aka 아가씨 aka Agassi 2016 Written by Park Chan-wook & Chung Seo-kyung
Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Directed by Park Chan-wook
If you aren’t a fan of Park Chan-wook by now, I’m not sure what it will take to convince you to get out and see The Handmaiden. But if you are one of the millions of his fans around the globe, you know that Park Chan-wook is a force of awesomeness in the movie community, and The Handmaiden continues that tradition of awesome movies from an awesome guy. Basically, run, don’t walk, to the theaters and check out a wonderful psychological thriller. There is a trio of amazing performances by Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, and newcomer Kim Tae-ri. Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith is moved to 1930s occupied Korea, where it still manages to work in a culture of repression and male dominance.
Kim Min-hee is heiress Lady Hideko. Hideko is isolated and lorded over by her cruel uncle, Kouzuki, who covets her money and title. Her mother died in childbirth, and her aunt was found hanging in a tree when she was a child. Hideko never leaves the family estate and her only contact with outsiders is a weekly reading of erotic literature to exclusive guests. If you are familiar with the concept of that literature, some of it is ridiculous, basically the dime store erotic trash novels peppered with flowery poetry and filled with imagery that at times stretches believability that the writers have even interacted with people who have sex. Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki has designs on becoming a Japanese nobleman despite being neither of those things and Hideko’s money and title his avenue to obtain them. Kouzuki rejects his Korean heritage in an admiration for the occupying Japanese, but his true passion is rare books, specifically the aforementioned erotic literature.
Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, a gifted pickpocket and thief embedded as a handmaiden whose job it is to help convince Hideko to fall for the fake Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo — Assassination). Fujiwara has a knack for making forgeries and is just the thing Hideko’s creepy uncle needs, as he can’t bear to part with any of his rare books, but is perfectly fine with selling off faked replicas of them. This gives Fujiwara the access he needs to scope out Lady Hideko and enact his plan of seduction and asset seizure, enabled by Sook-hee as Hideko’s new handmaiden. And then it is seduction time. Continue reading →
aka 도둑들 aka Dodukdeul 2012 Written by Choi Dong-Hoon and Lee Gi-cheol
Directed by Choi Dong-Hoon
Crosses, double-crosses, and triple-crosses in the midst of teamwork is the template of The Thieves. Not only is there a group of thieves who are all looking out for themselves while planning a heist, but there are TWO groups of thieves working together (and trusting no one) while working each other and planning bigger plots. This is the kind of film a flow chart would help, but it’s designed so well that things rarely get confusing. The various characters are fleshed out and the backstabbing becomes more personal. It helps that The Thieves is not a short movie, but it keeps the game going even after the heist and the eventual fallout. Things become really deadly, and the question of who will live, who will win, and who will die will be answered.
Sprawling across much of Asia, from Korea to Hong Kong to Macau, The Thieves sports an impressive cast of faces and names that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Asian cinema. The Thieves manages to build on the concept of the Ocean’s 11 film (which is the obvious starting point of comparison due to the heist and big cast angles) while instead being more about the twists and turns and secret motives of the various participants in the crime. The big score, while a central action piece, is nothing but a stepping stone for one character’s true motivation. And everything revolves around his eventual plan, that doesn’t go according to plan at all.
Partnerships are forged by desperation and motive, but easily fall apart as soon as the winds change. Some characters are more loyal than others, and some betrayals are clear from the start. The con artists will each try to stack the deck in their favor, and the fun is watching how everything plays out. So let’s deal…
Popeye (Lee Jung-jae) – A local boss of a theft ring who gets his crew attached to a potential big score, but has his own motivations for becoming involved.
Macau Park (Kim Yoon-seok) – A bigger boss who used to work with Popeye and now runs a crew based out of Hong Kong, he gets Popeye involved in a huge score.
Pepsi (Kim Hye-soo) – A safecracker fresh out of jail, was part of Popeye’s crew and is welcomed in again just as they head off to their mission, breeding mistrust as some members don’t know her at all, and others had previous relationships.
Yanicall (Jeon Ji-hyun) – A swindler and con artist who uses her beauty to separate rich men from their money. Immediately doesn’t like Pepsi. Has a sort of mother/daughter relationship with Chewing Gum.