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The Handmaiden (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

At times humorous, at times quite dark and many times erotic and sexually charged, Chan-wook Park’s “The Handmaiden” is a unique and intelligent film that I highly recommend!

Images courtesy of © 2016 CJ E&M  Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


DVD TITLE: The Handmaiden

FILM YEAR: 2015

DURATION: 145 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Korean 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, Subtitles: English, English SDH and Spanish

COMPANY: Amazon Studios/Sony Pictures Studios Home Entertainment

RATED: Not Rated

AVAILABLE ON: January 24, 2017


Inspired by the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters

Directed by Chan-wook Park

Screenplay by Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park

Produced by Jose Ibanez, Carter Logan, Fernando Sulichin

Executive Producer: Jon Kilik, Serge Lobo, Robert S. Wilson

Edited by Affonso Goncalves, Adam Kurnitz


Starring:

Min-hee Kim as Lady Hideko

Tae-ri Kim as Sook-Hee

Jung-woo Ha as Count Funiwara

Jin-woong Jo as Uncle Kouzuki

Hae-suk Kim as Miss Sasaki

So-ri Moon as Aunt of Lady Hideko


From PARK Chan-wook, the celebrated director of OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE and STOKER, comes a ravishing new crime drama. PARK presents a gripping and sensual tale of two women – a young Japanese Lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but is secretly plotting with a conman to defraud her of a large inheritance. Inspired by the novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, THE HANDMAIDEN borrows the most dynamic elements of its source material and combines it with PARK Chan-wook’s singular vision to create an unforgettable viewing experience.


In 2002, Sarah Waters wrote the historic crime novel “The Fingersmith”.

Over a decade later, a South Korean erotic psychological thriller inspired by “The Fingersmith” titled “The Handmaiden” and directed by Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”, “Lady Vengeance”, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”) and co-written by Park and Seo-kyeong Jeong (“I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK”, “Thirst”, “Lady Vengeance”).

The film stars Min-hee Kim (“Right Now, Wrong Then”, “No Tears for the Dead”, “Helpless”), Tae-ri Kim (“Moon-young”, “Who Is It?”), Jung-woo Ha (“Chaser”, “The Berlin File”, “The Yellow Sea”), Jin-woong Jo (“The Admiral”, “Assassination”, “Nameless Gangster”), So-ri Moon (“Oasis”, “A Good Lawyer’s Wife”, “Peppermint Candy”) and Hae-suk Kim (“Thirst”, “The Throne”, The Thieves”).

The film would receive critical acclaim and  now will be released on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“The Handmaiden” is told in three parts and is set during the Japanese occupation in Korea.

We are introduced to Sook-Hee (portrayed by Tae-ri Kim), a thief who is from a family of con artists and Count Fujiwara (portrayed by Jung-woo Ha), also a thief.  Both plan to steal from Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (portrayed by Min-hee Kim), as Sook-Hee was hired to become Lady Hideko’s new maid.  Count Fujiwara’s plan is to marry Lady Hideko but needs Sook-Hee’s help to make it happen and also to find a way to have Lady Hideko committed to an asylum.

We also learn of how Lady Hideko is controlled by her authoritarian Uncle Kouzuki (portrayed by Jin-woong Jo), who is into erotica and uses fear and torture to have control of Lady Hideko, scaring her by reminding that she should not forget the basement.

At first, Sook-Hee was sticking to her plan of getting close and doing her job around Lady Hideko but the more they spend time with each other, both women become attracted towards each other and eventually, become passionate towards each other.

As Sook-Hee’s job is to push Lady Hideko to marry Count Fujiwara, she becomes more jealous and is more reluctant to follow through with the plan.

As Lady Hideko wants to know if she should go through with the marriage, Sook-Hee tells her that she should but it upsets Lady Hideko.

Meanwhile, both Count Fujiwara and Lady Hideko are married and Count Fujiwara becomes wealthy.  But as the three travel to the asylum, to Sook-Hee’s shock, they committed her, not Lady Hideko to the asylum.

