• Bereurlin / The Berlin File (2013)

    "The Berlin File" is a South Korean version of action-thrillers with conspiracy and spy elements and twists in the key of "The Bourne Identity". The entire movie takes place in the German capital Berlin which gives the whole thing a more international flair even though some parts were clearly filmed in Latvia's capital Riga which feels a little bit goofy.

    The strongest points of the movie are the action scenes and in particular the brutal hand to hand combats. The special effects are also decent. The fast paced fighting sequences, the intriguing locations and the overall rather dark atmosphere of the movie quickly get you hooked.

    The acting is of an average quality. While the actors are good, the characters lack depth due to an average script quality. My favourite character is the evil North Korean agent because he really incarnates an unpredictable psycho that has a unique way to act and talk. The two main characters including a loyal North Korean agent and a rather straight South Korean agent are rather faceless on the other side.

    The weakest part of the movie is the conspiracy plot. The first thirty minutes of the film are pretty much confusing and introduce us to too many random different characters and stereotypical organizations: snobbish CIA agents, corrupt German politicians, brutal and closed- minded Islamist terrorists, intimidating Mossad agents, emotionless, loyal and silent on one side and loyal and pitiless North Korean agents on the other, bitter anti-communist agents from South Korea, Russian arms dealers and so on. The high amount of characters hides the fact that there isn't all too much going on concerning the story itself. The first half of the movie seems really promising but especially the last forty-five minutes are rather weak and mix overlong chasing and shooting scenes with wooden tearjerker moments.

    In the last five minutes, the movie pulls out a twist like a rabbit out of a hat. Usually, I like twisted endings and especially the South Korean cinema has come around with some promising closures in the past. This one here feels pretty much constructed though and only seems to be there to give some room for a possible sequel. I hope South Korea won't go this stretched Hollywood way. 


    In the end, I expected a much more original and twisted conspiracy thriller from a country that has come around with the world's most innovating movies in the past fifteen years. "The Berlin File" is though only a good average to good action-thriller that can't mess with the status of the James Bond or Jason Bourne series. The clash between North and South Korean agents has been portrayed in more detailed and convincing ways in movies such as "Shiri", "Joint Security Area" and "Typhoon" for example. These three films are all above the quality of this one. I would still recommend this movie to faithful fans of international action-thrillers but this film had the potential to be much more than just easy entertainment. My final rating would be situated somewhere between six and seven points. 

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  • 2009: Lost Memories (2002)



    "2009: Lost Memories" is a science-fiction-thriller inspired by the famous novel "Looking For An Epitaph" by Bok Geo-Il in 1987 even though the author didn't want to have anything to do with this adaption. One must keep in mind that the novel is more than twenty-five years and that the movie is already twelve years old as well because some things predicted in the plot are mildly amusing nowadays such as the potential reunification of North and South Korea in 2008. Many people argue that this film is too patriotic and that Koreans didn't get over the things the Japanese did to them during their invasion. Obviously, the film depicts Japanese as greedy megalomaniacs that have no respect for Korean culture. It would have been pleasant to see a few more sympathetic Japanese in this flick to give the movie a more open-minded approach. On one side, I can perfectly understand the greed many Asian peoples still feel towards the Japanese. On the other side, Korean and Japanese actors collaborate in this movie and show us that these nations can appreciate each other and perfectly work together nowadays. The reality is obviously not as dark as some government officials want to suggest us and it's a far call from this dystopian movie as well. I don't see this film as a propaganda movie or a political statement and one shouldn't analyze it all too much. It simply is a dystopian film settled in an alternate history where the failed assassination of a Japanese governor leads to a dramatic turn of events where the Japanese would win World War II and still occupy the Korean peninsula in the present.

