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Korean 74, Imported Total admissions: They are listed in the order of their release. Once Upon a Time in High School: Spirit of Jeet Kune Do Non-Koreans who watch a lot of Korean cinema are likely to have been surprised at one time or another at the depictions of violence in Korean schools. From Beat and Whispering Corridors to Friend and Bungee Jumping of Their Own, we have seen teachers beating students sometimes with sticks or bats , students beating other students, parents bursting into classrooms and beating teachers Once Upon a Time in High School takes us back to these days when Korean society had reached the height of its authoritarianism and the country was rapidly modernizing. Young boys at the time were obsessed by the image of Bruce Lee hence the film's English title , and Yu depicts in this movie both how difficult life was for high school boys in those days, and how Bruce Lee served as a model and inspiration years after his death. The film focuses on three main characters: When Hyun-soo transfers in as a new student he becomes friends with Woo-sik, and later the two of them meet Eun-ju on the bus. Initially the fights and troubles around them cause the three to become quite close, but as time goes by, divisions flare up and they begin facing their battles alone. In some ways though, violence itself takes the lead role in this film. The teachers themselves barely make a show of keeping control, while wayward students with nicknames like "Stabber" or "Hamburger" fight with whatever sharp or blunt objects happen to be at hand. Hyun-soo, modeled in some ways after the director's own experiences, has trouble adjusting at first, but eventually the stress of his environment begins to take its toll. Korean film critics, perhaps thinking back to their own experiences at high school, gave the film a warm welcome at its first press screening. Audience members also responded with strong initial interest, although viewers seemed divided after actually seeing the film for the record, my wife hated it and my brother-in-law thought it was fantastic. As an outsider who went to a high school where students got into fights, but generally stopped short of stabbing each other with pens, I found myself with mixed feelings about this movie. It's not that I have trouble believing that this sort of thing could happen -- I'm sure it could. But I do have some trouble with the way the film seems to view the violence with equal parts awe and admiration, particularly towards the end. I also found it somewhat conventional, and I'd hoped for a little more from the director of Marriage is a Crazy Thing. Many of the film's details are quite evocative or impressive, but in the end it doesn't seem to be saying too much more than, "Man, we had it bad This basically describes Kim Eun-sook's first feature film, Ice Rain. Kim's short film "The Execution" had competed at Cannes in , but the short form isn't usually a platform to immediate blockbuster proportions. Yet, somehow Kim was able to procure the backing to debut as director and writer with this mountain-climbing extravaganza, making her the first Korean woman to take the helm of such a venture. In the beginning, the development of the relationship each man had with Kyung-min receives equal representation along with the spectacular vistas of the treacherous hike up the snowy mountain. The visual enjoyment in the first half of this film is well executed by cinematographer Yoon Hong-sik Tube, The Way Home and for the most part the realism of the special effects affect as intended. The second half of the film emphasizes the relationship over the spectacle, thanks to a stalling of Joong-hyun and Woo-sung's climb up the mountain. Where Ice Rain works for me is in its refusal to fall fully into the mountain as cliched metaphor for 'problem to surmount' or 'goal to reach. Instead, Kim has utilized the mountain to conjure up an interesting exploration of why it is we take risks, why it is we put ourselves in danger: Two scenes vividly underscore this, Woo-sung reaching into hot coals to retrieve Kyung-min's gift of her "love tooth," and the film's most powerful moment for me, Kyung-min's throat-clench reaction to her mother's surprise intrusion of her affair. As in a relationship, more than one person risks getting hurt since climbing partners are connected through rope. One slip on your part and your partner can fall with you. In this way, Ice Rain had me recalling the three attached partners in Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's Dolls without the absurd in a positive way elements of that film. Where Ice Rain doesn't work for me is in the weak initial development of the relationship between Joong-hyun and Kyung-min. Perhaps the problem really lies in the English translation, but the initiation