• Botongsaram / Ordinary Person (2017)

    Ordinary Person is a South Korean drama hat convinces with authentic settings, historical elements and intriguing characters. It tells the story of an uprighteous police officer who dreams of a promotion and has to deal with severe poverty, a physically disabled son and a mute wife. One day, he gets involved in a conspiracy led by National Security agents who ask him to frame an innocent mentally disabled man as dangerous serial killer to prevent public unrest. The police officer cooperates at first as his son gets an expensive operation in return but his conscience soon comes into play. The protagonist has to chose whether he wants to be a corrupt police officer leading a prosperous life or an ordinary man fighting corruption and injustice.

    There are several elements that make Ordinary Person a very good movie. First of all, the authentic settings bring back to life what South Korea was like thirty years ago when it was far from being as democratic, sociable and wealthy as it is nowadays. Tiny houses, poor neighborhoods and bumpy roads can be seen everywhere. The historical elements are perfectly integrated and portray a country led by deviant rich that prevented democracy, equality and especially free speech. The characters are quite interesting as it's easy to identify with a police officer torn between moral principals and pressure from his country's elite. The side characters are also quite complex and detailed. The final third of the movie features a tense plot and a multitude of dramatic emotions leading towards an epic finale.

    Ordinary Person als has a few minor flaws. First of all, the movie is overall a little bit too long and would have been much more efficient if it had been twenty to thirty minutes shorter. Especially the middle section is quite dragging and only develops the main character in a slow and stoic pace while neglecting the plot. Another issue is the film's strangely light-hearted introduction that shows two police officers chasing a local thug in a slapstick manner that almost recalls the Police Academy franchise. The first twenty minutes don't set the tone for the rest of the movie that is quite emotional and serious. The overture feels completely misplaced. Ordinary Person is a drama that focuses on great dialogues but misses out on a few action sequences that would have given the movie some oomph to go along with the dramatic plot. The few scenes portraying police investigation are also quite brief and could have been more developed. The case of the serial killer is neglected midway through the movie and even completely abandoned by the end.

    In the end, I would recommend this film if you like intellectual dramas with credible characters, profound dialogues and detailed plot. If you expect a gripping crime flick like Memories of Murder or a breathtaking action movie like Confidential Assignment, you might end up being disappointed. If you accept the movie for what it really is, you will get a very good drama with some food for thought and an intriguing history lesson about South Korea.

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  • Kamisama no iu tôri / As the Gods Will (2014)

    Based upon a manga series of the same name, As the Gods Will is a fantasy horror movie directed by experimental filmmaker Miike Takashi. The story revolves around bored high school student Shun who prays for an exciting change of routine. His prayer seems to be heard but not exactly the way he expected it when the head of his teacher explodes one morning and is replaced by a speaking doll that forces the students to play a deadly game. This is only the beginning of a series of challenges requesting endurance, intelligence, imagination and luck. Shun tries to survive the series of deadly games with friends, opponents and complete strangers who cross his path. His goals are to survive, to help his partners and to find out why they are forced to play this game in the first place.

    As the Gods Will is a wonderful movie for anyone who likes Japanese culture as the different games are related to Japanese traditional children's games with a deadly twist. The different games are creative, surprising and vivid and often offer surprising turns. The film convinces with tight pace and starts without a lengthy introduction as about twenty students die in the first ten minutes alone and keeps this steady flow until the very last scene that concludes the film well but offers enough room for a potential sequel. The characters are interesting and the actors play them very well. The most important characters are Shun who is admired by many of his peers but lacking self-confidence, his charismatic and dynamic childhood friend Ichika and psychopath Amaya who enjoys the deadly games and even tries to get as many players killed as possible. Even the animated characters like a speaking doll, a giant cat, floating wooden dolls, a drawn polar bear and a group of matryoshkas are quite diversified, intriguing and surprising. Seemingly unimportant side characters like a weird hermit and a homeless man with supernatural capabilities also have important roles to play outside the school building. The colourful special effects are nicely done and remind of the anime genre. The camera work is enjoyably calm, fluid and precise and avoids current shaky camera trends. The lighting techniques blend in very well and complement the diversified locations by adding some atmosphere to the film. The fitting soundtrack rounds this movie out perfectly. As the Gods Will is highly entertaining and you won't see the two hours passing by. I almost felt like watching this detailed movie again when it concluded and I will certainly watch it with some of my friends in the future. This movie isn't far from getting the perfect grade upon first impression.

