Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Wicked Web: Infested (2024) Review

Director: Sébastien Vanicek

Notable Cast: Théo Christine, Sofia Lesaffre, Finnegan Oldfield, Jérôme Niel, Lisa Nyarko, Marie-Philomène Nga, Emmanuel Bonami, Abdellah Moundy, Mahamadou Sangare, Xing Xing Cheng

 

If you don’t like spiders, you should skip this one. Regardless, it would be best if you were warned that this is one of the best creepy-crawly films I’ve ever seen. Sébastien Vanicek makes his feature film directorial debut with Infested (Vermines in the original French) with a shiver-inducing tour de force that will leave audiences itching and staring into the dark spaces of their homes for years to come. After the success of his debut, Vanicek has been tapped to direct the next Evil Dead film, showing a meteoric trajectory for this young terrifier.

 

Kaleb (Théo Christine, Play 2019, Gran Turismo 2023) struggles to make ends meet and find meaning in his gritty urban life in Paris. After his mother's death, he and his sister Lila (Sofia Lesaffre, Lila Ganglands 2021, Les Misérables 2019) struggle to manage their meager inheritance, which Kaleb looks to subsidize by fencing shoes of questionable sourcing and pursue his lifelong dream of opening a reptile and insect zoo.

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | The Flu (2013)

Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Park Min-ha, Yoo Hai-jin, Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-jun, Cha In-pyo

Ten years after Director Kim made Please Teach Me English, he emerged from the shadows to unleash his most commercial effort to date, the disaster blockbuster, The Flu. Admittedly, this was around the time I had become introduced to the director; even though I had seen Beat quite a few years prior, I just was unaware of who he was and hadn't made the connection at this point in time. In his decade of absence from film, Kim dedicated his time to teaching more extensively at university to aspiring young visionaries. Still, the world definitely hankering for a comeback, and while stylistically, this may not be what the diehard fans of the esteemed director were waiting for, The Flu came out swinging at the box office, and was smashing success for the team. Regardless of the popularity or the anticipation of one of Korea's film giants returning to directing, how does the quality of this piece hold up? Upon revisiting this one, which I liked before, and living in a post-COVID world, let's just say how this all unfolds onscreen, I found it all the more harrowing and challenging to watch this go around.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

All You Have to Do Is Listen: Monolith (2024) Review

Director: Matt Vesely

Notable Cast: Lily Sullivan

 

There are ways to balance a budget for a film. Limited locations, limited characters, limited visuals. All of these are valid ways of telling a story as long as the creativity in its narrative can carry the weight of the film. Yet, it’s shocking how far Monolith takes it. One star. One location. And that’s essentially it. It’s about as minimalist as possible before someone starts filming in the void. And since it’s about a podcaster, one might argue that it does occur in the void. 

 

Still, as Monolith unfolds, it's strangely hypnotic following a journalist's investigation, played by Lily Sullivan, about mysterious black “bricks” that have been arriving at various people’s homes. Slowly (very, very slowly) but surely, the narrative adds subtle layers to its mystery. It’s a film that asks many questions, rarely provides answers, and loves manipulating the information provided to its audience through the questions the main character asks—or doesn’t ask. 

 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Come Back Home: Polar Rescue (2022) Review

Director: Lo Chi-leung

Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Han Xue, Jia Bing, Tang Xu, Hou Tianlai, Guangyu Xu, Lin Chenhan, Hu Ming

 

Donnie Yen has been increasingly thoughtful about transitioning his career from an utterly badass action star towards a more traditional dramatic actor in his most recent career phase. Sure, he’s still going to unleash hell in action films like Raging Fire and Sakra, but even those films showcase a dynamic actor shifting his career focus to some degree.

This makes a film like Polar Rescue, titled Come Back Home for its original release back in 2022, such a unique film in the Hong Kong star’s filmography. It’s mostly a dramatic role for him and, for one of the few times in his career, he’s not an utter badass. On one hand, that means that his regular fanbase may find Polar Rescue a bit too different and not action-packed enough – or at all. On the other hand, it is something new for those who enjoy his performances to bite into. 

