Minor Views (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : It’s a fiction indeed – but it reflects the reality

minorviews01At the beginning, South Korean courtroom drama “Minor Views” emphasizes that it is entirely fictional, but I and others in the screening room knew well that its angry story reflects the reality we all are very familiar with. After all, it is clearly inspired by a real-life incident which happened several years ago, and most of us could already see that its characters would go through a long, difficult fight as struggling against the powerful and corrupt system. They want justice, but they are only reminded of how hopeless their small fight is – and how much they will pay for that.

Everything begins from the big clash between a riot police unit and a group of defiant people refusing to be evicted from their neighbourhood which is being ready for redevelopment. The authorities are determined to drag out these people from their place by any means necessary, and they even allow hired goons to participate in this police operation. The demonstrators led by Jae-ho (Lee Kyeong-yeong) are also quite determined to hold their position, and we see bottles of Molotov cocktail when the movie looks into their place.

While many reporters are already around the site, the police eventually begins its riot suppression operation, and the situation becomes very violent and chaotic. All of the demonstrators are arrested as planned in the end, but the police find that they have a very serious problem. Jae-ho’s young son died during the operation, and one young policeman was killed by Jae-ho around the same time. Jae-ho claims that the dead policeman killed his son, but the police say his son was killed by one of the hired goons.

minorviews03His lawyer Jin-won (Yoon Kye-sang), a small-time lawyer who reluctantly agrees to be Jae-ho’s public defender, has lots of good reasons to be cynical about his client’s upcoming trial. Jae-ho admitted his killing, but there is nothing to prove that his claim is true. The prosecution already gets the confession from that hired goon in question, and the prosecutor assigned to the case is fully ready to punish Jae-ho hard for his manslaughter.

Jin-won tries to do as much as he can as his client’s lawyer, but he begins to see how unfair the system can be to a targeted individual. He requests a permission to examine the police record several times, but his requests are always denied by the prosecutor and other legal authorities. There is also an absurd scene where the police commissioner is virtually exempted by the prosecution from any responsibility for whatever happened during the riot suppression operation. Everyone in the system is connected with each other in one way or another, and they are surely good at covering each other if that is required.

Though a young reporter named Soo-kyeong (Kim Ok-bin), Jin-won comes to see more of the big picture surrounding his legal defense. It seems that the government is heavily involved with some big construction company behind the redevelopment project, and we are also told about how the government can distract the public attention through a media tactic which has worked pretty well on many people in South Korea. Whenever something scandalous happens in the government, it is usually followed by heaps of reports on some other sensational case, and that tactic becomes more effective especially in our digital era when everything is quickly read and discarded hour by hour.

While it looks like he is up against the wall, Jin-won gets a good idea. First, he requests that the trial should be a public one with jury. Meanwhile, he and his partner/senior Dae-seok (Yoo Hae-jin) file a lawsuit for damages against the government, and they demand the government the public apology along with the indemnity no more than 100 won (it is less than 10 cent, by the way). They receive lots of attention from media and people as a result, and that gives the prosecution major headaches although that side is still the one with power and influence.

minorviews02The courtroom scenes in the movie are infuriating to watch at times for many absurdities to behold. Even when it becomes quite clear to everyone in the court that everything is set in advance, the trial continues with the judge’s passive consent while the prosecution can get away with many things. Jin-won succeeds at throwing several good jabs at his opponent during the trial, but he finds himself more cornered both inside and outside the court, and even his client lets him down at one point.

The adapted screenplay by the director Kim Seong-je and his co-writer Cheon Seong-il, which is based on Son Ah-ram’s novel with the same name, often stumbles in its attempt to draw its big picture of social injustice and corruption. There are a number of moments when the characters make unwise choices just because it is demanded by the plot, and the story feels dragged especially during the middle part. Fortunately, the movie begins to regain its momentum during its third act, and it gives us several strong dramatic moments while never pushing them too far. The occasional moments of humor are mixed well into the film to lighten up the mood a bit for the audiences, and I especially like a funny scene involved with the hearing on Jin-won’s ‘misconduct’ by the Korean Bar Association.

