No one does demented domestic drama quite like Kim Ki-Young. The Insect Woman may feature the most unhinged characterizations of any of Kim Ki-Young's films. Every character here is uninhibited and impulse driven, the escalating violence pushing towards a perverse, unorthodox battle of the sexes perspective on the human condition. To say this is an affront to social normativity is an understatement but also not the whole picture as I'm not sure Young's ambitions go far beyond provocation in which subversive theatrics evoke his outright disdain for humanities animalistic attributes and intrinsic selfishness. Not an optimist about humanity are we Kim Ki-Young? Lurid, histrionic, stylistically singular, and stunning, The Insect Woman is amusingly subversive domestic thriller and a wonderful exhibition of Kim Ki-young's directorial prowess particular when it comes to optimizing space and a having keen almost sixth sense for camera movement as a means of expressivity. Kim Ki-Young's disdain for humanity cuts so deep people have to label this film "horror" lol. The baby!
Adult social order is a tapestry of cruelty, cynicism, buffoonery, and continuous absurdity - the delusion of control and the use of force in an attempt to obtain it purveyed through the pensive and pure perspective of youthful angst and contempt for this form of social servitude. Not so much polemic as imbued with a sense of mystery and befuddlement towards the absurdity of adult life, P.P. Rider is a beguiling but continuously intriguing evocation of youth revolt. Somai's use of an amorphous structure will be difficult for some to grapple with but what he's created is an ultimately distinctive tale of disenchantment and rebellion that presents a lot to chew on.
More perverse and erotic than I was expecting, Deep Trap finds great utility within the dichotomous nature of urban-rural life, delivering a diabolical little thriller that doesn't always work but has its devious little pleasures. An urban couple struggling with the grief of a miscarriage, and in desperate need of reigniting their relationship, head to a small isolated island where the local host, Ma Dong-seok, and his subservant wife are not what they seem! This film's horror fundamentally rooted in unease, subversion, and deranged discovery. It may not have enough thrills to appease the horror crowd looking for a barrage of titillation but it delivers quite a diabolical little treat with a solid emotional core and some interesting thematic subtext for those looming for that type of thing. Ma Dong-seok plays a mysterious, rural creeper so it felt like a nice change of pace from his more stoic heroes. He is having fun here, playing this demented antagonist who begins as a kind but slightly off host before the revelation that he is a straight-up psychotic. Deep Trap traverses a relatively familiar motif in horror, but it has enough character and psychosexual deviance to deliver the goods. Make mistake this one does get pretty gnarly in moments but the thrust of what makes it fun is seeing Ma Dong-seok stepping a bit out of his comfort zone, combining his intimidating frame with a sinister smirk to make this subversive horror/thriller worth a look.
The coming of age archetype entangled with such Irreverence and provocation, 36 Fillette is revelatory in the way it traverses uncomfortable terrain. It's provocative but earnest, detailing a young girls sexual and cognitive awakening through a taboo subject matter that could have easily divulged into the grotesque. Deftly managing to balance its irreverence with a thunderous honesty, the film exhibits the objectification of the female form, the dangers within, and the dynamics of power that lay within carnal desire between the masculine and feminine forms. Through her escapades with this older man and the subsequent denouement, 36 Fillette pronounces the transactional nature of sex, and how when disentangled from emotion, can grant a young girl finding herself a sense of autonomy and power when navigating a male-dominated world. A story of awakening, this young woman who is taken advantage of, learns about the power she wields in the social arena where the female body, while exploited and objectified, can be utilized for one's own gain when self-aware. Her body is a useful commodity, a tool for seizing back power and agency, and in the denouement when our young female protagonist smiles at the camera, breaking the fourth wall,, 36 Fillette suggests she has awakened - the recognition of power she has, and the service in which this power can help her obtain emotional and intellectual betterment.
A feral, aggressive film rooted in polemics and agitation. Has a revolutionary spirit but sadly doesn't earn any type of thematic resolve related to class consciousness, social oppression, etc. This is not really a good film when viewed through an orthodoxical lens. The central characterization isn't an anti-hero in positioning but frankly that would have probably been the better move. The story seems to really want to make this character empathetic to the audience and it simply isn't all that effective. He's not a victim of a vicious system given the inciting incident of this story, so it's hard to find this film effective when Cheang levies critique towards the hyper-commercialization and commodification of tradition - the spiritual ethos of Martial Arts decaying and being consumed by the only motive that matters, profit. I guess what I'm saying is this is a film that feels in contention with itself. There are a lot of thematic touchstones in here but nothing quite gels, and given this is based off a popular Magna it makes me wonder if this is the classic case of an artist doing his best with under-cooked source material and financiers that cinema to be a secondary medium ;). With all that in mind, I kinda loved this? lol. Shamo is a highly visceral experience, one in which Cheang and company deploy cinematic artistry in the form of editing, cinematography, art design, etc. to craft a hyper-engaging treat of transgressive pleasures. Has a lot of that "burn it all down" energy, and despite that there are far better films that achieve this across, story, theme, and technical mastery, I respect the hell out of this film's underlying spirit of revolt in which it delivers a panoply of stunning imagery and a heterodoxical perspective on the state of marital arts/competitive fighting.
