Monday, October 20, 2014

말하는 건축가 (2012)

After Jeong Jaeeun's captivating debut film, Take Care of My Cat, I admit that I was a little disappointed by her vague and unfocused follow-up, The Aggressives. However, I was still looking forward to another film from director Jeong, but the years rolled on and I heard nothing. It was seven years after the release of The Aggressives that saw Jeong Jaeeun's return to feature filmmaking and I was surprised by her new project: a documentary called Talking Architect. But as I watched this biography about locally renowned Korean architect Jeong Giyong I found myself drawn in, by the fascinating subject, as well as Jeong Jaeeun's patient, observational approach.

Talking Architect catches architect Jeong towards the end of his life. He is suffering from cancer and had recently had surgery. He lost his voice and speaks in a raspy whisper, often augmenting his voice with a microphone and speaker. But he is still running around giving lectures on architecture and is coordinating with a museum that is hoping to present an exhibit based on his life and works. The film also spends a little time revisiting buildings that Jeong designed both with and without him, presenting older video footage taken by and of him in the past, and interviewing both Jeong and his colleagues on Jeong, his philosophies, and architecture overall, including a round of takes on Zaha Hadid's futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

These asides help ground audiences in an understanding of the perspectives on architecture, showing that Jeong Giyong stands in a rare place in Korean architecture, focused specifically on working with the environment to find solutions to architecture problems. This results in his building a children's library around a tree rather than tearing out the tree and also in building stands around a field where the shade for the stands is actually provided by trees that have been guided to grow around a skeleton. And throughout all this, we listen to architect Jeong wax on philosophically about what he's been trying to do with architecture and how he's especially interested in how it organizes and solves spatial problems for people.

And Jeong Giyong is rather magnetic because of his solutions oriented approach and zeal for his work. Granted, this isn't a hagiography as it does show Jeong getting a little cranky about adjustments to his work, like the placement of solar panels near the aforementioned stands or on top of an elderly community center he designed, as well as in the later part of the film, getting a bit picky and ambitious about the museum exhibit, leading to some conflict with the museum and exhibit directors. And there is also the potshots taken by Jeong and his colleagues at Hadid's work, which does belie a bit of petty envy as it was certainly a huge contract.

But I think what helps make Talking Architect so compelling, aside from the earnest personality of architect Jeong himself, is how director Jeong investigates and observes him. While she does observe his interactions with the museum staff as the exhibit becomes a major part of architect Jeong's late story, in many ways we follow him in smaller moments as well, giving us a look at his character outside of architecture. This includes watching him take a bath at the community center he built, decide that he wants to go to lunch at a particular restaurant he likes, or playing back old home movies he took of a beach trip or riding in the car with his son. This the same natural observation that director Jeong used in Take Care of My Cat so effectively and it serves the documentary purpose well, filling in architect Jeong as more than just an architect, but as a human being.

And it's because of his dedication to fleshing in architect Jeong's character that I found myself moved when at the mid-point of the film, he reappears, dressed in a thick coat, sunglasses, and hat, disguising his hair loss likely from chemotherapy or radiotherapy and looking even more gaunt. And by the time we reach his final moments, which director Jeong was present for, I also felt a sense of loss like his family and staff nearby, as through this film, I felt like I had actually come to know the man.

Talking Architect's ability to make its audience know its subject as well as present his place in his profession so well is what makes it such a compelling biography. It feels natural and while director Jeong is usually simply a fly on the wall, she also has a few behind-the-camera conversations with architect Jeong during the film, helping us to realize the relationship without making herself a subject. This adds an element of personal viewpoint here, helping us to be reminded that documentaries are not objective, but subjective and that we are seeing what director Jeong finds so interesting and fascinating about architect Jeong. And after watching Talking Architect, I have to thank Jeong Jaeeun for sharing with me her perspective on this admirable Korean architect. 9/10.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 11회 빨리 와주셔서 감사합니다

"Thank You for Coming So Quickly" is what Bomi says at the top of the episode, while Dongha is more reserved, knowing the coming storms. The first of these is Dong-uk, who won't see him. Hyeoksu meets with Bomi turns out to be a little more accepting of Bomi, although it's clear that the hospital is in potential trouble if Dong-uk leaves and Bomi gets the hint that it got in trouble when Hyeoksu and Myeonghui "cut in line" for a heart transplant. Hyeoksu also declares his opposition to Dongha.

