Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Midnight (2021)

Midnight (2021)

Director (and writer): Kwon Oh-seung

Cast: Wi Ha-Jun, Jin Ki-Joo, Park Hoon, Kil Hae-yeon, Kim Hye-yoon

Midnight is a 2021 South Korean thriller about a deaf woman Kyung-Mi who becomes the target of a psychopath serial killer Do-Sik when she interferes his murderous plan for another woman So-Jung in the neighborhood. In a night of constant changes, the killer makes a sudden change in his target from Kyung-Mi’s mother to So-Jung which leads to a night of a heart-pounding fast-paced cat and mouse chase between him and Kyung-Mi as a mother and daughter tries to escape the killer while So-Jung’s brother tries to find his sister and get tangled into the whole situation.

South Korean thrillers are really quite something. This directorial feature debut for Kwon Oh-Seung which absolutely grabs from start to finish is no exception. It lives up to the standards of a great thriller. The pacing, execution, location and the sound design all comes together very well to create a thrilling experience. The pacing and execution pretty much goes hand to hand as it doesn’t give the story a lot of time to breath but also have those quieter moments to really build up the tension mostly because of how the cat and mouse elements along with the deaf elements are put into play. With that, the sound design becomes very important. As the balance between when the silence and the heart pounding score has to achieve a balance to make it feel natural as it shifts between the deaf main character and the chase sequence to build up the tension. While the deaf element is a pretty big part, in reality the biggest contribution to this film might be its setting mostly in this neighborhood full of dark alleys which it becomes this web of paths that the characters can navigate through. The whole cinematography becomes a huge focus on camera work on it follows through the chases from different perspectives to make it flow well. All these elements are done really well put together.

If there was anything to criticize for Midnight, it probably would be related to the script itself. It falls into its own trap of making these characters feel a little too naive and lacking in common sense at time when it comes to being aware of surroundings and the dangers lurking around them or having a sense of self-protection might be the better way to warn. The most obvious being its opening sequence that introduces this serial killer who preys on a woman walking alone at night and sets up a scene to lure here which seems a little too obvious that most people, especially women would probably just call the police based on their suspicions and not approach it. Of course, during the flow of the main plot, these moments to occur where it becomes a tad frustrating to watch but at times, it does add this sarcastic humor element (at least to myself) which brings up the incompetent police or the insensitivity and lack of knowledge towards the deaf community as well as a general miscommunication or perhaps even going further (and I might be overthinking this), a sense of unawareness to the general surroundings because of our technology aka our cellphone.

Putting that point, the plot itself is very straight-forward. Its a pure thriller which is adrenaline pumping and pulls of some great moments that push its tension and edge of the seat moments. Its truly and amazing feeling to experience. The great part of this one is that it pulls from the basics. It sets up the brother and sister relationship from the start and then sets up the mother and daughter relationship and then introduces the killer in a very quick format. They don’t need to be deep characters but its their relationship between them that makes them matter more than their story. It makes these people very human with a pure sense to survive and protect their loved ones. Much the killer is very simple and yet, his character shifts in tone so much like a chameleon that it makes him have an unpredictable element right down to the ending where it takes a very interesting turn in the final act. All the characters pull of their roles very well. The killer played by Wi Ha-Jun really does deserve a special mention because his role does have a lot of change and he grasps its so well.

Overall, Midnight is a fantastic thriller. Its well-executed and straightforward. Sometimes filmmakers forget that the most basic things carry forward the best and in this case, this is achieved with so much balance. While the script might be a little lacking in some parts, everything else really does make up for it with engaging characters and fast-paced well designed, smoothly flowing cinematography. Being a directorial feature debut, this film is fine job.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Seobok (2021)

Seobok (2021)

Director (and writer): Lee Yong-ju

Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-Gum, Jo Woo-Jin, Park Byung-eun, Jang Young-nam

Ex intelligence agent Ki Heon is tasked with safely transporting Seo Bok, the first ever human clone, who holds the secret of eternal life. Several forces try to take control of Seo Bok to serve their own agendas. – IMDB

Seobok is a 2021 South Korean sci-fi action thriller which tells the story of an ex-intelligence agent Ki-hun who is asked to take on the task of safely transporting the first ever human clone Seobok who has been genetically engineered to not only have eternal life but also carries the possibility of eternal life and cures for all kinds of diseases. As Ki-hun tackles with his own illness that tortures him and isn’t expected to live long, he is offered the chance to be a part of the clinical trial in return for successfully completing the task. As the plan incurs different changes due to other parties trying to take Seobok for their own plans and goals whether out of fear or greed, Ki-hun and Seobok start to bond as they escape from one situation to the next.

