CLAIRE’S CAMERA – movie reveiw


Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Hong Sang-soo
Screenwriter:  Hong Sang-soo
Cast:  Isabelle Huppert, Kim Minhee, Chang Mihee, Jung Jinyoung
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/18
Opens: March 9, 2018

You cannot think of French actors without citing the names Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert.  Huppert is as ubiquitous in French films as Gerard Depardieu once was, this time appearing in a feather-light comedy about a tourist from Paris who is, or pretends to be, a fish out of water.  As the title Claire, she runs into some others from a vastly different culture—three Koreans who are in Cannes, at least one on official business while the others are, well, you have to see how they get together and how their meetings  transforms them.  “If I take a photograph of you, you are not the same person anymore,” offers Claire.  That’s not all: if you look into Claire’s eyes, you get the same magical transformation. In these particular cases, Claire’s snapping of her Polaroid camera leads to changes in people quite a bit for the better, while at the same time writer-director Hong Sang-soo may have a subliminal message that attending the movies, particularly any of Hong’s twenty-six entries, will make you a better person.

Hong Sang-soo, whose recent film “On the Beach at Night Alone” finds an actress wandering around a seaside town thinking about her relationship with a married man, is not too different from his thematic concerns in “Claire’s Camera,” This is a multi-lingual project that clocks in at sixty-nine mostly magical minutes, the whole episode graced with performances by Ms. Huppert in the title role and Kim Min-hee, who worked with the director in three of his films, in the role of youthful Manhee.

If major purpose of traveling is to broaden yourself by introductions into different cultures, “Claire’s Camera” not only confirms this but finds a delightful intersection of the cultures of Korea and France, the visitors to Cannes using English when conversing with one another.  In an opening scene as cryptic as it is heartbreaking, Manhee’s boss Nam Yanghye (Chang Mihee) asks her loyal employee for the past five years to have coffee with her.  This is not a friendly meeting but a firing, with Nam’s frustrating her employee of five years and making the movie audience apoplectic. Nam tells Manhee that they must part ways because the employee is dishonest.  She does not back up her contention, but says simply that honesty is something you’re born with and cannot be acquired.  Huh?

In another scene, Claire, dressed like a tourist with a rakish hat, chats up film director So Wansoo (Jung Jinyoung), allowing that she is on vacation from her job as high-school teacher and hobby of poetry.  What she really hopes to do is to bewitch those whose pictures she takes like a good Samaritan, making people honest and sending them off better folks than they were before.  Soon the ensemble are to get together and we find the real reason that Manhee was fired.

French filmmakers know how to create dialogue and good talk is what you get whenever you watch fine Gallic cinema.  The discussions involving the four principals, while perhaps seeming innocuous to anyone doubling as a fly on the wall, is richly textured, delightfully humorous, and wholly satisfying.

Unrated.  69 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

OKJA – movie review

  • OKJA

    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Bong Jong-ho
    Written by: Bong Jong-ho, Jon Ronson
    Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 6/6/17
    Opens: June 28, 2017
    Okja Movie Poster
    If you’re familiar with Bong Joon-ho’s work, you expect originality, high drama, comic touches, and above all flamboyance.  “Snowpiercer” is an example.  Here is a film about a failed climate change experiment that kills all life on earth except for a few that board a train in which a class system develops with violent results.  And in “The Host,” a monster terrorizes people around Seoul’s Han River, capturing a girl whose family is determined to save her.  We have violent people in the former movie and a brutal monster in the second, so why not split the difference and create a monster of sorts which is peaceful, affectionate with its human family, and exploited by a corrupt corporation?  This results in “Okja,” the title of the six-ton GMO pig, who may be destined for the same fate faced by regular others animals of that ilk confronted by some awful, porcine people.

    “Okja” is a monster movie which except perhaps for the F-words spoken by greedy capitalists, is suitable for pre-teens in that the pig, created by visual effects is a benevolent one.  If she upsets property it’s without malice but only because she’s not accustomed to city living. “Okja” is also a coming-of age fable centered on the fourteen-year-old Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun who in real life is seventeen). And “Okja” is a plea for better treatment of animals, focusing on a plan by the Animal Liberation Front’s alliance with Mija to save her pet pig from the clutches of a bottom-feeder multi-national corporation.

    Director Bong means business from the first shots, positioning Lucy Mirando, the head of a corporation bearing her name, in a sizzling monologue backed by the flashiest visual effects you’re likely to see this year.  She announces a contest in which super pigs, allegedly born in an eco-friendly manner rather than as a GMO of the company’s previous actions.  Twenty-six pigs are distributed around the world, the largest, after ten years, to be the winner.  One such pig goes to Mija, an orphan who lives in mountainous Korean farm country with her grandfather.  In some of the film’s scariest shots, Mija falls from a cliff while the pig is on one end of the rope and is saved when Okja lifts her boldly into the air and back on safe ground.