Kim also assembled the impressive cast for his film. While Yoon Kye-sang is the reliable center of the story, Yoo Hae-jin steals the show with his another likeable supporting performance, and Kim Ok-bin brings some feisty spirit to her colorless character even though she frequently seems to be wasted in the movie. The other notable actors including Lee Kyeong-young, Kim Ee-seong, Jang Gwang, Park Tae-min, Kwon Hae-hyo, Eom Tae-goo also have their own moments in their respective supporting roles, and they work together well as parts of the ensemble performance in the film.

Although it was made in 2013, “Minor Views” somehow did not get the chance of being released in South Korea until this year, and some speculated that its distribution company had shelved it because it did not want to anger the government. While it is not successful in some parts, the movie is an engaging courtroom drama with the sharp social criticism on the South Korean legal system, and it certainly leaves us something to think about when it is over.

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The Classified File (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): A police investigation assisted by fortunetelling

theclassifiedfile06I remember when my parents asked a Buddhist monk to tell my fortunes in the future. I do not remember well what he told me and my parents after he checked some book and then did some sort of calculation on paper, and I remember that he assured my parents that I would be all right and successful in the following years. My parents seemed satisfied, but I was skeptical for the reasons many of you can understand.

And that was why I did not have much expectation on South Korean movie “The Classified”, a police procedural about a cop and a fortuneteller who happen to work together in a very urgent investigation. This is indeed an odd buddy movie combination which could have been pretty ridiculous, but the movie believes in its story and characters as steadily pushing its thriller plot, and I could put aside my skepticism for a while as enjoying its good moments.

On one summer day of July 1978 in Busan, a young girl is suddenly disappeared not long after she leaves her school, and it is apparent that she is kidnapped for ransom. Her parents wants to get their daughter returned as soon as possible, but the kidnapper in question has not yet attempted any contact for some reason, and they become more desperate as days goes by without any news on their missing daughter. The police assure the parents that they will do anything necessary for finding the girl, but they have no progress in their sloppy investigation while not getting any valuable clue on the kidnapper’s identity or where the girl is being kept.

Eventually, the girl’s parents, who are rich and well-connected enough to influence local authorities, decide to pull some strings for getting a right guy for the investigation, and that is how Detective Gong Gil-young (Kim Yoon-seok) comes into the picture. Despite his successes with many big cases, Gil-young was recently relegated to a riot control unit mainly because he brought the ire of some of his superiors, and he is reluctant to take the case, for he knows too well that he will probably get all the blame if that is deemed necessary by his superiors.

theclassifiedfile03However, as a family man, he cannot ignore the pain and desperation he sees from the missing girl’s parents, and he soon begins to work on the case with their full support. As waiting for the kidnapper’s contact, Gil-young insists on keeping the investigation hidden from the public for increasing the chance of the girl’s survival, and that makes him pretty unpopular among the cops assigned to work with him. To them, catching a bad guy is more important than saving a girl who might not return forever, and they and Gil-young constantly clash with each other over the direction of their investigation.

Meanwhile, the girl’s mother and aunt go to Kim Joong-san (Yoo Hae-jin), a local fortuneteller who might give them the answer on whether their dear girl will be returned alive. He does not have a definite answer for that, but he tells them that there is still hope considering the girl’s fortunes – and he also predicts that the kidnapper will soon attempt a contact on a certain day.

When Gil-young hears about Joong-san’s prediction, he does not believe it much like most people, but the kidnapper really calls the girl’s parents on the very day predicted by Joong-san. Joong-san also makes another correct prediction not long after the focus of the investigation happens to be moved from Busan to Seoul, and it seems he is not a fraud at all. There is a scene in which he clears his mind to get any information to help the investigation, and he does get several possible clues during his trance state.

