Lee Byung Hun taunts the public and Kang Dong Won in ‘Master’

The most intriguing moment of South Korean film Master comes within the first five minutes, when actor Lee Byung Hun preaches to an audience about the capricious state of public opinion and naysayers. While it’s a speech given by his character, charismatic con artist Jin Hyejang, it’s as if Lee breaks character from his role in Master to speak directly to the viewer.

“Even if there’s a person you trust and respect, when he becomes a subject of rumors and ridicule and is criticized by society, your trust in him slowly fades too.”

Lee has been involved in multiple lawsuits relating to his sexual conduct, resulting in negative public opinion despite the fact that he has more or less successfully crossed over to the American film industry. Master isn’t only about Lee Byung Hun (it also stars the talented Kang Dong Won and Kim Woo Bin), but it sure feels like the movie focuses quite a bit on his wrongdoings.

The question that hangs in the air throughout the film, thanks to this first scene, is whether the viewer can separate the actor from his role. Like many Korean action movies, the first hour is relatively slow and sets up the more blockbuster second half, giving the audience more than enough time to digest the film’s opening dialogue. Lee is daunting as Jin the conman, a bit crazed even. He takes pleasure in controlling others, enjoys hunting, drinking what appears to be blood, and has little problem with victimizing others for his gain. Clearly this is a character and not the actor himself, but the first few lines pull together fiction and reality.

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But just as villainous as Lee’s Jin is, he has a counterpart in Kang Dong Won, a police officer intent on taking down the man robbing thousands of people. Both characters are extremely intelligent and sly, but Kang’s detective Kim Jae Myung regrets the violence and pain that accompanies his investigation as he inches closer to capturing Lee. There’s a sense of desperation from Kim as he hunts Jin; every moment that he doesn’t have the conman in custody, somebody else is losing their livelihood and, occasionally, their lives.There are moments where Kim appears to be enjoying the game of cat and mouse, and the finale is positively cathartic, but the character repeatedly expresses distaste at how things are turning out. While Kang Dong Won is a terrific actor, Kim has no real backstory to support his intensity and overall this leads to the film feeling a bit lackluster. Master seems to have shunned the excess of sentimentality found in many Korean movies in favor of focusing on the action, to its detriment; it may as well be a study in stereotypes of cops and robbers.

While Lee and Kang are overpowering actors in their own right, their characters were written a bit flat and one sided. In comparison, Kim Woo Bin’s Park Jang Goon is the only character to go through true growth in the film as he contemplates how his past and future actions affect those around him. He tries a bit of double crossing, and attempts to use his charm as a weapon, but it’s never quite clear where his loyalties lie. Park is like the odd man out with the other lead two characters: he’s a computer genius and the mastermind behind Jin’s plans, but when he gets involved with Kim’s police operation he seems at a total loss. (Neither Jin nor Kim ever seem baffled by what life, and the other, throws at them.)

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Reviewing the Korean Film Archive: A Public Prosecutor & a Teacher

For an action-crime film, Master is two hours of a solid face off between the law and the lawless. It offers Lee’s nefarious Jin as an antagonist for audiences to revile while Kang’s detective Kim is the eternal Good Guy, with Kim’s Park serving as the only character with any real depth. Master failed at giving either of the primary two female characters, played by Uhm Ji Won and Jin Kyung, a whole lot to do, as most of the time the men were pulling all the shots. There’s plenty of action, and some great surprises, but this cast deserved a bit better than the rather straightforward plot.

Master is directed by Cho Ui-seok, and was released in Korea on Dec. 21. According to Korean media, the film earned over $20 million USD in less than a week. It opens in the US & Canada on Jan. 6.

Have you seen, or do you want to see, Master? Let us know what you think! Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

5 reasons to watch ‘My Annoying Brother’

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

The Korean film My Annoying Brother is getting released in the U.S on December 8 at Los Angeles’ CGV Cinemas. The film is widely popular in South Korea and has built a lot of buzz because of its impressive cast. My Annoying Brother stars EXO’s D.O (Du-Young), Jealousy Incarnate’s Jo Jung Suk (Du-Shik), and Doctor Crush’s Park Shin Hye (Su-Hyun) at their very best as they ramble between love, hate, triumph, and despair.

Ahead of the film’s release, here are some things you to hopefully entice you into seeing the dramedy.

1. The Sibling Struggle Is Real

The film’s English title My Annoying Brother is actually quite different than the Korean one, Hyung, or “Older Brother.” The English expands on the meaning, introducing the film as one brother dealing with the other, implying that both D.O’s Du-Young and Jo Jung Suk’s Du-Shik find his brother irritating, but in the Korean version it’s a clear emphasis on the older brother being… Something. That something turns out to be a con artist who ran away from his family years ago, and gets out of jail pretending to be heartbroken over his younger half-brother’s sudden blindness.

