Along with the Gods: The Two Movies

Hi there. So this won’t be a typical review style post of mine (though it shares minor aspects of those). Instead it’ll be more like my post on the Fable movies (AHEM AHEM), loosely rambling about them in a bundled post. I should mention that both movies will from here on out simply be referred to by their subtitle, as it’d be too long and clunky to use the full title each time. So anyhow… let’s go.

The Two Worlds

After perishing in the line of duty, a firefighter (Cha Tae-Hyun) finds himself in the company of three spirit guides (Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-Hoon, Kim Hyang-gi) who have been tasked with guiding him through the afterlife in order for him to potentially earn the right to reincarnate. Based on a webtoon by Ju Ho-min, “The Two Worlds” is an interesting blend of inspirations and tones. Most noticeably, it uses Buddhist philosophy as a springboard to tell an interesting and really fun fantasy adventure story, a morality tale that also happens to have some really fun VFX-driven action and colorful characters. Taking us through visually distinct environments to tell a nuanced fantasy story.
As we follow the firefighter’s journey through the afterlife, we get to know him more and more, seeing what led him to the initial incident. We see why he does what he does, we get to know the deepest inner workings of his soul, and finding out just how complex even the most seemingly good people are. And the way that affects the events of the movie, the ways his guides have to assist him, it makes for some compelling drama and some surprising suspense. So when we get to the climactic trials that are crucial in determining his fate, it put me on the edge of my seat, and also may have caused the waterworks to begin operating. Because while someone might come to this for the spectacular VFX, fun action scenes, or extremely good looking cast, soon enough they’ll also find that this movie has a strong emotional core as well. I am not ashamed in admitting that this movie made me cry. It’s one of those flashy action flicks that also happens to have some truly compelling characters and drama. But it can also be quite funny at times, especially with the quips and general demeanor of Ju Ji-Hoon as the delightful Haewonmaek.
What else is there to say? It’s a big popcorn flick with a great story, plenty of heart, a wonderful cast of characters, and some mesmerizing visuals. I loved it.

The Last 49 Days

Released a year later, “The Last 49 Days” sees our favorite spirit guides as they take on the task of helping a new soul towards reincarnation, all while also trying their damndest in trying to retrieve a fellow guardian (Ma Dong-seok) who’s been living on Earth for a long time. “The Last 49 Days” is once again a blend of things. Fantasy action, historical epic, domestic dramedy, and I think all these individual pieces are great… but together they don’t flow super well. I get that you need all the bits together to tell the complete story, take one piece out and the tower comes crashing down, but there is a whole lotta movie to this movie. And I’m not just talking about runtime, as it’s really only like 5 minutes longer than the first one, but rather it’s how much is crammed into it. There’s an exhausting amount of narrative threads going on at any one time, and while I found all of them pretty compelling on their own, their flow is just almost non-existent. It’s especially horrid near the middle of the movie, where things really begin to drag. You know that deep sigh you make when you’re bored? Yeah, that happened here. It’s just an exhausting drag at times.
So while the story is a mess, the characters do get some really interesting extra depth, which also leads to the actors getting more to chew on. The cast was great in the first one, but they really get to flex their acting chops here, and I think they give terrific performances here. And it’s just nice to have Ma Dong-seok be part of proceedings, the man just slots in flawlessly and brings such a unique charisma.
Action scenes are once again a lot of fun, not quite as flashy as what we saw in the first one, but definitely still highly enjoyable. Effects are still top notch (bar one or two obvious green screens), costumes and makeup are solid, and there’s some really fun cuts and transitions spread throughout. It’s just stellar on a technical level.
So while nowhere near as strong as its predecessor, I can’t say that I disliked “The Last 49 Days”. It still has some great stuff to it. If the first one’s a strong 9/10 for me, then this is maybe a weak 7/10. Hurt by its poor pacing, but still has a lot to admire.

So yeah, I watched and generally liked the “Along with the Gods” movies. Basically if you like big spectacle with plenty of heart and don’t mind reading subtitles, then I can easily recommend them. And apparently there’s a third and fourth one coming at some point… so I’ll be cautiously looking forward to those.

Have a good one.

Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

Hi there, ready for more Month of Spooks content? Because I sure as hell am! So let’s quit dawdling and get into the review!

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Train to Busan”!

On what starts as a day like any other, businessman Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) gets on the train from Seoul to Busan with his daughter (Su-an Kim). But their trip soon takes a turn for the worse when a zombie outbreak starts and finds itself spreading across the country, and inside of the train. So it’s up to Seok-Woo, his daughter, and the other passengers on the train to try and survive. In a world of “The Walking Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Resident Evil”, and countless other adaptations, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d be difficult to find a way to make a zombie story interesting again. Well, I’m more than happy to say that “Train to Busan” more than succeeds, taking the classic setup of a group of survivors against hordes of zombies, and cramming it into the confined space of a train. But it’s not just the claustrophobic setting that helps sell the story, as the crew here come up with all sorts of interesting, unique, entertaining, and intense set pieces, all while putting their own little spin on how zombies work. The story also does a good job of escalating the narrative and the threat in dramatically interesting ways, starting in its first few minutes as a regular drama, adding on layers of interesting social commentary, and soon mixing in the intense zombie carnage, making sure that the suspense never lets up until the credits. It’s just fantastic storytelling that masterfully covers so much ground in very focused and enjoyable ways.

I thought the characters in this were great. I mean, not all of them are great people, but they all have clear, distinguished personalities and compelling motivations and arcs that help ground the drama and horror, making us care more for what is happening, leading me to actually fear for them and really feel something when they do. And the cast is just fantastic, containing people like Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Maa Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, and many more, with none being a weak link. Everyone delivers top tier work.

The score for the movie was composed by Jang Young-gyu, and it’s just great. High intensity brass, foreboding strings, emotional piano, it covers all the typical beats you expect to find in a movie like this and does it incredibly well. It may not necessarily be the most memorable score out there, but it works perfectly well for elevating the emotions in the moment.

“Train to Busan” was directed by Yeon Sang-ho, and I think he did a fantastic job with it. The man knows how to utilize space within set pieces, somehow using the same level of claustrophobia for both pure suspense and fun action. Just the way he frames the groups of zombies within the train creates this overwhelming sense of dread, but then in a later scene finds some fun, creative way of having the characters deal with them. He balances the scares with the sense of fun incredibly well, making for a really well balanced viewing. But there’s also a good amount of aerial shots to give a sense of how far this apocalypse has already gone in just a short amount of time, and I think that further adds a lot of intensity to proceedings. The effects are great as well, the editing is solid, and the cinematography by Lee Hyung-deok is beautiful. ’tis just really well crafted.

This movie’s been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 94% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 73/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.6/10.

“Train to Busan” is absolutely fantastic, blending human drama with action and horror marvelously. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic direction/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Braaaains*. My final score for “Train to Busan” is a 9.89/10. Which means it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Train to Busan” is now completed.

Ma Dong-seok is just the coolest.

Movie Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)

Hello there, my friends, I hope you’re having a most spooktacular day. Anyhow, what’s on the Month of Spooks menu today then? Korean stuff? Haven’t done that for MoS yet… how exciting!

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “I Saw the Devil”.

When his fiancée is brutally killed by a vicious and perverted killer (Min-sik Choi), special agent Soo-hyeon Kim will go on a crusade to get revenge. “I Saw the Devil” is an almost non-stop ride of darkness, depravity, and turning my stomach inside out. It’s a morally grey revenge story where you understand why the protagonist does what he does, even if you find yourself questioning his methods. It’s an interesting spin on the familiar serial killer/cat and mouse game stuff that balances dark, morally grey, and disturbing drama with unflinching and brutal violence. It’s hard to describe the narrative without giving stuff away, so I’ll just end this section by saying that I thought the story here was great.

The characters in this are all fucked in the head in one way or another. I know that sounds like a weird generalization in some way, but it’s true. They are all messed up in some way, and the movie explores that in really fascinating ways, which makes all of them quite interesting. What also helps make them compelling are the performances, in particular from our two leads. Byung-hun Lee is brilliant as our protagonist, and Min-sik Choi is delightfully icky as the serial killer. They make for a great pairing in this. We also get some really solid supporting work from people like Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Chun, In-seo Kim, and more.

