Strange Circus

Beautiful. Disturbing. Haunting. Disgusting.

I am at a loss—again, this director has blown me away. First, I must warn you: this film is not for everyone. The plot alone is enough to turn most people away: there is sex, incest, gore, disturbing images and more. Yet, those who manage to stay till the end will find it’s a thought-provoking, thrilling, horrifying movie. If you’re looking for some kind of film to weigh it against, Old Boy is the first thing that comes to mind.

The acting in this was, to put it simply, brilliant. This is the type of movie where the actors are forced to go through the entire spectrum when it comes to portraying a character: Iseei Ishida was amazing as Yuji. I can just imagine how nervous the writer must have been while penning this—they would’ve needed someone spectacular to bring to life such a complex character—same goes for Masumi Miyazaki. Somehow every actor in this film pulled it off. I wonder if any of them won any awards for this, or if it was too shocking to garner that kind of attention. How the girl playing young Mitsuko pulled it off… I’ll never know. I hope it didn’t scar her! I’d never let my kid play that kind of role, no matter who the director was!

The story was beyond grotesque, and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing till the end. It’s a hodgepodge of genres, and I’m having trouble narrowing it down when it fits into so many: mystery, thriller, horror, psychological, with some eroticism thrown in. And for those who like a good revenge-film, look no further. You can’t get any better than this, lol.

One other thing though: the concept of reality in this movie is extremely blurred. It's hard to distinguish what's real and what's not… and to be honest, I don’t think we’re supposed to know. I think that's one of the uses for the circus--the show the internal minds of the characters, through a warped and twisted glass. The use of the circus really was genius; as was the use of guillotines.

When you get down to it, most people would consider this movie sick and twisted. Brilliant, yes… but it’s also hard to watch. I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it again. It’s hard to deny though, that this is a work of art.


Also, I’m starting to suspect that Sono Sion is incapable of making a bad movie. But now, I need me some romantic fluff. Looks like I’ll be leaning towards a nice Korean romantic comedy next. I’ve earned a break from the nasty, disturbing, thought-provoking films. I need something that will allow my mind and stomach to rest. ;)

My Rating:


Noriko's Dinner Table

Club Suicide is one of my favorite movies, so when I heard there was a sequel/prequel, I knew I had to see it!

Without trying to compare it too much to it's predecessor, I should first point out that it's not really necessary to see the first movie in order to understand this one. The major event that serves as the catalyst the first time around, is still present in this one...

First off, the story may seem pretty straight-forward on the surface, but it quickly becomes apparent that there's a lot more going on underneath. It's not just a story about a country girl who yearns for change, and longs to move to Tokyo--it's about family, isolation, lack of communication, and the growing generation gap between the Japanese youth and the adults.

In fact, there's actually a lot more going on than just that... but those were the first things that came to mind. So please, if you do watch this, be aware that this is the type of movie that requires a little bit of thought and effort. Of course, that's one of the reasons I've become such a fan of these films in the first place. ^_^

The directing, as always, is superb. The way he sets up these shots are brilliant, and part of the reason I'm always drawn to his movies. I'm definitely going to hunt down some more films he's written or directed in the near future. And of course, the casting was top-notch. Everyone fit into their roles wonderfully, and I was never once pulled out of the movie, or distracted by over-acting.

The movie's strongest point for me though, will always be its story. I love something that looks straightforward on the surface, but is actually a lot deeper than originally supposed. It's impossible to walk away from this movie without questioning most of what you've watched. Don't expect a film that hands the audience everything they need to know in order to understand what's going on... it's up to the individual and what they choose to take away from it. For me, the ending did not disappoint.

My only real criticism is that the story dragged a lot in the middle... but still, I couldn't help but feel that everything that happens, happens for a reason, and that every one of those scenes was necessary for the story.

I can't, however, say I liked it as much as Suicide Club: I think I prefer it when the range is broader, and not focused so entirely on one family in particular.