My Annoying Brother D.O Jo Jung Suk


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2. D.O’s Acting Is No Joke

K-pop idols-turned-actors often have a bad reputation, but there’s no question that D.O’s portrayal of the blind judo athlete Du-Young is extremely powerful and impressive. D.O has played a variety of characters in the past, including the abused Han Kang Woo in It’s Okay, That’s Love, but depicting a blind character proved that D.O’s acting skills are just as impressive as his vocal prowess. (And perhaps even then some.) While the eyes are traditionally used in acting to depict a wide array of emotions, D.O was able to portray the smallest, most nuanced emotional shifts with the rest of his physique. Watching him outshine some of the other actors in the film was definitely a pleasure.

EXO D.O My Annoying Brother

3. There’s Something for Just About Everyone in My Annoying Brother

If you like sports films, con films, comedies, or dramas, My Annoying Brother hits all the categories. The film is about a con artist dealing with his estranged family situation, an injured athlete, a coach trying to support her trainee without ruining her own career, the Rio Olympics, comedic attacks at convenience stores, bath scenes in saunas, and so much more.

But, just note, if you’re looking for romance, that’s not really in this film. But there is whole lot of Bromance for you!

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4. It Breaks Korean Familial Stereotypes

About 30 minutes into the film, one character points out that “there are many families that aren’t blood related.” In South Korea, where blood ties have been traditionally incredibly important in determining one’s place in society, My Annoying Brother is all about the relationship between siblings rather than the actual blood flowing in their veins. Du-Sik and Du-Young are only half brothers, and Du-Sik feels major resentment towards Du-Young, but at the end of the day the two learn to support one another as brothers. Su-Hyun also joins in on their little family, offering a maternal role to the two overgrown children as they struggle to understand one another.

My Annoying Brother via Tumblr

5. It’s A Big Hit In South Korea

Earning more than $14 million USD is no mean feat, but beating out Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them is what’s really impressive about My Annoying Brother. According to Variety, the film was the best-earning film in Korea this weekend with Missing and Fantastic Beasts in second and third place respectively.

What do you think of My Annoying Brother? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Reviewing the Korean Film Archive: A Public Prosecutor & a Teacher

Public Prosecutor
Between the end of World War 2 in 1945 and the start of the Korean War in 1950, Korea had a short amount of time to start finding its independent identity. As we have seen sound was introduced to kickstart the modernising of cinema there. Yet like in the west it took time to completely drown out silent cinema. The technology was nowhere near perfected so there had to be room for both to keep viewers interested. In 1948, A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher the final great Korean film of the silent film era was released. As we know silent films don’t just die out once their golden era ends, filmmakers throughout the years revive the form in a number of ways (Kim Ki-Duk did it with Moebius in 2013). It did however, spell the end for a uniquely Eastern form of cinematic storytelling, the byeonsa.

A byeonsa was a narrator of foreign silent films in Korea. It is a direct translation of the Japanese word Benshi, which were similar narrators descended from Kabuki and Noh theatre. Byeonsa’s were originally used to translate the dialogue and intertitles from foreign films. They also helped spread cinema to all of society as they translated Korean intertitles from silent films so illiterate people could enjoy. Eventually the byeonsas themselves became the most attractive thing about going to the cinema. Instead of just translating, they began to start acting out their own interpretations of lines, adding a more theatrical element to the cinema. The public would go to specific films just because their favourite byeonsa was performing; the actual content of the film was irrelevant.

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Even as the very last film to employ a byeonsa, A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher is the perfect example of why they were so popular. Directed by Yoon Dae-Ryong, it is about a poverty stricken young boy named Min Jang-Son (Lee Eob-Dong) and his generous teacher Choi Yang-Chun (Lee Young-Ae, not the one in Daejanggeum). Jang-Son is struggling to eke out a life as an orphan looking after his sick grandmother when Yang-Chun notices him and starts to help. The story flashes forward halfway through as Jang-Son has grown up to be a prosecutor and works on a murder case involving Yang-Chun and her husband.

This story is secondary to A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher’s historical and cultural significance however. It is full of coincidences and melodrama for the sake of melodrama. Even the filmmaking is as bland as can be. Director Yoon and director of photography Kim Young-Sun shot it in the plainest way possible, looking more like a filmed stage play than cinema. The acting as well is either overly dramatic or delivered as if they were reading the script for the first time.

The star of the show is Shin Chool, Korea’s last byeonsa. He has the job of not only describing all of the action taking place but also of acting out the voice of every character in the film. In this film Shin Chool sounds like an older man, possibly in his fifties or sixties. For a viewer unfamiliar with this type of film hearing him tell us everything is immediately odd but thanks to his unique delivery the viewer quickly becomes comfortable. He delivers every single line with a passion that does not echo from the screen. Even during the most mundane lines he emotes as if on the verge of tears. When the film is at its most emotional, Shin seems to be having a breakdown, his voice turning to a blubbering gurgle. He hocks and rasps as if he has a terrible cold, bringing character to a film so devoid of any personality. There are even moments in between his lines where you can hear him breathing, allowing us some glimpse into what it might have been like to see this great performer live.

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Some moments in particular he brings great life to. The transition between the opening and the fast forward is like a poetry break. Shin speaks of the changing seasons and “the green mountains (that) beautify summer.” Small lines stick out for being more than just expository, “Cigarette smoke is the only thing that can’t speak.” The film also has a few times when it makes use of what a camera can tell by itself. After Yang-Chun has been arrested there is a short silent moment where we see her empty house. No story is being told her but we are given a sense of how she feels inside.

