• Saja / The Divine Fury (2019)

    The Divine Fury is a South-Korean fantasy drama with horror elements that seems to be the starting point for a growing franchise. This film focuses on mixed martial arts fighter Yong-hoo who has lost his father as a child. Since that moment, he has lost his faith and lives in isolation. Yong-hoo starts hearing voices that try to have a negative impact on him and is having terrible nightmares but continues to ignore those signals. One day however, he dreams of getting hurt in a nightmare and awakes with a mysterious wound in the palm of his hand. Since regular doctors are unable to find a cause or cure for that phenomenon, Yong-hoo consults a shaman his chauffeur recommends him. She tells him that he is haunted by demons but that the ring that belonged to his father is protecting him. The shaman recommends him to contact a priest working for the Vatican who has come to Seoul to fight a Dark Bishop who is committing crimes in the name of the Devil. Upon meeting priest Ahn, mixed martial arts fighter Yong-hoo realizes that his mysterious wound has the power to exorcise demons. The two men become partners in order to track down and defeat the Dark Bishop together.

    This movie convinces on numerous levels. The story has great pace and is refreshingly straight despite a few creative twists and turns here and there. The sinister settings in Seoul look gorgeous and especially the discotheque that serves as a hideout for the Dark Bishop is absolutely stunning to watch. The characters in the movie have depth and are rather unusual for a fantasy movie. The martial arts fighter is surprisingly calm, careful and sensitive while the priest is a mild-mannered veteran. The movie avoids any heroic tropes similar Hollywood flicks tend to offer. The film is equally a drama and an action movie. The characters are fleshed out and face inner and outher struggles but they are also involved in intense fighting scenes with demons and the Dark Bishop. The horror elements are rather mild in this film which can even be recommended to teenagers who usually prefer superhero movies.

    There aren't any significant negative elements to mention. The story isn't particularly creative and somewhat predictable at times. The introduction might slightly overstay its welcome. It remains to be seen whether the idea to develop a franchise out of this movie is going to be a successful strategy or going to water down the quality of the upcoming releases.

    As it is now, The Divine Fury is an entertaing fantasy movie that combines energetic action, profound drama and mild horror elements. Fans of the aforementioned genres as well as of Hollywood's superhero movies will discover a fresh take on the idea of two lonesome protagonists fighting off evil spirits and maleficient criminals. The Divine Fury certainly is one of the most convincing and recommendable contemporary fantasy movies.

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  • Hak Se Wui / Election (2005)

    Election is a complex Hong Kong gangster drama that convinces with its realistic vibe. The movie details the rivalry between the calm, diplomatic and mild-mannered Lok and the excitable, hot-tempered and self-centered Big D. Once Lok has been elected as the new leader of a triad by the elders, Big D refuses to accept the decision and is about to declare war by founding a new group. However, the candidates get arrested just in time by the police as authorities want to prevent a turf war. While negotiations between all parties involved continue in prison, their respective associates get in conflict with one another in the streets.

    This movie convinces with a quite realistic plot that feels like a documentary at times. Especially the opening third explains how elections work in the triads and also details further administrative, cultural and historical elements. The second third focuses on the intense rivalry between the two candidates. The discussions and negotiations in prison are gripping while the car chases and fight sequences on the streets provide some welcome action scenes. The final third takes a more dramatic and almost philosophical turn as it shows how the two rivals coexist after their release from prison. The movie ends with a surprising twist that foreshadows this film's sequel.

    There are only two negative elements to point out. The opening third introduces the viewer to numerous characters. The first twenty minutes feel overloaded. It's tough to figure out who is bribing, influencing and menacing who. A longer and smoother introduction would have made the movie more accessible overall. Another slightly negative element is that the film heavily focuses on dialogues. While most of them are witty and relevant, it can be quite exhausting and repetitive to digest them in the first and second thirds. Be aware that this is a drama in the first place and only an action film in the second position.

    Despite two notable flaws, Election is a gangster drama that convinces with great action sequences, fascinating characters, cultural depth, strong dialogues and realistic plot. The movie was made in the tradition of Hong Kong gangster movies in the late eighties and early nineties. If this genre is your cup of tea, you will adore this movie. Those who are looking for a more contemporary take on the genre with impressive special effects should abstain.

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  • Xue bao / Savage (2018)

    Savage is a gritty Chinese action-thriller set in magnificent North-Eastern winter landscapes. A group of three criminals steals a gold transport and encounters two police officers on their way from the mountain. One of these officers gets fatally shot and the criminals must escape in a hurry as they leave the bounty behind. One year later, the surviving police officer is still haunted by the past and refuses to commit to a relationship with a local doctor who was desired both by his deceased partner and himself. The grim lone wolf discovers two poachers and tries to warn them of an incoming extreme blizzard. To his own surprise, the two poachers aren't trying to hunt animals but are actually two of the three criminals who hid the gold in a valley one year earlier. The third criminal and head of the group isn't too far away either. To make matters even more complicated, the local doctor comes out to the mountain to bid farewell to the police officer since she is going to be transferred to Beijing. The protagonist now has to face off against three ruthless criminals, protect the unsuspecting doctor and survive the harsh blizzard.

