Ghostbusters (1984)

I am one of those people—yes, one of those people, as we say when reciting Ed Begley’s wonderfully non-specific bigoted rant from 12 Angry Men—who feels that the original Ghostbusters is, in fact, over-rated. Good, for sure. Funny, yes. And there’s no denying it was a cultural phenomenon, down to Ray Parker’s plagiarized-but-catchy theme. But I remember, at the time, feeling like Bill Murray’s performance was somewhat perfunctory: He’d been doing this schtick in the movies for five years now (longer, if you count his “Saturday Night Live” years), and it feels like he really doesn’t want to be there.

I kid. But it was terrible.
“No, sorry, this the script for The Razor’s Edge.”

A couple of points: First, he really didn’t want to be there. He traded his performance in Ghostbusters to play in the dismal Somerset Maugham adaptation The Razor’s Edge. (The Old Man told me that Tyrone Power had made the same arrangement to make the same movie, with pretty much the same disastrous results, back in the ’40s, but I can’t find any support for that.) The Boy said he felt that was true as well, so I don’t think I’m imagining this.

Second, even half-assed Bill Murray is awful good. If his performance here doesn’t have the same joie de vivre we expect from Murray, there are still few living or dead who could match his timing and delivery.

Overall, the kids felt this was pretty good. Not hilarious. Not the greatest movie ever, omg, which I think is probably because they have by this point seen a lot more of movie history than your average moviegoer (now or in the ’80s), but very solid. It sort of sticks with you with its quotability and its top-notch performances. I mentioned this before in the Spy review but some amount of the humor here is shock value, and that just doesn’t hold up well.

Kind of amazing.
The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man? Still hot ‘n’ fresh!

What does hold up is Ray and Egon (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, also the screenwriters) and their ridiculously believable mad-science-nerd schtick. Despite the similarities between the two—that kind of Asperger’s-before-there-was-Asperger’s—Ray has a warmer, more childlike sense of wonder, while Egon really does seem devoid of any normal human emotions. Which of course makes him the perfect target for Annie Potts pitch-perfect tough-but-not-unlikable secretary. As I’ve said before, it’s Winston who’s the real Everyman: He’s there to collect a paycheck, for sure, but that doesn’t keep him from being part of the team.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dana manages to keep Murray’s Totally Inappropriate behavior on the charming side of the ledger rather than creepy. I actually was a little surprised how, em, forward he was, but I suppose I’m sensitized by recent events of a Weinsteinian nature. But her 6′ stature makes her appear up to the task of fending off Murray’s puppy dog advances. She, too, is an Everyman, much like Winston, caught up in events she really doesn’t understand and having to reconcile the serious nature thereof against a backdrop of Murray’s comedic mugging.

Rick Moranis was a gem.
I bet they had fun.

Rick Moranis—the kids really liked his performance here and it truly does shine. Apparently, he improvised the whole party scene with the always delightful Jean Kasem. Moranis, who retired when his wife died in the ’90s and he found his kids needed him—pretty awesome, eh?—hits the same perfect pitch as Potts, giving us a kind of hapless character, forever in pursuit of his dreams (which apparently involves Rather Tall Women, and also Big Tax Breaks) who still manages to be lovable.

And, really, every bit of the cast, even the minor roles does two things: Establishes a strong character (without the wacky antics the remake seemed to feel the need for), and also excites a certain sympathy. The librarians, the guy waiting for the elevator, the guy who has to shut off the grid—even the mayor! This is a sort of love song to New York City and a generally benevolent film.

Annie was a big enough start in part 2 to be able to wear a wig rather than chop her hair off.
“Print is dead,” Egon says presciently.

This can pretty clearly be traced to Ivan Reitman. His movies are more or less funny. The earlier ones (like this, Meatballs and Stripes) are probably funnier. All of them, though, have a lot of heart. Evolution is a pretty clear attempt to revitalize the Ghostbusters formula—which, frankly, seems pretty bold given the current approach of just “soft rebooting” them—and while it doesn’t have the same level of laughs by any means, you end up liking the characters portrayed by Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore and the criminally under-rated Sean William Scott. Same for Kindergarten Cop or, hell, My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

It’s this warmth and quasi-believability (as in, “these are real-seeming people”) that carries you through when the jokes don’t land or the laughs don’t last as long as they might. So, despite my seemingly-negative intro, I don’t really have much bad to say about this movie.

