Monthly Archives: March 2011

Korean Cinema #8: My Sassy Girl

By Nathanael Griffis

I, in stereotypical male fashion, avoid romantic comedies, but I’ll get to that in a moment. My Sassy Girl is not your typical romantic comedy. It follows several tropes of the genre, while eluding the pitfalls. In some ways it’s almost a satire of romantic comedies. I found myself surprised how much I liked this film. My expectations were to walk away from it with my suspicions confirmed that rom-coms can entertain and do little more. I do want to shed some light on the problems I have with rom-coms, but first let me say that My Sassy Girl is not one that should be avoided.

My Sassy Girl is an adapation of a novel that the author, Ho-sik Kim, pulled from his own life, no doubt taking liberties as writers do. (Side note: the actual title Yeopgijeogin geunyeo translates to The Bizarre Girl not My Sassy Girl, but My Sassy Girl is a more marketable title.) It’s about a boy named Kyun-woo, played by Tae-hyun Cha, who falls for “The Girl,” played Ji-hyun Jun. The Girl, who surpisingly is never named, has a low tolerence for alcohol, a penchant for ordering others around, and a sadness buried beneath an whitewashed exterior. The film follows the growing relationship between Kyun-woo and the Girl. At times it’s hilarious and poignant, and director Jae-young Kwak shows a deft ability to balance the two.

Thematically it reminded me a lot of the recent film (500) Days of Summer. Unlike that film, though, My Sassy Girl went on to become a massive hit; it is the highest grossing Korean comedy of all time. It deserves the accolades. The characters are distinctly unique but still relatable. Kyun-woo can show strength and confidence, but also a soft fragility and unwilliness to use his smarts and talent. The Girl’s bizarre behavior is rooted in some deep scar from her past, and beneath it all we see her grow and mature. The beauty of the film is in seeing these two flawed characters grow and fall in love and really examine what it means to be in a relationship.

Oh right, I forgot, the standing-under-a-tree-reading-a-letter cliche.

Jae-young Kwak understood he was making a romantic comedy and allows his film to operate within the boundaries of the that genre. We get classic staples, such as the lead male as a struggling writer, a group of comic relief buddies around Kyun-woo, overbearing parents, chin-pinching aunts, meeting in the rain; all the classics are here, and they’re all used to a purpose. The director does unique things with our expectations though. On a few occasions the film flashes forward to when the relationship is at a point of possibly ending. The film will cut from an image of Kyun-woo to an older man with a resemblence to Kyun-woo. Within seconds, though, we see either The Girl or someone else un-aged and are reminded that only a short amount of time has passed. This flash-forward moment is not uncommon in romances (see The Notebook for example) and has been used for ages. Kwak recognizes this and uses it as a way to signal that while we are watching a romantic comedy, we should not expect it to bend to the rules of that genre.

The film is full of wonderful comedic moments. It satirizes samurai films and Hong Kong action movies. The editing style is fresh, and the music isn’t overbearing. It’s an example of how to make a romantic comedy right. Too often romantic-comedies objectify romance itself and in the grander scheme the concept of love becomes objectified as well. My Sassy Girl presents the real struggle and pain of a relationship while showing how our expectations and perceptions of romance can get in the way.

I’ve been bothered by romantic-comedies for the same reason I imagine people are bothered by action films: they take their subject matter too lightly. Now, who wants to sit down and watch a droll discussion of the nature of love? No one (except maybe Ingmar Bergman). Romances should be happy and funny. Shakespeare’s comedies end in marriage. They’re happy, but they don’t assume that happiness is achieved through some magical whimsy. I’m bothered by the perception in romantic comedies that the words “I love you” or “I’m sorry” have some magically redeeming effect and signal the end to all unhappiness in life. It frequently seems that little needs to happen between two people except the exchange of a few words for all wrongs to be righted. Little attention is paid to the persons themselves and the way they relate to each other. In other words they miss the relationship and objectify love as something that can be earned or some mystical gift that can’t be explained.