Here is my own personal take on the ending, in case anyone is curious/confused. Please keep in mind though that this is pure conjecture on my part... which means, most of it is probably wrong, lol. But hey, guessing is half the fun!
SPOILERS

The way I see it, the end was Noriko finally "connecting with herself"; moving on from all the roles she's constantly been playing. When she says goodbye to her adolescence, it's not like she's saying "Look! I've grown up, I'm an adult now." In essence, she's saying goodbye to all the loose terminology that goes along WITH it--knowing that it no longer holds any REAL meaning. Once you're connected, you find yourself, you become your own person--transcendence. Finding happiness by looking within; not depending on others for that happiness.

From what I understand, Ueno54/Kumiko has alreadyreached this point. She 'connected with herself' long ago, and is simply trying to help others reach that same point. Her smile at the end, I believe, is because she realizes that both Tetsuzo and Noriko have finally reached that point: Tetsuzo has put aside his selfishness, and has finally become a true father. Even though it took two years of searching, he finally got his new beginning. When he wakes up, I truly believe he'll be able to smile and accept Yuka's decision to leave--perhaps even understand it, which he was never able to do before.Noriko... I believe Kumiko already realized how close she was. Once she saw her honestly expressing herself to her father (something she could never do back in their hometown) she knew that she would be alright, and not get caught up in the old role she used to play. In essence, she watched her "student" graduate. Yuka, however, still has yet to make that connection. I think the fact that she leaves is because she understands she still has some searching to do. She realizes her happiness is too tightly ingrained in her family and her past--she is looking for happiness through them--when she should be looking for it within herself. In short: she has finally put Yuka to rest, and is ready to be reborn.

END OF SPOILERS

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this movie and wasn't disappointed at all. For anyone who is looking for a movie to watch that makes you think, then Noriko's Dinner Table definitely won't disappoint!

My Rating:

Hello! Miss (16 Episodes)

EPISODE 01-16

Well, I finally finished one of several dramas I was watching!

Again, the primary draw was the main couple, Soo Ha and Dong Gyu. I loved both the actor and actress, and thought they did wonderfully with what they had to work with (Lee Da Hae will forever be awesome since she was in My Girl; and Lee Ji Hoon is so cute, I really hope he shows up in more dramas). The story, however, left much to be desired. It was interesting seeing a main character who is tied so closely to Korean history, culture, and tradition... but it also made the story somewhat slow and dry.

The entire plot revolves around Aegisshi (Soo ha) who is trying to keep her ancestral home from being sold to an ex-servant of the estate who has grown rich and influential. Problems arise as she slowly (and I mean very slowly) starts to fall for his oldest grandson, Dong Gyu. All of the characters are tied to the estate in one way or another... and the story very rarely diverges from it. I think I would have liked it better if the series had been shorter. Towards the end, the episodes really started to drag, and I only kept watching to see what would happen between Soo ha and Dong Gyu. I'm evil, lol. I really couldn't care less what happened to the house.

There were a couple unresolved parts though, that left me a little confused/annoyed:

SPOILERS

1. In one scene, they show a flashback of Hwang Man Bok before he'd stolen the cow. It makes it look like his "girlfriend" is cheating on him or something; thus prompting his theft and departure during the night. Yet, every time the "jilted lovers" meet, they make it seem like it's all a big misunderstanding that will be cleared up at the end. After all, why would she constantly accuse him of leaving her behind, if she had truly cheated on him and loved someone else? Yet despite all this, the big confrontation/resolution never comes. So what was the point of all those flashbacks and accusations anyway...?

2. I couldn't stand the sudden change in Man Bok's attitude towards Soo Ha. First, he tells his grandsons that whoever marries her will get to inherit the business--the next, he's accusing the "favorite" grandson of choosing Aegisshi over him and the company, and forbids him from ever seeing her again. It just seemed like a convenient plot devise to keep them apart... one that didn't make a lot of sense, considering all the dialogs/actions that came before. Besides, Chan Min still continues his pursuit of her, so why can't Dong Gyu? If Man Bok's going to constantly change the rules of the game, he should at least notify all the players! Plus, what should he be angrier about: that his youngest grandson lied straight to his face and betrayed him, or that his eldest went to his "girlfriend's" after getting kicked out of the house? Seems like a no-brainer to me... so why was I wrong?

