The latest thriller from the director of The Host takes fewer sidetracks and has a more sustained atmosphere, though it lacks some of the monster movie’s more extremely exciting scenes. Just as astoundingly excellent, maybe even better than The Host, which I wasn’t expecting from the plot description.

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Bin Won (of The Brotherhood of War) is the son Do-joon, a slow guy who leans on friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin of A Bittersweet Life), whom Mother tells her son is a bad influence. DJ’s friend and mother have always told him to stand up for himself, to fight anyone who insults him, so when the boys get in trouble attacking a guy who hit DJ with his car (and smashing up the car), JT pins the costly damage on his forgetful friend, who accepts his guilt.

Film Comment on character:

Diminutive yet ferocious, Kim embodies Mother as the ultimate survivor. And she’s surviving for two—her relationship to her son is so symbiotic he’s practically an appendage. Frantic and penniless, Mother uses all of her meager advantages: the perceived innocuousness and near-invisibility of an elderly woman. The delicately handsome Won Bin transforms himself into a credible simpleton just by the way he breathes and by assuming the stunned look of a stoner. Do-joon frustrates everyone, dimly working things out, sometimes years after the fact. Like Mother, he is not quite what he seems. Won barges through the film, conveying the confusion of a stunted child desperate to break free, only not before dinnertime.

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So when JT is accused of murdering a girl, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) knows he didn’t do it, and swings into action. She hides in JT’s closet and retrieves the bloody potential murder weapon, but the cops tell her it’s not blood, it’s lipstick. She confronts the grieving family of the girl at her funeral to explain that her son is innocent. And she follows a long trail to locate the dead girl’s missing cellphone – seems she was a slut with a phone full of men in compromising positions, and everyone wants the phone, but DJ’s mother finds it first and it leads her to the old junk collector, who witnessed the murder, saying her son is guilty.

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She doesn’t take that well, kills the old guy and burns his place, gets home to find that her son is free as the cops have arrested another mentally-challenged guy for the murder (she meets the boy, asks him “Do you have a mother?”). Final scene is exceptional. She’s taking a bus cruise, pulls out her acupuncture needles and sticks one in the secret place that causes you to forget all your worries. Uninhibited dancing ensues, shot all zoomed-in, jittery and backlit, abstract revelry.

Just won best film, actress and writing at the Asian Film Awards, whatever those are. Oh wow, Yatterman and Symbol were nominated for stuff. Sounds like a more fun award show than most. This movie might mark a turning point for me, in a way. It was playing theatrically here (at my least-favorite theater) but I chose to stay home and watch it in HD instead… and I don’t regret it, don’t feel like I missed anything. I had perfect picture quality, control over the show time and environment, and about as large an audience as I would’ve seen at the weekend matinee of a foreign film in Atlanta. Of course it’s rare that a movie would be available in HD at the same time it’s playing in theaters, so perhaps not a choice I’ll be making very often.

Cinema Scope:

Bong has become one of the premiere narrative film artists now working—and while that label does hang a trifle portentously over Bong’s commendably unpretentious head, this only shows how difficult it is to place him. Another small-town murder tale, Mother once again demonstrates Bong’s ability to render violence, sadism, and brutality (even that, most troublingly, of a sexual nature) at once entirely serious and screwball comic without offense.

Movie opens on a border patrolwoman (Florence Loiret Caille, the eaten maid in Trouble Every Day, also in Time of the Wolf), then moves to her husband (Grégoire Colin, upstairs neighbor in 35 Shots of Rum), then quickly to the husband’s father Louis (Michel Subor of Topaz, Anatomy of a Marriage, Le petit soldat) with whom it remains, more or less, for the duration.

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Along the way we meet a pharmacist (attractively-freckled Bambou, best known for her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg) who sleeps with Louis, Louis’s dog-owning neighbor (Béatrice Dalle, cannibal Coré in Trouble Every Day, also in Clean and Inside), a sinister blonde woman (Katya Golubeva of Twentynine Palms, Pola X, I Can’t Sleep) who stalks him obsessively, and Louis’s ex in Tahiti who will not help him find his estranged son Tikki. Oh, “and Alex Descas,” proudly proclaims the opening credits, but he only appears in one scene, in close-up, as a priest.

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Nobody I’ve talked to seems sure of exactly what happens in this movie. Much of that can be explained by the director’s comment that some of the characters don’t actually exist except in Louis’s imagination – I’m guessing that accounts for his blonde stalker, but I’m not sure who else. Louis abandons his dogs at his wintery shack in northern France, goes to Switzerland to withdraw piles of cash, negotiates the purchase of a ship in Korea, then heads to Tahiti to look for his son (not caring half as much about his other son in France). Along the way, probably in flashback, he gets a heart transplant in Russia, the memory of which seems related to the mysterious stalker. Oh, and back in France he kills somebody with the knife he always carries.