 

It’s a shame Polar Rescue isn’t a better movie for Yen to showcase his acting skills. 

 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lead Them to Paradise: Dune: Part Two (2024) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Notable Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Lea Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling

 

Simply ending Dune: Part One on an emotional beat but with no actual resolution to most of its threading or characters is perhaps the one thing I struggled with in the first part of this two-part space opera epic. Denis Villeneuve is a master craftsman, but it's a bold choice when the second half of his film was never green-lit at the time. So, it’s with a relative sense of relief that Dune: Part Two DID get green-lit. Whew. Now I can watch the whole movie. Thanks, box office numbers and strong cult development on home video.  

 

However, the hype is very real going into Dune: Part Two - enough so that I struggled to find tickets for an IMAX screen on opening weekend to see the film on the biggest and loudest screen possible. The first part of this adaption of the Frank Herbert science fiction classic is damn near universally hailed as a masterpiece already, and now that Villeneuve and the team get to finish the story, I was on the hype train. Could the Dune duology be the iconic auteur director’s pinnacle?


Considering the immense critical praise and stunning box office numbers for Dune: Part Two, it might be safe to say that, yes, people are saying as much. Although I found Dune: Part Two to not be as strong as its predecessor in finding its balance, it is a high water mark for cinema thus far in 2024 and another slab of deliriously engaging and fantastical cinema. Gorgeously crafted, meticulously paced, and powered on the continuing themes of its predecessor, Dune: Part Two is Villeneuve making a statement. A statement about his career, the world we live in, and that the space opera crown no longer sits on the brow of Star Wars. 

 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

First Battle Is Last Battle: Born to Fly (2023) Review

Director: Liu Xiaoshi

Notable Cast: Wang Yibo, Hu Jun, Zhou Dongyu, Xu Kaicheng, Bu Yu, Yosh Yu, ZHai Yujia, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Pan Binlong

 

In the wake of the subsequent hole left by China “banning” the release of Top Gun: Maverick, it’s no real shock that they would race to release their version of the jingoistic military meets school film that Tom Cruise’s jet-soaring sequel provided the world. While these kinds of propaganda-laden films are already a stock commodity for the Chinese market, I’d be lying that Born to Fly didn't perk up my interest. 

 

However, a limited theatrical release in the US and a Blu-ray release from our friends at Well Go USA definitely made me curious. While the film does have some merits in its dramatic choices and features an intriguing angle regarding the school and its test pilots, it always stays on the ground, burdened by hollow emotional stakes and a by-the-numbers narrative.

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Not So Itsy: Sting (2024) Review

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner

Notable Cast: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne, Penelope Mitchell, Robyn Nevin, Noni Hazlehurst, Jermaine Fowler, Silvia Colloca, Danny Kim


As long as I can remember, I've always really loved horror. Both films and books, or even games, for that matter. It's just a genre that is ever expansive and there are so many ways to enjoy it, and just as many possibilities on sub-genres and the themes spread throughout the many mediums that have represented all things spooky. I like my horror in a multitude of different ways and gravitate towards extremely serious stuff, but I also like lower-budgeted outings and schlock from the many decades that the genre has existed within cinema (since the beginning, really). So, when I heard there was a big spider creature feature launching in 2024 in cinemas, I knew I had to seek it out. My expectations were actually non-existent, as I really knew nothing apart from the fantastic and effective poster (the one displayed above this opening), and I am so glad it was that way. You essentially get an apartment building in New York that is snowed in due to a really bad winter storm. Our tenants are not many, but more on that later. We have a core family of four, and the daughter has taken in a mysterious pet spider, and let's just say, this spider isn't your average arachnid. He grows by eating, and the bigger he eats, the bigger he gets. Let the creepy crawly chaos commence!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Please Teach Me English (2003)

Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Lee Na-young, Jang Hyuk, Angela Kelly, Jeong Seok-yong, Na Moon-hee


From my understanding, Kim had gotten really deep into teaching film at University during this point in his career, and he made this film at that time. Why bring that up? I'm not sure. I think part of me is looking for a way to preface this write-up, knowing that the finished film is just not very good. Is Please Teach Me English a complete abomination to cinema? No, but it is certainly a stain on director Kim's otherwise pretty phenomenal filmography. People say even the greatest filmmakers can stumble, which is certainly the case here. While the film is fun and certainly doesn't take itself seriously whatsoever, it's this broad and over-the-top abrasive approach to the comedy that somehow both works in the film's favor and also as its very own downfall. This film certainly has garnered a fan base over the years and, in fact, was recently remastered and released on physical media once again in South Korea, so there is that. I will try my best to speak on the positive and negative aspects of this film, but I admit that I sometimes struggle to do so adequately, so bear with me.

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Musa: The Warrior (2001)

 Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Zhang Ziyi, Ahn Sung-ki, Ju Jin-mo, Park Yong-woo, Park Jeong-hak, Jeong Seok-yong, Lee Du-il, Han Yeong-mok, Er Cha Huo, Yoo Hai-jin, Yu Rongguang, Song Jae-ho


Only those on journeys will see the dim roads that lead the way home.


After having crafted two of the most successful films in the '90s about the hot-blooded youth of Korean men, Kim took a surprise turn in the entering the 00s with something quite a bit different: A sprawling period of epic co-production between South Korea and China. In doing so, he created one of the most iconic sword-centric films of the era with the massively successful Musa: The Warrior (2001). He brought his muse Jung Woo-sung back on board to play Yeo-sol, the hero of the picture but also added Korean talents such as Ahn Sung-ki, Ju Jin-mo, and Yoo Hai-jin in one of his first iconic roles. In addition to the local talent, he casts Chinese screen giants Zhang Ziyi and even Yu Rongguang (of Iron Monkey fame). Needless to say, this film had a lot of attention on it from the moment it came out and it ended up gaining the hearts of many fans the world over. I remember seeing this in video stores when it came out when I was heavily into martial arts and wu xia films. Still, my passion for Korean cinema hadn't begun yet, and in fact, I don't believe I even realized its country of origin at that age, but I digress. The point is that this film was rising among hits such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , and the two Zhang Yimou films that would follow this: Hero and House of Flying Daggers. I know these films are all Chinese productions and follow more traditional wu xia sensibilities. Musa was more grounded and would inspire local productions, such as Sword of the Moon , and set a trend with more realistic war-centered period pieces.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Grave Calling: Exhuma (2024) Review

 Director: Jang Jae-hyun

Notable Cast: Choi Min-sik, Kim Go-eun, Yoo Hai-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Jae-chul, Kim Min-jun, Kim Byung-oh


"And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken" - Ecclesiastes 4:12


Horror films that deal with religious aspects have been around for decades, and I know titles are flooding to mind as you read this, so no need to name-drop anything. Faith and spirituality are truly remarkable and beautiful ways of life for many humans. Regardless of what you may or may not believe in, what awaits beyond death's door, with our understanding of this life, good or bad, can be exciting or terrifying. Since this is a spooky piece of cinema, as you can imagine, the supernatural forces that be aren't the friendliest lot around, and that is the very basis for Exhuma, the newest outing by acclaimed horror director Jang Jae-hyun, who previously won audiences over with his works Priests (2015) and Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019). He continues his religion-themed horror here, this time delving into shamanism, among many other things, and what awaits the viewer embarking on this chilly and bloody adventure is a lot of thrills and a whole lot of pissed-off evil spirits.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Keep It Closed: Skeletons in the Closet (2024) Review

