Saturday, February 17, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Runaway (1995) Review

Directed by: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Kim Eun-jeong, Jang Se-jin, Lee Kyung-young


In 1993, a budding filmmaker named Kim Sung-soo was met with critical acclaim with his short 18 minute film, Dead End, which quickly thrust him into the world of feature filmmaking and a two short years later, in '95, he debuted with Runaway, which features Lee Byung-hun in one of his very first roles, and features among other things, a sweeping jazz score, lots of blue lighting, sweaty (comically so) scenes of eroticism, and of course, a whole lot of 90s culture. The plot is also as of the era as imaginable. A video game designer (Lee) hooks up with an artist (Kim), and the two have a good time together one night, but as their steamy night comes to a close, the heat picks back up when a murder is witnessed just outside of Kim's apartment window. Seemingly out of nowhere, the two find themselves pulled into a game of cat-and-mouse as they begin to be hunted down by the group of murderers.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | Narco-Saints (2022) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Hwang Jung-min, Park Hae-soo, Jo Woo-jin, Yoo Yeon-seok, Chang Chen, Choo Ja-hyun, Kim Min-gwi, Hyun Bong-sik, Lee Beong-ryeon

Episodes: 6

Coming to the end of my journey with director Yoon Jong-bin, I took a journey with his most recent project, his first foray into television, with the Netflix original limited series, Narco-Saints, based on true events about a man who happens upon a fish-selling scheme that he falls victim to, which ends up being a "laced" situation. Unaware of what was in the fish he had traveled from South Korea to Suriname to gather and sell for profit, Kang In-gu (Ha Jung-woo) finds himself working for the NIS when it is brought to his attention that a powerful drug lord, a local pastor named Jeon (Hwang Jung-min), screwed over his life. Hellbent on getting revenge and a boatload of promised cash in the process, In-gu agrees to help the agent that approaches him, and thus a journey of drugs, bloodshed, and a little worship for good measure ensues.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | The Spy Gone North (2018) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Hwang Jung-bin, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ju Ji-hoon, Jung So-ri, Kim Hong-pa, Gi Ju-bong


Set in the year 1993, a man named Heuk Geum-seong is sort of pulled against his will into becoming a spy for South Korea. He goes by the codename Black Venus and is posing as a businessman selling Chinese products in Beijing, snowballing into linking up with the North Korean government in hopes of acquiring intel on North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and digging into the state of their nuclear weapons and seeing just how powerful the hidden country may be. This is based on a true story, and of course, with any film of this nature, there will always be details altered for dramatization purposes, but with this end result in the form of The Spy Gone North, what we have is a powerfully told story of espionage that doesn't find itself stuck in the genre trapping of most spy films. There are no guns fired and no real action set pieces. Instead, the intensity, which is almost unbearable at times, comes from the real-life threat of the situation, which unfortunately remains true to this day, and the looming threat of war breaking out at any moment. This is right up there with the very best work from Yoon.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Gang Dong-won, Lee Kyung-young, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ma Dong-seok, Yoon Ji-hye, Kim Hae-sook Han Yeri, Kim Kkob-bi

After having dropped an extraordinary gangster film, my eyes and heart had become set on whatever Yoon Jong-bin would go on to do next, and then in 2014, only two years later, he revealed to the world a genre mash-up in the form of Kundo, a massively entertaining action film, filled with plenty of laughs and thrills. It's an emotionally adept film that never shies away from the brutality that many faced in their lives during the era in which the film takes place. It almost feels like a Tarantino-esque picture (not someone I usually like comparing others to), but it feels like it here. It takes a lot of genres, old martial arts and wu xia pics from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Spaghetti Westerns that Italy was putting out in its heyday, and brings it all forward with a modern lens and sense of filmmaking. There is a lot of harkening back to those works, even in the editing and, at times, the techniques (plenty of great snap zooms used here), but the film also has an identity and flavor of its own, and that helps to make it a truly invigorating and vivacious piece of work.


Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | Nameless Gangster (2012) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Choi Min-sik, Ha Jung-woo, Kwak Do-won, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Sung-kyun, Kim Hye-eun, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Young-sun


During the sort of boom of Korean cinema in the early 2010s, many films came out that I consider to be absolute modern classics, some even masterful pieces of genre film. Among them, and there is a decent amount, would be one in the gangster genre. It has one stellar ensemble cast, including the likes of Choi Min-sik, Kwak Do-won, Ma Dong-seok, who was becoming increasingly popular at the time, and the same could be said for Cho Jin-woong. It is no surprise, but most certainly welcome that Yoon's muse and long-time collaborator, Ha Jung-woo, would also star alongside Choi, making for a fierce dynamic duo that lights up the screen from start to finish. Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time is a bona fide gangster film through and through, and it absolutely deserves to be placed among the best of the best from any period of time in cinema history.

It's the year 1990, and a massive war on crime has been declared by Busan police officials as corruption and criminal activity have soared to an all-time high. We bounce back and forth throughout the '80s and early '90s as we see the rise and fall of Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik), a customs officer who is near losing his job and completely down on his luck, until one fateful night when he finds himself upon a one-way ticket into the criminal underworld, in which he finds out that he just may be better at than he ever imagined. He teams up with a distant family member Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), who has been in the game for many years. The two hit it off, and Ik-hyun finds himself quickly rising to power, and the things it cost him along the way only seem to make him more powerful in the end. Things get twisty and turny, as you can imagine with any film in the genre, and lies and deceit come into play, and a lot of things are smashed into peoples' skulls as a result, and I mean a whole plethora of objects. I'll just say I can't imagine the amount of glass that a certain character gets embedded into his scalp and how long it must've taken to be dug out. Eesh.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

A Bromantic Ride: Ransomed (2023) Review

Director: Kim Seong-hun

Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Lim Hyung-kook, Kim Eung-soo, Kim Jong-soo, Park Hyeok-kwon, Fehd Benchemsi, Burn Gorman


This is a much better Point Men. South Korea has been on a kick with patriotic diplomats rescuing fellow Koreans in a foreign country that is at war films. It's become a relatively popular genre in the last handful of years, and I've watched most of, if not all of them. For me, what makes Ransomed work so well, and what helps to set it apart from the norm, is the blooming bromance between Lee Min-jun (Ha Jung-woo) and Kim Pan-su (Ju Ji-hoon). Their characters feel typical of the genre, but they both give admirable performances and their chemistry is electrifying, which really help this 2hr and 15min journey feel well alive and constantly moving forward. Ransomed is one of the better offerings in this genre, and I think it is worth seeking out, even if you haven't been the biggest fan of these types of works.


Lee Min-jun is a budding diplomat who is trying his hardest to be someone. When everyone and everything seems to be working against him and his desires, one day, he receives a life-changing call. A fellow Korean diplomat is being held hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, from the war that had broken out two years prior in 1986. Seizing the opportunity to finally get his big break, Lee heads deep into the country on a highly intense mission with a large bag of ransom money. When he arrives, things go as wrong as one could imagine and he is thrust deep into a large-scale shootout and ultimately a run for his life; Lee happens upon a man in a taxi named Kim Pan-su, coincidentally a man of Korean heritage, and one with deep ties to Lebanon. The two meet by fate and find themselves on an action-packed journey to rescue a hostage who has since been forgotten about. Soon, news breaks, and the entire country has its eyes on them.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | Beastie Boys (2008) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Yoon Kye-sang, Ha Jung-woo, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Min-joo, Ma Dong-seok, Ya Hu-jun, Kwon Yul, Hong Yi-joo


