Posts Tagged ‘Kim Seung-Woo’

IRIS: THE MOVIE a.k.a. IRIS – THE LAST [AHIRISEU | 아이리스 : 더 무비 | 아이리스 – 극장판]


KOREA 2010  Directed by: Yang Yun-Ho, Kim Kyu-Tae Produced by: Taewon Chung Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Kim Tae-Hee, Jeong Jun-Ho, Kim Seung-Woo, Kim So-Yeon, T.O.P.

PREFACE: saying IRIS: THE MOVIE was a good or a bad movie in principle is impossible. The feature film following the successful KBS TV Series is essentially a re-edit of the 20 preceding episodes, plus additional unseen footage that is supposed to enhance the storyline, deepen certain aspects of the drama and answer some of the open questions. Meaning, not much of IRIS: THE MOVIE is genuine, entirely new or surprising to those who have watched the series before. Quite the opposite.

THE TV SERIES: IRIS the television drama is most certainly one of the best shows coming out of Korea so far, and it’s a great show by any standard. However, we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves and believe that IRIS is reinventing the wheel: IRIS is a carbon copy of 24, with Lee Byung-Hun reprising the role of Kiefer Sutherland. Along the way the plot, storyline, characters and dramaturgy are purely 24, the NSS agency, the terrorist attacks, the assassinations, the betrayals, the government involvement, the secret organization, all the way down to many of the details that are 24 by the book (like, oops, wrong warehouse, or “give me that friggin’ code NOW”).

Furthermore, the television drama may be a very good adaptation of 24, but it simply lacks its cinematic aesthetics. The HD video look is irritating and drags down the overall quality, making it anything but fit for the silver screen. Consequently, it has been mostly aired on IPTV / cable TV channels so far, but Japanese audiences will have to brace themselves for that odd video look when the film hits cinemas in January. IRIS had a very big budget by Korean standards, but they forgot to invest it into 35mm film. Too bad: if there’s one distinct quality trademark it’s celluloid.

THE MOVIE: now the big question is who exactly is the target audience for this mashup of a movie? Any which way I look at it IRIS: THE MOVIE fails. That is because re-editing 20 episodes into a single film results in an incomprehensible mess. IRIS: THE MOVIE is free of any character development (let alone introduction), it randomly jumps in and out of scenes, nothing is sufficiently explained or integrated into the larger context. The whole movie feels like a very, very long trailer. Right. A trailer. That’s what it is. A two-hour long trailer, a never-ending best-of compilation. If you haven’t seen the series you’ll be repeating one sentence from beginning to end: what the heck is going on?

Die-hard fans of the series will of course disagree and say that IRIS: THE MOVIE is grrrrrreat, but that’s because they have seen the twenty episodes before, and what the movie does is that it triggers sweet memories. So that’s self-deception. Without those memories, it simply doesn’t work: IRIS: THE MOVIE is an executive summary not worth watching. It’s rushed, incomplete and dissatisfying, most of all it doesn’t substitute watching the series.

CONCLUSION: if you are interested in the series, avoid IRIS: THE MOVIE at all costs. It doesn’t do any good, in fact, it will seriously spoil the TV drama experience. And if you are not planning to watch the series, still there aren’t any good reasons to waste your time with IRIS: THE MOVIE as it simply isn’t a movie in the first place.



71: INTO THE FIRE [POHWASOGEURO | 포화속으로 | 포화 속으로]


KOREA 2010  Directed by: Lee Jae-Han (John H. Lee) Written by: Jeong Tae-Won Produced by: Jeong Tae-Won Editing by: Steve M. Choe, Changju Kim Cast: Kwon Sang-Woo, T.O.P., Cha Seung-Won, Kim Seung-Woo, Park Jin-Hie, Kim Hye-Seong, Moon Jae-Won, Shin hyeon-Tak, Yun Seung-Hun, Tak Teu-In, Ki Se-Hyung, Shin Kyung-Sun, Kim Sung-Ryeong, David McInnis

It is interesting to see how a few outstanding movies influence so many of their epigones. Without going too much into the long history of war movies, it must be noted that there are probably only two major, contemporary works from the last two decades that until today define the way war looks and feels like on the big screen: FULL METAL JACKET and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

71: INTO THE FIRE is an aesthetically accomplished film, it has everything you can ask for: breathtaking battles scenes, beautiful moments of contemplation, intensive emotions conveyed in a way only film can; yet, it appears to me that it fails to create what I’d call a trademark image of war. Visually speaking, the Korean War looks exactly the way WWII looks like in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. That’s not such a bad thing as John H. Lee successfully creates a carbon copy of Spielberg’s aesthetics (as have many other movies before), but once the dust settles the film and its makers nevertheless battle against drowning in a sea of sameness, although the casual viewer most probably wouldn’t notice, or mind.

