• Sam Gang / Three (2002)

    Three, internationally marketed as 3 Extremes 2, consists of three horror short films by renowned Asian directors. All three short movies had something different to offer and were quite entertaining since they didn't overstay their welcome. However, these short movies aren't among the directors' greatest hours either.

    The first short film is entitled Memories and was created by South Korean director Kim Jee-won, who made masterpieces like the psychological drama A Tale of Two Sisters, comedy western The Good, the Bad, the Weird and grisly horror shocker I Saw the Devil. Memories tells two stories that slowly but surely intertwine. The first story is about a man whose wife has disappeared and who suffers from memory loss as he can't remember why or how she left. The second story revolves around a woman who wakes up in the middle of a street, can't remember who she is and tries to figure out her identity and what happened to her. On the positive side, the movie convinces with gloomy atmosphere and moody cinematography. On the negative side, the story is somewhat predictable and slow-paced.

    The second short film is called The Wheel and was created by Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr, who is known for action movie Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters, romantic horror film Nang Nak - Return from the Dead and romantic drama Jan Dara. The Wheel revolves around cursed puppets that haunt a group of puppeteers living and performing in rural Thailand. The curse starts when the master puppeteer puts his soul into said puppets but later on orders his wife and child to get rid of them. His wife and child drown and the old man burns alive in his house. A rival puppeteer plans on using these puppets but other grisly events soon start to take place as performers collapse on stage, commit suicide or start to see ghosts. On the positive side, this film is the grisliest of the three and includes several haunting deaths. The locations in rural Thailand are stunning to watch. The movie also introduces us to a part of Thai culture which isn't very known outside the country. The film's sinister conclusion is also memorable. On the negative side, the acting performances are a little bit stiff at times and the movie was obviously suffering from a very low budget.

    The third and last short film is called Going Home and was created by Thailand-born Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Ho-Sun Chan, who directed movies such as romantic comedy drama The Love Letter, historical drama The Warlords and action epic Dragon. Going Home tells the story of a single father and cop who moves into a decrepit apartment complex with his infant son. His son soon befriends the strange daughter of the only other family living in the building and then goes missing. His father suspects the weird father of that family who nurses his mysterious wife back to health to be responsible for his son's disappearance. On the positive side, the characters in this movie are really strong, the story takes a few unexpected turns and the movie even has a romantic underlying message which one couldn't expect from a horror movie. On the negative side, several questions in this movie remain unanswered which make it feel somewhat unfinished. This movie should have been elaborated into a full length movie to have a bigger impact.

    In the end, all three movies have their merits but also a few minor disadvantages. Expect solid psychological and supernatural thrillers but no grisly horror episodes. All of these short films were entertaining and are worth to be discovered, presented or watched again.

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  • Bie Gaosu Ta / The Farewell (2019)

    The Farewell is a bittersweet Chinese tragicomedy that has the potential to become an Academy Award winner for Best International Feature Film. The movie revolves around an elderly Chinese lady who suffers from an incurable cancer. Her sister however hides this information from her and instead tries to bring all the family together for one last time. A hastily arranged wedding between a grandson and his Japanese girlfriend serves as purpose for the family members abroad to come back to Changchun. However, the burden of this lie is heavy and conflicts, confusion and misunderstandings soon occur.

    The most interesting question about this movie is how you would deal with a situation such as the one portrayed in this film if someone close to you were concerned and how you would like to be treated if you were in a similar situation yourself. The family members in this film try to carry the burden together and decide to not tell the aged grandmother that she is dying. There is no right way to deal with such a difficult decision. If you hide the truth, you might prevent the other person to live every day as if it were the last day and to say farewell. If you tell the truth, you will cause an immense emotional burden to the concerned person who will live in fear of dying every single day. The Farewell offers much food for thought and also shows how differently Western and Eastern cultures approach such a scenario.

    The acting performances in this film are outstanding. Every character has its own identity from the drunk war veteran who was in love with the elderly lady over the chubby grandchild who is addicted to technology to the deaf housemate who is the only one to mind his own business. Lead actress Nora Lum convinces as concerned granddaughter who disagrees with her family's strategy of hiding the truth from her grandmother and who also has some financial and social problems of her own. Shuzhen Zhao steals the show in her very first movie as headstrong elderly lady with a heart of gold.

    The movie portrays the differences between Western and Eastern cultures cleverly and also portrays how the Chinese society is changing. People have become greedy capitalists looking for financial opportunities abroad but also try to embrace their ethnic heritage at the same time. Changchun has developed from a rather small city with less than a million citizens to a gigantic city with close to eight million citizens in only fifty years. The movie shows how gigantic buildings and monuments have replaced small houses and gardens.

    The Farewell also has alight-hearted side and manages to cheer its audience up despite numerous heartbreaking moments. The subtle humour works very well and includes drunk war veterans declaring their romantic feelings, hilarious karaoke performances during the wedding and several running jokes in form of the careless deaf housemate and the disconnected overweight grandson.

    In the end, The Farewell is an emotional tragicomedy with a profound message: to spend as much time with your loved ones as you can while you can. As someone who is living abroad and far away from his family, I can truly empathize with the movie's meaningful message. Give this movie the chance to inspire your brain and warm your heart.

