3 Korean Movies and a Realization

This weekend I made a profound discovery. I realized that the Oscars really suck. Not that I didn’t have misgivings earlier. When stalwarts like Joaquin Phoenix and Edward Norton are snubbed year after year, one tends to become cynical. But I became surer after watching 3 Korean movies over the weekend.

To say that the movies took my breath away would be an understatement. In fact, I’m not even sure if I can describe what I felt like after watching them. Tough task but let me give a try nevertheless.

A Tale of Two Sisters

Thriller is my favorite genre in both movies and literature. Yet, for some reason I kept avoiding this one for years (incredibly stupid of me). Left with no good choice this weekend, I finally gave in and opted for it. As soon as the movie began, I knew this was going to be good.

It is about two sisters who move back with their father and step mother. The elder one is the rebel while the younger one is docile and afraid of the step mother. The step mother takes advantage of this and begins torturing the child. As the movie progresses, you realize the director is taking you into the morbid world of a dysfunctional family. The relationship between the older girl and her father is beyond repair. In one heart wrenching scene, she accuses him of knowing everything and yet doing nothing.

There’s a twist and I’m not going to spoil it for you. But I can assure you that you won’t see it coming. It’s one of the saddest movies I have seen and I can honestly vouch that no Hollywood movie can deal with poignancy and guilt the way this movie does.

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Memories of Murder

As a woman, it’s really not easy to sit through a movie about a serial killer and rapist. But when the movie begins and you see 2 inept investigating officers rounding up invalids, you think it’s probably a dark comedy. Set in the 1980s when South Korea was under a tyrannical rule and the system was corrupt, crimes went unresolved. It was far easier to pin the blame on handicaps and poor laborers than investigating the crime. But suddenly, three officers and the audience are sucked into the horrific scenes of mutilated bodies of young women lying in the meadows.

The obsession to find the real criminal turns this black comedy into an eerie game of cat and mouse chase. As soon as you think the criminal will be caught, you are disappointed by the sudden turn of events.

Watch out for the last scene where one of the investigating officers returns to the scene of first crime and meets a young girl who hints that real criminal might still be lurking around. It’s a brilliantly performed scene that will be hard to get out of your mind.

Disturbing, engaging and depressing, Memories of a Murder sets the mood for audience who do not know how it’s going to end. So while you hope and pray for a resolution, you are faced by grim realities. What makes it more tragic is that it’s based on true events.

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A Bittersweet Life

While googling this one, I found that it has been remade into a Hindi movie that released a few years ago. That one was so sloppy and headache inducing that I thought it’s probably best to skip the original one. Two things changed my mind – Kim Ji Woon and the word revenge that was used to describe it. By the time the movie ended, I realized the Hindi one had almost nothing in common with this masterpiece. It had borrowed the premise and in the process ruined everything that made this movie truly brilliant. Yes, that’s Bollywood for you. Taking the soul out of a movie and turning into a hotchpotch of melodrama and song and dance routine.

A Bittersweet Life is essentially about the right hand man of a gangster whose life changes after he stands up for what’s right. He is tortured by the rival gang, while his own boss who he ‘worked for like a dog’ leaves him to die. He comes back with revenge on his mind and what follows are multiple gun shots, blood and violence.

What I really loved about this movie was the way the director (Kim Ji Woon) established the loneliness of the central character. He doesn’t even smile until the very end of the film. The fact that they got somebody like Lee Byung-hun, of course makes it easier to get a nuanced performance.

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As I feared, I couldn’t give you even a percent of what I felt like when I watched these Korean masterpieces. I only tried and failed. But if you watch any of these after all, I’ll take satisfaction from the fact that I could at least convince you.

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Top 5 Romantic Foreign Films

Inspired by the number of hits I got for my post on Top 5 Most Underrated Romantic Movies, I’ve decided to write about top foreign language romantic movies that you may/may not have heard about.

Ready? Here you go!