Like Sweet Dream, A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher gives us insights into Korea at a historical time that it’s hard to fully understand the culture there. This film in particular shows us something unique to the east. Thematically it contains a great sympathy for those in poverty, yet again says that women’s place is at home by their husband. Yang-Chun after the death of her husband says there is no point in a woman living without their husband. It is worth a watch however, for the pure experience that few today have probably enjoyed.

Watch the film here.

What do you think of A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Reviewing the Korean Film Archive: Sweet Dream

Sweet Dream
When Yang Ju Nam’s Sweet Dream was found in a Chinese cinema in 2006, it was thought to be the oldest surviving Korean film. This title was eventually taken by Cheongchun’s Sipjaro, a silent film released two years prior to 1936’s Sweet Dream. Sweet Dream does however, remain the oldest sound film in Korea that still exists in some format. It is special for this reason, as it represents a period of Korean cinema that is almost completely unknown to us today. The Korean Film Archive believes that between 1910 and 1940 approximately 140 films were produced, of which only five are available. Sweet Dream is then imperative for those of us who are trying to come to some understanding of Korean film history. It offers a snippet of what life might have been like under Japanese rule and technically shows us that film language still had a long way to come.

Director Yang Ju Nam worked for Kyeong Sung Studio, an apparently prolific studio of the time. He worked as an editor and assistant director before making his directorial debut with Sweet Dream. After his debut however, he would go straight back to editing and wouldn’t direct again for another twenty years when he made Exorcism of Bae Baeng Yi in 1957.

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Sweet Dream is about a woman called Ae Soon, a housewife who neglects her familial duties and is punished for it. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of modernity and has a predictably regressive view of women. As soon as Ae Soon leaves her family nothing goes right for her, she embraces a bourgeois lifestyle of hotels and modern dance. Lessons are imparted onto her more like public service announcements than a traditional narrative film. It even goes as far as having a scene in a classroom where the lesson is about the importance of family and the dangers of the road. Views like this are to be expected from the 1930s but given Korea was under strict censorship from outside forces more hands are at play for a film like this to exist.

Korean culture under Japanese rule was heavily stunted. People were being forced to change their name to Japanese, modernity was being thrust upon them, and there were few ways to fight back. Cinema was not one of them, with most films being produced in Korea apparently being documentaries and adaptations of traditional stories. They, of course, would all have been subject to strict regulation which makes Sweet Dream an interesting case. It specifically warns of modernity while Japan wanted to push it on the Korean people. It’s view of women was one sided in the same year that Kenji Mizoguchi released Osaka Elegy, a biting critique of the oppression Japanese women face, to critical and commercial success in Japan.

In its traditional view on families then, Sweet Dream is somewhat of an affront to Japanese rule. The fear of modernity could be seen as Yang’s disapproval of his colonists. One step back to take two forward. Of course, Japanese traditional values wouldn’t have been too far from Korean ones at the time, making the strong familial themes at play would have seemed agreeable to Japanese censors. Or maybe the censors were too busy cutting out violence and whole unknown segments to notice.

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The film language, however, is mostly inspired by Japanese cinema. Koreans were seeing some western films like the work of D.W Griffith but the form of Sweet Dream shows traces of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Very much traces though, as the film plays like a 50 minute condensed Ozu film, leaving no room for emotions to be slowly teased out. Here the melodrama is front and centre. In the very first scene, Ae Soon and her husband have a fight with anger seemingly coming from nowhere. It is shot with a plainness that recalls Ozu without the meticulous framing. Instead of being down on the ground with our characters the camera is positioned above looking down on them. Straight away we start judging them and their positions, something the film does with no mercy.

While mostly disappointing, the filmmaking is also where we find the brightest moments of this film. Yang particularly puts effort into his edits, no surprise given his background as an editor. In some scene transitions he uses match cuts to great effect. They transition with the laughter of a man or from two people drinking beer to another scene of a man drinking beer. It shows thought has gone into the form in some cases at least, as it’s absent almost everywhere else. Even the edits are weak in many cases with some shots going on too long or cutting to a scene that has no relevance to the story.

Sweet Dream is a confusing contradiction. Through incoherent character choices and messy filmmaking it puts forward regressive beliefs in the interest of possible subversity. Even if it can be seen as an attack on Japanese rule, the real losers here were Korean women. The importance stressed on family still hurts them to this day. As a piece of history it gives us glimpses into a growing Seoul yet portrays its people as one note. Culturally, it shows us how Korea would begin to love the melodrama. In the following years melodramas would be the most influential films, popular because they contained a multitude of emotions that were suppressed in Korean culture. The next time you watch one of your favourite dramas while emotions are flooding out of the screen, think of Sweet Dream and remember the role that history plays in everything.

Watch the full film here.

