My Wife is a Gangster 3

There’s a tropey thing in movies where the badass hero guy goes big-league, demonstrating killer skills outside his usual environment. Maybe it’s Ray Liotta pistol-whipping the guy in Goodfellas, or Jason Statham beating up the basketball court in The Expendables. We know they deal with bigger threats, so this one’s just for fun — applied badass. I went looking through the Goodfellas listing on TV Tropes and didn’t find anything, though the scene is considered, among others, an example of their trope “All Girls Want Bad Boys.” True enough, in both cases, the badass application makes audience of a woman (“I gotta admit, It turned me on,” says Karen Hill). … More My Wife is a Gangster 3

2009: Lost Memories

By the time 2009: Lost Memories exposes itself in the final third, forgoing language and subtlety for foaming rabid nationalism, there may be a sense of relief, as its interpretation of the police procedural was laborious: a mystery unfolding poorly. This is an alternate history action-thriller which posits that Germany, not Japan, was hit by the atomic bomb, and as a consequence, Korea was never liberated. In the present day of near-future 2009, the “Japanese Bureau of Intelligence,” or JBI, battles an underground Korean terrorist cell in what would’ve been Seoul, digging up old ghosts for ethnically Korean agent Masayuki Sakamoto. … More 2009: Lost Memories

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

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

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

Zeiram 2

With genre storytelling especially, there’s a useful distinction between episodes of a film series and those of a television show. The production gap is certainly greater in film, even over television seasons, but with it comes a broader sense of returning. When tuned right, this feeling can be profound, even melancholy or nostalgic: a reflection of life itself, ever churning forward in episodes of our own. So it is, too — profound — with Zeiram 2, a movie where sometimes characters teleport, and sometimes they don’t. This 1994 follow-up to our first Terminator-style alien mash captures the joy of sequels, being as excited in its presentation as I am watching it. It’s been three years since Iria, Teppei, Kamiya, and Bob escaped the Zone, and our reacclimation to their lives brings gentle revelations. Ever the aliens themselves, Teppei and Kamiya have not been ranting and raving about outer dimensions, discredited as quacks like Dr. Ian Malcolm between Jurassic Park and The Lost World. However, their friendship is feeling the slight strain of age, and this is first among the subtle departures Zeiram 2 takes from the original. I suppose what they have is indeed a friendship, and that also extends to Iria. With so much of their character left undefined as a result of their habitual strangeness, I never thought to apply a term like that. As soon as it materializes, it’s at stake. … More Zeiram 2

Zeiram

Zeiram is a film of details. Necessarily so; the big picture is murky, with its strange plot and stranger circumstances. The mystery of Iria: Zeiram the Animation, or at least, the mystery of its awkward title, terminates here, in a live-action Japanese science-fiction film from 1991. It’s directed by Keita Amemiya, and I’ve long wondered the how and why of this man. What market granted passage to the wellspring of his imagination? It remains a mystery to me even after watching the film, which offers no clear rationale for its existence and yet exists so loudly. All of its details, whether protagonist Iria’s braids which have cultural meaning or every gun and piece of armor that’s associated with a proper noun, seem to be shouting a franchise into being. On closer inspection however, these details are also shouting in a strange, wonderful language, and this might be its downfall. In total, there are two Zeiram features, a six-episode OVA (the Animation), and a PlayStation video game. As soon as it arrived, it was gone, and all follow-up questions went with the solar wind. … More Zeiram

The Villainess

You ever go on a date with someone fun and you’re, like, a 95% match, but then they say something that grinds the conversation to a halt, and it throws the integrity of the match into question and also possibly the premise of matchmaking itself, that there are no true matches, only fish in an endless sea broiling with riptide and Bermuda Triangles? Well, I didn’t actually go on a date with director Jung Byung-gil, but him and I are that 95% match, and his 2017 film The Villainess is my Bermuda Triangle. It is a siren’s song; it is my doom. … More The Villainess

Furie

Furie was a mega-hit in Vietnam and became a crossover success; I watched it on Netflix. It’s tempting to ascribe a Thailand/Indonesia breakout narrative here, as the film’s aesthetics recall Ong-Bak Muay: Thai Warrior and Merantau, and the passion behind its making suggests national pride. It broke box office records across the country and provided Vietnam its Oscar submission for 2019. However, this is not an actual debut. The cinema of Vietnam is older and more storied than I realized, and that lack of awareness is partly why I hope Furie indicates the path forward. Gorgeous and confident, graced by moody color and a free-flowing camera, there’s no mistaking it for the unrefined opening statement of a burgeoning industry, as in Ong-Bak and Merantau, but without those rough edges, it comes up short on character. … More Furie