Priceless (French)

Here’s a typical feel-good romcom that has all the trappings of the genre I’m honestly not too fond of. And, yet this movie makes it to this list. I’ll tell you why. Actually my problem with romantic comedies is their over-the-top and often not-so-funny humor. Plus, their plots are usually improbable and even laughable. Their done-to-death treatment of inane situations is so clumsy that I watch them when I struggle to fall asleep. An example? Two good looking people who are obviously meant to be together, do not seem to know that until the climax!

Anyway, before I turn this post into a romcom bashing article, let me talk about this ‘priceless’ movie. It’s essentially about a hooker and an enchanted bartender who she mistakes for a billionaire. After realizing who he really is, the girl quickly turns him away while the guy keeps chasing her. As the story moves forward, the guy does some rather unthinkable things just in hope of winning her over. She rebuffs his attempts but in the end she (of course) falls in love with him.

What to love about this film:

– Gad Elmaleh’s character is the one to root for. He’s gawky, shy and even stupid. Yet, you want him to win. His gradual transformation into a somewhat suave young man made me smile. And of course, I asked myself why can’t I meet a man like him!
– It’s a genuinely funny film. Watch out for the scene where Audrey Tautou tutors Gad to manipulate his mistress. Or the one where Gad pretends to be a wealthy heir.
– Love the way Audrey Tautou dresses! She’s such a fine looking woman with some serious acting chops.

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House of the Flying Daggers (Chinese)

I like the idea of two people falling in love in just 2 days. The cynic in me tells me it’s wildly impossible. But a part of me wants to believe in it and that’s why I love this movie. Set in 859 AD, this wuxia film stars Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro in main roles. The story is quite simple. Zhang Ziyi, a blind dancer is arrested on the suspicion of being a member of the Flying Daggers. The Flying Daggers are up against the establishment and a police officer comes up with a plan to nab them. The plan involves another officer winning over the trust of Zhang Ziyi by setting her free from the prison and then following her through the woods to apprehend the Flying Daggers.

It’s not difficult to guess that they fall in love and there’s a change in plans. There’s a twist. But I’m not going to spoil it here. You can find out when you watch the movie.

What to love about this film:

– The movie has been shot exceptionally well. Watch out for the brilliant use of colors in the final scene. It’s hard to get out of the mind.
– The sexual tension that builds up between Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro. I can’t reveal the plot, but can tell you that you will be surprised!
Takeshi Kaneshiro! He has a die-hard fan in me!

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The Japanese Wife (Bengali/Indian)

There’s something truly special about this simple film. Apart from the brilliant performances of all actors, it is one of those rare films that just tell the story. There’s no judgment, no illusions, no manipulations to evoke emotions. It’s simply a story about a poor teacher living in rural Bengal (India) who marries his Japanese pen-friend. They never meet, never see each other, yet theirs is a kind of love that is so hard to find these days.

Despite no assurances of a possible union, Snehomoy and Miyagi are devoted to each other. So, even the idea of considering a prospective match is out of question for Snehomoy. I love how his unwavering loyalty to his ‘wife’ eventually convinces his aunt that her beloved nephew will never really marry anybody else. Over the course of time, the sleepy remote village where they live also comes to accept a Japanese bride who has never set a foot there.

What to love about this film:

– This movie re-affirmed my faith in love that knows how to set itself free. I know plenty of couples who’ve been with each other for years. And yet, all that’s left between them is a façade of normalcy. Snehomoy and Miyagi, on the other hand, are refreshingly real.
– Snehomoy is the archetypal Bangali Bhodrolok (Bengali gent). He is educated yet unambitious. He has no set plans for future, yet there is no angst. He doesn’t deride his aunt for trying to find him a wife. Instead, he quietly internalizes his feelings.
– The simplicity of the film is its beauty. There’s no rush, the movie progresses at a leisurely pace while soaking you in.

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Let the Right One in (Swedish)

The miserable Twilight series has turned me so completely against vampire movies that when I heard about this one, I cringed. Another migraine-inducing vampire flick, I thought. But somehow I was coaxed into watching it, and boy am I glad?

