Category Archives: Film Reviews

No Tears for the Dead (2014): South Korean Bloody Redemption

Film poster for No Tears for the Dead
Very few filmmakers can do bloody redemption like South Korean cinema, although the Pang Bros do a cracking job, and the 2014 feature No Tears for the Dead is the perfect example of an almost soap opera style thriller/drama where a hitman tries to make amends for an accidental killing at the very start of the film.

Written and directed by Jeong-beom Lee, it is his third film, and starring The Warrior’s Way Gong-Don Jang, Min-Hee Kim (Hellcats, Helpless) and Brian Tee (Jurassic World, The Wolverine) No Tears for the Dead follows the journey of Gon, an American trained Korean hitman who works for a Triad organization.

At the start of the film, a group of gangsters are in the back room of a casino, or club, and a little Korean girls sits on her own with an origami stork on the table in front of her. She is listening to a singer. Back n the room, a man forces his way in and begins killing everyone with a silenced pistol. As he finishes up there is a noise at the room’s exit. The man fires blindly though the closed door and when he opens it, an origami bird is on the floor and the little girl has been shot through the chest.

Later, the Triad boss he works for tells the hitman, Gon, to kill the child’s mother once they retrieve a file her deceased husband sent her via an email. Gon, (Gong-Don Jang) is overcome with guilt and remorse at his inadvertent murder of an innocent. The gang have to break into his house to find him and once there they discover he has drunk himself into a stupor and Gon has passed out covered in vomit.

Gon is sent to Korea, a country he has not been to since he and his mother left years ago. The hitman’s mother tried to desert him in America and later kills herself. The hitman goes to the country of his birth and as he attempts to recover the file; he breaks into Mo-Kyoeng’s (played by Min-Hee Kim) house, he is surrounded by the essence of little Yumi, the girl he killed earlier. The child’s growth chart, art work from her school and, because Gon has cloned the mother’s cell phone, he sees pictures and videos of the dead girl.

When the Korean mob boss, who works for the Triads, learns that Mo-Kyeong has accessed the file, Gon is ordered to kill the grieving mother. Entering her house, he finds the woman unconscious on her couch having taken several bottles of pills. He fires his gun at the arm of the settee, over her head, and calls 911.

When Mo-Kyeong is in the hospital, a group of assassins, colleagues of Gon, are hired to kill them both. His old friend and mentor Chaoz (Lee) heads up the deadly gang and it becomes a battle of wits, bullets, blood and betrayal as Gon tries to make up for murdering the woman’s daughter by saving her life. My-Yeong must also fight and she almost loses to the killers more than once.

While this could be seen as a sort of “pot boiler” drama set around a hitman, the film is not too dissimilar from the 1998 Chinese film The Replacement Killers with Yun-Fat Chow and Mira Sorvino or even the Pang Bros 2000 film Bangkok Dangerous.

*On a sidenote, the latter film was remade with Nicolas Cage in 2008; avoid this shabby and abysmal film at all costs.*

There are prolonged shootouts with a variety of weapons, some brilliantly choreographed fights between Gon and the bad guys and a fair few good twists and turns to the plot. Add in some great little ironic events and a few touching moments of backstory and No Tears for the Dead becomes a 5 out of 5 star film.

Partially subtitled; with the Chinese gangsters and Gon conversing in English throughout the film, this South Korean film cracks on at a rapid pace and makes the run time of just under two hours feel much shorter. As this is just Jeong-beom Lee’s third film keep an eye on this filmmaker and expect to see much more of his work. Do not miss this one.

Automata (2014): Evolution of a Different Sort

Film poster for Automata
Directed and co-written by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas, the 2014 film Automata takes the ideology behind I Robot and makes it darker; the result of a different sort of evolution. Set in a Dystopian future where mankind has shrunk to just a few million survivors on an inhospitable Earth, the story follows one man’s investigation of an “impossible” crime. With shades of Blade Runner, the film has a protagonist that is not a cop but an insurance investigator, criminals that are not cyborgs but robots who have gone against their protocols and evolved.

Jacq Vaucan (Banderos) is a married man whose wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is heavily pregnant and an investigator that is fed up with his job and wants to be moved. His work consists of proving that the robots manufactured by ROC cannot be altered or perform against their protocols.