Goofy faces = love.

Here’s an example: In Leap Year, Amy Adams plays what amounts to a self-absorbed New York socialite bigot. From the moment her character arrives in Ireland she sees their culture as stupid and openly mocks and abuses the people. This naturally causes the rustic Irish male lead played by Matthew Goode to fall in love with her. In the end neither character changes and Matthew Goode naturally accepts Amy Adams for who she is and all is well. Loving people despite their flaws is a good thing; it shows love is more powerful. What typically happens though is that people just tumble into love in some mysitical sense: at first they don’t relate, they fight all the time and then their eyes lock and, voila, love conquers all while rain mats hair to their face and hides the tears that have been buried in thier hearts.

On the opposite side there are other films like Adam starring Rose Byrne who is in a relationship with a man who has Asperger’s syndrome. The usual climax occurs where Rose Byrne’s character confronts the man and demands he tell her why she should be with him. He responds with “I need you,” which some of you might note is not “I love you,” so naturally their relationship will be a failure.

In Jerry Maguire when Renée Zellweger says “You had me it hello,” she’s not discounting Tom Cruise’s speech of love, but showing us that the speech isn’t the focus. It’s everything that’s come before it, and you don’t need some stirring, teary-eyed blubbering to confirm that. (It helps, but you don’t need it.) Knocked Up handles this concept nicely as well. Seth Rogan’s character, upon entering the delivery room, is screamed at and threatened by Katherine Heigel, but he doesn’t waste time on a stirring speech. He asserts that he’s here and that he thinks this relationship is going somewhere. At no time does the psuedo-Hollywood “I love you” moment happen. The proof is in his commitment to her. They may not even be in love (I contend they aren’t), but the relationship is given strength through their mutual struggling and enjoyment of life together.

Of course the greatest of them all, When Harry Met Sally, has all the cliches, a climactic speech of love, several dinner scenes gone wrong, and kissing. The difference is that it’s discussing and exploring the difference between friendship and relationship. To top it all off it also explores the effect of sex, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. If you go even farther back, in films like Roman Holiday or The Philadelphia Story romance is treated as a complex theme and what it means to be in love is examined, not merely presented.

Love is not some toggle switch hidden behind a person’s pupils that a phrase or the perfect environment will set off. My Sassy Girl understands this. In the film, the Girl tries to replicate all the right “romantic” moments that she’s had in a previous relationship. She forces Kyun-woo to become the dream boyfriend, which he is not. Kyun-woo, though, in a beautiful show of humility, goes along with it, and throughout learns who the Girl is, and falls in love with her. The Girl, upon realizing what she loves about Kyun-woo, is drawn to who he is in reality and not who she’s been shaping him into. They still have that magical destiny-drawing-them-together moment, but by that time we’ve seen their love materialize.

I don’t pretend to fully understand the nature of love, and I don’t begrudge people the enjoyment of a light-hearted romantic comedy, but I can’t help but be bothered everytime I see a concept so rich and exciting as love between two people encapsulated in a phrase, expressed in a bouquet, experienced in a single moment between bed sheets. Love is many brilliant things, and it’s refreshing to find films like My Sassy Girl that understand this. The film is a must-see for everyone: it’d make a great date movie, or group movie, or even a lonely-Tuesday-night-and-I-want-a-pick-me-up movie.

 

Also if you want a samurai fight scene.

Next I’ll be watching Boon-ho Jong’s Memories of Murder (which may have a different tone.)

Steampunk Nazis, samurai statues, and android armies, oh my!: A review of “Sucker Punch”

By Steven Moore

Is Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s pet project, a good movie? I have been wrestling with that from them moment it ended. This is the kind of film that does so many things well, while simultaneously doing so many things badly. Is it a good movie? No. Is it awesome? Yes. Am I using a lot of rhetorical questions? Yes. Why? Because my reaction to this film is more complex than it has a right to be. I see a twinkling of brilliance in all of the glitter and gunshots. There’s a message here about exploitation and titillation, but it’s buried underneath a reveling in the over-the-top exploitation and titillation.