Director: Asif Akbar

Notable Cast: Terrence Howard, Valery M. Ortiz, Cuba Gooding Jr, Udo Kier, Appy Pratt, Louis Mandylor, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, Clifton Powell, Ariana Deppe, Michelle Wang, Sally Kirkland

 

Niche entertainment services will always have content that wouldn’t make it anywhere else. Hallmark often weaves a tale of the city girl who finds herself (and a new love interest) in a small town, usually with a dog and hot chocolate, and she will inevitably fall into every predictable trap on her way to rediscovering her traditional values. Crunchyroll has some anime that might make even the most seasoned anime lover roll their eyes, and the NBA has the modern slam dunk contest. All these specialty services offer audiences the opportunity to find hidden gems, a pursuit that sometimes pans out and sometimes not.


Shudder is no different, except that the horror community is particularly divisive, potentially even more than diehard NBA fans, which makes finding gold a subjective and challenging task. I wish I could say that I was writing today about a story of finding gold, but alas, I am not. Skeletons in the Closet has every signature failing of a Hallmark movie but as a horror feature. Let me say that I REALLY wanted to like this. I tried very hard to give it time, if only for its star-laden cast, but it never materialized into anything worth watching.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

A Reality to Experience: Dune: Part One (2021) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Notable Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, David Dastmalchian

 

Although Denis Villeneuve states that Dune was always a dream project for him, it’s fascinating to see how his career has been building up to this film. Whether it's the political and cultural conflicts at the heart of Sicario or the stylistic leap into Sci-Fi IP with Blade Runner 2049, his filmography reads like a road map building up skills to create the world of a successful cinematic Dune adaption.

And quite frankly, it led him to thrive in the film he will be remembered for as an auteur blockbuster director, Dune: Part One

 

Well, he might be remembered for the two films and not just this one part, as Dune: Part Two finally sees the light of day some three years later, but as the first half of his massive science fiction opera epic, Dune: Part One is an impressive feat of tone, storytelling, visuals, and finding balance. It’s the kind of totemic film that defines a career in a positive way, judging by the success of this film both commercially and in awards circles. Justifiably so. Dune: Part One is CINEMA in most of the best ways, and its blend of commercial appeal and auteur-driven style is impeccable, to say the least. 

 

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | City of the Rising Sun (1998)

Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Lee Jung-jae, Lee Beom-soo, Han Go-eun, Park Ji-hoon, Lee Ki-yeol, Park Sung-woong


In the late 90s, with the great success of Beat, Kim would follow up quickly, just a year later, with another Jung Woo-sung starring vehicle, titled City of the Rising Sun. What makes this title unique, among many other things, is that Jung co-starred alongside Lee Jung-jae, which would be a bromance that would blossom beyond the screen and hold up well over the years, as Jung and Lee have been friends ever since, and the two would end up directing their own films just in the past few years. Needless to say, they have a chemistry like no other, which is one of this work's very best elements. The two are simply electrifying together and light up the screen from start to finish. The style that Kim had been building up over the previous two directorial efforts would reach maximum impact here. This concoction of machismo, a bumping soundtrack, and visuals to the max make up a film that is certainly style over substance, but the style is oh so magical, and I cannot help but be enraptured by it all.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Beat (1997)

 Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Ko So-young, Yu Oh-seong, Kim Bu-seon, Im Chang-jung, Sa Hyeon-jin, Song Keum-sik


Just two short years after bursting on to the scene with Runaway, Kim found his real runaway hit with the 1995 tale of Korean delinquencies, a film that has become synonymous with both 90s youth and that of a very prolific career boom for one Jung Woo-sung, and that is the undeniable classic... Beat. It has become a piece of pop culture. I've seen it mentioned time and time again within various outlets of Korean television, so there's no denying its place within the streamline of cinema that was beginning to bubble up at the end of the decade, just on the cusp of the explosion of international success that would come the country's way shortly after. A re-release of both this film and City of the Rising Sun are happening in March of this year, so hoping to see both of these works be back in the spotlight again.

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.