3 posts categorized "Korean Cinema"

October 11, 2019



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comCannes film festival favorite Bong Joon-ho (“The Host” and “Mother”) is a gifted Korean satirist with an international sensibility for the many ways that capitalist oppression operates against citizens.

You don’t need to know a thing about the social mores of South Korea to empathize with a lower class family infiltrating a wealthy family’s home in the guise of private tutors, a personal driver, and a maid.

This is a familial interloper movie on a Robert Altman narrative scale.


If Americans feign condescension for welfare recipients, that knee-jerk class-aware prejudice is indisputably promoted through our capitalist propaganda that runs the gambit from movies, commercials, podcasts, news broadcasts, and from the oh-so-vocal (if inarticulate) editorial voices played on radio stations and online.


If there’s one thing the filmmakers here know, it’s that you can never underestimate people in control of their own minds. So it is that our entrepreneurial family of domestic interlopers make do in their ghetto basement hovel by folding pizza boxes to make their daily living. The Kim family fight an ongoing battle with bums who pee in their window sills. Yelling isn’t always the best option.


The family’s son Kim Ki-woo (persuasively played by Woo-sik Choi) learns from his college student pal about a family named Park in need of an English tutor for their teenage daughter Da-Hye (Jung Ziso). Ki-woo’s sister Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park) employs advanced computer graphic skills to create a fake college diploma to assist in his job quest. Dog eat dog social-climbing strategies take hold. Behavioral skills are honed to a diamond edge as the Kim family work their way into the Park family household one by one.  


Bong Joon-ho deftly shifts perspectives between the characters, enabling the audience to digest the story’s themes of alienation with different motivations in mind. Some are more noble than others. “Parasite” is an evocative title for an onion-layered filmic essay about our (humanity’s) place in social systems that reward corruption and punish poverty in not so equal measure. Every house holds secrets that can send the whole thing crashing down at any moment. If you come out of this movie thinking that the capitalist system is the invisible parasite of the story, you just might be on to something.   


"Parasite" is a loving homage to interloper films such as Claude Chabrol's elegant "La Cérémonie" and Fred Schepisi's terrific adaptation of "Six Degrees of Separation." Suspense, danger, and humor are equal parts of the equation. No wonder "Parasite" won the 2019 Palme d'Or at Cannes, the film clearly deserved the honor.


Rated R. 132 mins.

Five Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

July 05, 2017


OkjaBong Joon Ho’s family-friendly political satire could well be the most important film of 2017. Without addressing this film’s canny political statements about corporate-controlled food production, “Okja” was preemptively ostracized at Cannes by Pedro Almodóvar who feigned indignation over “Okja’s” Netflix release because it wasn’t being played on big screens in France.

Almodóvar’s pre-festival comments most certainly queered the film's chances of winning the Palme d’Or, for which it was in competition. The Spanish filmmaker’s public statements during a pre-festival press conference at Cannes were pointedly overstated considering that there is already a French law that prevents VOD releases occurring until three years after a film’s theatrical run. Never mind that Pedro Almodóvar’s career has been on the wane since 2011 when he made “The Skin I Live In.” There were a lot of sour grapes at this year’s festival.

Netflixable? Make “Okja,” and the Fan(boys) Go Wild | Movie Nation

Bong Joon Ho’s mother country of South Korea blocked “Okja’s” release due to Netflix’s simultaneous theatrical and online release, which should be standard operating procedure by now to begin with. However much the cards seem to be stacked against “Okja,” the film is destined to go down in history based on its merits as an international satire with teeth.


Director Joon-ho co-wrote “Okja” with Jon Ronson (“The Men Who Stare At Goats”) based on Ronson’s original script. While the film is not without its kneejerk clichés, it clocks editorial punches that connect regarding genetically modified food and ways in which corporations, and the corporate media, spin the sins they are guilty of committing. Think Exxon or Monsanto.

Jake Gyllenhaal Photostream | Jake gyllenhaal, Okja movie, Jake g

Tilda Swinton plays dual roles as good/evil siblings Nancy/Lucy Mirando, granddaughters of a corporate raider whose sins they are professedly correcting through ethical means. Sound familiar? Lucy gives a press conference announcing the breeding of a “super pig” which will be used to feed the world 10 years down the line.  


Jump 10 years. Mija (An Seo-hyun) is a young girl living an idyllic life in the mountains of South Korea with her grandfather and her docile super pig Okja, that she has been given to raise. Naturally, the Mirando Corporation wants their prize pig back. They send in Johnny Wilcox, a goofball television animal expert to take Okja away from Mija. The film goes on a full frontal attack when it employs the Animal Liberation Front (referencing an actual international [leaderless] group committed to “engaging in illegal [nonviolent] direct action in pursuit of animal rights.” Paul Dano plays Jay, the group’s sensitive leader.  


“Okja” is an effective piece of filmic political satire that can now only be viewed in the context of the pressures mounted against it. As is life, it’s good to know who your enemies are.


Rated TV-MA. 118 mins.

3 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

June 21, 2016


WailingCannes, France —No other film was repeatedly praised as much on the street at Cannes in 2016 than Na Hong Jin’s “Goksung” (“The Wailing”). Fitting neatly into the festival’s cannibal phenomena (there were five cannibalism-related pictures in the festival), “The Wailing” borrows ever so gently from “The Exorcist” to weave an intricate tale of horror that is part who-(or what)-done-it. The film’s Korean title (Goksung) refers to the filmmaker’s grandmother’s hometown, a place where Northern persecuted Catholics fled to before being martyred. In “the Wailing” a local reliably unreliable shaman stands in for the Catholic priests of William Friedkin’s “Exorcist.” Spewing bloody vomit? Check.

Kwak Do-won

Korean actor Kwak Do-won goes from comedic to terrifying as Jong-Goo, a sometimes bumbling police chief on the trail of bloody communal murders committed under the auspices of supernatural powers acting out through humans in bizarre deadly attacks. One man stabs his wife and children to death without provocation. Blood cover the walls. More such unexplained killings go on; in each gory episode the killer takes on a zombie-like appearance with demon red eyes and dark boiling skin. Grody. 

Screen Shot 2022-03-17 at 10.37.04 PM

The film leverages racial discomfort between Japanese and Korean cultures with a demonically possessed Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who has a taste for human, and wild animal, meat. This guy is about as far from normal as you could possibly get. Whether or not he is the Devil incarnate, is up for grabs. I'm sure some of the film's political commentary regarding race relations between Japan and Korea will go over the heads of most Western audiences (myself included). Nonetheless, this thematic subtext is available for audiences interested in looking beneath the story's surface for thematic substance.  

An evil spirit takes over Jong-Goo’s young daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee). The disturbing invasion of his little girl sends our personally invested cop on a desperate journey to conquer the evil powers attacking him, his family, and his town.


Beautifully photographed and full of brutal imagery, “The Wailing” strikes a sophisticated balance that encompasses action, character, plot and thematic elements with impact and style. While far from a perfect film, this unconventional exploration in horror sends cinematic chills right through you. Its open ending seems to allow for the possibility of a sequel. Yes, please.


Not Rated. 156 mins.

3 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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