Tag Archives: Song Kang-ho

Joint Security Area (2000) Review

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Joint Security Area

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Lee Young-ae as Maj. Sophie E. Jean
Lee Byung-hun as Sgt. Lee Soo-hyuk
Song Kang-ho as Sgt. Oh Kyung-pil
Kim Tae-woo as Pvt. Nam Sung-sik 
Shin Ha-kyun as Pvt. Jung Woo-jin
Director: Park Chan-wook

Two North Korean soldiers are killed in the border area between North and South Korea, prompting an investigation by a neutral body. Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) is the shooter, but lead investigator Maj. Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a Swiss-Korean woman, receives differing accounts from the two sides. Lee claims he fired in self-defense after getting wounded, while a North Korean survivor (Song Kang-ho) says it was a premeditated attack — leaving Jean with her work cut out for her.

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Joint Security Area was one of the last Park Chan-wook films that I needed to get around to watching. All I knew about it was the director (and it’s one of his earlier movies), and that Song Kang-ho was in it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, but it was better than I thought it would be, genuinely great.

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Joint Security Area is one of Park Chan-wook’s least extravagant movies in terms of plot, but this might actually be one of his best scripts and overall narratives. At first the movie starts as a murder mystery where the goal is to find the explanation for a killing where the perpetuator is known but the motive is missing. The setup starts off being pretty familiar outside of the setting and circumstances, but after the first 20 minutes it stops seeming procedural and the focus starts to shift to some flashbacks to the events leading up to the incident. I won’t go into too much depth about what it gets into because I went in not knowing what to expect and was surprised when I found out what the movie is really about. The movie takes place in the Joint Security Area in the Korean DMZ which separates North and South Korea. The representation of both North and South is actually even handed, especially with the characterisation. It isn’t the deepest or politically charged film but it is quite thought provoking. It gets at the heart of the pointlessness of war, and particularly reflects on the generational battle between the North and South. Like most of Park’s movies it is filled with humour, even the darkest of his films. However instead of dark comedy, this time its more innocent and pure. The story is surprisingly emotional and hits hard particularly at the end, but it’s also a very moving and hopeful movie. The move is slower paced but that didn’t take away too much from it, especially once it went into the flashbacks. The movie does have its issues. Some of the investigation scenes could have been a bit more interesting or stylised in some way. The flashbacks leading up to the event were definitely holding my interest more and when it cut back to the present-day scenes, while I didn’t dislike them, I wanted to go back to the other storyline.

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The acting is also great, you feel the level of emotion in this movie because you care about the characters and the relationships between them are believable. The main cast are rather well known South Korean actors in Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Yeong-ae and Shin Ha-kyun. All of them play their parts really well but for me the two standout performers were Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun as they portray North and South Korean soldiers respectively. Song was particularly fantastic in his very nuanced performance, and he elevates any scene that he’s in. In terms of flaws, Lee Yeong-ae is good in her part, though it does feel like her character doesn’t get much to do in this movie despite playing the role of the lead investigator looking into the central incident of the movie. It’s likely because like much of that plotline, she’s overshadowed by the flashback sequences.

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This is one of Park Chan-wook’s first movies, and he already showed himself to be a great director with this one film alone, even before the revenge films that really made him known. The direction is snappy throughout, he manages to get a lot from a fairly straightforward story here. Everything on the technical level is great, the cinematography is great and its well shot, and the production design and costumes are top notch.

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Joint Security Area is another great film from Park Chan-wook. Along with the excellent direction and the superb acting from everyone, the story was surprisingly emotional and easy to get invested in, as was the characters it follows. Definitely check it out, especially if you like any of Park’s other movies.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) Review

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] 
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Dong-jin
Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu
Bae Doona as Cha Yeong-mia
Director: Park Chan-wook

This is the story of Ryu (Shin Hagyun), a deaf man, and his sister (Lim Ji-Eun), who requires a kidney transplant. Ryu’s boss, Park (Song Kang-ho), has just laid him off, and in order to afford the transplant, Ryu and his girlfriend (Bae Doo-na) develop a plan to kidnap Park’s daughter. Things go horribly wrong, and the situation spirals rapidly into a cycle of violence and revenge.

