I Saw the Devil: when his fiancé falls prey to a deadly serial killer a secret service agent will stop at absolutely nothing to get even with the perpetrator. Make no mistake, this is revenge, Korean Style, and some parts of this picture make Oldboy look like a kids film – masochistic, nasty, graphic moments of extremely inhumane behavior. These would normally put you off, but this is so well crafted, and masterfully/beautifully shot (by – arguably – Korea’s best director) that it absolutely captivates. There are so many outstanding & memorable scenes: the riverside one is heartbreaking, agriculture one shocking, and many more jaw-dropping moments. Acting across the board is great, but the two (arguably Korea’s best actors) leads are absolutely mesmerising: Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-Sik doing it
gangnam world-class style. There’s a lot of ‘blood on your hands’ / ‘becoming a monster’ themes, which get a little tedious and feel over-emphasised. I Saw the Devil has everything: tension, drama, black-comedy, gore, shock, thriller, nasty, nice and everything in between – it’s all in there, and it’s all handled spectacularly by the director and his leading men. It may be too dark, graphic or gristly for some, but if you’ve got a strong stomach this is a fantastic film.
The Front Line (a.k.a. Battle of Highlands): a lieutenant is sent to the front line to investigate potential betrayal and espionage among the South Korean army. The main plot point is as compelling as you could ask for in a War film: North and South Korea sacrificing over 50,000 soldiers to continually fight over one ‘strategic’ hill that would shape the border when the country is divided – control of the hill flipped between North/South over 30 times during the Korean War, it’s unbelievable. Interestingly, it’s politically neutral – there’s no ‘bad guys’ as both sides are painted as simply following the mad orders from above. The battle scenes are scarily realistic and intense, peaking in a brutal, heartbreaking, final 25 minutes, as the story takes one last turn. The performances are solid, soldiers come across as realistic & human, and are developed enough that you care about them – there’s more emotion than most war movies, although there are points where it’s tipped into manipulative melodrama. This also helps the impact of the toll of war on these guys; shell shock / injuries / senseless violence / limb-loss. The side-story about the box used to swap supplies is also a nice touch. There’s not much colour in the movie, grey, greens and white snow are about as bright as it gets, and there’s a hammy song repeated several times, but they’re minor complaints.The Front Line delivers everything required of a war picture, and can easily stand up there alongside Assembly as the best Asian War films I’ve seen.
The Inbetweeners Movie: Jay, Simon, Will and Neil celebrate the end of school in classic British style; by having a lads holiday in Crete (for some reason filmed in Magaluf?!). From the non-introductions right down to the TV aspect ratio and budget constraints – it’s not even remotely ‘cinematic’, feeling more like an extended / special episode. On the flipside, fans of the series will love it because it’s a good continuation – and hopefully wrap up – of the storyline; has most of the good characters doing their bit at some point; it’s loaded with laughs in the same vein as the show, (obvious but effective dirty jokes) and for all the ups and downs in the storyline, it’s enjoyable and uplifting to watch. Because it’s been on TV for 3 years now it’s also easy to overlook how well-observed, believable and funny the central characters are. While it’s essentially Kevin and Perry Go Large for the next generation, and despite having a generically predictable story, The Inbetweeners Movie perfectly captures teenage angst and everything else that makes the TV series so successful. It would be a great high note to end the franchise with, and the fact that it will probably finish 4th in the 2011 UK Box Office (beating off every other film in 2011 except HP7B, King’s Speech and Twilight) should give you an idea of how it went down with the British public.
Chatroom: London teenagers meet up online in a ‘Chelsea Teens!’ chatroom where they discuss their problems and bring out the worst in each other. At the centre of the film are five teens, overdramatized and riddled with angst, hatred & depression to the point of stereotype. There’s the least likable central character for as long as I can remember, and the other four people/plot-lines are picked up and dropped when convenient – and not properly explored or concluded. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very wordy film, but that creates the small problem that every word comes from 5 depressed teenagers all burdened with issues. When a story is driven through these characters manipulating and bringing the worst out in each other it doesn’t really make for inspired viewing. The best idea in the film is representing online chatting through a discussion with real people in a physical room, but it’s only novel for about 10 minutes. This is propped up by a few good tongue in cheek ‘online LOL‘ moments like the paedo entering, sex chat rooms and clay-mation skits. It’s shot well (Ringu series / Dark Water director) and the ‘chatroom’ sets are as seedy, sleazy, strange and twisted as your mum’s opinion of the internet. This film is to the internet use, what Requiem for a Dream is to drug use. Apparently nobody online does anything positive these days, and everyone’s up for egging on a suicide etc. There are a few neat ideas scattered throughout, but nothing sustainable for +90 minutes. Emo teen drama.
Summer Heights High: set over the course of a school term this eight episode mockumentary follows three characters; a camp drama teacher, private-school girl on exchange and disruptive Polynesian kid. Not for the P.C crowd, the series constantly throws up jokes about disabilities, gingers, suicide, molestation, drugs, rape… basically, nothing is taboo. There’s some great running gags through the episodes and the characters are all solid, well-resreached / acted & genuinely humorous. Not without is faults the series does start to drag around he 5th/6th episode, some dialogue gets lost in scenes with several people talking or arguing (particularly with the girls) and the majority of the laugh-out-loud parts are crude, relying more on shock. Between the believable way that it’s shot and the harsh content it wouldn’t be too obvious that it was a comedy if you found this channel surfing. The breakdancing ‘Polly’ character (Jonah) and Mr G’s play at the end were my highlights of the show. What ‘Neighbours’ should be like!
The savages: ‘estranged siblings re-onnect as they take care of their ailing father in this Oscar-nominated black comedy’… only it’s not really a black comedy, just plain old grim. Only laughed at one part of this film, the rest of the ‘funnies’ were predictable or potty humour. Couldn’t believe Chris “Hitman” Partlow (from The Wire) played a care worker – casting FAIL! Laura Linney looked like a total milf for the duration. It was well-shot, and brilliantly acted – can’t really go wrong with Seymour-Hoffman. As a drama it ticks a few boxes, although it is a tough watch. However, it just doesn’t cut it as the Todd Solondz-esqué black comedy it was marketed as. Ignore the critics!