Back at the office Bomi tells Hyeonsun about her heart transplant and Hyeonsun is afraid she might have hurt Bomi and Myeonghui's feelings with her opposition to Bomi and Dong-uk's marriage and would like to apologize to Myeonghui, clearly having changed her mind about Bomi. Bomi decides to quit Hanu Haon due to being uncomfortable about working with Hyeonsun while not being able to disclose her relationship with Dongha. Hyeoksu leaves an apology gift for Dong-uk.

Dong-uk meets with Jiwon and learns about his importance to the hospital. There Jiwon also learns that Dong-uk is open to adopting. Back at Hanu Haon, Dongha confesses to Hyeonsun that Bomi broke up with Dong-uk to get together with Dongha, despite promising earlier to Bomi that they would inform Hyeonsun together. Hyeonsun seems disappointed, especially that the brothers' reconciliation is broken, but also stays out of it.

Bomi invites Dongha to dinner with Bluesea and Bomi receives pills that Sujeong made for Pureun to comfort her from Bluesea. Dongha tells Bomi that he told Hyeonsun about them and then asks Bomi not to work too hard to play mother to Bluesea and to live for herself. Bomi gives Dongha a revised version of Daudet's short stories and then Dongha goes home and confirms his relationship with Pureun, but even Pureun worries about Dong-uk. Dong-uk visits Hyeoksu to get advice on what to do and Hyeoksu just tells him to genuinely do what he believes is best for his future.

Bomi and Hyeonsun meet while Dongha meets with Hyeoksu. Hyeoksu asks Dongha to push Bomi away, considering if it was Pureun. Bomi confirms to Hyeonsun her desire to make the relationship work. Bomi and Dongha meet after this and Dongha holds back on his meeting with Hyeoksu and Bomi calls him out on it. They embrace, just in time for Myeonhui to come up and catch them together in front of Sena's place.

Good place for a cliffhanger. I was afraid that Dongha was going to be able to hold out on meeting with Hyeoksu, so I'm glad that Bomi just called him out on it. This show continually surprises me by not drawing out internal conflict and tackling it head on. Sometimes, like in episode six, the show seems to manufacture conflict just for the purpose of immediately resolving it, but most of the time, I appreciate that the show keeps pushing forward rather than getting stuck on a single issue for multiple episodes.

I really like that Hyeoksu isn't an evil opposed parent in this episode--he really will fight for Bomi on almost every front with the sole exception of Dongha. And even Myeonghui is clearly still very much in love with Hyeoksu, which is driving all that she's doing to push Bomi to Dong-uk. It's a really believable situation and though Myeonghui has an edge about her that makes her unlikable at times, her humanity really helps balance it.

Now that Dong-uk and Bomi have detached, we're also starting to finally see a bit more Jiwon, especially as she remains Dong-uk's other friend at the hospital, outside of Hyeoksu, and now that she knows that her infertility isn't a matter to Dong-uk and Dong-uk is finally open to hearing her side of the story, she's got a lot to think about, and perhaps do, if her self-pity wasn't so oppressive. I think she's still the weak spot for the show because her self-pity and manipulation simply doesn't seem as well driven as any of the other characters' behaviors.

Finally, there are some subtle details that help add bits of levity as well as highlighting the age difference in this episode, like Dongha's inability to send emoticons and his examining his own wrinkles in the mirror. Also amusing are moments like Dongha awkwardly trying to make Bomi comfortable in his car and messing up with the buttons.

All of this goes to serve a kind of tone that My Spring Day is really successfully accomplishing. The show is dramatic and the conflict is present and serious, but the show simultaneously doesn't usually let it get dragged down too far into wallowing in angst by having the characters be aware of their problems and directly handle it. This lets the show keep moving forward instead of getting caught on a wheel of angst while some more delicate problems, like the disrepair in the Gang brothers' relationship continue to help drive the greater conflict.