3. This complaint is more of a pet-peeve than anything else: Why were the elders and Soo Ha so willing to allow TOP group to take their dumpling recipe and market it? They're so protective of anything having to do with their estate, so why are the family recipes any different? If it was any other company offering to market it, I could see it maybe being possible... but they're supposed to hate TOP group, so why was this any different? Again, this seemed like another convenient plot device; not to mention, forced and unnecessary. And honestly, it's something I've seen again and again in other dramas... so what's the point?

SPOILERS

In the end, I thought it was fun and cute, but ultimately forgettable. I really do hope to see the main actor and actress in more dramas though--especially Lee Ji Hoon, since I think he has a lot of potential--all he needs is a strong script to work with. Unfortunately, a strong script was not one of Hello Miss's strong-points.

My Rating:


A World Without Thieves


((summary taken from AsianMediaWiki))

Wang Bo (Andy Lau) and Wang Li (Rene Liu) should have made the perfect Bonnie and Clyde: the former a seasoned con man and master pickpocket from Hong Kong, the latter a grifter femme fatale from Taiwan. Partners in crime and passion, the couple swindle their way across China, until one fine day Li suddenly decides to call it quits, both to her egregious lifestyle and to her entanglement with Bo. It is at this crossroad in their lives and relationships that they run into Fu Gen in a train station, an encounter that will alter their fate forever.


A Chinese Tall Tale


((summary taken from Wikipedia))

It is a twisted story about the monk Tripitaka and his three disciples who are journeying west to acquire Buddhist scriptures. While stopping in Shache City (present day Yarkand), they come under attack by minions of the evil Tree Demon. The demons capture his three disciples.

Tripitaka is then captured by the king of reptiles and placed under the care of the ugly and shunned Meiyan, who falls in love with the monk. Luckily for Tripitaka, an alien princess rescues him, and Meiyan decides to team up with the princess in order to rescue the disciples.


The Perfect Couple

((summary taken from AsianMediaWiki))

Romance can bloom out of the strangest events. Sometimes even very embarrassing ones. Running after a pickpocket, Detective Kang Jae Hyuk (Lee Dong Wook, My Girl) finds out how problematic journalist Choi Soo Jin (Hyun Young, The Art of Seduction) can be when the skewer that holds her delicious treat magically ends up impaled in his abdomen. Things become more complicated when Kang becomes the police's media rep, as Choi is transferred to crime reporting. The reality show that ensues ("The Choi vs. Kang Report") enables the bickering pair to pursue a crime boss for the benefit of both their careers. But the two start to form a reluctant but formidable alliance: he's good looking, a great fighter, and a good detective. And she's determined to get her story done. Together, they make The Perfect Couple.


I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay


((summary taken from AsianMediaWiki))

Young-goon thinks that she is a cyborg, and is admitted to a mental institution. She refuses to eat food, and for sustenance, she electro-charges herself with a transistor radio. Despite her stay at the mental institution, her condition does not improve. While wearing her grandmother’s dentures, she continues to talk to electric appliances ranging from vending machines to lamps.

An assortment of odd characters surrounds Young-goon at the mental institution. Sol-mi receives electrotherapy to cure her depression and keeps losing her memory. Dae-pyung is scared of his wife and has turned impotent. Gyu-suk suffers from a severe case of Oedipus Complex. Duk-chun thinks that he is the cause of all bad things and always seeks forgiveness. Eun-young is delusional and has conversations with imaginary people. And Soo-jin is addicted to plastic surgery. Then there is Il-soon. His mother has left him, leaving him deeply wounded, and like others at the mental institution, he has become anti-social. Il-soon believes and demonstrates to others at the hospital that he has the power to steal such intangible personal traits as character, attitude and habits from them. When Young-goon sees Il-soon playing ping-pong wearing a funny mask, she is readily taken with him. Despite the mask, Il-soon has good looks, and Young-goon finds his awkward ways charming. Il-soon, too, takes to Young-goon immediately and finds most beautiful her big, white front teeth. In a group session where patients give each other gifts, Young-goon asks Il-soon to steal her sympathy.