The plot for this film is confusing at best, and really is secondary to the experience. A fetching Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a 20-year-old girl who is institutionalized in an all-girl mental hospital after trying to defend herself and her sister from her step-father. The psychologist on staff uses fancy European methods that encourage the girls to live in a fantasy world. Within this fantasy, Baby Doll goes deeper into her own fantasy world (Inception-light), discovering she can use her sensuality within the fantasy to control her audience. Hmm, this sounds a lot like a certain filmmaker I know. This film will frustrate anyone looking for a one-to-one allegorical relationship between fantasy and reality… or rational plot points. I don’t think I knew what was happening or why until the last five minutes of the movie, and by that time, I stopped caring about the story.

Partway through Sucker Punch, The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” begins playing. Snyder is not exactly subtle in his musical selections, but if you’re expecting subtlety from this filmmaker, you haven’t seen Snyder’s other films. The first line to the song is, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” This is essentially the anthem for the film, perhaps for all of Snyder’s films. It’s not often I recommend a film that requires less thought, but here it works. Here it delivers something unique and artful. And in the end, it rewards the viewer for the trust placed in the process. I’m left thinking about myself as a viewer, about what I expect out of a film. I can see Snyder standing in front of the theater screaming, “Are you not entertained!”

Baby Doll is clearly an exploited character, both in the story and for the audience. The fantasies she gives us when she is dancing for various men are a metaphor for the escapism the audience expects. Men want to watch her dance, nothing more. We want to watch her kill steampunk zombie Nazis, dragons, and killer robots all while wearing high heels and fake eye lashes–nothing more. Snyder has implicated you, dear viewer, and you should feel ashamed… almost, if not for Snyder’s absolute wallowing in his own material. He lathers on the thick colors and bright lights until they fall of the screen in great big gobs. He revels in the sensuality of it all, and in doing so loses all credibility in his message. One of the final images of the film is of Baby Doll, who has just has a procedure that should have left her ragged, but instead she looks perfect, in fact more beautiful than when she started. Snyder could have used this moment to show the audience the cost of exploitation, but he couldn’t bring himself to make it real, to muss it up a bit.

So in the end, Sucker Punch becomes a visually impressive film that almost said something important. It’s like Snyder really wants to tell you how bad candy is for you, but then he would have to give up candy himself or risk becoming a hypocrite, and candy is just too awesome for that. Sucker Punch is a movie that I would watch again, probably with a group of friends. It fits perfectly in with those guilty-pleasure films like the Resident Evil series or Starship Troopers. Candy is good.

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #8: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#8. “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

… I am the Borg.”

A weirdly handsome couple: Brent Spiner as Data & Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

It may seem strange to have a Star Trek film on this list, but the Borg are possibly the scariest intelligent force the crew of the USS Enterprise ever had to deal with. Not because they will kill you. There are thousands of things that can kill you. The Borg, though, hold no ill will. They are not malicious. They are here to assimilate you and your entire culture, to remove anything that made you or it unique or beautiful and to retain for themselves only your cold unfeeling technology. They are here to fuse you with that technology, to pull your flesh apart and fit you with circuits and steel. They are here to take away your humanity. And resistance is futile.

Star Trek: First Contact–the eighth Star Trek film (second to feature Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rest of the Next Generation crew) and widely regarded as one of the best, even by some as second perhaps only to the iconic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–is one of the most intellectually fascinating entries in the franchise yet still one of the most accessible to non-fans. Part of the reason for that (besides generally better writing and directing–props to regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and director/star Jonathan Frakes) may be because it is deals with that classic sci-fi/horror theme of having our identity and humanity stripped away from us by beings who see themselves as superior because of their lack of feeling, their lack of humanity, their lack of pain or sorrow or anger, but who also lack joy and passion and love. (See Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix, even A Clockwork Orange, or any number of classic stories.) First Contact is even structured like a horror film.