Which is nice.
Ready to believe you.

The Host (2006)

From the fevered mind of Joon-Ho Bong, the maniac who brought you Snowpiercer, comes an almost equally batty creature feature about a mutant-fish-serpent thingy who eats Korean people, but not always right away. The story begins, practically Re-Animator style, with a deranged American coroner demanding his Korean subordinate dump all his toxic chemicals into the sink. The sink which drains, as we are informed, into the Han river. (The doctor is played by Scott Wilson, who is best known these days as “Herschel” on “The Walking Dead”.)

It's a LOT, is what they're showing us.
The camera pans over the bottles for, like, five minutes.

This, in very, very short order, indeed, leads to a monster in the Han river. It seems like only a few hours pass, in fact, between the time poor oppressed morgue worker drains the fluids, commits suicide and The Monster leaps from the water to terrorize Korean river-goers. The initial appearance of the monster is, shall we say, a little “rough”, being both so bold and so clearly CGI (done by the defunct San Francisco CGI house, “The Orphanage”, which did movies like Iron Man and HellBoy) that it nearly breaks suspension of disbelief.

A funny thing about that, though, is that this bold daylight assault kind of inures you to the subsequent CGI-ness of things. If you can get past the first monster scene, you’re golden. Also, they used some traditional special effects later on for close-ups, so the monster actually seems to get more realistic as the proceedings wear on.

The movie is centered around the Parks, a family that ends up in the center of the action when the young girl of the family, Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko, Snowpiercer) is taken by the monster when her father, Gang-doo (Snowpiercer) mistakenly grabs the wrong child in an attempt to escape. The two live with the family patriarch, Hie-bong, in his little snack shack on the riverside, but when the girl goes missing (presumed dead), brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park, War of the Arrows and this year’s Fortress, which I really wanted to see) and sister/champion archer Nam Joo (Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas, “Sense8”) show up to berate Gang-doo and wail theatrically.

I mean, seriously theatrically.

It's so far over the top, it can't even SEE the top.
This is BEFORE it gets over the top.

The Korean version of the CDC shows up suddenly and tells them all that they’ve been exposed to a dangerous virus and must be quarantined. Then, the hero gets a call which seems to be from the missing Hyun-seo. Apparently The Monster doesn’t eat its victims right away but carries them off for later consumption, and she’s being stored in a giant sewer drain under the river somewhere. This sets up the park family for a grand rescue mission, which they execute poorly, and also sets them up against the U.S. and Korean government, which are (fortunately?) as incompetent as they are, and much less focused.

It’s a common theme in American films for the ne’er-do-well to rise to the occasion, so one of the most remarkable things about this film is that the characters don’t ever really rise above their incompetence, until the very end. And the incompetence is everywhere. The hero can’t stay awake much. He can’t keep himself from eating the tentacles off the squid he’s supposed to be serving to his customers. He can’t save his daughter. His inability to count gets someone killed, in a really memorable scene.

Not bright.
I don’t know: Run away from the monster, instead of parallel to it?

His siblings aren’t much better. His sister tends to choke in her archer competitions, and then decides a bow-and-arrow would be a good way to take down this killer mutant fish-thing that seems largely unimpressed by bullets. His brother’s just kind of a jerk. Between the three of them, there’s just the one kid, which is a potentially good metaphor for Korea as a whole, but works really well just in the literalness of it.

But the incompetence doesn’t end there. Besides the aforementioned coroner who starts the ball rolling, there’s an American who gets himself killed trying to stop the monster, and another American doctor (Paul Lazar, the crosseyed bug-guy from Silence of the Lambs who also has a role in Snowpiercer) who basically is spreading the rumor about the virus to avoid any information about the monster getting out. And part of his plan is to lobotomize Gang-doo, but he botches that, too. The Korean military fares no better, basically being run higgledy-piggledy by the buffoonish Parks.

Timing is every---thing.
Better (but not much) than the Korean military and police force combined? 2nd Place Archery Contest Winner.

And this is a common theme in the Korean films I’ve seen: They really seem to have no confidence in the government. Going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. I mean, think about it: We had The Wailing, where the incompetent corrupt cop gets his ass handed to him by the devil; there’ve been a variety of Korean films about the Japanese invasion, in which the Korean government is varying degrees of incompetent from completely self-serving (Warriors of the Dawn) to just plain not there (The Handmaiden); the only positive view I can think of is from My Way, which is more about the military than civil service.