The score for the movie was composed by a man known as Mowg, and I think he did a great job with it. Most of it is used to help build this kinetic intensity, which really helps add to the frenetic pace of the movie. But there are also slower, more moody track that build ambiance and emotion when the movie does decide to slow down a little. It’s a solid score that works really well for the movie.

“I Saw the Devil” was directed by Jee-woon Kim, and I think he did a great job. His direction is intense and unflinching, never shying away from showing brutal, bloody, or outright disgusting things… but rarely does it feel gratuitous in that sense. I don’t know how to explain it, but it handles all this stuff in a way where you do see a lot, but it never goes overboard. Anyhow, I especially think his direction shines in the more action-heavy scenes, with the intensity and energy of those bits crackling in a way I don’t see much of in a lot of other movies. And on one final note, you’ve probably figured it out already if you’ve read this, but there’s quite a lot of disturbing content in this. So if you have a weak stomach or you’re in general just very squeamish and easily triggered by graphic content… you’ve been warned.

This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 81% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 67/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.8/10.

“I Saw the Devil” is a brutal and unflinching thriller that I highly recommend. It has a great plot, really interesting characters, great performances, really good music, and fantastic direction. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “I Saw the Devil” is a 9.67/10. Which means that it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “I Saw the Devil” is now completed.

See no devil, hear no devil, speak no… devil? No, that doesn’t work…

Movie Review: Parasite (2019)

Well hello there, friends of the interwebs! How are you? Welcome to 2021, where dreams are made and/or shattered, and where Markus catches up on movies that everybody already have seen. So let’s go, yo!

Ladies and gentlemen… “Parasite”!

Shortly after young man Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) gains employment as a tutor for the daughter of a wealthy family, he starts scheming with his family to get them employed for these wealthy folks too. What’s fascinating about “Parasite” is that it spans more genres than the entire filmography of more directors. Is is a crime story? Yes. But it’s also a family drama. And a black comedy. And a thriller? But despite all of this, there never is any clashing as we flow through the movie. They blend together beautifully, held together by some of the tightest writing I’ve experienced in a film in recent memory. All of this making for a brilliant satire on class differences within modern day South Korea (and possibly other parts of the world), while in general also being a highly enjoyable narrative to follow on a surface level. The storytelling of “Parasite” can be enjoyed both as this deep, nuanced satire, and as a general piece of entertainment. It’s just great stuff.

The characters in this are incredibly interesting, because it’s clear that a lot of time and love has gone into making them feel as real and nuanced as possible. I believe every second of their characterization, and that makes them extremely compelling. And when you pair that with an excellent cast, featuring people like Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Park So-dam, Choi Woo-sik, Jang Hye-jin, Jung Ji-so, Cho Yeo-jeong, and more, you get some extremely engaging character work going on.

The score for the movie was composed Jung Jae-il, and it was terrific. It’s a fairly minimalist score, all things considered. It’s based mainly around piano, some strings, and light percussion, which helps give the movie a uniquely fascinating vibe that is equal parts fun and uncomfortable. And I love it.

“Parasite” was directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho, and I think he did a superb job with it. Few directors have as much control over every scene as he has here. Every moment is perfectly crafted and calibrated in a way that I seldom see in movies. I also have to take a second to praise the cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo, because it is not only ridiculously pretty, but it also adds so much to the overall storytelling, with each shot being able to convey so much about a moment. And when you take the superb editing into account, you get one of the most perfectly crafted movies I’ve seen. It’s insane how perfectly constructed this is.

This movie has been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 98% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 96/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 8.6/10 and is ranked #30 on their “Top 250” list. The movie won 4 Oscars in the categories of Best picture, Best director, Best original screenplay, and Best international feature. It was also nominated for an additional 2 Oscars in the categories of Best production design and Best film editing.

Yeah, guess I’m joining the choir in saying that “Parasite” is fucking fantastic. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic directing/cinematography/editing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Parasite” is a 9.91/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Parasite” is now completed.

Not a bad start to my movie watching this year.