Shouldn't have picked at it. (Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard)

This is not the first appearance by the Borg in the Star Trek universe. They had appeared several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps most memorably in the third season cliffhanger finale ”The Best of Both Worlds” and the fifth season classic “I, Borg.” But, much like the way in which the film Aliens builds upon its predecessor, First Contact introduces the Borg Queen. Also similar to Aliens, this queen has a definite, intelligent, unique identity as opposed to her hundreds of drones. But unlike Aliens, this Borg Queen is less an instinct-driven monster and more a calculatingly logical and powerfully sensual humanoid, played wonderfully by Alice Krige. The viewer is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time. Her individuality, her sensuality, and her relationship with the android and Next Generation regular Data (Brent Spiner) add a fascinating new layer to the Borg mythology that gives new meaning to the phrase “resistance is futile.”

(Special mention of the Oscar-nominated makeup team for their insanely good job on this film and on the Borg Queen in particular. Can you believe they lost to The Nutty Professor? That Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sure loves a fat-suit.)

Next on the countdown: “There will be no bargain…. I shall enjoy watching you die.”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #9: “Nobody in here but us monsters”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#9. “Nobody in here but us monsters”

This is one of those rare cases (though not the last to appear on this list) when an original and its remake are so close in quality that they deserve to be mentioned together. There are two versions of The Blob, 30 years separated from each other. The 1958 version is one of the best sci-fi horror productions, alongside other classics such as Them! (1954) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), from a decade better known for cheap (and cheap-looking) drive-in fare. It was not Steve McQueen’s first film, but it was the one that propelled him to stardom; that same year he began starring in the well-regarded Western TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive, and only two years later he was starring alongside Yul Brynner in the big-screen classic The Magnificent Seven.

The story of The Blob is engaging enough, and the characters feel so refreshingly above cliche, that any ways in which the film feels dated are easily overcome. The Blob itself is gelatinous mass hatched out of a meteorite and has only one driving force: to consume flesh. And every time it does, it grows exponentially. Many may deride this as being about as scary as Silly Putty, but real horror is often in the idea of an alien entity as much as in witnessing its carnage. A lot of the special effects may look dated, but overall they are pretty cool, and a handful of times are impressive even by today’s standards. Note, for example, the first time the Blob strikes. It is but a small glob no bigger than a grapefruit when an old man picks it up with a stick, but it wastes no time darting up the stick to engulf the old man’s hand and start digesting it. It’s still one of the creepiest moments in sci-fi cinema.

But if the Blob in the 1958 original is scarier in theory, the Blob of Charles Russell’s 1988 remake is absolutely horrifying in action. At just over an hour and a half, and much like its predecessor, it wastes no time in getting things going, and when they do, there is nowhere to hide. And much like The Blob of 1958 is a showcase of some of the most brilliant visual effects of the 1950s, this Blob is a showcase of some of the best visual effects of the 80s. It takes the horror further by giving the Blob more speed (much like the zombies of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead) and by showing the actual digestion process of folks unfortunate enough to be overtaken. (This grotesque and torturous process was mostly implied in the original.)

The Blob of 1988 was written by Russell and Frank Darabont based on the 1958 screenplay. It stars Shawnee Smith (now best known for her part in the mercilessly endless Saw series), Kevin Dillon (now best known as Johnny Chase on Entourage), and the wonderful character actor and frequent Darabont collaborator Jeffrey DeMunn.

Next on the countdown: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #10: Battle Los Angeles

By Tom Kapr

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on the best that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer. The Buried Cinema podcast kicked off our “Alien Sci-Fi Month” last Tuesday with the new invasion flick Battle Los Angeles . That seems as good a place as any to begin this countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

If you think Battle Los Angeles does not fit the definition of alien horror, you may want to re-evaluate. An intelligent, hostile force about which we humans know nothing appears without warning and begins a campaign of wholesale slaughter for the purpose of exterminating human life on Earth. Of course this has been done before, countless times, but never has a film brought the idea down to street level as Battle Los Angeles does. Never has it been portrayed in such a gritty, visceral manner, complete with the horrors of warfare–and is there anything more truly horrific than the consequences of war?