Interesting, no?

Oh, and then there’s the completely botched plan to capture the Parks for the reward, which reflects rather ill on Koreans as a whole. I mean, honestly. These guys have a pretty well run society but it’s not clear how that happens from any of the movies.

Ultimately, however, it makes for a unique moviegoing experience, as the sole, consistently competent character is Hyun-seo, the missing daughter, and she lacks competence at some very important moments. (*kaff*) Despite all this, one tends to like it because one ultimately ends up liking the main characters. Not admiring, exactly. But almost empathizing with, in a Homer Simpson sort of way.

The kids liked it, too.

But that's just me.
I prefer kids who don’t get captured by mutant river monsters.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I was tied up handling The Enigma, so I didn’t get out to see this one.

The Flower (who had watched the whole Cornetto trilogy on her birthday last year), and especially The Boy were struck by how much this was just a straight-up zombie flick. I pointed out that Hot Fuzz is also pretty striaght, and what you would get if Michael Bay directed The Wicker ManThe World’s End is pretty much pub-crawl-meets-The-Stepford-Wives, with an almost “Plan 9” climax and a “Mad Max” stinger.

They took The Barbarienne, which was nice. She’s a bit of a scaredy-cat—she does not join us for Knott’s Halloween Haunt—but she did all right, apparently, except for the part where Shaun’s mom dies. (This is a button with her: Moms dying. Every now and again I’ll start to play “Mother’s Last Farewell Kiss” and, well, that’s always a mistake.) Anyway, she liked it, and her older siblings didn’t object to bringing her along the next week for Ghostbusters, so that’s good.

Awk-ward.
When you meet your Ex during the apocalypse.

Timecrimes (2007)

The first in the subtitled horror movies (and followed in subsequent weeks with The HostTrollhunter and Let The Right One In), this was a neat little Spanish film I had never heard of. It’s an interesting journey into time-travel-gone-wrong and the nature of causality, which starts out kind of lightly funny and turns horror/thriller, then finally just horror. Our hero is Hector (Karra Elejalda), a pudgy, middle-aged man who’s moving into a new house. While taking a break from his efforts, he spies something across his (large) yard, in the woods.

Her shirt is Schroedinger's Cat.
Fatal cutie.

The “something” he spies is a good looking girl (Bárbara Goenaga) taking off her shirt. So he shoos his wife off to the store and tries to see more, because men are dogs. Not being able spy anything, he sneaks across his yard, across the road where some trash is strewn and a bicycle is askew, locating the area where he saw the girl. It is at this point, a lumbering figure with his face wrapped in a bloody bandage begins to chase him.

One thing the kids really liked was that Hector is out of shape, so he’s not really great at running. He’s often out of breath after a little bit. Somehow, though, his bandaged pursuer never catches up to him.

This may be a little bit spoiler-y, so if you’re spoiler-sensitive, you may want to stop reading. The Flower spotted it right away, as did I. Indeed the title sort of gives a big hint.

OK, forewarned is forearmed and all that.

Very badly indeed.
The star and director contemplating how badly things are going to go.

He is, of course, being pursued by himself. The pursuit leads him into some sort of research building where he’s lured by a young scientist (the director, Nacho Vigalondo)  into hiding into this vat full of goop. The goop closes on him and when he comes out, it’s morning…of the same day. And this is where things start to get hairy. The scientist is shocked to see him, since he had only powered the machine on for an (unauthorized) test, and now Hector must wait out the day without changing anything. There’s some murky stuff going on, as Hector is troubled to see his wife canoodling with some man, even if that man is himself. Kinda. (The scientist is a little vague on this.)

But at some point he realizes that he must have been a factor in the previous day’s activities and so must be a necessary actor in the events in order to not change anything. And soon we’re seeing all kinds of things that we didn’t quite get on the first pass explained in the second pass—though through a series of bizarre events that Hector must orchestrate. The problem seems to be, though, that he can’t quite get it all exactly the way it was.

That’s where the horror aspect really locks in.

It’s a neat, tidy story with a rather dark ending, which perhaps might also work as a metaphor for adultery (a common theme in Spanish/Latin films) but doesn’t have to, if you don’t want. We all were pleasantly surprised.

The worst!
And underneath the bandages was…a surprisingly mild looking, doughy old dude.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Don't order the 50-egg special!
A local deli has this pic blown up and huge on the wall. Not sure what they’re trying to say.

