04 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Train to Busan

October 3

Train to Busan (2016)

Where Japan is great at making horror films, South Korea's forte lies in action thrillers. Having first entered the realm of South Korean cinema via Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, I quickly became hooked on the genre. Most of the items on my Netflix watchlist are South Korean films, and while I'll try not to only review foreign films this month, I'm sure there will be a few more.

While the zombie genre has been horribly overdone at this point, I was eager to see South Korea's take on the living dead. Often, what kills the zombie tale is the over-explanation of how things happened and the focus on blood and guts; Train to Busan offers no explanation for the outbreak, which is initially referred to as riots, and instead focuses on the survival aspect of the situation. Oftentimes, human nature is more disturbing than any monster or virus.

Train to Busan follows divorced fund manager Saek-woo and his daughter Su-an, whose relationship has become strained due to Saek-woo's long nights at work and absenteeism from his daughter's life. All Su-an wants for her birthday is to see her mother, so they head out to Busan. On the train, they meet working-class husband Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, the egotistical COO Yong-suk, elderly sisters In-gil and Jon-gil, members of a high school baseball team and their cheerleader, and a homeless man suffering from PTSD. With so many unique characters, it's impressive that the film manages to devote enough time to giving each of them ample screen time and just enough character development that one can empathize with their individual struggles - or root for them to perish. The film slowly becomes a sort of social commentary on class warfare, with the rich trying to shun the working-class or those they claim to be infected. When the world goes to hell, it's every man for himself.

Train to Busan will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to heartbreaking end - but it's a refreshing zombie film that's definitely worth checking out if you understand Korean or don't mind subtitles.

03 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Temple

October 2

Temple (2017)
"Three American tourists follow a mysterious map deep into the jungles of Japan searching for an ancient temple. When spirits entrap them, their adventure quickly becomes a horrific nightmare." -IMDB

The second film I chose to review was one that had been sitting on my Netflix watch list for a few months - Michael Barrett's Temple. I'm not sure why I added it to my list in the first place, other than the fact it's a Japanese-American film, so I expected it to have some elements of j-horror. 

Temple actually sounded like the type of film I generally tend to stay away from - tourists ignore locals' warnings to avoid haunted temple and have the scare of their lives. Films like this make me antsy because they always include people making stupid decisions and disrespecting the cultures they are visiting. I was pleasantly surprised to find Temple did not include any obnoxious American tourists, no gratuitous sex or partying scenes, or any blatant disregard for the rules. In fact, the whole premise of the film was that the three main characters were visiting Japan to learn more about some of the local shrines. And they were actually fairly respectful about it. 

That was probably the only thing I liked about the film, however. The story took some time getting off the ground and had some inconsistencies throughout. The characters were dense, poorly developed, and their relationships were hard to follow: the main character invited her childhood friend on a trip with her and her boyfriend, though the two men had never met prior, and the three shared several close quarters throughout their trip, at times joking around and other times clearly showing signs of trying to outdo the other. It's like Temple wanted there to be a heavy love triangle in the mix but instead it was just 78 minutes of awkward third wheeling followed by an abrupt ending that made little to almost no sense. 

Honestly, there's really nothing redeeming about this film except for little Seita, but if you're someone who is easily scared or startled, perhaps you'll get a thrill or two out of this film. 

02 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Kairo

It's officially October, and that means it's the perfect month for horror films! (Every month is perfect for horror, but the month of Halloween is especially relevant.) I decided this year I would pay special attention to the season - and personalize my blog a bit more - by doing a 31 Days of Horror challenge, wherein I'll watch at least one horror film a night (as my schedule allows) and then review it the next day here on my blog. As with any reviews or blog posts I've done in the past, input is always welcome; so if there is a particular film you'd like me to check out, I'm all ears. Currently I'm just browsing the collections on Netflix, Hulu, AsianCrush, and Shudder and picking things that look interesting to me, but I welcome any and all suggestions!

October 1

回路 KAIRO (2001)

"A strange website claims to offer visitors the chance to connect with the dead." - Shudder

The first film I chose was Kurosawa Kiyoshi's 2001 film Kairo (Pulse), as I am a huge fan of the j-horror genre. I had originally planned to start with Miike Takashi's Audition, but Shudder no longer had it available, and Kairo had been on my watchlist for quite some time now, so I figured "why not?"

Kairo follows two storylines - flower shop friends and co-workers Kudo Michi, Sasano Junko, Toshio Yabe, and Taguchi - and students Ryosuke and Harue Karasawa as both groups deal with the "invasion" of ghosts into the human world via the Internet. As the Internet was still a relatively new technology at the time (as evidenced by one of the characters' lack of basic computer knowledge), the film is a sort of social commentary on the dangers of becoming too hooked and isolating oneself from the real world.

I love Japanese horror films because of their ability to get under your skin without the overuse of blood, gore, special effects, or jump scares. These films rely more on mood, setting, and the power of suggestion, and Kairo is no exception. The film is dark, cheap, and grainy at times; the effects are a little choppy, but they work really well for this film because of how sparingly they are used; again, most of the thrills are done so via the power of suggestion. Nothing jumps out at you, so to speak, but if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss some crucial spine-tingling moments. 

What really got under my skin, however, was the soundtrack. There's no set-up music indicating something is going to happen, no sudden cessation to keep you on the edge of your seat. The music comes and goes at weird, almost chaotic, intervals, and it's like an eerie lamentation throughout the film that meshes so well with the theme of death and eternal loneliness. At times you'll feel creeped out; others, a tinge of hopelessness.

It's not the scariest film I've ever seen, but there's something about it that makes it one of the more unforgettable ones. (Plus there's a sweet cameo appearance by my favorite Japanese actor, Yakusho Kōji!)

28 September 2018

'Lord of the Rings' Gets Rodent Remake

A recent short film by CGMeetup, simply titled 'Mice', pays homage to the Lord of the Rings films using subway mice who find a golden soda cap ring.

It's a cute film and well worth the watch. How many references to Peter Jackson's films can you spot?