There are two protocols that each robot must adhere to. The first does not allow it to harm any living thing and the second does not allow it to alter or repair itself. A cop named Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots and destroys a robot that he claims was repairing itself. The policeman, who was high on drugs at the time of the shooting, swears that he did not imagine the incident; that the machine altered itself right in front of him.

Robert Bold (Robert Forster) tells Vaucan that this is impossible and the investigator starts looking for someone who disabled the second protocol; a clocksmith. Jacq finds one, a Dr. DuPre (Melanie Griffith) but it turns out that she is not modifying the robots and she learns that it has happened “naturally.”

This film is very dark and brooding in its delivery and with its depiction of a future-earth burnt and dried out by solar flares. Automata does a brilliant job showing the fickle nature of mankind. In the backstory, humanity cheer the new “pilgrim” robots that were made to help “push back the desert.” When the machines fail, the same people who cheered them on turn and their praise becomes hate and disgust.

Similar to I Robot, the machines are part of everyday life although in the that film, the cities are clean and full of successful, happy people. In Automata , like Blade Runner, the towns are dirty, full of acid rain, the unemployed, worn-out robots and is segregated from the ghetto, which is “out of bounds” to the city dwellers.

While the message is bleak, for mankind at least, the robots seem to be the future. Banderas acts his little cotton socks off in the film and his performance alone is worth the “price of admission” as they say. Griffith has a small role and while she still has the chops to impress, it is her character’s outcome that is remembered best. Shocking and sudden, it sticks in the mind and fits this future of grim reality.

Kudos to two favorite Brit actors who have worked together before, although they do not share any real screen time here, Tim McInnerny and Andy Nyman. The actors appeared in the 2006 horror film Severance and it was a delight to see them in this film. McInnerny as the long dust coat-wearing killer for ROC and Nyman as the partner of Wallace, the drug addict cop. Both actors can play “Yanks” quite convincingly.

Oh, and Keep an ear out for Javier Bardem as the “blue” robot.

Automata is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is a real 5 out of 5 stars film. This one, as they say, is a keeper and should become a cult favorite if it has not done so already. Watch this one you will be glad you did.

The Colony (2013): Violence on Ice

Film Poster for The Colony
The 2013 film The Colony, starring Lawrence Fishburne (Hannibal, Predators) Bill Paxton (Agents of SHIELD, Nightcrawler) and Kevin Zegers (Gossip Girl, Dawn of the Dead) is about a second ice age caused by man’s tinkering with the planet’s global warming issues and survivors holding out against the big freeze. Directed and co-written by Jeff Renfroe (Sand Serpents, Civic Duty) The Colony is a post apocalyptic horror story set in the frozen remains of civilization that turns into a violence on ice escapade rather than pure science fiction.

The few groups of humanity that have survived do so underground. In Colony 5, Briggs (Fishburne) runs the population fairly but disease is a constant worry and his second in command, Mason (Paxton) has to eliminate the sick before they can spread the contamination and endanger the entire colony. An SOS from Colony 7, another nest of survivors that Briggs’ community have an agreement with, sends the leader, Sam (Zeger) and a young lad to see what is going on and to see if they can help.

Briggs leaves Kai (Charlotte Sullivan) in charge, much to Mason’s annoyance, and the three men go to the other colony to help. Once there they discover two things. A message from yet another colony saying that they managed to get the weather adapter to work and thaw out the permafrost and an insane group of cannibals who have killed everyone, bar one survivor, and are still carving the meat up when Briggs and company arrive.

The rest of the film is pretty much a race to first escape the cannibals and then to defeat them. The film does shift gear from its beginning premise, changing from a science fiction only film to one that includes quite a lot of fighting and action. The character interaction is still quite good and no-one plays an arse as good as Bill Paxton. Like his other roles, the man does have a sort of mini-redemption but it is too late to save many of his fellow colonists.

In movies like these, the “big” names, like Fishburne and Paxton, usually check out fairly early in the proceedings. The Colony allows Fishburne to live at least halfway through the film and Paxton’s character makes it to the last reel. Pretty impressive stuff and it was nice to see Lawrence used more than in other science fiction films; for example Predators, where the movie could have benefitted from seeing more of his insane survivor.

Zegers does a good job as the man saved by Briggs when he was a boy stranded in the ice land alone who then rises to the occasion to help save the day. Sullivan as Kai does a good job as the pistol packing girlfriend of Sam but she does not get a lot of screen time. Paxton is, as usual, excellent as the executioner who wants to kill off anyone at the first sign of a sniffle.

