Many Mansions

Parasite

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

We’ve said it many times, but since there may still be people who haven’t heard, we’ll say it again. If Joon-ho Bong makes a film, you should see it.

Today, make it Parasite.

The film’s opening act introduces the Kim family, folding pizza boxes in a squalid basement apartment in Seoul and scrambling from room to room in search of free WiFi after the neighboring business locked theirs down with a password.

In a single scene the film appears to articulate its title and define its central characters, but the Kims are not who you think they are. In fact, every time you think you’ve pinned this film down—who’s doing what to whom, who is or is not a parasite—you learn it was an impeccably executed sleight of hand.

Longtime Bong collaborator Kang-ho Song (Memory of a Murder, The Host, Snowpiercer) anchors the film with an endearing and slippery performance. Kim patriarch, he is simultaneously beloved head of the household and family stooge. Watching Song manipulate his character’s slide from bottom to top to bottom again without ever losing his humanity—or the flaws that go along with humanity—is amazing. It’s a stunningly subtle and powerful performance.

He’s nearly matched by Yeo-jeong Jo as the righteously oblivious Mrs. Park, who spends her days in constant search for an empty validation that comes from every new indulgence for her children.

When young Kim Ki-woo ( Woo-sik Choi from Train to Busan and Bong’s last film, Okja) is able to convince Mrs. Park he’s a suitable English tutor for her daughter Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), the Kim and Park families become connected in one of the few ways afforded by the social order: master and servant.

Methodically, the rest of the Kim clan gains employment from Mr. Park (Sun-kyun Lee) through the systematic feeding of the Parks’ ego and privilege. And then just when you think Bong’s metaphoric title is merely surface deep, a succession of delicious power shifts begins to emerge.

Think the simmering rage of Joker with a completely new set of face paint.

As the Kims insinuate themselves into the daily lives of the very wealthy Parks, Bong expands and deepens a story full of surprising tenderness, consistent laughter and wise commentary on not only the capitalist economy, but the infecting nature of money.

Bong, as both director and co-writer, dangles multiple narrative threads, weaving them so skillfully throughout the film’s various layers that even when you can guess where they’ll intersect, the effect is no less enlightening.

Filming in an ultra-wide aspect ratio allows Bong to give his characters and themes a solid visual anchor. In single frames, he’s able to embrace the complexities of a large family dynamic while also articulating the detailed contrasts evident in the worlds of the haves and have nots.

Parasite tells us to make no plans, as a plan can only go wrong.

Ignore that, and make plans to see this brilliantly mischievous, head-swimmingly satisfying dive down the rabbit hole of space between the classes.

The Snack that Smiles Back

Okja

by Hope Madden

That lovely period of youth, close enough to childhood to be magical, near enough to adulthood to be tinged with longing – it’s that moment where people like Spielberg made their greatest mark.

Filmmaker Joon-ho Bong takes us there with the story of a super pig – a genetically engineered and yet utterly adorable hippo-like beastie bred to feed a lot of people cheaply – and her best friend.

If you haven’t seen the films of Joon-ho Bong, you should. All of them. Repeatedly.

This versatile Korean filmmaker is as comfortable with dystopian fantasy as he is creature features, with dark family dramas as police procedurals. Whatever he makes, he edges it curiously with humor and shadows with a bit of horror. It’s a heady mix, but in Bong’s hands, it never ceases to satisfy.

In this case, we tag along as Korean farm girl Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) wiles away days in the rural mountains with Okja. Ten years earlier, the Mirando corporation left the tiny piglet with Mija’s farmer grandfather. It’s now time for the company to take her back.

What opens as a beautiful story of magical childhood friendship a la E.T. or some kind of live-action Miyazaki film turns, in Act 2, into something far darker. Once Tilda Swinton (glorious – and playing twins!) and Mirando Corp come calling, Okja becomes satire of the most broad and brutal sort.

Though Bong peppers the prolog with a couple F-bombs, there’s still no way to be ready for the pivot his film makes. Not every actor is prepared for the shift, either.

Swinton – so breathtakingly brilliant in Bong’s 2013 flick Snowpiercer (Be a shoe!) – is characteristically fascinating as Mirando’s mogul, and Paul Dano offers a startlingly unpredictable eco-terrorist.

The generally reliable Jake Gyllenhaal can’t seem to nail his part, kind of a Jack Hannah patterned after a crackhead version of Richard Simmons. It’s less interesting than it sounds.

Otherwise, though, the collision of styles and gut punch of a third act guarantee that the film will stick with you.

Okja is the first film in which Bong clearly states a prescribed purpose, rather than simply writing and directing a fine, if politically astute, film. That doesn’t take away from his movie’s power, and only cements his position as a filmmaker at the top of his game.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Occupy the Bar Car

 

Snowpiercer

by George Wolf

 

Those pinhead libs in Hollywood are at it again! This time, they’ve got something called Snowpiercer, and are trying to distract us with simmering tension, a smart script and terrific action, but the hidden agenda is clearly just another unwarranted attack on our job creators!

Actually, the agenda is far from hidden, in fact, it might as well be a deadly-aimed snowball right to the face of John Galt.

And damn, it’s well done.

Adapted from a 1982 French graphic novel, Snowpiercer drops us in the year 2031, 17 years after a desperate attempt to curb global warming instead resulted in a new ice age. What’s left of humanity travels the globe on a high speed train, where a very specific social order is enforced. Can you guess?

Makers in the luxurious front, takers in the squalid back.

But there’s a revolution brewing, reluctantly led by the cunning, pensive Curtis (Chris Evans, solid again) and his eager, impulsive sideman Edgar (Jamie Bell). After another degrading “know your place” speech by Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton, gloriously over-the-top), the charge to take over the train begins.