Have you seen Sweet Dream if so what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Yoo Seung-Ho Shines in Comedic Caper “Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River”

Seondal Photo

Park Dae Min’s latest film “Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River” premiered in Korea July 6th and makes its North American debut on July 15th. The comedy-driven period caper film delivers 121 minutes of face-paced hilarity, a few tide-changing emotional punches, and a hearty cast of characters to drive the straight-forward plot to its fitting end. Director/Writer Park (“Private Eye”) has written a piece that follows the basic layout of the caper film genre. What makes it stand out from the pack is the comedic element and the acting of scene-stealing star Yoo Seung-Ho, whose bold confidence and awareness of nuance creates a memorable character in the form of Kim Seondal/Kim In-Hong.

Spoilers to follow.

“Seondal” is the story of a con man, Kim In-Hong played by Yoo Seung-Ho, who has seen ugliness in his time and decides to live life by having fun. What is fun? Conning the rich, powerful, and not-so-bright of Joseon-era elite out of their inherited riches. Joining him on his adventures are Bo-won, played by the enormously funny Go Chang-Suk, puppy-like Gyun-yi played by EXO’s Xiumin , and chameleon actor Ra Mi-ran as Bodhissattva Yoon. The foursome’s cons are presented in a fluid stream of action. Costume changes flow into one another as In-Hong escapes from those who pursue him, his handsome face accompanied sharing satisfied smirks with the viewers. The con men run through stunning sets and landscapes as they take advantage of the idiocy of the noble class and the gullibility of the chief-of-police.

Seondal Xiumin and Yoo Seung Ho

The major enemy of the film is the governor of Pyongyang province (currently the capital of North Korea) Sung Dae-ryun, played by actor Jo Jae-Hyun who can take any villain on paper and bring him to life in the most terrifying of ways. Jae-Hyun is the only clever opponent the con men have faced and he is to whom they decide to sell the Daedong River.

While most of the cons involve great fun, amusement, clever lines, and wonderful physical comedy, where the film weakens is in the quantities in which they are presented. The first hour is nearly all cons until the sudden catalyst midway through arrives and changes the game for In-Hong. Pacing changes after that, feeling sluggish until the end during the final showdown. What makes up for this sudden shift is the background music. “Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River” makes use of mixing musical genres, including throwing in Bach’s “Air on the G-string,” modern caper film orchestra scoring, and classical/traditional Korean music fusions. Such a combination makes the mood of the film solid no matter how pacing waxes and wanes.


The romantic elements in “Seondal” were off-putting. It felt like it should have been left out. The state of the relationship is dubious in its sincerity and never clearly defined, which slowed the pacing. Luckily, Yoo Seung-Ho is a charming suitor and saved the romantic scenes from entirely flopping.

Although young, Yoo Seung-Ho is a veteran actor whose powerful presence on screen shows both his experience and carefully-shaped raw talent. His comedic skills were nonetheless pleasant surprises after his more serious roles in “Remember” and “Imaginary Cat.” EXO’s Xiumin chose a role that mirrored his bubbly personality to make Gyun-Yi a good character and a great place for the idol to take his first step into the film world. Go Chang-suk was also a pleasure to watch as he bolstered every scene with his energy and he balanced out Yoo well.

Are you planning to watch “Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River”? It will be shown in six North American locations: Los Angeles, New Jersey Atlanta, Dallas, Honolulu, Toronto, and Vancouver. For the full theater list, please visit: http://www.cj-entertainment.com/. Check out the movie trailer for a peek at the zany fun and hilarity:

Share your thoughts about the flim in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

‘Phantom Detective’ Is Bringing Back Detective Noir to South Korea

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As part of their newly launched Korean Movie Night New York: Premiere Showcase series, the Korean Cultural Center NY provided East Coast audiences and film critics with a special preview screening of independent filmmaker Jo Sung-Hee’s latest return to the silver screen, “Phantom Detective” on May 18th ahead of its May 20th release. The movie is a modern adaptation of a Joseon Dynasty Robin Hood folklore, Hong Gil-Dong, but instead of the classic, chiseled butcher-framed hero, Lee Je-Hoon (“Architecture 101,” “Bleak Night”) stars as our pretty-boy sociopathic private investigator of a protagonist.

[Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers]

The neo-noir film, set in an unspecified time period, follows Hong on his pursuit for the one-eyed Kim Byung-Duk who he witnessed murder his mother 20 years ago. Yet before our anti-hero could arrive at his nemesis’s humble abode to exact revenge, he discovers that his killer had already been whisked away by someone else with a different agenda. In Kim’s stead are his two young granddaughters, who quickly become not only Hong’s meddling sidekicks but also comic relief for the plot that favors melodramatic shootouts and nihilistic themes.


The unlikely relationship that forms between an apathetic male lead and doe-eyed youth in thriller is a common trope (see “The Man From Nowhere”) that I knew going into the screening was going to be set-up for pathos. Audiences still shamelessly bought the bait though, because as much as Hong’s character was thawed out by the inquisitive girls, viewers too were captivated by such naiveté. There are several tear-inducing moments, such as when the eldest granddaughter finally let her suppressed tears fall upon her grandfather’s death, which could not have been achieved had it not been for the virtuous nature of the secondary leads. The delivery of the child actress Roh Jeong-Eui (“Pinnochio,” “Dream High 2”) and Kim Ha-Na, who is only making her acting debut here, were just as convincing as some of the already known cast members, such as Go Ara and Kim Sung-Kyun (“Reply 1994”). With a killer (no pun intended) script and a star-studded cast, my expectations for “Phantom Detective” were already very high.

