Watched This Month: February 2017

Hello, friends. Welcome to Watched This Month! I managed to be punctual and get through another large and varied assemblage of movies this time. I’ve now accumulated over 20,000 words, writing about more than 140 movies over the course of fourteen months in my Watched This Month logs. I hope you’ve found at least a couple of sentences informative or interesting. Onward to February’s watch list…

Previous: January 2017

Film Rating
All Is Lost (Dir. J.C. Chandor)

A bleak movie about a solo sailor who gets stranded at sea. It captures the harshness of the ocean with remarkable clarity and contains some dazzling visuals. I felt like Robert Redford’s character could have done with some more dialogue, though. He didn’t talk to himself even once and bellowed just a single profanity. He’s eerily clam given the extremity of the situation. Overall, it’s a largely satisfying movie with a couple of marvellous moments. The final imagery is tantalizingly beautiful.

★★★☆☆
As One (Dir. Moon Hyun-sung)

A semi-biographical account of the unification of the Korean team at the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in 1991. As One is a competently shot and superbly performed film, with a fantastic ensemble cast who emulate the look and movement of athletes with keen precision. The plot is a little formulaic and certain details are slightly embellished, but the film maintains a decent level of authenticity where it matters and depicts the remarkable unification with the love and respect it deserves. It ends as an incredibly inspiring tale, displaying fervent compassion and great humanity in the face of division and adversity.

★★★★☆
Assassination (Dir. Choi Dong-hoon)

A historical action-drama detailing an assassination attempt during the Japanese occupation of Korea. It’s a fine film with an interesting historical context that doesn’t seem depicted very often in cinema. However, the plot has a few too many coincidences, which I feel prevents it from becoming great, though it was nowhere near as convoluted as I had read. The characters weren’t particularly nuanced, but I didn’t tire from their company and the action was exhilarating and the ending fulfilling.

★★★☆☆
Bleed for This (Dir. Ben Younger)

A biographical film that tells the story of professional boxer Vinny Pazienza, who was left with a broken neck and serious spinal injuries after being involved in a car crash. After being told he would never fight again, he ignored the doctors instruction and resumed his workout regime despite his limited movement and the huge metal brace screwed into his skull. The film tells a remarkable story, but is as structured and conventional as most boxing movies. Nevertheless, it seems very respectful and accurate in its adaptation and contains some stunning performances. It’s a shame it didn’t reach a wider audience.

★★★☆☆
Cart (Dir. Boo Ji-young)

A drama inspired by true events in which a crowd of retail workers band together to protest after being unfairly laid off. It’s a largely compelling film and the ensemble cast work wonders, but some parts are incredibly dramatised and lose a sense of authenticity. Still, it’s an astounding tale and important social critique — in the real-life story, the dismissed employees protested in front of the supermarket for almost seventeen months before the matter was settled.

★★★☆☆
Enemy’s Apple (Dir. Lee Su-jin)

A short film from the director of Han Gong-ju. Set amidst a showdown between police and violent demonstrators, two men on opposing sides face-off in an alleyway, with neither willing to relent. The film hinges on the interaction between these characters and forces viewers to confront societal structures, as it weaves between desperation and humour. It’s expertly shot and feels very organic, with a lot of intense close-ups and impressive grit.

★★★☆☆
Girlfriend’s Day (Dir. Michael Stephenson)

A bizarre film about a once successful greetings card writer who finds his past talents sought out by numerous competitors when the government introduces a new holiday named Girlfriend’s Day. It’s outlandish and attempts to be quite quirky, but ends up very tiresome and harsh due to a predictable plot and a wobbly tone. I like Bob Odenkirk, but the characters were very unappealing and though it’s a short film at just seventy minutes, it still seemed to drag. It has a decent idea at its core, but the script is very dull and almost inadequate, with comedy that misses the mark entirely.

★☆☆☆☆
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Dir. Macon Blair)

A dark comedy from Macon Blair, about a disgruntled woman who takes the law into her own hands after her home is burgled. It has a very snappy, self-contained plot full of amusing cynicism and sharp wit. Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood make a fantastic a duo of humorous oddballs who just want people to stop being so discourteous. After the disappointing Teenage Cocktail and Girlfriend’s Day, there is hope for Netflix movies yet.

