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.

Review: ‘The Roundup’ (2022), starring Don Lee, Son Suk-ku, Choi Guy-hwa and Park Ji-hwan

June 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Son Suk-ku and Don Lee in “The Roundup” (Photo courtesy of Capelight Pictures)

“The Roundup” (2022)

Directed by Lee Sang-yong

Korean and Vietnamese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Korea and Vietnam, the action film “The Roundup” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Roguish police detective Ma Seok-do and his colleagues try to hunt down a ruthless crime boss, who eludes law enforcement in Korea and Vietnam.

Culture Audience: “The Roundup” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “The Outlaws,” star Don Lee, and suspenseful action flicks about cops versus criminals.

Don Lee and Choi Guy-hwa in “The Roundup” (Photo courtesy of Capelight Pictures)

“The Roundup” delivers plenty of thrills and adrenaline-pumped action in this worthy sequel to 2017’s “The Outlaws.” In this “cops versus criminals” story, the flawed protagonist’s misdeeds and mistakes bring some intentional laughs. The last third of the movie includes an epic chase during a kidnapping and ransom drop that will make “The Roundup” a memorable standout among a sea of action films.

Directed by Lee Sang-yong, “The Roundup” (which picks up four years after the events of “The Outlaws”) continues the story of hot-tempered police detective Ma Seok-do (played by Don Lee), who is nicknamed “The Beast” or “Beast Cop,” because he doesn’t hesitate to commit police brutality to get his version of justice. Detective Ma works in the major crimes unit of the Seoul Police Department in South Korea. His antics have given him a reputation as a loose-cannon cop.

An early scene in the movie shows how Detective Ma operates. He’s called to a crime scene at a convenience store, where a deranged man with a knife is having a shouting meltdown and wildly swinging the knife at anyone who comes near him. Detective Ma shows up late because he says he was on “a blind date.”

Detective Ma quickly subdues the attacker with a very illegal beatdown. The movie then cuts to a scene at the police station, where Detective Ma and three colleagues look at an unflattering newspaper article about this incident. The article, which has a photo of Detective Ma at the convenience store, has a headline saying that the Beast Cop has struck again.

The article mentions that Detective Ma was disciplined for excessive use of force, and he was sent to rehab for 12 weeks. Detective Ma scoffs at the report with his three cop colleagues: mild-mannered Oh Dong-gyun (played by Heo Dong-won), eager Kang Hong-seok (played by Ha Joon) and rookie Kim Sang-hoon (played by Jung Jae-kwang). All three of these cops look up to Detective Ma for his fearless and often-irreverent attitude.

One person in the police department who tries (and often fails) to control Detective Ma is his supervisor Captain Jeon (played by Choi Guy-hwa), who frequently admonishes Detective Ma, but begrudgingly admits that Detective Ma is often effective in his work. That’s why Captain Jeon often looks the other way or enables Detective Ma to get away with certain unethical things, if it means that it will help the cops solve a case. When Captain Jeon and Detective Ma do interrogations together, it’s easy to predict who will play the “good cop” role and who will play the “bad cop” role.

Captain Jeon tells Detective Ma that the two of them will be going to Vietnam to investigate why a South Korean criminal named Yoo Jong-hoon (played by Jeon Jin-oh) has turned himself into authorities in Vietnam. Yoo Jong-hoon was a suspect in a high-profile jewelry heist in South Korea, so the two cops want to see what Yoo Jong-hoon has to say and if he can be extradited back to South Korea. There’s some comical back-and-forth between Captain Jeon and Detective Ma about which of them can speak English on this trip.

The interrogation of Yoo Jong-hoon leads to him confessing to being involved in a 2008 kidnapping and murder of a wealthy South Korean business scion in his 20s named Choi Yong-gi (played by Cha Woo-jin) in Ho Chi Minh City. This kidnapping and murder were committed by a gang led by a ruthless overlord named Kang Hae-sang (played by Son Suk-ku, also known as Son Seok-koo), whose charming good looks mask a nasty and sadistic personality. Son’s portrayal of this villain is one of the main reasons to see “The Roundup,” because he convincingly plays the Kang Hae-sang character as both coldly calculating and insanely reckless.

The rest of “The Roundup” involves Detective Ma and his colleagues uncovering more of Kang’s crimes and trying to track him down to arrest him, first in Vietnam and then in South Korea. Kang is an elusive and crafty criminal who always seems to be far ahead of law enforcement. Instead of keeping a low profile when he knows he’s being hunted, he goes out of his way to cause more madness and mayhem. It’s why, as a movie villain, Kang is riveting to watch.

Needless to say, “The Roundup” has a lot of brutal violence that is not for viewers who get easily offended by this type of content. Some of the fight stunts are over-the-top and unrealistic, because these fights would definitely cause more damage in real life than what’s shown in the movie. However, that doesn’t mean that the cops and other people involved in the fights don’t have the physical effects of getting beaten up or shot. “The Roundup” has four people credited as the movie’s screenwriters: director Lee Sang-yong, Ma Dong-seok, Young-jong Lee and Min-Seong Kim.

