Review: ‘Hunt’ (2022), starring Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung

March 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung in “Hunt” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Hunt” (2022)

Directed by Lee Jung-jae

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in South Korea (and briefly in Washington, D.C., Japan, and Thailand), in 1983, the action film “Hunt” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two agents of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) work together and clash with each other in their efforts to find a mole who has been leaking valuable information. 

Culture Audience: “Hunt” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and complex spy movies.

Lee Jung-jae in “Hunt” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Hunt” sometimes gets too convoluted for its own good, but it offers a mostly engaging mystery for viewers who have the attention span and interest to follow this twist-filled spy thriller that’s set in the 1980s. The movie has commendable acting and enough tension-filled action to keep viewers interested in what’s going to happen next. However, this movie is not going to have much appeal to viewers who want a more straightforward narrative in a spy movie.

Directed by Lee Jung-jae (who co-wrote the “Hunt” screenplay with Jo Seung-hee), “Hunt” has the tried-and-true spy movie plot of a rivalry between colleagues fueling much of the tensions and suspicions in the story. The movie takes place mostly in South Korea, in 1983, the same year that there was an assassination attempt South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan in real life. North Koreans airplane pilots were also defecting to other countries in record numbers in the 1980s. These historical facts are used in the context of “Hunt,” which is Lee’s feature-film debut as a director and writer. “Hunt” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

In “Hunt,” Lee portrays Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) Foreign Unit chief Park Pyong-ho, who often clashes with KCIA Domestic Unit chief Kim Jung-do (played by Jung Woo-sung), because each man thinks he is better than the other. Pyonh-ho has been with the KCIA for 13 years. Jung-do is a former military officer who is newer to the KCIA.

The movie’s opening scene takes place in Washington, D.C., where Pyong-ho and Jung-do have been assigned to the protection team for the South Korean president, who is visiting amid a storm of controversy. During the South Korean president’s arrival at a government event, there are local Korean American protestors outside the building who are angry over the how the return of military rule of the South Korean government.

Although the name of the South Korean president is not in the movie, this part of the movie’s plot is a reference to the real-life Gwangju Uprising of May 1980, when numerous people were killed over protesting military rule of South Korea. President-elect Chun Doo-hwan was largely blamed for this massacre. In the movie, some of the protesters have sign that call the South Korean president a “murderer.”

The head of the CIA’s East Asia unit, whose name is Director Gee (played by Paul Battle), has relayed information that there’s an assassination plot against the South Korean president that is expected to happen at this event. Pyong-ho is ordered to have his team on high alert. And sure enough, the assassination attempt happens, but Pyong-ho is able to thwart it by taking it upon himself to shoot and kill the assassin. Instead of praising Pyong-ho as a hero, Pyong-ho’s boss Director Kang (played Song Young-chang) scolds Pyong-ho for killing the suspect instead of wounding the suspect and taking the suspect into custody.

The investigation into this assassination attempt reveals that an unidentified mole with the code name Donglim is in the KCIA. It leads to Pyong-ho’s team and Jung-do’s team investigating each other. Early on, a economics professor named Shin Ki-Cheol, who was part of the delgation in Washington, is considered to be part of the assassination conspiracy. But is this professor really involved or just a scapegoat?

The people on Pyong-ho’s team include Bang Joo-kyung (played by Jeon Hye-jin) and Agent Yang (played by Jung Man-sik). Jung-do’s team includes Jang Cheol-seong (played by Heo Sung-tae). In between all this espionage intrigue, Pyong-ho has been tasked with protecting a slightly rebellious college student named Jo Yoo-jeong (played by Go Youn-jung), who unfortunately is a character that looks like a token female in this movie where the cast members with significant speaking roles are almost all men.

Under the direction of Lee, “Hunt” does a pretty good job of increasing the suspense, but at the expense of causing more confusion in the plot. The stakes get higher for the characters when Pyong-ho’s team and Jung-do’s team are each convinced that the mole is on the other team. Both teams also want to impress the newly appointed KCIA Director Ahn (played by Kim Jong-soo), who is an ex-military officer. Double-cross plots are uncovered. And the race to find out the identity of Donglim leads to uncovering more assassination plots that take some of the characters to Japan and Thailand.

Lee, who is best known as a star of the Netflix series “Squid Game,” performs admirably in the role of Pyong-ho, always leaving audiences guessing until a certain point in the movie how much Pyong-ho really knows about the Donglim the mole. Woo-sung does very well in his scenes when his Jung-do character has conflicts with Pyong-ho. Will these fierce rivals ever trust each other? And who is Donglim? The movie answers these questions in some ways that are less predictable than others. The last 20 minutes of “Hunt” are an adrenaline-packed knockout that achieves the intentions of “Hunt” to not have a typical ending for a spy movie.

Magnet Releasing released “Hunt” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 2, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on August 10, 2022.

Review: ‘Project Wolf Hunting,’ starring Seo In-guk, Jang Dong-yoon, Sung Dong-il, Park Ho-san, Jung So-min, Ko Chang-seok and Jang Yong-nam

February 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left: Seo In-guk, Ko Chang-seok, Lee Sung-wook, Jang Dong-yoon and Park Ho-san in “Project Wolf Hunting” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Project Wolf Hunting”

Directed by Kim Hong-seon

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly on a ship going from the Philippines to South Korea, the sci-fi/horror/action film “Project Wolf Hunting” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: South Korean criminals, who are being transported by ship from the Philippines to South Korea, take violent control of the ship, and they find out that they have been captured for reasons other than to face criminal charges. 

Culture Audience: “Project Wolf Hunting” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful horror movies and have a high tolerance for watching scenes of bloody violence.

Jang Young-nam and Jung So-min in “Project Wolf Hunting” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Project Wolf Hunting” revels in a lot of gore, but this sci-fi horror movie also has a solid story that’s packed with thrilling action. Plot twists and memorable characters make “Project Wolf Hunting” better than the average bloody horror flick. The movie starts off looking like it will be one type of story, but then it turns into something else that is far more intriguing. “Project Hunting” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Kim Hong-seon, “Project Wolf Hunting” doesn’t waste time before the mayhem starts in the first 15 minutes of its 123-minute total running time. The movie begins by showing several South Korean criminals being escorted by law enforcement officers onto a ship going from the Philippines to South Korea. All of the criminals were arrested and convicted in the Philippines for their crimes, but the convicts are being deported to South Korea to serve out the rest of their prison sentences. At least, that’s what they’ve been told.

A cunning, handsome and ruthless prisoner named Park Jong-doo (played by Seo In-guk) has no intentions of going quietly on this trip. He is a leader who has concocted a plan with some of the other prisoners to take over the ship, in order to escape. The other prisoners who are part of the scheme include Lee Do-il (played by Jang Dong-yoon), a baby-faced killer who is famous; Lee Seok-woo (played by Park Ho-san), who is; and Choi Myeong-ju (played by Jang Young-nam), one of the few women on the ship. Myeong-ju has a secret connection with someone else on the ship, and this secret is eventually revealed.

Before the hostage crisis on the ship happens, several of the police officers are seen gathered in the ship’s kitchen. They express frustration and disdain that the prisoners are getting special treatment by the South Korean government. One of the cops complains, “The perps are getting better food than us.”

Elsewhere on the ship, a severely burned man, who is lying down on a gurney and breathing through a ventilator, is in a secret room that looks like a scientific lab. He has maggots coming out of his mouth. This mystery person is then given an injection. It won’t be the last time that viewers will see this charred-looking and infected person.