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Guy from Tindersticks did the music without his band – it’s quiet and upsetting and wonderful. Played at Venice with 3-Iron, The World, Kings & Queen and The Sea Inside, but lost to Vera Drake. Between this movie and Trouble Every Day, I’m thinking the director of Martyrs could be a Claire Denis fan.

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Story interpretations vary, although apparently it helps immensely to read the essay by Jean-Luc Nancy on which the script was based. In the DVD interview, Denis describes the physical feeling the book gave her, talks about the film being a vehicle for Michel Subor as much as an adaptation of the book. “My producer also was absolutely the most perfect producer for that film, but he was also suffering from a very severe depression, and he killed himself before we finished.” – this is the same producer who worked on The Man From London.

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Carson:

The Intruder is loaded with Marxist Dialectics, the kind of suggestive cutting collisions that were pioneered by Sergei Eisenstein. A man describes a scene in the woods to his wife as a way of setting an erotic tone between the two of them, followed by a cut to the man’s father sitting amidst tall pine trees relaxing with his dogs. A priest speaks about the variety of immoral beings in the world, followed by a cut to the film’s blank protagonist, Louis Trebor. … In order to gather any semblance of narrative momentum, one has to look towards the way that the film is essentially divided into three parts, each comprised of a different locale, though not entirely limited to it, and connected by the theme of travel and intended self-renewal. … his lonely woodland cabin on the French-Swiss border, Pusan [South Korea], and Tahiti. … The film’s tempo steadily decreases … By the finale in Tahiti, The Intruder feels like a completely different work than what its opening anticipated. The shots lengthen, the soundtrack becomes quieter, comedic scenes appear, and Denis begins interspersing the action with footage from an unfinished 60’s film called Le Reflux, also set in Tahiti and starring Michel Subor.

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Claire Denis in Senses of Cinema:

My films are not highly intellectual, and L’Intrus is like a boat lost in the ocean drifting, you know? I think that’s the way I picture it … Even if it’s the dream of a voyage, I think it was very important for me that the film offer the two sides of the globe, the north hemisphere and south hemisphere, as the two sides of the heart.

He’s not aware of the people still around who love him. He has no respect for that. The only woman he’s gentle to, the woman with the dogs played by Béatrice Dalle, it’s because she doesn’t care for him that he’s attracted by her beauty. I would imagine that if she would let him enter her house and open her heart to him, he would disrespect her immediately. So I think Trebor is not a very lovable man. Politically, I would say he represents everything I dislike in my country, this sort of selfish-solitude mentality … So I’m happy that he is condemned at the end: He is defeated, and I think it’s only fair. But it’s interesting to me that this main character is someone I do not respect. I understand I can suffer from his anxiety, but I don’t like him. When I wrote the script, I called him A Man With No Heart, a heartless man.

[Subor] had read the script and I gave him those new [Johnny Cash] songs to listen to because I wanted him to be inspired. I told him, “Probably I will never use this as music for the film”, but I wanted him to feel that death is coming closer, to hear that voice, that man in Cash’s last two records whose life has been rich and full of love and emotion. And there is a trembling, as if the moment is coming.

For further study I rewatched Claire Denis’s episode of Ten Minutes Older in which L’Intrus author Jean-Luc Nancy talks endlessly in a train car about French homogeneity and foreigners as intruders, but didn’t find it any more interesting than last time.

Not a vampire thriller with comic parts, but an all-out comedy. I used to think Park was someone to take seriously with his vengeance trilogy, but after this and I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay, I’m not sure he was ever serious. Maybe it has always been dark humor, and he never had anything to say about revenge – there’s nothing I can remember, anyway, and surely nothing to match K. Kurosawa’s Eyes of the Spider. Complaints aside, this was entertaining as hell and the sparse crowd was laughing and yelling in horror and delight.

Great to see the star of The Host again on the big screen, and just as good (if not better) was his 20-year-old costar Ok-vin Kim. Anyway, a priest volunteers to be injected with a painfully fatal disease in the name of science, but during a blood transfusion on his deathbed, accidentally gets turned into a vampire. Still a priest, he’s trying to be the most humane vampire he can be, killing nobody and drinking blood from coma patients through their feed tubes. But then he falls for wild young Tae-joo and leaves the priesthood to have an affair with her behind the back of her husband (Ha-kyun Shin, father of the dead girl in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). She’s messed up and amoral from the start, and our man begins to fall – killing his blind friend and the girl’s husband so they can be together. But then she becomes a vampire and starts killing everyone in sight, so he drives them out to the middle of nowhere and waits for the sun to come up…

No messing around with stakes through the heart, garlic or other vampire business – we never even see the original vampires who infected these two. Their super strength adds to the comic-book atmosphere, jumping across rooftops, denting lampposts, tearing apart a car with his bare hands.