    To keep it short, if you like imaginative plots with fast pace and over-the-top diversity, you will certainly appreciate As the Gods Will. Remember that this is a quite brutal movie though and it's not because it's set in a high school that minors should watch it. The great thing about this film is that it remains surprising, intellectual and creative despite its breathtaking brutality. Give it a try!

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  • Singwa hamgge / Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017)

    Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is a fantasy movie with so many special effects that it could be a Hollywood production. However, that isn't meant to be a compliment. Korean cinema has a quite emotional, intense and vivid vibe that makes it stand out but that vibe isn't present here at all. In addition to that, this film is the first part of a new franchise like many Western fantasy movies as well but I don't plan watching the sequel that is scheduled for this summer. To be fair, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is rather entertaining and some of the flashbacks create an emotional connection with the main characters but it's too little and too late.

    The first and biggest issue I have with this film is the shallow story. A firefighter dies, arrives in the afterworld and is told that he is an honorable paragon that needs to pass seven trials in order to get reincarnated. One never truly gets told what a paragon is and what makes this particular firefighter so honorable. The trials are announced being in order of the sins of the deceased, starting with the least important and ending with the most important ones. However, several trials in the middle are skipped because this paragon is considered particularly honorable which contradicts what was told right from the start. A recurring element of suspense is that the firefighter's brother died soon after his own death and menaces the balance of the afterworld since he is a vengeful spirit. While it's understandable why the brother wants to take his revenge, it doesn't make any sense how this is related to his brother's trials and the entire afterworld altogether. The cherry atop the cake is that this vengeful spirit later on becomes a paragon himself. The most cringe-worthy moment however is the firefighter's final trial. It turns out he planned killing his own mother as well as his brother before committing suicide when he was a teenager because his family was so poor and his mother really sick. Everybody expects the firefighter to lose the final trial but his mother is visited by his brother's spirit and she takes the blame, calling herself a bad mother and forgiving her son for thinking about killing her. This moral isn't only controversial, it's quite nonsensical as well.

    Another issue with this movie are the characters. The firefighter seems like a good guy in the beginning but the more we learn about him, the less likable he gets and it's quite tough to sympathize with him. The three assistants that help him with the trials are also lacking depth. They are only interested in helping the firefighter to get reincarnated themselves and hide the truth about his brother's fate from him for a while before one of them makes a stupid mistake. The different gods that are in charge of the different trials look quite interesting but they only appear for a few minutes and disappear soon after like cameo appearances.

    The special effects are overused in this movie. The trials take place in different places like a big cave, a vast desert or a river next to a waterfall. The locations look gorgeous but the transitions between them seem to be random. They change so drastically and often that they can't develop any type of atmosphere. The potential of these locations is often wasted.

    On the positive side, the movie has great pace and is entertaining and epic from start to finish. The exposition doesn't waste any time, the trials progress smoothly and the final thirty minutes are a true climax and quite intense. You won't see the two hours and twenty minutes go by. This is great popcorn cinema.

    The flashbacks add some depth to the firefighter's background story and tell us a lot about his mother, his brother and himself. These are also the most emotional moments in the movie. Seeing his brother die under tragic circumstances is quite gloomy. Observing the heartbroken mother who has lost her two children in a few weeks and who tries to find out what happened to the firefighter's brother by any means necessary is truly gripping. The best scenes are actually related to the firefighter's brother who tries to appease his mother in her dreams, avenge the person who covered up his murder and save the life of his suicidal colleague.

    One can't deny that a lot of budget went into this film that looks quite well. The special effects might be overused but most people will find them exciting. The camera work is focused and avoids the contemporary chic of shaky passages. Lighting techniques are used very efficiently. The soundtrack is quite immersive without being outstanding.

    If you like fantasy or science-fiction blockbusters for the whole family, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds will give you everything you're craving for and can be watched between the latest The Maze Runner and Star Wars movies. If you were expecting a typically Korean movie with many emotional twists, you might find this flick somewhat bland. In my opinion, it's definitely entertaining enough to be watched once but overall rather forgettable popcorn cinema.