Dru Viergever (Survival of the Dead, Goldirocks) does a good job as the “feral leader” who rules the cannibals and leads the attack on the new colony. Granted most of his dialogue consisted of screaming and howling although when asked by Sam what he wants, the cannibal leader manages to roar, “More!”

Certainly not a bad film and it does benefit from Fishburne and Paxton being in the cast but this is not earth shatteringly different from other post apocalyptic movies out there. A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and worth watching, even though we know that the surrounding scenery is all CG. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment.

Redemption aka Hummingbird (2013): A Crazy Patch Times Two

Film poster for Hummingbird, aka Redemption
Jason Statham may be trapped in “Expendables Hell,” but the man is more than “action hero” fodder for Sylvester Stallone to use as a magnet for younger female viewers, the English star can act, anyone who doubts it should see him in the 2013 film Redemption. Also known as Hummingbird, the movie’s tagline could have been “A Crazy Patch Times Two.” The 47 year-old former model and “street merchant” can act and he carries this film along with his Polish costar Agata Bazek who is a perfect fit for his character in the movie.

Written and directed by Stephen Knight (Locke, Peaky Blinders) Redemption tells the story of Joseph Smith, aka Joey Jones, a former special forces soldier on the run from a court martial for a revenge killing in Afghanistan. At the start of the film, Joey lives in a cardboard box with northern lass Isabel (Victoria Bewick) on the street. Two thugs come through their alley and when they get to Joey, he fights them.

He and Isabel get separated and he ends up in an expensive penthouse flat belonging to an actor named Damon. Making himself at home, along with taking a new bank card and some clean clothes, Joey goes on a spree, drinking nonstop. When the evening ends, he is at the Sister’s of Redemption soup kitchen where he gives Cristina (Bazek), a nun who has fed him many times, £500 that he took from Damon’s account.

Statham, as Joey, is brilliant as the man who drinks to “weaken the machine,” that he becomes when he is “sober and healthy.” The ex soldier hurts and kills people with skill and little effort. He finds out from Cristina that Isabel was found beaten and dead in the river and he tries to track down the killer.

Working for Mr Chow, he gets the name and goes after the murderer. Cristina helps him and the two go through “a crazy patch” together, which is how she explains her deviation from the church. The two damaged humans link up and later in the film consummate their temporary relationship. Before that, Joey saves all his money to give his former wife and their daughter and asks Cristina to take his picture because, “I won’t look like this much longer.”

The nun reveals that she has had a lifelong obsession with the ballet and wanted to be a dancer, but her father forced her into gymnastics. Her coach raped her repeatedly from the age of 10 and only stopped when she slit his throat. Rather than send her to prison, authorities sentenced the girl to join a convent.

With films like the three Expendables movies and the Transporter films along with Crank and so on, it is easy for many critics to overlook Statham’s talents and to underplay his acting capability. Redemption, or Hummingbird, rather unfairly, was pretty much panned by critics when it came out with little credit given to the actor for his work on the film.

When Joey gets upset in the movie it is only those with a heart of stone who do not empathize so much with the character that they get a lump in the throat and a sprinkling of tears and this is down to his performance. Statham’s doomed ex-special forces soldier on the run has got to be classed as one of his best performances.

Redemption, aka Hummingbird is on Netflix at the moment and well worth watching. Statham “action man” film fans may want to give it a miss as the violence is too sporadic and not “typical” of his usual output. 4.5 out of 5 stars, this is a cracking film that will prove that Jason can act.

Wolf Creek 2 (2013): Australian Xenophobic Madness

Still from Wolf Creek 2 of star John Jarratt

In 2005 audiences were introduced to Mick Taylor an Australian backpacker serial killer in a film based very loosely on two real life serial killers in the Outback. Titled Wolf Creek, it was a grimly scary horror film with a killer who was terrifying. In Wolf Creek 2, the Australian xenophobe is back and his madness has intensified, along with his crazy sense of humor and off kilter patriotism.

Both Wolf Creek films were written and directed by Greg McClean, who also made the taut little horror thriller Rogue in 2007. This sequel is a great follow up to the original and perhaps the only complaint about the film is its ending. McClean exceeds in the horror genre and fans of Australian horror will count him as director capable of delivering.

