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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 04:09 pm:   

To me, there's one film that stands out from the rest, and that is Tsai Ming Liang's The River. A masterwork of pure cinema, with an astonishly brilliant style of narration. It's a movie that felt completely new.
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JJA
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 07:10 pm:   

I probably haven't seen enough foreign films to qualify as much of a critic of them, but a few recent ones I really enjoyed are:

The Devil's Backbone
Amelie
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
City of God
Open Your Eyes
Time of the Wolf

I'd say Rabbit Proof Fence too, but I'm not sure it counts as Foreign. Is it technically an Australian film? (IMDB calls is Australian, anyway.)

A question: Has anyone seen Pather Panchali? This isn't a 90s or later film (it's from the 50s), but Netflix insists I'll like it and keeps recommending it to me, so I thought I'd solicit some opinions on it.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 07:20 pm:   

Yeah, Pather Panchali Is part of Sayajit Ray's Apu Trilogy. One the great works of modern cinema...though i think Devi is his best film.
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mastadge
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 07:54 pm:   

I don't know many foreign films. I like Guillermo del Toro's early stuff: Cronos and The Devil's Backbone.

I enjoyed Brotherhood of the Wolf.

I've yet to see an Ang Lee movie that I like.

I thought Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors was good.

I've heard good things about The Isle.

I've heard good things about some movies by whomever made In The Mood For Love.

I like Jeunet a lot.

I've heard good things about City of God.
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MarcL
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 11:28 pm:   

Many of the best movies I've seen in the last few years have come out of Iran, but my favorite of them all is "Marooned in Iraq." (This narrowly beats out "The Happiness of the Katakuris," and is only itself slightly beat by the best of Beat Takeshi (and taken as a whole, *no one* comes close to beating Takeshi: Sonatine, Zatoichi, Fireworks, Kikujiro, A Scene by the Sea, Boiling Point, Violent Cop).)

Today I watched "A Time for Drunken Horses," by the same Kurdish/Iranian director. It was very good, but not in the same league as "Marooned." I cannot recommend that one highly enough.

I watch pretty much every Iranian movie I can get ahold of. I finally got a copy of THE SMELL OF CAMPHOR, THE SCENT OF JASMINE, about which I heard great things when it was doing the festival circuit a few years ago. I will dutifully file my report later this week!

City of God is fantastic.

And that Von Trier fellow, haven't seen one yet that didn't get to me.

I'm dying to see the latest batch of Herzog's fake documentaries as well. They sound great. "My Best Fiend," about his harrowing friendship with Klaus Kinski, was an unforgettable documentary.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 04:29 am:   

I tell you, Marc, I highly recommend The River. I think you'd like it.

Von Trier, so far, hasn't missed with me. City of God was Mirielle's Hollywood audition tape. He''s assigned to Batman 18 or something of the sort. It was very good, sort of an amped up blaxpoitation flim, but I have a feeling that's it for him.

There are so many great films, it's difficult to know where to start. I agree that Beat Takeshi's work, especially Sonatine and Fireworks, is great, but better than anyone? Kurosawa, Kobyashi, et al. I don't know. Have you seen Fugusaku's cycle of yakuza films, the Yakuza Papers? Pretty terrific.

Anyway, back to the 90s.

JJA, I think Ki Duk Kim's Bad Guy is better than the Isle. Wang Kaw Wai (I'm In The Mood For Love) is somewhat overrated, in my view. His most interesting film might be Fallen Angels.

I saw a film the other day, Horse Thief, a tibetan film that was very good. Reminded me somewhat of Yassar Kemal's work, the great Turkish writer.

One of the best black comedies I've seen is the French Canadian film Leoli.

Oh well. Off to San Francisco
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 05:57 am:   

Still waiting for the shuttle.

More about Tsai Ming Liang's (the River). His most accessible film is The Hole, about the relationship betweem a man and woman living directly above him in ruinous apartment building who begin to commucate through a hole in the ceiling/floor. He's Tawainese and his flim's reflect the paranoia/claustrophobia of that island.

One of the most intriguing martial arts films I;ve seen was a Taiwanese movie, The Red Lotus Society, about five great martial artists who had fought against the Communists, legends, superheroes, now living in a taiwanese slum -- one runs a noodle stand, one is a taxi driver, one woman takes in washing. Really cool movie.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 06:07 am:   

And Chris Doyle does the cinematography for Red Lotus. He makes beautiful pictures.
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Kevin Helfenbein
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 06:19 am:   

I’ll go with Emir Kusturica's Underground with Zacharias Kunuk’s The Fast Runner as the runner-up (no word-play intended).

The two most overrated: Denis’s Beau Travail and Hou’s Flowers of Shanghai
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 06:20 am:   

Shuttle just called. They're late.

Russian films --

Mikhailkov's Burnt By The Sun and Close to Eden are pretty essential.

Prisoners of the Mountain is also excellent.

Oops. They're here.
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MarcL
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 11:53 am:   

I didn't mean Takeshi was better than Kurosawa...just talking about films since the 90's.

I had Tokyo Story come in from the library, but I was out of town and missed it. I'll definitely seek out The River.

Plus, I have the whole modern Korean film movement to look forward to--I've seen none of it.

Time of the Gypsies was excellent, and heavily influenced Marooned in Iraq apparently (Time for Drunken Horses shows a strong influence as well).
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Rich P.
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 01:54 pm:   

Finally located MAROONED IN IRAQ and watched it last night. It was pretty great. Thanks for recommending that Marc.

If the Kurosawa you’re talking about is Kiyoshi, my fave is still THE CURE (although PULSE is a close second). It doesn’t have the most strictly original premise (cop with problems at home tracks serial killer who hypnotizes others into committing murder), but I think Kurosawa’s organic narrative style is at its best in this movie.

My favorite 90’s Zhang Yimou is NOT ONE LESS about a determined young peasant girl hired to substitute teach in a poor Chinese village. No professional actors, no special effects... just a well-told story that comments on poverty in rural China, deceptively designed to slip past the censors.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 07, 2005 - 12:13 am:   

I'm always happy to hear I got someone else to watch MAROONED IN IRAQ.

THE SCENT OF CAMPHOR, THE FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE was mordant and deliberate and good. Self-portrait of an Iranian director (and his fellow directors and actors) forbidden to make the films he wishes to make and living a life of grief, who focuses his despair by making a documentary on Iranian death rites for a Japanese TV company.

I've got THE RIVER coming from the library right away. Too many movies!
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Bill Reynolds/Socrates17
Posted on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 06:36 pm:   

Some suggestions from my primary areas of concentration: French, Spanish, and Argentinian film. Maybe this list will be of some help to people who haven't followed those films as obsessively as I have. I consider all of these to be great films. I avoided guilty pleasures like 8 Femmes (8 Women) or all of the Spanish horror films I love - list available if this post wasn't long enough to make you wish I would shut up and go away. Unless I note otherwise, these are all available on DVD in the US. Hence the English titles. On imdb all titles are in the original languages.

El Lado Oscuro del Corazon (Dark Side of the Heart) Part 2, also out in the US, is good but not great

Les Amantes du Pont Neuf (Lovers on the Bridge) Leos Carax' next film, Pola X, is just horrible but has a great Scott Walker soundtrack. Buy that instead of the film.

Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood) Also Carax whose first film, Boy Meets Girl - even in France, was pretty good

Sin Noticias de Dios (No Messages from God, the US DVD release is, for some bizarre reason, titled Don't Tempt Me)

Dia de la Bestia (Day of the Beast out of print DVD from Spain, which at least had English subtitles. I found my copy on eBay UK. Available on VHS in the US but dubbed which totally ruins it. Deluxe 2 DVD edition out in Germany but with only German subtitles)

Tierra (Earth) (I have SUCH a crush on Silke Kleine. This is very Philip K. Dick and Silke was The Dark Haired Girl)

Tesis (Thesis)

Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) - Vanilla Sky, humph!!! On the other hand, Almenabar didn't credit UBIK for inspiring his film

L'Eau Froid (Cold Water) This and the next two are by Olivier Assayas. They aren't on DVD even in France. Only his later films are, and most of those are OK but not great.

Une Nouvelle Vie (A New Life)

Paris S'Eveille (Paris Awakens) soundtrack by John Cale

La Vie Rêvée des Anges (The Dreamlife of Angels) soundtrack by Yann Tiersen who also did the soundtrack for Amelie

Delicatessen - Speaking of Amelie, also Jeunet, and I STILL love this better than anything else he did including City of Lost Children.

Tout va bien, on s'en va (Everything's Fine, We're Leaving) - only on a French DVD without English subtitles

Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter)

Tango - No DVD even in France. This one is by Patrice Leconte (as are the next two on my list.) If you find a film on DVD with Tango in the title - it isn't this. Saura's film Tango is pretty good but not this good.

Ridicule - Leconte is SO good that it was hard narrowing it down to my self-imposed limit of 3 per director.

L'Homme du Train (The Man on the Train) For instance, I feel guilty leaving out La Fille sur La Pont (Girl on the Bridge, UK DVD only on VHS in the US)

La Cérémonie

Lisboa

¡Átame! (Tie Me Up Tie Me Down) - The last Almodovar I really liked. Women on the Verge was 1988 which is before the cutoff.

Adosadas (The Suburbs) - Not on DVD, even in Spain

Goya (Goya in Bordeaux)

Taxi - from Spain by Saura, not the series of French films. On DVD from Spain without subtitles. On VCD from China with both English and simplified Chinese subtitles that can't be turned off.

I didn't even TRY to deal with Eric Rohmer and the Contes des quatre saisons on the specious basis that his best stuff (the Six Contes Moraux) was decades earlier.

I loved Abraham's Valley which is from Portugal but I can't recommend it since the US DVD is dubbed into French.

Also to be considered is virtually anything by Finland's Aki Kaurismaki, of which only Man Without a Past is on DVD in the US. Everything is available in Japan but without English subtitles.

Three mini-series made great films: the Danish (Riget 1 & 2 - Kingdom 1 & 2) and the Russian (Brigada - Brigade.) Both Rigets were better than any of von Trier's films. Kingdom 1 is on DVD in the UK. I have a Chinese copy of Kingdom 2 and I don't know if it is legit or even still in print. Try eBay. Brigada is imported from Russia by a company in Brooklyn(!!!). Russia is NTSC and there's no region code. It has English subtitles.

The best concert films were Total Balalaika Show (Kaurismaki, Japanese DVD) and Theusz Hamtaak by Magma which can be ordered from Wayside Music.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 06:56 pm:   

I agree Bill with your estimation of Kaurismaki--he's one of my favorites. The Little Match Girl especially.

And I also agree that Delicatessan was Jeunet's best. Not a widely held opinion in light of the oh-so-sugary Amelie. But we share it.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 04:50 am:   

"Dia de la Bestia (Day of the Beast out of print DVD from Spain, which at least had English subtitles. I found my copy on eBay UK. Available on VHS in the US but dubbed which totally ruins it. Deluxe 2 DVD edition out in Germany but with only German subtitles)"

Grrr. I've been looking everywhere for this, but no luck.
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MarcL
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 12:39 pm:   

I wasn't a big fan of Amelie, but I loved Delicatessen and City of Lost Children about equally, and I'm probably the only person I know who enjoyed Jeunet's sadly failed attempt to finish off the Aliens franchise in the manner it deserved. I haven't yet seen Very Long Engagement....
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 01:01 pm:   

Nor have I, but I far prefer Delicatessan to City, even though it has a strong Terry Gilliam influence....
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Rhys
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 07:07 am:   

French cinema:

I loved LES VISITEURS.

I recently saw a French animated film about a starving policeman who dresses up as a giant pigeon in order to get fed. That was good.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 09:32 am:   

French animation necessity:

http://www.joeytomatoes.com/muppetsovertimeoriginal05.htm

Get it while it's good.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 12:34 pm:   

I watched THE RIVER last night and this morning. I found it hypnotic, quite good, lots of very still scenes full of almost imperceptible movement...just enough to put you on edge and, in the case of me late last night, fall asleep (that's why I had to rewatch the ending this morning). The scenes in semidarkness were haunting, especially drifting down the halls in the bathhouse, the sound of doors opening and closing...reminded me of Lynch's shadowy corridors in Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway. Quite disturbing. Thanks for recommending that; I'll seek out the others. FAREWELL TO DRAGON INN sounds good.

The initial premise, the trigger for the kid's illness, reminded me of a moment in the only D.H. Lawrence novel I've read, AARON'S ROD. There's a scene in there where the father sits down and falls asleep by the side of the road, and when he wakes up he feels vaguely uneasy. He never feels right after that, and eventually he dies of whatever the hell it was. That was one of the most frightening literary descriptions of illness I've read. Totally out of nowhere, an impersonal, nagging discomfort that worsens and worsens till it kills you.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 12:41 pm:   

Glad you enjoyed it, Marc, I really love that film. I haven't see Dragon Inn, so maybe that's another good one. The Hole is much lighter than the River, but enjoyable.
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ben peek
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 08:34 pm:   

i saw A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, and i liked it, but i did prefer DELICATESSAN and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN to it. i suspect that it all depends on how your taste goes for perferences, though. i did find that i prefered audrey tatou in AMELIE than this new film, however, as i felt she suited that film moreso.

and marc, you're not alone. i liked ALIEN RESSURECTION, though i did think i was the only one who did like it.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 09:00 pm:   

I must confessed that I thought Jeunet lost all his battles on ALIEN RESSURECTION and I loathed it. Lowlights? Sigourney and Winona strolling along leisurely, with a limited time to escape the ship before she blew, and discussing women's issues. Sigourney saying Well, we saved the earth. Son of Pumpkinhead, the baby. Yecch!
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 03:17 am:   

Sadly, according to Jeunet, Alien came out *exactly* the way he intended it to. He talks about it in the documentary that comes with the Alien boxed set. He had no intention at all of trying to make a Jeunet film. He came specifically to make a studio picture, exactly how Fox wanted it.

I think I was happier thinking he got run over.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 03:22 am:   

He might be saying that, Jason, because of contractual obligations or because he'd like another job in Hollywood.

I prefer to believe that, anyway.
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Vince Williams
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 09:49 pm:   

I would say Amelie and Open Your Eyes (Tom who?) and add to the list Life is Beautiful and Maria Full of Grace and I'm drawing a blank on some of the others...I guess Shine wouldn't count (Australia) but that amazing flick had a few scenes that will haunt me forever
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 01:57 pm:   

An older one everyone ought to enjoy: DOCTOR PETIOT. Entertaining dramatization of the French physician who pretended to help Jews escape the Nazis, while secretly shepherding them into his own gas chambers and ovens. Great movie.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 02:19 pm:   

Yeah, creepy movie....Michael Serrault is a trip, And it's not that old,is it? 10-12 years?
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 04:14 pm:   

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099446/

1990!
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 05:08 pm:   

OK, fiftteen years. :-) Whatever, that really creeped me out.....
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 12:16 am:   

I'm not picking on your chronoaccuracy...mine is awful...I saw DOCTEUR PETIOT about 9 years ago and really didn't have any idea when it had been made (it feels timeless). I was surprised to learn it was that recent actually. The copy I watched was in grainy, faded condition and made it seem older.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 06:06 am:   

Yeah, I saw it four, five years ago and it seemed like an older film. As I recall, the doctor was an historical figure. The French have produced some interesting murderers.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 09:22 am:   

Oh, yeah, he was hysterical I mean historical all right. Here's a pretty good online history:

http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/history/petiot/1.html?sect=6
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 09:47 am:   

Wow. Superweird.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 10:50 am:   

I don't know if anyone mentioned the Vietamese film Cyclo yet? It is from 1990, and is significant for the way its story evolves: it begins like a neo-realist study of the slums of postwar Vietnam, and slowly evolves into a strange, hynotic, weird, underworld-style tale. The director (who also made The Scent of Green Papaya) handles the tonal shifts perfectly, inflecting the images with plenty of style and weirdness as the movie progresses. It's also worth seeing for a young Tony Leung, who has got to be one of the world's premiere actors.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 10:57 am:   

Yes, Cyclo was excellent...one of my very favorites.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 11:12 am:   

Ditto...great flick.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 12:34 pm:   

Another little-known, thus little-appreciated, foreign film from the 90s is Tsui Hark's The Blade. It's a dynamite revenge film, filled with gritty action and poignant melodrama. It's one of those films that is begging for a DVD release and updated subtitles.

Hark, who has made some god-awful American action films, is responsible for Once Upon a Time in China 1-3 and the masterful Peking Opera Blues (1986). He is very prolific (often described as the Spielberg of the East), which translates to great inconistency in his work. But he does have a few gems in his oeuvre.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 12:57 pm:   

I'm sorry to hear I have missed a Tsui Hark film (he's one of my favorite directors), but I don't think I've seen that one.

I'll even take one of Hark's messy, fun, unpretentious American action movies over John Woo's pompous slow-mo productions any day.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 01:14 pm:   

I definitely agree with you about American Woo films, but I'm a sucker for his Hong Kong stuff, particularly The Killer and Bullet in the Head. Rumor has it that Woo is returning to China and teaming up with Chow Yun-Fat for a Chinese-produced historical epic. We shall see.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 02:41 pm:   

I liked some of Woo's earlier HK films, and Bullet in the Head is especially good. But Hark still seems more genuine--more alive somehow.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 03:18 pm:   

Once again, I feel compelled to point out that IMO Korean cinema has been producing epics, thrillers, and psychological dramas that surpass most of the old HK films....with the exception of King Hu's _wuxia_, which set the standard for sword and sorcery flicks.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 06:08 pm:   

Yeah, there's a whole well of Korean cinema completely untapped-by-me. As soon as the library starts stocking more of it, I can get right on this!
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 06:11 pm:   

Here's one I'm anxious to see: Tae Guk Gi (Brotherhood of War).

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0006VL1J2/qid=1108692654/sr=8-1/r ef=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl74/102-0284691-9559315?v=glance&s=dvd&n=507846
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 06:30 pm:   

Yeah, it;s pretty good, a little melodramatic for me. It;s the most expensive Korean movie ever made. !5 mill.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 07:59 pm:   

Is that "15 mill" or are you speaking Swahili?
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 08:12 pm:   

Fifteen million. Dollars.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 07:59 am:   

I thought maybe you were showing off your mastery of click-tongue.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 08:21 am:   

Well, I was, but nontheless it's fifteen million. It looks like more onscreen. It's fairly incredible what they can for for 15 million and under compared to our mega budgets.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 08:50 am:   

Pray for me. I have to review Constantine today...
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 09:17 am:   

Park Chan-Wook's (Korea) films are long overdue here in America. He's currently shooting the third part of his Revenge trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy have yet to grace our shores outside of the festival circuit. Though Old Boy is getting a release this spring.

I caught A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean) a couple weeks back. Enjoyed it more than the big names in the J-horror line (Ringu, Ju-On, etc.). It had a good deal of psychological depth, some genuinely frightening scares, and a great fairy-tale atmosphere.

There's just not enough Korean films available on these shores – at least none that are very accessible.

Lucius, a must-see shortlist of Korean films would be great appreciated (of course, some new fiction in '05 would even be more appreciated).
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 09:30 am:   

Kelly, I'm wirting a long novel and a non-fiction book on Central America, so I don't know if I'll have much out this year, but next year...

This year will have my book of film reviews, A reprint of Trujillo, the novel, by NS, and a story collection from Avalon, which consists of more than half the stories contained in Truxillo. And maybe two or three stories.

Old Boy is a trip. I'll make a short list later in the day.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 10:15 am:   

Thanks Lucius. I look forward to reading both your non-fiction book and long novel.

I'm no expert on your writing, so forgive me if I'm wrong, but will this be the first "long novel" you've written?

The face of 2005 fantasy literature will certainly feel a bit different this year without any new material out from you, considering your ouput the past 2 years.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 10:29 am:   

No, I wrote two early novels, Green Eyes and Life During Wartime, and, a sort of long novel, The Golden. Then there this years, Handbook of American Prayer, which is regulation length. I;ll be putting out three, four stories this year.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 10:32 am:   

Last year's A Handbook of American Prayer, I meant to say. The new one is Bi-i-g.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 10:52 am:   

Over the last two nights I watched Ozu's TOKYO STORY (the Criterion edition, with several documentaries including various directors (including Kaurismaki) talking about their affection for Ozu). It was my first Ozu movie, and I believe I'll be watching others and building up a better sense of his work. Simple stories, closely observed, simply told. It didn't blow me away, but I found it moving, and I suspect it'll come to mean more to me over time. Possibly his other movies are more directly relevant to where I'm at in my life right now.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 11:02 am:   

Lucius, I can't wait for your list of Korean films. I just discovered that the library has about 90 Korean movies in circulation. Hopefully some of them will be recognizable from your list.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 11:34 am:   

Marc, I have never seen any Ozu, or Mizoguchi for that matter, and I suppose I should feel a bit ahsamed.

What's kept me away is what you expressed in your message about not being blown away. He, along with Antonioni, is one of those international directors whom critics will not touch – except to praise. So when I come to certain international films (I've already encountered Antonioni's Blow Up and The Passenger and, call me provincial, but damn I was bored) there's this overwhelming sense that I need to like these films because they ARE masterpieces, as opposed to liking these films based on an organic response to what's happening on screen.