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  • Chao shi kong tong ju / How Long Will I Love U (2018)

    How Long Will I Love U is a romantic comedy movie with supernatural elements and a few gloomy sequences. It tells the story of a real estate shark who plans on traveling nineteen years into the future to use this knowledge in order to expand his empire. However, the shift in the space-time continuum fails and opens a portal nineteen years in the past instead. It turns out that this portal is in the small apartment where the loan shark lived when he didn't have any investors and was about to lose his job. In present-day, a young woman who works in a jewelry store and dreams of getting married to a rich man lives in the same flat. One morning, she wakes up and is shocked to realize she shares her apartment with the unsuccessful property designer. In the beginning, she is distant to him and wants to get rid of him but their curiosity makes them bond as friendship soon becomes love interest. The young woman realizes she can't alter the past and the young man can't alter the future and attempting to meet their former or futures selves would lead to chaos. The young woman still travels back to the past to see herself as a child playing with her rich father who would soon die in a traffic accident. The property designer is curious about his future and stunned to see he has become a rich real estate shark. In present-day, the pitiless real estate shark realizes the past is about to shift and tries to convince the young woman to leave his former self and offers her the life she has always dreamed of. However, the young woman realizes the emotionless real estate shark is nothing like the sympathetic property designer but she has to make a choice that could alter past, present and future.

    Let's start with the few negative elements about this good movie. First of all, the background story about time travelling is poorly explained as the script is lacking details in this part. The introduction of the young woman is somewhat confusing as one isn't quite sure what her real job is as she is mostly about to scam older men into marrying her in the beginning. Some parts of the movie are unnecessarily overacted, especially by lead actress Tong Liya who offers too many fake smiles and tears.

    On the other side, the story is quite original and every loose end is solved and every question answered in the end. The movie's romantic side isn't too exaggerated and has a clumsy, juvenile, and sympathetic note. The film offers lots of situation comedy, especially when the property designer discovers the future and is amazed by food delivery services, mobile phones and virtual reality. The movie also has a gloomy touch related to corruption, greed and murder which obviously involves the mysterious death of the young woman's father. The film also has the message that money doesn't make you happy and shows how people in China are obsessed with fame, influence and money and leaving their communist culture behind for a world of steel, plastic and glass.

    In the end, How Long Will I Love U is an entertaining movie that mixes romantic, humorous and dark elements in a balanced and unique way. Younger audiences in a relationship might even find this film even better than just good. If you can catch the film at a local cinema, don't hesitate to go for it.

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  •  Muhou wanjia / A or B (2018)

    A or B is a dramatic Chinese thriller that comes around with numerous surprises, twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. This breathless, clever and dynamic movie convinces with a truly amazing script, great acting performances and stunning settings and is best enjoyed at a cinema. After a concise exposition of about fifteen minutes, the rising action starts quite mysteriously, leading towards a series of surprising climaxes, transitioning to an intense falling action and coming around with a detailed resolution that will make you think about this film long after you have watched it.

    The movie introduces us to an investor who has made a lot of money on the back of former associates and mentors. Wealth has corrupted this man who lives in an isolated mansion with his desperate wife who doesn't recognize the ambitious gentleman she once fell in love with anymore. When she finally decides to leave him, the investor gets drunk, has an argument with his chauffeur whom he suspects to have an eye on his wife and goes to bed in his mansion. The next day, he wakes up and realizes that he is kept captive in his mansion. An anonymous criminal contacts him and tells the investor that he must choose between two options every single day for five days that will have a serious impact on the lives of the investor and everyone who is close to him. If the investor doesn't choose either option, both will be chosen by the mysterious kidnapper and have dramatic consequences. The investor soon realizes that he must determine the things in life that really matter to him in order to protect and save them, escape his luxurious mansion that has become a death trap and find out who the mysterious assailant is in order to end his nightmare and save his reputation.

    A or B is a movie that challenges you to analyze, feel and observe. It's an incredibly rewarding experience because it takes its audience seriously. If you like intellectual thrillers, this film might already be your candidate for movie of the year.

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