Monday, September 27, 2004

Movies from the LA Korean Film Fest

Hi. My name is Ryan Wu. You can call me something of a cinephile. You can also call me a Korean fetishist. Well, not so much Korean culture (though I enjoy soju and karaoke as much as the next Asian guy). What I am really into are Korean movies and (moreso) females of Korean ancestry. I am not proud of the last part. In fact, I'm rather ashamed of it. Being a good liberal, I've always wanted to embrace diversity as widely as possible. But forgive me, fellow libs, I have chosen a narrower path. The saving grace is that I also have a special fondness for females of Indian (Asian-sub-continent), Irish (especially redheads), and Jewish descent -- if Jewishness can be passed on, if not let's just call it a fetish for Jewesses. In other words, I am not just an exclusive fetishist. However, I think that my attraction to females of a certain ethnicity, as loathsome as it clearly is, is still more respectable than the tendencies of exclusive fetishists, especially my white friends who can't get aroused except when in the midst of an Asian female. So do not scorn me, many people are worse and they live amongst you. And in any case, my actual girlfriend is none of the above, so I think I'm very healthy, sexual psychology-wise.

But this entry is not about Korean women but about Korean movies. Or rather, they are about Korean movies that often feature hot Korean women, sometimes in the nude, and often in the sexual act. These movies played at the Korean International Film Fest (not sure why the "international" is there) which screened at the Egyptian last weekend. On second thought, because I clearly cannot be trusted to discuss Korean movies featuring naked Korean women, I will hand the reins over to the respective director of each movie, so you can get each movie's merits (or lack thereof) from the horse's mouth. That's probably better.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance -- B/B-

Hi. My name is Park Chan-wook, and I am a sadistic Korean psycho. However, I dress like a harmless Asian businessman and talk in a calm manner which bely my inner Leatherface. This was a picture I made after watching Kurosawa's High and Low 200 times. I thought, what if I re-made High and Low except add some nice Korean touches, like killing children, slashing achilles' heels, raping unconscious women in the midst of selling their body organs, electro-shock torture, and random retard humor. Wouldn't that be awesome? This guy Ryan has branded my kind of movie "the Korean Theater of Cruelty" but I think it just realistically reflects life, where there is no mercy, only pointless vengeance and death. Also, wouldn't it be funny if you could hynotize and anesthetize my viewers during the movie and remove one of their kidneys secretly? I would love to see their reaction when they go home and find out a kidney is missing!

A Tale of Two Sisters -- A-/B+

Hi. My name is Kim something or another. I am hitherto an obscure Korean director. But soon, the name Kim will be known from Pusan to Seoul, as my new movie is a smash hit, soon to be remade by Hollywood. So how have I come to make this great movie? What it is is that I was on my 200th viewing of the awesome ghost story The Others, when I thought, "What if I remade The Others but use an old Korean folktale instead?" My movie will be scarier because everyone knows lanky, long-haired Asian girl ghosts like the Ringu girl are scarier than Nicole Kidman and some perpetually frightened-looking British boy. But I will retain the claustrophobic feel and oppressive mother figure, so that you have "subtext." Also, I will add cheap visceral thrils to the creepy, atmospheric gothic style that that Spanish guy used. So my movie will be a triumphant merging of the English gothic and the J-horror genres. Anyway, my movie is elegant, stylish and scary, and with a psychological subtext so that suckers like Ryan the blogger, who loves gothic ghost stories and J-horror tropes, will eat it up and shrug off the story contrivances. So what if it makes little sense, when it is so well done?

Woman is the Future of Man -- B

Hi. My name is Hong Sang-soo. I am a reknowned Korean pervert. I am also one of the most acclaimed Asian directors on the film festival circuit. My latest movie made it to the competition at Cannes, where it was promptly dismissed by American critics who know nothing about art. I have news for American critics: I know about art. Also, I know all about shallow, self-centered Korean men, the kind who drift along and do little but score chicks and drink soju and smack their lips when they eat. They're centerless, taking whatever comes to them without heed of conviction or commitment. Some people wonder why I keep making the same movie about these clueless, unlikeable Korean rakes. My answer is, why does Eric Rohmer keep making movies about fussy, overly self-conscious French people? That is the nature of the Frog, Eric Rohmer would probably say, and so naturally I am investigating the nature of the Korean tool. In fact, some have called me the Korean Rohmer, since my droll comedies (yes, they are comedies) are alert to the psychology of desire the way Rohmer's movies are. That is true. And I think the main difference between us is one of national characteristics: my characters are "very Korean," lacking the self-awareness of the French. So I have the more difficult task: my movies seek to examine the unexamined life. It is a neat trick, I think. Anyway, to do this, I like to focus on embarrassing situations or people's banal conversations to explore the hidden power struggle, like the scene when the two clueless Korean dudes in this movie decide to go see the chick they were both into and play passive-aggressive games along the way to try to get rid of the other. Also, I like to probe my characters to locate human weakness, to find the existential drift of the urban soul. Okay, that part is for wankers like Ryan, who like "comedies and proverbs" about flawed people in complicated romantic relationships and will predictably give any movie that pairs "existential x" with "urban y" a good grade on his blog.

To tell you the truth, I make these movies so I can shoot long, realistic sex scenes with pretty-hot-in-an-approachable-way kind of actresses. Look at the girl in that picture. Not bad, eh? And I got to see her full-frontal many times during the shoot! It is too bad the sex scenes in this one aren't as steamy as the ones in Turning Gate, but that is a calculated decision, this movie is deliberately meant to feel minor. More blow jobs and less fucking here -- that is an indication of the less ambitious scope of this picture. I think I am actually transitioning to a more straightfoward approach, with an emphasis on observation rather than structural gameplaying. So unlike my other movies, I have only played with structure and symmetries a little here, and I didn't do it in a very inspired way (just a couple of flashbacks and parallel staging). But on the plus side, this movie is more accessible as well as funny and well-observed as any. Now that I have gotten the transition movie out of the way, the next movie I make will be a masterpiece, I promise you that. And it will feature hotter sex, I swear on my ancestors' grave.

Samaritan Girl -- B

Hi. My name is Kim Ki-duk and I am a sadistic Korean psycho. In my earlier incarnation, I am known for my creative ways with the fish hook. Lately, however, I have also found religion, and so now I make peaceful movies about Buddhism, like Spring Summer Fall Winter...and Spring, but with perversions and acts of unexpected violence. To prepare for this movie I have studied many "ABC Afterschool Specials" and also Lilya 4-Ever. I thought what if I used the Afterschool Special tone to tell a story like the one in Lilya, about a young girl's descent in the world of prostitution. That would be one awesome picture! So besides Satie's beautiful but now overused "Gymnopedie", I have scored this movie with the most saccharine music possible. And the shots and cutting are very crisp and clean and conventionally beautiful. It is a very nice and cheerful-looking movie. However, it is also about cleansing, about how to wash away a vile act. To explore this theme, I've shot many scenes involving cute naked schoolgirls bathing one another. But I have also used Buddhism and Catholicism in an obvious, but film festival-approved way -- by way of allegory-- to get my points across. Get it, one girl is Vasumitra, the other is in Samaria? Okay, I don't either, but it sounds profound, doesn't it? Anyway, if you want to know how you can atone for bashing people's heads in with cement blocks or sleeping with random pathetic men, watch my movie.

Also, is it possible to make a movie about child prostitution and not judge the girl or girls? I don't know if that is even worthwhile to try, but here it is. Perhaps Buddha will be proud.