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And for the most part, those expectations were met. It was enjoyable, definitely, but for a two hour movie more could have been fleshed out, especially in the telling of Hong’s past. In his mad search for Kim and in figuring out his kidnapper’s motives, Hong also unravels his own identity and his past involvement with the organized crime group of which the assailants are working for. Jo Sung-Hee appropriately foreshadows Hong’s connection to this cult early on in the film, as indicated by the recurring shots of the tattoo on his wrist who he shares with some of the – as viewers soon learn, corrupt – political leaders. My qualm, however, lies not with establishing this second storyline, but with the lack of a real build-up to Hong’s relationship to the party’s ringleader, Kang Sung-Il, played by Kim Sung-Kyun. With a literal bang, Kang’s character is first introduced in an armed tableau, where he is portrayed as Hong’s worthy adversary. For the first time the intuitive Hong with the “99 percent success rate” is outwitted, and it is here that we know that the real antagonist is not Kim, but Kang.

As it also turns out, Kang is Hong’s brother. Yet this does not become clear until the climax, which seemed as out of place as Kang’s introduction. What happened to the pair when they were younger so that things turned out the way it did? What is the backstory behind their parents? While this could be fodder for a sequel, the pacing and execution could have been better.

Another fault concerns the somewhat inconsistent use of noir elements. Besides the low-key lighting and striking contrast between light and shadow that are typical of the genre’s distinctive cinematography, the movie also deliberately employs CG effects a la “Sin City.” The opening scene where the camera pans from car to obviously graphic city is a page straight out of a comic book, as is also the case where the light catches Kang’s glasses in the most sinister of ways that has only been done in Japanese animes. But sometime amidst the skirmishes and apocalyptic pandemonium, these devices are lost. As a result, the hyper-reality that Jo Sung-Hee envisioned for his alternate universe couldn’t even suspend my disbelief. I thought it might have been my scant exposure to neo-noir that made the stylistic choices seems satirical at best, but in retrospect it might have its erratic application.

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That being all said, I would recommend “Phantom Detective” to anyone who was riding on its hype, but not as something to watch a second time. I realize this review may come off as reproachful and berating to some, but on the contrary; I sincerely appreciated all the chair-gripping combats and plot twists. When Kim said that he did not regret killing Hong’s mother and would do it a thousand times over if it meant protecting his family in front of a desperate Hong, I had to pick my jaw off of the theatre’s carpeted floor. Like why?! I was rooting for you, old man!

The plot is constantly complicated by the past of its characters, and the even though there was no doubt in my mind that good will prevail over evil (blame popular culture for this canon), it’s the means by which to get to the ends that makes the film laudable of a watch. It’s been a week since the initial viewing and I still cannot gauge how seriously I should be taking it and all its animated, laypeople-operating-machine-gun glory. I suppose that that is its charms. Not to mention, the movie serves as a nice pace of change from the superhero genre that currently saturates our box offices today. Not all heroes wear capes; some wear trench coats and fedoras and always carry a stash of caramel on hand.

Check out the movie trailer:

And if you miss “Phantom Detective” at its East Coast Premiere at the IFC Center, you can still catch it at select theaters throughout North America here.

Have you watched or are you planning to watch “Phantom Detective? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

’20 Once Again’ vs. ‘Miss Granny’: Which One Is Better?

miss granny vs 20 once again

Korean comedy film “Miss Granny” was released in 2014, and due to its massive popularity, a Chinese remake “20 Once Again” was produced in 2015. Both the movies received a lot of international attention, partially due to its engaging storyline but also because many famous stars were casted for the films. Remakes and adaptations are not new to both Korea and China; there have been many K-dramas based on Chinese source material and vice versa, but there is a constant debate about the quality of these remakes.

It is a common and unqualified generalization that “the original” is always better; K-dramas are often compared to the original dramas or webtoons and receive negative reviews purely because on this comparison. While unfair because each version of the story should be evaluated separately, I do admit that when a remake has exactly the same plot and characters as the original, it is very difficult to watch the remake without subconsciously comparing it to the first version.

Though both of these particular adaptations they were very alike, there were minor points about each show which defined and differentiated them. This raises the question: which one is better? Let’s examine them.


As mentioned above, the plot for both movies were identical and there were even scenes where the dialogue was exactly the same. Sure, “20 Once Again” is a remake of “Miss Granny,” but was it really impossible for the scriptwriter to inject even a little bit of creativity into the script?

The plot on its own though, while mildly fantastical, is a winning one. It empathizes the importance of filial piety and sends out a strong message to viewers to treasure their youth. This message is relatable in both Korea and China because both societies are currently facing the problem of an aging population; the struggles experienced by the various elderly folks in the show and the conflicts within a family with various generations living together are all familiar and realistic. By giving the main character Oh Mal-Soon (played by Shim Eun Kyung)/Shen Meng Jun (played by Yang Zishan), a 70-year-old grandma, a new lease of life by allowing her to become 20-years-old again she pretty much embodies the hopes of everyone who has ever wanted to return to a particular period of time. That’s probably why these movies felt so engaging; viewers were all drawn by this imaginative idea. In reality however, with a length of around two hours, the plot moved along very slowly in the movies and felt very long. There were many scenes that I found entertaining but highly useless to the overall development of the plot.