In his English-language debut, South Korean director/co-writer Joon-ho Bong flexes some serious filmmaking muscle. Bong (The Host, Mother) takes full advantage of the claustrophobic setting, both as a metaphor for the ills of society and as a springboard for spectacularly realized action sequences.

His pacing is impeccable as well, ratcheting up the tension incrementally as the rebels advance one train car at a time.

Snowpiercer is a film that’s also very aware of the well-worn path it treads. The story, born in the days of Reaganomics, employs a very high-concept premise to illustrate its still-relevant themes. Bong suspends any disbelief with a mixture of B-movie earnestness and black comedy, as well as constant nods to today’s political climate (notice how Swinton enunciates “occupy”) and classic films of years past (from Soylent Green to The Shining).

It’s all completely captivating, and downright refreshing in the way Bong and his game cast (also featuring John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and South Korean film vet Kang-ho Song) respect both the material and their audience. Even the most fervent critics of the “Hollywood elite” may appreciate the questions raised about personal sacrifice and abuse of power.

By the time the Twilight Zone-style dominoes start falling near film’s end, you realize the most thrilling ride of the summer may not be at the amusement park after all.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Asia Extreme! The Host

The Host (2006)

by Hope Madden

Japan may have left its monster movie past behind it, preferring circuitous tales where ghosts and technology intertwine, but in 2006, Korea took its own shot at the Godzilla fable. The sci-fi import The Host, which tells the tale of a giant mutant monster terrorizing Seoul, has all the thumbprints of the old Godzilla movies: military blunder, resultant angry monster, terrorized metropolis. Writer/director Joon-ho Bong updates the idea, though, and not solely with CGI.

The film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water.  And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Paul – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Paul, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

The film’s decidedly comedic tone gives the film a quirky charm, but seriously diminishes its ability to frighten. Host does generate real, claustrophobic dread when it focuses on the missing child, though. Along with its endearing characters, well-paced plot, and excellent climax, it makes for a film that may be no Alien, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Godzilla.

 

 

The Host screens midnight Friday (8/9). You can also see:

1:30 PM: Mother

4:30 PM: I Saw the Devil

7:30 PM: Doomsday Book

10:30 PM: A Tale of two Sisters





It’s Asia – to the Extreme!

It’s coming!!

What’s coming? The coolest thing ever – a film festival Hope got to help program. And it is too nutty!

Asia Extreme opens at the Gateway Film Center next Thursday, August 8 and runs through the following Tuesday (8/13). Expect showers of blood, technology ghosts, regular ghosts, ass kicking, face kicking, face sliting, demonic cats, and vengeance. Oh, so much vengeance.

Some highlights include the Park Chan-wook’s full Vengeance Trilogy, in one location for one low price. See Oldboy as it was meant to be seen before the American version potentially ruins it. Truth be told, Spike Lee’s trailer looks pretty good. Still, the original’s a surefire weirdfest that may kill your soul just a little.

Another insane set of three: Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil, Doomsday Book (in its Midwest premier) and A Tale of Two Sisters. A punishing director with tremendous visual flair and subversive humor, Jee-Woon work is meant to be enjoyed on a big screen.

Another two from Joon-ho Bong – the riveting drama of Mother (voted Best Foreign Language Film by the Central Ohio Film Critics Association in 2011), and the spectacular creature feature The Host – will keep you wildly entertained.

There’s more, including the Asian originals of Hollywood flicks you know and may love: Ringu, Shutter, Ju-On: The Grudge, and Pulse. Plus action and Sci-Fi to rip your flesh off, like the infamous Battle Royale, Election, BKO: Bangkok Knockout, and the fascinatingly titled This Girl Is Bad-Ass (in its Ohio premier, no less).

And more! Seriously, there are like another dozen movies I haven’t even mentioned! Who’s geeked?!

So, obviously, go. Do it! How could you not?!!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQV7ejqpbPc

 

Thursday, August 8

7:30 PM             BLOOD C: THE LAST DARK (2012) – US Theatrical Premiere!

10:30 PM          BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

12:00 AM          HOUSE (1977)

Friday, August 9       

1:30 PM             MOTHER (2009)

Three films from legendary director Kim Jee-Woon:

4:30 PM             I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)

7:30 PM             DOOMSDAY BOOK (2012) – Midwest Premiere!

10:30 PM          A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) – First Ohio Theatrical Screening!

12:00 AM          THE HOST (2006)

Saturday, August 10             

1:30 PM             RINGU (1998)

4:30 PM             JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)

7:30 PM             HORROR STORIES (2013) – US Theatrical Premiere!

10:30 PM          IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013)

12:00 AM          THE SLIT MOUTHED WOMAN (2006)

Sunday, August 11  

The Vengeance Trilogy – First combined theatrical screening in Columbus! Patrons can see SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLDBOY, and LADY VENGEANCE at normal prices or all three for $15!

1:30 PM             SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)

4:30 PM             OLDBOY (2003)

7:30 PM             LADY VENGEANCE (2006)

10:30 PM          THE RED SHOES (2006) – Columbus Premiere Screening!

Monday, August 12 

1:30 PM             PULSE (2001)

4:30 PM             SHUTTER (2004)

7:30 PM             BKO: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT (2010) – Ohio Premiere!

10:30 PM          THIS GIRL IS BAD-ASS!! (2012) – Ohio Premiere!

Tuesday, August 13              

1:30 PM             ELECTION (2005)

The Ghost School Trilogy – First combined screening in the Midwest! Patrons can see WHISPERING CORRIDORS, MEMENTO MORI, and WISHING STAIRS at normal prices or all three for $15!

4:30 PM             WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998)

7:30 PM             MEMENTO MORI (1999)

10:30 PM          WISHING STAIRS (2003) – Closing Night Screening!