People don’t watch a movie like “The Roundup” for award-worthy acting. However, the acting in “The Roundup” is better than the average “cops versus criminals” movie. Lee is very charismatic in his role as Detective Ma, the rogue cop who makes wisecracking quips in between some of his questionable and harsh ways of getting what he wants. The actors in supporting roles get their jobs done well, but make no mistake: It’s the Beast Cop’s world, and everyone else is just living in it. The villain Kang Hae-sang is the only supporting character who can be considered truly formidable to Detective Ma.

Just when you think “The Roundup” is going to be a typical international police caper that will wrap up in a certain way, the movie ramps up the suspense with a kidnapping. This abduction involves the parents of murder victim Choi Yong-gi, whose father Choi Chun-baek (played by Nam Mun-cheol) was with him in Vietnam before Choi Yong-gi was abducted and murdered. The Choi spouses are targeted because of their wealth and because of certain things that happened after their son’s death.

One of the Choi spouses gets kidnapped, but this review won’t reveal which spouse. A Detective Ma colleague named Jang Isu (played by Park Ji-hwan) is recruited to help in the kidnapping case. This kidnapping plot development leads to the best parts of the movie, which takes some action-packed twists and turns that will have viewers completely on edge to see what will happen next. It makes “The Roundup” the type of gripping and crowd-pleasing thriller that is sure to inspire more sequels.

Capelight Pictures released “The Roundup” in select U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on May 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Escape From Mogadishu,’ starring Kim Yoon-seok, Zo In-sung and Huh Joon-ho

August 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Joung Man-sik, Kim So-jin and Kim Yoon-seok in “Escape From Mogadishu” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Escape From Mogadishu”

Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan

Korean, Somali and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from November 1990 to January 1991, primarily in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and briefly in Kenya, the dramatic film “Escape From Mogadishu” features a cast of primarily Asian and African people (with a few white people) representing Korean government officials, their families and Somalis caught up in Somalia’s civil war.

Culture Clash: Government officials and diplomats from rival North Korea and South Korea are trapped in Mogadishu during a violent civil war outbreak, and the Koreans must decide if they should put aside their North Korean/South Korean conflicts to work together to escape from Mogadishu.

Culture Audience: “Escape From Mogadishu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching tense political thrillers about international relations stories that are rarely told on screen.

A scene from in “Escape From Mogadishu” with Huh Joon-ho, pictured in front, second from left. (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

In the dramatic film “Escape From Mogadishu,” there are two types of political conflicts going on—a civil war in Somalia and a feud between North Korea and South Korea. This compelling and action-filled movie shows what happens with Koreans who are caught in the middle of these two conflicts. “Escape From Mogadishu” (directed by Ryoo Seung-wan) is fictional, but it could easily have been inspired by real events.

The beginning the movie —which takes place from November 1990 to January 1991—has a captioned statement explaining the tension that will be depicted. During this time, South Korea (a democratic country) and North Korea (a Communist country) had not been approved for United Nations membership. Somalia was a crucial deciding nation on the vote to approve membership. North Korea had been lobbying for Somalia’s United Nations membership vote since the early 1970s, while South Korea didn’t send any diplomats to Somalia until 1987.

In “Escape From Mogadishu,” two diplomatic leaders for South Korea and North Korea are bitter competitors, who are jockeying for power and influence with Somali government officials while Somalia is in the midst of a civil war. But when a violent outbreak in Mogadishu traps the two diplomats, their colleagues and their families, it forces the diplomats to decide if their North Korean/South Korean feuding can be overcome to work together for an escape, or if they should remain enemies and only concern themselves with helping their fellow citizens.

“Escape From Mogadishu” spends the first half of the movie establishing the main characters and showing how the North Korean/South Korean diplomat rivalry unfolds and becomes increasingly hostile. The movie is told mainly from the perspective of the South Koreans—chiefly, Ambassador Han Shin-sung (Kim Yoon-seok), a somewhat nervous and by-the-book diplomat, who arrives in Mogadishu with high hopes but some trepidation. Ambassador Han is accompanied by Secretary Gong Soo-chul (played by Joung Man-sik), a somewhat goofy and bumbling lackey.

The two diplomats meet up with Counselor Kang Dae-jin (played by Zo In-sung), an arrogant lawyer who will do whatever it takes to seal the United Nations deal for South Korea. For their lodging, they are all staying at a South Korean-owned diplomat building, along with Ambassador Han’s wife Kim Myung-hee (played by Kim So-jin), Clerk Jo Soo-jin (played by Kim Jae-hwa) and Clerk Park Ji-eun (played by Park Gyeong-hye). Because the building is owned by South Korea, this property ownership plays a role in what happens later in the movie, when it comes to who can be legally protected in the building.

There’s some comic relief in the beginning of the film when Ambassador Han expresses disapproval at the haphazard way that Counselor Kang has arranged South Korea’s gifts to Somali government officials. Counselor Kang has thrown together as gifts some random items in a suitcase, including some liquor and a VHS video of the 1988 Olympics ceremony in Seoul. Ambassador Han scolds Counselor Kang because the gifts are unwrapped, which Ambassador Han thinks makes the gifts look even tackier. Ambassador Han is also annoyed that liquor is one of the gifts, because he thinks it might be insensitive or offensive to Muslim culture that discourages drinking of alcohol.