The criminals’ hostage plan is set into motion when a guy dressed in a mechanic’s uniform secretly takes a wrench and tampers with a safety bolt on this ship, causing a mechanical malfunction. The ship’s crew is distracted by trying to fix this problem (just as the criminals had planned), when Jong-doo and the rest of his cronies attack the crew and police officers, take weapons, and commit a brutal slaughter. How vicious is Jong-doo? He bites off an ear off of a man, chews up the ear, and then spits it out.

One of the ship’s crew members whose life is spared is Go Kun-bae (played by Ko Chang-seok), because the criminals need a few of the crew members who know the ship’s mechanics, in case anything goes wrong with the ship. Meanwhile, the ship has mysteriously gone off the radar of the South Korean government. A few other characters in the movie have pivotal roles, including a corrupt government official named Chief Pyo (played by Choi Gwi-hwa) with the code name Alpha; the ship’s captain Oh Dae-woong (played by Sung Dong-il); and a young police officer named Lee Da-yeon (played by Jung So-min), one of the other few women in this movie.

“Project Wolf Hunting” has some predictable moments, but there are some plot developments that steer clear of the usual stereotypes. It’s already shown in the movie’s trailers that what’s happening on this ship is somehow related to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 occupation of South Korea. The movie also reveals in the first 15 minutes that the massacre isn’t the only sinister thing happening on this ship.

“Project Wolf Hunting” is certainly not going to win any prestigious awards. And some of the violence is very excessive. However, Seo’s performance as the evil gang leader Jong-doo is riveting but might be too disturbing for some viewers. What makes “Project Wolf Hunting” a twist-filled story is that Jong-doo might or might not be the movie’s biggest villain. And who ends up in the final showdown cannot be easily predicted in the movie’s first 15 minutes.

“Project Wolf Hunting” has well-paced action, competent acting and some social commentary about how governments can treat prisoners and other people whom society has deemed “undesirable.” It’s not a groundbreaking film, but the plot surprises are indications that the filmmakers made an effort not to stick to the usual formulas found in similar sci-fi horror movies. Viewers who think they’ll want to watch all of “Project Wolf Hunting” just have to prepared to see many gruesome depictions of humanity at its worst.

Well Go USA released “Project Wolf Hunting” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on September 21, 2022. “Project Wolf Hunting” was released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on February 14, 2023.

Review: ‘The Point Men’ (2023), starring Hwang Jung-min, Hyun Bin and Kang Ki-young

February 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kang Ki-young, Hyun Bin and Hwang Jung-min in “The Point Men” (Photo courtesy of 815 Pictures)

“The Point Men” (2023)

Directed by Yim Soon-rye

Korean, Dari and Pashto with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2006, in Afghanistan and in South Korea, the action film “The Point Men” (inspired by true events) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A diplomat, a National Intelligence Service agent and a coordinator/interpreter from South Korea have conflicts and challenges in trying to rescue 23 South Korean missionaries who are being held hostage in Afghanistan. 

Culture Audience: “The Point Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in an action-movie version of a hostage crisis.

Hwang Jung-min, Kang Ki-young and Hyun Bin in “The Point Men” (Photo courtesy of 815 Pictures)

As an action film inspired by true events, “The Point Men” can be flawed and often formulaic. However, the movie is appealing for the three charismatic central performances of the negotiators who sometimes clash with each other during a hostage crisis. In addition, “The Point Men” (which also has the title “Bargaining”) offers a web of intrigue, as betrayals and questionable identities have an impact on this rescue mission.

Directed by Yim Soon-rye and written by Ahn Yeong-su, “The Point Men” is inspired by the real-life 2007 crisis of 23 Christian missionaries from South Korea being held hostage by Taliban kidnappers in Afghanistan. “The Point Men” changes the year of this kidnapping from 2007 to 2006, with the movie taking place from September to December 2006. Some of the action sequences are very over-the-top and obviously did not happen in real life, but “The Point Men” is not intended to be completely factual in telling this story.

“The Point Men” begins in a remote area of Afghanistan, on September 19, 2006: the day of the kidnapping. (The movie was actually filmed in Jordan.) The 23 Christian missionaries from South Korea are on a bus that is hijacked by armed Taliban terrorists, who force everyone off of the bus and then plant an explosive in the bus to completely destroy it. The unnamed Taliban leader (played by Fahim Fazli) who masterminded this kidnapping is both ruthless and fickle.

At first, the kidnappers say that they will let the 23 hostages go if 23 Taliban inmates are released from Afghanistan prisons. However, the terms of the deal and the deadlines to meet the kidnappers’ demands keep changing. At one point, the kidnappers demand a small fortune in ransom money. The Afghanistan government refuses to release any Taliban prisoners, much to the frustration of the South Korean government.

The South Korean government has sent several officials to Afghanistan to negotiate for the release of the hostages. The diplomat who has been appointed the chief negotiator is Jung Jae-ho (played by Hwang Jung-min), who thinks of himself as someone who has a strong morality and effective negotiating skills. Jae-ho is unfamiliar with a lot of Afghan customs, so he is ordered to get help from National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent named Park Dae-sik (played by Hyun Bin), who has been embedded in Afghanistan for a number of years. Dae-sik works with a coordinator/interpreter named Qasim, also known as Lee Bong-han (played by Kang Ki-young), who can speak Korean and the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto.

Dae-sik is first seen getting out of jail in Afghanistan, after serving a sentence of about three or four months for counterfeiting. It’s the first sign that Dae-sik is a roguish agent who might not hesitate to break rules to get what he wants. By contrast, Jae-ho is very “by the book,” and doesn’t want to violate any laws in this negotiation process. Dae-sik tends to be impulsive and would rather take part in a combat rescue mission to get the hostages free, while Jae-ho is very methodical and thinks that non-violent negotiations are the best way to free the hostages.

It’s a formula that’s been used in countless action movies that pair up protagonists of opposite personalities who have to find a way to work together despite their differences. The older person in this partnership is usually the more cautious one, while the younger person is more of a risk-taker. If a third person is along for the ride, that person usually has the role of the goofy sidekick. And that’s exactly what Qasim/Lee Bong-han is, since he provides most of the movie’s comic relief.

“The Point Men” has a very good balance of showing the type of discussions that take place in government offices during a hostage crisis and the physical work that takes place outside of government office buildings during these types of missions. Jae-ho is often frustrated by Afghanistan’s unnamed minister of foreign affairs (played by Iyad Hajjaj), because this Afghan government official doesn’t seem very willing to help the South Koreans. Meanwhile, Dae-sik and Qasim spend a lot of time meeting with members of the Taliban in various locations, in attempts to get information helpful to their mission.

It doesn’t take long before the tension-filled action starts. Jae-ho and some other South Korean officials get stuck in traffic on their way to an important meeting in the Afghan capital city of Kabul. They try to bypass the long line of vehicles by dangerously going into a lane for traffic going in the opposite direction. But that doesn’t work either, since they encounter another roadblock. Just as they are about to get out and walk, a suicide bomber gets out of a car and detonates the area, injuring several people, including Jae-ho.

