Saturday, 26 September 2015



In a kingdom far far away a mad queen is ready to sacrifice everything to get pregnant. A lustful prince is loosing his mind hearing the song of a woman and falls madly in love with her. And a young princess becomes a victim of her father's obsession with a gigantic flea.

It is not easy to describe the plot of TALE OF TALES. Based on the fairy tales by Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, who earlier than Brothers Grimm introduced the wider reader to such stories as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the movie switches effortlessly from one narrative to the other, plunging us into the world of violence and sacrifice in the name of love.

 The three stories that the director Matteo Garrone had chosen for his film is not for the faint hearted. Boasting some grand visuals, creepy practical effects and impressive international cast, this film is as original as a modern fantasy could be. The plots has a dream-like logic and does not shy away from a straightforward horror. The final mix guarantees that the outcome will not go the way you expect. Which in case of TALE OF TALES is both, refreshing and frustrating at the same time. While there's no evident connection between the plot storylines, the main theme of selfishness for the sake of love prevails.

The full orchestral soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is one of his finest works - the music is rich and impressive, just like the visual side of the movie. The film, maybe, a little overstretched and lacks the action and pacing, but it is curiosity that will make you finish it. Just like every great fairy tale, you would want to know how it ends.

Thursday, 24 September 2015



Vitoria is a beautiful and strong willed magistrate who is determined to singlehandedly take on Calabrian mafia. Trying to appeal to the wives of the mafioso bosses she is looking for an accomplice to stop the senseless killing of the young apprentices - the mafia sons. In fact, this seems to be the main focus of her quest - to protect the children whatever the cost, even if it means to take them away from their mothers.

LAND OF SAINTS is well photographed and has a few good performances, but the weak screenplay undermines the efforts of delivering a sensitive drama. The credibility of many scenes and dialogues is in question, and the central protagonist Victoria is the least real person in the story. We know very little about her, and the reason for her determination, or rather - borderline craziness, is never explained. So she hardly seems like a real person - just a catalyst inserted into the story to carry it forward. Valeria Solarino, as Victoria, is as good as she can be with the script she is given, but her perfect model looks did not help - she is an unlikely candidate for a reclusive, selfless protagonist who has nothing in her life but her work.

The action is slow, and predictable, and you soon realise you have seen it all before. The premise of the film had a lot going for it, so it's a shame that it ended up being so inconclusive. It is almost as if the director had too many ideas, and trying to fit them all in, had forgotten that the story needs to have an ending. As the screen will go black and credits roll, many viewers will also roll their eyes. LAND OF SAINTS is one of these films that could have been great. It is greatly disappointing instead.

Saturday, 19 September 2015



Guido takes it very hard when his wife leaves him for another man, but things quickly turn around when a young and extremely beautiful Silvia is moving in next door. Guido falls head over heels, but is Silvia just too good to be real? Meanwhile, unbeknown to him, another woman is seeking Guido's affection. Things get complicated when Guido’s friend finds out about Silvia something that can threaten the relationship. And to top it all, Guido’s parents arrive to Napoli to see his son’s bride. A comedy of errors insures.

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SURPRISE is a twist of the classical tale DONNA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS, and deals with the dramas of middle aged loves and broken ideals we all have to face. The lead Claudio Bisio as Guido is as charismatic as he is entertaining. He has the perfect timing with his jokes and gradually turns what could be seen as grotesque and ridiculous into something endearing.

But the real gems of the film are Guido’s parents. They own all the best moments in the film, and get the most laughs from the audience.

Another great addition to the story is NAPOLI, the city itself, as the story plays out on the little streets and inside the charming old buildings, giving the film that special settings that make it right.

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SURPRISE is actually clever and funny, which is a rare combination for a romantic comedy. Without trying to pretend to be anything  deeper than it is,  it gives us two hours of escapism and good old fashioned humour.



Once upon a time there were three brothers, two were evil one was good. The evil brothers were in the mafia, smuggling drugs and living as riches. The good brother was a shepherd and lived peacefully in their family home. The good brother had a son, who wanted to be a gangster too. Will his decision lead to the family's undoing?

BLACK SOULS has a set up of a dark fairy tale, but the film produced has authentic and raw feel about it.  While the story plays out as classic tragedy, the value of the film is in the details. We get a clear idea how close this mafioso family is to their roots and of their values and lifestyle. The settings stripped of glamour, with most of the film taking place in a remote village - a family home of the characters. There's nothing new in the basic ideas of the film: Violence gives birth to violence, the sins of the fathers are carried on by their sons. There's also some dwellings about fate and that only the most radical ways can change it.

It was clear from the beginning that things will not end well for any of the characters, but nothing would prepare you for the sudden and shocking ending.

BLACK SOULS is based on a novel by an Italian author Gioacchino Criaco, and it is easy to understand why it was put into film - interesting characters and rich settings are perfect for a big screen.