★★★☆☆
Il Mare (Dir. Lee Hyeon-seung)

A touching South Korean romance that was remade by Hollywood just a couple of years after its release. A lonely girl named Eun-ju moves out of her extraordinary seaside house and leaves behind a letter asking the new owner to forward her mail, signing it off with the date in 1999. She gets a reply from Sung-hyun, who claims to be the house’s first resident in the year 1997. The two then discover they are able to communicate between time through the house’s elegant mailbox. It’s an inventive romance, with beautifully vivid and poignant depictions of love, loss and loneliness. The more I think about this movie the more I love it.

★★★★☆
It Follows (Dir. David Robert Mitchell)

An interesting idea that was apparently inspired by the director’s recurring nightmares. The film plays out like a nightmare itself, with an unspecified setting and absence of adult characters. It’s stylish, eerie and atmospheric and I enjoyed the feelings of impending doom in the score and central theme, but it’s sadly let down by characters whose motives and decisions feel largely manufactured and present solely to serve the narrative.

★★★☆☆
Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard (Dir. Choi Dong-hoon)

A Korean fantasy blockbuster about a Taoist named Woochi, who winds up in the present day after being accused of murdering his master and subsequently sealed away for five centuries. The mythology was a bit tortuous, but all-in-all it was an entertaining film with some great characters. Kang Dong-won was very likeable as Jeon Woochi and the effects were well implement, with a fine display of martial arts and a playful use of perspective during the action scenes. The culture clash and comedy aspects were also very amusing.

★★★☆☆
My Annoying Brother (Dir. Kwon Soo-kyeong)

After watching Unforgettable, I was interested in seeing more of actor Do Kyung-soo. He plays the dignified sibling in My Annoying Brother, alongside irksome older brother Jo Jung-suk. After Kyung-soo loses his eyesight due to an injury sustained at a Judo competition, Jung-suk is given parole in order to care for him, though he has little intention to do so. What starts off as a sibling rivalry develops into something very tender and stirring. Despite some predictability, it manages to be a rather life-affirming and deeply touching tale, though it’ll likely be too melodramatic for some.

★★★☆☆
My Sassy Girl (Dir. Kwak Jae-yong)

A romantic comedy based on a series of anecdotes by writer Kim Ho-sik, which detailed his relationship with his girlfriend. My Sassy Girl was a huge success when it released in 2001 and is now hailed as a classic of Korean cinema. The movie is a bit skittish and frantic at times, but is enormously funny, with brilliant performances from Cha Tae-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun. Their chemistry is completely addicting and Ji-hyun’s character is a mesmeric enigma, somehow both abrasive and lovable. The last thirty minutes were pure magic — so tender and beautiful.

★★★★★
Night Fishing (Dir. Park Chan-wook and Park Chang-kyong)

A short film from Park Chan-wook and his brother, who had no prior filmmaking experience. It was shot entirely on the Apple iPhone 4 and follows a man who fishes up a dead body that comes to life. It has a clever twist and everything I’ve seen thus far of Korean shamanism has been entirely transfixing. It’s an intriguing short film that goes to show you don’t need specialised equipment to create a competent film.

★★★☆☆
One Perfect Day (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

A short film that follows a young man through various unsuccessful dates. I stumbled upon this one due to the alluring Park Shin-hye, but was surprised to find it’s directed by the masterful Kim Jee-woon, who is responsible for A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil and last years Oscar submission The Age of Shadows, just to name a few. As such, One Perfect Day is skillfully shot and exquisitely written. The evening sequences were wonderfully mesmeric and it’s equally funny and touching — a fine tale of acute loneliness and unexpected hope.

★★★☆☆
Pained (Dir. Kwak Kyung-taek)

Nam-soon suffers from analgesia and is insensitive to pain, whereas Dong-hyeon has hemophilia and even the smallest of wounds can be fatal. Pained follows these two characters as they strike up an unlikely relationship. It’s a little heavy on the melodrama and certain aspects came across as slightly manufactured and forced, but it’s a well-performed piece and I thought Nam-soon was very well written. It would have been easy to make such an emotionally barren character very stubborn, but I adored his wholehearted embrace at a glimpse of meaning returning to his life. It was a breath of fresh air for such a character to give in to his feelings. There’s a beautiful scene in which he laments all he ever wanted was for somebody to ask him what was wrong.