After the initial airborne attacks on the cities of the coasts, a platoon of Marines is sent into a section of downtown Los Angeles, now a war zone, to rescue a group of survivors. Along the way we witness not only the decimated remains of urban America, but also the bodies of Americans lying everywhere. Just people out on their daily routine, in shorts and sandals, now lying dead in streets by the hundreds; and alien foot soldiers may be around every corner, waiting to take care of any living humans who remain. Science fiction is often used to make socio-political statements, and while Battle Los Angeles is generally more focused on action and the intensity of the battle scenes, there is a subtext of bringing the images of war in foreign places, from which we can easily disassociate our feelings, and setting it in our own streets, our backyards, our own homes.

As a news commentator in the film avers, this is the most likely scenario of an invasion by an intelligent alien force: when you invade a new place to appropriate its resources, you exterminate the indigenous population. It’s the pattern of human history, turned against humanity as a whole, only there is no rousing “today we celebrate our Independence Day” speech. Just soldiers and citizens doing what they can to survive. And should this scenario ever play out in reality, our chances of survival, both as a race and as individual people and families, would be nearly nonexistent.

Battle: Los Angeles is by no means a perfect film, but it shows in a more realistic light than most what would probably happen in an alien invasion, and how humanity would most likely respond. Get past some war clichés and some bad scripting, and Battle Los Angeles is one of the best entries in one of cinema’s oldest science fiction traditions.

Next on the countdown: “Nobody in here but us monsters”

Korean Cinema #7: Painted Fire

By Nathanael Griffis

Painted Fire is an example of a movie that does several things right–I’ve rarely seen a discussion of art so accessible to the viewer–and then there these glaring flaws. I want to say from the beginning that I like this film. I enjoyed watching it and I have a lot of respect for the director Kwon-taek Im ,who’s made over 100 films since starting in 1961. The acting is amazing. The art work is profound and gave me a new respect for Asian art and artists in general. But… no wait before I point out all the egregious  missteps in the film, I’ll give it its dues.

Painted Fire, also known by the title Chihwaseon, is a biopic released in 2002 about the Korean painter Dhowon, whose given name was Seung-up Jang. Dhowon painted and grew to prominence during the tumultuous late 19th-Century Korea. At that time Korea was fluctuating between various dynasties and Japanese and Chinese occupation. The country’s confused political and cultural identity becomes reflected in Dhowon’s growth as an artist as he is trying to find himself. This is normally a pretty cliched story line, the artist who has to throw off the shackles of what he’s been taught and discover a unique technique, but the discussion of art is so honest and raw that it gives this tired storyline a fresh feel.

Dhowon painting

Dhowon’s complex, and somewhat unlikeable, character arc is handled with masterful nuance by Min-sik choi, whom you might remember from Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Triliogy, but here he is playing a very different character. Choi presents us with a picture of an artist who never finds his footing and merely responds to the genius talent inside him. This is a wonderful chance for the director to give an honest look at 19th-century Asian artwork. It gave me a wonderful appreciation for the themes, genres, and symbolism of classical art pieces.

Personally I’ve never put much stock in art genres like landscape, bird and flower, or even portrait, but the cultural power of painting is so marvelously represented in this film that I regret not giving Asian artwork its appropriate respect. I was fascinated by how precise they had to be with imprecise tools. They had only one or two brushes, and maybe a stick of charcoal, but they used the instruments so perfectly and had such an understanding of depth and shadow that they needed very little more than the brush and ink to convey some of the truest, most inspiring works of art. Anything could become a canvas for self expression or symbolic meaning. It all felt very organic. I would feel pain when Dhowon would find some innocuous flaw in a seemingly perfect painting and destroy it, because I saw something more than beauty in the swathes of ink.