A symphonic tableau of aural and visual mastery that utilizes the loose narrative framework of a serial killer detective story to deliver a potent, intentionally abstract story of urban alienation, existential longing, and the fracturing of a psyche under the weight of such a barren metaphysical milieu. A stifling experience of suffocating stillness and unnerving, rigorously designed formal arrangements, Angel Dust is an impeccably directed film that manages to interrogate psychological coercion and the vast possibilities of outright subjugation when dealing with something as enigmatic and fragile as the human psyche. The labyrinthic nature of the mind, its power to manufacture reality but also its intrinsic fragility and potential for manipulation is a core component of Angel Dust, a film that wishes to emulate the enigmatic nature of our inner self through its storytelling. The confluence of the material and metaphysical planes of existence rest at the fulcrum of this story, and ultimately the filmmakers intentions lead to a sinister denouement, but one that manages to be incisive about objectivity vs. subjectivity. Our emotions while imperative to being human, are intrinsically manipulative. Whether we wish to admit it or not, reality itself is in the eye of the beholder.
An intriguing confluence of American and Hong Kong action sensibilities where Ringo Lam's remarkable penchant for abject brutality and precise action set-piece staging provides a lot to appreciate. Undeclared War is a film riddled with collective anxiety in which the hero's journey of a CIA operative and an HK Chief police Inspector mirrors the anxiety felt by their respective communities. Similar to many films of this era to come out of Hong Kong, anxiety and uncertainty related to the Handover is a major thematic component but how Undeclared War marries this with the American collective anxieties related to the Cold War and "communism" really makes this a fascinating exercise, though it is far from being among Lam's best films I've seen. This film isn't outright nihilistic, it's more imbued with uncertainty, where the future whether positive or negative is yet to be seen, yet the anxiety of such uncertainty offers its own form of cutting ennui. Visually, Lam exhibits Hong Kong through a bottom-up lens. Much of the film's aesthetic is piss-stained, grimy, and from the surface streets of Hong Kong which effectively elicits this underlying theme of apprehension. The neon lights pronounce and project with force, they illuminate the squalor below but they do not directly impact it. Two worlds in contrast with the future path uncertain ahead.
Oh, so Sammo Hung announced his penchant for brutality and unwavering physicality toward violence right of the gate, huh? Surprised this one isn't more often invoked in best first film discourse. The finale of The Iron-Fisted Monk is exhilarating, with Hung's fight choreography and staging being a visceral ballet of speed, grace, and power. At one point, the camera holds in a wide angle - in the foreground, James Tien Cheung tangles with a few baddies, while in the background, Hung dispatches enemies with his spear. It's not a particularly long cut, but it is a masterful exhibition of the artistry of choreography on display. The aesthetics of oppression are shown as pure barbarism, and the hero's journey while ultimately claiming a form of cosmic justice offers little reprieve when the mortal wounds are so deep.
This should have just ended with Brad Pitt giving a pep talk to his dick Dirk Diggler style. Props to Chazelle for getting a major studio to finance this, I guess. The illusion of Hollywood when in actuality it's just an exploitative fueled meat-grinder. There is something interesting here about how technological innovation under our current economic system disregards humanistic modes of expression, everything being built around the latest and greatest perceived commodity to be sold, but clearly I'm reaching and that's not what this film is about. I can't say I found this nearly as fun as advertised, it has nice lurid moments, and a lot of manic energy, but I found it completely uninspiring outside of its surface-level theatrics. Nothing feels particularly well-dimensioned here, amounting to just a bunch of thematic and emotional parlor tricks rooted more in shock value than any form of intellectual investigation. Tobey Maguire being prescient by 70 years - pitching a version of 2009's Orphan in the '30s, now that, I liked.
Quietly shattering, an evocative portrait of oppression and generational trauma that is expansive yet never unfocused in its thematic scope. Love how the film is constructed - the matter-of-fact objectivity of a courtroom drama slowly deteriorates as the film progresses, Implicit and explicit forms of prejudice across race and gender percolate to the surface of the text in a way that never feels pedantic only truthfully rendered. Objective fact yields to the subjectivity of experience in the back half of this film, the sterile formal style giving way to more expressivity, encapsulating the underlying and largely unspoken fears of our main protagonist. A deeply humanistic work that is both intellectually prudent but emotionally poignant, a rich tapestry and melancholy that fundamentally disputes any strict binaries between our individual nature and the nurturing provided by our environment and our experiences - The ending monologue of this film is absolutely gutting, and this just feels like a film that will last in my psyche long after the credits roll.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.