The North Korean chief diplomat in this story is Ambassador Rim Yong-su (played by Huh Joon-ho), whose right-hand person is Counselor Tae Joon-ki (played by Koo Kyo-hwan). In stark contrast to nervous and emotional Ambassador Han, the demeanor of Ambassador Rim Yong-su can be described as cold, calculating and ruthless. Ambassador Han wants to make ethical deals, while Ambassador Rim Yong-su seems to have dubious ethics. The two men have inevitable arguments.

It doesn’t take long for a violent act to occur. Soon after Ambassador Han and Secretary Gong Soo-chul have met up with Counselor Kang, the three of them are riding in a rented car on the way to an important meeting with a Somali government official. They get stopped and robbed at gunpoint by four Somali rebel soldiers, who oddly don’t want the car or any money. Instead, the robbers steal the suitcase containing the diplomatic gifts.

This theft immediately makes Ambassador Han suspicious. He suspects that Counselor Kang leaked the information and set up this robbery. Counselor Kang denies it, but trust has been broken. Ambassador Han decides that Counselor Kang will not be part of the meeting and that only Ambassador Han and Secretary Gong Soo-chul will go to the meeting, for which they are already running late because of the robbery.

It’s a race against time for Ambassador Han and Secretary Gong Soo-chul to make it to the meeting, but they are 15 minutes late. To their crushing disappointment, they find out that because they were tardy, the Somali government official has already moved on to his next appointment. And the appointment is with North Korean rival Ambassador Rim Yong-su.

As a consolation, Ambassador Han is told he can meet with an aide/speechwriter of the Somali official. Ambassador Han has an uncomfortable meeting with the aide, who essentially tells Ambassador Han that he can influence his boss to vote for South Korea, if the aide is given a hefty bribe. He asks for $50,000, because he wants $25,000 for each of his two sons’ tuition because his sons will be studying industrial technology in the United States.

The aide says that the bribe can be laundered as a donation labeled as money for a “training fellowship.” Ambassador Han balks at this suggestion. But the ambassador begins to wonder if he will fail in his mission to secure Somalia’s United Nations vote for South Korea, when the aide tells him that North Korea will most likely agree to the bribe.

Ambassador Han will have bigger things to worry about than deciding if he should bribe a government aide. Mogadishu soon comes under attack from a massive rebel insurrection. There’s mad rush to get back to the South Korean diplomat building, which isn’t easy because chaos quickly descends throughout the city. And it soon becomes apparent that it’s too unsafe to stay in Mogadishu.

While trying to figure out how to get his small group of South Korean citizens out of Mogadishu, Ambassador Han comes across a major dilemma: Ambassador Rim Yong-su asks for Ambassador Han’s help in sheltering Ambassador Rim Yong-su and the approximately 15 or 16 North Koreans, including some underage children, who are with Ambassador Rim Yong-su. A decision will also have to be made about which group of Koreans will have to renounce their citizenship and pretend to be part of the other group, in order to be rescued.

“Escape From Mogadishu” (which was actually filmed in Morocco, not Somalia) has plenty of pulse-pounding and suspenseful moments that accelerate to a very dramatic conclusion. There’s realistic violence in the movie, but it’s not over-the-top gratutitous. The movie also depicts in some heartbreaking ways how child soldiers are trained to kill. But fortunately for very sensitive viewers, there are no scenes of children actually killing other people. But the potential is there, and there’s a moment where someone has a very close call with two child soldiers.

All of the principal cast members give solid performances, with Kim Yoon-seok doing an admirable job as the flawed but sincere ambassador who finds out that he’s braver than he thought he was. “Escape From Mogadishu” effectively shows how quickly life in a war-torn country can take a turn for so many innocent people caught in the middle of an insurrection. The movie is also a riveting look at North Korean and South Korean identities. And it’s a memorable depiction of what people will or will not do to hold on to patriotic allegiances when there are life-or-death decisions to be made.

Well Go USA released “Escape From Mogadishu” in select U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021. The movie was released in Korea on July 28, 2021. “Escape From Mogadishu” will be released on digital on October 19, 2021. The movie’s release on Blu-Ray and DVD is on January 18, 2022.

Review: ‘The 8th Night,’ starring Lee Sung-min, Nam Da-reu, Park Hae-joon, Kim Dong-young, Lee Eol and Kim Yoo-jeong

July 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nam Da-reum and Lee Sung-min in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“The 8th Night”

Directed by Kim Tae-hyung

Korean with subtitles and dubbing

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the horror film “The 8th Night” features an all-Asian cast representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A monk and his apprentice pursue and try to defeat an evil spirit that takes possessions of humans. 

Culture Audience: “The 8th Night” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies with artistically creepy imagery and stories rooted in ancient mythology.

Kim Yoo-jeong in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Filled with stylistically chilling imagery, “The 8th Night” is a somewhat convoluted supernatural horror movie, but the suspenseful and surprising twists can make up for the film’s messy final showdown scene. Written and directed by Kim Tae-hyung, “The 8th Night” (which is his feature-film directorial debut) makes effective use of vertigo-like cinematography and some gruesome visuals of being possessed by an evil spirit. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, but it can be an engrossing ride for horror fans who are intrigued by stories of ancient curses.