How is this possible? While the movie does not go deep into details, Joong-san comes to us as a decent ordinary guy willing to help the investigation as much as he can through the ability he sincerely believes in. He and Gil-young naturally do not get along well with each other due to their different approaches, but we come to see that they are not so different from each other in many ways. While not appreciated enough by others, they do not stop trying their best as professionals in their respective positions, and they eventually become unlikely partners when it is clear to both of them that they must work together before it is too late for the girl they really want to save.

theclassifiedfile04The director/co-writer Kwak Gyeong-taek, who recently directed the sequel to his previous film “Friend” (2001), keeps the narrative momentum intact as gradually building tension along his story. The telephone conversation scenes between the kidnapper and the girl’s parents feel both tense and frustrating as the camera looks at their distraught faces, and what is at stake for them is always palpable to us. Gil-young gets a fair share of his own frustration due to his uncooperative and ineffectual colleagues, and there is a suspenseful sequence where he happens to act alone in a very tricky situation which may lead to an irreversible outcome if he is not very cautious.

The movie also gives us a vivid look into Busan and Seoul during the late 1970s, and I enjoyed a number of nice period details my parents will instantly recognize. The actors in the movie look convincing as the people inhabiting in that era; Kim Yoon-seok and Yoo Hae-jin, dependable South Korean actors who previously appeared together in “Tazza: The High Roller” (2006), ably carry the film with their engaging lead performances, and the other performers in the movie nicely fill their functional roles as required.

I am still skeptical about fortunetelling, but “The Classified File” entertained me enough with its efficient thriller plot and good performances. Believe or not, the movie is actually inspired by a real-life case, and you will be more amazed or amused by another unbelievable thing told to you during the epilogue part. The ending is a bit overlong, and I still do not understand well the logic of Joong-san’s fortunetelling (my parents probably know better than me in this case), but the movie is better than I expected as a solid crime mystery drama.

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Tomboy (2011) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4) : Summer days of a tomboy

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If you do not have any information about “Tomboy”, you may mistake its young main character for a boy during its opening scene. With short hair style and boyish attire, this young girl nearly at the end of her pre-adolescence years is easily accepted by other kids as a new boy in the neighborhood, but it goes without saying that there will be the inevitable point where her disguise cannot be maintained any more. She is surely happy to hang around boys, but does she have any idea about the consequences of her action?

When we meet Laure (Zoé Héran) and her family, they are moving to some suburban apartment building, and we get to know more about this loving family as they settle in their new residence. While he is usually busy due to his new job, Laure’s father (Mathieu Demy) is a kind and generous dad to his two daughters, and there is no constraint between him and them when they spend time together. Laure’s mother (Sophie Cattani), who is going to give birth to their new family member, does not mind about Laure’s tomboy appearance, but she sometimes wants her daughter to hang around with girls rather than boys. For her little sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana), Laure is always someone to lean on, and some of the warmest moments in the movie come from the affectionate sibling interactions between them.

When Laure meets one of the kids in her new neighborhood, she makes an impulsive decision of disguising herself as ‘Mickäel’. Lisa (Jeanne Disson) a pretty girl who looks more mature compared to Laure, quickly becomes her new friend, and then ‘Mickäel’ befriends other boys in the neighborhood through Lisa. Laure is initially a bit reluctant to join boys as watching them playing together, but, once she sees that her lean, immature body does not look that different from boys’ bodies except one certain body part, she takes further forward steps in her disguise as having more fun with boys. When she needs a swimming suit, she prepares it for herself, and we get an amusing moment when she tries a chunk of toy clay for another part of her disguise.

tomboy03However, Laure does not tell her parents about her deception while maintaining her false identity in front of other kids. Her parents, who understandably remains occupied with each own matters, think their daughter is doing all right in her adjustment to a new environment, but then her little sister happens to discover what is going on when Lisa visits Laure’s house to see Mickäel. Young actress Malonn Lévana is wonderful in this very brief but crucial moment, as her silent confused face tells us everything about how Jeanne feels about her sudden discovery.

Meanwhile, Laure and Lisa become closer to each other. Lisa seems to want something more than friendship from her new friend who looks prettier than other boys, but Laure’s secret is bound to be exposed sooner or later. Their summer is being nearly over, and they and the other kids will soon be back in school again. At one point, Lisa wonders why she could not find Mickäel’s name in the student list of her school – and her school is only school in their neighbourhood.

