KKKorean Kombo film reviews: 'Train to Busan,' The Wailing,' & 'The Housemaid (1960)'

Yo, my peeps. How's it going?

"Yeah. You best believe that I'll bust the hell out of yo' infected ass, rotten biatches!"

I really wanted to do this for a while, but now that I finally have a (hopefully) stable job, I am not as eager to write reviews as before... or maybe I was too eager, that I forgot I was so damn tired. Now that it's the weekend, it's time to blow off some steam! In the nearest periods of time, I managed to watch a few South Korean films on the big screen, all of which are horrific in their own ways.

"Oh yeah? Try and check out what we're seeing, and you'll feel bad about acting all badass and shit!"

The first two, you could say are both recent releases (well, not the most recent), while the latest one, which was watched last Friday during the good old Wayang@Budiman screenings, was an opening of a new slot which will showcase the best classic black-and-white films from around the globe, two of which I get why it was critically acclaimed while the last one... I don't quite get why. So why the heck not fit all three of those reviews in one post, right?  Let's get it on, as these reviews are totally SPOILER-FREE!

"Pfft. Sissies."

Film #1: Train to Busan

Original title: 부산행 (Busanhaeng)
Origin: South Korea · Language: Korean
Director: Yeon Sang-ho · Writer: Park Joo-suk
Genres: Horror, thriller, action, drama · Release: July 20, 2016

Casts: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi,
Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn Soo-hee

More info: IMDb

Another first for me: a recent South Korean film in the cinema, let alone the most hyped-up South Korean product ever in Malaysia since the now-forgettable Wondergirls K-Pop group. However, the hype in this one is real. Someone revealed the trailer, and I was kinda sold. Then, my friends went ahead and parodied the heck out of its first trailer, and boy did they manage to cash in on the hype 'train' (yes, pun intended!) by garnering millions of views! But that's beside the point. Was the hype 'train' worth it for the film that is billed as the first South Korean zombie flick? The short answer would be YES!

Yes, this film is hardly original, because hey... it's a zombie movie, and most zombie movies are post-apocalyptic. And yeah, quick-ass zombies have been done before; I think 28 Days Later started the trend, then others follow suit. The latest athletic zombies film in recent memory before Train to Busan was probably World War Z, a novel adaptation, starring the American propaganda Brad Pitt. So, naturally, due to the unexpected success of TTB, it would be compared to the expected success of WWZ. From the reactions I've encountered, despite its intention of wanting to be dominant in the box office and succeeded, people were not happy with it as the film is only interesting because of the title and Brad Pitt, with little else going on other than cliches. TTB, however, was deemed by many to be far superior than WWZ despite it being relatively smaller budget as was deemed "what WWZ should've been." I haven't seen WWZ, so I can't do a fair and complete comparison. So, let's just leave it there and I will just go on ahead as to why I'm sucked into the hype of TTB and loving it!

Here's the setting: a dad named Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo), who is a fund manager, together with his estranged daughter Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok), got caught in a train-wreck of a ride when an epidemic that is starting to spread throughout South Korea managed to slither its way to a train that is en route to Busan, the father and daughter's intended destination, which gave birth to a hoard of angry braindeads comprised of unlucky train patrons. They had to survive the horrid journey together with very few surviving passengers that gets left way back at the tail section of the train. Do they even make it?

See, one of the things that makes this film unsettling is the claustrophobic setting; most of the film is set within a train. Yes, for those who've watched the trailer, they do get out of the train at times, but even then, due to the sheer amount of zombies and their persistence, it feels as if they are trapped in a small rat cage with the survivors being the cheese and the zombies being a very hungry and rabid mouse. We must thank the visual effects team and the composer for creating something for us audiences to have our hearts rapidly pump out blood to. I think that makes for an exciting premise, a la the previously reviewed Don't Breathe, but on a much more grander and fucked up scale.

Secondly, the characters are empathetic. Each of the survivors that was focused on, including the obnoxious ones, got to have their personalities, backstories, and motives gradually revealed and fleshed out, save for the driving forces of the film, Seok-Woo and Sang-hwa. However, as the film goes deep, they slowly turn into some archetypal characters that usually appear in anime or something, but hey, I totally dig that. A film this heart-wrenching needs some colour in it, and they serviced their transformation well without being too over-the-top. Also, despite their ordeal, for most of the time, they know what they had to do in order to keep surviving. In essence, let's just say that the characters are definitely not dumb in the slightest... except for the easily-manipulated ones. But, hey, it's zombie apocalypse damn it! Some people are just too scared to even think! I totally get that!

Lastly, this is what I think was missing from 28 Days Later and I think World War Z based on accounts by both critics and the general audience: the heart, which is what Asian films, especially South Korean and Japanese ones, are known for. The theme of sacrifice and family bonding is so apparent in this film, you could care less about the corporate and scientific mumbo-jumbo that is usually associated with freak accidents that cause zombie apocalypse in films like this that were vaguely explored in the first place. I know I cried at a few scenes when I watched The Walking Dead TV series, but that was different. It's natural for me to cry if bad shit happens in that series because I was accustomed to that particular character and the situation they're in due to the fact that I follow every inch of their journey. But for this, I don't understand WHY ON EARTH was I crying on the last 30 or 40 minutes of the film! This is just a two-hour-ish film! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!

All in all, this is a great rollercoaster of feels for the audience. By far a perfect South Korean film that shall lead to the end of 2016 which came out of nowhere to me! What's next? Oh yeah. That brooding horror film. Right.