This harrowing incident is a reminder to Jae-ho that his life could be a stake in addition to the hostages’ lives. Two of his colleagues who are with him on this mission are Vice Minister Kim (played by Jung Jae-sung) and Secretary Cha (played by Jeon Sung-woo), Meanwhile, a mysterious Afghan British businessman named Abdullah (played by Brian Larkin) offers to help because he says that he has been successful with previous hostage negotiations. Dae-sik thinks that Abdullah could be an important ally, while Jae-ho is very skeptical.

“The Point Men” goes along at a fairly energetic pace, although some parts of the movie’s plot has people getting out of difficult situations a lot easier than they would in real life. The dynamics between Jae-ho, Dae-sik, Qasim/Lee Bong-han are among the highlights of the movie, since Hwan, Hyun and Kang embody these roles in ways that are always watchable. The movie shows the expected bickering as well as the evolving respect that develops between these three rescuers.

“The Point Men” falters in how little screen time is given to showing the hostages. A few hostages are mentioned by name and by occupation. And there are scenes of the hostages huddling in fear in their place of captivity. But the hostages are essentially background characters. The movie’s ending is a little too contrived, but there’s enough in “The Point Men” to hold the interest of anyone looking for a high-octane “heroes versus villains” story that takes place during the war in Afghanistan.

815 Pictures released “The Point Men” in select U.S. cinemas on January 27, 2023. The movie was released in South Korea on January 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Broker’ (2022), starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Doona Bae, Lee Ji-eun and Lee Joo-young

December 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Lee Ji-eun, Gang Dong-won, Song Kang-ho and Park Ji-yong in “Broker” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Broker” (2022)

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the dramatic film “Broker” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Two working-class men, who are in the business of brokering illegal adoptions, go on a tension-filled journey with a young mother who wants decide which family will buy and raise her baby. 

Culture Audience: “Broker” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Song Kang-ho, filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, and movies people who form an unlikely family bond.

Doona Bae and Lee Joo-young in “Broker” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Suspenseful, amusing, and sometimes heartbreaking, “Broker” tells a memorable story about three people who find more than they bargained for when they attempt to sell a baby. The baby’s sassy mother insists on being able to choose who will get the child. “Broker” does not condone selling of children. Instead, it takes an unflinching look at the emotional toll of illegal adoptions.

Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, “Broker” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Ecumenical Jury Award and the Best Actor Award (for Song Kang-ho). “Broker” also made the rounds at other major film festivals in 2022, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival. It’s a movie that doesn’t preach or offer easy answers but presents a fascinating portrait of what desperate human beings will do.

Hirokazu’s 2018 film “Shoplifters” won the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize—the Palme d’Or—in 2018, and received an Oscar nomination for the category that was then known as Best Foreign Language Film. “Broker” might get some comparisons to “Shoplifters,” because both movies have themes about outlaws who form a family-like bond. However, “Broker” moves at a much quicker pace and has much more satirical and occasionally comedically absurd moments than “Shoplifters.”

“Broker” (which takes place in South Korea) takes viewers on an unusual journey that finds strangers’ lives intertwined with each other in unexpected ways. Ha Sang-hyeon (played by Song) is a mild-mannered owner of a small business that does laundry by hand. His ultra-confident friend Kim Dong-soo (played by Gang Dong-won) works part-time at a church that operates a small orphanage that has about 20 of various ages at any given time. Sang-hyeon is in his 50s, while Dong-soo is about 10 years younger. They are not biologically related to each other but have a relationship that’s a lot like what an older brother and a younger brother would have.

Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo are also bonded by a big secret: They sometimes sell babies who’ve been abandoned at the church. Sang-hyeon is usually the one who does the actual abductions, while Dong-soo helps by deleting the church’s surveillance videos that would show the babies being left at the church and Sang-hyeon doing the kidnapping. Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo believe that what they’re doing isn’t so bad because they are placing the babies in homes where the children are wanted. Most of their clients are married couples who are having infertility problems.

The opening scene of “Broker” shows a baby boy being left at the church by the baby’s single mother. The church has a 24-hour “drop box” where babies can be left, with no questions asked. As the mother leaves, she is being observed by two female undercover police officers are doing a stakeout in their car. These two cops are investigating suspicions that babies abandoned at this church are being sold on the black market.

The police officers on this stakeout are Soo-jin (played by Bae Doona, also known as Doona Bae) and her younger cop partner Detective Lee (played by Lee Joo-young), who often defers to the more-experienced Soo-jin. It’s shown from the opening scene that Soo-jin is much more judgmental than Detective Lee about women who abandoned their children. Soo-jin says when she watches the young mother leave her baby at the church: “If you have a baby, you shouldn’t abandon it.”

The mother who left behind her baby boy at the church has left a note with the child. The note says, “Woo-sung, I’m sorry. I’ll come back for you.” Sang-hyeon comments to Dong-soo that it’s highly unlikely that the mother will come back for the baby, so Sang-hyeon tells Dong-soo to delete the surveillance video that the baby was left at the church. Sang-hyeon then takes the baby to his home.

Sang-hyeon’s assumption that the mother wouldn’t come back ends up being a very wrong assumption. The mother, who’s in her 20s, is named Moon So-young (played by Lee Ji-eun), and she returns to the church to get her baby Woo-sung (played by Park Ji-yong). So-young is concerned and then outraged to find out that the child isn’t there. She won’t leave until Woo-sung is brought back to the church.

Dong-soo tells her, “Even if we find the baby, there’s no proof that you’re the mother.” Sang-hyeon says to her, “Think of us as cupids who will embrace your precious child. We promise to find the best parents to raise Woo-Sung.” So-young replies, “Benevolence, my ass. You’re just brokers.”

So-young has not only figured out that Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo illegally sell babies, she wants in on the deal to broker the adoption of her baby. So-young has one condition though: She wants to be the one to approve who will get the baby and the sale price. So-young knows that boys are more valued in this patriarchal culture than girls, so she believes she should get a higher price for her baby son, compared to if she had a baby daughter.

And so begins a sometimes messy and tension-filled journey, as So-young insists on accompanying Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo when they travel to different cities in South Korea to meet with potential adoptive parents for Woo-Sung. (A great deal of the movie takes place in Busan.) Through a series of circumstances, an 8-year-old boy named Hae-jin (played by Im Seung-soo), from the church orphanage, gets mixed up in these hijinks. Hae-jin has grown emotionally attached to Sang-hyeon and wants to tag along on these road trips.

Meanwhile, some people are hot on the trail of this motley crew of baby brokers. The two undercover cops, who have identified Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo as the chief suspects and want to catch them in the act of selling a baby, in order to arrest Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo. Meanwhile, Dong-soo is a gambling addict who is heavily in debt to a gangster named Shin Tae-ho (played by Ryu Kyung-Soo), who goes with some of his thugs to track down Dong-soo.

A few things about “Broker” require a suspension of disbelief. It’s mentioned more than once in the film that law enforcement believes that Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo are part of a major crime ring that sells babies. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make sense that there only two cops doing the surveillance. The movie has some intentionally comical moments where Soo-jin and Detective Lee bungle the investigation or just have very bad luck.

Despite a few plot holes, one of the best things about “Broker” is the development of the characters. So-young isn’t as cold and calculating as she first appears to be. Over time, her apparent greed in wanting to sell Woo-Sung to the highest bidder is revealed to be something more than just being money-hungry. And where is Woo-Sung’s father? That question is answered in the movie.