Seobok is a fairly straight-forward science fiction action thriller. In terms of the science fiction and the human clone, the story itself along with its supporting characters have a fairly predictable trajectory. Immortality and eternal life is something that feels almost too good to be true and that brings on its own plans from different organizations and people involved and that is expected in a plot like this. However, Seobok stands out because it spends a lot of time building up the relationship and chemistry between the two main characters, Ki-hun and Seobok played respectively by Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum.

Gong Yoo is probably most known for his role in Train to Busan where he takes on a rather different role. This role takes on a more rough and angry sort of character which is frustrated with a lot of things happening to him and around him and in turn, this tense character is faced with Seobok, a human clone who has never seen the outside world and is fascinated with everything that he sees. As the plot unfolds, the two grow through Seobok’s fascination but also the constant straight-forward conversations about his human clone, his abilities and immortality down to human nature giving it some fun fish out of water moments that help break through the intense action scenes. The conversations build up these two characters a lot giving them both sufficient back story to make them both truly connect to its audience. The two carry on almost like a father-son and mentor-student sort of relationship which becomes rather endearing as Ki-hun starts changing his mind about Seobok and understanding his pain. While also struggling with Seobok’s telekinesis powers which increasingly grow out of control as he starts facing more dangerous situations and making some questionable judgments.

What makes Seobok stand out other than the chemistry is absolutely the role of the concept of immortality and the character of Seobok, fittingly so as the movie is titled after him. Seobok is played incredibly well by Park Bo-Gum who carries the blank expressions and calmness as he faces all the crazy situations happening around him to the point of disregard when everyone seems to be threatening but also asking all the right questions and giving off the image of how clear-minded he is right down to the powerful ending when the revelation that he understands the entire situation and actually just wants something very human and simple but the fact that he was created to fulfill a purpose and the discussion of whether a human clone is considered a person. The human elements of Seobok grounds this film and that is the charm of South Korean films when they are executed well to be able to carry out these moments. The moral and ethics of human clones and how they should be treated is what essentially what makes this film really hit hard making the ending pack such a huge punch and makes the audience think about this whole immortality, eternal life, playing God and the right and wrong of the situation and whether the whole thing could have been resolved in another way.

Overall, Seobok is an incredibly well-executed film. The two main characters have such a powerful presence in the film. The story is a lot more profound than the basic science fiction film but actually focuses itself on the morals and ethics of the whole situation which packs a bigger punch because Seobok is portrayed so well. A big part of the film is also in how well-written and focusing on the conversation dialogues more than the action. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its own share of action-packed sequences which all increases in intensity as Seobok’s power comes into play. Seobok is an absolute gem: well-crafted, well-executed and poses some excellent questions that will linger far after the film is finished.

*Seobok is playing on demand on Fantasia Film Festival virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*

TV Binge: Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Lee Eung-bok, Hong So-ri, jan Young-woo, Kim Hyeong-min, Park So-hyeon

Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-uk, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyo-young, Go Youn-jung, Kim Gap-soo, Kim Sang-ho

Following the death of his family in an accident, loner Cha Hyun Soo moves to a new apartment. His quiet life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that start occurring in his new building. As people turn into monsters, Hyun Soo and other residents try to survive. – MyDramaList

Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home takes place as the world heads into an apocalypse where humans are turning into monsters. In an apartment building, the residents suddenly are locked in and soon realize why. As they hatch their plans of defense, its not whats outside but what is trapped inside that is their concern as well as who is infected and will turn. Being at a well-paced 10 episodes, the series moves through the characters foundation and the main characters slowly have their own story unravel whether in flashbacks or in conversation. The story also progresses in the sense that survival brings out the best and worst of people, making them at times the real danger as is the desires turning into these monsters. It makes you wonder whether its based a little on Buddhism and the concept of desire making someone unable to achieve happiness and in this sense, the infected will turn into monsters, some lethal and some harmless. With that said, there are two elements at least to look at Sweet Home: the characters and the monster design.

Sweet Home’s monsters are rather varied. There isn’t an expansive understanding of how someone gets infected but the symptoms are outlined fairly clearly. The change can be rather subtle unless someone is sitting around when someone’s nose fountains with a huge nosebleed. The monsters are rather varied and at one part, it stems from desire so there are many different types of monsters whether its one that is super fast with centaur legs or a giant eye or a gooey monster or a spider looking creature and so on so forth. They all are done fairly well. There are obvious moments of CGI use and its not as smooth as it should be but overall, it does look pretty nice. The only issue I had was one of the monsters was meant to be hulking and giant with this sinister grin and to me, it felt rather hilarious. Probably not the effect that the series was looking for but the monster itself was scary for its strength and relentlessness.