All that said, let’s get on to the mean stuff. This is the first true historic biopic I’ve seen in Asian cinema (I’m not saying their aren’t others, just that this is the first one I’ve watched), so maybe I missed some things in translation, and because of that perhaps take my critique with a grain of salt.

This film has a very troubled timeline, it doesn’t balance characters well, and women are treated as little more than sexual muses. The timeline is the most troubling aspect to me. The director makes indiscriminate cuts through time with little signal to the audience. I know in an earlier article I appreciated this is in Chan-wook Park’s films, but that was because Park might jump forward a half-hour, not 16 years. There’s a scene, for example, were Dhowon as a boy runs away; this then cuts to his master walking through a marketplace were he is accosted by a teenager who says he’s Dhowon; then cut to an adult Dhowon being pressed into art school. I’m not using creative license here–that’s a sequence of three cuts in a row. There’s no explanation, and it makes the whole experience jarring as this continues throughout the film.

It becomes especially taxing on supporting characters who materialize at the director’s whim and disappear with each regime change. The regime changes will cause anyone but an Asian historian some trouble. Large political issues are thrust quickly upon the viewer and then forgotten equally as fast. Perhaps these time issues led to my interpretation of weak female characters. Besides a matronly bar owner and few noblewomen, the majority of Dhowon’s interactions are with kisaeng, which are akin to geishas or concubines, but those terms are not truly adequate. The problem is that the kisaengs are a complex social entity in Korean history. They were sexual objects, but also supposed to fulfill motherly, medicinal, musical, and educational roles in society all while maintaining a social status equal to slaves. It’s this level of complexity that is missed, and unless you understand it watching this film, you would assume Dhowon is going around taking advantage of every young woman he possibly can.

It’s tough to say I would recommend this film. I want to recommend it because of it’s discussion of art, and the cinematography of Il-sung Jung is quite arresting, especially in the final shot. The glaring timeline issues are so basic and the weak supporting characters so overwhelm the film that I’m torn. It should be noted that a lot of critics disagree with me. This movie is highly praised by most criticism I’ve read. Kwon-teak Im tied for the Best Director award with Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love) at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for this film, but by that timed Im had become a living legend deserving of some recognition. So I could be wrong (but I’m not).

If you love art this film is a must. If you like coherent narratives then avoid.

Next I’ll be watching My Sassy Girl.

Korean Cinema #6: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

By Nathanael Griffis

I had heard of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (from here on out referred to as SSFWS) on several occasions and it came with conflicting recommendations. Ki-duk Kim made it a year before he made 3-Iron, but I chose to watch 3-Iron first because its premise intrigued me a little more. I’m glad I did, because it, in a way, prepared me for Ki-duk Kim’s style. He is heavy on Buddhist symbolism and is a minimalist filmmaker, in the same way Raymond Carver is a minimalist writer.

Admittedly, not every symbol makes sense.

SSFWS is a simple Buddhist fable, taking place around an isolated monastery in the Korean mountains. Each season is like stage in the human cycle from birth to action, action to suffering, suffering to death, and death to rebirth. It’s a simple film about a monk who is teaching a small boy. The boy grows up and in his adolescence gives into the lusts of the world. Desiring the world, the boy leaves only to commit murder and stumble back to the monastery seeking reconciliation. It really is a gorgeous film and Buddhist parable. It manages to tell a story without sacrificing any depth of philosophy. The monk, for example, teaches the boy about the effects of one’s karma by tying a stone to the child after the boy has done the same to three animals. It’s a scary sequence that builds both characters, but is also a perfect picture for the Buddhist idea of karma.