“Broker” shows the highs and lows of this group of outlaws and two children who end up becoming a makeshift family. The movie has the expected scenes of people bickering, but “Broker” also organically shows how even with the arguments, these seemingly mismatched cronies learn to trust each other. There are some adrenaline-packed action scenes, but some of the movie’s best moments happen during revealing conversations when these characters find out more about each other, including emotional vulnerabilities and some dark secrets.

All of the cast members handle their roles very well, but Song (as Sang-hyeon) and Lee Ji-eun (as So-young) are the ones who have the most believable characters and give the best performances in the film. “Broker” offers different perspectives of why people want to buy and sell babies. The movie also gives realistic depictions of the consequences of making these decisions. “Broker” lets views make up their own minds on how to feel about it all. Even though parts of the film are predictable, there’s at least one plot twist that many viewers won’t expect, making “Broker” better than the average movie about illegal adoptions.

Neon released “Broker” in New York City on December 26, 2022, and in Los Angeles on December 28, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on January 6, 2023. The movie was released in South Korea on June 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Decibel’ (2022), starring Kim Rae-won, Lee Jong-suk, Jung Sang-hoon, Park Byung-eun and Cha Eun-woo

December 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kim Rae-won in “Decibel” (Photo courtesy of Shaw Entertainment Group)

“Decibel” (2022)

Directed by Hwang In-ho

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the action film “Decibel” features an all-South Korean cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former lieutenant commander of the Korean Navy is targeted by a terrorist bomber who has planted several bombs in public places, and the bombs will detonate if the decibel reaches a certain level in each place.

Culture Audience: “Decibel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-paced action flicks that occasonally get far-fetched but will keep viewers in suspense.

Lee Jong-suk in “Decibel” (Photo courtesy of Shaw Entertainment Group)

If you want to watch a movie about a race against time before several bombs go off, then “Decibel” is fairly good choice. It has some predictable moments, but the thrilling action and solid acting performances bring this suspenseful ‘hunt for a terrorist bomber’ movie into an above-average level. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking in the story though. The movie has a few plot twists that aren’t as surprising as intended.

Directed by Hwang In-ho (who co-wrote the “Decibel” screenplay with Lee Jin-hoon), “Decibel” sticks to a familiar formula that similar movies have already followed. An unhinged terrorist is setting off bombs and is threatening to kill more people by bombing. Someone with a background in law enforcement or the military emerges as the leader who is most likely to find the culprit. And before the end of the movie, there are many chase scenes and physical fights.

In “Decibel,” the bomber has used the tactic of planting his bombs in public areas and making his bombs get triggered if the decibel in the area reaches a certain level. The bomber has decided to target Kang Do-young (played by Kim Rae-won), a former lieutenant commander of the Korean Navy. Do-young, a respected and retired military official, has been hailed as a hero who was credited with saving 22 of the 44 men who died on a sinking submarine ship named Roks Halla that was under command.

The official cause of the ship sinking was that it was a rare accident. There are flashbacks throughout the movie that show what happened on the ship, which was trapped underwater for several days. One of the Korean Navy officers who was part of the Roks Halla crew was Jeon Tae-ryong (played by Cha Eun-woo), a submarine sound detection officer whose skills were crucial in determining the activities and sound levels outside the sunken submarine.

And when Do-young starts getting calls from an anonymous bomber who dares Do-young to find the bombs before they explode, it’s pretty obvious that Do-young is being targeted for a reason. What the bomber looks like is revealed in the trailer for “Decibel” and early on in the movie, but it’s not revealed until near the end of the film what his motives are. It’s later revealed that is name is Jung Tae-sung (played by Lee Jong-suk), who remains anonymous to Do-young and law-enforcement officials up until a certain point in the movie.

Tae-sung communicates mainly through phone calls that he places to Do-young. Tae-sung knows a lot about Do-young and the Korean Navy to make it obvious that Tae-sung has some connection to the Korean Navy. This terrorist bomber is cold and calculating. However, the movie makes it too obvious why Tae-sung chose Do-young to get these phone calls about the bombs.

Tae-sung has placed bombs in places such as a public aquarium, a stadium during a soccer match, a public swimming pool and a playground. Tae-sung calls Do-young to taunt him and give him somewhat of a head start to see if So-young will be successful in getting the place evacuated and finding the bomb on time before it detonates. In one of the movie’s gripping sequences, Tae-sung tells Do-young that he has to choose between going to the public swimming pool or the playground to find the planted bomb, because Tae-sung has decided that both bombs could go off at the same time.

Do-young isn’t on the hunt alone for this terrorist bomber. Cha Young-han (played by Park Byung-eun) is the agent in charge of the Defense Security Support Command. Viewers of “Decibel” will see a lot of scenes with Young-han running around in business suits with other suit-wearing agents, as he barks orders and gets frustrated that Do-young has taken it upon himself to be the hero of this mission. Young-han is a bomb expert, but Do-young is not, as Young-han likes to remind Do-young.

Do-young also gets an unlikely sidekick during this frantic search for the bombs and the bomber. A journalist named Oh Dae-oh (played by Jung Sang-hoon) has decided to tag along with Do-young because Dae-oh wants an exclusive, eyewitness story about the hunt for this bomber. Do-young thinks Dae-oh is an annoying distraction and tries to get this persistent journalist to leave. But Dae-oh refuses to leave, which results in multiple scenes of (action movie cliché alert) the untrained person who is along for the ride with the hero and gets frightened and agitated the most because this newbie is not prepared to fight the villains.

“Decibel” also has another cliché subplot that involves who gets kidnapped and taken hostage. Do-young’s wife is Jang Yoo-jung (played by Lee Sang-hee), who happens to be an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) sergeant for the Korean Navy. Yoo-jang and Do-young have a daughter named Seol-Young, who is about 9 or 10 years old. You can easily guess that Do-young’s family members will become targets of the bomber too.

Dae-oh’s wife (played by Kim Seul-ki, also known as Kim Seul-gi) is a police officer, who doesn’t believe that Dae-oh is on this dangerous mission, until she and her colleagues find out in a way that is of great embarrassment to her. The relationship between Dae-oh and his wife is the source of the movie’s comic relief. Dae-oh feels somewhat emasculated because he’s married to a police officer, so he feels he has to do something brave to prove his masculinity. These two spouses often bicker but they also love each other, which is why their arguments aren’t meant to be taken that seriously in the movie.

All of the cast members plays their roles in ways that make “Decibel” more interesting than a typical action flick. The obvious standouts are Kim and Lee as the “hero” and the “villain,” who are caught in a furious competition to outwit each other, with one character wanting to save lives, and the other character wanting to destroy lives. Kim is very skilled at conveying the intense pressure that Do-young feels in this life-or-death mission, while Lee has a flair for portraying a criminal who is so obsessed with his intentions, he no longer values human life. Jung is also quite good in his “Decibel” role where he has to balance drama and comedy as a journalist who gets more than he expected in pursuing an exclusive news story.

The high-octane action sequences of “Decibel” bring a lot of sizzle to this movie that has a very simple concept. The concept is wrapped in layers that unfold mainly in the flashbacks that reveal more clues about the terrorist’s motives. Although the answer to this mystery isn’t original or exceptionally clever, “Decibel” still brings some emotional gravitas to a story that could have easily been a hollow action movie if the filmmakers and cast members had mishandled everything.