The beginning of “The 8th Night” has a fairly long voiceover narration, with drawings and animation, explaining the mythology behind the movie’s plot. According to the mythology, which is called the Legend of the Diamond Sutra: 2,500 years ago a monster opened the door that bridge the gap between the human realm and hell, “in order to make humans suffer.” Buddha defeated the monster by pulling out both of its eyes. One eye is black, and the other eye is red.

Both eyes escaped. Buddha was able to capture the Black Eye and lock it in a sarira casket. The Red Eye was harder to get and eluded capture for seven nights while hiding in seven different people’s bodies. When the Red Eye saw that it could not escape the Buddha—because the path that the Red Eye was on was really a bridge consisting of seven stepping stones over a narrow shallow stream—the Red Eye surrendered and got into the surira casket voluntarily.

The surira casket with the Black Eye was sealed and buried off the steep cliffs in the east. The surira casket with the Red Eye was sealed and buried in the vast deserts of the west. Buddha said to his nameless disciples about the Black Eye and the Red Eye: “You must make sure that they never meet again. That is your fate.” The monster is also called That Which Must Not Awaken.

The movie then fast-forwards to October 2005, at the India-Pakistan border, where an ambitious anthroplogy professor named Kim Joon-cheol (played by Choi Jin-ho) has dug up the surira casket containing the Red Eye. His goal is prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true. However, the plan backfired, because Kim Joon-cheol was accused of forging the surira casket, and his teaching career ended in disgrace.

Kim Joon-cheol keeps the surira casket. And one night during a lunar eclipse, when he’s at home, Kim Joon-cheol decides he’s going to prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true by conjuring up the Red Eye so that it can reunite with the Black Eye. He does a ritual where he draws blood and chants something mystical, which rouses the Red Eye to emerge from the casket.

This re-awakening of the Red Eye sets off a chain of events where history repeats itself and the Red Eye spends seven days and seven nights inhabiting the bodies of seven different people. The eighth person the Red Eye is forecast to inhabit is a young female shaman who is a virgin. If the Red Eye succeeds in possessing all eight of these people, then by the eighth night, the Red Eye will be reunited with the Black Eye, and the ancient monster’s full power will be restored.

Kim Joon-cheol immediately regrets letting the Red Eye loose. It later emerges in the story (it’s not spoiler information) that Kim Joon-cheol became a monk to atone for this misdeed. At the monastery, an elderly monk named Ha-jeong (played by Lee Eol) finds out that the Red Eye is now on the loose and is on a quest to reunite with the Black Eye. And so, Ha-jeong gives the task of finding the Red Eye to two other men at the monastery: A middle-aged monk named Seonwha (played by Lee Sung-min) and his apprentice Cheong-seok (played by Nam Da-reum), who’s in his 20s.

It’s later revealed that before he became a monk, Seonwha’s name was Park Jin-soo. And he has a tragedy from his past that is motivating him to go on this quest for the Red Eye. When the Red Eye leaves a body it possesses and enters another body, the body left behind becomes a shriveled-up corpse. And that’s why dead bodies in this decrepit condition are mysteriously showing up in an unnamed part of South Korea.

The homicide detective who’s leading the investigation is a no-nonsense taskmaster named Kim Ho-tae (played by Park Hae-joon), who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Kim Ho-tae has a nerdy young assistant named Dong-jin (played by Kim Dong-young) who believes that the supernatural exists. Dong-jin suspects that the deformed corpses have something to do with the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. However, his supervisor Kim Ho-tae doesn’t want to hear it and threatens to fire Dong-jin if he keeps telling him supernatural conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, it’s a race against time for monks Seonwha and Cheong-seok to catch the Red Eye before it’s too late. They decide that the best strategy is to find the female virgin shaman, whose name is Ae-ran (played by Kim Yoo-jeong), who might or might not be aware of the evil that’s coming her way. Seonwha and Cheong-seok are seen on surveillance video in areas where people end up dead, so the police start to suspect that these two monks might be the reason for the mysterious, shriveled-up corpses.

The most horrific and memorable scenes in “The 8th Night” are not when people get murdered but when people get possessed. There’s a lot of imagery of eyes poking out of skin, as well as veins turning black, that will definitely give viewers the creeps. The possessed people also have an insane stare and a sinister grin when they become possessed. No one does it better than an unnamed teenage girl in a school uniform (played by Park Se-hyun), who wreaks some bloody havoc when she becomes possessed by the Red Eye.

The most nonsensical part of the movie is in the final showdown, which takes place in a forest. Without giving away too much spoiler information, it’s enough to say that the chases and fights in this scene require a lot of suspension of disbelief that certain people being chased wouldn’t get killed right away when they’re trapped by whoever or whatever is chasing them. However, there are a few interesting surprises that make more sense if viewers remember that some of the characters might have ulterior motives.

“The 8th Night” has some creative cinematography and visual effects that make “The 8th Night” more artistic than the average horror movie. There are times when the movie can be style over substance, but the basic plot of the movie is solid and there are touches of comedy that prevent “The 8th Night” from being completely grim. Some viewers might be confused by the plot, which is why it’s crucial to pay attention to the movie’s opening sequence, which explains the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. Ultimately, “The 8th Night” has enough captivating mystery and horror that viewers, confused or not, shouldn’t get easily bored from watching this movie.