But the direction also helpfully doesn't really wallow in these moments either, usually opting to keep musical flashback montages to a minimum. It's not masterful direction, but it's clean and straightforward, bathed in the kind of optimistic cinematography that's in keeping with the series' tone, which is ultimately optimistic, but realistic. The realism shows in the restrained level of brightness in the show, that no one is overflowing with boundless joy and ridiculous cuteness as the situation the characters are in is a serious one, but the show still provides enough subtle levity to balance the seriousness of the concerns at hand. And for that, I'm grateful. I do kind of wish we'd spend a little less time with the leads being cutesy with each other and spend a little more time tracking side characters, but the show doesn't really overindulge in that and the realities of the genre and audience expectations of course almost necessitate those extended moments. As such it's not much to complain about.

A solid episode from this series. Appreciated. 8/10


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

우리 생애 최고의 순간 (2008)

Originally published at Dramabeans on October 5, 2014

Forever the Moment is an underdog film about underdogs. Despite the high productivity of the Korean film industry, sports films are relatively uncommon compared to other genres. And Forever the Moment is a sports film. About handball. Which is itself a rather unpopular sport in the Republic of Korea. But despite the relative obscurity of handball as a sport in Korea, the South Korean women's handball team has frequently scored medals in the European-dominated sport at the Summer Olympics, scoring back to back golds at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

Likewise, director Im Sunnye was known more among critics circles for making low box office performing film festival darlings like Waikiki Brothers. But just like how Korea's women's handball team somehow managed to rise beyond their obscurity and score the country medals at the Olympics, Im Sunnye's Forever the Moment managed to become a hit at the Korean box office in 2008. But Im's Forever the Moment manages to win its audiences the same way her previous films won over critics: attention to character.

The characters in this case are members of the women's handball team that went on to compete at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where they took home silver medals. Based on the true story, writer-director Im specifically focuses in on a quartet of women, three of which are veterans of the gold medal-winning 1992 Olympics team and all of whom are now in a different place in life and much older than their teammates.

In particular, star player Han Misuk (Mun Sori) finds her team dissolved and left with a job as a supermarket barker, having to support her child as her husband lost a pile of money on a business deal and is now on the run from loansharks. When her teammate O Suhui (Jo Eunji) is picked up for the national team and her former teammate and rival Gim Hyegyeong (Gim Jeong-eun), becomes the interim coach of Korea's national team, she gets fellow teammate Song Jeongnan (Gim Jiyeong) recruited on the team before Hyegyeong convinces Mi-sook to join too after arranging a loan for her.

As the elder team members struggle with tension with their juniors, Hyegyeong's interim position comes to an end as her ex-lover and star handball player An Seungpil (Eom Taeung) is invited to step in as permanent coach, demoting Hyegyeong to a player on the team. An Seungpil takes an immediate dislike to the older team members as they resist his attempts to remold the team's training, and the team finds itself struggling to come together, culminating in a humiliating defeat against a high school boy's team. But through all the egos and personal problems, we watch as the team comes together and make their inspiring bid for Olympic glory.

Despite being a sports film, director Im does what she's always done best and spends most of the film's running time with her ajumma characters, observing and exploring their personal struggles and conflicts. In fact, only the last few minutes of the movie are really dedicated to actually watching them play much handball at the Olympics, mostly skipping straight to their electrifying final match against the eventual gold medalists of Denmark.

You might think that there isn't much sport in this sports film, however, this turns out to be an excellent choice on Im's part because her exploration of the characters, especially of Misuk and Hyegyeong's respective situations, really gives us an understanding of what the sport and this particular Olympic run means to each of the involved characters, making us all the more invested in that last game.

Furthermore, Im and her co-writer Na Hyeon also manage to infuse the story with a look at how these national heroes end up, most of them struggling in the aftermath of bringing glory to their country. The decision to open the film with a barely attended professional handball game followed by the dissolution of the team and the scattering of their members to the winds is a contrast to the noise and cheer that the country winds up for them every four years when the women's team somehow manages to make it to the top four.

And director Im highlights this in the film's final moments by changing from the dramatization of the story in Forever the Moment to actual interviews, footage, and photos of the actual coach and team members that made the silver-medal winning run at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In this way, Im continues her tradition up to this point of keeping her eye fixed on the struggling underdog, like the underdog students of Three Friends or the struggling band of Waikiki Brothers.

And, as before, she never lets the story wallow in pity nor does she attempt to glorify her characters. And that's how I think that's how Forever the Moment manages to be a surprisingly honest film. It shows their struggles and that these women will continue to struggle. However, per the Korean title, which translates to "The Greatest Moment of Our Lives", it also gives them their moments of triumph as well.