While there is a certain amount of suspense below the surface, the movie smoothly flows with its warm, joyous mood of summer days thanks to the sensitive direction by the director/writer Céline Sciamma, who won the Teddy Jury Award for this film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Her young performers look natural and spontaneous on the screen, and most of their outdoor scenes are filled with the vivid sense of joy and freedom as they play around each other with bright summer sunshine above them. We were once such kids like them, and these scenes may remind you of when those summer days seemed endless for you and your friends until school days returned with autumn.

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As the center of the film, young actress Zoé Héran is terrific in her remarkable nuanced performance as a girl who simply behaves according to the need she does not fully understand yet. Although she does not have a very clear idea about what she wants, Laure gropes for her burgeoning sexuality bit by bit through her rather reckless attempt, and Héran is compelling to watch as Laure manages to maintain her disguise with the constant possibility of getting herself exposed. As a smart girl, she probably knows from the beginning that her deception will not last long, but we understand how she inadvertently gets herself into complications, and we become more worried about what might happen in the end.

One notable thing about the film is how much Laure’s family is at ease with Laure’s sexuality. Her parents have accepted her as who she is, and we notice that Laure’s bedroom looks more like a boy’s while nobody in her household has a problem with that. There is also something touching about her little sister’s decision on how to deal with Laure’s masquerade. Jeanne does not mind having a big brother instead of a big sister, and she helps her ‘brother’ directly and indirectly as having her own good time outside. Kids may be pretty innocent, but they sometimes perceive matters more clearly than us with better judgment.

With its simple but sublime storytelling and excellent performances, “Tomboy” is a superlative coming-of-age drama which depicts its young heroine and other characters surrounding her with lots of care and affection. It will not be much of a spoiler to tell you that there will be several hard moments later in the story, and, like many boys and girls in coming-of-age drama, Laure comes to learn something from her summer days to remember. It remains uncertain how her experience will influence her ongoing progress to adulthood in the following years, but we all know that her family will stand by her no matter who she grows up to be.

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The Silenced (2015) ☆☆☆ (3/4) : A new girl comes to their school…

thesilenced06South Korean film “The Silenced”, which was released in South Korea as “Gyeongseong School: The Lost Girls” in last weekend, looks like a typical genre piece at first. Its main background is a girl’s dormitory school, its story revolves around a sick, beautiful girl who has to adjust herself to this strict, isolated environment, and, not so surprisingly, there is a sinister mystery hovering around every dark corner of this seemingly ordinary place. These are indeed familiar stuffs reminiscent of many other similar horror films, but the movie establishes mood and suspense well in its stylish period setting, and it also has some surprises for you although it stumbles a bit during its third act.

Mainly because of her illness, Joo-ran (Park Bo-yeong) is taken to some exclusive girl’s dormitory school located in the middle of a remote forest area somewhere outside Gyeongseong (it is the old name of Seoul, by the way). While the Headmaster (Eom Ji-won) assures her new student that she will like this place, Joo-ran soon experiences a harsh treatment from the supervisor teacher (Park Seong-yeon) on her very first day at the school, and she is not welcomed much by many of her new schoolmates. For them, Joo-ran is just the new girl to fill the place originally belonging to a girl who recently left from them for a reason they do not know well.

Because the time is in the middle of the Japanese occupation era, the main purpose of the school is educating its girls as model Japanese citizens while improving their health. Every girl in the school has each own Japanese name while Japanese is frequently spoken in the classroom, and we also see the girls working on a big white sheet with the figure of the Korean peninsula filled with cherry blossoms. The Headmaster is about to pick two best students who will be sent to Tokyo for their better future, and Yeon-deok (Park So-dam) and Yuka (Kong Ye-ji) have been the front runners in the competition.

thesilenced01While Yuka is not very friendly to Joo-ran, Yeon-deok kindly approaches to Joo-ran, and they quickly become close friends. While there is a small, quiet lake where they can have some rest from their strict environment, there is also a dingy abandoned basement in the school where Yeon-deok used to spend time along with the girl who left the school before Joo-ran came. We see their friendship grow day by day, and it sometimes looks like they are a little more than mere friend to each other.

