THE FACE READER ‘Gwansang izle‘ (2013)



Song Kang-ho is the future.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know I have a great regard for this actor.
A performer of such sensibilities that make him one of the most interesting screen actors of this century.

Here he plays Nae Kyung, a Face Reader, one who is adept at physiognomy, the assessment of a person’s character or personality by the study of their outer appearance especially the face.

Set in 1455 in the political world of the King and his potential usurpers, Han Jae-rim directs this historical tale of intrigue and conspiracy

Nae Kyung is lured into the employ of a Madame working in the city and is noticed by the Vice Premiere to the King, Kim Jong-so (Baek Yun-shik) and consequently finds himself working for the palace, getting involved in the political web that disgraced his father years before.

This film begins very light-heartedly and gradually progresses toward drama and tragedy. I recently read that this is quite a staple of period pieces from Korea, the only period piece I saw before this was the excellent Untold Scandal (also scored by this films composer, Lee Byung-woo).
It is a very enjoyable piece yet it lacks that bit of extra magic to elevate it to the heights it could have reached.

The cast are all on point and although Song Kang-ho is billed as the lead this is very much an ensemble piece.
Lee Jung-jae (The Housemaid, The Thieves, New World) is subtle in his snake-like portrayal of the King’s brother, Prince Suyang. Jeung Jo-suk is brilliant as Nae Kyung’s brother in law and provides all the great comedy moments early on, working as a great double-act with Song Kang-ho. Kim Hye-su takes on the challenge of being the only major female character in an ostensibly male dominated film (war usually is on screen) and relishes the opportunity.

This film is an historical epic that takes the viewer on a journey into territories unknown (especially non-Koreans) and that is all good.
An above average experience filled with wonderful moments and dastardly intrigue.



NEW WORLD (Sin-se-gae) (2013)



Cops, gangsters, deceit.

From the writer of I Saw the Devil (a big South Korean hit in 2012), and starring Oldboy himself Choi Min-sik, New World takes us into the intricate political world of cops and robbers, this slick thriller starts off brilliantly but meanders in the last hour.

Everything that happens in it is justified and interesting it just needed a little finer editing.

Performances are solid, standout is Hwang Jeong-min as gangster Jeong Cheong, whom I’d seen before in the excellent A Bittersweet Life.
Choi Min-sik is always on it bringing to life the world weary cop who is not much different morally than the main gangstas. Lee Jung-jae as our protagonist delivers a sturdy rendition of a man trapped betwixt 2 worlds.

It’s still a gangster film that has quality plastered all over it, the costumes, the music, the performances but this is the director Park Hoon-jung’s second film and I feel it lacks experience especially in the composition.

(Although Ridley Scott has had a bunch of experience and he still churned out American Gangster, so what do I know?)
Some of it was too protracted and it took too long to say what it could have said in much simpler, clearer terms.

I’d much rather see an above average South Korean film any day of the week as opposed to a Liam Neeson/Jason Statham thriller.
Not the best film in the world but if you dig a classy gangster tale told in a way only the South Koreans are bringing it then chickety check it.