And Im herself got a moment of triumph as Forever the Moment became a hit. While certainly not a high-budget blockbuster, Forever the Moment achieved blockbuster level success. Perhaps this was in part due to the popularity of the women's handball team's 2004 Olympic run with the public, and perhaps some of it was due to the ramp-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But I can also say that it was because Forever the Moment is also a fine film and perhaps audiences were resonating with its honest depiction of the trials and triumphs in our lives.

Is there some degree of nationalist sentiment in the film? Sure. It happens in the final match as Im presents some controversy stirred up over the refereeing. And yes, the film's attempt to cover so many characters lead to some of the main characters and their conflicts being a little underdeveloped. But underdog tales make for popular sports films for a reason and Im's fixation on underdogs and their personal stories made her the perfect choice to helm this film, clearly aided by excellent performances all around.

While handball might not interest most people outside of Northern Europe, Forever the Moment overcomes the obscurity of its sport by embracing that oft-told tale of the underdog honestly and focusing on the characters that compose the team. It is likely the greatest handball movie ever committed to celluloid. And it's also worth a watch for anyone that likes a good underdog story. 8/10.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 10회 제 심장이 아니라 제가 좋아한다구요

Dongha starts "It's Not My Heart That Likes You, I Like You" by trying to convince Bomi that her feelings for him come from Sujeong's heart. After she tails him, Dongha lets her rest at his place. Back in Seoul, Dong-uk informs Hyeonsun that Bomi broke up with him. Bomi explains to Dongha that she still likes all the things she used to like, she's sure of herself. He gently rebuffs her.

Hyeoksu finds out from Dong-uk that Bomi knows about her heart and that she went to Udo. Speaking of Hyeoksu, Chairman Song tries to convince Myeonghui to relieve Hyeoksu of his position and promote Dong-uk, guessing that Jiwon removed the clause that would guarantee the opening of the Organ Transplant Center and give Hyeoksu some work to do. Eventually, Dongha relents to spending time with Bomi for the day.

Over wine, Myeonghui explains to Hyeoksu what Chairman Song wants and expresses regret at what happened five years ago. Meanwhile, Jiwon asks Dong-uk if he wants to be director and then asks him to meet with Chairman Song.

Bomi and Dongha make dinner and Dongha reveals to Bomi that he first liked her when he saw her in line for meat, thanking the cows for their sacrifice. Then after some talk, Bomi makes to spend the night in Bluesea's room. Of course, the two of them end up at the rock where they first fell asleep together too as Bomi turns on her phone to discover reality hinting at her through many messages. There she declares her acceptance of her like of Dongha. The next morning, she takes her leave, leaving Dongha a note thanking him for at least one day together.

When Bomi returns to Seoul, she meets with Dong-uk and learns that Hyeoksu now knows everything too. Then she informs Myeonghui (with Hyeoksu nearby) that she broke up with Dong-uk. Myeonghui doesn't take it well and Bomi retreat's to Sena's place, uncovering the great advance of Sena and Hyeong-u's relationship. Hyeong-u complains to Dongha so Dongha shows up at Sena's door and asks Bomi to be with him.

Well, things are moving along as I predicted last episode so far.

There is a nice wrap around here as Bomi and Dongha encounter each other again as she's up on the same rock from whence she fell into the water in the first episode. It's too bad that this episode suffers from the same crazy continuity error with the tide suddenly appearing or vanishing between shots. The slide transitions to still shots of food during the sequence when Bomi talks about the things she likes was also a pretty rough choice on the part of the director as the sliding wasn't particularly smooth, so it felt distracting, at least compared to a dissolve or a pure wipe.

There is also still a bit of a communication breakdown in this episode as Hyeoksu misses an obvious chance to tell Myeonhui about Dong-uk and Bomi's breakup. However, this isn't dragged out like the many failed communications in episode two or Dongha's inability to tell Hyeong-u about Bomi's relationship with Dong-uk as the next time we see them together, the truth comes out, albeit through Bomi.