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I knew of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as being a film from Chan-wook Park, but also the first movie of his unofficial ‘Vengeance trilogy’, which also includes Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, I just knew that Song Kang-ho was in it, and I heard that it was quite depressing. That certainly turned out to be the case. While it’s not one of my favourite films from Chan-wook Park, it’s incredibly well made and gripping from beginning to end.

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I do think that the plot of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is one worth knowing as little as possible about before watching. All you need to know is that it is a revenge movie and concerns someone (with the help of his girlfriend) who was fired from his job, who then decides to kidnap the daughter of his former boss in order to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant. You really should not look into the plot beyond that especially with the turns that the story makes. Something that some people will notice immediately is the rather slow pacing. Everything is built up rather calmly over the course of the movie especially in the first act, but none of that time is wasted at all. That time is used to set up the world and characters of this movie with incredible care and attention. It is quite absorbing and helps create a strong atmosphere as the situation in the plot gets more intense. What you’ll also notice is that the tone is dreary, gritty and overall sad, with almost no moment of happiness. The movie really is a classic Greek tragedy, and a real gut punch of a thriller, flipping the idea of a revenge film on its head. There’s just a large chain of tragic consequences and brutal reactions throughout the entire story, you don’t really know which of the two main characters to really root for. It deals with many subjects and themes that are incredibly heavy and dark that are present throughout the movie. It is certainly less pulpy and energetic than Oldboy, Park’s next movie after Mr. Vengeance, and there isn’t even a clear-cut villain here like there was in that movie. With that said, it still manages to draw you into its characters, story and world, and keeps you intrigued enough to see how everything ends. I really liked the ending and how everything was concluded, and it was as unflinchingly grim as I expected. The only problem I had was a flashback and narration which was used to explain something, when I didn’t think that it was needed. It’s a small thing but it took me out of it because up until that moment, the story did well at letting you understand what was happening with the story without having to spell it out for the audience.

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The acting is truly spectacular from everyone. The two lead roles of Park Dong-jin and Ryu are performed by Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun respectively, and their work here is truly phenomenal. Both incapsulated their characters so well and made them truly believable and compelling.

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Park Chan-wook is a great director and his work in this movie doesn’t disappoint. While I wouldn’t put this up there with some of his other movies like Oldboy or The Handmaiden, it’s spectacular. The cinematography is stunning, whether it be capturing a brightly coloured room, or a grungy or dirty location. It really fits the tone of the story. The movie can be very gruesome too, don’t expect any exciting action scenes, it’s unflinchingly brutal and hard to watch at times (as intended).

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not a fun movie in the conventional sense. However it is a great movie for sure, the story is grim and hard to watch but compelling, and the performances are extraordinary, especially from the leads. You do need to go into the movie with the right mindset, but I think it’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of Park Chan-wook’s other movies.

Thirst (2009) Review

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Thirst

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Horror, violence, sex scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Sang-hyun
Kim Ok-bin as Tae-ju
Kim Hae-sook as Mrs. Ra
Shin Ha-kyun as Kang-woo
Park In-hwan as Priest Roh
Song Young-chang as Seung-dae
Oh Dal-su as Young-du
Director: Park Chan-wook

Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a priest working for a hospital, selflessly volunteers for a secret vaccine development project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. However, the virus eventually takes over the priest. He nearly dies, but makes a miraculous recovery by an accidental transfusion of vampire blood. He realizes his sole reason for living: the pleasures of the flesh.

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I was interested in Thirst by the mere fact that Park Chan-wook directed it. I was interested to see how a vampire movie by Park would be. Additionally, I really like Song Kang-ho as an actor, and so him playing the lead here interested me greatly. Thirst is one of the most unique vampire movies I’ve seen, it might be a little overloaded with what it tries to do, but overall, I thought it was quite good.