Netflix premiered “The 8th Night” on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Olympic Dreams,’ starring Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Olympic Dreams”

Directed by Jeremy Teicher

Culture Representation: Taking place during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this romantic dramedy is about two white middle-class Americans—a 22-year-old Olympic cross-country skier and a 37-year-old Olympic volunteer dentist—who meet and have an undeniable attraction to each other.

Culture Clash: The potential romance has obstacles, such as the age difference, insecurities about the future, and the dentist being undecided over what to do about his suspended relationship with his fiancée.

Culture Audience: “Olympic Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who like independent movies that are more “slice of life” character studies than action-filled stories.

Alexi Pappas and Nick Kroll in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Two socially awkward people meet and have a connection that could turn into a romance. This type of story can take place anywhere, but in the dramedy “Olympic Dreams,” the story takes place on location during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the movie was actually filmed during the games. Most of the movie’s cast, except for star Nick Kroll, are real-life Olympic athletes. It adds to the realism of the film, which is shot almost like a documentary.

There is no melodrama in this quiet character study of a movie, and there are no scenes revolving around intense athletic competitions. Instead, “Olympic Dreams” takes a close look at the internal battles of insecurities that can prevent people from pursuing what they really want in life.

Directed by Jeremy Teicher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas (a Greek American real-life Olympic long-distance runner), “Olympic Dreams” is the first narrative feature to be filmed inside the Olympic Village, where the athletes stay during the games. This access was made possible by the International Olympic Committee, which invited Pappas and three other Olympians who are also artists to participate in the Olympic Art Project. Pappas’ project was “Olympic Dreams,” and she is one of the producers of the film, along with Kroll, Teicher, Will Rowbotham and Nora May.

In the movie, Pappas plays Olympic cross-country skier Penelope, an American who’s there for her first Olympic games. She’s feeling anxious and isolated, since she doesn’t know anyone there. Meanwhile, Olympic volunteer dentist Ezra (played by Kroll), who’s also American, is feeling a different type of anxiety. He and his fiancée have recently decided to take a break from their relationship. He calls her and leaves an awkward message on her voice mail, by telling her that he doesn’t know if it’s appropriate to call her, but he wanted to tell her anyway that he’s settled in at the Olympic Village.

Ezra meets Penelope when he sees her sitting alone at the Olympic Village dining hall, and he asks if he could join her. She agrees, but Penelope (who’s quiet by nature) is feeling tense over her upcoming race that will happen that day. They make small talk by introducing themselves and saying why they’re at the Olympics, but Nick senses that Penelope is preoccupied and nervous, so he backs off, but not before giving her a dental-floss item as a friendly gesture.

Penelope has a disappointing placement that doesn’t qualify her for the next round. She calls her parents and pretends that she’s been making friends with other athletes who’ve been comforting her over her Olympic loss. In reality, Penelope is all alone. Although her Olympic roommate Maggie (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Morgan Schild) is friendly, Penelope hasn’t been able to make any friends in the short time that she’s been at the Olympics.

The next time Penelope and Ezra see each other, he invites her to get coffee with him. This time, he has another gift for her: a stuffed animal. And then they start to open up to each other more when he examines Penelope’s teeth during an appointment that she has with him. He tells her that it was always his dream to be at the Olympics. Back in America, he works at a clinic, but his goal is to one day have his own family practice.

Meanwhile, Penelope confesses that she’s uncertain about her future, now that her Olympic dreams have been dashed this year. She hasn’t decided yet if she wants to try out for the next Olympics in four years or if she wants to do something else with her life. At this point, it’s clear by the way that Penelope looks at Ezra that she’s starting to become romantically attracted to him, because she becomes more flirtatious and she asks him about his relationship status, sexual orientation, and if he has any children. (Ezra is straight and has no kids.)

Ezra also tells her about his fiancée and how the situation is complicated because even though they’re taking a break from each other, he doesn’t think he’s completely available either. Ezra and Penelope also tell each other their ages—he’s 37, and she’s 22—and Ezra looks a little concerned about the age difference, but he’s also feeling attracted to Penelope. They both encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

Although Ezra has a more extroverted personality than Penelope does, he has a nerdy, eager-to-please approach when he first tries to get to know people, so he’s found it difficult to make friends at the Olympic Village too. Penelope and Ezra sense that they’re both social misfits, and that’s part of their attraction to each other. Penelope invites Ezra to spend the day with her to do tourist sightseeing around town, since she now has a lot of free time on her hands, and Ezra readily accepts her offer.

Their first date is extended from a day trip to hanging out a night. Even though Ezra is much older than Penelope, he’s still a kid at heart because one of the places they go to during the nighttime part of the date is a center where people play video games. Ezra comments that watching people intensely play video games reminds him of his lonely youth when he would spend hours playing video games by himself. But Penelope has a different perspective: She says that people with that kind of passion and drive, even if it’s about winning video games, should be admired.