Moreover, there were also some supporting characters who were left underdeveloped. A good example would be music producer Han Seung Woo (played by Lee Jin Wook)/Tan Zhi Ming (Chen Bolin). He was supposed to be Mal Soon/Meng Jun’s love interest in the movies. However, in both movies, the ending left viewers not knowing anything more about him apart from the fact that he has a bad temper and has retro music tastes. It’s hard to root for the main couple (if you can even call it that) when you know nothing about the male and the couple barely had any romantic interactions before they were separated.

via omonatheydidn’t.livejournal.com

Even if the main point of the story was not about the romance, it was way too rushed and unsatisfying, especially in a show that delivered in almost every other aspect.

For all its flaws, however, the plot definitely had great humor, whether it was through the situations that the characters landed themselves in or through the often witty dialogue. A 70-year old grandma in the body of a 20-year old young lady? Cue hilarious scenes with a young lady standing in the midst of a crowd of elderly folk and doing slow morning exercises with them. To its credit, “20 Once Again” did change scenes like these to fit in with the local culture, for example the old folks in the movie watched a Chinese period drama rather than a Korean one which was used in the original movie.

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Perhaps the most defining difference between these two movies is the quality of their cast. While all the actors did a decent job in portraying their characters, all in all, “Miss Granny” had a better cast. This was especially evident for the main character Mal Soon/Meng Jun. Both Shim Eun Kyung and Yang Zishan did well and brought a lot of life to the character. They also succeeded in showing both the tough and vulnerable sides of this character’s personality, making Mal Soon/Meng Jun a very endearing protagonist whom viewers felt and rooted for. Both actresses really mastered the art of acting like old women and created amazing comedy even at the risk of ruining their personal images.

via joowons on tumblr

They enjoyed a good chemistry with the rest of the cast as well, in particular with the actors who played their sons, Sung Dong Il (for “Miss Granny”) and Zhao Lixin (for “20 Once Again”). This was especially important in the movies because the mother-son relationship was a very touching one, despite the lack of scenes together, this relationship worked very well in both movies.

As Mal Soon/Meng Jun was supposed to be a good singer, Yang Zishan really lost out on this aspect. Shim Eun Kyung’s singing voice was a pleasant surprise, she could not just carry a tune but she had a certain level of skill which made her singing scenes enjoyable to watch. Yang Zishan’s singing, while mildly decent, was quite unstable and emotionless, making Meng Jun’s instant popularity unbelievable and ultimately detracted from the film’s enjoyment.

“Faintly Sweet Memories” – Yang Zishan

“White Butterfly” – Shim Eun Kyung

For the role of Seung Woo/Zhi Ming however, the actors had to put in extra effort because the script barely helped them with their character development at all. Both the actors casted are relatively famous and have a nice resume of past projects but Lee Jin Wook added way more depth to Seung Woo as compared to Chen Bolin’s Zhi Ming, who basically remained boring and stagnant throughout the entire movie. Seung Woo’s relationship with Mal Soon also didn’t feel as forced as Zhi Ming’s and Meng Jun’s, which made it enjoyable to watch even though there wasn’t much romantic development.


This seems like an odd and trivial criteria to compare the movies with, but it’s not weird when the movies are largely centered around music. After turning back to her 20-year-old self, Mal Soon/Meng Jun gets invited to join her own grandson’s band and subsequently encourages the band to start playing old hits because those are the only songs she likes to sing. The band thereafter goes through a transformation and starts to produce quality music. This transformation was definitely illustrated more clearly in “Miss Granny,” because the movie started out with the band playing really horribly — discordant chords, lousy lyrics and so on. When Mal Soon joined them however, they were soon playing lively and catchy oldies. They sounded really good as well.

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For “20 Once Again” however, the band started off with a relatively good song, so it was hard to believe that they were doing badly. As a result, the transformation was not apparent, making the storyline unbelievable.

Both soundtracks had some outstanding songs though, but the main theme song from “20 Once Again,” which was sung by Luhan, was really amazing. Apart from having a beautiful melody, the lyrics captured the essence of the movie and was a perfect way to end the show.

“Our Tomorrow” – Luhan

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Final Result

Although both movies had its strengths, ultimately “Miss Granny” was a better version because the story was brought to life in a very moving and heartwarming fashion, aided by the wonderful performances of the cast members and a great soundtrack.

Premium subscribers at Dramafever can check “20 Once Again” out on the newly launched CJ E&M Movie Channel. “Miss Granny” is also available on Dramafever so you can check both movies out and compare them yourselves!

Have you watched these two movies? Which version do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

History Comes To Life In ‘The Admiral: Roaring Currents’ [Giveaway]

David meets Goliath in the Imjin War epic film, The Admiral: Roaring Currents.