This sensitive tale of a vampire and a 12 year old boy is set in 1981. Oskar meets Eli one day and their lives change. Eli is his only friend and he soon falls in love with her. After he discovers who she really is, he gets closer to her and their bond gets stronger.

What to love about this film:
– Two lonely kids who discover friendship and love. Need I say more?
– Brilliant cinematography. A quick note, by the way. The chilling conditions outside seem to correlate with the coldness of the hearts of those around Oskar and Eli.

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Camila (Spanish/Argentinian)

Camila is a passionate tale of forbidden love, guilt and separation. To be honest, it is not one of the most romantic movies I’ve watched. No, not by any stretch of imagination. Yet, I’m including it in this list because it touches upon several themes that make it a good watch. Also if you are a sucker for romantic tragedies, I’m quite sure you’re going to like it.

The story is set in the early 19th century. Free-spirited Camila comes from an aristocratic family. She falls in love with a young priest (Fr. Ladislao) who initially rejects her but later gives into his feelings for her. Back in those days, such love was unacceptable. So the two flee and hope to build a new life away from societal pressures. They live in bliss at first but Ladislao is later consumed by feeling of guilt for abandoning his duties. They are captured and mercilessly executed.

What to love about this film:

– Doomed lovers have always captured the imagination of die-hard romantics. Ladislao and Camila are star-crossed lovers whose tragic story will pull the strings of your hearts
– The fact that the movie is based on real people makes it all the more tragic. Under Juan Manuel de Rosas’ tyrant rule, the young couple was subjected to numerous hardships. Camila was barely 23 and eight months pregnant when she was executed by the firing squads.

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De Tweeling: A Review

My brother thinks I am pretentious. Thing is, my brother’s interests and likings differ a great deal from mine. He loves his Biryani, while I need my daily dose of home-cooked Bengali food (more on that some other day). He loves new Hindi movie songs that I can simply never stand. But the biggest difference perhaps is our choices in movies. He’s totally into Bollywood capers and superhero Hollywood flicks, whereas I catch at least one foreign film every weekend. And, that’s where the pretentious part comes into play.

 

Watching Iranian, German or Korean movies with English subtitles isn’t my brother’s idea of fun. The only foreign film I know he has liked is the incredibly well-made Swedish movie, Let the right one in. I loved it too and while I watched it I wondered how could my younger sibling with a proven tacky taste in movies could have stumbled upon it and then mustered up the courage to watch it. Anyway, I digress. This post is neither about my brother nor our volatile relationship which has been marred by his terrible need to turn up the volume of our TV every time a Hindi song he likes is played.

 

I am writing to gush about this wonderful movie I watched over the weekend. Not surprisingly, it’s a foreign language film again and one I had a hard time finding on the net.

 

Based on a novel of the same name, De Tweeling (The Twins) is a Dutch/German movie which released in 2002. It’s a moving tale of pain, despair and longing. Two sisters, separated after the death of their father, grow up in starkly different conditions. One goes through a childhood of poverty, abuse and hopelessness while the other is fortunate to find love and care.

 

Set in the 1930s, the movie presents a grim picture of the conditions prevailing in Europe at that time. The sisters find themselves caught in opposite directions, as one falls in love with an SS army soldier while the other is set to marry a Jew, whose life tragically ends in a concentration camp. The war creates a permanent rift between Lotte and Anna who do not resolve their differences until the very end.

There’s such brilliance in the way the story unfolds onscreen that I can go on for hours gushing over the director’s treatment of themes like love, disappointment, hope and so on. I love almost everything about this movie, especially that moving scene in which the two little sisters are separated from each other or the one in which they meet after losing the loves of their lives to the war.

 

A special mention of the lead actresses who infuse life with their spellbinding performances. Thekla Reuten and Nadja Uhl convey emotions not only through their words and gestures, but also their silences.

 

It’s a shame that De Tweeling did not win the Oscar, despite making it to the nominations. But then I am yet to catch The Barbarian Invasions that eventually won that year. Nevertheless, De Tweeling is one of my most favorite movies and one that shatters me scene after scene. Do not miss it!