This actually turns out not to be the case in Cool Hand Luke, the second show of our Paul Newman double-feature. Or not exactly, I guess. I’d say the real issue is less of communication and more of reality. I will elaborate on this shortly, but first: CLH is a Stuart Rosenberg joint, far-and-away his best film (among such films as The Amityville Horror (1979), BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village and so on), and it’s also a relatively early example of the whole “Easy Rider/Raging Bull” era which I generally find so loathsome.

The premise is that, on a drunk, Luke (a war hero) goes into town and chops all the heads off the parking meter. He’s not stealing the money, he’s just vandalizing (as we later learn, some kind of imagined payback to…the system?). Nonetheless, he ends up in a prison with a bunch of other sweaty ne’er-do-wells who earn their keep by doing roadwork. He’s not popular at first, especially with the lumbering loudmouth Dragline (George Kennedy, bein’ awesome), but he wins over the much bigger man by losing to him in an epic fistfight, sorta. You see, Luke doesn’t know when to quit. He makes up his mind and he sticks to it. It’s his one principle, from what I could see.

Unhealthy body images for vandals?
This picture makes me think that male bodies in movies used to be more realistic looking.

Dragline knocks him down and Luke gets up, so Dragline knocks him down again, and Luke gets up again. He doesn’t know which way is up by this point, but he keeps getting up and you start to feel sorry for Dragline, having to keep knock him down like that. (Speaking of “Raging Bull”s!)

Later, in a poker game, Luke wins with nothing, again on the principle that he just doesn’t know when to quit but most people do blink if you stare ’em down long enough.

Things actually go pretty well after that, right up until the death Luke’s mother (Jo Van Fleet, Oscar-winner for East of Eden, but mostly a TV gal). The Warden, Captain (Strother Martin, another huge TV guy) tells him that he’s going in The Hole (or The Shack or whatever it is) because when a man loses his mother, he gets it in his head that he should be there at his funeral, and so—purely precautionary—he’s gonna have to go in The Hole.

And that ain’t right. You don’t put someone in The Hole before they’ve had a chance to deserve it. That’s the breakdown in reality between Luke and The System. One sort of suspects it’s the same kind of breakdown that occurred between Luke and The System right before he decapitated the parking meters. Things go downhill from here, though he’s become a kind of hero to the boys in his cell block, so they don’t see it.

But, generally, when there’s a breakdown between any given individual and The System, it’s the individual who suffers.

She owns a bakery in Burbank now!
Joy Harmon may not have been the first girl to wash a car in the movies, but she is the most memorable.

I had, not too long ago, seen this on TV (before the current rash of revivals) and I wasn’t crazy about it, but The Big Screen makes a Big Difference as always, and I liked it much more here than before, even though it suffers from some of the nihilism that plagued the era. The thing about Luke is that he’s likable, even admirable in a way. He’s operating (as Butch Cassidy would in a few years) on a different level than the rest of the bifocal-wearing world. For instance:

The boys do road work, and it’s nasty, hot and they’re surrounded by hostile men with guns, including a sunglasses wearing demon whom the Coen brothers had to be referencing in O Brother, Where Art Thou. So, they work slow, and they do a poor job. But Luke gets the idea to make a game out of it, and they race—while making careful work of it—to get the road done, and get it done in a fraction of time. The guards are alarmed, and the inmates are delighted, once they catch on.

It’s kind of a powerful statement, that: How we fit into these grooves and act like we have no more volition, because of a particular element of our circumstances. And Luke is a kind of a guy who just doesn’t fit into those grooves, and it doesn’t take much to set him off out of them. This is a particularly common theme of the era, and it works here (for me) unlike most other themes. Even here, you have the problem of, “Well, okay, then what?”

The whiter, the deviler.
“He’s white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound.”

Newman does so well here because it is, in a way, him. He didn’t seem to fit into the grooves much.

A heart-breaking rendition of “Plastic Jesus” by Newman who might actually have been plucking on the banjo while singing it. Most of the songs is provided by the late Harry Dean Stanton as Tramp but the great Lalo Schifrin provides the score. (Schifrin was to that era what John Williams would become in the ’70s, Danny Elfman in the ’80s.) Small part for “M*A*S*H”‘s Wayne Rogers and and an even smaller part for Dennis Hopper. Joy Harmon washes a car.