In the meantime, we also see considerable improvement in Joo-ran’s health. While getting the same medical treatments along with others, Joo-ran gets an unspecified additional treatment from time to time, and it seems to work with significantly good effects on her. She does not cough up blood any more, she looks a lot more sanguine compared to her initial pale appearance, and she also discovers the huge improvement of her physical ability during the physical education class on the playground. Everyone including her is amazed and surprised by this sudden change, and it is surely not a very good news for Yuka, who may lose her opportunity of going to Tokyo because of Joo-ran.

But, as expected from the very beginning, there is something wrong about the school. Two more girls are suddenly gone, but the Headmaster assures the students that everything is all right as usual. Becoming more suspicious about what is going on around her, Joo-ran begins to experience the disturbing hallucinations associated with two disappeared girls, and it becomes more possible that the Headmaster is hiding something from her students behind her sassy benevolent attitude. What really happened to those missing girl? Is it possibly associated with Joo-ran’s improved health? And why does a military officer come to the school?

thesilenced02The director Lee Hye-yeong, who previously directed a delightful coming-of-age/transgender comedy drama “Like a Virgin” (2006), steadily builds tension on the screen along with considerable attention to visuals. The color scheme in the film is often accentuated by the appearance of red color, and the drab interior environment of the school makes a striking visual contrast with the Headmaster’s sumptuous office which looks like a production designer’s wet dream. The relationship development between Joo-ran and Yeon-deok is convincingly depicted with tender sensitivity, and it eventually becomes the emotional anchor to hold for us even when the story takes an unexpected turn later.

Regardless of whether you like that plot turn in question or not (I do not dare to reveal it to you, by the way), it cannot be denied that the movie gives a nice opportunity for its lead actress Park Bo-yeong, who is believable in her character’s gradual transformation along the story. Park is also supported well by good supporting performers including Park so-dam, Kong Ye-ji, Joo Bo-bi, Park Seong-yeon, and Eom Ji-won, who certainly has a ball with her juicy shady character.

Clearly influenced from notable South Korean horror films such as “Whispering Corridors” (1998) and “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003), “The Silenced” tries to do something else within its familiar ground, though its attempts are not always successful. Many elements in the story do not make sense well together when you look back at them in the whole picture, and its third act is not very satisfying in my opinion. Despite such weak points, the movie is still an interesting horror film depending on atmosphere and character we can hold onto, and I think that is a good news, considering that we have not often come across a solid South Korean horror movie during recent years.

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Miss Julie (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A class breakdown on Midsummer Night’s Eve

missjulie01Although it feels stagy and stuffy at times, “Miss Julie” churns and then boils in its psychological conflict of sex and class. You know where it is going, and you will not be surprised by where it ultimately arrives, but it is compelling to watch none the less thanks to the nervous dynamics generated between its three talented performers on the screen.

Based on the late 19th century play with the same name written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, “Miss July” is mostly faithful to its source while changing the background from Sweden to Ireland. It is Midsummer Day’s Eve in 1890, and John (Colin Farrell), a valet who works in some manor in Ireland, has just returned to the house after accompanying his master to a nearby train station. While talking with his fiancée Kathleen (Samantha Morton) at the kitchen where she works as the cook, John tells her about a strange recent behavior of Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of his master. We hear from John that Miss Julie attempted to hang around with her servants including John during the barn dance, and he is still baffled by that rather peculiar behavior of hers.

When Miss Julie enters the kitchen, you can instantly see that this haughty but neurotic young woman is a walking trouble behind her aloof appearance. While she wants the abortion on her puppy which was recently impregnated by a dog of lesser breed, she blatantly flirts with the possibility of a breakaway from the class customs defining her world. Enjoying her privilege in front of John and Kathleen, she has some interest in a handsome valet ready to serve her, and John is not oblivious to that as following her instructions.

missjulie02Although he is not so pleased by how he is treated by his mistress, it seems John also has certain feelings toward Miss Julie (his relationship with Kathleen is not that serious although they are technically engaged). As a self-educated man who went around many places before, John has his own hope and ambition. He wants to go up while she amuses herself with the potential of going down, and they soon come to sense more of mutual attraction between them when they get a chance to spend a brief time together outside the manor. He tells Miss Julie that he has had a fancy on her since he was young, and then she eventually finds herself crossing the line with John as a result.