There are quite a few characters in Sweet Home. A decent bunch of ragtag supporting characters which bring some comedic relief and add some uselessness that usually causes more problems plus adds to the potential body count. The few main characters go more to Hyun-so, an eighteen year old that lives alone as a playtester and constantly thinks about suicide, a medical school student brother Eun-hyeok and an aspiring ballet dancer with a foot injury sister Eun-Yoo who is in disagreement with each other, a firefighter lady Yi-Kyeong, a musician girl Ji-soo and a mystery man with burnt scars on his face Jin-wook. The story revolves around these characters as their backstories get revealed one by one. What works well here is that these characters do slowly grow as they start to differ and show their worth as the situation gets more and more dire.

Sweet Home is an interesting first season to say the least. While I have little issues with the computer effects, the monster design, the atmosphere and especially those awesome fight scenes paired with “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons really does it all great favors. At the same time, the cast of characters and their development does work really well as they form their alliances and friendships and it all comes to a decent twist by the end. If there was any issue, its that the first season sets up for a second season and yet, if it doesn’t happen, that ending might be quite a pity. Fingers crossed that it will get a second season!

TV Binge: The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

Cast: Byeong-kyu cho, Jun-Sang Yu, Se-Jeong Kim, Hye-ran Yeom, Seok-hwan Ahn, Hong Nae Lee, Sook Moon, Kwang-il Choi

Noodle shop employees by day and demon hunters by night, the Counters use special abilities to chase down malevolent spirits that prey on humans. – IMDB

Watch on: Netflix

Its been a while since I’ve seen any Korean series. The last series I watched was probably some romantic drama in early 2000s, whenever the Korean series phase hit with Autumn Sonata and then I watched the Korean remake of Meteor Garden which in my opinion is the worst remake of all of them made so far so that was equally not very appealing so consider me a little hesitant about Korean series. The Uncanny Counter gets a whole new perspective though because its not a romantic drama and its an action comedy about a ragtag team of demon hunters called Counters who with their special abilities hunt down evil spirits embedded in humans to send them and the souls their trapped to Yung, which I assume is something like a gateway to afterlife whether to Heaven or Hell. As the team starts hunting down, they end up reaching one case to the next that links to their own past and want to investigate and chase down the truth behind what happened as the danger level increases as they encounter the rarely seen highest level of evil spirits.

The Uncanny Counter does a great job because of its balance between the tones. Even in its most dangerous scenes, it manages to give time for the characters to still have their personality show which adds in some humor and vice versa. The story itself has a lot of funny little moments especially with the new addition of So Mun (Byeong-kyu Cho), an eighteen year old high school student which gets pulled into this unexpectedly. The progression and pacing of the story over the 16 episode season is pretty decent as well. The story starts off with the basics and slowly draws connections to Ga Mo-Tak (Jun-sang Yu), who has amnesia from his accident to So Mun’s past. The investigation spirals into something more complex pulling in supernatural elements along with politics and crime. It gets rather intriguing as the Counters characters have more depth throughout and their characters start to connect whether its Ms. Chu’s motherly care for everyone and her touching backstory or Ha-na’s slowly warming up to So Mun as her abilities prevents her from wanting others to be in contact with her physically. These four deliver some great moments together and their chemistry and balance is their characters’ personality develops rather well also. The team actually has one more member who is the monetary sponsor for their operation who is also a Counter but mostly not on the field who is a rich man with a big corporation called Jang-mul (Seok-hwan Ahn) who is a whacky character and brings a ton of laughs whenever he appears.

Talking about the characters, the show has a good deal of them. Whether its the criminal and bad guys involved especially in the second half when its focused on investigating the past of Mo-Tak or the other people involved from So Mun’s grandparents and his best friends, they all have their own place. Especially in terms of So Mun’s best friends, Woong-min (Eun-soo Kim) and Joo-yeon Im (Ji-won Lee) who are truly supporting characters but makes everyone wish that they had friends like those. Plus, they have some hilarious dramatic moments. At the same time, the bad guys are pretty great especially in the depth of how it goes behind the dirty doings and how the evil spirit hides in one of them and that story arc really gets taken for a crazy ride. I do have to say that while the evil spirit being pulled out of the body is meant to be scary, a lot of times, its rather goofy except for a few times especially when with the higher level evil spirit that gets revealed and the body it has taken over. Some of it is a little over the top but still, there are some unpredictable paths that it takes.