    This gripping action-thriller convinces for numerous reasons. First and foremost, the winter landscapes are absolutely breathtaking and worth watching the film alone. Secondly, the lead characters are truly intriguing and especially the grim police officer and the charming doctor are easy to empathize with. The movie convinces with a constant gloomy atmosphere from start to finish. The action scenes are authentic and intense. The scenes in an isolated camp are inspired by The Hateful Eight and anyone who likes the Quentin Tarantino movie is also going to appreciate this film.

    The film has a few minor flaws that keep it from being more than just good. The story is overall flat and predictable. The film has a few lengths in the middle section and loses some momentum here. The characters of the villains could have been a little bit more fleshed out as they remain rather formulaic.

    Still, Savage is an entertaining movie for anyone who likes thrillers taking place in snowy landscapes such as Cold Pursuit. The movie might not be the most creative of its kind but takes its inspiration from genre classics and contemporary highlights. The sinister atmosphere, intriguing lead characters and stunning locations are among the film's greatest strengths. It's also noteworthy that this Chinese film avoids the usual propaganda that waters almost any other production down and focuses on the basics instead. I would certainly recommend this film to my friends and also watch it again.

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  • Hai Phuong / Furie (2019)

    Furie is a Vietnamese action-thriller with renowned actress Van Veronica Ngo of Clash, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny and Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi fame. Renowned French fight choreographers were also involved behind the scenes. Furthermore, this is the first Vietnamese movie to be theatrically released in the United States of America. The dynamic lead actress plays a former hostess from Saigon turned debt collector in a rural area. She is also a single mother who doesn't know the father of her daughter. The protagonist faces numerous challenges as she gets several threats due to her line of work and her daughter faces bullying at school because of her origin. One day, a group of kidnappers raid the local market and take the protagonist's daughter with them. She follows a lead that brings her back to Saigon where she faces a grumpy former colleague and a resentful brother who feels that she abandoned the family. Our protagonist realizes that nobody is willing to help her and decides to confront the huge child trafficking organization on her own.

    Furie convinces on several levels. The action scenes are mostly realistic, intense and entertaining. The highlights are the chase sequences along the river in the beginning and the fight scenes on the train towards the end. Lead actress Van Veronica Ngo convinces as resilient lone wolf and child actress Mai Cat Vi steals the show as surprisingly brave, clever and mature daughter who actually takes more intelligent decisions than the adults around her. The locations are diversified and vary from poor rural settings to the criminal underworld of a big city. It's refreshingly authentic and honest that this movie shows the dark and ugly sides of life in Vietnam.

    There are however a few elements that could still be improved. Most side characters are lacking charisma. The cop is almost unimportant to the story line. The lead villainess only seems to have one single facial expression. The former colleague of the lead actress is extremely antipathic and could have been cut from the movie altogether. It's regrettable that some scenes presented in the making of have been cut from the movie, especially those involving young actress Mai Cat Vi in a cage on a train with other kidnapped children. The simplistic plot features a few elements that are hard to believe. It's strange that the kidnappers raid a market in the middle of the day to take one single child among many others. It's difficult to understand that the lead actress easily finds essential information on the kidnappers at the police station, steals it and walks away without any problems. Another scene that was unintentionally confusing was when the drowning protagonist was saved by the police that had been nowhere to be seen before out of nowhere.

    Despite a few plot holes, some cut scenes and a few below average acting performances, Furie overall convinces with two excellent lead actresses, great fight choreographies and sinister vibes in an entertainingly concise movie. Fans of Asian action cinema should watch Furie for sure. If you like Hollywood movies such as Peppermint, you are going to appreciate this film here as well.

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  • Akinjeon / The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019)

    The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is a gritty South-Korean action-thriller based upon factual events. It tells the story of a mysterious serial killer who attempts to murder a gangster boss in the middle of the night. Both men get seriously injured but survive. A resilient cop sees his chance to finally arrest the serial killer and decides to cooperate with the gangster boss. The two men rally their associates to arrest the mysterious serial killer but they have quite different intentions. The cop wants to bring the mass murderer to justice while the gangster boss wants to assassinate him. The fragile partnership between the stubborn cop and the tough gangster boss soon becomes a rivalry. Meanwhile, the serial killer continues to provoke authorities and gangsters alike and spreads terror in and around Seoul.

    This movie convinces thanks to its three charismatic lead characters. The gangster boss is played by Ma Dong-seok who has become the most proficient South Korean actor over the past few years. His character is pitiless and tough but also clever and resilient which makes for an intriguing mixture. The stubborn cop is played by young Kim Mu-yeol who might have his international breakthrough with this film. His character is clumsy and proud but also very courageous and resourceful as he learns quickly from past mistakes. Finally, we have the mysterious serial killer played by Kim Sung-kyu who is still at the very beginning of his acting career. The interesting thing about his character is that he is so hard to figure out which makes it incredibly difficult to catch him.

    In addition to the very good acting performances and fascinating characters, this movie convinces with gloomy atmosphere, diversified locations and intense action scenes. The movie's depth, energy and vibe keep the audience entertained until the very end.

    The movie isn't without its minor flaws. The exposition had a few lengths and could have been told a little bit more intensely. The story is rather conventional and predictable. The lack of a precise motive for the serial killer is somewhat disappointing as well.

    Still, fans of action-thrillers in general and South Korean cinema in particular will certainly appreciate The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil. It's atmospheric, entertaining and gritty. I would certainly recommend it to my friends and watch this movie again.

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