Permission to Exist

The film Permission to Exist releases December of this year, into a pop culture climate where documentary films and miniseries are bingeably popular, but its journey to screen traces far back, to a time before Tiger King and the Fyre Festival. An independent, crowdsourced production directed by Kelley Katzenmeyer, this broad look at the human cost of South Korea’s intense education system has a personal touch and an empathetic eye, but loses narrative momentum in its hard balance of styles and subjects. Katzenmeyer introduces herself within the film early on as a Korean exchange student dating a boy named Dabin who’s under extreme pressure to rate a perfect score on the national exam and gain access to a prestigious university. Though she keeps the focus of the story on others, her presence is felt as a curious outsider making sense of a foreign concept for the rest of us. If you’re interested in Korean culture, Permission to Exist is a no-brainer, a definitive film document on the subject to stand alone should Netflix or Hulu one day replicate it, because of the director’s unique perspective. … More Permission to Exist

Audition | Scariest of All Time?

There was this TV special that aired on Bravo in 2004 called The 100 Scariest Movie Moments, and the number 11th most scary moment came from this movie called Audition. You had these talking heads, including three American filmmakers: John Landis, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie, and they’re going on about how disturbing this movie was. Landis found it so unsettling he didn’t even like it. This is still profound to me. First of all, there’s no better word of mouth for a horror movie, I think, but more than that, I boyishly appreciate this very open appreciation by Americans of foreign cinema — I’ll take that anywhere I can get it. So cool did I find it, it must have rattled around in my brain for long enough that I turned it into an issue. Wait a minute, why this one? What makes Audition different? … More Audition | Scariest of All Time?

And Have Another Irene

Still me, still trying to make sense of this — my feelings as we spiral toward the end of the United States. I just feel awful. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Barely got any sleep last night. There’s a lot of stressors in my life — like with everyone — but this has been the most vibrating needle in my eye, and that’s my fault. I made the mistake of reading as many news stories about it as I could, including from gossip site AllKpop. What I couldn’t stand about that one was how much people seemed to delight in the thought of Irene’s end. How do you even find out about someone like Irene and decide you don’t like her? There are K-pop groups I don’t really like, but I don’t even think about them. I wrote up that last post before I had a sense for people like that. … More And Have Another Irene

My Statement on the Irene Situation

Christ, a finger wag in word form. Words don’t have hips or hands to put on those hips, and yet, there they are: “My Statement on the Irene Situation.” Your reaction to that is my reaction to the whole thing. And what is the “whole thing,” even? How far does this frustration stretch back? To the beginning of cancel culture? To Tiger Woods on the television apologizing to you for his infidelity? I don’t want to be one of those people who gleefully “cancels” until the canceling becomes inconvenient. Donovan and I have spoken extensively on the subject on our podcast Questions: We Don’t Have Answers — inconclusively, as you might expect. But here’s a collision of cancel culture and idol culture that I need to untangle before I spontaneously combust. … More My Statement on the Irene Situation

So Close

I’m a talker. I talk to movies, I talk at the screen. It’s weird, but I do it. I was fully expecting to come into a review of So Close focused on how it’s the guiltiest guilty pleasure, how its predictability is disarming on purpose and that purpose is just north of lurid, but then it pulls a turn with 30 minutes on the clock that had me shouting. The climax plays out and I’m sitting there with “Here she comes.” “This is where she comes in.” “She’s coming back.” “Could they really…?” and then the credits roll and I am just “What the fuck?” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “What the fuck?” It’s the next morning as I write this [diary entry] and the sting resounds still. … More So Close

Three the Korean Way (Why Revenge?)

Gosh, I remember — and don’t you dare deny that this happened — I remember when Parasite was at the height of its celebration, and one of the ideas floating around online was that Korean cinema isn’t only defined by violence and revenge. And if you look, a lot of the blockbusters of the past few years were romantic-comedies or historical dramas. However, my experience with Korean film is absolutely defined by violence and revenge. That’s how it was marketed, that’s what got me interested. So consider this a disproportionate response to something I saw on Twitter a year ago. I think Korean revenge is important. And today, I want to explore three of its examples and ask the question that bubbles at the edges of your mind while in the throes of these films: why? That scurrilous online claim had to come from somewhere — why is there so much Korean revenge? And should revenge define the nation’s cinema? … More Three the Korean Way (Why Revenge?)

Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

Whether it’s Wang Cong’er taking up her righteous sword against the Qing Dynasty or Ching Shih living the freest possible life yet expressed, rebellion lies at these restless hearts. Where there is war, there are warriors, and where there are warriors, there are warrior women. It’s really that simple, and so I think it’s only right how we’ve gone to great lengths, by way of mythology and science both, to complicate it. Selective history is exactly that — it is conscious. Before I raise hell about all the Chinese warrior women omitted from my American public school education, what about all the important American women of history I only learned about later and at random? Why were they excluded? Did the people who made the choice to exclude even know about them? Were they excluded for them too, and then, who was the original excluder? By George, this goes all the way to the top, or at least, to some rather unpleasant gentleman. … More Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

The Royal Tailor

A lot of the Korean pop culture I’ve witnessed so far eschews context, even before exportation to America. There’s a propulsive energy to movies like Parasite and The Handmaiden, like “Wowzer, where did that come from?” and you’ll see highly-paid and highly-respected Korean celebrities doing absurd things in the name of cinema (or variety shows). A film like The Royal Tailor doesn’t stop to observe its absurdity, doesn’t replicate the audience to lie prostrate before it and be judged, and this allows the earnest deliveries of lines like “I’ll make sure your clothes never see the light of day!” The magic trick, then, is that this line is a gut punch. … More The Royal Tailor

#Alive

Zombie movies stopped being weird a long, long time ago. And I don’t mean “millions of Milla Jovovich clones” weird — though before I fall into this visible trap for genre snobbery, is that any better or worse than Return of the Living Dead III’s zombie power loaders? To my mind, still, there’s a difference between Paul W.S. Anderson and Brian Yuzna. There’s a difference between in-groups and out-groups, the names made in the heyday — teeth cut, conventions defined, practical effects — who attach to a classic like Re-Animator, itself apiece with Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive and the original Return of the Living Dead — the good ones. Whenever a zombie movie passes before my eyes — or I watch a zombie movie, whatever — all of this history trots out again for parade, all this embittered narrative and stolen history, borderline appropriation / vandalism of our darkest realms, us — genre champions — for coercion into the mainstream. What you call perhaps the last bastion against genre monopoly by superheroes I call… the rape of the natural world! … More #Alive

Crisis in Xinjiang: Introduction

I’ve been racking by brain recently with how to introduce the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang to With Eyes East, a movie/K-pop blog. It’s important, generally, and especially important as the current video duo on the YouTube channel is about Chinese history. It’s crucial context for the next installment of “Sisters of Mulan,” which partly discusses the authoritarian Mainland government. My first thought was to attempt outlining a “solution pipeline,” not to present myself as answer-having, but to discover our part in the answer — I was imagining something like “write your U.N.,” and by the time I get there, the whole thing looks ridiculous. It’s an enormously serious situation, and I feel terrible applying my brand of naive slacktivism to it. So before I do come up with a personal solution here, here are two very helpful articles from Just Security, the first communicating the urgency and the second recommending proper responses from world bodies. … More Crisis in Xinjiang: Introduction