Shaw Entertainment Group released “Decibel” in select U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on November 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Alienoid,’ starring Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Tae-ri, So Ji-sub, YuYum Jung-ah, Jo Woo-jin, Kim Eui-sung and Lee Hanee

November 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kim Woo-bin in “Alienoid” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)


Directed by Choi Dong-hoon

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1380s, 1390s, the 2010s and the 2020s, the South Korean sci-fi action film “Alienoid” features an all-Asian cast of characters portraying humans, aliens, supernatural beings, robots and mutants.

Culture Clash: A robot and a supernatural creature travel through time to manage and guard Alien prisoners trapped in human bodies, when they encounter a teenage girl who gets involved in the possession of the Crystal Knife that is the source of the prisoner guards’ superpowers.

Culture Audience: “Alienoid” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching ambitiously told science-fiction movies that require an active imagination to process everything that happens in the story.

Kim Tae-ri in “Alienoid” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Alienoid” can be a little too convoluted with plot developments that are jumbled into different timelines. However, this sci-fi adventure has plenty of orginal storytelling and interesting characters to keep viewers intrigued. People who don’t have the patience to sift through all the layers in the story might be turned off by this movie. That’s why “Alienoid” is best appreciated if watched without any distractions.

Written and directed by Choi Dong-hoon, “Alienoid” is about the ongoing conflicts in a universe where Alien prisoners are kept in human bodies, without the humans knowing about it. Certain beings who are the guards of the prisoners are tasked with ensuring that the prisoners don’t escape from these bodies. The movie compares these escapes to a “jailbreak.” The prisoners trapped in the bodies are supposed to die when the humans die.

Alien prisoners have varying powers. Therefore, some Alien prisoners are more successful than others in escaping. However, on Earth, the Aliens only have about five minutes to live outside of a human body because of the Earth’s atmosphere, which is why some Aliens try to escape to other planets in the short time that they have to live outside of a host human body on Earth. When an Alien escapes from a host human body, that human can die as a result, if the Alien chooses to kill the human.

“Alienoid” has a large ensemble cast that might make the movie look overstuffed with characters. However, viewers should know in advance that the movie’s multi-layered storyline is essentially rooted in these four characters:

  • Guard (played by Kim Woo-bin) is a supernatural being who can transform into looking human and has been tasked to manage and guard Alien prisoners and place them in human hosts. Guard gets his powers from a special weapon called the Crystal Knife.
  • Thunder (voiced by Kim Dae-myung) is a robot that is Guard’s work partner/sidekick that can shapeshift into things (such as transportation vehicles and ships), as well as transform into looking human. Thunder also gets his powers from the Crystal Knife.
  • Lee Ahn (played by Kim Tae-ri) is a mysterious woman who can shoot thunder and plays a key role in the possession of the Crystal Knife.
  • Mureuk (played by Ryu Jun-yeol) is a Taoist swordsman who calls himself Marvelous Mureuk is sometimes physically awkward and emotionally insecure.

The movie goes back and forth between the 1380s, the 1390s, the 2010s and the 2020s. “Alienoid” begins in 1380, when an Alien prisoner has escaped from the body of a woman named Hong Eon-nyeon (played by Jeon Yeo-been), so Guard and Thunder have arrived to try to capture this escaped prisoner. Eon-nyeon knows she’s going to die, so she begs Thunder to take care of her baby daughter, whose name is Yian.

Guard and Thunder bring the baby to the future, in the year 2012. Guard, who is the one who’s more likely to be in human form, raises Yian as her single father. He does not tell her the truth about who he is until Yian (played by Choi Yu-ri) is 10 years old, in 2022. Yian was already suspicious that her father was a robot, because she was telling people that her father is a robot who experimented on her brain. Guard also mysteriously disappears every night at 9 p.m.

It should come as no surprise that the Crystal Knife ends up getting lost, and there’s a battle of good versus evil to get possession of the Crystal Knife. Along the way, many more characters get involved. Some are more eccentric than others. These characters include:

  • Moon Do-seok (played by So Ji-sub) is a detective who is being pursued by Aliens.
  • Heug-seol, (played by Yum Jung-ah), also known as Madam Black, is a sorcerer from Samgaksan.
  • Cheong-woon (played by Jo Woo-jin), also known as Mr. Blue, is a sorcerer from Samgaksan
  • Dog Turd (played by Kim Ki-cheon) is an enemy of Mureuk.
  • Hyun-gam (played by Yoo Jae-myung), also known as Master Hyun, is a Yellow Mountain resident who bought the Crystal Knife.

The hyperactive tone of “Alienoid” just might be too dizzying for some viewers. The action scenes in “Alienoid” are thrilling but can lose their thrill if viewers are confused by what’s going on in the story. All of the cast members are perfectly adequate in their acting skills, but no one is going to win any major awards for “Alienoid.”

“Alienoid” has touches of occasional comedy that work well, since the movie doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously. The visual effects, production design and costume design are among the best assets of “Alienoid,” which leaves a strong visual impression, even when things movie gets a little too cluttered with its time-jumping antics. Some of the twists in the story are very easy to predict, but the biggest surprise is left for the end of the movie. Ultimately, “Alienoid” is a movie made for sci-fi enthusiasts, and it dares viewers to keep up with its high-speed array of ideas.

Well Go USA released “Alienoid” in select U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie will be released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on December 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Remember’ (2022), starring Lee Sung-min and Nam Joo-hyuk

November 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Lee Sung-min and Nam Joo-hyuk in “Remember” (Photo courtesy of 815 Pictures)

“Remember” (2022)

Directed by Lee Il-hyung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the action film “Remember” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An 80-year-old man with a brain tumor and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease acts out a murderous revenge plan that he wants to complete before he dies. 

Culture Audience: “Remember” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspense thrillers about vendettas.

Lee Sung-min in “Remember” (Photo courtesy of 815 Pictures)

Some aspects of the action flick “Remember” are entirely predictable, but it’s still a suspenseful thrill ride with better-than-average acting. This story about revenge and terminal illness brings some freshness to its familiar ideas. “Remember” also has some commentary about the fallouts of colonialism and war, and how those repercussions can pass on through generations.

Written and directed by Lee Il-hyung, “Remember” (which takes place in an unnamed city in South Korea) is told from the perspective of 80-year-old Han Pil-Joo (played by Lee Sung-min), nicknamed Freddie, who at first seems to be a mild-mannered, friendly senior citizen. He works as a server at a T.G.I.F. restaurant. During the Christmas holiday season, he dresses up as Santa Claus and entertains the customers.

Pil-joo’s closest friend at his job is a cook in his 20s named In-gyu (played by Nam Joo-hyuk), who sees Pil-joo as a grandfather figure. In-gyu, a bachelor who lives alone, looks up to Pil-joo and sees Pil-joo as someone whom he can turn to for advice. During the course of the story, Pil-joo and In-gyu get caught up in a dangerous and deadly conspiracy where their trust in each other is tested.

Pil-joo has some big secrets that are eventually revealed in different parts of the story. As already shown in the movie’s trailer, one of his secrets is that he’s dying of a terminal illness: He has a brain tumor and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The other secret (also revealed in the “Remember” trailer) is that he has a plan to murder several people, one by one, as part of a revenge plan.

Pil-joo begins his revenge plan after his wife dies in a hospital from an unnamed illness. He has a secret collection of newspaper clippings and other information related to this revenge plan. Pil-joo is a veteran of the Vietnam War, but his vendetta has to do with Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 and 1945.

