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.

Fantasia Festival 2019: No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy (2019)

No Mercy

Director: Lim Kyoung-tack

Cast: Si-Young Lee, Se-Wan Park, Jun-hyuk Lee

No Mercy is a 2019 South Korean action drama film about a woman recently released from prison who takes revenge when her younger sister disappears the next day.

Revenge films definitely have a place in South Korean films especially after the Vengeance trilogy, Oldboy being one of the three that made it huge around the world. No Mercy is an entirely different beast of a film. With a central character Inae being a former security officer with martial arts training and clad in a feminine red dress paired with red heels, the main actress Si-Young Lee, previously known for her more romantic comedy roles shows off the contrast her fighting skills especially as she does almost 95% of all the moves herself without a stunt double. This is always a great point because the action choreography becomes more genuine and less camera cuts, making it a more immersive viewing experience. Adding on the fact that she also uses different weapons and the fact that as she learns more about her sister’s disappearance from one person to the next, her anger escalates causing each person to suffer her wrath just a step more intense  each time.

No Mercy attempts to make its audience feel Inae’s anger and pain with every reveal of her sister’s story. Her younger sister Eunhye, played by Se-wan Park in her debut role, is one that deserves praise as she takes on a intellectually disabled teenager. What starts with school bullies taking advantage of her ends up leading back to what caused Inae to end up in prison in the first place. Every reveal, maybe a little emotionally manipulative, does hit the same painful spot over and over again and its hard as the audience to not feel the same anger and frustration over the abuse of the vulnerable in the society.

No Mercy is not an easy film to watch. Its takes its subject matter far but also manages to balance out impressive action with a dose of thought-provoking drama. It all comes down to an intriguing script and a well-executed movie. It starts off in the middle of the film which sets the pace and what to expect. Unlike other South Korean action films, it has a shorter runtime and therefore has a well-paced script and well-developed contrasting characters: the weak and meek Eunhye, the fierce “heroine” Inae faced against a world of mostly horrible men and the most powerful of them portraying the most despicable.

Packaged as a revenge action thriller, No Mercy does deliver a more profound message. Its how society views its different members as a nuisance and treats them unfairly. Messages of female oppression, abuse of the vulnerable and the unfair treatment of the intellectually disabled are constant reminders in many scenes as some people find justifications through their power or through their ignorance. It is because No Mercy does such a convincing job that Inae’s revenge thriller, taken into her own hands because no one else bothered to care, as extreme as it is, felt more and more satisfying with each person she took down in a ruthless and unforgiving way.

Fantasia Festival 2019: Extreme Job (Geukhanjikeob, 2019)

Extreme Job (2019)

Extreme Job

Director: Byeong-heon Lee

Cast: Seung-ryong Ryu, Seon-kyu Jin, Lee Hanee, Dong-hwi Lee, Jin-hee Jang, Myeong Gong, Ha-kyu Shin, Jeong-se Oh, Eui-sung Kim

Extreme Job is a 2019 South Korean action comedy about a ragtag team of cops who take over a fried chicken restaurant as a front to do surveillance on a drug trafficker.

Right off the bat, Extreme Job sets itself out as a comedic act as this specially put together team goes on their mission which ends up in a disgrace. This first mission sets the comedic tone for the film throughout as it shows off each of the members and the type of cop they are. Upon their suspension, they eventually gets into the fried chicken business and it becomes apparent that what started out as a surveillance job takes a turn for the worse when they start taking the business seriously and the food becomes popular, drawing them too much attention. A lot of luck and coincidence leads this ragtag team to the finale.

Extreme Job might go by the numbers and is on rails for most of the film but what it grasps well is finding that right tone and committing to it on all levels. It gives its characters room to grow and each of them to take up their job while also seemingly, see them lose their path as the restaurant business becomes more profitable than their actual police job. In terms of pacing, Extreme Job starts and ends very strong: quick-paced and action-packed and humor all balanced and bundled together wonderfully. Unfortunately, the movie is on the lengthier side at almost 2 hours long and because of that, the middle act lacks a bit of action and involves more tedium (which probably could have been edited out to make it more tight-knit).

The charm of the movie does lie in its police squad. This ragtag 5 person team might seem clumsy and disgraceful and even a bit ridiculous. Most of the time, they are nonsensical however, the dynamic they have makes each of them fun to watch, especially because they form the basic team of having a leader, an oddball, a tough lady, a serious guy and the newbie. The most charming of this does go to the oddball Sergeant Ma who makes things incredibly hilarious with both his character physical appearance as well as his dialogue. His character makes the rest of the team be able to bounce off his humor and in turn also have a fun humorous element to a lot of scenes.

While a lot of Extreme Job feels fairly formulaic in terms of story flow, it does take a unique turn of events for its final act which gives the reveal of who the team actually is and why they were specially formed. Perhaps a slight spoiler but the final act also brings out the action element to the max as it involves a lot of strong action choreography paired up with an energy-packed background music to give it that extra boost.

More comedy than action, Extreme Job still manages to find its tone and its charm, making it a fun ride full of laughs, and making it easy to connect with these 5 underdog cops and rooting for them to win even if it feels unlikely right from the beginning. Not to mention, its fantastic food shots that will make you crave for some fried chicken after the movie ends. After watching it, its no surprise that Extreme Job has the second most tickets sold in its country’s history and on top of that, an American remake in the works starring Kevin Hart.

You can catch the second screening of Extreme Job at Fantasia Film Festival on July 31st at 3:05pm EST.