Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sympathy for Mister Vengeance

Most of us who enjoy that occasional Tarantino flick enjoys that occasional hit of violence that he throws in which (usually) is in context and thus is experienced and easily forgotten with a following moment of absurdity.  This Korean film is quite the opposite of that.  Sympathy for Mister Vengeance is what would have happened if Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs went with out the absurdity.  I compare the two films when I talk about either to my friends because on some level they are very similar.  The one similarity Reservoir Dogs has with Sympathy for Mister Vengeance is that they are both a story about a crime gone wrong.  Sympathy takes the story further, however, by throwing in a story of how very few can avoid the road to death and ruin when you walk on the path of vengeance.

The story is starts with a deaf youth, Ryu, who has a world of trouble.  His sister needs a kidney and he gets laid off from his day job at the local factory.  The doctors tell him he is not a match to his sister so he can't give his own kidney to save her life.  So he hires an underground group who for 10,000,000 wons (Korean money) and one of his kidneys promise to give him a kidney his sister can use.  He undergoes a gruesome procedure and lives to see the black market thugs do not meet their end of the deal.  To add even more grief, the hospital soon after informs him that they had found a matching kidney but would cost him the money the thugs stole from him.

He and a close friend of his, Yeoung-mi (who is connected with an activist leftist group), come up with a plan to kidnap the daughter of the owner of the factory he is laid off from.  They prudently decide that doing this to his former employer would only throw suspicion on Ryu, so they change their plans to instead kidnap the daughter of another factory owner, Dong-jin, who is close friends to his former employer.  Ryu executes his plan.  He leaves the girl with his sister while he recovers the ransom money.  To cover his tracks he sends the girl's distraught father on a wild goose chase and gets him to drop the ransom money in an easily recoverable spot.

When he returns to his sister's apartment he is too late to realize his sister who had found out his mad scheme had taken her life not wanting to be a burden to him.  Heart broken, Ryu sadly takes his sister's body (with his prisoner in tow) to their favourite spot when they were young and buries her beside a river in the country.  Things, however, get even worse for Ryu from there.  The girl he had kidnapped had accidentally slipped into the river and drowned.  Ryu deaf to her screams for help was too late to save her.

Dong-jin is brought the sad news of his daughter's death and we are treated to 15 minutes of eerie footage of his maddening grief.  He swears to her ghost that he would not stop till her death had been avenged.  In the meanwhile Ryu has taken Yeoung-mi as his lover now that he is no longer innocent to the world.  They use the money to start over the best they can but Ryu still is not satisfied with his sister's demise.  He and Yeoung-mi come up with a plan to get even with the thugs who stole his 10 000 000 wons and his kidney.  Their plans once again work but too well and Ryu ends up killing the thugs only to leave more trails that would lead back to Ryu and Yeoung-mi.

Dong-jin has become obsessed with hunting down his daughter's killers.  His tenacity eventually leads to Yeoung-mi who he tortures to death and only gets from her a warning that her activist connections would avenge her death.  Ryu return to her apartment to only get a glimpse  of her body being taken away by the cops.  Distraught, he now seeks to avenge her death.  He waits long hours outside the Dong-jin's apartment who oddly enough is doing the same thing at his apartment.  Ryu returns home after a long wait for his lover's killer only to fall victim to Dong-jin's booby trap. 

Dong-jin takes Ryu out to the river where his daughter was found.  He tells Ryu that he understands that Ryu is a good man but he must kill him to be at peace.  He slices Ryu's heels and drowns him in the river.  Dong-jin then dismembers Ryu's body but before he can bury the remains he is approached by Yeoung-mi's activist connections and is brutally stabbed and left to die by his car and Ryu's body.

The movie was definitely an intense story and left me quite disturbed for days after watching.  The movie is not for the faint of heart and has very dark and very graphic scenes of violence and torture.  As I mentioned I compare this movie to Reservoir Dogs which shares with it the intensity of violence and the fact that they are both the story of a crime gone horribly wrong.  If you did enjoy the drama of Reservoir Dogs and can get past the notch up of violence and the subtitles definitely give this one a watch.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ugly Americans

Ugly Americans is an animated series on the Comedy Network with well done mature humour and content.  The show takes place in an alternate reality New York City, America where all stereotypical fantasy/monster creatures live side by side with humans.  The lead character is Mark who is a councilor assigned to deal with acclimatizing new arrivals to the city into co-existing with humanity and the other colorful inhabitants.  Mark has a few good friends.  His roommate, Randall, is a zombie who often fights the urge to eat Mark.  At work he has his friend Leonard who is a wizard.  Mark's girlfriend, Callie, is a sexy demon who works also in the same office but in upper management.  She at times (to Mark's horror) gives in to her demonic tendencies in bed and at intense moments in their relationship.