The film is shot beautifully, and the symbolism is rich and much easier to grasp than it was in 3-Iron, probably because it’s more straightforward and placed in a more naturally religious and philosophical atmosphere. The stark minimalism of the film is wonderful. Ki-duk Kim never feels the need to leave the monastic sanctuary. We understand the story’s progression through quick snips of dialogue, body language, the changing seasons, or newspaper clippings. The audience is expected to do a little work when watching this film, but it is engaging to watch. The acting is spectacular, especially Yeong-su Oh, who plays the old monk who must teach the boy. He has depth and wonderful range for such a composed and zen character.

This scene clearly demonstrates the Buddhist philosophy of splashing around.

Overall, it’s a beautiful film that inspires one to think and wonder about Buddhist philosophy and faith. It’s well made, wonderfully shot, and excellently scripted. It is heavy on images and ideas and not action, so it could very easily be described as slow. This is not a fun party film; this is a deep, thought-provoking film that left me wondering and thinking. As a Christian, I’ve found myself for the past week conflicted with this film, not because I felt my faith challenged, but because I felt that Buddhism was doing a much better job of presenting their faith through the medium of film. Ki-duk Kim has crafted a gorgeous Buddhist fable without being preachy.

As I think back on Christian films, we don’t have much going for us. The Passion of the Christ is amazing, but it’s so emotionally affecting and graphic that it’s not really accessible. Amazing Grace is about as good as Christian filmmaking gets. It’s a wonderful story that presents Christianity, but doesn’t force it down the audience’s throat. It doesn’t pause in the middle of the narrative and feel the need to present the Gospel. The story directs the audience to ask questions, think, and ponder about the nature of God and forgiveness.

My major problem with Christian films is that they tend forget the story aspect. They take a weak story, slap a good and powerful message over it, and call it adequate. Films like Facing the Giants, Love’s Enduring Promise, Left Behind, End of the Spear, and a myriad of others attempt too much to be like other films out there. They ingratiate themselves into an already established genre and then force Christian philosophy into that genre. Good stories are good stories and transcend genre. Christian films should be in the vein of a fable or a parable. We should take notice of the quality and detail applied to movies like Ki-duk Kim’s. I’m reminded of a quote from Christian band DC Talk’s Kevin Max: “If it’s Christian, it should be better.” It’s frustrating to see such quality films being made while Christian media conglomorates and producers are still settling for TV movies and weak scripts.

If you’re looking for a film that will challenge you and make you think like I was, then Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a must see. If you’d rather not and you’re looking for a popcorn flick, I’m sure you’ll live with out this one.

Next I’ll be watching Painted Fire, a biopic about a painter set in the late 19th Century. Sounds exciting!

Never Say Never to Bieber Fever, or: This May Be More Serious Than We Thought

By Steven Moore

I want you to know I lost a bet. I just want to get that out there. I want it to be perfectly clear that I saw this movie as the result of losing a bet to the Buried Cinema crew. Regardless of what any “documentaries” available on YouTube may claim, my viewing of this film was the result of losing an Oscar bet that, in my opinion, I should have won. So, just so we are clear, I saw this film because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences made some poor decisions, not because of any personal interest in the film. None, at all.

And had I not been obligated to sit through the entire movie, I would have walked out five minutes in. The first 15-30 minutes are spent showing an obviously talented child playing the drums. I watch Justin Bieber play the drums when he is only two years old, and I think, wow, he’s pretty good. Then at three years old, then four, then five, etc. Okay, so he never stopped being pretty good. This child could grow up to be an amazing musician. Unfortunately, the film also shows the dollar signs growing in the eyes of the people surrounding him. They grab him, gift-wrap him into a pop product, sell the hell out of him, push him to perform night after night, and cater to him in every way as long as he keeps bringing in the crowds and making the merchandise sell.

At one point in the film, Bieber begins talking about missing his family. He says he’s seen his younger sister twice since her birth. His voice coach/co-manager basically tells him to suck it up, that he has given up a normal life, and to stop complaining. As the viewer, I almost feel as though I am watching a modern-day retelling of Faust. In another scene, Bieber has taken control of a forklift, and several people are trying to talk him off the machine. They coax him and soothe him as though he were a three-year-old chewing on a stick of dynamite. He just laughs like the world is a game.