Why is Pil-Joo out for revenge? During Japan’s takeover of Korea, his family suffered devastating consequences. His father (a farmer in Yangju) was framed for a crime, arrested, tortured, and died while in custody. Pil-joo’s mother had a mental breakdown and was put in a psychiatric facility, where she died. Pil-joo’s brother was deceived by a friend and sentenced to a labor camp, where he died while working in a mine. Pil-joo’s sister was forced to be a sex slave for Japanese soldiers, and she eventually committed suicide.

Before he carries out his planned executions, Pil-joo films himself making a video stating that he has a brain tumor and Alzheimer’s disease. He also makes a statement explaining that the people he will murder are the people responsible for destroying his family. All of the people he wants to murder are elderly men who were directly involved in betraying or causing the downfall of Pil-joo’s now-deceased parents and siblings.

Because of his declining health, Pil-joo enlists an unsuspecting accomplice to these murders: his restaurant co-worker In-gyu. Pil-joo tells In-gyu that he will pay In-gyu to drive Pil-joo to certain locations, because Pil-joo says that he let his own driver’s license expire. Pil-joo also says that he has a “bucket list” of people he wants to visit before he dies.

The car they use isn’t exactly an anonymous-looking vehicle: It’s a red Porsche. It’s a somewhat ridiculous part of the movie that Pil-joo wants his getaway car to be something that’s easily identifiable. However, the movie gives somewhat of a plausible explanation.

When In-gyu asks how Pil-joo was able to afford a Porsche, Pil-joo says that the Porsche is actually an unregistered vehicle that can’t be traced back to him. In-gyu doesn’t ask why the vehicle is unregistered. In-gyu is just happy to be able to drive a Porsche.

The trailer for “Remember” already shows that Pil-joo carries out some of the killings, and In-gyu discovers the real reason why Pil-joo hired him to be Pil-joo’s driver. By the time that In-gyu finds out that he’s been an accomplice to murder, he’s in too deep. The police announce to the media that they have a blurry surveillance camera video and an eyewitness sighting of a young man at one of the murder scenes, so In-gyu becomes paranoid about being blamed for the murder because he fits the description.

In-gyu begs Pil-joo to turn himself in to the police, but Pil-joo refuses to do that until he kills everyone on his hit list. He assures In-gyu that when he turns himself in for the murders, he will do everything possible to not let In-gyu be blamed for the crimes. Pil-joo promises that he will tell the authorities that In-gyu was forced to help Pil-joo commit these murders. In-gyu has a big secret of his own that Pil-joo gets involved with and makes both In-gyu and Pil-joo a possible target to be killed.

Hot on the trail of solving these murders is a police detective named Kang Young-sik (played by Jung Man-sik), who is a smart and formidable opponent to Pil-joo. A retired and respected military veteran named Kim Chi-duk (played by Park Geun-hyung) is the biggest target on Pil-joo’s hit list. Pil-joo wants to save that murder for last.

What “Remember” lacks in originality it makes up for with a lot of tension-filled action and believable performances from the principal cast members. The movie puts forth questions about how sympathetic Pil-joo should really be, just because he’s elderly and dying. Lee’s portrayal of Pil-joo adeptly occupies that gray area of being neither a complete hero nor a complete villain.

Nam also gives a convincing performance as In-gyu, who becomes confused and terrified for most of the movie, but who is often Pil-joo’s only moral compass. “Remember” is not just a mindless film that shows people getting murdered. The movie also offers thoughtful messages about the emotional cost of holding grudges and how people who act out deadly revenge plans are usually hurting themselves too.

815 Pictures released “Remember” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on October 26, 2022.

Review: ‘Emergency Declaration,’ starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan, Kim So-jin and Park Hae-joon

November 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Yim Si-wan in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration”

Directed by Han Jae-rim

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly on a plane flight from South Korea to Hawaii, the action film “Emergency Declaration” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A plane carrying about 150 passengers about gets hijacked by a mysterious stranger and has to make an emergency landing. 

Culture Audience: “Emergency Declaration” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspenseful movies about airplane crises.

Song Kang-ho in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration” does not do anything groundbreaking in its depiction of an airplane hijacking, but this action flick delivers plenty of suspense to make it memorable. The movie’s acting performances are also worth seeing. The scenarios portrayed in the movie are so harrowing, people who have a fear of flying will probably be even more afraid after seeing “Emergency Declaration.” The movie’s total running time is about two hours and 20 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long, because the pace doesn’t drag.

Written and directed by Han Jae-rim, “Emergency Declaration” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in France) follows an expected formula for plane hijacking movies. Some of the passengers are first seen in the airport before boarding the plane. There’s at least one person on board the plane who’s acting suspiciously because their plan is to hijack the plane. And then all hell breaks loose.

In “Emergency Declaration,” the ill-fated airplane flight is Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501, going from Seoul to Hawaii. The plane is carrying 150 passengers. Two of these passengers are Park Jae-hyuk (played by Lee Byung-hun) and his daughter Soo-min (played by Kim Bo-min), who’s about 9 or 10 years old and has skin eczema. (Her skin condition becomes an issue later in the story.)

At the airport, a man in his mid-30s, who viewers later find out is named Ryu Jin-seok (played by Yim Si-wan, also known as Im Si-wan and Siwan), approaches a ticket agent at Sky Korea Airlines to buy a ticket. “I want to go someplace where a lot of people go,” he tells the female agent. She suggests Hawaii and tells him that the next plane to Hawaii is leaving on Flight 501.

Jin-seok asks the ticket agent how many people are on the flight. When the ticket agent tells him that she doesn’t have the authority to tell him that information, he looks annoyed and walks away. And then, Jin-seok walks back to the ticket agent and coldly tells her: “For God’s sake, don’t smile like that. You look like a whore.”

In a private area at the airport, Jin-seok places a vial underneath his right arm by cutting his arm and sewing in the vial. His hateful remark to the ticket agent already showed that he’s a nasty person. But once he sews a vial into his arm, you just know that this passenger will probably be up to no good with that vial when he gets on the plane.

Meanwhile, a police detective in his 50s named Gu In-ho (played by Song Kang-ho) has been scheduled to be on this flight with his wife Gu Hye-yoon (played by Woo Mi-hwa), because the spouses are taking a vacation. However, In-ho has to cancel being on the flight because he’s suddenly called to be at work for an emergency: A man uploaded a video threatening to hijack a South Korean plane that day. Hye-yoon decides she will take the trip by herself.

In the waiting area before boarding the flight, protective father Jae-hyuk notices that Jin-seok has been staring at Jae-hyuk and his daughter Soo-min. Jin-seok begins asking Jae-hyuk personal questions, such as where they are going and if Jae-hyuk is married. Jae-hyuk says that they’re going to Hawaii, but he’s starting to feel uneasy around this nosy stranger.

Jin-seok starts asking more personal questions. Jae-hyuk gets so uncomfortable, he eventually snaps at Jin-seok and tells him to mind his own business. Jin-seok then decides to buy a one-way ticket to Hawaii on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501. In the X-ray area before boarding the flight, Jin-seok has an inhaler that’s detected. He tells the security employees that he has an inhaler for asthma.

Meanwhile, police have burst into an apartment and found the bloody corpse of a man encased in plastic. The initial cause of death is determined to be poisoning. This man was apparently killed by the same poison that killed some rats in a glass tank nearby. It won’t come as too much of a surprise that this death has something to do with what happens on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501.