Cinematography is tense, with a few scenes of gun violence, it slowly prepares you for outcome and gives you this "sinking" feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

The soundtrack is rather different from what we see in modern Hollywood films, with large symphonic pieces on display uninterrupted, but then the orchestra is silent for the majority of the film.

BLACK SOULS does not carry many original ideas but succeeds as a family drama, because of its memorable characters, beautiful countryside settings and attention to detail.


Sunday, 13 September 2015



A Moon Hye-Rim, a  young nurse in a Seul VIP hospital, is looking after the dying millionaire. The man needs an urgent heart transplant and his son Song Woo asks the nurse to play a detective and find the next of kin of a brain dead patient, a pregnant prostitute nicknamed Madonna.  As Moon Hye-Rim dwells deep into the life of Madonna she discovers a heartbreaking story of a vulnerable woman and her continuous spiral into peril from the moment she was born. Keeping her own dark secrets at bay, Moon Hye-rim is now determined to stop the heart transplant. But Song Woo has his own reasons to keep his father alive and will stop at nothing, not even murder.

If there was one word to describe MADONNA it would he "heartbreaking". It is a story of a vulnerable human being growing up in a hostile world. As Moon Hye-rim investigates Madonna's past life, the stories of two women intervene in the most unexpected ways. Their fates are much more similar than it seems at a first glance. The nurse Moon Hye-rim represents an older, toughened up version of Madonna, while the story of Madonna may be something that Moon Hye-rim herself had experienced in the past.

The film belongs to two leading ladies. While Seo Young-Hee in the role of the nurse is a talented well known actor, Madonna is portrayed by a newcomer Kwon So-Hyun - an inspired choice. Kwon's Madonna triggers all sorts of emotions, but the ones that prevail are the sympathy and the pity. Madonna is an odd person, and each of her efforts to fit in had an opposite effect. Madonna is quite unlikable and it is easy to understand why she had been treated so badly.

The film's unnerving topics such as violence against women and newborn murder leave nasty aftertaste, with one revelation towards the end being particularly shocking. This is the movie that makes it hard to sympathise with any of the characters, but you can praise them for trying, especially Moon Hye-rim, who frights tooth and nail for the remains of her humanity.

MADONNA is not an easy film to watch, but it is a mesmerising journey, with memorable characters and performances to match.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015



It's 1972 and a failing actor Kim Sung-Guin is groomed to become a double of North Korean  Dictator Kim Il-Sung. This performance of a life time does not find its audience, and thirty years later our failed dictator is in a retirement home, consumed by his fake persona. It all changes when his son bails him out in order to get his share of an inheritance. A hilarious and a sad journey to the past brings the two men together in this bitter sweet  drama, that is too good for its gimmicky premise.

MY DICTATOR starts off as a straight forward drama, spirals into comedy, and then bounces back into a full dramatic mode. The plot is over the top with both, melodrama and comedy going overboard, but they always work. Focusing mostly on the father-son relationship it is about obsessions that come through generations and never let go.

The movie runs for over two hours, but it doesn't drag a bit. Instead it turns into a family saga. After credits roll one will get a feeling, that he had reached a conclusion of a very satisfying book. MY DICTATOR is quite a journey.

Kyung-gu Sol, one of the most popular actors in modern Korea, gives an inspired performance. His transformation from a loving dad to a dictator is believable and heartbreaking, but he also manages to bring the comic side out with the same ease, as he delivers the dramatic part.

MY DICTATOR maybe too serious for what it tries to achieve, but it also makes us to take it seriously. All the lose ends are perfectly wrapped up in the soaring conclusion. MY DICTATOR is one of these films that defy expectations and deliver on its promises on every turn.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015



Roaring currents tells the story of one of the greatest naval battles in the history of Korea, when in 1592, during the Japanese invasion, 12 ships, under the command of the admiral Yi Sun-Sin, had won against the Japanese fleet of 300. 

As unbelievable as it sounds, the movie is showing us, step by step, how the victory had been achieved. Avoiding the Hollywood cliches of love triangles aka Pearl Harbour film focuses solely on the battle and its strategy, and through action introducing us to the admiral Yi Sun-Sin and various other characters. Roaring currents is not a biopic, and maybe this is the reason it makes such a compelling viewing. There are barely any subplots, the movie only showing us one battle and its course. The characters are only important as the course of the battle. Surprisingly they are well developed. As we decide whether we like them on not, basing on their actions, it makes us learn about them and recognise them quicker than if we had a lengthy backstory.

The Japanese invaders are not shown as particularly infernal, but they are a smug enemy, too sure in themselves for their own good.

The visual effects in the movie look fantastic, and even the fleet of 300 ships is as real as it can possibly be on the wide screen. The scenes on water are the most expensive and difficult ones to shoot, the water in CGI also usually looks terrible. While I am sure GREEN SCREEN had been used in many scenes,  the movie avoided the ugliness it is known for, with the light and the backgrounds looking natural and realistic.