Hwang Jin Yi (Episodes 1-24)

EPISODE 01-24

I really hate to say this since I had such high expectations for this drama... but I really didn't like it that much. At least, not compared to other dramas I've seen from this genre. Don't get me wrong--the acting, setting, costumes, choreography--it was all top notch! But in the end, it was the story that let me down the most. And for something like this that tries to invest so much... the story should be the strongest.

Now, for those of you who have heard amazing, glowing reviews for this drama... here me out first before you start hurling things at your screen.

First, I must start out by saying that I LOVE period dramas, and Ha Ji Won (Damo and Duelist) is actually one of my favorite actresses. Yet, when I try to compare Hwang Jin Yi with other dramas I've seen that are set around the same time-period, it just pales in comparison. I mean, Dae Jang Geum had 54 episodes, but it had me hooked from beginning to end! Damo was the same--though depressing, it had a strong story, cast, costumes, settings, fight scenes, etc. It lacked nothing. However, Hwang Jin Yi seemed like another attempt to duplicate the success and feelings that those dramas evoked... only it never quite succeeded.

One of the main problems I had with the story, was that towards the end, the main point of the drama appeared to get blurred, or maybe just forgotten. While I was watching it, love and romance seemed to be the main motivation for Jin Yi... she was driven by it, inspired by it, and was willing to die for it. And though she never truly stopped loving her art, to me, it always seemed to come second in her life.

SPOILER

Towards the end, when she finally manages to successfully run away with the Minister... that, I think, is when the story begins getting itself tangled up. All of the scenes that show their life far away from the palace and the Gyobang, show them happy, content, and in love... even if they occasionally have regrets about the lives they left behind, they genuinely appear happy just being together, and feel that the sacrifices they made were well worth it. The fact that she's pregnant and plans to surprise him with the news soon, only seems to reinforce that fact.

And then they get caught and dragged back to the palace--and Jin Yi appears to change suddenly, without warning. Given the chance to run away with him again (with the king's blessing, no less!) she decides to go back to the Gyobang, and live out her life as a courtesan. Even though she's pregnant, and has constantly fought against this very thing--she decides to throw it all away. Supposedly it's for his sake... but I don't know if I believe that, or truly agree with it. First of all, who is she to make that kind of decision for him? He knows what he's given up--he was with her for 3 years after all--so why does she suddenly think she knows what's best for him? Does she truly think he'd just let her walk away? Especially after finding out she's pregnant?

That just seemed very selfish to me... and though, not exactly out of character, it was frustrating, stupid, and apparently a very convenient plot devise to get her back where the writers wanted her. After her miscarriage, the writers seem to forget all about her "husband" and tried sweeping the whole incident under the rug. I mean, one minute she's willing to die for him--the next, she's abandoning him and their love to pursue her art. Blah, whatever!

Love seems to be the main thing motivating her throughout the entire series--to watch her throw it away suddenly without any real, adequate reason, just doesn't make much sense to me. Especially when he's willing to lower himself so that she can have both... it's as if he's the only one truly invested in their relationship.

END SPOILER

A majority of the drama is devoted to building up the "rivalry" between Bu-Young and Jin-Yi... and yet, when their show-down finally comes, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by it all. I thought it came to late, and the outcome left me annoyed and angry. When it was over, I couldn't help but think of it as another frustrating mistake by the writers. Jin Yi was just some puppet they used in order to force the characters around her to evolve and change.

After everything she sacrificed to get to that point, she basically ends up back at the beginning. I didn't sit there for over 24 hours, just to watch the main character lose everyone and everything she cares about... just to dance happily in the marketplace.

Overall, I felt it could have been much better, and the story (if not closer to the actual historical character she's supposedly based on) then at least something less muddled, and more coherent. Towards the end, I just couldn't shake the feeling that it was wrong somehow-- like, something else was supposed to happen, but they changed it at the last minute for no discernible reason. THAT'S what I walked away thinking after watching this drama...

It was good. But there are MANY other dramas I'd definitely recommend watching before this one.

Also, for a more balanced review, definitely read xinisterlayer's comment below!

My Rating: