Episode 79 : Zero Sum Hammer Games

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Added on Sun, 13 Mar 2011 06:36:14 -0700.
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For no adequately explained reason, theOneliner crew dive into the darkest recesses of Asian cinema, which is about as dark a recess as you can get in Movieville. Join us to get the lowdown on I Saw The Devil, Slim Till Dead, Samaritan Girl and Vital.

I Saw The Devil was what prompted this journey to the back catalogue, with South Korean director Jee-woon Kim's latest getting a somewhat limited release in select areas of Blighty. Moving on from the enjoyable, off-kilter Western The Good, The Bad and The Weird, this sees OldBoy's Min-sik Choi as a serial killer prompting the wrath of secret service agent Byung-hun Lee after killing his fiancee. Tracking him down, he decides that rather than boringly kill the killer, he merely beats him up, maims him and sets him free in order to repeat the process, until karma comes back around on him. Stylishly and economically directed with some well-considered framing, but as a film the complete lack of any charismatic or sympathetic characters makes it difficult to maintain any real interest. Without anything human to relate to, this does reduce to a parade of violence that doesn't really say anything about human nature. Unless you've a strong stomach for this sort of thing, it's hard to recommend.

Anthony Wong stars in 2005's Slim Till Dead, playing Sergeant Tak, tasked with finding a serial killer who is targeting models from a TV slimming competition who is kidnapping these models and forcing them to reach a somewhat unrealistic target weight of 70 pounds, normally by dint of hacking off limbs and such. Or at least, that's nominally what it's about, but it always seems to be taking a back seat to Wong's gurning, either about the lack of hot loving' he's receiving from his wife or his self-confidence issues over being passed over for promotion. The police procedurals are competent, but the wild mood swings of the tone hobble any attempt at really getting into it and an obnoxiously stupid ending doesn't help matters. Much as we like Anthony Wong around here, this is neither his best role or best performance. Avoidable.

Back to Korea to look at Ki-duk Kim's 2004 outing Samaritan Girl. Schoolgirl Yeo-Jin acts as a de facto pimp for her best friend Jae-Young, prostituting herself seemingly to raise cash for a holiday to Europe. Jae-Young doesn't seem too concerned by this, until one day when the cops come knocking. To avoid prosecution, Jae-Young takes a leap of faith out of the window which turns out to be ill-considered, what with it killing her and all. Devastated by this, Yeo-Jin seems to attempt to redress her karma defect by, puzzlingly, sleeping with all of the men Jae-Young did and refunding them their money. This seems to be working until her father gets wind of the scheme and starts paying 'friendly visits' to her clientele, bringing a hammer. On a logical level it's difficult to recommend, as not only are most of the character motivations impenetrable, the explorations of alienation and isolation that Kim seems fascinated by immediately create a barrier to acceptance. It's a difficult film to love, but there's an almost dreamlike mood to the piece that's more compelling than the storyline perhaps commands.

Shinya Tsukamoto's 2004 outing Vital sees Hiroshi Takagi (Tadanobu Asano) awake from a coma after an accident, having lost his memory. Re-enrolling in a medical school, he gets on well until the autopsy class where he realises that he had known the girl on the table he's supposed to be cutting up. Essentially about Takagi trying to uncover and reintegrate his pre-accident life and memories with his current situation, decent performances, a strong, well-paced plot and Tsukamoto's tremendous sense of visual style make this the most readily recommendable of the movies covered in this podcast, and reaffirms his status as a director who I do not consider to have made a bad film in his career.

That is all for now. We'll be back sometime soon, so until then keep your nose clean and if you can't be good, be lucky.