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As I said earlier, Thirst is a unique take on the vampire genre. The film takes many familiar gothic tropes and utilises them and plays around with them in a interesting way. Despite these tropes being quite traditional and the story structure having been used many times before, the film still manages to feel distinct. As a vampire story it stands out, and the transition from human to vampire was told in a compelling way. With that said, calling Thirst merely a vampire movie would be doing it a disservice. It really is a blend of different genres and elements including horror, drama and comedy, with the end result being a gory psychological horror romantic thriller (and even that doesn’t quite do it justice). The story puts the main character in an interesting dilemma as he goes on a very dark journey when he becomes a vampire. The characters are very well developed, especially the two lead characters, and the story is suspenseful. The writing is strong, with sharp and witty dialogue. Thirst is also weirdly funny like some of Park’s other movies, or really a lot of other dark South Korean thrillers in general. There’s a certain level of quirkiness throughout. This movie is filled to the brim with thought provoking themes and complex topics that Park takes on. The movie deals with love, passion, belief, sin and desire, and portrays the darker side of humanity. Also Thirst places at a close second for most passionate and erotic films from Park Chan-wook right behind The Handmaiden (the film’s title of Thirst really does have a double meaning). I will say that it really does feel like Thirst is trying to cover a lot, most of it works but at times it feels like it is trying to handle too much. Thirst is also definitely a slow burn, it’s very deliberately paced and seems to meander early in the movie. It also does feel quite long, and potentially it could’ve been a little shorter.

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Another strong aspect of the movie is the performances, which are fantastic. Song Kang-ho gives a stellar performance as the lead character of a priest in crisis who becomes a vampire who struggles to hold onto his urges. Song Kang-ho embraces all the emotions his character is going through, and convincingly conveys all the conflicts that he has over the course of the movie. It’s not just him however, Kim Ok-bin also excels in the role of a housewife who goes through her own transformation into someone very different from where she started. It was thrilling to watch and was convincingly done, she really shines in the second half especially. The chemistry between the two were good, their dynamic was one of the shining points of the movie. These characters are complex and feel human, helped both by the writing and acting.

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Park Chan-wook directs this, and it’s no surprise that it’s so great on a technical level. There are some gorgeous visuals, with great cinematography and camerawork, and the set and costume designs are top notch. Also worth noting is that despite this being a vampire movie, Thirst has the recurrent colour of blue across the movie instead of red. There are some hallucinations at certain points in the movie and they are filmed quite creatively. There are lots of blood as to be expected given it’s a vampire movie and one directed by Park, and the effects are really good. The editing and the score round out the rest of the technical elements and are great in their own rights.

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Thirst may be a bit long and try to tackle a little too much thematically, but on the whole it’s a great and unique take on vampires, and a great psychological romantic horror thriller. Park Chan-wook directs it excellently, the story is engaging and has a lot going on, and the lead performances from Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin are fantastic. If you like vampire movies, horror movies and/or Park Chan-wook movies, I highly recommend checking it out.

The Host (2006) Review

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The Host (2006)

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] contains violence, horror scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Gang-du
Byun Hee-bong as Park Hee-bong
Park Hae-il as Park Nam-il
Bae Doo-na as Park Nam-joo
Go Ah-sung as Park Hyun-seo
Director: Bong Joon-ho

An unidentified monster appears from the Han River in Seoul, kills hundreds and also carries off Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). When her family learns that she is being held captive, they resolve to save her.

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After watching Parasite, I wanted to watch more of Bong Joon ho’s movies. The Host (not to be confused with the 2013 movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s book of the same name) had been on my long list of movies to watch for a while, I just knew of it as a monster movie, and it certainly was that, but having seen it I can say that it turned out to be a little more than just that. A greatly well made and original movie, The Host was quite an enjoyable monster flick, and had quite a lot of surprises in store that I wasn’t expecting.

