene and it becomes hysterically funny. I won’t spoil the scene for you, just watch it and see.

The film looks beautiful and has Kitano’s stamp all over it. As he edits his own films, he puts his personal touch and rhythm to ease film he does. The colours are sumptuous and the lighting is spot on. The blood is all CG. As explained before, he wanted the blood to be very intrusive. In his words to the special effects department he wanted the blood to, “look like flowers blossoming across the screen.”

I have watched Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi repeatedly and find something new in it each time I view it. I would highly recommend that you watch it; if for no other reason than to enjoy Beat Takeshi’s version of this popular and classic Japanese character.

Zatoichi hearing the rain.

Livid (2011): Ballet Boo

Livid (film)
Livid (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written and directed by Alexandre BustilloJulien MauryLivid (or Livide) is Bustillo and Maury’s second collaborative effort. Their first was the 2007 film Inside which received rave reviews when it opened.

Unfortunately Livid has not been as well received. Although I’m at a loss as to why the film was viewed so negatively by the same folks who adored their first film. I can only put it down to the lads having a hard time living up to their amazing first feature.

Livid is centred around Lucie Klavel (Chloé Coulloud) a young twenty something who is training to be a home care nurse for the elderly.

The beginning of the film sees Lucie being trained by Mrs Wilson (Catherine Jacob) and we meet a few of her “new” clients. Mrs Wilson appears to be quite jaded at this point in her career as a home carer and Lucie shows a lot of compassion for her potential new charges.

The last lady they visit is Mrs Deborah Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla) who is in a coma. She is incredibly old and is only being kept alive by a machine and blood transfusions. Mrs Wilson tells Lucie that the old woman has a treasure hidden somewhere in the crumbling mansion that is her home. Wilson also tells Lucie that she has looked for the treasure in vain for years.

Lucie Klavel aka Chloé Coulloud

After work Lucie meets her boyfriend William (Félix Moati) at the docks as he and his father come in to unload their catch for the day. William is a fisherman like his father, but he wants a lot more from life for less effort. He is tired of working hard for so little recompense.

Over drinks at a Bistro run by Will’s mother, Lucie recounts her first day as a carer. When Will tells her it sounds boring, she tells him of Mrs Jessel and her hidden treasure.Will becomes quite excited and tries to talk her into breaking into the mansion and stealing the treasure.

Lucie states firmly that it is out of the question, there is no way they are going to rob the old lady. But, once she gets home and finds that her dad will be moving his girlfriend into their flat just eight months after her mother, and his wife, killed herself she changes her mind.

William and their mutual friend Ben (Jérémy Kapone) all go to the house. Lucie sets the ground rules by saying they cannot break into the house and if they can get in they must damage nothing.

Of course once they get in the rules are abandoned and everything goes horribly wrong.

This was a compelling film to watch as the writers –and directors– cast their actors well and had written their parts to be more rounded than the usual horror film inhabitants. Lucie with her compassion, William with his laziness and Ben with his laissez faire attitude were very real feeling characters. Mrs Wilson seemed a bit odd and not very nice, we are soon shown why we have such misgivings about her.

Marie-Claude Pietragalla was terrifying as Mrs Jessel.

The scary Mrs Jessel putting her Ballet students through their paces.

The film looks beautiful. The colours and the textures of the film were close to breathtaking. The cinematography was crisp and spot on.

The actual plot of the film could have been construed as a bit convoluted or at least a bit muddled towards the end of the film, but neither my daughter nor myself felt too confused by the ending. Critics seemed to have a hard time following the ending, but then we all know that critics are not always the sharpest tool in the shed.

I was surprised at how good Livid actually was. I am not a huge fan of French cinema. They seem way too preoccupied with sex. Most of their cinematic offerings feel  over sexualized and full of gratuitous nudity. I hasten to add that this applies to “art house” films from the country.

Amazingly, it does not appear to be the norm in their horror films. These at least concentrate on scaring the pants off the viewer and not disrobing their actors on-screen.

My final verdict is that this is a two bags of popcorn movie. It moves at a good pace and it is scary enough that you just might lose part of that first bag of popcorn.