I don't think there are American directors who have monopolized the critics' opinions about their works like Ozu and Antonioni have. Certainly, Ford, Hitch, Welles, Kubrick, up to perceived modern masters like Scorsese and Spielberg, all have their detractors.

I don't know what my point is really, except I'd like a more balanced critical response to some of the International "masters."
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 12:42 pm:   

I finally saw BLOW UP a few months ago. A bizarre period piece. The best parts were those photographs in the park--they reminded me of a surreal intrusion in an Edward Gorey story. It's hard to imagine how this film struck its initial audience...I didn't feel particularly receptive to it.

I was receptive to Ozu, however, I did not come close to breaking into tears, which seems to be the usual response. I plan to watch more of them. I don't mind slow, static movies. It reminded me a bit of a Mike Leigh movie without the hysteria.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 12:48 pm:   

Among international master, I'm not sure that Kurosawa is without detractors. He certainly has made some movies that were weak compared to his best. And even some of his best really didn't affect me. I watched IKIRU recently and was just bored by it. Again...another time it might work for me. And this is not to say a single thing against his best works; and IKIRU could be a great movie that I wasn't in the mood for. But I guess I find it reassuring to see that even Kurosawa's output was uneven. One thing about Ozu is that he was incredibly prolific. It's not surprising that he would have mastered his craft; perhaps only surprising that he managed not to be a hack, and that "Tokyo Story" shows no signs of being made by someone in a rush.
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Kevin Helfenbein
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 04:33 pm:   

Regarding Korean Movies: I've seen Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, both very good, among a number of others. The best may be Jun-hwan Jeong's Save the Green Planet. The one caveat with it is the wrong ending tacked on after the true ending. I saw it coming and mentally prepared myself. The rest of the film is fantastic.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 06:00 pm:   

I'll have to find out the Korean titles for these. That's pretty much the only way they're listed in the library catalog.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 07:33 pm:   

Old Boy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are the director's first two films in his Vengeance Trilogy--the third, I believe, will be released this year. Both are good. By the guy who made Joint Security Area, a very interesting thriller.

Kim Ki-Duk is one of Korea's most interesting director. Very dark, mostly. Films of his I'd recommend are:

3-Iron
The Isle
Samaria
Bad Guy
Real Fiction
Coast Guard
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring

Acacia -- excellent horror film about an orphan
who thinks the tree in his back yard is possessed by the spirit of his mom. Directed by Pak Ky-hyung, whose films Secret Tears and Whispering Corridors is also good.


Bunshinsaba -- another good horror film, a blockbuster in Korea, directed by Ahn Bhung-ki.

Spider Forest -- interesting film about a man making a documetary about the Spider Forest, a strange locale in Korea. He awakens to find he has no recollection of the previous two dats and finds his film crew dead.

Public Cemetary of Wo-Ha -- a surreal and beautiful horror movie b y Kwan-Cheol-hwi about a woman who comes back from the dead.

Quiet Family -- the inspiration for Miike's Happiness of the Kakaturis. I actually prefer it, although Miike's take is very interesting.

Face -- Horror film about a man who reconstructs facial features on dead bodies and begins to suffer hallucinations.

Nabi -- science fiction film about a dystopic Korea visited by the Oblivion Plague, which wipes out people's memories. Really good.

Friend -- a gangster epic about four friends
path through the Korean underworid.

Nowhere to Hide -- great cop movie about two cops tracking down a killer. Raises the standard for this type of film.

Memories of Murder -- ruminative film about cops on the trail of a serial killer in a village. Based on a true story, crimes that were never solved. Excellent.

Hong Sang-Soo's The Power of Kangwon Province -- most of Sang-Soo's films are about futile lovers. This is the best, a great film.

Lee Chang-Dong's Oasis -- a riveting film about the affair between a cerebal palsy patient and a sociopath. Chang-Dong is also a novelist.

Sorum -- amazing ghost story concerning a taxi driver, a convenience store clerk, and a novelist who all live in the same crumbling apartment building.

Im Kwon-Taek's Chihwaseon. Another great film that won the best director award at Cannes in 2002.

That ought to get you started.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 11:02 pm:   

I remember I used to get the Arkham House catalog in the mail and flip the pages and sniff that odd particular scent it had, and get all worked up just looking at the titles of the books and the names of the stories and the very brief descriptions.

I feel sort of like that in the face of this evocative list. Thanks. Gonna hop over to the library website. I definitely saw a link to "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring" so I'll start there.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, February 18, 2005 - 11:40 pm:   

Ok, first pass, I've got Chihwaseon, Friend, JSA, The Isle, and Memories of Murder. I hope they don't all come in at once.

There are a few more I recognized on the library list, but not many.

Some others that are in the list, but you don't mention, are "Shiri" and "Tell Me Something" (another serial killer mystery).
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 01:31 am:   

Yeah, I tthought about mentioning those, but I shiri's overrated, except for the first ten minutes, and Telll Me Something is a bloody serial killer movie, which was very good, but didn't really do that Korean thing...at least not for me.

Spring, Summer, etc is a very untypical Kim Ki-Duk film, sort of his answer to the critics, who had called him repellent, etc. It won lots of prizes but I think his other works is closer to him
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 01:53 am:   

I should also say that Tale of Two Sisters is a good film, as is Die Bad.

An older film, Dharmaga tongjoguro kan kkadalgun (Why Bodhidarna Has Left For The East) is a zen fable, very nice, done by a painter.