ROARING CURRENTS is full of action, but it is the sentimental messages about conquest of fear that gets under your skin. Without barely a love storyline in this war film, I could see a few ladies in the theatre wiping their faces. This may be a boys kind of movie, but will also appeal to the girls if given a chance.

The soundtrack is rich and intense and will surely make for good stand alone listening.

Unlike many Koreans films THE ROARING CURRENTS does not experiment with the genre and does not run for long. It has an intelligent and concise screenplay which is nearly perfect for what it is designed to achieve - create an eye popping spectacle and memorable characters through action.

ROARING CURRENTS was the very first film in South Korea that had grossed 100 million USD - five times its modest budget, maybe because it has a great repeat viewing value. A modern viewer had seen all the spectacles in the world, so the value now is in a good script. ROARING CURRENTS is this kind of a movie.

Saturday, 5 September 2015



CLEARER THAN YOU think is an anthology animation film from young and talented director HAN JI-WON, who is called “animation prodigy of South Korea”.

There are four stories in total. The plots are focused on simple life of everyday Korean people. The first is about a young man looking for love and doubtful of his future, the second is about an office girl dreaming of love, the third is focused on a broken friendship of the high schoolers over one of them quitting the band, and the fourth is a fairy tale journey of a pouch, who escapes home and befriends a flightless crow.

The common theme that unites the episodes is the illusiveness of a dream and the stand one has to take against the circumstances to follow it. The ability to find their way under pressure of the society in modern day Korea is highly praised by each storyline and shown as the only way to remain true to one’s self.

CLEARER THAN YOU THINK is not for everyone: some simplistic takes on character designs and backgrounds may turn the viewers away. There are also some lengthy scenes and confusing montage, but that's just a few negatives and the common feature of many independent films.

While the animation is very simple and a low key, there’s no doubt about the talent of the animator. HAN JI-WON has a natural ability to tell simple stories in an outstanding way, combining humour, irony and sadness. She has the perfect control of character and the style, and it would be interesting to see what she could do with a much larger budget when the time comes.



Bok-Soon is a young woman with the mind of a child. Stubborn and strong willed, she suffers from development disability and everyone in the village calls her a "crazy bitch". But she deeply cares about her younger high school sister and works hard to send her to the best Seul university. When Bok-Soon's sister is murdered she is outraged and will do everything she can to avenge her death, which puts her face to face with a cold blooded (and very good looking) psychopath Tae-Soo, a serial killer who makes a pottery out of his victims. Tae-Soo is methodical and almost indestructible, but with Bok-Soon's crazy determination and lack of fear, had he found in her his perfect match? A bloody battle to the end ensures.

MONSTER is a strange mix of comedy and horror and makes for an unforgettable experience. Korean cinema is known for its experiment with genres, and MONSTER is one of the finest examples of that. Film may be predictable in a way, because we know that Bok-Soon will win, but the writers put a wild card into the game, and this will put you right on the edge of your seat.

Film makes it clear in the beginning, that the crazy girl and the killer boy are both monsters, both capable of murder, but on the opposite sides of the scales. Film is full of chase scenes with Bok-Soon barely escaping death each time, and there are some genuine terrifying moments. The ending is bloody and not for the faint hearted. I would have preferred a more gimmicky sort of a battle, the likes of American horror films where the "final girl" faces the masked psycho, but the final battle in MONSTER is animal-like and does not seem heroic in any way.

MONSTER creates mysterious atmosphere, with dark forests and foggy villages at play. But the bright lights of Seul and its crowded streets make for even more dangerous setting.

MONSTER created characters with individuality and the ones you truly care about. Even serial killer can be understood in a way, and even if he is put beyond redemption early in the film, some of his actions seem justified. 

MONSTER was highly criticised by its misogynistic approach to the empowerment of women in modern Korea,  but for me it was about the family's love ties and also family issues, that in equal measure may awaken a monster in all of us.



Oh Sang Moon, an older and successful company man, struggles through a thought period in his life as his wife is dying from a brain tumour. With the pressures of work and looking after his fading wife his mind is looking for escape, finally finding it in the face of a younger woman who recently joins the office team. As they strike a friendship, Oh Sang Moon finds himself on a crossroad.

REVIVRE is a character focused drama, with one performance at its centre. Ahn Sung-ki, a veteran Korean actor, who made his first film when he was just four years old, gives us a subtle and meaningful performance, shoving a seamless transformation of a man who is choosing a new path in life. REVIVRE is not an easy viewing: The movie has a "cut and pace" structure, constantly switching between the time lines and can be very confusing and the scenes with Oh Sang Moon's dying wife are upfront and shocking, describing in detail the human degradation and loss of dignity and not for the faint hearted.

The word REVIVRE has a double meaning, while it is a reference to the facial creams of the company the main characters work for, it also has the meaning of revival and new beginnings in life. It gives a clear message that it is what we do in life, and not what we feel of how we thing is what truly matter.

REVIVRE is a one man performance drama. It has a few lengthy scenes, and takes a long time to tell the story, but if you persevere, you will leave the cinema satisfied.