Three years after his very successful student film, director Yoon Jong-bin put forth his sophomore effort, his first studio-backed film, a dark and moody drama, Beastie Boys, a.k.a The Moonlight of Seoul. The direct translation of the Korean title is where the first title comes from, but admittedly, and probably due to associating a said name with the iconic hip-hop trio, I can't help but gravitate towards the alternative title, which I also feel encapsulates the mood and overall vibe of the film so perfectly. The themes of toxic masculinity and the self-destructive and outwardly explosive behavior of certain men are explored here yet again, and with Ha Jung-woo back to play one of the leads, there is much to be liked here, and while I certainly think the film is quite good and well made, I'm not sure it all quite hits as hard as the debut of Mr. Yoon. Still, the journey is absolutely worth embarking on.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | The Unforgiven (2005) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Seo Jang-won, Yoon Jong-bin, Han Soo-hyun, Lim Hyun-sung, Kim Seong-mi, Son Sang-beom

A young student of Chung-ang University, Yoon Jong-bin, put forth his graduating thesis film in the form of The Unforgiven, a micro-budget drama that is unapologetic in its harsh depictions of how many young men are mistreated within their required 2 years stint in the military, something that South Korea does, among other countries. This little feature went on to play in festivals, and even bag a few awards, and has become a quite respected film among Korean cinephiles, myself now included.

Lee Seung-young (Seo Jang-won) is a fresh face, newly recruited to the military. He keeps to himself but doesn't hesitate to speak up when others are in trouble. He finds himself a quick target of harassment by Su-dong (Lim Hyun-sung), who feels a need to push his rank and seniority over others, resulting in constant bullying and mistreatment of fellow soldiers. He is an entirely vile and heinous character, and Lim Hyun-sung plays him to disgusting perfection. The one person who comes to Lee's aid is Yoo Tae-jeong, who is played by Yoon alumni Ha Jung-woo, who really needs no introduction at this point. The two were old friends growing up, and Lee has moved up within the ranks and can keep Su-dong off his case, temporarily at least. The price to be paid, however, is that Yoo roughens up Lee in front of the guys and, behind closed doors, breaks down. He comforts Lee and explains to him that their friendship must remain a complete secret and that he will help him when possible, but things are just a specific way in the military, and he must abide by the laws and hierarchy no matter what. Lee is a very compassionate young man and wishes to change things as he plays out his mandatory time within and hopes to rise through the ranks himself.

Post-apocalyptic Punch: Badland Hunters (2024) Review

Director: Heo Myeong-haeng
Notable Cast: Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-jun, Lee Jun-young, Roh Jeong-eui, Ahn Ji-hye, Park Ji-hoon, Jang Young-nam, Park Hyo-joon


The Netflix-produced Korean film library has... a certain reputation. Some works I believe are great, such as Unlocked or Kill Boksoon, although I seem to be more in the minority on that one, but I digress. We get some titles, like... well, like Carter, which unfortunately speaks for itself. We also have that Yoo Ah-in-led driving film that I can't be bothered to remember the title of, and so on. Regardless, Netflix churns out quite a few Korean productions of varying quality, and 2024 kicks off with yet another film under their banner. This time, however, we also have the big man himself, Ma Dong-seok, a.k.a Don Lee, a.k.a. Isn't that the Train to Busan guy? Yes... the arm wrestling champ himself is kicking off 2024 with action, lots of action. Oh, and it is set in the world of last year's absolutely brilliant Concrete Utopia, which I dubbed my favorite film of 2023. How does it stack up? Muscle up, and let's get to punching down with Badland Hunters.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

...Or the Highway: I Did It My Way (2024) Review

Director: Jason Kwan

Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Gordon Lam, Eddie Peng, Liu Yase, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Kent Cheng Jak-Si, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Hedwig Tam Sin-Yin, Kevin Chu, Terrance Lau, Tony Ho, Angie Cheung Wai-Yee

 

Even though the films Chasing the Dragon and Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch received an overall mixed reception, co-director Jason Kwan became a new director I was excited to follow. Although those films certainly had their fair share of Wong-Jing-isms to them, which led to audiences having some mixed emotions, they were stylish and highly entertaining. Regarding Hong Kong crime capers, that’s a great foundation on which to build. 