The 2014 film, directed by Kim Han Min, revolves around a famous battle in the 16th century when Admiral Yi Sun Shin defeats a Japanese fleet of over 300 ships with only 12 Korean ships. Yi saved the country and Choi Min Sik brings the titular character to life in a groundbreaking, award winning role.

Choi Min Sik delivers once again in a stellar performance that follows roles in top Korean films like Old Boy and Shiri. The Admiral: Roaring Currents is the latest of the films that the actor stars in to win an abundance of awards. Choi’s Yi is disgraced and haunted by the dead after the Korean fleet is decimated in battle, and has nothing else to do but die trying to save the Joseon era-Korea from falling to the Emperor of Japan’s fleet. Despite the King of Joseon’s orders, and a as other members of the previously grand fleet protest Yi’s decisions to fight against the Japanese navy, Yi pushes forward to protect his homeland. He has few ships, and his men have no hope, but he perseveres.

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The turning point in the film comes when an officer, in despair, burns one of Yi’s last Turtle Ships, a type of ship used by the Korean navy under Yi that was more well protected than other Korean ships and less likely to be boarded by the Japanese. Choi’s Yi Sun Shin falls into despair, and even madness, as he sets out to make a final stand with even fewer, less stalwart ships.The Admiral KultScene review 1

There are many side characters in The Admiral: Roaring Currents, all of whom are interesting, but the focus is on Yi Sun Shin. However, the secondary characters add depth to the film, particularly the bloodthirsty Japanese leader Kurushima Michifusa (Ryu Seung Ryong,) sniper Haru (No Min Woo,) and the heartbreaking couple made Im Jin Yeong (Jin Goo) and his mute love, Lady Jeong (played by singer-turned-actress Lee Jung Hyun).

The Admiral is an emotional film, with Yi’s honor and the survival of the Joseon kingdom at stake, but at the heart of it is the Battle of Myeongnyang. The battle takes up the second half of the movie, and is filled with explosions and intense battle scenes. Great detail was put into the costuming, depicting the extravagant visuals of the Japanese officers and more modest trappings of the Korean military leader and peasants.

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The scenery in The Admiral is stunning, particularly the water mentioned in the English title of the film. (The Korean title of the film is Myeongnyang, named after the battle depicted. The permeating darkness throughout the film, a haunting, daunting darkness, is oppressive to the degree that even the audience of The Admiral is likely to doubt the outcome.

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But the film’s spectacular battle is filled with surprise after surprise, and the film ends with a poignant note, with Yi’s son pondering his father’s lesson that a leader, military or otherwise, has to put faith in both nature and the people he/she rules.

The size of Yi’s victory over Japan is debated by Japan and Korea, but Yi Sun Shin is one of South Korea’s most iconic heroes and Choi’s depiction lives up to the stature of the man whose statue is placed in the center of Seoul at Gwangwhamun Square.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents was released on April 28, and you can get a brand new copy of it, thanks to KultScene and CJ Entertainment. Here’s how it works: Because we’re offering two different copies, you can enter for either the DVD or Blu Ray copy of The Admiral, or for both! It is mandatory for you to follow Facebook and Twitter if you want to enter. You can boost your chances by commenting on the website and tweeting at us! Good luck!

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Do you want to watch The Admiral: Roaring Currents? What’s your favorite Korean film? If you watch The Admiral, make sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

‘Twenty’ Is The Korean Coming of Age Film That Will Make You Laugh Until It Hurts

Twenty, directed by Lee Byung-Heon, premiered in New York City on April 14th  and quickly filled the theater with laughter and praise for the coming-of-age film. Twenty, starring Kim Woo Bin, Kang Ha Neul, and Lee Junho of K-pop idol group 2PM, is a story of three extremely different friends who struggle with first loves, family issues, sexual urges, and career paths.

Kim stars as playboy slacker Chi Ho who is obsessed with sex and has no goal other than to breathe. Kang plays type A college student Kyeong Jae who falls in love for the first time with someone already in a relationship, and Lee rounds out the crew as cartoonist Dong Woo who works part-time to support his mother and brothers after his father goes to jail on corruption, leaving the formerly wealthy family penniless.

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Essentially, the movie is about three men who have no idea what to do with their youth and who are nowhere ready to be adults, leading to many humorous situations.

The movie is a comedy with many poignant moments, highlighting the struggles and strengths of being twenty years old: Old enough to have responsibility, but young enough to make mistakes and learn from them. The three friends antics were full of humor but dealing with tough situations (bank account balances at zero, enlisting in the Korean army, heartbreak) kept Twenty grounded in reality.

Even while the situations are sometimes ridiculous, such as Chi Hoo deciding to hit a woman with his car in order to get her sleep with him and a memorable scene where he pitches a movie idea to a director, Twenty portrays these things as normal craziness from twenty-year-old men in Seoul who don’t really know what they’re doing with their lives.