Is the relationship between Ezra and Penelope going to go anywhere? At the end of their first date, Penelope kisses him, but he pulls away. Then they get in an argument because Penelope criticizes him for not knowing what he’s going to do about his fiancée and for being not being more proactive about having his own family practice, while he criticizes her for being undecisive about her future. They end the date on this sour note.

Feeling a little down, Penelope’s confidence gets a boost when she meets a fellow Olympic athlete at the gym. He’s an American freestyle skier named Gus (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy), who introduces himself and invites Penelope to a party that’s being held in his building. Gus and Penelope start hanging out with each other, and when Penelope introduces Gus to Nick, it’s obvious that Nick is uncomfortable and jealous.

Much of the dialogue in “Olympic Dreams” looks improvised, since there are realistic awkward moments of silence or people talking over each other. Even though this movie takes place during the giant spectacle of the Olympics, it feels like a very intimate movie because the cast is so small and because there are no scenes of the massive crowds watching the games. There’s a scene that was filmed near an Olympic ski jump and a pivotal scene in an empty stadium that serve as reminders of the Olympic setting.

“Olympic Dreams” director Teicher used a hand-held camera and many close-ups in the scenes to covey the feeling of the movie being a portrait about these two people in a specific time in their lives. Although Ezra and Penelope are both American, it isn’t said in the movie exactly where they live in the United States.

And that leaves some lingering questions: If they get together, what happens if they live in cities that are very far away from each other? Will they have a long-distance relationship or will one of them move closer to the other? And do Ezra and Penelope think this relationship is worth pursuing in the first place? That last question is answered by the end of the movie, which makes it clear that the real Olympic dreams for Ezra and Penelope are the ones that can last longer than an athletic competition.

IFC Films released “Olympic Dreams” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.

2020 Academy Awards: ‘Parasite’ is the top winner and makes Oscar history

February 9, 2020

by Carla Hay

“Parasite” cast and filmmakers at the 92nd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 9, 2020. (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

As the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the South Korean drama “Parasite” made Oscar history at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, which took place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 9, 2020. ABC had the U.S. telecast of the show. “Parasite,” which takes a scathing look at the class and social divisions between those who are wealthy and those who are not, also won the Oscars for Best Director (for Bong Joo Ho), Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.

“Parasite” is the first movie since 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” to win Best Picture without any nominations in the actor/actress categories. It’s also the first time that Asian filmmakers have won in the categories for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. In addition, “Parasite” is the first movie to win the Oscars for Best International Feature (formerly titled Best Foreign-Language Film) and Best Picture in the same year. “Parasite” is also the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best International Feature and for Best Picture. Leading up to its Academy Awards victories, “Parasite” won the most awards of any movie released in 2019, including the Palme d’Or (the top prize) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere.

Oscar winners in the acting categories were Joaquin Phoenix of “Joker” for Best Actor; Renée Zellweger of “Judy” for Best Actress; Brad Pitt of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” for Best Supporting Actor; and Laura Dern of “Marriage Story” for Best Supporting Actress. Phoenix, Zellweger, Pitt and Dern been winning prizes in these categories at other major awards shows this season. Phoenix is the second actor to win an Oscar for playing DC Comics villain The Joker. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his Joker performance in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”

With 11 Oscar nominations, “Joker” was the leading contender going into the ceremony, and the movie ended up winning two: In addition to Best Actor, “Joker” also won for Best Original Score. The World War I drama “1917” won three Oscars—all in the technical categories: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. The 1960s auto-racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” was also a multiple Oscar winner, taking two: Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing. The mobster drama “The Irishman,” which had 10 Oscar nominations, ended up winning no Academy Awards, in the biggest shut-out of the ceremony.

For the second year in a row, there was no host for the Oscar ceremony. The show opened with a performance by Janelle Monáe doing a version of the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme, before being joined by Billy Porter on stage for Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” and then going solo again for the rest of the performance.

There were no controversial publicity stunts or major errors. A few of the Oscar winners—particularly Pitt and Phoenix—expressed their opinions about political and social issues during their acceptance speeches. Pitt made it clear how he felt about the result of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, which ended February 5 with the majority of the U.S. Senate acquitting Trump. Pitt said: “They told me I only had 45 seconds this year, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave [proposed trial witness] John Bolton this week. I’m thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.”

Phoenix (a longtime animal-rights activist and environmentalist) spoke out about the need for people to go vegan and to have more respect for the earth’s natural resources: “We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources … But human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”

One of the ceremony’s biggest surprises was Eminem performing his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself” from the 2002 movie “8 Mile,” with his on-stage performance serving as a transition from a tribute montage about how songs can transform movies. When Eminem won the Oscar in 2003, he did not attend the ceremony, so this performance (which had many censor “bleeps”) took place 17 years after it could have first happened.

Elton John, Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel, Chrissy Metz and Randy Newman each performed their Oscar-nominated tunes for Best Original Song. The Oscar went to John and his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from the Elton John musical biopic “Rocketman.” Meanwhile, Billie Eilish performed the Beatles classic “Yesterday” for the “In Memoriam” tribute segment dedicated to people in the movie industry who passed away since the previous Oscar ceremony.