 

For his first solo-directing effort since the Chasing the Dragon duology, cinematographer turned director Jason Kwan tackled very similar subject matter with the oddly titled I Did It My Way. Boasting a stacked cast of A-list talent and featuring a classic Hong Kong crime narrative that bounces between 80s heroic bloodshed and a more modern Chinese blockbuster, I Did It My Way will very much appeal on the surface to fans of the genre. Even with a somewhat muddled narrative and some melodramatic punches that don’t quite land, it never ceases to be an entertaining romp carried by its powerhouse dual leads. 

 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

...The Right Ones Will: Destroy All Neighbors (2024) Review

Director: Josh Forbes

Notable Cast: Jonah Ray, Kiran Deol, Randee Heller, Pete Ploszek, DeMorge Brown, Kosher the Pig, Jon Daly, Thomas Lennon, Ryan Kattner, Christian Calloway, Alex Winter, Kumail Nanjiani

 

Destroy All Neighbors is making a case for the oddest movie of the year, and its only January. Prog rocker William (Jonah Ray, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Satanic Hispanics) bloodily stumbles through a Dickensian allegory for the creative process. Any horror fan takes note when they see a death or shocking sequence that they haven’t seen before, and this film had several that were true firsts for me and likely cinema as a whole.


Destroy All Neighbors’ strength lies in its writing, as noble and heady ideas of identity, success, and sacrifice grapple with surrealistic and slapstick executions. Writers Mike Benner (Bob’s Burgers), Jared Logan (The Late Late Show with James Corden), and Charles Pieper (Beyond the Dark) weave an impressively accessible picture of just how much an artist can struggle to finish their work, poking fun at actors, writers, and musicians in the process. You can feel the influence of Bob’s Burgers and the Late Late Show in the writing, and fans of these programs with stronger stomachs should choose to sample this horror comedy oddity.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Dead or Alive: Wanted Man (2024) Review

Director: Dolph Lundgren

Notable Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Christina Villa, Kelsey Grammer, Michael Pare, Roger Cross, Aaron McPherson, Rocko Reyes, James Pulido, Jose Trujillo

 

Dolph Lundgren made his directorial comeback with the highly entertaining Castle Falls back in 2021, and for an action fan like me, it was a welcome comeback. I’ve always been that one guy who defended Dolph’s directorial efforts, and now that he’s back behind the camera, I’m there. With his latest action thriller venture, Wanted Man, Lundgren is trying to balance classic action tropes and a slightly more modern (and, dare I say, socio-politically charged?) narrative. The result is an entertaining mixture of gun blasts, small-scale thrills, and a surprisingly compelling character arc for an older man trying to be better. 

 

After a relatively cliche opening, something found regularly in lower-budget action thrillers, where a drug deal goes south and leaves some DEA agents iced in the morgue, Wanted Man immediately goes into crafting the lead character that the audience will be partnering with for the run of the movie. Dolph, naturally, plays an aging Detective in Texas who, we quickly learn, has been revealed as a racist cop for viciously beating a Mexican suspect on camera.


Sunday, January 14, 2024

Duel for the Dagger: Alienoid: Return to the Future (2024) Movie Review

 

Director: Choi Dong-hoon

Notable Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Woo-bin, Ryu Jun-yeol, Lee Hanee, Kim Eui-sang, Yum Jung-ah

Shortly after the release of Choi Dong-hoon's Assassination back in 2015, there began to be rumblings online of a two-part epic that the acclaimed filmmaker was working on. Some seven years later, part one of that saga was presented before the world in the form of Alienoid, and the reception towards it was pretty brutal, to say the least. The film garnered its fans, myself included, but people just seemed to have some sort of animosity towards this initial film. I thought the picture certainly had its flaws, but I won't deny the fun of it all, and that blockbuster sort of ride you come to expect from the director attached was undoubtedly there. Fortunately, Choi and the team greenlit both parts back-to-back, and for those naysayers of the first film, or even for those who weren't fully satisfied with the end product, rest assured as 2024 is starting off with a bang with this unexpected gem of a sequel with Alienoid: Return to the Future. Not only does it make good on the promises of the first film, but it makes great on them.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Matt Malpica Reifschneider's Top 20 Horror Films of 2023

 Tis the season for the Blood Brothers Top Lists of the Year! 