This is a bit of a slower episode that follows a bit in the vein of the last one as Dongha is doing much of the same brooding, relying on the change in Bomi to drive the narrative. There's a bit of repetitive back-and-forth with Dongha pushing Bomi away twice before accepting her. On the other hand, once we get past the angsting and Bomi and Dongha spend some time together, we also get both some amusing interactions, particularly around their differences, as well as an honest understanding of why Dongha is reluctant to accept Bomi, which comes from concern for her. I still feel like we spent most of the last two episodes watching Dongha do a whole lot of nothing, but this particular episode makes up for it by ending on a much more progressive note.

On the other hand, the movement into Jiwon and Dong-uk's story seems to be glacially slow compared to the rest of the series and all we get are hints into what went wrong between them, but it's clear that Dong-uk was a bit self-centered even when he was with her. I really like that Dong-uk's character development has been improving, from his reluctant acceptance of Bomi's interest in Dongha as well as his attempt to accept that he lost Bomi because of his own possessiveness and self-centeredness. And as Jiwon mentioned in the last episode, he's treating them as one mythic woman as opposed to individuals. So it's interesting now that he has to wear Jiwon's shoes with Bomi and be friends with someone that he still likes, although it's pretty clear that the show is positioning Dong-uk and Jiwon to either get back together or at least resolve their differences as Dong-uk will come to understand why Jiwon couldn't turn to him in the moment that she went to Chairman Song for help.

The show also puts the characters in some hard places, but it's clear that it has an overall idealistic tone as even Hyeoksu, who pushes for Dong-uk and Bomi's marriage still ends up fighting for Bomi's right to live the way she wants even though it means the end of his job. It's also an interesting dynamic to see Myeonghui care so much about Hyeoksu that she's willing to push her daughter to his benefit. She and Jiwon are the closest things to villains in this show now that Dong-uk has reformed, due to their willingness to manipulate, but I like that it comes from an understandable point of view (well, for Myeonghui at least--we have yet to see Jiwon's full story), so that they're not cackling evil of evils. But it's a fine line the show is walking considering how sympathetic the audience would be to Bomi versus Myeonghui as the latter's character is comparatively hugely underdeveloped.

The time on Udo ends building on Daudet's "The Stars" by having her Stephanette no longer being a passing, bright moment in the Shepherd's life, but expressing a desire to actually be with Dongha. Declaring that even if it was initially Sujeong's heart that brought her there, knowing that, it's still her decision to stay there. This ends with the erasure of the scene that Sujeong orchestrated in the dream to bring Bomi and Dongha today, which is a nice closure to the initiating supernatural circumstance.

It's also a rather simple but effective way to answer the question of the sincerity of one's own feelings as the show opts to say that the circumstances that might drive one to like someone else might not entirely be under one's own control, but after really getting to know the other person, you do get to choose whether to embrace the person you've come to know or not. Which I suppose is not unlike the situations of us in the real world as we encounter those that we like, even though we don't choose to like them, but eventually have to make a decision after getting to know them, whether to pursue the relationship further out of sincere affection or not. As such, the supernatural aspect of the show--Sujeong's heart--is actually just a mirror to how our infatuations work in real life and that makes it a whole lot more acceptable.

Ending the dream of Bomi running her hands through Dongha's hair is also a nice signifier, alongside Bomi discovering the many messages on her phone, that once infatuation is over, reality hits and reality is challenging. And all this positioning the show takes this episode really helps make up for how slow it's been with the angsting and the angsting. It is amusing that Gildong even chastens Dongha for sitting on his hands instead of going after Bomi knowing how he feels, which is pretty much how I felt too. But I suppose it's not easy to fill up sixteen episodes on a story like this nor do you want to rush it.

Now, that said, the two, having accepted each other, only seem to have the obstacle of family in the way, but I'm not sure how they're going to bring that out to six more episodes. I continue to fear that Bomi's health is going to worsen as all the characters seemed concerned for her health, which will certainly instigate a lot of change in terms of Myeonghui's heart, but it's going to be hard for the show to go that route without feeling like cheap drama. And up to this point, the show has fairly earned most of its drama. But like Bomi, I'll be content to appreciate what I had up to this point with this episode and hope that My Spring Day will continue to surprise me in the future. 7/10.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 9회 이제 어떻게 살아야 할지 알 거 같아요

"I Think I Know How I Have to Live Now" begins with Dong-uk revealing to Hyeoksu that Dongha knows about Bomi's heart and that Dongha's left for Udo. We finally see what Dongha was throwing into Udo's waters: Bada's letter. Bomi and Dongha both walk around in a daze. Bomi confronts the fact that she's really come to like Dongha while Dongha tries to use the distance to get over Bomi. Meanwhile Dong-uk and Bluesea bond a little at the Gang household.