But everything is not as it seems…


VIDEO & AUDIO:

“The Handmaiden” is presented in 2:38:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and Korean 5.1 Dolby Digital. Picture quality is good (as good as it can get on DVD) and I was quite shocked that the film was not available on Blu-ray.  For the most part, cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is fantastic!  Audio is primarily dialogue-driven but surround channels capture the ambiance of the film.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Handmaiden” comes with no special features.


As I watched “The Handmaiden”, I felt that this sexually-charged erotic thriller gives every viewer the opportunity to see filmmaker Chan-wook Park work his magic in another fantastic film!

The film, which is broken into three parts, no doubt will surprise viewers but also entertain them by its wonderful screenplay but also the cinematography and directorial excellence of Chan-wook Park.

From storyline to cinematography, everything from how everything is orchestrated, planned and written made “The Handmaiden” one of the top films I have watched for 2017.

The acting by Min-hee Kim and Tae-ri Kim and having to perform sex scenes together and make it seem realistic and erotic, definitely will keep viewers on their toes.

Multiple twists, a lot of backstabbing but the story was intelligently written and each scene was well-done.

The first part of the film sets you up for a shocking betrayal, but the next part will shock you because you are surprised about character motivations and how things were thoroughly planned.  Leading to a final part that will shock you but at the same time, after it’s all done, realizing you just watched an amazing film!

As for the DVD, it’s a barebones DVD release unfortunately.  But I hope that doesn’t sway people because it’s a wonderful film.

At times humorous, at times quite dark and many times erotic and sexually charged, Chan-wook Park’s “The Handmaiden” is a unique and intelligent film that I highly recommend!

Assassination (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Assassination” is one of more exciting Korean action films that I watched in 2015.  And it’s no surprise to me that the film did amazingly well in Korea and is the top grossing Korean film for the year.  Featuring an exciting storyline and wonderful acting, “Assassination” is a film that I highly recommend!

Image courtesy of © 2015 Well Go USA Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Assassination

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 139 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, Japanese and Korean 5.1 HD Surround Sound, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: December 1, 2015


Directed by Dong-hoon Choi

Written by Dong-hoon Choi, Ki-Cheol Lee

Produced by Bin Shen

Music by Dalparan, Young-gyu Jang

Cinematography by Woo-hyung Kim

Edited by Min-kyung Shin

Production Design by Seong-hie Ryu

Art Direction by Seong-hie Ryu

Costume Design by Sang-gyeong Jo, Na-ri Son


Starring:

Gianna Jun as An Ok-yun

Jung-woo Ha as Hawaii Pistol

Jung-jae Lee as Yeom Seok-jin

Jin-woong Jo as Sok-sapo

Dal-su Oh as Young-gam

Kyung Jin as Ahn Sung-Sim

Duek-mun Choi as Hwang Dok-sam


Snipers. Marksmen. Hired Guns. Double Agents. A group of exiled rebels are planning a hit on an Army Commander in Japanese-occupied Korea, but the only killer for the job is in prison. Now, the Resistance must devise a jailbreak, escape a hitman…and discover which of them is a traitor.


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Choi Dong-hoon excited moviegoers with his slick and action-packed 2012 film “The Thieves”.

Choi returns with his latest success, “Assassination” which has become the biggest box office success in Korea for 2015 and now, will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

Featuring an all-star cast which includes Ji-hyun Jun (“My Sassy Girl”, “The Thieves”, “Il Mare”, “Windstruck”), Jung-jae Lee (“Il Mare”, “The Housemaid”, “The Thieves”, “New World”), Jung-woo Ha (“The Chaser”, “The Yellow Sea”, “The Berlin File”), Jin-woong Jo (“Roaring Currents”, “The Front Line”, “Hwayi: Monster Boy”), Dal-su Oh (“Oldboy”, “The Host”, “Thirst”) and many more!

The film begins in 1911 as Yeom Seok-jin (portrayed by Lee Jung-jae) is an assassin who’s job is to take out Kawaguchi Mamoru, the governor of the Japanese garrison in Gyeongseong and Japanese sympathizer, Kang In-gook.

We learn that Yeom Seok-jin is working with Kang’s wife, who secretly works with the Korean activists/resistance and is a mother of two twins.