John Jarratt as Taylor is getting to be as iconic as Robert England is for playing Freddy Kruger. The fact that Quentin Tarantino used the actor for a cameo in Django: Unchained proves it. “You’re a funny bugger,” says Jarratt’s character to Django in the remake and it is a variation on the line his Mick Taylor says to the captive pom he is torturing in Wolf Creek 2.

In this sequel to the 2005 original, Taylor is still working on his one man crusade to “cleanse” Australia of all that “foreign scum.” Not that Mick is too good to take out the odd fellow countryman as he proves when two highway patrol types decide to railroad the pig killer into a ticket and forcing him to take his truck off the road.

Taylor dispatches the two cops with little effort and then zooms in on German backpackers, Katarina and Rutger. Mick seems to be slipping a bit as when he knifes Rutger the backpacker recovers enough to attack Taylor as he is beginning to ravage Katarina. She then escapes while he is cutting up her finally defeated boyfriend.

She runs barefooted across the outback and stumbles into British tourist Paul Hammersmith (played by Ryan Corr) who tries to help her escape. There then ensues a Duel type chase between Taylor and Hammersmith where the pig farmer trades in his pickup truck for a semi, or lorry and the two vehicles do long distance battle for quite a while. Eventually Taylor wins and Paul flees on foot.

The tourist on the run comes to a house in the middle of the outback and passes out. He wakes to find himself in the care of two older Australians who are prepared to feed him and take him back to civilization. Mick has managed to track Hammersmith down and he retrieves his prey while taking out the old couple in the house.

Fans of Australian television soaps will recognize the old man as actor Gerard Kennedy who has worked mainly on TV in shows like Skyways, A Country Practice and The Flying Doctors to name but three and has had a long prolific career. At 80, when he filmed his role in Wolf Creek 2, Kennedy still has that stamp of authenticity and ruggedness that has been such a part of his long career.

After dispatching the old couple, Taylor chases the hapless tourist down via horseback. Mick takes Hammersmith back to his lair and begins to play with him. Apart from punishing him for interfering with his backpacker fun, the killer also starts a mad question and answer game with his captive where each wrong answer gets a finger ground off.

Out of the two films, the original was more shocking than this sequel and we did not learn about Taylor to the extent that ‘2’ allows. This first sequel, a Wolf Creek 3 is already in the works, is entertaining and affords Jarratt a chance to really work on the character of Mick Taylor. Streaming on Netflix, this is a 4 out of 5 star horror film that will entertain fans of the genre.

‘Kidnapping Mr. Heineken’ a Record Breaking Ransom Story

Film Poster for Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is the story behind the record breaking ransom asked and paid for Freddy Heineken to be released in 1983. Based upon the true story, this film is the second telling of the event, the first being the 2011 film The Heineken Kidnapping starring Rutger Hauer as the billionaire beer magnate. The first film was a Dutch production and it admitted to being a “fictionalized” version of the real abduction of Heineken and his driver.

Both films are based upon Dutch reporter Ken R. de Vries’ version of events who wrote about the crime based on interviews with the two leaders behind the kidnapping. Interestingly, Willem Holleeder, who was second in command to Cor van Hout, tried to have the Dutch film banned from cinemas and failed. Reporter de Vries has publicly denounced both the versions of the film, the one in 2011 and the most recent 2014 movie, saying that things have been portrayed inaccurately.

The story is set in 1983 and tells of a group of friends who need money decide to kidnap Freddy Heineken. In reality, if an informant had not called the police and tipped them off to Cor and Willem, along with the rest of the group, there is a good chance they would never have been caught. The film would have had a completely different ending or perhaps never have been made.

Directed by Daniel Alfredson (Wolf, Echoes of the Dead) the film stars Anthony Hopkins as Heineken, Sam Worthington as Willem Holleeder and Jim Sturgess as Cor van Hout. The rest of the cast do a good job in their respective roles and feature actors from Holland and from France.

A couple of things about the film stand out, leaving out the odd mistake here and there such as the color of the Heineken bottles in 1983 being incorrect and Heineken dying in 2003 rather than 2002. Firstly, Hopkins, with his wispy white hair and stubble, resembles the late actor Klaus Kinski more than he does the real life Heineken. Secondly, filming took place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and it helps with the overall authenticity of the action and for anyone who has lived there it offers a sense of familiarity.