On the flight, Jae-hyuk is unsettled when he sees that Jin-seok is on the same plane, which eventually takes off for its destination. He tells a flight attendant about the uncomfortable encounter that he and Soo-min had with Jin-seok, and that this stranger could be a suspicious passenger. Jae-hyuk feels even more uneasy when he sees Jin-seok put something under Jin-seok’s armpit.

When Jae-hyuk reports this suspicious act to a flight attendant, Jin-seok denies that he did anything wrong. Jin-seok also says that he’s a scientist on his way to a convention in Hawaii. But, of course, Jin-seok is not the harmless passenger he pretends to be. And you can easily guess what happens next.

The rest of “Emergency Declaration” shows the chaos that ensues when Jin-seok takes the plane hostage. He’s not armed with a gun, but he has another weapon that causes damage to people on the plane. In-ho becomes the police detective who gets involved in the rescue mission, which is obviously very personal for him because his wife is on the plane.

Other people on the ground who are involved in the rescue mission are transport minister Kim Sook-hee (played by Jeon Do-yeon) and a presidential crisis management center chief named Tae-su (played by Park Hae-joon), who try to assist the plane in making an emergency landing, in addition yo trying to negotiate with the hostage taker. On the plane, a co-pilot named Choi Hyun-soo (played by Kim Nam-gil) and a flight attendant named Hee-jin (played by Kim So-jin) are the main people who try to keep the plane passengers as calm as possible, which is no easy task because there is some death on this plane.

In addition to the nerve-racking action that takes place in the movie, there’s the mystery of Jin-seok and why he decided to hijack this plane. This mystery unfolds during the story and the answers are eventually revealed. The movie drops major clues before Jin-seok took the plane hostage, so observant viewers probably won’t be surprised when his secrets are revealed.

However, the revelation is still compelling enough, because it explains why there is such an urgent “race against time” aspect to the story. The performances by Song and Yim stand out because they are written to be the most obvious opponents in this crisis and therefore have the most emotional depth. It’s a classic “good versus evil” plot, but Jin-seok’s motivations for his heinous crimes are explained enough so that he’s not portrayed as just a shallow villain who wants to kill people.

The editing and cinematography of “Emergency Declaration” are so well-done, some viewers will feel like they’re experiencing the terror along with the passengers, as well as the anxiety of the rescuers on the ground. The movie’s storyline doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. However, “Emergency Declaration” will make viewers think more about why this type of hijacking occurs in real life and to look for any warning signs to possibly prevent it.

Well Go USA released “Emergency Declaration” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on January 22, 2022. “Emergency Declaration” is set for release on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on November 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Decision to Leave,’ starring Park Hae-il and Tang Wei

October 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tang Wei and Park Hae-il in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave”

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Korean and Chinese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020 and 2021 in the South Korean cities of Busan and Ipo, the dramatic film “Decision to Leave” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A police detective becomes emotionally involved with a widow whom he investigates in the suspicious death of her wealthy husband.

Culture Audience: “Decision to Leave” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Park Chan-wook and well-made psychological dramas that keep viewers guessing about what will happen in the story.

Park Hae-il and Tang Wei in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave” plays with any viewer’s preconceived notions on how the story is going to end. The pacing sometimes becomes too slow, but this well-made movie skillfully blends noir, romance and mystery with talented acting. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride that offers food for thought about how people handle power, wealth, loyalty and love on individual levels and in society at large.

Directed by Park Chan-wook (who co-wrote the “Decision to Leave” screenplay with Jeong Seo-kyeong), “Decision to Leave” is does not take sex and violence to explicit levels in ways that can be seen in two of Park’s most well-known previous psychological thriller films: 2003’s “Oldboy” and 2016’s “The Handmaiden.” Much of what is going on with the “Decision to Leave” characters isn’t “in your face” obvious, but rather is lurking underneath the surface and can be intelligently observed through facial expressions, body language and unspoken thoughts that are later revealed in certain characters’ actions. It’s why the movie’s principal cast members deserve a lot of credit for bringing complexities to these characters that look authentic.

With a total running time of 138 minutes, “Decision to Leave” is the type of movie that requires patience and perhaps more than one viewing in order to fully appreciate many of the subtleties in this drama. “Decision to Leave” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, where the Park won the prize for Best Director. The movie has since made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival; Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas; and the New York Film Festival in New York City. “Decision to Leave” is South Korea’s selection to be a contender for Best International Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards.

“Decision to Leave” begins iin 2020, in Busan, South Korea, where a police detective in his 40s named Hae-jun (played by Park Hae-il) is shown at work asking for a transfer to the smaller city of Ipo. Viewers later find out that Hae-jun has made this request mostly because his wife Jung-an (played by Lee Jung-hyun) thinks being a big-city cop has taken a toll on their 16-year marriage.

Jung-an wants to Hae-jun to work in a smaller city, where she thinks his work will be less stressful. She tells him half-jokingly that “55% of all sexless marriages end in divorce. It’s the first indication that the sex life of Hae-jun and Jung-an has dwindled. Later, this apathy is shown when she tries to be sexually intimate with Jung-an, and he shows a lack of interest. Jung-an feels insulted by this rejection, but she also seems to not be surprised by it.

What becomes obvious after a while is that Hae-jun is a workaholic, so moving to a smaller city won’t automatically end his addiction to police work, nor will it automatically fix the problems in his marriage. Before his transfer officially takes place, Hae-jun and some of his colleagues are called to the scene of a mysterious death. The deceased body of man in his 50s named Ki Do-soo (played by Yoo Seung-mok) has been found at the bottom of the cliff. Was this death caused by suicide, murder or an accident?

Investigators find out that Ki Do-soo was a part-time interviewer at a South Korean immigration office, but he was also wealthy. His widow is a Chinese immigrant named Seo-rai (played by Tang Wei), who doesn’t seem shocked when the police arrive at her home to tell her that her husband is dead and to interview her. In real life, Tang is much older than the Seo-rai character whom she portrays in the movie. Seo-rai is supposed to be in her 30s and is presented as a “trophy wife.”

Hae-jun (who is leading the investigation) is both puzzled and intrigued by Seo-rai’s calm, cool and collected demeanor during the police interviews. Hae-yun’s younger hothead cop partner Soo-wan (played by Go Kyung-pyo) immediately believes the theory that Ki Do-soo was murdered, and he zeroes in on Seo-rai as the prime suspect. Hae-jun doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions until he gets all the facts and evidence that he can.

Seo-rai, who is a hospital nurse, tells the investigators that she had nothing to do with Ki Do-soo’s death. She says she doesn’t speak Korean very well, but viewers later see that doesn’t mean Seo-rai isn’t highly intelligent and manipulative. She reveals to investigators that not only did her husband Ki Do-soo physically abused her and that she also had self-inflicted injuries. Seo-rai has recent bruises and medical records to prove it, as well as photos of past injuries that she said were made by herself and Ki So-Doo.

Seo-rai also tells the investigators that she and her husband argued because she didn’t like him to take these mountain hiking trips because she thought they were too dangerous. They also argued about her self-harming activities and would get into physical fights over it. (Their volatile marriage is shown in some flashbacks.)

Seo-rai is told by the cops that another person’s DNA was found underneath Ki Do-soo’s fingernails. And so, Seo-rai explains that if her DNA is found underneath his fingernails, it was probably because of one of the physical fights that they had before he went on the hiking trip that resulted in his death. Throughout much of “Decision to Leave,” viewers are kept wondering if Seo-rai is really a victim, a villain or both.