When Yeom Seok-jin’s assassination fails, he is imprisoned, while Kang orders his wife to be killed.  But before he has her killed, she manages to take one of her children, while having the other go with another who will raise the child in Manchuria, along with other Korean resistance.

Fastforward to the 1930’s and Korea is still under Japan’s colonial rule and Yeom Seok-jin, has escaped prison and is now an agent of the provisional Korean government.  He helps three people escape prison, the sniper and dedicated resistance fighter Ahn Ok-yun (portrayed by Jun Ji-hyun), “Big Gun” Chu Sang-ok (portrayed by Cho jin-woong) who is an excellent arms dealer and marksman and his cellmate, Hwang Deok-sam (portrayed by Choi Deok-moon), an explosives specialist.

The three are released but for the purpose of assassinating another high-up Japanese dignitary and once again, the business tycoon Kang In-gook.

But unfortunately, one of these people are secretly working with the Japanese.  And has hired freelance assassins “Old Man” (portrayed by Oh Dal-su and the legendary “Hawaii Pistol” (portrayed by Ha Jung-woo) to take them out.

Will the resistance fighters accomplish their mission or will they be thwarted by the assassins going after them?


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VIDEO:

“Assassination” is presented in 1080p High Definition and in 2:39:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is fantastic as the outdoor scenes look wonderful, closeups feature amazing detail. Skin tones are natural and I saw no problems with banding or artifacts.

“Assassination” looks fantastic in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Assassination” is presented in Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and for an action film, one can expect a good number of immersive scenes that really do a good job in utilizing the surround channels.  Dialogue, music, gun shots, explosions…all are crystal clear and sound fantastic!

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Assassination” comes with no special features.


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When it comes to Asian live-action films, we are starting to see more and more action films that are showcasing more gun and knife battles versus martial arts films (which we are starting to see more from Indonesia and Thailand).

May they be gang films, war films, we have seen a growth of Asian live action films which tend to have a strong anti-Imperial Japan sentiment due to the atrocities committed in the past by the country towards China and Korea.

And for Korea, the pain between both Korea and Japan still exist, but fortunately, the pop culture are bringing people more closer together, while politics continues to rear its ugly head for both countries today.

With “Assassination”, this film rings clear of those pains during a time when Japan occupied Korea, Korean rebels and activists plotted to overthrow Japan and unfortunately, it was a troubling time, especially in the late 1890’s with the assassination of Empress Myeongseong and also the Kempeitai, military police who were known for their brutal tactics.

The film quickly establishes how Korean activists and rebels plotted to assassinated major Imperial Japanese dignitaries, but also had Koreans who were in it for the money and worked against their own people.

We are introduced to Yeom Seok-jin’s character Lee Jung-jae, a Korean activist who’s attempt to assassinate a Japanese governor ends with him being shot multiple times and receiving prison time, while another Korean activist, wife of a man who sells his services to the Japanese and mother of two infant twins, is killed courtesy of an order by her husband for working against him.

Fast forward years later and Lee Jung-jae escapes from prison and organizes a rag tag group of assassins who must work together in pulling off a major assassination.

But unfortunately, one of these people are secretly working with the Japanese and the goal is to actually destroy any Korean rebels who pose a threat to Imperial Japan.

Actress Jun Ji-hyun does a wonderful job playing a dual role as Ahn Ok-yun and Mitsuko, the twin daughters of the woman assassinated during Yeom Seok-Jin’s first assassination attempt.

Jun Ji-hyun has always proved herself to undertake any role, emotional or even action-based and give a fine performance.  Ahn Ok-yun was raised with the Korean rebels and is a sniper, who killed her superior and was literally raised to be a killer.  She is unaware that she has a twin sister, who was raised with a lavish lifestyle with her father, Kang In-gook the Japanese sympathizer who had his wife killed at the beginning of the film.

Fans of “Il Mare” will love the fact that Yeom Seok-Jin and Jun Ji-hyun are reunited in a film together (their last collaboration was in 2012’s “The Thieves”).  But unfortunately, their characters are not together all that much.  So, while it’s great to see them in this film, fans of “Il Mare” should not expect too much of their latest collaboration together. And this is not a romantic film, so no one should have any romantic expectations between these two talents.