Overall, The Uncanny Counter is a great South Korean series. Its a lot of fun and a ton of good action sequences. The characters are done really well and the whole story is rather unique. The series is based on a webtoon called Amazing Rumor by Jang Yi and according to MyDramaList is set for Season 2 expected to release in 2022 which should be awesome and definitely looking forward to that if that is true. The show was a blast even if it only released 2 episodes per week on Netflix. Its done now so if you haven’t seen it now, you can binge through it as quickly or slowly as you want.

FNC 2020: Moving On (2019) /Wisdom Tooth (2019)/The Thief’s Daughter (2019)

In an effort to wrap up the FNC 2020 coverage, the final reviews will be in multiple movies. The first is a trio of family dramas, each with their own angle and premise that makes them rather unique (and all three that I did enjoy) plus a focus on a female main character.

Moving On (2020)

Director (and writer): Yoon Dan-Bi

Cast: Choi Jung-Un, Yang Heung-Ju, Park Hyeon-Yeong, Park Seung-Jun

After her parents get divorced, Okju, her father and her little brother move in with a grandfather she barely knows. Life in the new family unit proves challenging for the already traumatized teenager. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

A lot of Moving On is about coping. Coping with change in a world that feels like everyone is trying to move on as nothing had happened before and dealing with the inner feelings of neglect and loneliness. That is what Okju is dealing with throughout but not only her has some issues, her father also has some tough decisions while her aunt who has moved into the home as well have her own issues. Everyone tries to act like nothing is wrong in fear of their grandfather knowing about all their issues as he also has his own health issues that they worry about. And yet, in all this, the little brother seems to be the one that has escaped all these feelings. He gets a lot of the attention but at the same time, seems less scarred by these effects.

Moving On is a subtle films that focus on everyday people going through everyday issues and as they stay together in this home, they get to know each other’s issues and what bothers them or lingers in their thoughts from the past and present. As the family connections come into play, they each have their form of conflict and struggles that craft these characters especially the main teenage girl Okju who spends a good part of the movie trying to seek attention despite her quiet personality from small things like fighting to have a room to herself and her personal space to getting the attention of a boy that she likes and even the little moments that she shares with her father and aunt that all makes her feel special for little short moments.

Its hard to explain Moving On that makes it not feel like its fairly mundane however, the best movies (arguably) are those that use an everyday life premise and create believable characters and relationships. In this case, its one about a family going through divorce, break-ups and a change in living situation. The subtlety of how its executed really does give a lot of focus on an outstanding premise and story, heavily focused on each of the characters, especially with Okju.

Wisdom Tooth (2019)

Director (and writer): Ming Liang

Cast: Xingchen Lyu, Jiajia Wang, Weishen Wang, Xiaoliang Wu

Gu Xi and her half-brother Gu Liang lead a hardscrabble life in a village in northern China, where they struggle to make ends meet. Their unusually intimate relationship takes on a new dimension with the arrival of the charismatic QingChang, daughter of a rich businessman.  – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Wrapped up in both a family drama featuring a close sibling relationship where the brother and sister’s life revolves solely around each other. However, as their lives take a turn for new opportunities, Gu Liang meets a new girl which opens up a mostly behind the scenes romance. Viewed mostly from the point of view of Gu Xi, she needs to adapt to a world where she isn’t the center of her brother’s world as an outgoing rich girl QingChang gets into the picture. Call it an unusual love triangle if you want but aside from the family/romance side, a fairly more subtle subplot lies in the little details of the dealings that Gu Liang and his best friend are involved in in the fish business as well as her boss’s issues due to her undocumented status.

One of the best elements of Wisdom Tooth is the link of Gu Xi’s wisdom tooth issue at the beginning that pulls back to it at the end as she finds back her way. At the same time, its the execution of the premise from the lighthearted sibling relationship at the beginning that defines them right away to its gradual addition of QingChang and the best friend which leads to a friendship between WingChang and Gu Xi as they try to bond together which all comes crashing down one day and she needs to make a huge decision. Set in the 1990s China backdrop and its cold weather in a part of a more northern China (I can’t remember the exact location) but the looming winter adds a lot to the setting and cinematography.

Aside from that, this story is heavily focused on its characters and the relationships between each of them. With that said, the entire cast does an outstanding job. The standout goes out to crafting the character of Gu Xi, played by Xingchen Lyu who is followed throughout as she starts to find herself by the end and her independence. At the same time, Gu Liang played by Xiaoliang Wu is also done really well. His struggle between his sister, his love relationship and his “career” is well-portrayed. The ending of the story is done in a fairly unique manner that I quite liked. If there was one little element that held the movie back, it would be the imbalance of how it treated the mixed genre of family drama, romance and crime thriller.