ritual of the relationship suffers from a too-cutesy-ness to which melodramas are vulnerable to fall prey. However, such does allow for the intended differentiation between Joong-hyun's immaturity and the more adult relationship Woo-sung is capable of with Kyung-min. The irony is that Woo-sung's illicit affair with Kyung-min comes off more legitimate than if she'd established a relationship with unattached Joong-hyun. Another problem with the film is the need to reflect too soon on matters that happened earlier in the film, such as Kyung-min's recalling of the "love tooth" incident. It appears that the film did not work for Korean audiences because it performed poorly at the box office. But a blockbuster implies commercialism, so here I'm judging the film on its own intent, which is to make money. And with only around 80, Seoul admissions, this film didn't live up to its own hype. I'm not aware of how much this film needed to gross to end up in the black, but guesstimating about the on site needs required when filming on a mountainside, I'd bet the financiers were not happy with the results. Some may question whether Ice Rain should qualify as a "blockbuster. What he found most often denotes a blockbuster is self-reflexivity, 'I AM a blockbuster, damn it! The size of the eventual box office take is after the fact and qualifies the already established blockbuster as a success or failure. Since Ice Rain announces itself as a blockbuster and I assume the budget was considerable, it meets those two factors. Although I find the expansive views of mountain climbs large enough of a spectacle to warrant the blockbuster label, the film's eventual greater emphasis on the relationships in the pedestrian settings of the city could lead some to question its blockbuster luster. Regardless of its blockbuster legitimacy, considering that Kim Ha-neul was coming off of the sassy-fied success of My Tutor Friend the year before and that one of the most popular outdoor activities in South Korea is hiking the mountains of regions such as Kangwon-do, we must concede that Ice Rain performed below expectations at the box office. Even greater disappointment arises when we recall that another mountaineering film was extremely popular in South Korea, a fact that many a Korean cineaste wishes would simply disappear into thin air. What's that you say? I'm absolutely serious when I say this film is first and foremost an ad for the I-refuse-to-mention fast food chain. Twenty-five percent of the film's running time is taken up by the fast food chain and I'm not just pulling that number out of my ass as what the ad space seemed like. I actually timed it. And I rounded down! With that amount of cinematic space as ad space, we must call this film what it was intended to be, an advertisement. We have several Lolita-ly dressed hotties, or as the film-cum-ad labels them, "Angels", who work for the imposed-upon-the-viewer fast food chain. This commercial site is presented as the assumed site of everyday consumption for all the characters. The entire male population of the high school across the street from this cinematic billboard is portrayed as a horde unable to refrain from bumrushing the chain in order to order from the angel-est of Angels, our gorgeous main character, "Hyo-jin" Kim Jung-hwa. The boys' teacher even mentions his patronage of the chain to further solidify its everyday presence within all of South Korean society, the young and the old. At one point the subtitles do have a character label our secret agent as "sassy" and there are a few dashes of wire-fu dropkicks, but those references are just as minimal in the larger scope of the ad as the loving foot fetish scene straight out of Spring Bears Love. No, the only substantial reference point here is Jang Jin's The Spy. Yet, I won't call this a copycat since Jang doesn't own a copyright on all films about a spy. Spy Girl's re-gender-ized version tells its story through well situated flashbacks that could have easily become confusing in lesser hands. Let me first explain why I keep putting our North Korean spy's name between quotes. See, she's taken on the identity of the biological daughter of her sort of adoptive parents, the father of which is a North Korean contact. So her name is not really "Hyo-jin", but for most of the film, that is how she's known. While waiting for her designated hit to emerge, she takes a job at the afore not mentioned main character of this commercial. Unbeknownst to her, she is also being stalked by boys at the neighboring high school who have put her up on their personal website without her permission, thus violating her, as their premier Angel. This Angel that is and isn't "Hyo-jin" is purported to be so famous that "those who don't know her are North Korean spies", leading "Hyo-jin" to believe her secret operation has been discovered. That