Throw in a group which includes Chu Sang-ok a.k.a. “Big Gun” who is wonderful with weapons and his cellmate Hwang Deok-sam, an explosives specialists and these three are set to cause some major havok.

Meanwhile, two other assassins, “Hawaii Pistol” and “Old Man” come into play, but are they friend or foe.

“Assassination” is a captivating, action film featuring plenty of action and drama but also features one of the slickest productions I have seen in a Korean action film and the pacing of the film, the acting and the surprises really make this an exciting film worth watching.

The Blu-ray release looks and sounds magnificent and while there are no special features but a single trailer, I still recommend people on watching the film.

Overall, “Assassination” is one of more exciting Korean action films that I watched in 2015.  And it’s no surprise to me that the film did amazingly well in Korea and is the top grossing Korean film for the year.  Featuring an exciting storyline and wonderful acting, “Assassination” is a film that I highly recommend!

Kundo (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

kundo-a

“Kundo” is an action film from South Korea that is entertaining, action-packed and not afraid to surprise viewers with its use of tragedy. “Kundo” is no doubt, one of the better action films I have seen from South Korea in quite awhile, so if you are into action films, especially with wonderful fight choreography, “Kundo” is a film for you! Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2014 Showbox/Mediaplex and Moonlight Film. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Kundo

TELEFILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 138 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 widescreen), Korean DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Korean 2.0 stereo with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: NR

Release Date: October 21, 2014

Directed by Jong-bin Yun

Written by Cheol-Hong Jeon

Produced by Hyun Kang

Music by Yeong-wook Jo

Cinematography by Chan-min Choi

Edited by Jae-beom Kim, Sang-beom Kim

Starring:

Jung-woo Ha as Dolmuchi

Ye-ri Han as Gok-ji

Dong-wong Kang as Jo-yoon

Hae-Suk Kim as Dolmuchi’s mother

Seong-gyoon Kim as Jang

Kyeong-yeong Lee as Ddaeng-choo

Sung-min Lee as Dae-ho

Dong-seok ma as Chun-bo

Ji-hye Yun as Ma-hyang

1859. The last days of the Joseon Dynasty, where the wages of greed bring poverty and death. A pack of bandits calling themselves KUNDO – rise against the tyrants, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In an era where status is decided by birth, this band of thieves risks their lives for honor, in the name of the poor and oppressed. But for one man, a debt of bloody revenge is owed to the aristocrat that robbed him of his family and his name.

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From Jong-bin Yun (director of “The Unforgiven”, “Beastie Boys”, “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time”) comes his action film “Kundo”.

Written by Cheol-Hong Jeon (“The Admiral”, “Heaven’s Soldiers”, “Crying Fist”), the film would star Jung-woo Ha (“The Chaser”, “The Yellow Sea”, “Time”), Ye-ri Han (“As One”, “Commitment”), Dong-won Kang (“Woochi”, “Haunters”, “Secret Reunion”) and a large cast of supporting talent.

The film broke records in South Korea set for all-time highest opening day for a box office beating out all domestic and foreign films when released and now, “Kundo” has been released on Blu-ray in the United States courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

“Kundo” takes place in 1862 (late Joseon dynasty) during an era of social and economic unrest and during a time of tyranny when rulers kept rice for themselves, rather than give them to the starving villagers.  As villagers suffer from natural disasters, poverty and famine, death runs rampant.  But a group of fighters known as Kundo have risen against the authority and have helped the impoverished.

We are the introduced to two people who were brought up differently on two ends of the economic spectrum and their paths will cross.

Dolmuchi (portrayed by Ha Jung-woo) is a butcher (considered as the lowest economic class next to slaves during the Joseon Dynasty and barely surviving. One day, he was offered money to go to the mountain where monks live and kill a young woman.  But in the process, Dolmuchi failed and because of the failure, he and his family were burned.  While Dolmochi was able to escape, he suffered major burns throughout his head and body but his family were killed. As he tried to avenge them, he tried to challenge Jo Yoon in a fight but due to Jo Yoon’s superior fighting skills, Dolmuchi was easily beaten.   Torturned and nearly killed, Dolmuchi survived and was taken in by the Kundo and is reborn as Dolchi.