    The plot is obviously nothing really new but fans of dystopian science- fiction movies like "1984", "A Clockwork Orange", "Fahrenheit 451", "Soylent Green", "Rollerball", "Battle Royale", "Equilibrium", "V For Vendetta" and even "The Hunger Games" or "Divergent" should like some parts of this movie. In this film, a mysterious Korean resistance group called "Hureisenjin" steals museum artifacts to open a portal that should help them to travel back in time and change the course of Korean history back to normal. This radical group that is ready to sacrifice itself and the life of others to fight for Korean independence faces an institution called the Japanese Bureau of Investigation where two friends, a Korean and a Japanese cop, try to arrest them. The Korean cop denies and even despises his Korean culture as his father was a cop that betrayed the JBI and abandoned his family to help the "Hureisenjin". The investigation has personal issues for this cop and he soon starts to lose his tempers and his neutrality. When he is about to discover the fact that he is living a big lie in an alternative timeline and that the Japanese manipulated history to control the Korean peninsula, his Japanese superiors suspend him from the case. The Korean cop though continues his investigations that lead him to important historical events that took place in China and Russia. As he gets closer to the secret and is about to change his mind about his origins, he gets attacked by an assailant in his apartment. When his mentor gets killed instead and the cop survives, he gets blamed for the murder by his superiors and realizes that he is the victim of an incredible conspiracy. The cop seeks the help of the "Hureisenjin" and ends up being a key element in their quest to change history back to normal.

    The story is intriguing enough to carry this movie but the acting is only of a good average quality. Some characters could have been depicted in a more profound way such as the Japanese cop and his wife or the mysterious female leader of the resistance group. I think that the movie should have focused on the difficult friendship between the Japanese and the Korean cop because this is by far the movie's strongest element. The weird visions and the strange connection between the main character and the female leader of the "Hureisenjin" are rather stereotypical, wooden and ultimately a letdown. Some parts of the movie are a little bit too melodramatic as well such as the slow motion scenes where a young boy gets killed during an assault. It seems to me that the movie focuses more on the predictable and supposedly tear-jerking elements instead of using its true strengths. I must also admit that the atmospheric first half of the movie around the investigation case is much more original and tense than the predictable and lengthy second half where all secrets are quickly revealed. It would have been more interesting to make an out-thought mini-series of this plot than a movie where the intriguing elements are cut off to focus on annoying mainstream passages.

    Fans of dystopian movies and all those who are interested in Japanese and Korean cinema will still like many parts of this movie. It's not the masterpiece it could have been but still watchable enough to get entertained rather well. The promising elements in the first half of the plot definitely made me want to read the original novel in the end.


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  • Deo Ge Im / The Devil's Game (2008)


    We are used to the greatness of contemporary South Korean cinema by now and "The Devil's Game" is another excellent addition to the collection of any serious movie maniac. The film is basically a mixture of a drama and a thriller with a few minor science-fiction elements that kick the story off. The movie is atmospheric, well acted and includes a major twist in the end. It includes many artistic elements. Just the choice of the impressive paintings shown in the movie is excellent. The philosophical inspirations and the intense ending give you a lot of food for thoughts. As many contemporary South Korean movies, this films also critically explores the differences between rich and poor in the country. This some sort of a slow cultural change as elders and billionaires are usually much respected in that country. This movie is not the first one that depicts the old and rich as dominant and ruthless and the young and poor as naive and pure. Watch the remake of "The Housemaid" or "The Taste of Money" for example.

    The greatness already lies in the story but you have to observe closely to understand all the issues in this movie and it's maybe even worth to watch it twice. A rich old man who has controlled, exploited and manipulated all his life is about to die but dreams of eternal youth. He sets up a twisted game and somebody happens to choose an ambitious, poor and young artist as his opponent. The game is simple. The old and the young man call a random number and must guess if a man or a woman answers the call. The old man offers the young artist to become a billionaire if he wins. On the other side, the young has to offer something of an equal value. The naive artist believes that he has to become the old man's servant or slave but the price he has to pay is much higher. In the beginning, the young artist refuses to play the game and leaves the mansion but when he sees that his girlfriend and her family are beaten up because of some serious debts, he changes his mind and accepts the challenge. After several tumultuous events, the young artist dramatically loses the bet and realizes that he has an incredible price to pay. He has to offer his body to the old man to realize his dream of eternal youth. In a complicated surgery, the old man's brain is put into the young man's body and vice versa. When the old man in the young body awakens, he feels strong again and quickly starts to repeat the mistakes of his past life. He also tries to get close to the young man's girlfriend as well and pays off her debts. In the end, he really seems to fall in love with the woman who realizes that he is acting strangely. The young man in the old body awakens and feels sad and weak. He knows that he has only a few months to live. In the beginning, he seems to abandon but with the help of his uncle and a woman that had been betrayed by the old man as well, he starts to look for a way to get his former body and his girlfriend back.