Someone finally fills in Hyeong-u about Bomi and Dong-uk's (past) relationship, and it's Sena. Dong-uk, now without Bomi to hang out with, ends up getting lunch with Jiwon instead. We learn there how Bomi and Dong-uk got together starting as doctor and patient in the aftermath of Jiwon and Dong-uk's breakup. Bomi shows Hyeonsun some pictures of her grandchildren and then learns the truth of Sujeong's death on Dongha's birthday. She then goes to Dong-uk for the truth and gets it. There's a bit more angsting about the truth and then Bomi tells Dongha she knows about her heart, but declares that her feelings are her own.

Bomi tries to quit her job with Hyeonsun before Dong-uk comes to pick her up. Dong-uk plays an unexpected role and tells Bomi that he doesn't believe her heart drives her feelings or the feelings or those in her life knowing full well what it means. Bomi ends the episode flying to Udo to ask for permission from Sujeong.

Wow. I really like how the show just gets this truth of the heart business in this episode and doesn't play it for maximum angst, but seems to deal in a very realistic way. And in a rather warm way, which is something else I appreciate about the show. Bomi's already heard what she needed to hear from Dongha to be comforted about the truth.

Even though much of the episode is spent watching the two leads walk around in confusion, the episode still manages to drive the story forward, which I found to be pretty impressive. And while there are a lot of flashbacks in this episode, they mostly make sense given Dongha's return to Udo and remembering Bomi everywhere. Some of the flashbacks, like her approaching Bluesea don't quite make sense because he wouldn't have witnessed that, but the others are fortuitously brief and illustrative. I also like that we get to see a little bit more from those earlier days, the flashbacks to Bomi and Dongha's early moments together revealing more of what happened on the island rather than just being clips from the first episode.

I also like how the show uses Hyeong-u and Sena's continuing flirtation to reflect what's going on in Bomi's mind at the same time.

We get to see a little bit more regular interaction between Gildong and Dongha, including an amusing back and forth of seniority between the two and, like many of the relationships on the show, it's both written and performed in a way that really conveys the genuineness of their history. Also speaking of history, I appreciate that this episode reveals little bits about how the different characters' relationships formed or changed in the past, giving us more insight into how they are the way they are, including Dong-uk's admission to Jiwon that Bomi makes him see himself as pathetic, which by the look on her face seems to hurt her as she thought the world of him. It's a slowly moving sub-plot but I'm glad it isn't lost either.

The segment where both Bomi and Dongha are mutually getting forgetful was a little too precious. I think it would have been much better to have them deal with their separation in different ways, as I thought they were going to when we see Dongha cleaning up the house--I think it would have made more sense for Dongha to just get irritable with Gildong, but I understand that part of it was about Dongha trying to forget (and then forgetting the wrong thing). So maybe it would have been better if Bomi dealt with it in a different way.

The episode also really pushed the limits of my tolerance for angst, but impressively managed to stay just on the tolerable side even though both sides of the episode were filled with angst for separation and then angst for truth. For an episode that does a lot of two things I don't like too much of: angst and flashbacks, this episode manages to ameliorate them by not milking those two elements and keeping the story moving forward.

And thank God that Sena told Hyeong-u about Bomi and Dong-uk's past. My goodness, the refusal on Donga's part to tell Hyeong-u to back off was one of the most irritating plot points on the show. I'm also grateful that Dong-uk stayed true to his word about trying to be more loving to Bomi, going as far as to tell her that he believed that Dongha's and Bomi's mutual feelings were both sincere and not a result of Bomi holding Sujeong's heart.

Which, if it turns out to be true, really helps me appreciate this show a lot more, because then it's not about a particular force, whether cellular memory or Sujeong's ghost, that drives the two characters together, but rather that the characters genuinely complementing each other is what keeps them together. While Sujeong's ghost played a role in getting Bomi to first notice Donga, all of the following moments, including their incidental encounters and, yes, their developing feelings aren't ascribed to fate or Sujeong's manipulations, but to the two characters' genuine interactions during those moments of incidental encounter. That the characters might have felt so makes sense and the show was coy about picking a story, but I think it's leaning in the more realistic conflict and drama oriented direction, which is good.

