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Mel Brooks said it best in History of the World “It’s good to be the king,” or is it? The Masquerade King (2012) South Korea.

Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King is an extremely popular 2012 South Korean historical film starring Lee Byung-hun as both the king and the clown so to speak.  The film’s international title is Masquerade and is currently the fourth highest grossing Korean film of all time with 12.3 million tickets sold.  The film is also crushing the competition at Korea’s Grand Bell Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning in 15 categories, including Best Film, Director, Screenplay and Actor.

Historically, Gwanghae, the 15th Joseon king from 1574-1641, attempted diplomacy through neutrality as China’s Ming and Qing Dynasties set their sights on the country.  He also tried his hand at other reforms and reconstruction to try and make the nation prosperous, including an emphasis on the restoration of documents, but met with opposition and was later deposed and exiled to Jeju Island.  Like Nixon’s famous missing 18 minutes, the film is an interpretation of the missing 15 days in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty during Gwanghae’s reign—designated by his 1616 journal entry, “One must not record that which he wishes to hide.”  It seems that leaders from all over the world understand this point.

The confusing and conspiratorial King Gwang-hae orders his crony, Heo Gyun, to find him a double to protect him from the constant threat of assassination.  Heo Gyun finds Ha-sun, a lowly acrobat and joker who looks just like the king.  As they feared, the real king gets poisoned.  Heo Gyun uses Ha-sun to fill the role as the king until Gwang-hae can make a recovery.  Thus Heo Gyun begins the task of turning this clown into the king.  He fully grooms Ha-sun to look and act every bit the king.  While assuming the role of the king at his first official appearance, Ha-sun begins to ponder the problems and politics debated in his court.  The fake king is much more compassionate than Gwang-hae as he puts his people before politics.  Ha-sun’s affection and appreciation (simply saying please and thank you) of even the most minor servants slowly changes morale in the palace for the better.  Over time he finds his own voice and actually takes control of the kingdom and with the help of a eunuch governs with real insight and fair rulings.  Even Heo Gyun is moved by Ha-sun’s genuine concern for the people, and realizes he is an infinitely better ruler than Gwang-hae.  However, the Kings enemies, led by Park Chung-seo, start to notice the sudden change in the king’s behavior and begin to ask questions.  Even the queen becomes conflicted over the real king and the fake king’s secret.

After pronouncing some sweeping reforms and making significant changes in the government, the entrenched ministers begin to plot against him.  Luckily enough people are on the fake king’s side to convince everyone that there is no phony on the throne.  But as the real king makes his recovery he orders that his double be killed.  This upsets Heo Gyun so much that he offers to have the real king killed if the clown would stay on the throne.  The clown becomes a true king in my opinion when he says he will not take the throne if it costs the life of another as he has already seen too much death and torture.

The clown king still has a problem; that is, the real king has sent his elite guard to kill him.  An escape for him has been arranged and the real king’s personal bodyguard is escorting him to the ship.   However the soldiers that are following catch up to the two.  There the bodyguard is told to follow the King’s orders to which he responds “He is the rightful King” and fights the soldiers to the death so his companion can make his escape.

Sound familiar?  That is because “The Masquerade King” is a variation of Mark Twain’s “The Prince & The Pauper” except set in Joseon era South Korea and with lots of swords.

The film became the second biggest hit film at the 2012 South Korean box office, attracting 8.2 million admissions in 25 days of release, then 9,091,633 after 31 days. On its 38th day, it became the 7th film in Korean cinema history to surpass the 10 million-milestone attendance.  As of March 2013, it is listed as Korea’s all-time fourth highest grossing film with 12,319,542 tickets sold nationwide.  The films writer, HWANG Jo-yeon, wrote Old Boy (previously reviewed here at JPFmovies) which is a much darker and frankly almost cruel film.

Man did I enjoy this film.  It is interlaced with just enough quality humor to keep it from becoming a dark Shakespearean tragedy.  Some of the scenes are priceless, the costumes and sets are dead on and the acting is really top notch.  I can see why it is so popular in Korea.  If you need a film to make you laugh while still maintaining a good story watch The Masquerade King.

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Second Half of The City Hunter.

The first half of the City Hunter series really explores the differences in perceptions of revenge.  The father wants the 5 officials assassinated outright whereas the City Hunter wants them to suffer a fate worse than death by publically exposing their corruption, humiliation and eventual imprisonment.

