The Films of Jee-woon Kim
The Quiet Family
The Foul King
A Tale of Two Sisters (March 26/05)
A Tale of Two Sisters is yet another pointless, interminably-paced Asian horror flick that's inexplicably garnered heaps of praise and adulation, despite the fact that the film just isn't all that good. Though writer/director Jee-woon Kim does a nice job of infusing the movie with a distinctive sense of mood, the filmmaker completely fails to give the viewer characters worth caring about or a plot worth following. As a result, A Tale of Two Sisters comes off as an endurance test more than anything else, primarily because the viewer isn't given a single reason to remain invested in the storyline. The plot, which becomes increasingly incomprehensible as the film progresses, follows two teenaged sisters as they return to their father's palatial estate, where he's living with his new wife, following the death of the sisters' birth mother. It's not long before strange things start to happen, mostly involving the exploits of an apparition who seems to have some kind of a grudge against the female inhabitants of the house. There's no denying that A Tale of Two Sisters looks great; Kim, along with cinematographer Mo-gae Lee, injects the film with a distinct, creepy sort of vibe. And given that virtually the entire movie takes place within the walls of this expansive mansion, Lee and Kim do a nice job of keeping the film's look intriguing throughout (it quickly becomes apparent that the visuals are just about the only positive aspect of the movie). The primary problem here, then, is a complete and utter lack of interesting characters - something that's exacerbated by the lackluster performances that are either far too subdued or laughably over-the-top. Because neither of these sisters are developed beyond the superficial - ie one of them is shy and mousy, while the other isn't afraid of confrontations - it's difficult to sympathize with the pair once bad things start to happen. Worse yet, Kim refuses to divulge more than absolutely necessary regarding the spirits that are plaguing these characters, resulting in a conclusion that's infuriatingly vague. It's clear that fans of Asian horror will probably dig this, but the fact that it's so similar to virtually every other film in this genre makes it a derivative annoyance right from the get-go.
A Bittersweet Life
The Good, the Bad, the Weird
I Saw the Devil (December 1/11)
Though saddled with an often unreasonably overlong running time, I Saw the Devil ultimately manages to establish itself as a gritty, brutal, and consistently uncompromising thriller that does, for the most part, feel like South Korea's answer to Se7en. The straight-forward storyline follows malicious serial killer Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) as he murders the pregnant wife of a government agent (Byung-hun Lee's Kim Soo-hyeon), with the movie subsequently detailing Kim Soo-hyeon's ongoing (and progressively convoluted) efforts at avenging his beloved's senseless death. I Saw the Devil kicks off with a striking sequence that certainly proves effective at immediately capturing the viewer's interest, with the strength of this opening initially compensating for filmmaker Jee-woon Kim's decidedly laid-back sensibilities. There's little doubt, however, that the movie's excessively deliberate atmosphere is increasingly compounded by padded-out and downright needless sequences, which, as a result, ensures that the the film's first hour is rarely as engrossing or as compelling as one might've hoped. The rough-cut vibe persists up until around the halfway mark, after which point Kim slowly-but-surely begins suffusing the narrative with one admittedly engrossing sequence after another - with Kim Soo-hyeon's electrifying assault on Kyung-chul's Texas Chainsaw Massacre-like homestead certainly standing as a high point within the proceedings. From there, I Saw the Devil moves like a rocket right through to Kim Soo-hyeon and Kyung-chul's expectedly intense final confrontation - thus cementing the movie's place as a pervasively uneven yet sporadically stirring (and often astonishingly violent) piece of work.
The Last Stand (January 17/13)
Filmmaker Jee-woon Kim's North American debut, The Last Stand details the chaos that ensues after a notorious drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega's Gabriel Cortez) busts out of prison and heads towards a sleepy border town called Sommerton Junction - where the local sheriff (Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ray Owens), along with a handful of scrappy deputies, subsequently prepares to battle Cortez and his soldiers. It's a well-worn yet promising setup that is, at the outset, employed to pleasingly watchable effect by Kim, as the director, working from Andrew Knauer's screenplay, does a nice job of establishing the aforementioned small community and its various residents - with Schwarzenegger's subdued yet charismatic turn as the film's reluctant protagonist certainly standing as an obvious highlight. It's only with the head-scratching left turn into Cortez's escape - a long, tedious sequence that seems to go on forever - that The Last Stand begins to lose its grip on the viewer, with the total needlessness of this stretch wreaking havoc on the narrative's momentum and triggering the movie's shift from passable to distressingly interminable. The lackluster vibe is perpetuated by Kim's aggressively slick directorial sensibilities, with, especially, the garish digital cinematography and overuse of computer-generated effects resulting in an overly polished atmosphere that proves disastrous (ie the film's action sequences are, for the most part, drained of their vitality and energy). And although the final fight between Schwarzenegger and Noriega's respective characters is rather exhilarating, The Last Stand is, primarily, an overlong and erratically-paced misfire that's simply not in the same league as Schwarzenegger's past efforts within the action genre.