What we all should mind however is that 71: INTO THE FIRE does also copy most of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’s opening sequence (and a few moments of FULL METAL JACKET), with our hero stumbling through the war zone, bullets and debris flying all around him, until, surprise, a big detonation cripples his sense of hearing and he loses orientation (only we don’t, we know exactly what Mr. Lee’s inspiration was). What looks like a fast-paced, gripping beginning at first glance is, if we are honest, not more than a very good remix of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’s legendary first 30 minutes.

It is almost like Mr. Lee didn’t have an idea as how to draw the audience into his story in the first place and decided to do so through a purely effect-driven approach (further proof would be that nothing of what happens in the beginning is of any relevance for the film later, except for the main character gaining some credibility as “war veteran”). From then onwards, and that’s the good news, 71: INTO THE FIRE concentrates on its own subject, finds its own rhythm and with more time into the movie also finds its own identity. The (supposedly true) story revolves around 71 student soldiers who are left behind to protect an outpost against the approaching North Korean army, while the high command and remaining battalions have to defend the last beachhead against the enemy somewhere else.

With little supplies and largely alone, the group of students is having difficulties to work together, as leadership is questioned frequently, some never follow orders and, mostly for dramaturgic reasons, things go wrong that simply shouldn’t go wrong (just like in horror movies when we think who on god’s earth would be so stupid to do that). 71: INTO THE FIRE manages to create a great deal of internal and external conflict that mostly feels natural though, like a result of the circumstances the group is in. Very importantly, Mr. Lee keeps the momentum up until the end and shows great talent in pushing the limits, inevitably steering towards a grand finale that won’t let the audience down.

What I found most remarkable is that casting a well-known Korean pop singer for the lead role (a move that is clearly a marketing strategy, but should fail in terms of adding any quality to the film) actually pays off as T.O.P. (or Choi Seung-Hyun) does fit the role of Oh Jung-Bum very well and delivers a solid performance as introverted leader-by-chance, someone who’s fate is largely determined by circumstance, but who finally picks up the ball and plays it back hard.

Mr. Lee refrains from indulging in a conventional zero-to-hero scenario, creating an ambivalent character who hasn’t asked to lead, and struggles against opposing forcing within his own ranks (sometimes, 71: INTO THE FIRE gears a bit too much towards youth gang motifs for my taste), never being or becoming the untouchable idol or skilled fighter others admire, but instead an ordinary student living through the horrors of war like anyone else.

Most of the time Oh Jung-Bum’s character doesn’t have lengthy dialogue scenes, obviously to make T.O.P. look as good as possible on-screen, but it also, accidentally or not, shapes Oh’s character in a way that is very befitting and distances the movie from Hollywood’s methods of creating fan appeal and heroic glamour. Throughout the movie Oh remains one of them, but is gaining profile gradually making him a believable leader who is anything but superman, but that necessary bit better and more disciplined than the others to stand tall against the enemy.

The way 71: INTO THE FIRE depicts the war is not a plain glorification of the South, neither is it just eye-candy aiming at action movie fans: the conflict always has a face, and it is not easy to simply like or dislike the opponents, despite lack of insight into their motivations and reasons. 71: INTO THE FIRE barely scratches the surface of the historic events as the film is mostly driven by the here and now; I would argue that this increases the intensity of the conflict on the individual level, while the big picture (political, social or global implications) is largely left out. Watching 71: INTO THE FIRE with the expectation to learn something about the Korean War (or any war for that matter) would be a mistake, and will leave you disappointed no matter what, but the film is not as shallow as often stated if we take it for what it is: a good story about a group of people set during the last days of the Korean War.

While 71: INTO THE FIRE is not providing any insights into the actual conflict, it’s a fine drama and war movie with a lot of memorable moments, good acting and fierce action. 71: INTO THE FIRE is Mr. Lee’s best work to date and one of the better movies coming out of Korea this year, and arguably can claim a spot on any “best war movies” list out there, if just defined broad enough.




UPDATE: READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – – – – It’s probably a good time to bash North Korea once again: John H. Lee’s 71: INTO THE FIRE tells the story of 71 students fighting in the Korean war against the bad brother from the north. Looks like FRIEND and TAEGUKGI meet on the front line to celebrate nostalgia and nationalism.

Produced by Taewon Entertainment for a reportedly 12 billion Won, starring Kwon Sang-Woo, Cha Seung-Won, T.O.P., Kim Seung-Woo, Park Jin-Hie, Kim Hye-Seong, Moon Jae-Won, Shin Hyeon-Tak, Yun Seung-Hun, Tak Teu-In and Ki Se-Hyung.