It is clear that both characters are eager to break away from the environment in which they have been confined, and the director Liv Ullmann, who also adapted Strindberg’s screenplay for herself, constantly emphasizes the claustrophobic mood surrounding the characters in the film. Except a few outdoor scenes, the movie keeps itself mostly inside the house, and its isolated space seems to be occupied only by its three characters. Although frequently mentioned throughout the film, Miss Julie’s father never appears in the film, and we do not see any of other people in or around the house (In case of one moment when an excited bunch of people happen to gather outside the house, they are depicted only through sound effects).

Realizing the possible consequence of what they have done, Miss Julie and John try to deal with their difficult situation, but they only face their respective weakness. Once Miss Julie looks less special to him than before, John becomes very cruel and heartless to her as she gets herself tumbled down to a spot far lower than she has ever imagined. As painfully experiencing how helpless she is without the social power she has lost, Miss Julie continues to suffer her humiliating downfall, and then there comes an utterly despairing moment when she does not have many choices for getting out of her overwhelming circumstance which will surely destroy her in one way or another.

missjulie04This is indeed uncomfortable to watch, and some of you will probably cringe at a number of emotionally brutal moments between its unlikable characters, but the performances keep holding our attention. Jessica Chastain, who has been as one of the most interesting American actresses since her sudden breakout in 2011, willingly hurls herself into high-strung melodramatic moments tricky to handle for any good performer, and she is crucial in making these moments genuinely hurtful and devastating. Miss Julie is not a very likable woman, but, thanks to Chastian’s splendid performance, we come to feel sorry for her downfall which is as tragic and pitiful as Blanche DuBois’.

On the opposite, Colin Farrell feels a little strained, but he ably goes between many different modes in his performance. While letting himself manipulated by his mistress, John has no qualms about being nasty and intimidating as fueled by his envy and ambition, and Farrell is gritty and aggressive as required in his emotionally violent scenes with Chastain. Samantha Morton looks wasted at first, but she gradually becomes another important part of the story, and she has her own moment with her cold, stern stare during a key scene around the finale. The hierarchy among the characters feels completely reversed in the resulting mess, and Morton is commanding as Kathleen solemnly and icily reminds of the other two characters of what they violated – and the price they will definitely pay for that.

Mostly known for her memorable performances in Ingmar Bergman’s films, Liv Ullman directed several films including “Faithless” (2000), which was made from Bergman’s screenplay. I lost some of my patience during the first hour of “Miss Julie” due to her plain but static direction, but Ullman knows how to draw effective performances from her small cast, and she mostly succeeds in capturing their performances well on the screen. The overall result is not entirely satisfying, but the movie is worthwhile to watch just for its cast members who did a good job of carrying their film well during 2 hours.

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A Midsummer’s Fantasia (2014) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4) : Two soothing summer tales in Gojo

amidnightsummer'sfantasia01In its calm, delicate pace, “A Midsummer’s Fantasia” slowly and subtly draws us into the sunny and soothing summer days in a rural Japanese city. During its first part, it leisurely looks around the city with meditative curiosity, and we look and listen close to various people who tell us a bit about their lives in front of the camera. And then the movie shifts itself onto a different mode during its second part, and it becomes more playful and poignant as wandering around with two different characters who are possibly inspired by the journey shown during the first part.

Shot in black and white film, the first part of the film revolves around a field inquiry in Gojo, a small city located in Nara Prefecture, Japan. We meet South Korean director Tae-hoon (Im Hyeong-gook) and his translator Mi-jeong (Kim Sae-beok), and we see them meeting Yusuke (Ryo Iwase), a city hall employee who will accompany them during their first day in the city.

While getting to know more about Gojo through him, Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong become interested in how Yusuke came to live in Gojo. He studied literature at first, but then he tried to be an actor, and then, after realizing that he was not a good actor, he eventually found himself settling in this quiet place as a public servant. Sometimes life leads you to where you have never expected, and the same thing can be said about one aging couple, who quietly reminisces about how they hopped around different businesses during many years of their long married life.