The plot, based upon the real events as related to de Vries, follows what went into the kidnapping which resulted in the record breaking ransom request of 35 million Guilders, back before the currency was replaced by the Euro. It also shows how the friends fell out after arguing over just about everything once the object of the abduction was caught and being held against his will.

These disagreements carried over into the receipt of the money and ended with the gang going their separate ways and, as stated just before the closing credits, never got together again. Hopkins, as Heineken tells one of the men that one can either be successfully monetarily in life or have lots of friend, but never both. The film seems to prove his homily to be true.

According to the film, a good portion of the ransom was never recovered. One thing not mentioned, but alluded to, is that prison sentences in Holland tend to be pretty light compared to other countries. Frans “Spikes” Meijer, played by Mark van Eeuwen (Rendez-Vouz, Finn) pleaded insanity as was sentenced to incarceration in a psychiatric hospital where he easily escaped.

The closing message also states that a good portion of the money was never recovered and that the two “leaders;” van Hout and Holleeder, went on to become the “godfathers” of The Netherlands until the former was assassinated in 2003. Regardless of the true facts and how close the film did or did not portray them, the movie is a fascinating look at how the criminals fell apart after committing the most infamous caper in the world.

A good solid “based on a true story” film with capable performances from all concerned and extremely entertaining. 3.5 out of 5 stars with a drop due to the inaccuracies in the film and the fact that Hopkins did look more like Kinski than Heineken. Steaming on US Netflix and worth a look.

Death Squad aka 2047: Sights of Death – What a Mess

Poster for Death Squad
Death Squad, aka 2047 Sights of Death, is a 2014 Italian film starring Danny Glover, Stephen Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah and Michael Madsen. Directed by Alessandro Capone (Hidden Love, Primetime Murder) IMDb classifies the film as action, science fiction and a thriller all mixed into one. In reality the movie is none of these genres. Death Squad is an unmitigated disaster from frame one; as Danny Glover’s character Sponge says at the end of the film, “What a mess.”

The plot may have to do with saving the world, although it is not clear just what the overall mission of Ryan Willburn (Baldwin) actually is. He is either supposed to collect a transmitter or information and the transmitter or possibly something else entirely. He crash lands in a contaminated area where he needs an anti radiation serum dose on a regular basis or he will hallucinate and die.

Once he crashes Willburn discovers a pile of bodies and a local alien girl. We know she is alien because she cannot talk, although she can write in English, and she has been painted purple…or burgundy. She also has two black dots on her forehead and chin. Tuag, played by newcomer Neva Leone, helps Ryan on his mission, whatever it is.

The villains of the piece are apparently supposed to be Rutger Hauer’s Colonel Asimov, his aide Major Anderson (Hannah) and Lobo (Madsen). With no real clear objective, it seems that they are just meant to threaten and then kill Willburn.

Editing of the film appears to have been done while under the influence of hallucinogens and the script apparently had no dialogue included as it seems that all the performers were making it up as they went along. Hauer’s lines definitely feel made up on the spot. For all intents and purposes Death Squad seems to be the first film shot with no real script or lines or direction.

Granted the movie has been given a science fiction setting, telling the audience that it is in 2047 and that world order has fallen apart and so on sorts this out. Danny Glover’s character sits scribbling in a notebook when he is not cursing and looking for data on antiquated computer monitors or talking to Willburn. At one point in the film he is writing down that “Charles Manson was right” and that viagra “was right.” Like everything else in the movie, Glover’s character is in a muddle.

The film’s action roams all over the place and has no coherency or direction. Each of the actors feel like they are in their own film. Of course Madsen plays the same face-pulling cigarette-smoking psycho version of his Kill Bill character, regardless of the role he is cast in. The actor seems to be performing in his own special movie regardless of what the script asks for.

Hannah, and Baldwin, both seem to be desperately trying to play their roles straight but with no support from anyone else in the cast. Unfortunately for Baldwin, it is hard to play it serious when having black shoe polish smeared on one’s face. Luckily for him it does magically disappear a short time later. Odd moments like this abound in Death Squad and they do not result in laughter just confusion.