This died at the theater with hardly anyone hearing about it. Weird that foreign action/horror movies don’t seem to stand a chance in theaters here, while talky family dramas do fine. I’d think The Good, The Bad & The Weird, Sukiyaki Western Django and this could pull a bigger crowd than Summer Hours and Revanche, but I guess that’s why I’m not paid to book theaters.

Steve McQueen’s Hunger was playing last week, and I meant to catch it so I could watch Hunger and Thirst back-to-back, but sadly reality prevailed over gimmickry and I missed it.

“Sorry for always having the same boring face.”

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Ji-woo is a guy with a bitchy, paranoid girlfriend who thinks he’s lost interest in her so she decides to get massive plastic surgery.

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Months after her sudden disappearance he starts dating this new girl who is actually his old girl Seh-hee with her new face. She doesn’t know how to respond… if you’re super-jealous and your boyfriend is attracted to you in disguise, are you happy or angry?

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It’s not working for them, so he disappears and gets a new face as well.

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He never identifies himself, so she spends a year wondering if everyone she meets is him – finally chases down a guy who she’s sure is her man until he runs into traffic and gets killed.

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She runs back to the plastic surgery place, bumping into herself from earlier in the movie. A weird ending. Seriously good movie though, moving and beautiful. Spiritually more in the vein of his 3-Iron with some of the outrageous craziness of Bad Guy, but none of the mad crappiness of that one.

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M.Z. Seitz:

Mr. Kim flips between soapy melodrama and dry, self-aware comedy. The effect is thrilling and disorienting, like walking on a trampoline. … Time has been described as a comedy about the hollowness of relationships in a global consumerist culture, and it certainly is. The film’s three lead performances, by Mr. Ha as Ji-woo and by Ms. Seong and Ms. Park as the two incarnations of his lover, are fearlessly honest, so attuned to contemporary anxieties about sex, love and social status that the characters’ unhappiness is as squirm-inducing as the movie’s close-ups of sliced flesh. But while the film’s cultural context is of the moment, its depiction of romantic desperation is timeless. Many scenes end on the same uneasy note, a mix of cynical dissatisfaction and desperate, almost childlike neediness.

M. D’Angelo:

That both Seh/See-hee and Ji-woo actually talk—there’s more dialogue here than in all of Kim’s previous films put together—is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the mute shtick, introduced in The Isle and honed in Bad Guy, 3-iron, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring, was getting decidedly stale. On the other hand, ordinary human conversation is clearly not Kim’s forte. Seh-hee’s initial fit of jealousy, in particular, is so cartoonishly strident that it sets entirely the wrong tone, giving the impression of a poor shmuck tormented by a vindictive harpy.

Those aware that cosmetic surgery is endemic in South Korea are liable to jump to the conclusion that Kim intends Time as some sort of clumsy exposé. But he didn’t choose that title lightly. Save for a clinical opening-credits sequence, the film’s incisions are exclusively psychosexual. Duration’s corrosive effect on long-term relationships has rarely been depicted with such bracing candor. Simply put, Time is about the eternal war between infatuation and familiarity, and our irreconcilable need to find both in the same person. In other words, it’s a parable about the root of human unhappiness.

“Sympathy is the worst of the seven deadly sins.”

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Title credits built into the opening scene shout: “I Know Where I’m Going!,” but the cartoonish situations, lively editing and bright colorful cinematography reply: “Amelie!” Maybe Park was afraid of being typecast as a grim downer of a filmmaker, a Korean David Fincher, and so like other grim young typecast filmmakers before him (Danny Boyle, Robert Rodriguez) he set out to make something light and lively to prove that he can – but maybe not as light as conceivably possible since it’s set in a mental institution.

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Our girl Young-goon is a bit of a sociopath and likes to talk to machines. Cute boy Il-soon is a thief, but steals intangible things: a ping pong serve, someone’s appetite, Thursday. Other colorful patients include a fat girl obsessed with her skin, a super-polite guy who walks backwards and spends all day apologizing, a girl who only looks at her hand mirror.