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There’s plenty of monster movies, and if you’ve watched many of them, they can feel rather samey, and ultimately follow the same beats as other movies in the genre. However, Bong’s take on this worn out genre manages to be fresh and original. There’s also some deeper subtext and thematic elements at play, it’s actually more politically charged than you’d think it would be. The opening scene indicates that there’s much more to the movie, with scientists pushing chemicals into the pipe, which would eventually cause the monster to be created. While the plot beats aren’t exactly unpredictable, the story felt fresh enough that it didn’t matter too much. On top of that, the plot is quite captivating, and you’re invested from beginning to end. It’s tense and surprisingly emotionally involving, especially with the characters. At the same time, The Host is surprisingly darkly comedic and entertaining throughout, having some funny moments while not sacrificing the overall tone, it’s all balanced quite well.

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The cast are all good with Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, and Go Ah-sung playing the family at the centre of the story. The dynamic between all of them is great, which is good because it’s sort of a family drama on top of being a monster movie. The standout was long time Bong collaborator Song Kang-Ho, he’s great in everything and his performance as the father of the girl who was taken by the monster is no exception. Most monster movies have characters that are just there to be the main characters because every movie in that genre needs to have then, while the destruction and/or the monster is really the focus. The Host however is actually driven by these characters, and they are all acted and handled in the movie quite well.

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Bong Joon ho’s direction is great as expected, it’s so incredibly well shot and filmed. If you’ve seen any of his movies Memories of Murder onwards, you know how great he is, and that extends to the monster movie genre too. There are many thrilling sequences that ranks among the best of the genre. Now the only overt flaw is some of the dated visual effects on the monster and… it definitely hasn’t held up well. But it’s a testament to its design and the direction of the whole movie that this monster manages to be so effective, memorable and threatening whenever it’s on screen.

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The Host is a great monster movie, and it’s a great movie in itself. The acting is really good, Bong Joon-ho’s direction was top notch, and I liked everything that Bong brought to the movie with his writing. All of these elements come together to form a mixture of styles that work effectively. Even if you might think the monster movies are a little samey, The Host is definitely one to seek out.

Snowpiercer (2014) Review

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Snowpiercer

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence
Cast:
Chris Evans as Curtis Everett
Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsoo
Ed Harris as Wilford
John Hurt as Gilliam
Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason
Jamie Bell as Edgar
Octavia Spencer as Tanya
Ewen Bremner as Andrew
Go Ah-sung as Yona
Director: Bong Joon-ho

Set in 2031, the entire world is frozen except for those abroad the Snowpiercer. For seventeen years, the world’s survivors are on a train hurtling around the globe creating their own economy and class system. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans), a group of lower-class citizens living in squalor at the back of the train are determined to get to the front of the train and spread the wealth around. Each section of the train holds new surprises for the group who have to battle their way through. A revolution is underway.

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Snowpiercer was the first movie from Bong Joon-ho that I saw, which was quite a while ago. Having watched all his other movies, it made me want to go back to this one, and it’s even better on a second viewing. The release of Snowpiercer wasn’t as large as it should’ve been, which is a shame, because had it been given a proper release it would’ve been a massive hit among everyone sooner. It’s a fantastic film that is worth seeing.

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Snowpiercer is a very thematic movie about class, and there are a lot of parallels throughout. A lot of it isn’t particularly subtle but this doesn’t bother me at all however, movies being blatant with its themes aren’t inherently bad, and Snowpiercer does go deeper than just leaving it at “rich people bad, poor people good”. At around 2 hours long, the movie held my attention quite well. It’s much more focussed on the story, ideas, characters and themes over the spectacle and visuals (even those are impressive too). At first it’s a straightforward story, a group of people at the back end of the train want to get to the front of the train, and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. However, there’s more going on, and the latter half of the movie sort of abandons the action movie energy from the first half for something much more intellectual and ambiguous, and I liked that too. Snowpiercer also feels very fresh, creative and original, and you can’t really compare it to any other sci-fi film, even though it’s not an entirely original film as it was based off a graphic novel (which I don’t think was that well known). The ending, as in the very last scene of the movie, was fine enough but I felt like it was missing something.