In a nutshell, this film plods nonsensically along for 89 minutes with no resolution, no real story and obviously no real script. Somewhat amazingly, 2047: Sights of Death, or Death Squad, was released in Italian cinemas. For the rest of the world, the film is on Netflix and should be avoided at all costs. There is not one redeeming factor in this feature and one can only surmise that all the name actors in the film owed someone a huge favor.

0 out of 5 stars for being confusing, horrible and a waste of time.

13 Sins (2014): Blackly Comic Puppet Theatre

Film Poster for 13 Sins

The 2014 film 13 Sins is a remake of the 2006 Thailand comedy/horror film 13 game sayawng, aka 13:Beloved. This blackly comic variation of extreme puppet theatre, where someone else is pulling the strings, is just this side of brilliant; the plot twists and turns and the ending is clever.

Directed and partially adapted by Daniel Stamm (Necessary Death, The Last Exorcism), 13 Sins stars Mark Webber (Laggies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Tom Bower (The Hills Have Eyes, Crazy Heart), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Drive), Devon Graye (Husk, Legendary) and Rutina Wesley (True Blood, The Perfect Guy) and follows Webber’s character through his trials and tribulations.

The plot, like the original film, is about a salesman, Elliot Brindle; a Wilbur Milquetoast type of chap, who is fired from his insurance sales job for not being ruthless enough. His job helps him to support his mentally challenged brother and was allowing him to help pay for his wedding to Shelby (Wesley). His aging father is in poor health and on the day Brindle is fired, he learns that the bank means to foreclose on his dad’s house.

Elliot’s life is in meltdown. His father (Bower) is a racist and miserable old curmudgeon who despises both his sons. As Brindle is trying to pull everything together he gets a cell phone call offering him $1,000 if he kills the annoying fly in his car. Elliot swats the fly and is told that the money has been deposited into his bank account and that a larger amount will be deposited if he eats the dead fly.

Rushing home Brindle checks his account online and sees the money there. He immediately swallows the fly and another amount is instantly put in his account. Hooked, the desperate man agrees to play a game that has 13 challenges; each more horrific than the last. At the end of the game if Elliot wins he gets millions of dollars and his “crimes” are covered up so he will face no charges or jail time.

If he loses, or forfeits a challenge the money he has already won is taken away and he will be arrested…or worse. Part of the rules are that he cannot tell anyone about the game, try to discover who is running the game, or attempt to learn the origins of the game. Another rule that becomes apparent later is that he is not the only player. This means he must complete all his challenges before the other contestant or he loses.

Without seeing the Thai original it is difficult to compare the two films. Looking at 13 Sins “on its own” reveals a movie that uses black comedy to brilliant effect. There is also a good dose of irony and a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to Stamm’s film. The German director did a brilliant job on his 2010 combination “found footage” and “mockumentary” film The Last Exorcism and it is nice to see that he can step up his game, even if it is for a remake.

13 Sins is an entertaining fast-paced film. The action goes quickly enough that there is almost not have enough time to finish wincing, or doing that horrified giggle reaction to some incident, before the next challenge is introduced and completed. Webber owns this film and his increased character growth makes the movie work brilliantly.

This is a real 4 out of 5 stars, a whole star is lost because it is, after all, a remake. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and definitely worth watching. The original can be seen on Amazon which is where this reviewer will be heading shortly.

Flu aka, Gamgi (2013) Priceless Pandemic Picture

Still from Flu, aka Gamgi
Considering the amount of widespread concern that the bird flu and then the swine flu generated it is not surprising that this 2013 South Korean film Gamgi, or Flu, decided to go with the avian flu as their pandemic boogeyman in the priceless picture about a highly contagious virus that threatens to overtake the whole of Korea. Starring Hyuk Jang (Please Teach Me English, Maybe) and Soo Ae (Midnight FM, Mask) and directed by Sung-su Kim (who also directed Jang in Please Teach Me English) Flu starts off rather light-hearted, almost comical in nature.

Here is where the two leads “meet cute” and the audience knows that they will become an “item” before the film ends. Jang, plays an emergency rescue technician (Ji-Koo) who helps Dr. In-Hye (Soo Ae) out of her dangling car before it crashes to the bottom of a chasm. While Ji-Koo has been instantly smitten, the doctor is not impressed as her dress was torn in the rescue.