Despite its outlandish premise the show addresses typical 30 something situations in work, friendship, and love with wit and humor and (at the very least to me) has some digs at pop culture and nostalgia for us 30-40 something geeks.  Ugly Americans airs weekly on the Comedy Network (I think) right after South Park's time slot and thankfully (almost) does not require a hit of your favorite contraband to enjoy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

24 Hour Party People

So I'm rediscovering the history of one of my all time favorite bands, New Order.  I started by watching Control (which I just recently reviewed), the story of Ian Curtis who started New Order's previous reincarnation, Joy Division.  Where that movie was a detailed history of Joy Division, 24 Hour Party People is the rest of the story told from the quirky point of view of Tony Wilson who is brilliantly played by Steve Coogan under the direction of Michael Winterbottom.  Now I have seen a later Coogan/Winterbottom collaboration in a film I have mixed emotions about called Tristram Shandy where Coogan would constantly break the 4th wall as if in a direct conversation with the movies audience.  I felt it did not really work for me in Tristram Shandy but it really did work here in this story of the music production company called Factory.

Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson, a late 70's English television personality based in Manchester.  Tony is portrayed as an innovative trend setter and upon watching the Sex Pistols first Manchester concert he decides he wants to produce bands exploring the post punk sound which would lead to the beginnings of alternative music.  Tony features the underground bands on his popular music review show and manages to sign on a few bands who were proving to be quite successful at cranking out the sound Tony needed to make his mark on music history.

The story from this point on follows the ups and downs of his production company called Factory.  By producing some of the most innovative names in underground music (Joy Division, New Order, Bez, Happy Mondays) and providing trendy clubs to headline live performances or to spin their newest records onto the dance floor, Tony manages to keep Factory going through the 80's and into the 90's when Tony is forced to sell Factory to a leading record producing company.  He is, however, triumphant at always remaining true to his vision of producing innovative music with out selling out.

On top of the who's who and the how, when and where of one of alternative music's staples, and meeting the extreme personalities who help or follow Tony Wilson (humorously portrayed a cast of great UK actors with a few cameos of the portrayed themselves), the movie manages to take light look at all the craziness of the music industry. 


Control is the personal story of Ian Curtis, lead singer of 80's alternative band, Joy Division and the events which lead to his suicidal death in 1980.  The story begins with his early in life romance with his wife Debbie who he immediately marries after stealing her from a friend of his.  They make a simple life for themselves where he works in a government placement agency by day and by night he starts to front a local band he renames "Joy Division".   But in no time their revolutionary sound and his poetry become the talk of the town and the band heads for national success.  Ian's draining double life takes a toll on him and brings to surface a crippling disability that has been hiding with in him - Epilepsy.  It's then we meet Anik Honore - a beautiful Belgian media reporter who Ian falls deeply in love with and risks his marriage and family to take as his mistress.  Ian's multiplying hardships are slowly driving him insane but possibly fuel his talent for writing the songs that would give birth to the alternative music genre.  His success drains him even more and now his conscience questions if the merits of living his rock and roll life would ever make up for the consequences of being a bad father and husband.  He bounces between his wife and his lover and his epilepsy takes a toll on his performance until eventually he chooses nothing and hangs himself in his wife's kitchen.

On top of looking very much like the real Ian Curtis's blurry album images the actor at least convinced me of Curtis's frustration and pain.  The actresses who play the wife and mistress were believable as well.  It was very interesting to finally discover the story behind Joy Division and their infamous front man, Ian Curtis, and I was really impressed at how honest and objective the story depicted Ian's love triangle between his wife, Debbie (who co-produced the movie), and his lover, Anik.  The whole movie is done in black and white (possibly to add to the metaphoric aspect of the film) and is backed with really good renditions of Joy Division's hit performances.  If you are a fan of Joy Division (or New Order), or are looking for a good contemporary historical piece on pop culture give Control a watch.

The Witcher (revised)

So I have been playing the Witcher on and off and the game is growing on me.  It has crashed on me twice and there seems to be a bug regarding "SHIFT-TAB" to Steam console during the game's start up but all in all past that, past the first 3 hours of adjusting to a weird combat system, and past the loads of interface screens the game has to offer (and you have to learn) I really, really like this game.

I just recently figured out the combat system and can not remember if I just misunderstood the explanation.  Simply (for all of you readers still guessing at it) once you have entered combat and have chosen a style of combat (strong, fast, or group) hold the mouse button down to start Geralt on his swing and keep the mouse down until the sword icon glows red at which you click and hold the mouse down again.  It is the most simple and yet satisfying UI mechanic I have ever come across for melee combat in a video game.  I only wish other games would have something as innovative.

Other aspects of the game that I am really enjoying are the quests.  Though a non linear flow of game events the quests are still logically made available when your character accomplishes key quests.  Putting this effort into designing the game story leads to less situations where a player becomes trapped with a choice he has previously made and though harder he can still salvage a plot route gone bad.

The Witcher has reminded me that 2 years of WoW interfaces and point and click action has gotten me a little soft on adapting to a fully immersive RPG experience and with a little patience the experience is quite satisfying.  In any case I just wanted to say that if given a good chance you will probably find the Witcher definitely worth the time wasted.