A Thief’s Daughter (La Hija de un Ladron, 2019)

Director (and co-writer): Belén Funes

Cast: Greta Fernandez, Eduard Fernandez, Alex Monner, Tomas Martin, Adela Silverstre

Her father is a convicted, her boyfriend rejects her, her brother is troublemaker, her baby needs money and she’s half-deaf of one ear. Bad times to be Sara. – IMDB

A Thief’s Daughter is a movie about coming to terms with what is the current situation and striving for a better day than settling for the life with a criminal. Sara, played by Gerta Fernandez is the central character as she moves through her various responsibilities as a mother, a girlfriend, a sister, an employee and as a daughter. The relationship between her and her father is the plot that constantly builds throughout the film. However, Sara’s life is a struggle in general. As she finds a more stable job to support her desire to get her younger brother’s custody, her relationship with her father is further worsened along with her brother’s attachment to their father. The feeling of loneliness is what gradually becomes more apparent as she ends up dealing with everything on her own, whether its her own doing or the better choice to keep away from the trouble.

A Thief’s Daughter has relatively decent pacing. The different relationships she has all outlined and built upon throughout to give them all purpose and depth. Her father’s presence although not completely apparent, it appears with enough context to highlight their issues. Its a great work of the writing that gives this looming sense of dread that something bad could happen to Sara when her one good thing being finding a stable job at a school kitchen due to all the conflicts that happens to her throughout. In the end, it becomes a worry that hits her about whether she will be alone for the rest of her life, a rather heartbreaking revelation for Sara, a character that tries her best to do the right thing by everyone but rarely seems to get treated with the same about care from others. There’s a lot that’s done very well in A Thief’s Daughter. Its subtle and quiet but Sara’s character really does end up being rather powerful. Especially when faced with people that don’t seem to stick around her life and her father who she finally stands up to about her own feelings.

That’s it for this Festival du Nouveau Cinema features.
A good batch of family drama with central female characters overall which are all well worth a watch.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Bring Me Home (2019)

Bring Me Home (2019)

Bring Me Home

Director (and writer): Seung-woo Kim

Cast: Yeong-ae Lee, Jae-myung Yoo, Jin-hee Baek, Hae-Joon Park, Hae-Jin Yoo, Ae-ri Jung, Hyun-woo Seo

A dedicated mother in search of her missing son follows a tip that leads her to a fishing village where corrupt police officers might have the answers to her mystery. – IMDB

Bring Me Home is a rather clearcut sort of thriller. Its a story about a mother looking for her missing especially harder after she gets an anonymous tip following her husband’s death. On one hand, she remembers and imagines life with her husband and son which gives her strength when she starts discovering the fishy clues of the people at the fishing spot of a boy that they hide from her in fear that it is her son.

Its not hard to get into the emotioms that Bring Me Home wants the audience to feel especially since the straightforward plot gives a clearcut line of good and evil. The mom is the sad person who is desperately looking for her son even through all uncertainty she feels like Min-su is her Yoon-su so things get crazy as she puts herself into one after another dangerous situation to find the clues amd prove her point and take back her child. On the other side is the evil people of the fishing village which we soon learn is full of ex-cons and lead by the corrupted cop Hong. The whole group is full of selfishness, molestation, misogyny and so much more. With a crew like that, everything they do is either overdramatic or overreaction making them more suspicious or how they treat Min-su in general. Its hard to not side with the mom’s side in a story like this and the finale is some sweet, sweet justice. Well, its a Korean film so there’s always some bitterness to it or else it wouldn’t be a thriller, right?

Bring Me Home

Lady Vengeance (review) herself, Yeong-ae Lee plays the mother here which means that subtle acting is really on point and well, the acting in general. Just like police corporal Hong played by Jae-myung Yoo which also does a fantastic job since it was so easy to hate this character and that hatred built throughout the film. Like I said, sweet sweet justice. Of course, these are the main characters and the two strongest opposing sides of the equation that really stood out. There are some supporting characters that really do add quite a bit to the story with the roles of Flounder (I think that’s the name) and Mr. Choi who both aren’t explored too much but at the same time, add to the story in their own ways, mostly in the dislike department.

With that said, Bring Me Home is an alright drama thriller. The story itself is fairly clear cut but they do have a little bit of the reveals in some of the subtle details from camera pans to using the flashlight in dark scenes. There is some disturbing scenes and unpleasant characters to deal with. I’m starting to notice films that deliberately use content that’s a little emotionally manipulating. This one does hit that territory a little. However, the fishing spot setting is used well and the whole thriller does get fairly tense. There’s a lot of subtle visual cues to bring some clues to light and give these band of kidnappers some depth. Without hitting too many spoilers, another element that was a bit lacking was its unsatisfying ending. Overall, Bring Me Home is alright with some good and some bad point but it has to thank its engagement really in its casting choice of its two main leads, Young-ae Lee and Jae-myung Yoo because they really delivered stellar performances.

