Category Archives: Korean


snowpiercer-posterWhat Jesse said:

Watch Snowpiercer. Do it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I got a copy of this movie years before Jesse recommended it to me, but I never got around to watching it. For some reason I ended up forgetting what it was about or why I found it interesting in the first place. I actually believed that it was a foreign film with subtitles. If Jesse hadn’t recommended it, I’d probably never have watched it at all.

I’m glad that I finally did; given Jesse’s sparse review though I could easily have forgotten about it again. Since he didn’t elaborate on why I should watch Snowpiercer, I will have to assume that he recognized the film for what it truly is: a review of some of the most enduring themes in the history of political philosophy.

I suspect that many people will walk away from this film thinking it is a commentary on economic inequality – something along the lines of the 21st century protest movements that hope to up-end the so-called ‘One Percent’. Certainly, inequality is a major factor here – economic divide is the source of the film’s main conflict. But Snowpiercer isn’t about economic inequality – it’s about the rationale for maintaining that inequality.

The train here should be looked at as a metaphor (thinly veiled) for a society – everything
humanity needs ,thought not necessarily everything it wants, is within the train, while exiting means stepping into the cold, harsh reality of nature. But just as there are consequences to joining any social contract built to protect humankind, living on the train requires sacrifices to maintain balance. Economic classes develop both from the balance and in support of the balance. The upper-class in the front needs the idea of the poor in the back as much as it needs to physically oppress them. Moreover, the poor need to believe in the possibility of revolution just to maintain meaning in their lives. The train is an intricately designed state; meant to allow the human race to continue living safe from the dangers of nature, even if some lives will be more comfortable than others. The point is not to make every person’s life good, but to maintain a balance that will keep humanity in existence, hopefully until nature itself is less brutal.

The architects of this state understood that classes would be necessary, what each class would require to maintain it’s end of the balance, and how to manipulate both sides to facilitate that balance. The philosopher kings control the state through invisible hands that direct the people; deciding where sacrifices are necessary and building mythologies to make these sacrifices palatable. In the back of the train, the mythology is built on the great revolutionary uprisings that are never successful but close enough to give hope. In the front, people are taught to respect and revere the balance – ‘everyone has their place’.

It almost works. And it like it. Snowpiercer is a contemporary exploration of the social contract, continuing the work developed through Hobbs, Locke and of course Rousseau. That said, their are definitely flaws in this film. Leaving aside arguments against it’s philosophical commentary (that would be a whole other kind of blog), Snowpiercer has some pretty annoying holes: Where does the ‘flammable’ industrial waste / narcotic actually come from? What sort of witchcraft powers the train? Why does the train even need to keep moving? Many of the details seem needlessly implausible.

Even so, the acting is good, the story avoids being too obvious, and the ending was nicely
ambiguous. Jesse got it right, well, I assume.



Oldboy (2013)

What Jesse said:

Oldboy was just “icky” kinda like Happiness.

Mike’s verdict:

Oldboy is the Spike Lee remake of Chan-wook Park‘s Oldeuboi, which I’ve previously reviewed. I did not find it icky, nor is it anything even remotely like Happiness.

I gave the original film an 8/10 because I thought that it managed to break through the language barrier well and was entertaining. But looking back I mostly remember it being a little slow, so that likely set the stage for my expectations with the remake. Not surprisingly, the fancy-Hollywood-Spike-Lee version, complete with Samuel L. Jackson, was in no sense slow. This film has all the action and tension that come standard with a Lee film, and it does a very good job of keeping the best aspects of the original. There’s even a rather lengthy homage to some ridiculous scenes in the original that betrays the film’s Korean roots. Without having viewed the original, this particular set of fight scenes will probably feel out of place. But anyone that did watch Oldeuboi first will appreciate them.

There are also a few gruesome scenes that come standard with any Lee film. I covered my eyes for them – I much prefer the Korean style of allowing the viewer to use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

My biggest complaint with the original was that I thought the final twist was too obvious and I worried that this would be the case again. Clearly, I had no hope of being surprised by the remake so I tried to keep this in mind while I was watching. As it turned out, my fear was unwarranted. I think that Lee did a much better job of hiding the twist. Had I not known all along what was happening, I don’t think I would have guessed before the big reveal.

The acting was sound, the settings kept the feel of the original really well, and this version is definitely more accessible to people in North America.

8/10 like the original.

The Host (2006)

The Host-coverWhat Jesse said:

The Host. It’s a monster movie in the classic tradition of monster movies, only it’s different because the effects are brilliant. It really looks like there is a monster. Instead of making a monster that moves all around perfectly like it knows what it’s doing, this one flip-flops around. It moves just like a mutant fish thing really moves.  In fact I think they just hired a real monster for this one. That makes the most sense. I think you’re really going to like this. It’s not like Hollywood monster movies. Hollywood never shells out the cash for a real monster.

Mike’s verdict:

At two hours, this movie is about an hour and 30 minutes too long. It started strong – goofy for sure – but still engaging. Then it descended into just plain boring. By the one hour mark, not only did I start wondering how much longer I had to watch, I actually found myself checking Facebook on my phone. And no, I didn’t hear the chime of a notification first. Apparently my psyche just felt it was time for a dose of cat pictures.

At least up until that point the story made sense. After the one hour mark it turned into some kind of tinfoil hat conspiracy movie. There’s a monster on the loose, but the whole country is preoccupied with tracking down one guy and his family for some reason. I completely lost track of what the ‘bad guys’ were trying to accomplish. And don’t even get me started on the totally random brain surgery scene.

The characters are even worse than the story. They’re all completely annoying; not one of them is a person I’d want to spend two minutes alone in an elevator with. Oh, except for one random homeless guy – he’s pretty funny. If you watch the movie, which I hope you don’t, you’ll know exactly who I mean. That is, assuming you make it to the hour and 45 minute mark.

But even if the producers had come up with a good story and engaging characters, the movie was doomed anyway because the acting is terrible. I’m sure a little bit is lost in translation, but awkward dialog doesn’t account for awkward movement. I’ve seen some amazingly acted foreign films with dubbed sound. This is not one.

I’m giving this a 3/10. I’ll admit that Jesse is right about the monster – it really is life-like. But that doesn’t fix the rest of it.

ps. There was one more thing that bothered me but I didn’t feel it fit into the review. At one point a Korean character is talking to an American character through the use of a Korean / English translator. But I was watching with the official English dubbed voices. The people who recording the dub apparently didn’t notice that the scene required two different languages – so all three characters were speaking in English! It was confusing, and exactly the kind of tiny annoyance that shows lousy craftsmanship. I don’t know how much control the producers have over language dubbing so I didn’t take it into account, but it was still aggravating.