Film #2: The Wailing 

Original title: 곡성 (Gokseong)
Origin: South Korea · Language: Korean, Japanese
Director & writer: Na Hong-jin
Genres: Horror, thriller, drama · Release: May 12, 2016

Casts: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura,
Chun Woo-hee

More info: IMDb

For this one, well... the uninitiated that were too impatient and excited for this film already watched it somewhere else, but as for me, who've heard only passingly about the film before, had only slight interest in wanting to watch it and was even more lazier to look for it elsewhere. And suddenly, I got invited to watch this film on the big-ass screen at TGV 1 Utama, thanks to Movie Addict again, way before its official premiere in my shores next week. I'm not sure if I was lucky, or I have to watch this film again to really make sure if I was indeed lucky to watch this... rather peculiar film (while I am making a 'peculiar' reference here, no, I don't intend to watch Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, okay?) that reminds me a lot of Bunohan, pacing and structure wise, despite using totally different approaches, conventions-wise.

The basic premise of The Wailing is that there is a series of uncalled deaths that happened at a village somewhere in South Korea. A local, regula police officer Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won), gets tangled into this mystery that involves a mysterious woman known as Moo-Myeong (Chun Woo-hee) and a strange, unidentified Japanese man who recently moved in to the village (Jun Kunimura).

This is quite unusual for a horror film in my book; it takes a considerable amount of time establishing the players of this film and the setup of the horror/supernatural elements for this film, all while employing gorgeous cinematography and camera works rarely seen in horror films before spiraling into the increasingly complex subplots that yield multiple interpretations and choices based on audiences' preference as the film progresses. Yeah, definitely took a page from Dain Said's Bunohan... or rather a total coincidence, or maybe this was done before in South Korean cinema. I don't know. I guess I have to go through another sitting in order to make sense of what I watch, but not sure if I wanna do that very soon... or ever.

On the other side of the spectrum, because of my muddled view on how and where the film is going, that is what makes it unique. I remembered watching a video review of the first Japanese Ringu film, where the reviewer, Chris Stuckmann, appreciated the fact that the film is a "slow-burn" one that took its time to establish everything before messing things up and scare the shit out of you in an effective manner. I think The Wailing is similar in that way, but in a setting that is way scarier; the village life. As far as I can recall from my limited knowledge, Asians, especially not from the urban areas, are known to be closely related to the unseen supernatural world that would mean trouble if an order that was set was disturbed or not handled according to an unwritten protocol. This film is indeed a testament to that, and that effectively raised most of the fine hairs in my body, thanks to the minimal to surprisingly absent cuts by the censorship board which managed to display a number of disturbing scenes that would take away the film in a bad way if its not there.

Overall, for aficionados out there who are craving for something that is kinda original to the genre, be sure to be surprised for yet another solid entry in the world of Asian horror. 

Finally, let's talk about the latest film that I think tops the scare level that The Wailing already set for me... in a bad way.

Film #3: The Housemaid (1960 version)

Original title: 하녀 (Hanyeo)
Origin: South Korea · Language: Korean
Director, writer: Kim Ki-young
Genres: Drama, thriller 
November 3, 1960

Lee Eun-shim, Kim Jin-kyu, Ju Jeung-ryu,
Um Aing-ran, Ahn Sung-ki, Lee Yoo-ri

More info: IMDb

Alas, the final film in the KKK film review trilogy! And boy... this was not a comfortable movie to watch. Think the previously reviewed Tampopo's good weird converted into bad weird and Like Water for Chocolate's cringe-worthiness and combine them. What do you get? This film! I can't even describe properly the feeling I had when I watched this! What a choice for an opening, Dr. Norman! Really!

Where to start? Okay, the plot. There's a composer/music instructor Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) whom hired a funky-weird housemaid named Myung-sook (Lee Eun-Shim) after something happened to his wife Mrs. Kim (Ju Jeung-ryu). After Dong-sik had a one-night stand with the said housemaid, shit just get weird for the entire Kim family. Yeah, good job, Mr. and Mrs. Kim!

Um, yeah. This film... was just... I don't know. Probably an unreleased episode for Alfred Hitchcock Presents or something. It's a very weird mash-up of psychological horror, thriller and melodrama (that is usually seen in things like... well... soap operas), but with added mindfuckness in the form of the housemaid and her out-of-this-world schemes to... uh, get some kind of weird affection from her employer? Yeah. Why hire a nutjob, Dong-sik? She was clearly not in the house-chore game the minute she was introduced in the movie, which is like before you even met her inside of your house. There are so many things wrong about this trippy-weird scandal I'd like to spoil here but can't. But the gist of it is that... why accept her in the first place and then later let her do unspeakable shit while at the same time you want to get rid of her but you can't even do that because she would open her mouth about the whole ordeal? Yeah, try to understand that long sentence good; that sentence where I'm not sure what punctuation marks should I use and where to put them. I'm just appalled by the overall direction and writing that invites uneasiness for those who are turned off by it.

Uh, yeah. That's it. This film is just plain creepy. Call me a classic hater or having a bad film taste. Whatever you want. I'm not quite the audience here, clearly. I appreciate the gesture, Dr. Norman, but I don't know why this film was made. But after some research, I found that there are some good things about the 2010 remake. Maybe I should check that out some other time? Maybe. And see if I have the same feeling as I watched the original. Brr!

P/S: It's beautiful how the order of I watched this is exactly the order of which film I like the most to the one I like less. Ain't it?

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