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

Peninsula (2020)

Peninsula

Director (and co-writer): Sang-ho Yeon

Cast:  Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won

Marine captain Jung-seok and his family escapes by ship which suddenly changes course to Hong Kong and ends up having a lower level outbreak that infects his sister and nephew, leaving him and his brother-in-law, Chul-min to escape in Hong Kong. Four years later, as they live poorly in Hong Kong with no status, the triad boss gives them a task to go retrieve money stuck in a truck in Incheon which was in transport during the zombie outbreak years ago and giving them a decent cut for their work if they get out alive with the loot. Jung-seok, Chul-min and two other Koreans end up taking this task and they find the truck fairly easily. As they plan to leave, a platoon ambushes them and triggers a massive wave of zombies. Jung-seok manages to be rescued by two sisters: Joon and Yu-jin who take him back to their hideout with their mother and  and grandfather. With the knowledge of a chance to leave Incheon, they decide to infiltrate the platoon’s camp to get back the truck and rescue Chul-min. 

Still set-2

Peninsula is a standalone sequel to Train to Busan. It is its own beast building on the post-apocalyptic world created from the previous movie. However, its important to remember that its a standalone and in many ways, an opposite experience from its predecessor, which has its pros and cons. Instead of a zombie horror film, Peninsula is more of an action film with zombies. There are more humans involved in the equation and its given up the straightforward concept in the first film to a movie with more moving parts. With that said, its hard to not compare the two as I’d wager that most people seeing this will be fans of Seoul Station and/or Train to Busan and have their own set of high expectations to meet. Whether this film lands or not will depend on how much you accept it. It does all the elements right and yet, there’s something a tad derivative that might not sit well for some. Due to more characters, it has has less space to develop memorable characters like the first film. With a standalone film, newcomers can come into this and shouldn’t have issues following the story. 

With that said,its best to see this as a standalone and come into this with fresh eyes and mind. Peninsula does a lot of the elements right. First and foremost, the cinematography is incredible. There are some scene set-ups showing the vast wasteland that Incheon has become over the course of 4 years from using the lighting appropriately to set the mood and in general, using light for its aesthetic as well as playing along with how zombies work in the Train to Busan world. The zombie scenes are the most outstanding of the film, with one scene when they first arrive in Incheon and traversing the place where the cross through that is a spine-chilling seen that comes to play in the end in a spectacular way. That aside, the zombies are used really well. Not quite as frequent but still making for a lot of good fight and escape scenes. The scenes at the platoon camp also adds a further dystopia element along with the rather familiar roles and events, however the rescue and retrieve mission is a good one. Suffice to say, the script had thought out a lot of the little details in these scenes and how its put together visually to be an engaging experience (even if it feels like a few of the plot points are familiar). 

Still set-1

The characters of Peninsula revolves around a few moving pieces. There’s ex-marine captain, Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) who is no doubt the main character with his own inner struggle and with the most character depth and development. Gang Dong-won grasps the character fairly well even if he’s rather brooding and has rather little dialogue. The turning point of the film in terms of charming characters do go to the two sisters: older sister Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-Jin (Lee Ye-won). They bring in a level of wit and courage as Joon is a beast behind the wheel and Yu-jin is a strategic little girl with her rigged up flashy remote-controlled cars. They bring a lot of personality to the film with their appearance and what’s important is that they both still have a helplessness to them where they still feel in times of despair that they are still just kids. Of course, the character that plays their mother Min-jing (Lee Jung-hyun) also brings in a great performance. The character doesn’t have as much depth but does manage to bring some inner conflict to the whole situation. There are some surprises in some of these characters and supporting characters that do add to the film especially by the end. 

Overall, Peninsula is a well-crafted movie. Sure, its not as unique as the first one but what it has built with its post-apocalyptic world setting and the nature of their zombies gives it a lot of room to play around with. Where Peninsula might suffer is with the high expectations set from Train to Busan moving into this one, which is a completely different beast and in turn, easier to be disappointed (possibly). As a standalone, there’s a lot of standout elements and director Sang-ho Yeon does build a decent movie. Its a tad more complex and a lot more moving parts but there are little details that will be noticed that works by the end and makes sense. There are clever bits and some comedic bits, a few over the top characters and then there’s the well-choreographed action sequences with gun fights mostly (plus a car chase). If there’s one thing I didn’t talk about before, there are much more (unnecessary or over-emphasized) dramatic scenes in the veins of South Korean cinema that I’m not a huge fan of but that is also a personal preference. However, this director has one thread that links all three of the Train to Busan films and that is the conflicted main character which like I said before, is one of the great elements of this film as well. I can hate on this film but I have to say that standalone sequels always earns the film brownie points on my end at least. As a final thought, Peninsula might not be what was expected but I would love to see what else they can do with this zombie apocalypse setting especially if they move around different South Korean city as their story backdrop. 