There's a book, Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong Cinema, that's pretty good, though I don't always agree with the guy.

Try looking up all the films on IMBD -- they might give their Korean titles

Here's an article about a guy who sounds interesting, but I haven't tracked down any of his movies...
June 10, 1998


Meet Mr. Monster

A peek inside the cine-crypt of Kim Ki-young

By Chuck Stephens

KIM KI-YOUNG , one of world cinema's least-known and greatest eccentrics, lived -- and died -- in a haunted house.

His death was sudden, shocking, cruel -- and completely in keeping with his work. One night this past February, a fire consumed the South Korean filmmaker's house in Seoul -- a house he bought and loved not least because he understood that the wraith of its former owner was still in residence -- and took his life, and that of his wife, Kim Yu-bong. Everyone who knew him, and especially those who had met him only near the end, would agree: it had been too short a life. Kim Ki-young was 78 years old.

According to some, his nickname had been "Mr. Monster": a term of affection, an index of his passion for the grotesque. Kim's films were horrifying, sure, but no more than they were hilariously melodramatic, fantastically overwrought, and gloriously confused; monster movies about the lusting, brutal beasts we make of ourselves.

Born in Seoul in 1919, Kim was raised in Pyongyang (now the North Korean capital), spent time drifting through Japan and soaking up movies as a young man, and finally returned to Korea in 1941, where his plans of becoming a dentist soon gave way to a career in theater: he established the National University Theater in Seoul and made his reputation with numerous productions of O'Neill, Ibsen, and Chekhov. After writing and producing documentaries for the Bureau of Public Information (including the irresistibly titled I Am a Truck), Kim completed his first film as a director, The Box of Death, in 1955, but it wasn't until 1960's The Housemaid -- a lurid, spectral tale of domestic chaos and double suicide -- that he truly seemed to hit his stride.

Maid in Korea

Part of a six-film tribute to the director playing at the Castro this weekend, and again at the Pacific Film Archive later this summer, The Housemaid is one of Kim's signal accomplishments. Ominous and unpredictable, it studies the consequences of upward mobility when a middle-class family moves into a new house and determines to employ a housemaid. The husband, a feckless music teacher, gives piano lessons to the young, rural-born women who staff a local factory; his wife, in addition to raising their bratty son and crippled daughter, takes in sewing to supplement the family income. When hubby asks one of his students to recommend a suitable domestic from among the factory girls, the trouble begins.

The student, it seems, has developed a powerful crush on the teacher, and when her advances are spurned, she spitefully recommends a chain-smoking farm girl, Myong-ja, to the family's employ. A panic-eyed succubus, Myong-ja makes her first appearance emerging from the student's closet -- as if directly from the rejected woman's vengeful unconscious -- and immediately begins to sow the seeds of the family's destruction.

As littered with uncanny doublings and overdetermined details as anything in the collected works of Poe, The Housemaid -- framed as a cautionary episode torn from the day's headlines -- is filled with motifs that would haunt Kim's films for years to come: sexual blackmail; weak-willed men crippled by their breadwinning wives and infantilized by their conniving mistresses; death by rat poison. At once historically specific and archaically psychosexual, The Housemaid in some respects suggests Im Kwon-taek's Surrogate Mother turned inside out: a young, sexually feral woman is brought into an already fertile home, seduces a happily married man, and brings disaster on all. But is Myong-ja solely to blame for the ruin which befalls this family?

What about the demands of capital, which force the wife to become a kind of insect-woman, shackled to her sewing machine? Or the social consequences of urbanization and industrialization, which inculcate inflated expectations, promote colliding mores and collapsing morals, and undermine patriarchy with legions of working women? And piano lessons for factory girls? Is art to blame?

Kim, to his credit, never did decide. And so thorough was his indecision, so passionate his devotion to the dilemma, that he remade the same film at least four different times throughout his career: themes and motifs from The Housemaid recur in 1972's The Insect Woman and The Woman of Fire '82, both of which screen in the Castro series, as well as a 1971 version of Woman of Fire and in Kim's final film, 1984's Carnivore.

Yet, the more the situation became a template, the more Kim found the liberty to concentrate on baroque compositions and ornate frippery. The Housemaid's cobwebbed pleasures are as manifold as its plot twists are impossible to synopsize, and not the least of them include the sets Kim himself designed and decorated. The "new house" is a claustrophobic bunker whose ceilings are water-stained and whose walls are covered in oozing stucco ornaments and framed photos that seem to have been torn from a Max Ernst edition of Look magazine. Bodies are forever falling or being dragged down its central flight of stairs, a flight of stairs that appears again and again throughout Kim's films, the centerpiece of wild suburban castles that merge the mod and macabre, as if Vincent Price had been called upon to redecorate Graceland.

In all, Kim Ki-young made more than 30 films, some of them apparently lost, others now revered as pinnacles of expressionism in Korea's melodrama-laden and realism-prone mainstream cinema. If I had to pick a favorite, perhaps it would be Kim's flabbergasting "woman's film," Promise of the Flesh, in which a murderess's descent into madness is "explained" by a succession of rococo rape scenes, unlikely longings, frantic couplings on darkened train cars -- and an addiction to hard pink candies. In the end, domesticity is affirmed, but the film's final image -- a construction site near Seoul Station -- looks like a vision from a war zone, or a vestige of some already-forgotten future.