About 30 minutes into the film it becomes glaringly obvious they are running out of material. Then the YouTube videos begin. The next hour and 15 minutes is essentially footage backstage at various Bieber concerts spliced with YouTube videos of preteens singing his songs. Nearly the entire film consists of home movies, cut and pasted awkwardly to make them upscalable to 3D. Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the entire film is when they pick out the prettiest girl in the crowd at every concert and have Bieber serenade her on stage. Several concerts are spliced together showing Bieber serenading a train of girls, who disappear backstage afterwards. The big finale is just a filmed concert that never seems to end.

I think the filmmakers intended this documentary to show a fun-loving kid just singing songs and somehow making it big. Instead, it shows the beginning of an inevitable descent into self-destruction. His music isn’t the kind I listen to or prefer, but it’s not terrible. Having to sit through an hour and 45 minutes of the same music while people who are exploiting his talents for every last penny try desperately to present the situation as a positive environment for him is exhausting and depressing, and makes me cringe whenever I hear one of his songs. I lived up to my bet, but at the expense of part of my soul.

Note: Just in case you missed it, I went to see this because I lost a bet. I want that to be perfectly clear.

Note from the Editor: Here is that YouTube “documentary” to which Steve was referring:

Korean Cinema #5: 3-Iron

By Nathanael Griffis

I enjoy experimental films; I love contemplative movies; give me some intense symbolism and I’ll die happy. So I was excited for Ki-duk Kim’s 3-Iron, but I left… well, I’m not sure. There is so much occurring in this film plotwise, characterwise, and thematically, that its hour-and-a-half run time should feel rushed, but instead it’s long and strained.

This is the simplest scene in the film.

The premise is intriguing: a homeless man named Tae-suk, played by Hyun-kyoon Lee, who lives in people’s houses while they’re on vacation, begins a relationship with a woman named Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee) who is running from her abusive husband. Here’s the catch: neither of these characters say a word to each other the entire film until the last scene. Tae-suk never says anything at all.

If that had been the only instance of symbolism, I could have taken the time to contemplate it. Instead, Ki-duk Kim barrages the audiences with complex interactions and conflicting ideologies. While you’re trying to wrap your head around an altruistic home invader calibrating a broken scale, the thought of voyeurism is thrown at you; then sexual abuse enters into the picture, not mention vengeful violence, self-obsession, grief, death, shame, propaganda, and the justice system. It’s a bit much to process, and an amazing feat to establish so many competing themes without much dialogue, but is nearly impossible to process on a first viewing (at least I imagine it is).

Creepy or romantic....I don't know?

Ki-duk Kim wrote the script for 3-Iron in one month and then shot and edited it in 26 days.  Just another insane, crazy implication to add on top of everything else in the film. Each scene is a dense exploration of some aspect of human nature building upon the next. Tae-suk and Sun-hwa’s relationship is beautiful and wonderfully acted. They manage to convey complex emotions and say everything dialogue would provide through straight pantomime, which becomes equally haunting, disorienting, disturbing, romantic, and, in general, creepy. Loving a woman is nice, but sneaking around people’s homes while they sleep is another matter–that’s creepy, right? The silence doesn’t help and only gives one more conflicting emotions of helplessness and superiority.

Why they don’t speak is initially the focus of the film, but as each theme is compounded on the other, one begins to doubt the actuality of what is happening. The final title in the film only adds doubt to the entire experience. I was left confused, because what started as a discussion on shame and social roles became an evaluation of the very fabric of the universe. Yep, I know it’s bizarre, and it’s only an hour and a half, so if you want your entire psyche rocked, and if you’re particularly fond of violence involving golf, or if perhaps you long for a modern-day silent film, then you must–actually you probably have already seen this film.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I didn’t like this movie. I’m just stuck in that weird place between appreciation and confusion.
Next I’ll stay with Ki-duk Kim and discuss Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.