Of course, now that Bomi's decided that she wants to be with Dongha, I'm really curious what kind of story we have left to tell, if we're only just now past the halfway point. I know that the show can spend an episode with Dongha resisting and maybe another to win over family members, but that's still only 2/3 into the full series length. And my concern is that the show will end up having to manufacture a completely new conflict to keep the characters apart or we will have to see something else dramatic happen, neither of which really seem like a route the show could go without ruining what its accomplished.

But the show has consistently surprised me so far with how well its handled itself in pacing and not gunning for extreme drama, so I think I have reason to hope that it will surprise me yet again. 7/10.


Lucy (2014)

I like many of Luc Besson's films, as childish as they might be and he's even been able to make some fun science fiction films like The Fifth Element. And The Fifth Element is really the most appropriate film to compare to his latest work, Lucy, as both are in part about super-powered, super smart women, being hunted by some malevolent bad guys. But Lucy aims much higher than The Fifth Element in terms of its science fiction goals and falls that much harder because of it.

The titular Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a student in Taipei. One day, she is tricked by her recent boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbæk) into delivering a suitcase to one Mister Jang (Choe Minsik), who turns out to be a Korean crimelord. Captured by Jang's goons, Lucy is forcibly turned into a drug mule for an experimental drug called CPH4 and it inadvertently spills into her bloodstream unlocking the potential of her brain. Granted near omniscience and omnipotence, but only twenty-four hours of life, Lucy decides to go visit Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), a specialist in the human brain, with Jang's gang in hot pursuit of the remainder of their drugs.

Lucy's premise isn't far off from the Fifth Element and had the story been distilled down to a basic action film with science fiction acting as a device to drive the action, it might have worked. But Luc Besson is clearly aiming for a kind of philosophical statement, based on the ten-percent myth of the usage of the brain. To this end, Besson injects the film with wildlife and civilization shots to parallel its events, not unlike Terrence Malik's The Tree of Life. Unfortunately, for all his attempts to expound on philosophically, the film has so many logic holes that it simply doesn't hold up at all.

Not only does Lucy behave inconsistently, killing people one moment and saving them another with no rhyme or reason, but she frequently makes decisions that suggest that she's actually quite stupid. For example, she apparently develops the power to knock people out as well as probably kill people at will. If she knows that Jang and his people are after her, she has no reason to spare any of them as letting them live would be contrary to her needs and goals and yet she does in a moment, which ends up putting greater pressure on her later.

Furthermore, there is no rhyme or reason to the various powers and intelligences she gains. If Lucy instantly had supreme physical control of her body and could read Chinese without having studied it, then surely she would be able to also understand and speak Chinese, but instead she demands the assistance of only those who can speak English. It would have been more efficient if she were speaking French in the latter half of the film when it moves to Paris, but she continues speaking only in English, despite clearly showing a capacity to understand any language and morph her body at will. So, despite the film's insistence that she's making certain decisions because of her brilliance, her decisions are highly inefficient and at times, stupid. You can't claim a character is super-brilliant and then have them make decisions that defy basic reason.

What's more, Lucy's developing omnipotence and omniscience really just drains the later scenes of any sense of urgency. Sure, she's only got so much time to live, but there is no obstacle she can't face. In that sense, it becomes even harder to fathom why she even lets additional obstacles be created at all. This all basically shows that Besson is reaching for the likes of The Matrix, Akira, or 2001: A Space Odyssey but is simply not intellectually equipped to make any statement at that level, especially considering that he basis his story on bad science, rather than coming up with a more believable science fiction scenario.

Interestingly enough, because Besson approaches his film with such childlike earnestness, it's also hard to hate the film as it's never pretentious. And some of the earlier action scenes show that Besson still has great action chops, especially Lucy's first action scene, which helps, although his desire to highlight the variety of abilities that Lucy has is also his undoing as it's part of the reason that later moments don't make any sense.