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The three leads dominate the film, but out of the primary four female characters in the movie, Lee Yoo Bi’s character So Hee is the most captivating. So Hee, the younger sister of Kyeong Jae, brings youthful innocence to the film, a counter to the other women who tend to be a bit more bitter about their lives. She makes fun of her brother and his friends for things twenty-year-old men find natural, like masturbating and drinking, while still showing wisdom despite being a high school student. She puts the whole film into perspective in one line: “The three of you remind me of dumb and dumber, and dumb again.”

Director Lee Byung Heon, who was a screenwriter for Sunny and the director of indie Cheer Up, Mr. Lee, used familiar elements from his previous works including fight scenes and characters working on the set of films to help portray the confusion and exuberance of the three men in the beginning of their roaring twenties. The film utilizes a bright palate of colors, but some of the more serious scenes hint to Lee’s indie elements. The choice of songs for the soundtrack, particularly during a memorable fight scene towards the end of the film, adds some depth and additional humor to the comedy.

Twenty takes itself seriously enough to have a point as Dong Woo, Kyeong Jae, and Chi Hoo figure things out, but doesn’t do so in a way that makes it anything other than a feel good, laugh-until-you-cry film. CJ Entertainment and MOI’M worked to bring the film to the US, and there will be several showings throughout North America on April 17.

What do you think of Twenty? What other Korean films would you like to see in theater? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

‘Gangnam Blues’ Delivers Beautifully Gory Cinematography & Stellar Lee Min Ho Performance

gangnam blues gangnam 1970 review lee minho

[Disclaimer: This post contains some spoilers]

Before Gangnam was synonymous with opulence for PSY to satirize it, Seoul’s most affluent district was mostly dirt poor farms in the ‘70s. And in Lee Min Ho’s first starring role in the film Gangnam Blues (also known as Gangnam 1970) we get to see exactly what the skyscrapers and luxury residential areas were built on: blood and corruption.

The plot follows Kim Jong Dae (Lee Min Ho) and Baek Yong Ki (Kim Rae Won), two guys bound together after growing up in an orphanage, in their journey from rags to gangsters to, ultimately, their demise. Shot in noir, the cinematography and the plot work together to show the violence and the decadence of the city and its characters. Similar to director and writer Yoo Ha’s predecessor films Spirit of Jeet Keun Do and A Dirty Carnival, Gangnam Blues deals with the good old themes of violence and conspiracy by the powerful. As well as ambition and survival within an urban setting in a developing country.

And because it deals with violence, the film is obviously gory and explicit. Because just as Kim’s boss Kang Gil Soo (Jung Jin Young, Love Rain, Miracle in Cell No. 7) forewarns and foreshadows before war between gangs erupts, gangsters are for using and throwing away, and that’s the most prominent theme in all of Gangnam Blues. Gangsters die left and right all throughout the film to show just how expendable people were at the hands of those in power or in the pursuit thereof.

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Yoo Ha emulated the classic Scorsese gangster story by glamorizing the hustler’s lives to a point, but not depicting them as good people. The characters are not one dimensional — either innately good or pervasively evil — they have depth and stories and purposes. While Kim Jong Dae genuinely cared about Kang and Seon Hye (Kim Seolhyun) and looked after “his boys” and Baek protected Kim, they were both cold blooded killers who didn’t second guess committing the most gruesome murders.

But even if murder is a terrible sight, it was — I can’t believe I’m saying this — beautifully shot. Actually, the entire cinematography in Gangnam Blues was stunning. Pause any moment in the film and you can get an amazing picture. The close up and medium shots throughout the film were used exquisitely to show detail and give insight. The cinematography favored clarity over gimmicks and it worked perfectly. But getting back to the topic of murders, they were shot in a very vivid manner, breaking the noir to show bright reds in either the blood or neon lights in the scenes where Kim and Baek committed crimes together, making the violence more garish, over the top, and significant.

Moreover, with Gangnam Blues being Lee Min Ho’s breakout movie role as a lead actor, a lot of expectation was placed upon him. And while it may be a little hard for K-drama fans to divorce from the chaebol, flower boy image normally associated with him, there was no trace of it in this film (other than his good looks, of course, which, c’mon, he can’t escape that). At the beginning, he gave us a major Faith throwback with his long hair, but once cut his hair and became a gangster, all of Lee Min Ho’s previous characters went out the window. He showed pretty much every emotion in the book without looking fake or too theatrical. Even his fight and murder scenes suited him; you completely believe this guy’s trouble. In Gangnam Blues , Lee Min Ho proved that he’s ready to move into the movie industry.

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Curtesy of DramaFever.

Taking everything into account, it’s perfectly understandable why Gangnam Blues topped the box office on its opening day in South Korea last year. The movie is beautifully shot, the characters excel with their performances, and the plot properly addresses and conveys all of its messages. The only negative aspects are the abundance of secondary characters, given that it was hard to keep up with who was in what gang and who died and who didn’t. Also, the ending was a bit disappointing. If it had ended with the voice over as the camera zoomed out of the tunnel, it would’ve ended in full circle. The shot of modern day Gangnam was a bit unnecessary since audiences know what the district looks like today. The tunnel shot was a hundred times more compelling. But other than that, Gangnam Blues is a clear winner, offering an original take on the gangster movies.

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Check out the movie’s trailer here:

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