 

Although I felt as if 2023 wasn’t nearly as strong a year for horror films as some of the previous ones, overall, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some fantastic gems throughout the year. Here is my Top 20 Horror Films of 2023 for your reading pleasure.

As always, this list is hardly as complete as I would like it to be, and it’s utterly subjective as these are my 20 favorite horror films of the year. If there’s a great horror film I’ve missed, please don’t hesitate to comment on the article or social media post to share your lists or favorites of the year. 

 


20. Falling Stars [dir. Richard Karpala, Gabriel Bienczycki]

 

Although this indie cosmic horror drama has yet to get a wider release, this was one of the highlights of the Telluride Horror Show this year. Its subtle world-building, where falling stars represent witches coming to Earth to take people for their yearly harvest, is not nearly as daunting as one would assume. It’s smartly woven into its plotting and characters to deepen their familial connections and expectations. It’s very much a slow burn, but Falling Stars is one that definitely will find its indie audience once released for its strong characters and slowly unraveling narrative. 

 


19. Where the Devil Roams [dir. Toby Poser, John Adams, Zelda Adams]

 

We’ve been huge fans of the Addams Family here at Blood Brothers since The Deeper You Dig arrived on the scene, and their latest adventure into genre filmmaking might be their best. It’s definitely taking some big swings with its artistic angles, including its visual style that continually degrades as the film goes on, but its tale of carnival performers on the road makes Rob Zombie’s penchant for that life feel like it’s sorely lacking any real substance. It’s character drive despite its big thematic approaches and Zelda Addams continues to grow as a powerhouse performer.

 


18. Satanic Hispanics [dir. Eduardo Sánchez, Mike Mendez, Alejandro Brugués, Demián Rugna, Gigi Saul Guerrero]

 

Is there anything better than a horror anthology with a strong gimmick and distinctive voices powering its various segments? Nope. And Satanic Hispanics is just that. As with all anthologies, the mileage will vary for each viewer towards the various segments, but Satanic Hispanics manages to get tons of variation into the mix with various amounts of humor, horror, and heart throughout. Got ta give it to Demian Rugna and Gigi Saul Guerrero for delivering the two best ones that hit really hard in two very different ways. 

 


17. Evil Dead Rise [dir. Lee Cronin]

 

Sure, Evil Dead Rise might just be a bastardized combination of Demons and Demons 2 (two films that felt like Evil Dead knockoffs in their own right, albeit really fuckin’ good ones), but dammit if it doesn’t work. It’s further proof that the Evil Dead franchise can resurrect as many times as the Deadites and Lee Cronin is finding that balance of “new” and “old” to deliver a stellar entry into a stellar series. Bonus points for an incredible performance Alyssa Sutherland as a mom gone dead in this one. She truly gets to strut a powerful physical performance here while the film delivers on all of the Evil Dead style and gore. 

 

Monday, January 1, 2024

Josh Parmer's Top 20 South Korean Films of 2023

TOP 20 SOUTH KOREAN FILMS OF 2023


This list is dedicated to Lee Sun-kyun (이선균).



20.) Honeysweet - 달짝지근해: 7510
Directed by Lee Han

A very sweet film that is acted with such a sense of sincerity that you will find yourself awash with a blissful smile. It's a simple but very effective romance tale that features people in their 40s finding true love in each other and most importantly, them being able to be appreciated for just being who they are, scars and all. Cinema doesn't always need to reinvent the wheel, but rather to be honest and that's what Honeysweet does so poignantly, it stays honest in its humanity on display. I found myself laughing and smiling a lot during this film, and when the sadder parts crept up, I was a mess. Director Lee is not always a hit with me, but this is easily one of his best to date.