The movie continues to look closer to the people of Gojo and their past like that. The opening scene shows the warm, cozy environment of a local restaurant, and the old faces of the customers suggest years of life and experience behind them as the camera attentively observes these people for a while. Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong later meet a local middle-aged guy who will be their guide instead of Yusuke, and it turns out that man also has an interesting life story of his own. While they spend time together at some cafe, a usual customer at the cafe talks about how long he and the mistress of cafe have known each other, and we come to listen to him as the camera looks at him with quiet interest.

amidnightsummer'sfantasia10Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong also go to a rural town mostly occupied by old people, and they meet an old lady who has lived her whole life in her hometown. The town has become emptier than before due to the absence of youths in the town, but she is content with her remaining life, and her town is shown with serene beauty as the camera looks around houses and forest trees.  After the brief visit to an empty elementary school near the town, Tae-hoon begins to get an idea for his film, as the night begins with the fireworks in the sky.

The director/writer/co-producer/co-editor Jang Kun-jae made his film as a project commissioned by the Nara International Film Festival through Naomi Kawase, who produced the film with Jang. Like what is shown during its first part, he spent some time in Gojo for writing his screenplay, and I heard that many of the actors in the film are local non-professionals and some of them actually tell about themselves during their scenes. The movie is also humorous at times, and the main source of its low-key humor is the bilingual communication between South Korean and Japanese characters, which is usually mediated by Mi-jeong’s bilateral translation.

After establishing the vivid sense of place and people so well through this documentary-like approach, the movie instantly moves to its second part. Shot in color film in contrast to the first part, the second part is about a tentative romance tale between a South Korean tourist named Hye-jeong (Kim Sae-beok) and a young local farmer she meets in Gojo. Before going back to South Korea, Hye-jeong decides to spend her last two days in Gojo, and she encounters Yusuke (Ryo Iwase) when she is looking for any interesting sight to see in the city. As they walk around the city together, it is apparent through their interaction that they enjoy each other’s company, and Hye-jeong agrees to spend more time with him on the next day.

amidnightsummer'sfantasia04Because many things shown or mentioned during the first part appear again along with the same main performers, you will naturally begin to wonder whether this is a story imagined by Tae-hoon. Hye-jeong may be a character inspired by an anecdote told to Tae-hoon and Mi-jeong at one point during the first part, and Yusuke in the second part can be a more localized version of Yusuke we saw from the first part.

Regardless of that possibility and others implied in the second part, its summer romance between two strangers is engaging to watch thanks to the natural rapport between its lead performers. Deftly going back and forth between two languages, Kim Sae-beok is charming and graceful in her two different roles, and her co-actor Ryo Iwase is equally wonderful in his likable dual performance. During a longtake scene where the camera patiently observes them talking and walking with each other along the street, their tantalizing chemistry is clearly visible on the screen, and that may take you back to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklator’s “Before Sunrise” (1995).

“A Midsummer’s Fantasia” is the third work directed by Jang Kun-jae. He previously directed “Sleepless Night” (2012), and I was very impressed by his restrained but confident presentation of a very intimate character drama about a young couple who may soon have to make an important decision for their life. As he did in his previous film, Jang lets his story and characters flow by themselves under his effortless direction, and many feelings and thoughts felt below the surface are effectively conveyed to us through subtle and elegant touches. This is a small but fabulous work full of charm and mood to savor, and you will want to revisit this relaxing movie on any summer day.

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Jurassic World (2015) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): Dinosaurs are back again…..

jurassicworld03Understandably lacking the awe and wonder of “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Jurassic World” is a well-made blockbuster ride with many dinosaurs to watch. While the advance of digital special effects during last 22 years makes the dinosaurs roaming on the screen look far more mundane than before, the movie is a little better than expected at least, and I sometimes enjoyed its good parts as feeling nostalgic about the 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg, who participated in the production of “Jurassic World” as an executive producer.