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Park includes a violent kill-all-authority-figures fantasy into his light mental-illness comedy when the girl (who is, of course, a cyborg) fantasizes her hands becoming guns, blowing away all the nurses. She very nearly starves herself to death (cyborgs do not eat human food) but she’ll be okay in the end, thanks to the cute boy who truly understands her.

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In true Amelie style this has got wonderful visuals so those who aren’t enchanted by the story and characters can delight in the cinematography (and accordian music, hmmm) – Park’s got all his bases covered. His filmmaking genre versatility proven, the typecast of dark sadistic violent films safely behind him, it sounds like Park has just turned in a dark sadistic violent vampire movie at Cannes 2009, heh.

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Recommended listening: Become a Robot by They Might Be Giants

I don’t know why I sat down with a Korean spaghetti-western-influenced comic action flick from the director of A Tale of Two Sisters after the disappointment of Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django, but I’m glad I did. This was a hot pile of fun, more true in spirit to its source material than the Miike but plenty contemporary in its staging of action. Some of the most exciting (fast-cut yet spatially-coherent) editing I’ve seen in a while, certainly better than in Star Trek or Fist of Legend and great characters (the prototype super-cool good guy and super-evil bad guy are here, but the hero is an amoral thief, the comic-relief character) excuse the failure of the story to ever come together.

Action takes place in Manchuria (so truly in “the west” from Korea). Unlike Sukiyaki but like the Leone flicks, there are practically no women. A prostitute here, someone’s aged aunt there, but the wild west is a man’s world. And wild it is – ruthless and brutal, killing hundreds without hesitation, but maybe in reference to the old westerns it avoids lingering on dead bodies or showing grievous wounds, so it’s ultraviolent but more in the Sam Peckinpah body-count manner than in modern Tokyo Gore Police fashion.

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Kang-ho Song, star of The Host, is our thief, and it’s great to see him playing a more lively soul than the dimwitted Host hero. The “Good” bounty hunter, fastest draw in the west, is secretly out for revenge on the goth-haired bad guy (Byung-hun Lee, star of Chan-wook Park’s segment of Three Extremes and soon to play Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe). A couple older guys and their men are tracking these three, but I never figured out who they are exactly, following after a mythical treasure map in the thief’s possession, and everyone is being followed by the Japanese army (Japan occupied Korea from pre-WWI through WWII). Everybody seems to be in a different underground independence movement, and the map has political ramifications that I didn’t puzzle out.

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The bad guy dies in the end, as he would have to, in a brutal shootout with the good guy… but not before the movie strangely decides to reveal our comic thief’s past life as a finger-snatching serial killer. So the chase continues in epilogue with the bounty hunter after him. Strange choice, like at the end of For a Few Dollars More suddenly declaring Clint Eastwood is a wanted criminal in another state, Lee Van Cleef chasing him into the sunset with guns blazing.

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Like any Leone movie it has its slow drawn-out character parts, but the movie seems well aware of what it’s doing with pacing and editing, if not story – and maybe I’ll figure that out when I see it again. Jimmy, we should’ve watched this one instead.

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Nice monster movie, funny most of the time, a few good scares, good effects and everything. Full of death and serious situations, but never feels heavy or grim.

GUY is a dim slacker with a young daughter, a drunk college-grad brother, a champion archer sister, and a dad who owns a food stand on the beach, where guy and his daughter also live. One day a legged, tail-swinging fish monster attacks the beach and steals the daughter. After they find out she’s still alive via a cellphone call, they set out to rescue her. Of course the archery will play a part in this, along with a homeless man with a tank of gasoline. The girl actually dies at the end (so does grandpa), but she helps an even younger homeless boy, who ends up living with our guy after the almost-successful rescue attempt.

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Americans are implicated everywhere! First a belligerent US lab guy orders his assistant to dump a whole lot of used formaldehyde down the drains into the river. Then the US forces (which have laughably low security throughout the movie) take charge of hunting down the monster and quarantining the area. Then they apparently lie about the monster being “the host” of a crazy killer virus that never really exists, capturing our guy and extracting tissue samples from his brain! Finally they try to destroy the monster with “agent yellow”, a gas that causes all the cops and student protesters and our family members to cough and bleed from their mouths and ears, but of course doesn’t hurt the monster one bit. One particular American military doctor just looks so ludicrous in close-up that the whole theater was laughing at him. Not such a pro-US film, then… but they take us down in entertaining ways.

A good movie, worth waiting to see in theaters (video has been out for a while). A dysfunctional family teams up to fight a giant monster… sort of Little Miss Sunshine vs. Godzilla.

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The lead guy and his sister starred in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, and the men of the family were all in Memories of Murder, Joon-ho Bong’s popular 2003 movie.

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