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  • Gongjak / The Spy Gone North (2018)

    Gongjak, internationally known as The Spy Gone North, is a gripping mixture of a drama and a thriller based upon historic events. The movie follows a businessman who works as a South Korean secret agent and who is tasked to infiltrate influential North Korean circles by offering the opportunity to shoot commercials for South Korean products in the remote country. He befriends a North Korean economist who hopes to inspire change in his country. Their friendship is put to a test when South Korean politicians try to influence North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to attack South Korean civilians in order to influence upcoming elections. The businessman and secret agent overhears the abominable conspiracy and must decide whether he lays low and lets an incredible crime happen or whether he risks his identity and life in order to try to make Kim Jong-Il change his mind.

    The Spy Gone North convinces on numerous levels. First of all, the actors are absolutely outstanding and especially lead characters Hwang Jun-min as seemingly blunt but naive businessman and Lee Sung-min as intelligent and resilient economist deliver marvelous performances. The intriguing story gets more tense, dramatic and complex as the movie progresses and especially the last forty-five minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat. The settings are remarkable as the movie takes place in the People's Republic of China, Republic of Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The crew was obviously not allowed to shoot on location in North Korea and recreated those settings in Taiwan but they still look impressively realistic on screen. One has to applaud the fact that the movie avoids spreading propaganda. The South Koreans are depicted as negatively and at times even worse than North Koreans. Kim Jong-Il is shown as eccentric and socially awkward but also diplomatic and intelligent leader which is a rare perspective. Anyone interested in Korean culture, history and society will particularly admire this movie.

    In the end, The Spy Gone North is a tense mixture of a drama and thriller partially based upon historic events. The film's perspective is surprisingly balanced and thought-provoking for anyone interested in Korean culture, history and society. The outstanding acting performances make an already great movie an excellent one which is highly recommended.

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  • Korô no chi / The Blood of Wolves (2018)

    Korô no chi, internationally known as The Blood of Wolves, is a brutal gangster movie reminding of the Japanese V-Cinema era in the mid-nineties. This type of movie could have been made by prolific directors such as Mochizuki Rokuro, Miike Takashi or Kitano Takeshi.

    The story revolves around brutal, non-conformist, lone wolf police officer Ogami Shogo and his conformist, intellectual and naive partner Hioka Shuichi. They investigate the disapperance of an accountant in the late eighties. It soon turns out that the accountant was involved in a yakuza clan and tried to steal money. Ogami Shogo uses violence, menaces and connections to investigate while his partner Hioka Shuichi is shocked by such procedures and rather tries to make sure his partner will get suspended. However, the unusual team soon needs to cooperate in order to prevent a war between two yakuza clans and find out what really happened to the mob accountant.

    The greatest thing about the movie are the two conflicting lead characters and their fascinating relationship that evolves throughout the entertaining movie. The film convinces with grisly fights, dirty locations and cool one-liners. The plot comes around with a few surprises towards the end which explain how the different characters have become who they are.

    If you like brutal yakuza flicks of the eighties and nineties, you will certainly appreciate this nostalgic but entertaining movie. The Blood of Wolves takes its inspiration from movies such as Another Lonely Hitman, Shinjuku Triad Society and Hana-Bi. Genre fans will certainly find this movie thoroughly entertaining.

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  • Du beonjjae gyeoul / Second Winter (2016)

    Second Winter is certainly a very unusual movie. This drama follows a few days in the life of a young couple living in a big city in South Korea. They are both twenty-nine years old and have been married for a little bit less than two years. Hyun-ho has recently quit his job and tries to become an actor. Jung-hee struggles to find a job because she is married and potential employers believe she might get pregnant soon. The couple lives in a small apartment with a broken boiler. They are ashamed of their financial problems that soon become a burden for their relationship. Hyun-ho doesn't tell his mother that he has quit his job and also hides the fact that he has resumed working after his attempts at becoming an actor failed from his wife.

    The movie certainly exposes the struggles a lot of young people face in South Korea. Society expects them to succeed at having their own families, getting great jobs and living in shiny apartments. The couple in this film tries to turn things around but is out of luck. The struggles with their families, devastating unemployment and financial issues are heartbreaking. Second Winter makes viewers empathize with this young couple and its issues.

    The film uses unusual recording techniques. The camera work is very static. For example, a camera is put across the couple's bed. For about two and a half minutes, the viewers observe how the lovers kiss each other. For the next two and a half minutes, they talk about their broken boiler. The film then transitions to the next scene and the same approach is repeated. There are no special effects and no soundtrack which gives this slice of life the vibe of a documentary.

    Second Winter certainly has a few creative ideas but it's still hard to sit through. There is no particular story to speak of. The pace is very slow. The camera work is too static. The two lead actors don't have much chemistry. The movie doesn't have a real start or finish.

    In the end, Second Winter is a drama about the struggles of young adults in contemporary South Korea. However, the movie only states the obvious facts people are already familiar with. It fails to leave a deeper impression and is at times simply stated boring. I don't regret spending a little bit more than one hour watching this movie but would neither recommend nor watch it again.

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