The movie brings us back to Isla Nublar, a remote Costa Rican Island which was the main background of “Jurassic Park”. Despite what happened there a long time ago, more dinosaurs have been brought to life through the advance of biological technology (do people ever learn?), and these dinosaurs have been the main attractions of Jurassic World, a big theme park which can accommodate more than 20,000 visitors every day. While many visitors enjoy watching dinosaurs during their tour, living dinosaurs now become less wondrous than before, so Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the current owner of Jurassic World, wants a new attraction to draw more visitors (and more money) to the park.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, who reprises his role in “Jurassic Park”) and his technicians, Jurassic World is about to introduce a newly created dinosaur species: Indominus rex. While being a sort of cousin to Tyrannosaurus rex, this dinosaur also has several genetic elements from other species in its genomic design, and Dr. Wu’s ‘scientific’ explanation of his creation will probably draw lots of guffaws from my former lab colleagues studying on DNA biochemistry.

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For getting some consultation on the security measures on Indominus rex, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the supervisor of Jurassic World, goes to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a Velociraptor expert who has been trying to train a quartet of Velociraptors for his small project. Being close to those reptiles with big, sharp claws is one of the last things I want to do, but our tough hero shows no qualms about his highly risky work while always being cautious and tactful. He may form a relationship bond between him and his reptiles, but they are still wild, dangerous animals as shown during one tense scene where he must risk his life in front of them. W.G. Sebald once said: “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”

Meanwhile, Claire’s two young nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Sympkins), visit the park. As their aunt is going through one busy day, the boys eventually go around the park for themselves, and that turns out to be not a very wise choice – especially after Owen and others belatedly realize that their new dinosaur is nastier and cleverer than they have ever imagined. There is also a nefarious plan by Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onoffrio), the shady and sneering head of security, and that does not help the situation much, of course.

As the park is being swept into terror and chaos as a consequence, the movie provides a number of big action sequences. There is a terrifying sequence a la “The Birds” (1963) where a flock of Pteranodons and Dimorphodons swoop upon terrified visitors with no mercy in the ensuing pandemonium, and we also get a good chase sequence involved with Velociraptors tenaciously running after a vehicle on the road. Although this is his first trial of blockbuster film, the director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow, who previously directed a small but witty SF comedy film “Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012), did a smooth job of handling actions on the screen, and we seldom get lost even when the movie becomes loud and busy.

The movie also allows us to be amused by small moments between its spectacles. Besides a goofy tourist guide video featuring Jimmy Fallon, I like how numerous recognizable elements from “Jurassic Park” are nicely incorporated into the story, and Michael Giacchino’s score pays enough respect to John Williams’ famous theme, which makes a grand appearance when the movie shows us Jurassic World in full view around its beginning.

jurassicworld02In case of the special effects in the film, they are flawless and the dinosaurs on the screen certainly look and move better than before, but they also feel rather plain compared to what amazed and astounded us in “Jurassic Park”, which still remains as the groundbreaking point in the history of movie special effects even when it looks relatively dated at present. The movie indirectly recognizes its predictable attempt to be bigger and louder as throwing some self-conscious humor at itself, but that does not change its overall impression much, and it begins to lose its steam around the climax part accompanied with lots of CGI actions which I observed with mounting weariness. They are not bad at all, but, like many other run-of-the-mill CGI actions, they are not very exciting either.

In addition, the story and characterization in the film are riddled with flat characterization and questionable choices, and good actors in the film are often hampered by this problem. Chris Pratt is dependable as usual with his likable screen presence while showing again here that he is a capable action movie actor, but he does not have much to do with his colorless archetype character. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a more thankless job of playing an uptight female character, and some of you may be uncomfortable with how her character is negatively depicted as a career woman too busy with her work to care about the boys she was supposed to take care of – but, thank to Howard’s feisty performance, you may admire how her character manages to run and do some tough actions while wearing her high heels all the time. The other actors respectively fill their thin stereotype roles as demanded, and I can assure you that it will not take much time for you to guess who will be on the menu in the end.

On the whole, “Jurassic World” is improvement over the unsuccessful sequels preceding it, and it gives us a fair share of thrill and excitement, though it is not as memorable as “Jurassic Park” and feels bland at times. To be frank with you, I am not so sure about whether it is necessary or not (there may be another sequel following it, by the way), but it mostly succeeds in evoking, if not recreating, the fond memories of a film which entertained me and others a lot a long time ago, and maybe I should not complain even though I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it.

Sidenote: I saw it in 2D. I do not think you have to pay extra money for 3D.

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