Movie Review – Be With You (2018) [Far East Film Festival 20]

1_126651

EXPECTATIONS: A remake that would equal the original Japanese film.

REVIEW: When one reviews a remake, is it possible to do so without talking about the original assuming if one knows about the original in the first place? Absolutely not. When the remake has the same story and the same name, how can one not talk about it?

In recent times, South Korea has remade Asian films such as Junichi Mori’s Little Forest and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Golden Slumber. And in the upcoming times, audiences will also get Believer, which is a remake of Johnnie To’s crime-thriller Drug War. And as expected, the overall critical response is mixed. The former has received positive reviews while the latter has received a more negative response.

While Believer remains to be seen, now we have a remake of Nobuhiro Doi’s 2004 romantic drama, Be With You called…well, you get the idea. With a talented cast, a first-time director and the fact that South Korean film specializes in melodramas, how can this remake go wrong?

2_302279

The film starts off with the telling of a fairy tale, detailing the story about a mother who makes a promise to her loved ones that she will come back to life to revisit them.

From there we go to Soo-ah (Son Ye-jin), a loving housewife who before passing away makes an unbelievable promise to her husband, Woo-jin (So Ji-sub), to return one year later on a rainy day.

Miraculously, she keeps the promise and reappears before her husband and son but all her memories have disappeared. Tragically, the relief at their reunion is short-lived, because it turns out that Soo-ah has to leave her family once again.

DW7Dq_aU8AA-bZa

Does the film stand out on its own as well as being a proficient remake? The answer unfortunately is no. With most remakes, the problem is simple: they don’t stand-out from their inspiration. The best parts of the film are the parts where the original succeeded in, which means that director Lee Jang-hoon knew what made the original work. Scenes relating to the past, with young love are executed well, particularly with the young actors Lee You-jin and Kim Hyun-soo.

And the problematic parts of the film are the parts that were already present in the original (manipulative musical score and suspension of disbelief) and where the filmmakers try to embellish the story with individual elements. The original film is 13 minutes shorter than the remake, which basically means there are 13 minutes of footage that easily could’ve been cut out. Scenes like the telling of the fantasy story and the scene early in the film involving the father and his health feel blatant in what needs to be conveyed.

be-with-you-header

Few of the embellishing moments of the film are quite welcome though. An added sense of humour does provide great contrast to the dour nature of the story, with Ko Chang-seok (and Bae Yu-nam) providing great support as Hong-goo, Woo-jin’s best friend. And there’s also a great cameo from a famous actress that got a big laugh out of me.

But the biggest problem of the film is the lack of chemistry between the leads. Son Ye-jin, who’s done many roles of this nature (from A Moment to Remember to The Classic to Spellbound, the list goes on) unfortunately feels distant and cold in the role of Soo-ah. So Ji-sub, who is better in roles of a darker nature like in Rough Cut, is just okay in the role of Woo-jin. He has good scenes with Kim Ji-hwan, as his son and the comedic scenes with Ko are amusing, but the romantic chemistry with Son never lights up.

For both parts, it is quite hard for the audience to be empathetic of their situation romance-wise in the early stages of the film, but when the film reaches its emotional crescendo and it provides the two a chance to sink her teeth into, it’s too little, too late.

t1.daumcdn.net

And the nature of the story is quite problematic as the original was. A feminist critique might focus on how Soo-ah’s importance to the family seems to be directly related to her ability to cook, clean, and basically take care of Woo-jin and Ji-ho, and not how the story really affects her. In this day of age, this issue could’ve been the perfect reason for director Lee to address it and make the remake stand out, but unfortunately, it becomes a missed opportunity.

And that’s all the Be With You remake is: a missed opportunity to be something great. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, it just feels like a lot of remakes nowadays: unnecessary.

t1.daumcdn.net2

Quickie Review

PROS

Some much-needed mirth

The past flashbacks are the best parts, due to appealing leads

Most parts of the film that work in the original work in the remake

CONS

Lack of chemistry between the leads in present day

All problems in the original are present in the remake

Use of musical score is quite manipulative

Fails to address major issue in premise, especially during current political climate

SCORE: 5/10

Cast: Son Ye-jin, So Ji-sub, Lee You-jin, Kim Hyun-soo, Kim Ji-hwan, Ko Chang-seok, Bae Yu-nam, Lee Jun-hyeok, Seo Jeong-yeon
Director: Lee Jang-hoon
Screenwriters: Lee Jang-hoon, Kang Soo-jine, based on the novel Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa

Advertisements

Movie Review – Alice in Earnestland (Sydney Film Fest 2016)

296967664

EXPECTATIONS: An odd, quirky black comedy that will be both awkward and hilarious.