Incoherence and jarring juxtaposition run rampant throughout Kim's films, and if their titles and topics sometimes seem to suggest a composite of Roger Corman and Shohei Imamura, so be it. Kim's Koryojang (1963; no known prints survive) seems, based on description alone -- an impoverished peasant is forced by tradition to leave his aged mother to die on a snowy mountaintop -- clearly related to the legend from which Imamura's Ballad of Narayama is drawn, and Kim's Iodo is as filled with dirt-caked lust, island-isolated longing, and necrophiliac shamanism as anything in Imamura's hillbilly canon. But what is anyone to make of the inspired madness behind Kim's quota-quickie Killer Butterfly, a film dependent on -- among other astonishments -- the clattering bones of a 2,000-year-old Mongolian virgin and the manic, sexualized burping of a cracker-making machine?

'Dwarfed Male Fantasy'

Nineteen ninety-seven had been, for Kim Ki-young, a very rewarding year. A collection of his screenplays had just been published, and the second Pusan International Film Festival mounted an extensive retrospective of his films, with Kim in attendance at every screening and cocktail party. An English-language booklet entitled Kim Ki-young: Cinema of Diabolical Desire and Death -- with chapter titles like "Dwarfed Male Fantasy" and "Imagination of Excess or Heresy" -- was published as an adjunct to the event, and for the first time a handful of Westerners were made aware of this major and hitherto unheralded film stylist.

"Kim's films are as psychically fraught as Hitchcock's, as floridly overwrought as Nicholas Ray's, and may well be poised to enter the ranks of the world's most sought-after cult flicks," I wrote last November, still stunned by what I'd seen in Pusan. Stunned? Time after time, I was barely able to keep my mouth from hanging open: blue severed heads and rat-beset babies, rape scenes scored to raw acid funk, chicken-fed corpse-grinders and cascades of hard candy -- these are a few of Kim's favorite things.

And, though he hadn't made a film in over a decade, Kim's old films were being embraced by young Korean audiences and he seemed on the verge of a resurrection. Re-energized, he was preparing something called Diabolical Woman, a film, Kim told me in Pusan, to be "based on a tragic story that befell a doctor in Korea about four years ago."

"This doctor was losing patients and his hospital was on the verge of closing," Kim explained, sucking on his pipe and filling the air around his head with smoke. "He began to suffer from paranoia and other psychological problems. When an attractive nurse came along and tempted him they fell into a relationship, but through some cunning work she ends up taking over the hospital and dumping the doctor. When the doctor's wife learns of the situation, she leaves him too, and the man finds himself with no money, no wife.

"Ironically though," Kim chuckled, as if his films could resolve on any other note, "there's a happy ending. Just as the man's life seems ruined, the nurse suddenly returns to him; she has doubled the assets of the hospital, and they end up living together, happily ever after! And it's all true; that doctor and nurse live together to this day. Unfortunately, though, it is very difficult to find this kind of woman!"

Not for everyone, it seems. Kim's wife since 1951, Yu-bong, was once an actress, but she made her career as a dentist and determined that her husband should be afforded every opportunity to live an artist's life. Ultimately she financed many of Kim's films: "My wife's support has been unflagging over the years, even if, at times, she has seen one of my films and cried 'What have you done with my money?' But at rare moments like this retrospective, she becomes very emotional, recognizing that finally it has all been worthwhile."

When I tried to throw the obvious Freud saddle on him, though, Kim quickly jumped to one side: "Nothing in my films is based on my personal experience, but they're often taken from 'true' experiences I've read about or heard about from friends. As far as my married life goes, I can only say that I perceive my relationship with my wife -- and married life itself -- as a kind of game."

And the winner is?

"Always my wife!"

The riches of embarrassment

Even though Kim's life straddled what is currently known as the DMZ -- the fortified latitude that slices Korea in half -- his professed fondness for hot-needling sexual politics has always superseded his interest in his nation's domestic divide: "North or south, capitalist or communist, ideology is far less interesting to me than the things that divide the sexes."

"I once made a film whose release was delayed 14 years," Kim told me, without ever mentioning the film's title. "And when I finally was able to see it, over 40 minutes had been removed by the censors. But that had nothing to do with politics either. I had tried to show the difference between animal and human sexual behavior.

"When female animals ovulate, the males instinctively know it; it's a condition of instinct, and the animals copulate instinctively and without constraints. In the case of humans, the wife and husband are both trapped in this thing called marriage, where sex has very different purposes. It's not for reproduction only. After men receive the rather momentary satisfaction of the honeymoon's sex encounter they are forever after trapped and must devote their lives to their wives. I wanted to focus on this obvious difference between the species, but the censors didn't like what I was getting at: human females don't show signs that they're ovulating but that they simply want sexual pleasure. And males must suffer every night, whenever females want their pleasure.

"But these are fundamental problems for men and women everywhere," Kim hedged, "not just for Koreans."

Indeed, there is something universal in Kim's cinema of sexual panic and psychic pain, and not just something universally "male." He has created a world where isolation and interdependence are bedmates, where the ancient and the modern are joined at the hips, and where suffering and pleasure dress in one another's clothes. It is a cinema, as described by Korean critic Oh Young-sook in Cinema of Diabolical Desire and Death, of "embarrassment":

"The oddity of his films' themes, motifs, and chosen characters appear on the surface. The sense of embarrassment, which Kim Ki-young's films give the audience, comes from a deeper place. We can see gaps in his films that demolish the rationality of their narrative structures. The textures of his stories are complicated and illogical. The stories flow at random without letting the audience expect them. Episodes breaking up the stories appear all of a sudden and shake the balance of narrative composition. Maxims that the characters speak out constantly interrupt one's concentration on the story."