The kids liked it, but once again, it was not clear whether they preferred this (the obviously more iconic film) or Sweet Bird of Youth. The Flower found herself charmed by “Plastic Jesus” and is learning to play it on the guitar.

 

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

It’s time for a Paul Newman double feature, apparently, and this was the first film. Not one I’d ever heard of but directed by Richard Brooks, who I think is probably under-rated as a film director. Sweet Bird of Youth is the seamy tale of an aging-but-still-Paul-Newman-gigolo who rescues/kidnaps a famous-but-aging movie star (Geraldine Page) and brings her cross-country to St. Cloud (in the Florida panhandle) in order to extort a movie deal out of her that he can share with his once good-girl girlfriend, Heavenly. Heavenly is played Shirley Knight, now probably best known as Paul Blart’s mom, but last seen by us in Redwood Highway.

Heh. Time. Sucks.
Mama Blart, you’re hawwwt!

It’s so squalid and seamy and sultry and sweaty it feels like a Tennessee Williams play. Which, in fact, it was. (A co-worker pointed that out to me the next day.)

The story is that Chance (Newman) has driven Alexandra Del Lago (Page) to St. Cloud while keeping her drunk and stoned and with a master plan of getting her to confess on tape how she manages to smuggle in all the fabulous drugs she’s on. Well, specifically, hashish, a gift from our Arab friends. Hers is smuggled in from Turkey which, frankly, I don’t understand since it’s just a cannabis product, and there’s nothing that beats good ol’ American cannabis.

I have no idea what I’m talking about. Williams may have, he may not have. It’s hardly important.

Wrong ethnicity!
“Tell me about the jazz cigarettes, Duchess!”

Chance is trying to get to Heavenly but her dad, Boss Finley (played by Ed Begley, known around here as the hero of 12 Angry Men (1957)—well, next to Lee J. Cobb, of course) basically separated the two when they were young and in love by convincing Chance that he had to make a name for himself before whisking away the virginal Heavenly. Boss Finley then apparently spent the next ten years trying to marry her off to old men with money, and she apparently responded by floozing it up.

It’s all very Southern Gothic which, as you (should) know, I usually find as unpleasant as warm sweet tea. Nonetheless, I liked this film.

There’s some serious scenery chewing going on between Page and Newman, and it’s as good as it is ridiculously stagey. This is an actor’s film and these two can really act. Everyone does great: Begley gets to play a different kind of scumbag. Knight hits just the right balance between helpless victim and hero. Rip Torn, whom I did not recognize in the least, is fantastic as the thuggish son who does all of Boss’s dirty work, apparently without much support from his father, who seems ready to throw him under the bus as it becomes politically convenient. (As it turns out, everyone did great at least in part because they’d all been doing the roles on Broadway for hundreds of shows.)

Catholics?
Paul Newman’s probably one of THEM!

Did I mention the abortion? No? Well, the movie doesn’t either, exactly. Actually, I think it’s presented as a venereal disease, but that doesn’t make any sense. It was an abortion in the play and the last minute dodge here clanks. There’s also a scene at the end where it looks like they’re going to castrate ol’ Chance, but they do not. This does not make any sense either but I was grateful for it, and for what was, essentially, a happy ending.

This movie was remade with Mark Harmon and Elizabeth Taylor in the ’80s, but there is literally no way that could be good. Washed up Geraldine Page is not quite 40 here. Elizabeth Taylor would be nearly 70, which…yeah, no that don’t make no kind of sense. Also. Mark Harmon? vs Paul Newman? Help me out here, ladies…

Anyway, I can recommend this, sorta, if you like acting-heavy dramas (I do) and don’t mind your Southern Gothic watered down (I really don’t mind that at all). In some ways the kids would prefer this to the next feature: Cool Hand Luke.

And, most importantly, the Flower would finally be able to identify Paul Newman, whom she somehow envisioned as a cross between Paul Simon and Randy Newman. (Despite the whole Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid show we saw earlier.) That confusion? Cleared forever.

No color shots, just the stills for ol' Rip.
“If you can dodge an umbrella, you can dodge a ball!”

Memoir of a Murderer

I have, of late, become much less sensitive to crowds and noise, which is a real boon given the way the neighborhood’s been changing over the past decades of my life, and more directly helpful in terms of shuttling The Flower to her friend’s house which is in one of the most crowded areas of the city. I’ll drop her off and drive the five miles (it takes a good half-hour) over to Koreatown and catch a film like Warriors of the Dawn, or, in this case Memoir of a Murderer.