REVIEW: The dark comedy is, in my opinion, one of the hardest genres to accomplish. To take serious and taboo themes and put a humourous view on it requires an assured hand on all aspects of the storytelling. If the story is shown too serious, the humour will be seen as out-of place. If the story is too comical, the serious themes will be seen as jarring. Great examples of dark comedies are American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Heathers and of course, Dr. Strangelove. So when I was about step into the rabbit hole to watch Alice in Earnestland, I was very nervous. Was the trip worth taking or will it end up landing with a thud?

alice_in_earnestland_-_h_2015

The film starts off during a tense therapy session of the seemingly spirited Alice Jeong Su-nam (Lee Jeong-hyeon), and she starts to recount her hard-boiled life leading up to her current situation. When she was 16, she was faced with a major life-altering decision: to get a job in a factory or to continue studying? She chose the latter and found work as an accountant (shown with great visuals and editing), in which she proved to be very resourceful in. She also met her first man, factory worker Gyu-jeong (Lee Hae-yeong), and married him, but he turned out to be almost deaf. After having expensive cochlear implant surgery (shown in all of its gory glory), Gyu-jeong then accidentally chopped his fingers off at work and thereafter stayed at home, unemployed and morose.

For the next 12 years, Su-nam worked frantically to earn enough money for them to buy a home; but as prices had gone up over time, she had to get a large loan to buy a flat. Then one day, she came home to find Gyu-jeong had committed suicide. Again failing in general, (quite amusingly I might add) he ended up in hospital, and Su-nam was hit with such huge medical bills that the doctor recommended euthanasia (hilariously sugar-coated as a positive term). So when Su-nam is drowning in debt and she has to deal with urban renewal schemes, murder, torture, improvised weapons, a vegetable of a husband; it’s obviously going to get on her nerves and it is from then on, she declares vengeance on those who have oppressed her.

AliceInEarnestland

Were my fears founded when I watched this film? Thankfully, the balance between laughs and drama leaned more on the good side than the bad. Director Ahn Gooc-jin employs a lot of editing tricks (alongside editor Kim U-il) and visual cues (thanks to cinematographer Lee Seok-jin) to great effect that gives off a cartoony vibe that accentuates the humour of it all. The screenshot above is just one of the many visual jokes that is amusing. The cinematography and pacing evoke a feel that is similar to Wes Anderson and Ahn manipulates the audience into questioning the actions of the characters in humourous ways, arguably making the first half more enjoyable than the second.

The social commentary in the script does not always ring true due to how cartoony the supporting characters are. But in context of the film’s title, it actually makes sense, since Su-nam is a substitute of Alice and all of the characters surrounding her are the creatures in the rabbit hole; most of them being antagonists to her. And the social commentary provides the backbone of the story and it does ring true to the main character Su-nam, and actress Lee Jeong-hyeon fully commits to the role.

alice-in-earnestland

Lee (who really reminds me of Chinese actress, Bai Baihe) capably shows Su-nam’s denial, her tenacity, her desperation and especially her humourous side with aplomb. Although her character becomes more vengeful and crazed in the second half, she never lets the audience forget that she is a victim of the South Korean economic dream. The supporting cast are great with their caricatured and villainous roles (apart from Lee Hae-yeong, who’s a¬† likable schlub of a husband) like Seo Yeong-hwa as the psychiatrist and especially Myeong Gye-nam as the former army veteran Choi Do-cheol, who is the catalyst of the violent turn of events.

The main flaw of the film which will irk people out there is the violence. Some scenes are obviously meant to shock to convey the stakes of the film, like a scene when Su-nam is confronted by Choi. Aside from that and some torture scenes (involving a hot iron), most of it is very over-the-top in my eyes to the point of hilarity, particularly a scene that involves an improvised throwing star and a metal pole, some will definitely be disturbed by the violence of the film. It certainly helps if you have prior knowledge of South Korean cinema to see the humour of the violence, since they have lots of references to older films, particularly Park Chan-wook films like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. The film’s entertainment factor relies on the certain sense of humour the audience has, and the violence will definitely answer the question of whether they have it or not.

113214.29049669_1000X1000

Another flaw is that the main character can be hard to sympathize with when the film takes a darker turn, and it can render the emotional investment down quite a bit. Her decisions are questionable though understandable given the escalating circumstances, but again, it all depends on the tolerance and embrace of the audience. Fortunately, even through all the violence and the obstacles Su-nam faces, the abrupt, yet suitable conclusion will even make the most jaded feel warm inside, with a twisted smile on their face.

Overall, Alice in Earnestland is a well-executed and horrifically dark comedy, but is also a twisted journey about a woman who has to overcome all obstacles to determine her own future. Lee Jeong-hyeon is a force of nature and her performance alone is worth the price of admission.

P.S – Renowned director Park Chan-wook was responsible for the casting of Lee Jeong-hyeon in the lead role and is also the director of The Handmaiden, a film in Sydney Film Festival 2016.

Quickie Review

PROS

A fantastic performance from Lee Jeong-hyeon

Supporting cast do great with their cartoony roles

Production values from editing to cinematography are high-level, even on a low budget

Balance of comedy and drama is more hit than miss

CONS

Violence will irk many

Caricatured supporting characters

Lack of emotional investment

Questionable elements

SCORE: 7/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Lee Jeong-hyeon, Seo Yeong-hwa, Lee Hae-yeong, Myeong Gye-nam, Lee Jun-hyeok, Ji Dae-han, Bae Je-gi,
Director: Ahn Gooc-jin
Screenwriter: Ahn Gooc-jin