19.) Devils - 악마들
Directed by Kim Jae-hoon

Devils is a fun serial killer crime thriller with a body swapping twist. Think a very dark and serious version of Freaky, for obvious reasons, but drop the high school element and add in hard-boiled cops. It's definitely my kind of flick and while maybe it doesn't rank among the giants of Korean thrillers, it's certainly one of the best I've seen in a while and I was gripped from the neon-soaked bloody opening all the way to the end, which while it feels sort of sudden, I do like the direction it all went. Great performances, a lot of blood and gruesome bits, and a whole lot of twisting and turning, which leads this film on a quick and demented path. Korea just gets thrillers and I cannot get enough!




18.) Toxic Parents - 독친
Directed by Kim Su-in

Kim Su-in's directorial debut is a brutally blunt portrayal of a shattered family and in particular the absurd expectations that children are faced with by many of their parents. Sure, this is definitely a universal topic, but one doesn't need much knowledge of Korean culture, particularly in education and in the case of this film, the entertainment realm, to see how much stress is put onto these children. It drives a lot of young ones to the darkest corners of their minds and often results in suicide tragically. Toxic Parents shies away from nothing and I absolutely admire it for that. There are a handful of films told with a similar premise as this, Bleak Night coming to mind as I type, but it's such a relevant issue unfortunately, that we need reminders of this in the form of some medium, and this movie delivers the message loud and clear. It's one of the best social commentaries on the lives of teenagers and poor family dynamics that I've seen in a very long time.




17.) Soulmate - 소울메이트
Directed by Min Yong-keun

Absolutely sublime filmmaking. A beautifully told tale of women afraid to embrace their hearts. It speaks a lot on identity and social expectations, and really hit hard for me in so many moments. I think my one issue is that the picture doesn't seem to know when to end. A lot is revealed in the end, and while I admired where things went and what ended up happening was dramatically impacting, I just couldn't help but feel it tried packing in too much in its final moments and just didn't flow as smoothly as the rest of this years long story. Other than that Soulmate is a wonderful little film, one that will stick with me and one that reminds me to seek out the original Chinese version from a handful of years back. I can't speak to that work, but this version works and does so well. This one will land in the hearts of a lot of viewers for years to come.




16.) Yellow Door: '90s Lo-fi Film Club - 노란문: 세기말 시네필 다이어리
Directed by Lee Hyuk-rae

The only Korean documentary I ended up seeing this year happened to be a very happy experience, as I got to reminisce with acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) and company as they talk about "Yellow Door", a film club that was born in the 90s when a wave of of cinema crazed superfans were born, and ultimately a lot of folks that came to work in the industry in some shape or form got their starts here. It is extremely well shot for a film that is primarily just interviews playing over various images and close-ups of the interviewees. The eye for framing is impeccable here, and ends up being some of the best cinematography seen all year. It's visually alluring and the story, while niche, will appeal to those who love Korean cinema of yesteryear, or just for admirers of Bong Joon-ho in general. He is sort of the central focal point, but others get a time to shine as well. We do get to see a peek at BJH's very first film, and it is glorious. A documentary filled to the brim with great memories and a ton of passion, making for a quick and wondrous trip down memory lane. 



15.) Cobweb - 거미집
Directed by Kim Jee-woon

Cobweb is a triumphant return to comedy for director Kim Jee-woon, which harkens back to his early days of film, with works such as A Quiet Family and The Foul King, while feeling modern with his years of expertise in crafting a technical powerhouse in filmmaking. This is clearly a love letter to the cinema and directors of the past, with Song's character obviously being inspired by Kim Ki-young (The Housemaid), and then the references to Lee Man-hee (A Day Off), and director Shin (Shin Sang-ok) being a cameo that's played hilariously by Jung Woo-sung. It feels like it is made for a certain crowd and may work better as a local piece than internationally speaking, but for those who admire Kim's works and those golden era classics of 1960s Korean cinema, this is going to be your jam. It's just a ton of fun and an overall great time.