Episodes 10-20 are essentially a race between the City Hunter and his father to find the identity of the responsible officials and how to deal with them; that is, outright murder as the father wants versus the public humiliation and the subsequent fall from grace leading to a “fate worse than death” as advocated by the son.

There are many sub-plots involving the City Hunter’s love with Kim Na Na, a member of the Korean Secret Service that the father is trying to end (even going so far as to try to kill her) because he believes that it will distract the City Hunter from his mission of revenge.

Also, a young aggressive prosecutor is hot on the trail of the City Hunter and his father, knowing who they are but unable to prove it.  To further his problems, the City Hunter is becoming a Robin Hood type hero of the Korean people bringing the corrupt to justice literally gift wrapping them for the authorities.

The City Hunters methods are meticulous and obviously the result of a highly trained Special Forces soldier.  He always has an alibi at a hotel near any missions he must accomplish and has all angles covered from prepared incriminating materials and multiple escape routes.

Here the City Hunter discovers massive embezzlement by the secretary of education who has been hoarding money meant to be distributed to the students to make tuition more affordable.  Well the City Hunter wants it back so he can return it to the students, but so does his father for other reasons.  The Clip is a fine example of the competition between the two to take revenge.

In this next clip the City Hunter publicly exposes the corrupt official while his son is accepting an award for his efforts.  Talk about a fall from grace, the timing could not have been better.  Humiliating both father and son alike for their reprehensible conduct.

One of the remaining officials has become a captain of industry and operates a chemical plant that is slowly killing its workers while denying any responsibility.  Well the City Hunter is determined to prove that the chemical cornerstone of this corporate empire operates in violation of law and thus give the employees the evidence they need to pursue their claims for the resulting life threatening side effects.  While the City Hunter’s father is using the money as bait for the financially troubled corporation so he can later hang them out to dry.

The father even goes so far as to let the President know that he can get to him.  At a lunch for Korea’s industrial leaders, Steve Lee calmly eats his lunch while the President (who is one of the responsible officials) gets shot with a paint bullet.  Showing just how serious Steve Lee is intent on revenge.

The race between the father son team and their resulting styles continues for the remainder of the episodes.  However, I will not spoil it the ending for you.  This is a must see and even appears on the Net Flix instant watch so it is not a difficult series to watch.

We here at JPFmovies assert that the City Hunter it is a fine example of how Asian programing has clearly surpassed the sludge churned out by our domestic entertainment industry.  How the Asians got there I am not sure, but I have acquired several resources on the subject and will keep you updated as my research continues.

There is no excuse not to watch the City Hunter, you have easy access to the series via Net Flix complete with subtitles and I hope it will confirm my theories about where entertainment is going versus where it has been.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Old Boy (2003) you come out 15 years older after watching this film.

The website “Film School Rejects” recently picked the top 30 movies of the decade and Old Boy (2003) landed in the number 7 slot so I wanted to give it a shot so I would share my respect for this film with you.

The film follows the story of one Oh Dae-su, who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without knowing his captor’s motives.  That is right for 15 years, stuck in the same hotel room.  No contact with the outside world except TV.  For food, he eats dumplings and every so often, his captors will flood the room with gas that sedates him the same gas apparently that the Russians used on the Chechens during their disputes.  The sedation allows his captors to groom him i.e. cut is hair and fingernails, but also prevents him from committing suicide meaning that someone is constantly watching him.  Oh Dae-su is not the only prisoner at the facility, we are shown that there are in fact others in the same predicament as he is:  stuck in some sort of private prison for as long as the customer wants you there.  No judge, no jury, nothing to get you out of the hotel prison cell.  The concept gives new meaning to the Eagles song hotel California “you can check out but you can never leave.”

While watching his only outlet to the outside world, he learns that his wife has been murdered, a crime for which he is the prime suspect (though he has the perfect alibi), and that his daughter has been adopted.  In addition to his consistent television viewing, Oh Dae-su begins to shadowbox and harden his fists by punching the walls.  As anyone would he pledges revenge on his captor(s) and secretly begins trying to tunnel out of his cell.  Then after 15 years he is released and finds himself on the roof of a building with a cellphone and some money no explanation or any other information about why 15 years of his life were spent in a hotel room. 