Now Dolchi wants nothing more than to avenge his family and take down Jo Yoon.  But as Dolchi joins the Kundo and hones his use of fighting with butcher knives, can the Kundo help tame his bad temper?

As for Jo Yoon (portrayed by Kang Dong-won), he is an excellent martial arts fighter who has passed the highest level of military exams and wants nothing but to be the successor of corrupt and aging former governor Lord Jo Won-suk of Jeola province.

Jo Yoon was Lord Jo’s illegitimate child, But when Lady Jo finally gave birth to a baby boy, the boy received love from his family, while Jo Yoon would exhibit of anger and hostility.  Nearly killing his baby brother, his mother mother was blamed and killed and left in darkness.  But many years later, Jo Yoon returned home to find out his half brother and Lady Jo has died and with his older father old and distraught, this is his time to take control of the family.

As the tyranny by the corrupt officials have increased suffering towards the poor villagers (making them slaves to harvest and not giving them any food or money) is at its all time high, can the Kundo help the poor and helpless and save them from the tyrannic Jo Yoon?  And will Dolchi get his revenge?

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VIDEO:

“Kundo” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio).  Detail of the film is fantastic as you can see the skin pores and details of an outfit quite clearly.  Colors and skintones look natural and overall picture quality is fantastic.  I saw no signs of banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Kundo” is presented in Korean 5.1 DTS-HDMA and Korean 2.0 Stereo. The film features crystal clear dialogue and the English subtitles are easy to read.  There are moments of surround channel use, especially LFE use but this is a film in which the action’s soundtrack is not much of a focal point as there are dialogue or narration during those action scenes at times.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Kundo” comes with a theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS

“Kundo” comes with a slipcover.

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As an action film, “Kundo” is one of the more exciting action films I have seen from South Korea, let alone Asia, in quite some time.  It’s a film in which the director and writer knew that cast members (many that you root for) are expendable and to avoid the banality of everything goes perfect, many times, the film takes off in a direction where bad things happen to the good guys.  And each tragic moment, literally makes your blood boil and you can’t wait for the epic battle between Dolchi and Jo Yoon.

While the film does harken to other storylines such as “Robin Hood” and the Kundo are responsible from stealing for the rich and give to the poor, the film revolves around Dolchi’s quest for revenge and Jo Yoon’s quest of usurping his father and becoming a tyrannical ruler.

If anything, Director Jong-bin Yun and screenwriter Cheol-Hong Jeon does everything possible in order to make you dislike the antagonist and many times, making it seem as if Jo Yoon is indestructible.

You know that Dolchi is a great fighter but not at Jo Yoon’s level and the only way the Kundo has a chance is by strategy and major planning and this is where I applaud the film as it takes you through the planning and shows you how things are executed versus just giving you a simplistic popcorn action film storyline.

If there is one thing that some viewers maybe turned off by is Dolchi’s behavior, which comes off like a smart mouth gangster and trying to interject several scenes for the purpose of comedic flair, you either enjoy it or get turned off by it.  I personally felt the humor, especially in the beginning of the film, made the film different and I appreciated “Kundo” because of that.  But I can see those who may feel the humor and Dolchi’s rude behavior can turn off those who wanted this film to be more realistic in some sense.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic as colors and skin tones are natural and the Blu-ray offers great detail in HD.  As for the lossless soundtrack, the soundtrack is crystal clear but it’s not a film that one can expect great use of the surround channels, especially as many of the action scenes have narration during those scenes.  And also, one of the negative things I can think about this Blu-ray release is its lack of special features.

Overall, “Kundo” is an action film from South Korea that is entertaining, action-packed and not afraid to surprise viewers with its use of tragedy.  “Kundo” is no doubt, one of the better action films I have seen from South Korea in quite awhile, so if you are into action films, especially with wonderful fight choreography, “Kundo” is a film for you!

Recommended!

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