In addition, the show featured a special appearance by Questlove. Eímear Noone did a guest-conductor segment for all the hyear’s Oscar-nominated film scores. She was the first woman to conduct during an Oscars telecast.

Presenters included, Mahershala Ali, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Zazie Beetz, Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, James Corden, Penélope Cruz, Beanie Feldstein, Will Ferrell, Jane Fonda, Gal Gadot, Zack Gottsagen, Salma Hayek, Mindy Kaling, Diane Keaton, Regina King, Shia LaBeouf, Brie Larson, Spike Lee, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, George MacKay, Rami Malek, Steve Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ray Romano, Anthony Ramos, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Mark Ruffalo, Kelly Marie Tran, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig and Rebel Wilson.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards:


Best Picture

Choi Woo-sik, Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin and Park So-dam in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Ford v Ferrari”
Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold

“The Irishman”
Producers: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff

“Jojo Rabbit”
Producers: Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi

Producers: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff

“Little Women”
Producer: Amy Pascal

“Marriage Story”
Producers: Noah Baumbach and David Heyman

Producers: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Producers: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino

Producers: Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho

Best Actor

Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” (Photo by Niko Tavernise)

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”*
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Best Actress

Renée Zellweger in “Judy” (Photo by David Hindley/LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions)

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy”*

Best Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Photo by Andrew Cooper)

Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in “Marriage Story” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”*
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

Best Director

Bong Joo Ho on the set of “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”*

Best Animated Feature

“Toy Story 4” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” directed by Dean DeBlois; produced by Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold

“I Lost My Body,” directed by Jérémy Clapin; produced by Marc du Pontavice

“Klaus,” directed and produced by Sergio Pablos; produced by Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román

“Missing Link,” directed by Chris Butler; produced by Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight

“Toy Story 4,” directed by Josh Cooley; produced by Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera*

Best Animated Short

“Hair Love” (Photo courtesy of Matthew A. Cherry Entertainment)

“Dcera,” directed and produced by Daria Kashcheeva
“Hair Love,” directed and produced by Matthew A. Cherry; produced by Karen Rupert Toliver*
“Kitbull,” directed by Rosana Sullivan; produced by Kathryn Hendrickson
“Memorable,” directed by Bruno Collet; produced by Jean-François Le Corre
“Sister,” directed and produced by Siqi Song

Best Adapted Screenplay

Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi and Scarlett Johansson in “Jojo Rabbit” (Photo by Kimberley French)

“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi*
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten

Best Original Screenplay

Lee Sun Gyun and Cho Yeo-jeong in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han*

Best Cinematography

George MacKay (center) in “1917” (Photo by François Duhamel / Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson

Best Documentary Feature

Wong He, Kenny Taylor and Jarred Gibson in “American Factory” (Photo by Aubrey Keith/Netflix)

“American Factory,” directed and produced by Julia Rieichert and Steven Bognar; produced by Jeff Reichert*

“The Cave,” directed by Feras Fayyad; produced by Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær

“The Edge of Democracy,” directed and produced by Petra Costa; produced by Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan

“For Sama,” directed and produced by Waad Al-Kateab; directed by Edward Watts

“Honeyland,” directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov; produced by Atanas Georgiev

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You’re a Girl)” (Photo by Lisa Rinzler)

“In the Absence,” directed and produced by Yi Seung-Jun; produced by Gary Byung-Seok Kam

“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” directed by Carol Dysinger; produced by Elena Andreicheva*

“Life Overtakes Me,” directed and produced by Kristine Samuelson; directed by John Haptas

“St. Louis Superman,” directed and produced by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

“Walk Run Cha-Cha,” directed by Laura Nix; produced by Colette Sandstedt

Best Live Action Short Film

“The Neighbors’ Window” (Photo by Wolfgang Held)

“Brotherhood,” directed and produced by Meryam Joobeur; produced by Maria Gracia Turgeon

“Nefta Football Club,” directed and produced by Yves Piat; produced by Damien Megherbi

“The Neighbors’ Window,” directed and produced by Marshall Curry*

“Saria,” directed by Bryan Buckley; produced by Matt Lefebvre

“A Sister,” directed and produced by Delphine Girard

Best International Feature Film

Choi Woo-sik and Park So-dam in “Parasite” (Photo courtesy of Neon Entertainment)

“Corpus Christi,” directed by Jan Komasa (Poland)
“Honeyland,” directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov (North Macedonia)
“Les Misérables,” directed by Ladj Ly (France)
“Pain and Glory,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar (Spain)
“Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon Ho (South Korea)*

Best Film Editing

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in “Ford v Ferrari” (Photo by Merrick Morton)

“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland*
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang

Best Sound Editing

Christian Bale in “Ford v Ferrari” (Photo by Merrick Morton)

“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester*
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Matthew Wood and David Acord

Best Sound Mixing

Cast and crew members on the set of “1917” (Photo by François Duhamel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“Ad Astra,” Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
“Ford v Ferrari,” Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow
“Joker,” Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland
“1917,” Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

Best Production Design

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Photo by Andrew Cooper)

“The Irishman”
Production Design: Bob Shaw; Set Decoration: Regina Graves

“Jojo Rabbit”
Production Design: Ra Vincent; Set Decoration: Nora Sopková

Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*
Production Design: Barbara Ling; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Production Design: Lee Ha Jun; Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Best Original Score

Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” (Photo by Niko Tavernise)

“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir*
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

Best Original Song

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4,” song written by Randy Newman

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman,” song written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin*

“I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough,” song written by Diane Warren

“Into the Unknown” from “Frozen 2,” song written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez

“Stand Up” from “Harriet,” song written by Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell

Best Makeup and Hair Styling

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in “Bombshell” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle)

“Bombshell,” Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker*
“Joker,” Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
“Judy,” Jeremy Woodhead
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White
“1917,” Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

Best Costume Design

Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in “Little Women” (Photo by Wilson Webb)

”The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran*
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips

Best Visual Effects

George MacKay in “1917” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“Avengers: Endgame,” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick

“The Irishman,” Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli

“1917,” Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy*

“The Lion King,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newma

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘House of Hummingbird’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jihu Park in “House of Hummingbird” (Photo courtesy of Epiphany Films)

“House of Hummingbird” (“Beol-sae”)

Directed by Bora Kim

Korean with subtitles

North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Very few feature films can be praised as accurately depicting the angst of being a 13-year-old girl. Bo Burnham’s 2018 comedy “Eighth Grade” is one of them. Catherine Hardwicke’s 2003 dark drama “Thirteen” is another. And here’s another to add to the list: writer/director Bora Kim’s beautifully made, introspective feature-film debut “House of Hummingbird,” a semi-autobiographical drama set in 1994 Seoul, South Korea. “House of Hummingbird” does not have the social-media-driven humor of “Eighth Grade” or the dangerous, self-destructive behavior of “Thirteen,” but it conveys a similar spirit that shows how feelings of insecurity and social pressures can eat away at a young girl’s confidence. Carried by an admirable performance by Jihu Park, “House of Hummingbird” is a deliberately paced film that builds up to a conclusion that transforms several of the characters in the story.

Being a 13-year-old in eighth grade is a tricky age for a girl. She’s going through puberty, and might be thinking about dating—but, depending on her family and peers, she might be considered too young to date people her age. She’s old enough to go to places without adult supervision, but she’s not old enough to drive. And 13 is an age when most people are preparing themselves for high school, which is the time in many people’s lives where they have to make decisions that impact their futures as adults.

In “House of Hummingbird,” Park portrays Eunhee, a slightly rebellious teen who loves spending time with her friends, going to karaoke bars, and occasionally getting into mischief, such as shoplifting. Her parents own a rice cake shop, and she’s sometimes made to feel socially inferior because of her family’s working-class economic status. At home in their crowded urban apartment, Eunhee is often unhappy. Her older brother Dae-Hoon (played by Son Sang-yeon), who is the favored child because he is a boy, bullies her by secretly hitting her for no good reason. Her stressed-out parents (played by Lee Seung-yeon and Jung In-gi) frequently argue with each other. And her older sister Suhee (played by Bak Su-yeon) is so passive that she tries to make herself invisible and isn’t much of a friend to Eunhee. All of the kids sometimes chip in to work at the family shop, but Eunhee doesn’t like it and thinks she can have a better life for herself. She doesn’t really know yet how she’s going to accomplish that, although she dreams of being a cartoonist.

At the cram school where Eunhee is a student, she finds an intriguing role model in a new teacher named Yong-ji (played Saebyuk Kim), who is more independent-minded than the other female teachers at the school. It’s the kind of school where a teacher will make the students chant that they won’t do karaoke and will go to Seoul University, and students are told to anonymously write down the names of other students who are being delinquent. Yong-ji encourages Eunhee to follow her dreams and to find a way to respect herself, even if the people around her don’t show Eunhee respect. As her admiration for Yong-ji grows, Eunhee finds reasons to spend time with her teacher outside of the classroom. In a letter that Eunhee writes to Yong-ji later in the movie, she asks a question that sums up her teenage feelings of uncertainty: “When will my life shine?”

Meanwhile, Eunhee tentatively gets closer to a male friend named Jiwan (played by Jeong Yun-se), and their innocent flirting turns into hand holding and then awkward experimenting with French kissing. Eunhee keeps her budding romance a secret from her family, since she doesn’t want to get in trouble for being considered too wild. Eunhee and her best friend Jisuk (played by Park Seo-yun ) get caught shoplifting, and they have a disagreement over whether or not to offer an apology to the store owner. Jisuk wants to apologize, but Eunhee does not, and the disagreement ends their friendship. During all of this personal drama, Eunhee finds out that there’s a lump on her upper neck that needs to be removed because it’s near a salivary gland. The operation might leave a scar, and there’s a chance that her face might be paralyzed.

Much of “House of Hummingbird” might be a little too slow-paced for movie audiences who are used to films about teens that have a lot of snappy dialogue and a constant stream of misadventures. “House of Hummingbird” takes a more realistic approach of showing some of the boredom that comes with being a stifled teenager. However, the last 30 minutes of this 138-minute film have a series of unforgettable events where Eunhee has a powerful awakening that she least expects, even if it comes at an emotional cost.

UPDATE: Well Go USA Entertainment will release “House of Hummingbird” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 26, 2020.

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