Confronted with the riches of Kim's embarrassments, the viewer is left to her own devices. Is Kim's elixir of desire a tincture of rat poison or sugar water? Is the promise of the flesh but a mouthful of hard pink candy? Why does the new house -- the house that Kim Ki-young built on the rubble of patriarchy -- look so old? Because it is a house twice haunted: once by demons, once by lovers.

Now the house itself is but a memory, the cinders damp, the monster gone. But in Kim Ki-young's films -- each of them as startling now as the day they were made -- those terrifying, embarrassing passions live on, and there is music playing still. A deranged pianist is banging out a discordant wedding march, and the wind takes hold of sighs and breathy longings. Somewhere a train whistle screams and dies, choked by a tunnel, and bells begin to toll, thin and remote, like the rattle of ancient chains.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 02:02 am:   

Mark, I noticed your Kurosawa comment. Ever seem Dersu Ezala?
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MarcL
Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 11:16 am:   

Yes, when I was a kid. Haven't watched it since then. There are many Kurosawa movies I've only seen once and I'm not sure what to think of them--whether I'd like them more now than I did at first. My only excuse is that...well, hell, look at all those Korean films I haven't even seen once!
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 10:29 pm:   

Yeah, I think you might want to revisit Dersu Ezala on of these days. It's pretty darned good.

"Darned?" What's happenng to me?
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MarcL
Posted on Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 10:17 am:   

Heck if I know.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 10:34 am:   

Whillikers, Marc. I think I'm evolving into.........
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:01 am:   

Chi-hwa-seon was fantastic. I think this is the best movie I have seen about a painter. And there's lots and lots of painting in it (the DVD features a gallery of several original works; the movie casts light on the circumstances of each painting's creation). What most amazed me was the editing and pacing. It covers the artist's entire life without lingering on any one moment, yet it never feels rushed or confused. Most of the scenes end just as you're fully focused on them. Great movie. Korean cinema, here I come!
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:15 am:   

Well, they're not Chihwaseons. I covered a broad range of genres, B-movies, cop movies in the list, but...yeah! Chihwaseon is great!
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:20 am:   

not all Chiswaseons, I meant to say...
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:21 am:   

That's fine. I embrace all genres. Hope there are some nurse romances in there too.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:24 am:   

LESSONS OF DARKNESS was also good. Herzog's trip through the apocalyptic wasteland of Kuwait (with a sidetrip to a torture chamber) just after Gulf War I, with wry detached commentary. The perfect IMAX movie, really. I didn't get the ending though.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 10:55 am:   

Nurse romances.... I must admit I omitted that category. Anyway, I was just trying to give a broad spectrum of films,, but there is good degree of depth to Korean cinema...

I enbrace all genres....I swear to god, I think that's a line from a Jack Vance novel.

I can't remember the ending, but I liked Lessons of Darkness...
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 12:15 pm:   

The ending was where after putting out all these massive flaming oil fires, they went and ignited a few more.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 12:28 pm:   

Yeah...hmmm. Maybe so they could put a disclaimer on the film, No Oil Fires Were Harmed During the Making of This Movie.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 01:25 pm:   

Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure I read a description of one of the Korean movies at the library which conceivably could have been summed up as "Nurse Romance."
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 01:29 pm:   

Yeah, they make a lot of light romances and softcore porn...but I haven't checked any out.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 01:31 pm:   

Oh yeah, one more movie to recommend--- Address Unknown.
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 04:36 pm:   

Some more Korean and Japanese films may be on the way:

"50,000 films collected by Abe, who died without an heir, have reverted to the Japanese government. The collector had refused to allow experts to inspect the films while he was alive, but on his list are 60 Korean films believed lost during the Korean War, as well as rare silent Japanese films. The collection is tipped as the most significant discovery for the film world of both nations since the end of World War II."

http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200502/200502110014.html
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 21, 2005 - 05:23 pm:   

Here's one I'm really looking forward to: TURTLES CAN FLY, from the director of MAROONED IN IRAQ.

http://www.ifcfilms.com/ifcfilms?CAT0=3127&CAT1=6266&SHID=19905&AID=10507&CLR=re d&BCLR=

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MarcL
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 12:56 am:   

So over the last few nights I watched FRIEND and MEMORIES OF MURDER. FRIEND was good but MEMORIES OF MURDER was amazing. It deserves a wider audience. It reminded me a bit of JENNIFER 8, a bit of a bunch of other cop movies and police procedurals. But it was unique. The lacing of humor reminded me of Beat Takeshi's darker antics. One thing that hits me in all these movies--ALL the actors are fantastic. The quality of performances in the three Korean movies I've seen so far is frightening.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 - 06:08 am:   

Yeah, Memories is a favorite of mine. And you're right about the acting--it is really good.

I should mention a Thai film (another burgeoning cinema), Last Life in the Universe, one the best flicks I saw last year; A black comedy about a man contemplating suicide, featuring Takashi Miike in a small role as a yakuza. Real good.
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MarcL
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 02:16 pm:   

I just tracked down a movie I've been looking for for several years. All I knew was that it was about a yakuza trying to reclaim his severed pinky. I thought it was called THE WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE. But in actuality, it's called THE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE.

Thankfully, it's in stock at the library.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001FVDPK/qid%3D1109542076/sr%3D11-1/ref %3Dsr%5F11%5F1/102-4461540-0953756

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