The Scandal Makers

The Scandel Makers is a feel-good South Korean comedy staring Cha Tae-hyun as Nam Hyun-soo, Park Bo-yeong as Hwang Jeong-nam and Wang Seok-hyeon as Gi-dong.

This film could be seen as a romantic comedy, with the film’s narrative focusing on main character Nam Hyun-soo tryin and his efforts to keep his family and love life intact. This film has in interesting twist in the way that his daughter is at first unknown to him, being the caller in his radio chat show how is saying that she’s finally decided to look for her father. He supports her as a staple item of his radio show, yet when she turns up at his home just minutes before his date is due to arrive, he is suddenly very negative towards her and and the child she brings along who turns out to be his grandchild.

The growing pains of Nam Hyun-soo trying to become accustomed to his upper-middle class bachelor pad being used to house his young grandson and his daughter shows via the drama early on in the film. Once he discovers the musical talent of both his daughter and his grandson, eventually entering his daughter into a music contest at his radio station. The plot thickens as he slowly learns to accept the new additions to his family and household, falling in love with his son’s nursery teacher and at the same time trying not to be associated at his radio station with his singing daughter.

This attempt to hide his father hood only exacerbates the problem, causing one of his radio colleagues to suspect that he’s in love with the younger girl and seems him as a rival to her affections. This, like some other aspects of the plot, eventually comes around with extra significance later on, with Nam Hyun-soo telling his colleague that he’s her father before punching him in the face.

Being a romantic comedy, each plot device (the daughter and grandchild, the flirtation with the nursery teacher) works with each other, connected in multiple ways or leading to other events. For example, Nam Hyun-soo finds that his commitment to take his grandson to nursery school soon becomes a sub-plot of Nam Hyun-soo trying to gain the teacher’s affections; using his grandson to covertly find out what the teacher likes and dislikes in order to portray himself as the perfect man for her, only for it to backfire as the grandson is inept at hiding and only hears parts of her conversations, causing him to have a distorted image of her which results in a comedically bad dating technique.

His grandson does however reveal that he (like his mother) is a prodigy of music, particularly the piano. Nam Hyun-soo uses this to his advantage in the way that his grandson’s skill gains the attention of everyone at the nursery. This later conforms to the ‘entwining plots’ theme by the entire family forming a band at the end of the film, with the grandson on the piano.

Overall this film has been a very positive and funny film intertwined with a plot about family, love and at times tragedy.

Breathless

This award winning South Korean gangster film, directed by Yang Ik-june (or ‘Yang Ik-Joon’, from other sources), is excessively violent throughout. However its violence is not excessive in terms of limbs being ripped off or other forms of graphic injuries, but instead the film filled with punch after incessant punch of beatings. In the opening scene the main character, played by Yang Ik-june as well as directing the film, rescues a woman from what appears to be an abusive partner, only to start systematically slapping her. This nonsensical beating brought even the audience to laughter.

The humour was short lived, as the plot quickly turned to dealing with the sobering issues of domestic abuse, broken homes and loan sharks. Personally I found this made the film less interesting as it lacked the high drama and spectacular fight scenes of a conventional gangster film. For example, The Shinjuku Incident had gun fights and ninjas at the end, however some may see that as popularist philistinism. While Breathless has a lack of large-budget scenes, it does touch on serious and wide-spread issues which do give the film a realistic, gritty touch.

Sang-Hoon, played by Yang Ik-june is an embittered loan shark who makes a living off repeatedly punching people who are “late” with their expected payments. His violent streak is hinted to come from the death of his mother and sister after an incident of domestic abuse conducted by his father when he was a young child. This creates the narrative that violence only breeds more violence, which is further conveyed at the end of the film when Sang-Hoon’s previously passive apprentice eventually hits and kills Sang-Hoon as a punishment for reacting less violently during dept-collection.

What this film lacks in theatrical gangland violence and politics, it arguably makes up for with its portrayal of down-to-earth contemporary issues via interweaving character narratives.