Later, when Jang tries to get on her good side, she accuses him of being “stuck up” because of his job. When she approaches him to get her purse back, because of some important data she needs at work, he refuses. He then changes his mind and retrieves her purse, meeting her daughter Mirre (who is a delightful little actress who is not even listed on IMDb, or if she is it isn’t clear) and striking up an immediate bond.

At the start of the film, human traffickers are closing up a shipping container of illegal aliens who want admittance to South Korea for work. One man is sick and when the load of people arrive at Bundang, all the immigrants are dead bar one. He escapes when the two local traffickers come to open up the container. One of the men is infected and he starts the contagion in the town.

The avian flu spreads quickly, it is an airborne virus, and soon people are dropping to the ground spouting blood and covered in a rash. As medical authorities race to find the escaped survivor to develop an antibody the professional politicians take over and make things worse.

South Korean cinema regularly produces films that are of top quality and this movie is no exception. It is easy to get caught up in the action as it is unrelenting and by the end of the film the viewer is exhausted, but well entertained. Hyuk Jang proves he can do a lot more than straight comedy in a performance that runs the gamut of emotions.

The pairing of this charismatic actor with Soo-Ae, who was brilliant in the 2010 thriller Midnight FM, was casting perfection. They have an onscreen chemistry that hums like an electrical current on steroids. The scope of the film is impressive with set pieces that includes massive quarantine camps, and using the entire backdrop of Bundang to good effect.

It runs long at two hours and one minute but the story is compelling and the time flies by while the audience cheers on the main players and the race to save all of South Korea. It is a topical film, at one point one of the useless politicians chides the medical community for building up the swine flu, and though the film was released in 2013 it is still relevant.

Flu, aka Gamgi is streaming on US Netflix. For those who love South Korean cinema this is a 5 out of 5 star film.

The Canal (2014): Irish Terror

Still from The Canal
This Irish horror film serves its terror with a skill that leaves one breathless by the end of The Canal, a 2014 movie that does indeed cross three genres; horror, thriller and mystery. Written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh (Tin Can Man, The Fading Light) and starring Rupert Evans (Hellboy, Agora), Steve Oram (Sightseers, The World’s End), Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Bright Star, Albert Nobbs) and newcomer Kelly Byrne The Canal is cram packed with disturbing imagery and will haunt your dreams after watching it.

Film archivist David Williams and is wife Alice live with their son Billy in a mid terrace property that they picked out when she was pregnant with the boy. David has been watching some pretty disturbing film archives from 1902 and he learns that a horrible murder took place in their home. Around the same time he catches Alice in mid coitus with another man. Enraged he grabs a hammer and then seemingly blacks out.

On the way back home, he finds that hammer still clenched in his fist and he throws it in the canal. Stopping in a derelict public toilet he vomits and passes out. The next day he calls the police to report Alice missing. He becomes convinced that the ghost of the 1902 murderer killed his wife and he fears for Billy and the nanny’s life.

As the film progresses, his wife’s body is found and he begins a downward spiral that threatens his sanity and those around him. But is David really crazy or are the ghosts in his house going to kill him?

This film features some scenes that hard difficult to watch and there is not one moment where the audience do not fear for everyone that David (Evans) comes into contact with. He sees things and believes that the house he lives in is haunted by not just a murderer but children who were sacrificed.

The man is either losing his grip on reality or he is really being haunted by entities that wish to harm him, his nanny (Byrne) and his son (played quite well by young Calum Heath in his second film) Billy. It is not hard to feel that Williams has been driven mad by the archive footage he must view as part of his job and his wife’s death.

Director Kavanagh does a great job piling up the pressure on the audience until they feel just as disjointed as Williams. There is one scene which will make you flinch, if not jerk away from the screen, towards the end of the film. Its placement is perfect as by the time it appears the viewers nerves are shot.

The Canal is not overly gory and does not contain a lot of “jump-scares” but it delivers. Kudos to Sightseers star Steve Oram who proves that he can rock whatever oddball part he is cast in. His detective constable with the weak stomach is brilliantly off putting. The moment where he offers some acid reflux medicine to David is one such moment.

The blend of characters is perfect, Byrne’s pot smoking nanny, his boss Claire (Campbell-Hughes) and Oram’s McNamara all fit well with Williams who starts out so different from where he ends up. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment, The Canal is a real treat and a definite 4.5 out of 5 stars. Do not watch alone, in the dark or at night.

You have been warned.