Peninsula is currently in theatres, including IMAX, ScreenX and 4DX as of August 7, 2020

*Screener provided by Taro PR*

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon: Train to Busan (2012) by John Rieber

The first guest review of Ultimate 2010s Blogathon is for 2016 South Korean zombie film, Train to Busan by John Rieber, who runs a blog under his own name. He covers a lot of really fun topics from movies, TV and all things pop culture along with spectacular food and travel. Its truly a wonderful one stop for a lot of variety of topics and he always has a nice and refreshing angle in how he shares it! Remember to stop by to check out his blog and give him a follow HERE.

Train to Busan

The Terrifying “Train To Busan” Is Now Departing!

Looking back at a decade of great cinema, I’m always interested in seeing films that take an established genre and bring something fresh to the table.  That is certainly the case with “Train To Busan”.

South Korean Director Sang-ho Yeon delivers a modern zombie classic, blending terrific action sequences with rich character development.  

I had heard about this 2016 South Korean thriller, but hadn’t gotten around to seeing it until recently – and it blew my mind!

Train to Busan” takes place as a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaks out in the country – and a group of train passengers must band together until they reach safety – hopefully – in the city of Busan…little do they know that there is no guarantee they will be let in, and the zombies on the train are multiplying!

zombies_train_to_busan.jpg

The characters are all terrific:  a Father, played by Gong Yoo, takes his small daughter back to his estranged wife – he chooses the train.  Su-an Kim plays the young girl, and her acting is terrific: she makes the most outrageous aspects of the zombie attack seem real.  Also on the train is Dong-seok Ma, who plays a beefy tough guy who must protect his pregnant wife, played by Yu-mi Jung.

Each character is fully realized without sacrificing any action, which begins shortly after the train departs.  As they are leaving this station, the young girl notices someone on the platform seemingly sick – then is shocked to have a bloody hand slam against the train’s window.  And they are off!

One of the most unique aspects of the film is how quickly someone can be killed and turned into a Zombie – and of course, one sick person manages to get on board the train, infecting the other passengers – so the pack just grows and grows and grows! 

In a world where the “coronavirus” exploded onto the world’s stage with sudden ferocity, watching the infected zombies multiply is even more sobering: and each train car takes drastic measures to try and keep the zombies out.

As the train hurtles toward Busan, the plot continues to evolve as the survivors dwindle and the zombie pack grows.  Each of the main characters are given an important plot point – and it’s a film that never lets up on the suspense. One of the best set pieces is when the Conductor stops at a station because he’s been told that the military is there…an incredible action sequence.

Train To Busan” has set a high bar for all zombie films to come, and one of the most exhilarating films of the 2010’s.


Thanks to John for his great review for this South Korean zombie film. Its definitely a wonderful choice as Train to Busan is also one of my top movies of this past decade.

Head over to Drew’s Movie Review to see the next guest review tomorrow!

You can find the list of reviews for the blogathon updated daily HERE.

The Divine Fury (2019)

The Divine Fury (2019)

divine fury

Director (and writer): Joo-hwan Kim

Cast: Seo-joon Park, Sung-ki Ahn, Do-Hwan Woo, Woo-sik Choi

Demonic possession and exorcism is not a very popular horror subgenre nowadays (in comparison to say, the much more popular zombies and hauntings). The Divine Fury is a story about a young boxer Yong-hoo (Seo-joon Park) who has strayed from God when he loses his father when was a child despite his intense praying but now has been granted a stigmata that allows him to exorcise demons. By coincidence, he meets Father Ahn (Sung-ki Ahn), an exorcist from the Vatican and ends up hesitantly helping him initially but finds his way out of his hatred for God gradually and seeing his purpose in the whole ordeal.

The Divine Fury

Let’s face it right now: Korean movies are usually on the longer side of things. This one runs at a little over the 2 hour mark. Because of that, it has some pacing issues. Most of them occur in the beginning as it aims to set up the story and has much less action and much more talking. The talking bits sometimes are a bit padded and dragged out. Some of it feels empty and adds not a lot to the characters especially one that its next film announced at the end credits will feature. It also uses this to add more questions to the focal characters especially the cryptic bits about the bad guy. There is a mixed emphasis on faith and religion here but doesn’t get explored as intriguing while the exorcism is more in its action sequences. There are some oddly-timed dialogue content here and there.