    The movie then introduces us to strong acting parts and a few promising plot ideas. Sadly, not all ideas are well employed and some of them quickly go nowhere or are not further explained towards the end. The movie has some lengths in the middle part where we see an arrogant, lonely and superficial old man in a young body and a desperate, insecure and whining young man in an old body. These parts between the thirty and sixty minutes into the movie include too much repetition in my opinion but the tense second half of the movie and especially the creative ending are worth the wait. 

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  • Lord Symphony – The Lord’s Wisdom

    March 24, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Lord SymphonyLord Symphony- The Lord’s Wisdom (2014)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Lord Symphony is a promising new underground band on the rise. The band hails from Solo, Central Java, in Indonesia and mixes traditional European power metal in the key of Gamma Ray with a more epic and symphonic touch inspired by Rhapsody Of Fire, and then adds traditional Javanese gamelan elements in several tracks. The occasional use of bamboo flutes, bowed strings, gongs, kendang drums, metallophones, plucked strings, and xylophones give this band a rather unique identity. The rest of The Lord’s Wisdom is classical power metal that will convince any fan of the genre. The band began writing the album years ago, and had plenty of time to improve each song before release. This is only the beginning for a band that plans to re-release its first and more obscure record with the new vocalist, as well as add a second part to that album. Lord Symphony is also preparing for a metal opera project in the key of Aina, Avantasia or Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, so I’m pretty sure that we’ll hear from this sextet again.


    The songs on this album focus on cinematic atmosphere and long instrumental sections, with fast and melodic guitar and keyboard solos that are sometimes not a far call from old Dragonforce or old Helloween. The vocals of the new singer Arif “Monk Bhodi” Hartoyo are pleasant and powerful, but almost underused at some points, as the instrumental parts are the most prominent feature of this release. Most of the songs are situated between six and nine minutes and take their time to build up energizing and positive atmospheres. There are two short instrumental songs and a shorter transitional track as well, which offer some breaks from the more challenging material. If you include the bonus track (which is a cover of Helloween’s “Kings Will Be Kings”), the band offers sixty-eight minutes of epic power metal over twelve tracks.

    It’s worth taking a look at the English lyrics as well. This conceptual release tells the story of a warrior that comes home from war. He feels guilty and has to fight his inner demons after having killed many people on the battlefield. The man tries to find his peace of mind and his way to God. With strong, spiritually-inspired lyrics, the band wants to prove that metal can have positive spiritual messages, and that it’s not always about filthy lyrics and negativity. I would say they’ve succeeded.

    What about the most outstanding tracks on this record? One of my absolute favorites is the powerful epic “Mirrors”, which opens with gamelan before strong guitar and powerful vocals set in. The energizing chorus has a strong Gamma Ray vibe in my opinion, but sounds better than anything the German band has released over the last few years. The whole song is a pure musical orgasm, but if I had to point one part out in particular, it would again be the incredible musicianship shown in the long instrumental middle. Majestic sing-along passages reminding me of Iron Maiden meet progressive keyboard leads and solos in the key of Spock’s Beard, along with a clever use of the gamelan. I would go as far to call this track the best power metal song I have heard in quite a while.

    “Earth Beneath The Sky” starts as an enchanting ballad with harmonious orchestrations that slowly leads into a fascinating symphonic power metal firework. The middle part is pure fast-paced power metal in the key of old Helloween. All in all, this track includes the calmest and slowest, but also the hardest and fastest parts of the whole record in one track, and shows off the entire talent of this band. The short and fast “Down To Holyland” mixes European power metal and the sound of the gamelan perfectly. Despite its shorter length, this track builds up an almost cinematic atmosphere thanks to some oriental folk inspiration, clever use of keyboards, and neoclassical guitar sounds. Even though the song has no poignant chorus, the vocal parts are extremely catchy. In general, the vocalist is surprisingly good on this instrumentally-dominated album.

    The Lord’s Wisdom is a feast for any epic power metal fan around the world. Lord Symphony performs with conviction, passion, and technical ecstasy. A few tracks obviously have extensive length, and the shortening of certain track might be appreciated. However, the sextet from Indonesia delivers two absolute genre masterpieces (for me) with “Mirrors” and “Down To Holyland”, as well as many other highly enjoyable tracks such as “Earth Beneath The Sky” and “Devil’s Emotion”. For their next release, I would suggest the band write a few shorter and more concise songs, to involve its great singer a little bit more. Continuing the unique use of the gamelan in power metal is also a must. I’m already looking forward to more material from this energizing band that has all the potential to get an international breakthrough. Don’t forget to check them out!