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This had a large cast, and all of them perform greatly, but there were three performances that stood out most. Chris Evans gives probably the best performance of his career in the lead role, as a much darker and conflicted character compared to most of the others that he plays, I’d like to see him more in roles like this. Song Kang-ho is here in his 3rd collaboration with Bong Joon-ho, and as usual delivers a solid performance. Tilda Swinton is the other standout as another transformative and unrecognisable character, and shined in her screentime in a over the top and gloriously hammy performance. The rest of the supporting cast with Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris also delivered some solid performances on their parts.

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We all know that Bong Joon-ho is a great director but he’s particularly great here, and his transition to movies in English was impressive. Taking away the fact that this movie is mostly in English, this doesn’t feel like an American blockbuster, especially when it comes to the action. It’s brutal, stylised, and was all around great and satisfying. It’s also visually stunning, the visual effects and cinematography were outstanding, and the attention to detail with the production and costume designs were top notch.

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Snowpiercer is one of my favourite movies from Bong Joon-ho, and he’s made some fantastic films. His direction was reliably exceptional and was key to making it work as well as it did. Add on top of that the work of the cast and a story and world I was engaged with throughout, and you have an outstanding sci-fi movie. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already.

Memories of Murder (2003) Review

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Memories of Murder

Time: 131 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Doo-man
Kim Sang-kyung as Seo Tae-yoon
Kim Roi-ha as Cho Yong-koo
Song Jae-ho as Sergeant Shin Dong-chul
Byun Hee-bong as Sergeant Koo Hee-bong
Director: Bong Joon-ho

In a small Korean province in 1986, two detectives struggle with the case of multiple young women being found raped and murdered by an unknown culprit.

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While watching Bong Joon ho’s filmography, there was one movie I was particularly looking forward to seeing, that being Memories of Murder. It had often been compared to Zodiac (even though Memories of Murder came out 4 years earlier), and seeing as I loved that movie, I had a feeling that it would be right up my alley, given that I generally like crime thrillers That turned out to be that case. All of the acclaim was very well deserved, Memories of Murder is a truly excellent film that everyone really should see.

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We’ve seen many detective stories about hunting serial killers, but not many are as well put together as Memories of Murder. At around 2 hours and 10 minutes long, it keeps you engaged from beginning to end. You really feel as locked in as much as the main characters as they desperately try to find the killer, discovering leads, reaching dead ends, and the like. The movie more character driven than you might think, as it shows the stress, disappointment, and overall impact that this seemingly endless hunt has on the detectives. This movie also has some surprisingly effective dark comedy throughout, making it somewhat entertaining to watch and not just a grimy gruel to sit through. At the same time, the murders are fittingly disturbing (while not being overly exploitive), and you constantly feel this growing sense of seemingly hopelessness, especially as it builds towards the latter portion of the movie. The climax of the movie takes quite the turn, culminating in quite the haunting ending, especially the final shot of the film. I won’t say too much for those who know nothing about the movie or the events it’s based on, but like Zodiac, Memories of Murder based on a true story, giving much of the movie even more weight.

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The cast are all great in their roles, with the trio of Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung and Kim Roi-ha as the detectives particularly working very effective. Their characters are all shown to be quite different from each other (both in personalities and the way they perform their investigations), flawed and really believable. As usual, it’s Song Kang-ho who stands out the most, who delivers another great performance. Both him and Kim Sang-kyung particularly shine in some of the latter scenes of the film.

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Bong Joon-ho’s direction was fantastic, this is his second movie and he’s done some absolutely fantastic work here, certainly a huge step up from his debut movie Barking Dogs Never Bite released 3 years earlier. The cinematography was also great, really placing you in the setting effectively. Some of the most stand out shots come in the last 10 minutes, and on the whole that last section is so wonderfully directed and put together. The score by Taro Iwashiro is also really effective, beautiful but melancholic and sad.

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Memories of Murder is an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, an engaging and haunting crime thriller, incredibly written and directed by Bong Joon ho, and greatly performed by its cast. While I consider Parasite (another Bong film) to be slightly better, they are very close in terms of quality, and both deserve all the attention. Definitely see it as soon as possible, especially if you’re a fan of investigative crime thriller films like Zodiac.