The Divine Fury

However, what does work here is that each of the scenes build towards the story as a whole and the world of exorcising and who is behind these evil happenings. It uses a story-telling choice where the audience sees what will happen: who will be possessed, who is the villain as well as the lurking evil, but still manages to leave the resolution and reveals the answers like the whys gradually throughout. The second act is more action-packed which has some great moments from one point to the next jumping from one exorcism sequence to the next. Each set piece and victim adds another level of tension and depth to this version of exorcism as the viewers learn about this skill alongside the main character, Yung-hu. While the second act excels in its few moments of exploring exorcism and horror, the third act is where The Divine Fury excels through and through. There is not only exorcism but the final showdown with the villainous character, Ji-sin (Do-hwan Woo) which is intensely action-packed along with some great effects and fantasy elements added in.

The Divine Fury

Overall, The Divine Fury struggles in it set up in the first act. Its a bit lacking in its character development and it suffers from its length but the team-up of Father Ahn and Yung-hu does have a decent development. However, it redeems itself gradually in its second and especially its final act. Its use of exorcism scenes and how the possessed characters act and movements are one of the outstanding elements. The acting from its characters are on point and while the progression struggles in parts, especially in its conversation that attempts to give its characters depth and feels disjointed in those bits, when the movie focuses on its main storyline of exorcism and tracking down the mysterious villain, it truly excels and intrigues. It helps that the director has a really nice grasp of creating an unsettling atmosphere and the building suspense properly. Its not perfect but there’s a lot of positive elements that help overcome some of the early execution issues.

The Divine Fury will be available on Well Go USA on November 19, 2019.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock (2018)

Door Lock

Director (and co-writer): Kwon Lee

Cast: Hyo-jin Kong, Sung-oh Kim, Ye-won Kim

Door Lock is a 2018 South Korean thriller about a woman who suspects that someone is trying to break into her apartment and tries to figure out who it is.

Door Lock is the South Korean remake of 2011 film Sleep Tight except taking it from the other perspective. If you haven’t seen Sleep Tight, you probably want to see it after this one, mostly because then the thrills of figuring out who is the bad guy will be taken away. At the same time, if you have seen it, then this one might just be an exercise of watching the story from a different angle set in a different city. Falling into the category of never having seen the original, Door Lock is a mystery thriller mixed a different twist on the home invasion genre.

Starting with the opening scene of a woman going home to her apartment and being attacked suddenly, Door Lock quickly changes to a woman who wakes up and has a certain routine that has set herself in almost an compulsive way so the little changes automatically spark her attention. Despite her safety precautions of moving to a big building with better security and installing an electronic door lock, she still feels unsafe however one night, she is woken up by the sound of someone trying to break into her apartment frantically. Except her suspicions aren’t enough to keep the police to investigate further so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Door Lock isn’t exactly a new idea and in the thriller department, it really takes noticing that one clue and that one dialogue in the movie to already have suspicions of the invader. However, there is some nice execution here. Right from the beginning, there is a sense of being followed as the camera will move from different angles and through surveillance cameras and from ceiling shots. Its quite creative and adds to the unsettling feeling of being observed. The sounds aren’t overpowering as well. It raises as the scene intensifies but also takes the care to focus on the little sounds in the surrounding like the clock ticking for example and isolating onto the everyday sounds amplified. There’s one scene that the soundtrack done really well where it follows two characters and there is a contrast on the soundtracks playing which was unique. The audience also gets a lot of the insider information, know more than the main character which works especially as the quick reveal of what is going on which leaves the rest of the story to question who, why and how.

In South Korean films, there’s always a notion about things being too slow because of its lengthy run time. In this case, it actually is the opposite. Its shorter run time actually deters it a little. It does give it a good pacing and the plot moves forward fairly quickly however there’s a lot of shallow characters especially the main girl who only gets caught in all the mess but feels never gives enough to be invested in her safety to begin with. Plus, the predictable misdirection to suspect other characters are fairly easy to see through as well. Perhaps the one thing that gets to be taken away from this is the concept of safety in the society and the false pretenses of it whether its the people around our everyday lives to the bigger buildings feeling more secure or the fancy gadgets to ensure safety all seems to have the loopholes that can be broken especially because they are also involving humans who might not all have the right intentions.

Overall, Door Lock is a decent thriller (from the opinion of someone who has never seen the original Spanish film). It has a few flaws to it but also has some tension and is fairly well-paced. Its cinematography and background sound design and soundtrack does it a lot of favors to build the atmosphere. Even if the characters are fairly shallow, the message it conveys is an important one.