★★★☆☆
Red Eye (Dir. Wes Craven)

A competent thriller set aboard a red-eye flight with some unintentionally hilarious scenes. Cillian Murphy plays a terrorist who coerces Rachel McAdams in order to facilitate a planned murder of a politician and his family. It doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre, but Cillian Murphy is incredibly compelling and it’s amusing to watch the back-and-forth between him and McAdams aboard the flight — apparently every other passenger is too self-absorbed to notice their aggressive jostling and nonchalant talk of murder. The last thirty minutes were tense, but it ends exactly how you would expect.

★★★☆☆
Teenage Cocktail (Dir. John Carchietta)

An enormous waste of time about two high school girls who dream of escaping to New York from their quiet Californian town. To raise money, they resort to streaming sleazy webcam videos before moving on to blackmail. The plot has potential, but it lacks depth and is ultimately very crude and disengaging. It also opens with a snippet of the climax which spoils more than intrigues, essentially making the plot all the more predictable. Furthermore, the dialogue is incredibly uninspired and there are so many conveniences and nonsensical decisions made by the characters that it’s wholly grimacing.

★☆☆☆☆
The Beauty Inside (Dir. Baek Jong-yeol)

Since his eighteenth birthday, every time he wakes up, Woo-jin changes into a different person. The Beauty Inside follows the life of Woo-jin and the struggles that come with his unique situation, especially when he develops feelings for a woman. Initially, I assumed it would be a comedy, but The Beauty Inside takes its fantasy aspects seriously. It’s in the same vein as something like The Age of Adeline, but is much more poignant and melancholic. It’s based on a series of short films commissioned by Toshiba in 2012 that starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and will be remade this year by Fox, with Emilia Clarke starring alongside the as of yet uncast Woo-jin. In the South Korean film, the character is played by no less than twenty different people.

★★★☆☆
The Tower (Dir. Kim Ji-hoon)

A disaster movie set inside a pair of luxurious skyscrapers on Christmas Eve. Despite containing all the familiar tropes and archetypes of the genre, The Tower is a well-crafted film that manages to be consistently thrilling throughout its two-hour runtime. Once the catastrophe begins, the film juggles between action and melodrama with great tenacity — offering up numerous spectacles in quick succession — but I found the opening very warm and quietly compelling. The skyscrapers made for an intriguing setting; so much so I would have happily watched a movie about the staff and residents preparing for a Christmas party. Though the characters are all rather rudimentary, they’re exceptionally varied and the actors were very engaging.

★★★☆☆
Unforgettable (Dir. Lee Eun-hee)

A drama set on a small island off the coast of South Korea, which follows four friends who return from the mainland for their summer holidays, along with a fifth friend, who isn’t able to venture like the others due to a degenerative disease in her leg. Unforgettable is a bittersweet film with very powerful depictions of love, loss and adolescence. It’s incredibly melodramatic, but for a sentimental person like me it hit all the right notes. I loved it’s raw and desolate depiction of emotional pain — there are no quick resolutions to heartache, only suffering and grudging acceptance. It’s a beautiful portrayal of formative younger years, with some really tremendous sequences.

★★★★☆
Windstruck (Dir. Kwak Jae-yong)

A South Korean romantic comedy from the director of My Sassy Girl, which also stars the sassy girl herself, Jun Ji-hyun. Windstruck is a very peculiar film — it’s like a parody of buddy cop movies with dashes of extreme melodrama. The first half follows the misadventures of police officer Kyung-jin and school teacher Myung-woo, while the second half swaps the comedy for drama, but has a couple of unexpected and oddly disjointed sequences where Ji-hyun’s character becomes a sharp, ruthless criminal hunter. While not as good as its would-be predecessor, Windstruck is still a lot of fun and has a brilliant soundtrack. Ji-hyun is always very entertaining and the references to My Sassy Girl were quite genius.

★★★☆☆

If you’ve made it down here then — as always — thank you dearly for stopping by. Twenty-two movies this month. Keeping up a substantial number! See you again.