Friday, December 5, 2008

ROUGH CUT (2008), an excellent movie that needs to come to Hong Kong

I don't mean for this blog to become a tribute site dedicated to the contemporary Korean film director Kim Ki-duk, but this guy truly is a force of nature and the closest thing to a pure cinematic genius I've encountered in my life both among contemporary filmmakers and even among those past greats I've studied through the canon of world cinema. Indeed, I'll state for the record that even a mediocre Kim Ki-duk film is far more engaging and interesting than most other films that are being made on this planet right now.

Why the profuse praise?

I've just seen ROUGH CUT (literal Korean title is "A Movie Is a Movie"), a film released in South Korea in September of this year to resounding box-office success and which will have a very modest release on DVD in the U.S. this month. The film was scripted by Kim Ki-duk and directed by Jang Hoon, who had been an assistant director to Kim.

That Kim Ki-duk has the energy, time, and drive to write scripts in addition to making at least one feature film per year (he has written and directed all 16 of his films) is amazing enough. That he can script such an intense, compelling, and most notably, mainstream narrative film given his already well-known uniquely perverse sensibilities and tastes really blows me away.

This screenplay probably is the most mainstream of all Kim Ki-duk screenplays, and Director Jang Hoon has done a bang-up job of turning it into a substantive thought-provoking gangster picture that's also very entertaining.

The story is about a difficult young movie star who has a short fuse and a propensity to cause problems and scandals. Out of hubris that he really is as tough as the cool characters he plays in movies and due to some personal quandaries, he hires a real gangster to star opposite him in a gangster film. This set up sounds comical, but the film treats it with all seriousness and follows the premise all the way to its conclusion.

One of the film's two leads is the Korean actor (So Ji-sup). He plays the thug and gives a haunting performance. He was in the Korean weepy TV miniseries I'M SORRY I LOVE YOU (2004) and is returning to acting after doing his mandatory military service.

Aesthetically, the film is Director Jang's own and a completely different animal from a film directed by Kim Ki-duk. It features very realistic gloriously-choreographed fight sequences with fast cuts and breathtaking cinematography that's rare in your typical Kim Ki-duk film, which may feature seedy settings and delve at the underbelly of society but rarely shows violence that's entertaining. On the contrary, Kim Ki-duk's violence is brutal and grotesque.

ROUGH CUT, like most mainstream films, makes violence entertaining and cool. The stylized fight sequences are similar to ones in FIGHT CLUB and OLD BOY. So if that's not your thing, this film may not suit you.

But this stylistic difference aside, the story, its themes (one of which is about the very nature of filmmaking itself and which was explored in Kim's earlier experimental film REAL FICTION (2000)), and some moments of super-heightened intensity are clearly in the script and pure Kim Ki-duk flourishes.

For the uninitiated, this film may be a good introduction to a certain kind of gangster genre action film that has been nearly perfected in the past decade by South Korean filmmakers.

That said, given the propensity of Hollywood to buy up foreign box-office hits (these days most often from Asia) and re-make them, often shot for shot, with white American movie stars (eg. THE GRUDGE, THE DEPARTED, THE LAKE HOUSE), it is easy to picture this film being re-made and released a few years from now starring Leonardo DiCaprio and (I can't think of anyone who could play the role of the thug convincingly).

For that to happen though, the ending (rather dark) would have to be tweaked a bit. After all, it is much more acceptable for mainstream films in Korea to have pessimistic, or bittersweet endings than it is in the U.S. I'm not sure what this says, if anything, about the national characters of Koreans and Americans in general, if such a generality can even be made. I just hope that the remake isn't botched or inane as is too often the case.

I have nothing against remakes as long as the remake is inspired and is somehow a different animal (eg. SEVEN SAMURAI becoming THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN). But, an uninspired remake that is done solely to save the audience the "inconvenience" of having to read subtitles or look at foreign faces on screen (eg. INFERNAL AFFAIRS becoming THE DEPARTED) seems utterly stupid, senseless and unwarranted. Such a practice is also ultimately negative because Hollywood's release of a remake and the accompanying marketing campaign require the intentional burying of the original and prevents the original from ever being released theatrically in the U.S. and in much of the rest of the world.

I know that gauging whether a remake of a foreign film is inspired or warranted seems highly subjective. In fact, it is the most subjective. Still, it is my opinion that in order for such a remake to be warranted, the remake should, at the very least, be better than the original.

Many will disagree, but I feel this was the case with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but definitely not so with THE DEPARTED.

Whatever the case, given the sad state of movies and film distribution in general, especially in Hong Kong, this film should hit theaters here in about January.... 2010.

Indeed, one of the saddest things about Hong Kong is that so many films never come here. Sure one can scrounge about and find the DVD, which is what I did and which can be very convenient, but that's never the same as seeing the film on a big screen.