EIFF 2013: Jiseul Movie Review 0 186

EIFF 2013 - Jiseul movie review
Jiseul tells the tragic and shocking true story of the inhabitants of the southern Korean island Jeju in 1948. Because they lived 5 kilometers outside the South Korean peninsula they were labelled communist rebels and on the order of U.S. troops they were to be shot on sight. The film focuses on a unit of soldiers who were ordered to wipe out a village and some of the villagers who managed to evade them while hiding in a cave for months.
This harrowing story is told in poetic fashion, shot in stark black-and-white which only heightens the effect; you have to keep reminding yourself throughout that this actually happened and not just the bleak imagination of what might have occurred in wartime. However, the commitment to the admittedly exquisite visuals can sometimes take away from the power of the story. You can’t help but feel there’s a far blunter film to be made about the atrocity, something to truly shock the senses and decency of the audience. Jiseul is instead focused on beautiful composition and framing which indeed makes for a gorgeous film to behold but not one that truly punches you in the gut as it should.
Muel O. is clearly a talented director as he composes some genuinely astonishing visuals. The raid of one particular small village, with the camera putting the audience in the scene almost in the shoes of one of the soldiers doing the horrible deed, is as elegant as it is uncomfortable to watch. While in contrast a scene in the snow is beautiful and would almost be peaceful if it weren’t for the intentions of the soldier pointing a gun at an innocent woman and baby.
This could have been something of a masterpiece had it not been for certain choices the director makes to fill in the gaps between the Korean soldiers catching up with the villagers. Perpetual sequences of the villagers sitting and talking undo a lot of the power the bold visuals and haunting themes conjure. Those sequences seek to show the normality the villagers are trying to savour even in this most dire of circumstances but they go on too long and feel distracting and sluggish. It’s the director’s first film and hopefully he can use this to grow as a filmmaker and make something really special next time – he certainly shows flashes of great ability here.
Jiseul says a lot about the power of human resilience and spirit, tackling themes of survival, regret and loss in a sombre and quietly powerful way. It’s a shame that it can’t keep that consistent throughout or present it in a much more harrowing way to truly match the story. It’s a gorgeously shot and framed film with faultlessly naturalistic performances from non-professional actors but also a bit of a slog at times to sit through, never quite attaining the heights the appalling true story demands.


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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Killing Ground 0 649

This review was previously published at The National.

This audacious and especially gruelling Aussie horror-thriller from short film-turned-feature director Damien Power centres on a young couple, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Margaret (Maya Stange), who take a camping trip with their baby to a remote and idyllic spot in a national park.

Once there they discover another group’s camping gear, however the people are nowhere to be seen. Upon some investigation they find themselves a part of a gruesome crime perpetrated by a couple of unknown assailants who appear to be hunting them down.

This impressive debut exemplifies the horror genre’s unique ability to unnerve an audience, lulling us into a false sense of security as so many horror films do with a pair of amiable leading characters and a sunny prospect of a calm holiday retreat before slamming home the horrific truth of the matter.

Using a very clever narrative structure of flitting back and forth between the present couple’s predicament and what exactly happened to the group that set up camp before them, the film drags us by the scruff of the neck down a gruesome and astutely disquieting road that makes for equal parts compelling and shocking viewing.

The horrifying events are amplified by Power’s decision to shoot them with a serene passivity. He allows the unfolding threat and repulsive violence to occur in an almost matter-of-fact manner, utilizing stillness captured by the beautiful cinematography to offset the horror. It conjures a deeply uncomfortable sense that, adding to the film’s largely cynical disposition, bad people exist in the world who commit terrible acts and there’s often nothing we can do about it.

Killing Ground effectively continues the line of grizzly Aussie horrors like Long Weekend, Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, as well as particularly evoking the Brit gem Eden Lake. This is an example of cinema that knows how to ramp up the tension by never being afraid to show the brutal reality of a scarily believable predicament – in every way it’s unapologetically not for the faint-hearted.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Home Again 0 633

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10