More suspicion falls on Seo-rai when the investigators find out that she is the only heir to her dead husband’s fortune. Until the cause of death can be determined, Seo-rai because the most likely person of interest if the medical examiner rules that Ki Do-soo’s death was by murder. In the meantime, Hae-jun decides to put Seo-rai under surveillance, and he’s the main person doing the stakeouts outside of her house.

As time goes on, Hae-jun becomes more obsessed with Seo-rai, who sensed from ther first meeting that he was romantically attracted to her. And Seo-rai, who seems to be starved for compassion, seems to be feeling the same way. Meanwhile, Hae-jun’s wife Jung-an become increasingly agitated that he’s spending so much time working on this case. Hae-jun won’t tell Jung-an many details about the case, but she begins to suspect that Hae-jung is having an affair.

Seo-rai has seemed to stirred up some long-dormant feelings of romance in Hae-jun, who goes to great lengths to show her that he is a gentleman and doesn’t want to betray the ethics of his job and his marriage. Another change has come over Hae-jun as he gets to know Seo-rai better: Before Hae-hun met Seo-rai, he seemed to be an incurable insomniac. After he met her, he began to sleep better.

What happens in the rest of “Decision to Leave” revolves around how Seo-rai and Hae-jun affect each other, as the story continues into 2021. It’s enough to say that even after Hae-jun transfers to Ipo, Seo-rai is still a part of his life. And his experiences with Seo-rai in Ipo cause even more confusion and angst.

“Decision to Leave” is a very stylish film to look at, thanks to stellar cinematography from Kim Ji-yong. The movie, which uses water in some pivotal scenes, is often awash in various shades of blue. Depending on the scene, these blue palettes contribute to feelings of melancholy or hope.

Even with a possible romance brewing between Seo-rai and Hae-jun, “Decision to Leave” never lets viewers forget that this relationship could be dangerous for either or both Seo-rai and Hae-jun. Whose motives are really pure and genuine? Through the immersive storytelling in “Decision to Leave,” that question hovers throughout as a reminder to viewers that in this movie, just like in real life, not everything is what it might first appear to be, and people can be taken to unexpected places.

MUBI released “Decision to Leave” in select U.S. cinemas on October 14, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea and France on June 29, 2022.

Review: ‘The Witch 2: The Other One,’ starring Shin Si-ah, Park Eun-bin, Jin Goo, Seo Eun-soo and Sung Yoo-bin

September 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shin Si-ah in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Witch 2: The Other One”

Directed by Park Hoon-jung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea and briefly in Shanghai, China, the sci-fi action film “The Witch 2: The Other One” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one white South African) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious teenager is hunted by various people while she is being protected by a woman, her brother and their cohorts with their own agenda.

Culture Audience: “The Witch 2: The Other One” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the 2018 film “The Witch: Subversion” and sci-fi action movies that place more importance on violent chases than in creating interesting stories.

Seo Eun-soo and Justin John Harvey in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

People don’t have to see 2018’s “The Witch: Subversion” before watching 2022’s “The Witch 2: The Other One,” because this sci-fi action sequel is so incoherent, it won’t make a difference. It’s just an idiotic, violent chase movie with no suspense. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is not a horror movie, as the title suggests, and is not scary at all. The only real horror that viewers might experience is finding out that this bloated movie is too long (137 minutes), considering how little entertainment value it has to offer.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, “The Witch 2: The Other One” (which takes place in unnamed cities in South Korea) is yet another sci-fi movie about an individual who is being hunted by sinister forces that want to use the hunted individual in scientific experiments. In these types of predictable stories, the individual is one-of-a-kind or very rare. And the hunt to find this individual usually involves secretive government operations and/or a gang of criminals.

That’s the basic plot of “The Witch 2: The Other One,” which has a teenager who is just named Girl (played by Shin Si-ah) as the target of this hunt. The movie opens with Girl (who looks like she’s about 15 or 16 years old) on a school bus filled with 36 people, according to a TV news report shown later in the movie. She and the other students are from a school called Sanwol Fashion.

The bus is carjacked by about five men, who fill the bus with tear gas. About five to eight other men wearing hazmat suits then arrive and enter the bus. The next thing viewers see is Girl waking up in a scientific lab, where a TV news report says that the bus rolled off of a cliff, and everyone in the bus died. Everyone, that is, except for Girl.

At the lab, Girl sees a pregnant woman and asks her about the pregnancy. The woman replies, “It’s a girl. She will have a sister and become a twin. And those twins will have even more siblings.” In other words, Girl is being kept in a lab that is producing clones under a secret program called The Witch program. This isn’t spoiler information because the only real spoiler information is revealing where Girl came from, her true identity, and what happens to her at the end of the movie.

People who know about “The Witch: Subversion” know that there’s an evil scientist named Dr. Baek (played by Jo Min-su), who is in charge of this cloning. At the end of “The Witch Subversion” (spoiler alert) Dr. Baek is killed. But she has an identical twin, who’s also named Dr. Baek (also played by Jo Min-su) and who is the chief villain in “The Witch 2: The Other One.”

“The Witch 2: The Other One” so badly edited, the next time that viewers see Girl, it’s during a snowy winter, and she has woken up and sees her body has sustained bloody injuries. Girl doesn’t know or doesn’t remember how these injuries happened. She’s in a science lab in Shanghai, China, where several people have been massacred.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baek, who is in South Korea and now in a wheelchair, is having a conversation a young colleague named Jang (played by Lee Jong-Suk), who tells her that their secret cloning building Ark Main in Shanghai has been totally exposed. Jang adds, “Those fuckers busted the Shanghai lab and evaporated it … The Girl is unaccounted for … She walked out on her own … We’re fucked.” Viewers later find out that Girl has been given the name Ark 1 Datum Point at this Ark Main lab.

And the next thing you know, Girl is kidnapped again. This time, it’s when she’s walking all alone in a wooded area when she’s abducted by five men and one woman in a van. The woman, whose name is Kyung-hee (played by Park Eun-bin), is the fearless and tough leader of this group.

Kyung-hee’s full agenda is later revealed in the movie. But for now, all Girl knows is that Kyung-hee is protecting Girl from the people who want to send Girl back to the Ark Main lab. Some other people become involved during this chase movie that becomes very repetitive and tedious. Kyung-hee’s younger brother Dae-gil (played by Sung Yoo-bin) eventually comes into the picture in a pivotal role. There’s also a crime boss named Yong-doo (played by Jin Goo), who is an enemy of Kyung-hee and Dae-gil.

A female official named Jo-hyeon (played by Seo Eun-soo) has been tasked with finding Girl. Jo-hyeon’s right-hand man is an arrogant and dimwitted white South African (played by Justin John Harvey) who doesn’t have a name in the movie. He often argues with Jo-hyeon about strategy decisions.

Gun shootouts, hand-to-hand-combat, and explosions ensue. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is a just a noisy mess that ultimately has no originality whatsoever. All of the characters are barely two-dimensional, with the cast members giving unremarkable performances. If anyone has the patience to sit through this entire garbage dump of a movie, there’s an end credits scene with a “surprise” that basically announces that “The Witch 2: The Other One” is expected to have a sequel. You’ve been warned.

Well Go USA released “The Witch 2: The Other One” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on June 15, 2022. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 8, 2022.

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