The Shinjuku Incident Review

This latest movie by Derek Yee Tung-Sing had some curious similarities with Slumdog Millionaire. The main character is poor and from an oppressed minority, on a journey to seek riches and the love of his life who’s taken by the local mafia and troubled by a rebellious brother; sounds familiar? Rather than a Muslim Indian living in a predominantly Hindu India, this film is about an illegal Chinese immigrant and soon-to-be gang leader in Japan. The parallels with Slumdog Millionaire continue even further with the portrayal of both traditional and modern local culture, the Japanese rock/punk fashion known as ‘Visual kei’ making many appearances in this film.

Gazette, Visual Kei

Gazette, a Visual Kei band

Yet this was also an intensely gritty gangster movie where power and materialism corrupts and the protagonist ‘Steelhead’, played by Jackie Chan, is just as criminal as the rival Yakuza; assassinating rival gangsters at the drop of a hat. While it’s true he agreed to kill on the premise that it would give a home to his ethnic Chinese friends, he nonetheless despatched his victims with almost slap-stick speed; at least as far as the editing was concerned.

However in contrast with the slap-stick editing, the fight scenes are at times very realistic and suitably clumsy, a far cry from the comedy kung-fu that is normally associated with Jackie Chan. Indeed, his naturalistic acting in this film along with the native language is a refreshing change.

Steelhead’s relationship with the police Inspector also had something of ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ to it. Just as in Nicholas Cage’s film, there is almost a sense of comradeship between Inspector Kitano and Steelhead, who eventually gives Kitano all the evidence he needs. This “I’m going to give you all the evidence just before I die/stop my criminal activity” is in danger of becoming a police cliché just as the “You’ve got to hand in your badge…and your gun” and “He doesn’t stick by the rules, but my god does he get results” lines are.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, this film doesn’t end with a happily-ever-after unison complete with a Bollywood send-off. In The Shinjuku Incident the main character’s gang becomes corrupted by violance and materialism, with Steelhead struggling to hold his leadership as they’re locked into a spiral of vicious racial gang warfare. The oppression of Steelhead’s Chinese gang becomes all the more prevalent when Toshinari Eguchi, being Steelhead’s employer and rival, has to refer to the Chinese gang as his “Chess pieces” to the main Yakuza boss who finally decides to destroy them “the Bushido way”.

I loved this movie for its believable fight scenes and a fantastically deep plot, which felt all the more genuine with its touches on modern east-Asian politics. Though these political issues which mainly hark back to the China-Japan war may partially go unrecognised by a western audience, as the war was ‘upstaged’ by WW2, with Britain and America’s involvement only being the unsuccessful defence of British-owned Singapore and America’s ‘Flying Tiger’ air volunteers. Japan has been under criticism by China relatively recently, since it was reported that Japanese history books in schools “whitewashed” the brutal occupation.

This historical context along with the illegal immigrant issue is perhaps the reason why this film was banned in China. Thuogh considering that the Chinese censor’s stamp is rarely left to go dry, it could have been anything.

One of the few drawbacks of this film was how the timescale had little to no labeling, so it was hard to tell how long it took Steelhead’s brother to change from being a disabled ex-chestnut seller to egoistical Visual Kei rocker. Overall, it was definitely worth the watch and stooping to the side trying to see the subtitles past people’s heads.

And on an ending note, In gangster films you should always keep a watchful eye on the brother…

Godfather2The Godfather II: The protagonist has his brother killed for being too hotheaded.

slumdog millionaireSlumdog Millionaire: The brother becomes a hitman for the mafia, rapes the protagonist’s girlfriend and later martyrs himself to let her escape from said mafia.

lordofwar1Lord of War: The brother gains a cocaine addiction and later martyrs himself in order to stop an arms deal in west Africa. “I smuggled millions of rounds of ammunition and the bullet that lands me in jail is found under my dead brother’s rib.”

U2507P28T3D2423914F329DT20090317103901The Shinjuku Incident: The brother (or at least very close friend, sometimes it’s hard to tell) gains an inferiority complex, sells/takes drugs, brings the wrath of the Yakuza against Steelhead’s gang and later dies with the words “I’m still a coward”.

I hope you like this film too, and bless the CEAFS’ tasty popcorn. Mmmm