    4 // 5

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  • Subway To Sally – Mitgift – Mördergeschichten

    March 18, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Subway To Sally - MitgiftSubway To Sally - Mitgift – Mördergeschichten (2014)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Subway to Sally is a so-called German medieval metal band that has found its niche with a mixture of dark and romantic lyrics, sinister industrial metal riffs, and a touch of Baroque music carried by strong violin play. The occasional use of bagpipes, flutes, hurdy gurdies, lutes, mandolins, and shawms adds some unique variety to the pioneering band that has been around since 1991. The reasons that I’ve always liked this band a little less than its more joyous colleagues, In Extremo and Saltatio Mortis, were primarily the singer’s nosey and squeaking vocals, the sinister and sometimes quite depressive or suicidal topics, and the unbalanced use of too much industrial metal not enough folk elements for my taste. The last few of the band’s albums have been a little bit weaker than the its earlier material, and I admit that I didn’t expect much from the new album, Mitgift – Mördergeschichten. In fact, If it weren’t for the intriguing concept around this album, I wouldn’t have checked it out at all.


    For its latest album, Subway To Sally took some inspiration from different murder cases of the last five centuries and wrote eight songs (or nine, on the limited edition) about them, plus an instrumental interlude, as well as an atmospheric album opener and closer. The booklet of the limited edition (which includes a DVD) comes with some interesting background information about the murder cases: a desperate murderer forgot what he had done; an innocent woman met the wrong man in the wrong place and at the wrong time; a bad older sister got jealous of her younger and more beautiful sibling and pushed her into the ocean, and so on. These stories are nothing new, but they are presented in a very atmospheric and emotional manner of storytelling. Mitgift really turns out to be the best Subway To Sally album so far for me, and is on the same level as or maybe even slightly above the quality of the last strong releases by In Extremo and Saltatio Mortis.

    After a few shallow records, the band decided to change a few things musically. Subway To Sally employs more neo-Baroque musical parts than ever before and the violin play, the occasional female choirs, and the use of Latin lyrics in the opener remind me of the band’s earliest efforts. The vocals sound more realized and melodic than before, and are actually enjoyable throughout the entire record. The band also uses a few modern electronic sounds and a few dubstep passages in their songs. To my big surprise, these new sections perfectly contrast the classically inspired music and the crunchy guitar riffs. The first single, “Schwarze Seide”, mixes all three elements in an unusual way. The song might sound confusing at first, but its fresh originality makes it a strong grower. This track is already very good, but there are still so many better songs here.

    “Für immer” is a slow, dark tale with a grand and almost relaxing chorus. My first personal highlight is the enchanting “Grausame Schwester” with its female choirs, the beautiful folk melodies, the majestic chorus, and the vibrating use of dubstep elements in the verses. This song perfectly represents the entire album. The more aggressive and chaotic industrial metal track “Warte, Warte” surprises with elegant symphonic elements in the chorus and sounds like a courageous mixture of Krypteria and Samsas Traum. “Dein Kapitän” employs a similar strategy and convinces with a melancholic chorus. “Arme Ellen Schmitt” includes minimal oriental folk elements, a few classical passages, and smooth vocals that create a fascinating mixture. This track is probably also one of the catchiest on the entire album, and should have its place in future live sets. My favorite track here is probably the emotional and epic “In Kaltem Eisen” because of a particularly good vocal performance and what is maybe the most interesting story on this release. “Haus aus Schmerz” is a close second favorite. It comes around with more pleasant oriental folk sounds in the vein of Arkan, nightmarish dubstep sound effects in the key of Skrillex, and a truly sinister atmosphere that is not a far call from The Vision Bleak. Only the uninspired chorus keeps this track from being the best on the album.

    This conceptual record grabs my attention from the first seconds of “Ad Mortem Festinamus” and never lets go until the nightmarish closer “Coda”. The album works very well as an entertaining whole, but the single songs are also incredibly strong. Regular and occasional fans alike should purchase this release because the six men and one woman are back for good. If you didn’t know this band before, I would say that Mitgift is a great effort to start your journey with. If you care for atmospheric folk or symphonic metal music and don’t mind a few industrial riffs and dubstep elements, this discovery will hopefully impress you as much as it has me.

    4.0 // 5


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