    Little does Mija know that her grandfather was unable to buy the pig from the company, which now claims its property to the utter dismay of the young woman.  While Okja is bound for New York, temporarily placed in a storage area in Seoul, Mija breaks open her piggy bank, gets a ticket to the big city, and engages in a race to bring Okja back from a truck transporting her to the airport.  She gains the help of members of the Animal Liberation Front led by Jay (Paul Dano), culminating in the pig’s wrecking a shopping mall as though she were a bull in a china shop.

    There’s usually one catch or two even in a majestic movie like this one.  An unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of a madcap former TV zoologist who is now lobbying for the corporation, is too Jim-Carrey-like off-the-wall to accept without audience embarrassment.  That aside, “Okja,” which is in English and in Korean with English subtitles, should score well on Netflix, though it really should be seen on the big screen.  It is graced with awards-worthy Erik-Jan De Boer’s fx, a stunning role for Tilda Swinton (can she ever do a bad one?), and an impressive, fresh, performance from the young Ahn
    that could make her a household name with people of all ages.

    Unrated.  118 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE VILLAINESS – movie poster


Well Go USA
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb
Grade: B
Director:  Jung Byung-gil
Written by: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byung-sik
Cast: Kim Ok-vin, Shin Han-kyu, Bang Sung-jun, Kim So-hyung
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 8/1/17
Opens: August 25, 2017

This cheerfully brainless Korean action drama sports a plot with almost as many digressions and distractions in its 129 minutes than Donald Trump dishes out in half that time.  There is so much blood covering the walls, spurting from noses, foreheads and necks that you’d think South Korea is under attack by Kim Jong-un.  Yet for all its martial-arts, vid-game activity, “The Villainess” could be disappointing to a core base of the millions who enjoy spending all their leisure (and work) time competing on their computers because the story could require multiple viewings to deconstruct.  Have patience: everything works out by the end, or maybe not: the back-stories, the flashbacks, all serve to allow us in the audience to know the motives of the principals.  Did I say many, i.e. those who blinked at any point, may need to see it again?

In the tradition of the cinema of Korean mayhem such as Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge drama “Old Boy,” in which a man imprisoned for 15 years must wreak vengeance within five days—and of all-American fare like Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” released the same year, “The Villainess” also reminds us of one of the great thrillers of its kind, Luc Besson’s “La femme Nikita.”  “Nikita” was popular enough to be remade here in a simpler Hollywood form as “The Point of No Return.”  Here, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), whose goal in life is to avenge the murder of her father, is compelled by a secret government organization to work as an assassin.  She is bound to the group for ten years, after which she will be freed with a nice pension (though one wonder whether the government had to spend much tax money on retirements given the short spans of life enjoyed by its agents).

Director Jung Byung-gil wastes no time capturing the attention of the audience, many of whom don’t give much of a fig for motives but are in their seats to enjoy seven minutes of butchery.  Sook-hee alone takes on scores of men, some with Arnold Schwarzenegger builds, hacking them with swords, belting them in their noses, stabbing them in the neck. The mayhem is the work of choreographer Kwon-Gui-duck, who in one scene features ballerinas doing their pas-de-deux in bold contrast to the “dances” going on within the building.  Sook-hee’s mentor, Chief Kwon (Kim Seo-hyung) allows Sook-hee to leave the building with her cute daughter at which time, the flashbacks are loosed making the movie more incomprehensible than “Dunkirk” with that war film’s three interwoven time threads.

The most interesting aspect, strangely enough, is not the violence, but the courtship between Sook-hee and Hyun-so (Bang Sung-jun), perhaps because romance is something that everything in the U.S. and Korea can understand.  Hyun-soo lives next door to Sook-hee, courting her with such erotic conversations as “I can make you boiled chicken,” but the nice young man is in fact a secret agent sent to keep tabs on Sook-hee.

Breathtaking scenes include one in which the title villainess on her wedding day puts together a sniper’s rifle in the bathroom, which as we learned from “The Godfather” is the place for gangsters to hide guns. She trains the telescopic site on her target, which, for added suspense, moves in and out among the men present—and we discover as well that both the bride and the groom each have hired guests at the festivities.

If you love mass executions and don’t care about the reasons—much as in today’s world countries are at war without really knowing why—go for it.  If you want romance only, then stick to “Hotelier,” “Alone in Love,” and “Full House,” all showing on South Korean TV.

Rated R.  129 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?