At a sushi restaurant, he meets a young woman Mi-do but passes out after boozing it up.  Mi-do takes him to her apartment where Dae-su puts the moves on her.  She explains that she will have sex with her just not now.  Cleverly, they track down the restaurant that supplied the dumplings he ate while imprisoned and use it to discover those who held him captive.  After justifiably threatening the owner, the only explanation for the confinement is that he “talks too much.” Dae-su must fight his way out of the prison past dozens of henchmen using a hammer. 

Then comes the really weird part.  The tail involves incest, rumors and the suicide of others.  Apparently, Oh Dae-su mistakenly spreads the rumor in school that his captor and his sister had an incestuous relationship, which caused false signs of pregnancy and eventual suicide.

 

Eventually we find out that the events surrounding Dae-su were orchestrated, as well as by using a hypnotist, to cause Dae-su and Mi-do to commit incest.  Woo-jin gives Dae-su a photo album. As Dae-su flips through of pictures of his family, he witnesses his daughter grow older in the pictures, until discovering that Mi-do is actually his daughter (the sushi chef).  The warden then betrays Dae-su with a similar photo album ready for Mi-do.  A horrified Dae-su begs Woo-jin to conceal the secret from Mi-do, groveling for forgiveness before slicing out his own tongue as a symbol of his silence.  

We then see Dae-su working with a hypnotist in winter to help him forget the tragic and even evil deeds that he has done or done to him.  Our last glimpse of Dae-su is an expressionless face—no one knows what his fate will be. 

Old Boy is highly credentialed; it won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and high praise from the President of the Jury, director Quentin Tarantino.  Voters on CNN named it one of the ten best Asian films ever made.  The film currently has a rating of 8.4 on IMDb, being the highest rated Korean movie and the 88th best movie of all time on IMDb Top 250.  No small feat for a foreign film not made by Kurosawa.  Moreover, an American remake is planned for release in 2013 directed by Spike Lee starring Samuel L. Jackson.  In its country of origin, South Korea, the film was seen by 3,132,000 filmgoers and it ranks fifth place for the highest grossing film of 2003.

What do I think about this film?  It is one hell of a movie.  The film is original, complex and unpredictable, all of the elements I think a good movie should have.  Old Boy is also well cast and has an ending that I believe is intentionally vague generate conversations and differing opinions.  It is a hard film so be ready, but by all means necessary give the Old Boy a try, you might be surprised even if you don’t like foreign films.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Point and Counterpoint: Bonnie’s The Divine Weapon Redux

In case anyone ever wakes you up out of a sound sleep at 4 a.m. and demands that you write a movie review right then and there (a purely hypothetical situation of course), you could not have a better subject than The Divine Weapon. This movie approaches what I will think of forevermore as the Red Cliff standard. While it does not offer nearly as many brilliant martial arts scenes as Red Cliff, it makes up for it in rich character development and historical education (don’t worry, the educational aspect of the film is completely painless).

If you had to guess which weapon is considered “divine,” what would you choose? The sword? The spear? The staff? Nunjakus? Some sort of gun? All these choices would be wrong – in this case it is the Singijeon, the Korean version of the Chinese fire arrow, an early automatic weapon that fires arrows with tips that explode a few seconds after impact. I found an image of this weapon, which hopefully JPFMovies can attach below—or you can see another image, very similar to this one, at the original JPFMovies review of this film, which was appallingly titled, “The Divine Weapon – Not a Bad Flick.” (https://jpfmovies.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/the-divine-weapon-not-a-bad-flick/)

At the stage picked up by The Divine Weapon, the Singijeon is almost complete – but its inventor deliberately blows himself up and leaves the remaining research to his daughter, a very strong woman who is determined to make this weapon for her country, Korea’s Joseon kingdom. She succeeds, of course, and with her help a badly outnumbered Korean army defeats China’s Ming forces as they attempt to take over Joseon. To help her along the way, she has a merchant and his clan (she fights with the merchant, who is played by a famous Korean actor whose name I am having trouble verifying, but eventually they fall in love), the court official who ensures that she has a secret place to hide and work (at the home of the merchant), and a group of monks who help to gather the salt peter which is a necessary ingredient in gunpowder (and if you’ve ever read a story of American pioneers making gunpowder, this process may enlighten you as to the mysteries involved in that process!).

I suppose I should tell you that the best thing about this movie is that it explains the development of the Singijeon and shows exactly what went into making gunpowder and testing the new weapon. But, while those things do contribute quite a bit toward making this movie compelling and fascinating, what makes it sweet is the love story. For that alone, this movie deserves a rose.

So take that, JPFMovies. “Not a bad flick,” indeed.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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