The bamboo forest?
Dodging all the trees is the worst.

The theme of an assassin with amnesia has been done quite a bit. The first one I recall seeing was the slick Flemish film Memories of a Killer(2003), where a hitman is trying to pull One Last Job while losing his mind. Then there was Liam Neeson’s Unknown back in 2011, which has a very similar plot but is based on a French book, rather than a Belgian book. This Korean film, based on a Korean novel, has a different take on the genre. Instead of a professional assassin, our “hero” is actually a serial killer. (There’s also a Korean movie by the name of Memories of Murder by the guy who did The Host and Snowpiercer, but I don’t think that has the amnesia element.)

He’s a quasi-sympathetic, semi-retired serial killer, I suppose, having not killed anyone since a horrible car accident 17 years earlier. That accident may be the source of his current dementia, in fact, and we learn in dribs-and-drabs what happened that fateful day.

The story is fairly simple. Byung-su, a veterinarian, lives with his doting daughter, Eun-hee, who tries to get him to remember things by talking into a tape recorder, and marking time until he can no longer work. Often he goes out into a forest that he planted decades ago and where the bodies of his victims are buried. On his way back, he has an episode out on the road and rear ends a guy. A guy with Something In His Trunk. Something bloody. Although his “victim” laughs it off and says its a deer, Byung-su knows: He was a serial killer, he can spot another serial killer.

The uniform seals it.
Oh, yeah. He’s a serial killer.

Perhaps surprisingly, he’s not particularly sympathetic to other serial killers. He had standards. To wit: He never killed anybody who didn’t have it coming. Though, naturally, as his career progressed, the definition of who “has it coming” got broader. (As a vet, a little animal cruelty was enough to earn you a trip to the woods, e.g., and that’s probably one of the crimes when the audience most sympathizes with Byung-Su.)

This serial killer is going after young schoolgirls, which is not OK. But when he reports to the police, they don’t do anything. First, they know he’s got The Health Problems. Second, the guy he fingered is a cop named Tae-ju. And that’s just ridiculous.

It takes Byung-su a while to report the incident in the first place because, while he records the information (realizing its import), he has an episode not long after, and is easily distracted after such an episode. Tae-ju most clearly is what Byung-su suspects him to be, and uses the old man’s memory lapses to take advantage of his situation—in particular by targeting Eun-hee. While Byung-su doesn’t generally approve of other serial killers, he really doesn’t like them dating his daughter, and often his episodes leave him kind of blank and without his serial-killer-detecting powers, leaving him to believe that Tae-ju is okay.

Sometimes.

Helpful.
“Remember not to murder anyone on your way home.”

So, Byung-su has a problem, which is that his normal handlings of these things involve brute force murder, and he’s about 30 years too old, to say nothing of his mental issues, to take on the young Tae-ju. There’s also the whole issue of, well, is he right about Tae-ju? What if Byung-su is the one killing the girls? He could be doing it and not remembering it, he supposes. There are substantial moments in the film where his understanding of things is shown to be tragically off-base.

There’s a flip in this movie that the kids, were they with me, would’ve called a Double Bluff Reverso (from “King of the Hill”‘s Dale Gribble). But the problem with the DBR—a twist that completely subverts your understanding of the events that have preceded—is that it usually feels like a ridiculously stupid attempt to surprise you, and invalidates everything else you’ve seen. When the movie pulls that, I was still along for the ride, but it sure made me feel like a sap.

But then!

It pulls another Double Bluff Reverso! And then everything sort of makes sense again.

I did say the story was simple, and it actually is, but the plot is very complex at times, and some folks have criticized this film for precisely that: Too much plot getting in the way of the story. I can see that; it is a bit overwrought, I suppose. But I rather liked it. There’s a subtext here about redemption and forgiveness—to the extreme to be sure—that actually made the movie work for me when things got crazy.

Or maybe I just like Korean movies. They’re kind of like Hong Kong potboilers mixed with Israeli films: Crazy action and plot but with a tremendous sense of respect for the characters mixed in. Typically good cinematography. Gripping ending. Nice denouement. If you’re in the mood for an Asian thriller, you could do worse.

OK, cheap shot.
Remember: “North” is the better Korea.