subtitle quote above is what provides much of the fodder for comedy, that is, playing off the ignorance a North Korean would convey from being severed off from much of the modern outside world, especially the world right next door, South Korea. Thus, some of the humor may be missed on the Western viewer, such as when "Hyo-jin" is asked to sing a popular South Korean song by her bullying co-workers. The most successful humor is that around "Hyo-jin"'s spy parents, who, although still feeling obligated to help her, are presented to have taken quite well to 'soul-less' capitalism, being quite the consumers, even legally traffic-ing in the most processed and unnatural of confections, symbolizing their complete assimilation into the simulations of capitalism. Yet, demonstrating the recent trend in South Korean cinema, the North Koreans are not the butt of all the jokes. Although in no way are these realistic portrayals of North Koreans, "Hyo-jin" is portrayed quite sympathetically without requiring her to convert to South Korean nationalism. In fact, her character is portrayed more than sympathetically. She is presented as someone we all, male and female, should desire. Her character even diverges from -- to coin a word off of Kyung Hyun Kim's use of "Remasculinization" to describe recent Korean male portrayals -- the "Refeminization" contained within a subset of South Korean cinema that requires all sassy-fied females to hide some psychoanalyzed trauma behind their feisty facades, even though, being from North Korea, "Hyo-jin" could have been easily characterized as harboring multiple traumatic experiences considering that country's present horrific problems. Although humorous moments arise in Spy Girl, for the most part, the attempts at humor are too often ridiculous and haphazard rather than poignant and smooth as is the case with its predecessor The Spy. Nowhere close to being a high quality example of Korean comedies, Spy Girl still succeeds in its primary goal, to sell burgers. Hey, at least you can order those burgers with kimchi on them, right? Adam Hartzell Taegukgi Being the director of a watershed hit like Shiri can give you some strong advantages when making your next film. It gives you the ability to attract top-name actors and crew. It becomes much easier to raise large sums of money from investors. Park Chan-wook JSA and Kwak Kyung-taek Friend chose to shoot smaller, more personal works after their record-breaking hits, but Kang Je-gyu took full advantage of his position and aimed for the stars. Won Bin, when asked why he agreed to star in the film, is reported to have said, "You'd have to be an idiot to turn it down, wouldn't you? The older brother, played by Jang Dong-gun , decides that he must try to win a Medal of Honor in order to secure the discharge of his bookish younger brother, played by Won Bin. As the war progresses from the outskirts of Busan to the northern reaches of the peninsula, however, Jang's character grows distant and starts losing himself in the passions of war. Certainly this film is unique in Korean film history for its large scale, its battle sequences and the intricate reconstruction of war-torn Seoul and Pyongyang. The crew deserves praise for the tremendous amount of effort they put into the look and feel of the movie. I found it particularly interesting to see a reconstruction of the street Jongno in pre-war Seoul. The scenes of war shown here are quite impressive, but ironically they also contain one of the film's biggest disappointments. Presumably to give the audience a feeling of excitement, the director shakes his camera violently back and forth in all of the fight scenes. The result is that we can barely see the elaborate explosions and effects, robbing the film of its greatest asset. Viewers who go to see this in the theater are strongly advised not to sit in the front rows, in order to avoid getting nausea from the lurching camera not to mention the very gory scenes of battle carnage. In general, one gets the sense that this film could have been crafted into a far more moving and eye-opening account of the most destructive event in Korea's history. For much of Taegukgi's extensive running time we are focused on the melodramatic discord that springs from the older brother's decision to sacrifice himself. This personal story dominates the film to the extent that, in some ways, the war is merely an elaborate backdrop. The film also makes little effort to say anything new about the conflict. North Korean soldiers are portrayed as crazed fanatics no JSA-style humanism here , while the Chinese are just a teeming horde. It does try to show the ruthlessness of Southern as well as Northern forces which provides for some well-acted cameos by Kim Soo-ro and Kim Hae-gon , but this is hardly new.
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