The film's leads perform acceptably, even Lucy probably doesn't need performers of their abilities and the special effects are fine. Ultimately, the film's failings are simply because the film's story and ambitions greatly exceed Besson's reach; the resulting film is quite simply too dumb to live up to what it's trying to say. Perhaps those that might be able to completely turn off their brains might be able to enjoy the ride, but the very fact that part of this film's goal is to make you ponder its possibilities suggests that only the most gullible will be captivated by its attempts at philosophizing. 5/10.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 8회 좋아하는 이유가 심장 때문이 아닌거 같아

"I Don't Think the Heart is the Reason Why I Like Her" is a new beginning for the show as Bomi begins her new job in Hanu Haon. Dongha and Bomi take pains to avoid each other at work before they inevitably, and literally, collide. They have a moment and are honest with each other. Dong-uk and Jiwon spend a little time together and relive a couple moments from their time together. We learn a little about the distance between Hyeonsun and the Gang brothers. Sujeong's mother, Choe Bokhui (Jo Yangja) worries that Pureun and her presence are interfering with Dongha's potential love life.

Jiwon drops by Hanu Haon to extend an offer of friendship to Dongha, which Bomi and Sena witness and misunderstand. Sena and Hyeong-u escalate their flirtation with each other at a company dinner with some clients or investors. Also, Bomi and Dongha find themselves unable to resist stealing glances at each other and continue to have a less guarded admittance of their mutual like for each other with the influence of alcohol. Bomi appears to seemingly prepare to confess her feelings to Dongha, while Dongha, inspired by Alphonse Daudet's "The Stars", decides to appreciate what he had with Bomi and then chooses to flee to Udo, asking Dong-uk to check up on Bluesea once in a while, with the implication that Dong-uk could encounter Bomi that way.

Again, I like that this show doesn't drag any plot point out, with Bomi immediately asking Dongha if it was him that let her in and Dongha stating plainly that he didn't. I also like that Dongha yields to Bomi's request to consider allowing her back into his life too and how Bomi doesn't tiptoe around too long before asking about it. Similarly, all the air is cleared about Jiwon and Dongha's brief faked dating.

The exceptions to this, are the truths about Dong-uk and Bomi's breakup and the truth, at least to Bomi, about Sujeong's heart. The truth about Sujeong's heart is teased again, although I understand the reluctance to tell the truth and because Dongha admits that he likes her not for Sujeong's heart, it's not a source of angst, so I'm actually fairly okay with this. But if Dong-uk and Bomi's breakup drags out the way that Dongha has still failed to tell Hyeong-u about his wanting not to see Bomi, I'm going to get disappointed on this point.

Now that Bomi isn't working at the hospital, it's nice to get a peek at her relationship with her parents and, like the many other relationships in the show, it's also quite amicably portrayed. The level of function in this show outweighs the dysfunction and that's a truly appreciable aspect of this show compared to many other Korean shows I've seen in the past. Even the Gang brothers, with their distant relations, still manage to have that tension of wanting to reconcile despite liking the same woman.

It seems as though the series has fully recovered from its flashback fueled mega-angst episode. Perhaps the writer-director team is weak at dealing with conflict, but the reset has helped the show regain most of its charm. The flashbacks this episode were much more tolerable, mostly being exemplary of other episodes and not dragging out. And even Jiwon's become a bit more tolerable in this episode, thanks to her loosening up with Dong-uk and making nice with Dongha. Her past manipulations make me wonder if she has an agenda, but because of how straight most of the characters are on this show, I'll just accept it for now. After all, Dongha is her Dong-uk's older brother.

The pace of the show slows down this episode, spending a bit more time with Dongha and Bomi in moments of affection and longing for each other, but for a show that has previously just blasted through its plots, it's an appreciable change of a pace and a nice way to start this second act after the prior transitional episode. I'm left to wonder just where the show will find its next conflict and part of it is my guessing it might come from the parents disapproving of Bomi and Dongha's liking of each other. I do hope Dong-uk doesn't tread down the same path again, but has an opportunity to be a likable option for Bomi so that her eventual decision becomes more challenging.

I'm also a little concerned about where all the hospital contract business with Jiwon and Dong-uk is going to go now that the setting has sort of shifted over to Hanu Haon, but, I guess like Dongha in this episode and the shepherd character of Alphonse Daudet's "The Stars", I'll just appreciate this episode as a decent showing for My Spring Days and look forward to the next. 7/10.